The best defenses in men’s college basketball, 2019-20

I promised this post nearly two months ago and got lost in some other projects, namely my beloved Program Reviews project that’s going to take a break for a little bit after this week. However, I couldn’t ignore the other, arguably more important half of basketball. Having an excellent defense is just about a requirement for any team to win a championship, and it especially goes that way in basketball. While offense has been more important by a hair, no defense ranked outside of the top 40 nationally has won the Division I national championship in the KenPom era. Similar numbers are likely true for D-2, D-3, and NAIA.

The below 25 defenses were ranked as the top 25 in America by Synergy Sports. If you go to their site, it won’t appear that way, as Canada has North America in a stranglehold in terms of high-quality defense. (The US wins out with ease on the offensive side, obviously.) Teams without enough games on the database were also eliminated, though those were rarer cases. In the end, these 25 defenses are all worthy of strong respect, and coaches would do well to study the teams of their choice. I wrote about Randolph-Macon’s defense earlier this season, but will likely write about other teams later this offseason.

Anyway, here’s the best men’s college basketball defenses of the 2019-20 season.

25. Liberty Flames (Lynchburg, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.792
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post Up (97th), Spot-Up (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 35.1% Rim (4 feet or closer to the rim), 25.6% Non-Rim Twos (5-20ish feet), 39.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55% Rim, 30.8% Non-Rim Twos, 29.3% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.6%
  • OREB% allowed: 21.3%
  • TO%: 19.4%
  • Shot Volume: 101.9

24. Winston-Salem State Rams (Winston-Salem, NC)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.792
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (97th-percentile), Post-Up (97th), Spot-Up (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 38.9% Rim, 26.5% Non-Rim Twos, 34.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.4% Rim, 32.7% Non-Rim Twos, 30.3% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.4%
  • OREB% allowed: 28.5%
  • TO%: 18.9%
  • Shot Volume: 109.6

23. Roanoke Maroons (Roanoke, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.791
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (98th), P&R Ball Handler (98th), Post-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 34.6% Rim, 25.7% Non-Rim Twos, 39.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.7% Rim, 32.6% Non-Rim Twos, 30.5% 3PT
  • eFG%: 44.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 27.3%
  • TO%: 20%
  • Shot Volume: 107.3

22. Stanford Cardinal (Palo Alto, CA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.791
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post-Up (99th), Spot-Up (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.6% Rim, 26% Non-Rim Twos, 37.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52.6% Rim, 37.4% Non-Rim Twos, 29.5% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.6%
  • OREB% allowed: 27.8%
  • TO%: 22.4%
  • Shot Volume: 105.4

21. Virginia Wesleyan Marlins (Norfolk, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.791
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 48.2% Rim, 22.9% Non-Rim Twos, 28.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.3% Rim, 32.3% Non-Rim Twos, 29.6% 3PT
  • eFG%: 44.7%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.7%
  • TO%: 21.1%
  • Shot Volume: 105.6

20. West Virginia Mountaineers (Morgantown, WV)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.791
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.3% Rim, 26.2% Non-Rim Twos, 37.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 54% Rim, 33% Non-Rim Twos, 28.8% 3PT
  • eFG%: 44.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 27.7%
  • TO%: 22.4%
  • Shot Volume: 105.3

19. Brockport Golden Eagles (Brockport, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.789
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), P&R Ball Handler (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 43.3% Rim, 22.4% Non-Rim Twos, 34.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 51.9% Rim, 36.5% Non-Rim Twos, 29.4% 3PT
  • eFG%: 46.4%
  • OREB% allowed: 29.1%
  • TO%: 23.9%
  • Shot Volume: 105.2

18. Hobart College Statesmen (Geneva, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.789
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), Cuts (98th), Spot-Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 34.7% Rim, 24.3% Non-Rim Twos, 41% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.7% Rim, 32.6% Non-Rim Twos, 27.4% 3PT
  • eFG%: 42.3%
  • OREB% allowed: 22.4%
  • TO%: 16%
  • Shot Volume: 106.4

17. San Diego State Aztecs (San Diego, CA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.789
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (97th), Spot-Up (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 25.6% Rim, 32.3% Non-Rim Twos, 42.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.1% Rim, 32.5% Non-Rim Twos, 29.7% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.3%
  • OREB% allowed: 25.4%
  • TO%: 21.2%
  • Shot Volume: 104.2

16. Maine Farmington Beavers (Farmington, ME)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.786
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), Cuts (100th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 31.1% Rim, 25.5% Non-Rim Twos, 43.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 54% Rim, 32.8% Non-Rim Twos, 33.8% 3PT
  • eFG%: 48.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 23.5%
  • TO%: 23.5%
  • Shot Volume: 100.0

15. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers (Troy, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.785
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 35.8% Rim, 23.4% Non-Rim Twos, 40.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 59.5% Rim, 34.3% Non-Rim Twos, 29.3% Threes
  • eFG%: 47.6%
  • OREB% allowed: 23%
  • TO%: 23.7%
  • Shot Volume: 99.3

14. Stevens Ducks (Hoboken, NJ)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.784
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Off Screen (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.3% Rim, 23.6% Non-Rim Twos, 40.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 51.8% Rim, 33.8% Non-Rim Twos, 29.8% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45%
  • OREB% allowed: 25.4%
  • TO%: 22%
  • Shot Volume: 103.4

13. Christopher Newport Captains (Newport News, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.783
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Post Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.9% Rim, 31.5% Non-Rim Twos, 31.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.6% Rim, 36% Non-Rim Twos, 28.1% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.1%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.4%
  • TO%: 18.3%
  • Shot Volume: 108.1

12. Park University Pirates (Parkville, MO)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.783
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Transition (95th), Cuts (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.4% Rim, 19.1% Non-Rim Twos, 38.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 53% Rim, 33.7% Non-Rim Twos, 28.6% 3PT
  • eFG%: 47.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 24.8%
  • TO%: 21.1%
  • Shot Volume: 103.7

11. UMass Boston Beacons (Boston, MA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.783
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (98th), Cuts (96th), Transition (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41% Rim, 28.1% Non-Rim Twos, 30.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.1% Rim, 35.2% Non-Rim Twos, 30.1% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.8%
  • OREB% allowed: 30.1%
  • TO%: 18.9%
  • Shot Volume: 111.2

10. Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters (Harrogate, TN)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.781
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), P&R Ball Handler (95th), Post-Up (94th), Spot-Up (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 30.5% Rim, 29.4% Non-Rim Twos, 40.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.8% Rim, 37.6% Non-Rim Twos, 30.2% 3PT
  • eFG%: 42.7%
  • OREB% allowed: 23.3%
  • TO%: 18.7%
  • Shot Volume: 104.6

9. Indiana (PA) Crimson Hawks (Indiana, PA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.78
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (98th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), Spot-Up (95th), Transition (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.4% Rim, 24.9% Non-Rim Twos, 35.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52.3% Rim, 30% Non-Rim Twos, 30% 3PT
  • eFG%: 44.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 31.1%
  • TO%: 22.6%
  • Shot Volume: 108.5

8. Baylor Bears (Waco, TX)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.777
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Isolation (95th), Transition (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 26.8% Rim, 38.2% Non-Rim Twos, 35% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60% Rim, 33.5% Non-Rim Twos, 31.1% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.2%
  • OREB% allowed: 29.8%
  • TO%: 22.7%
  • Shot Volume: 107.1

7. Kansas Jayhawks (Lawrence, KS)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.775
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (96th), Post-Up (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 29.1% Rim, 29.5% Non-Rim Twos, 41.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52% Rim, 33.6% Non-Rim Twos, 30.5% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.7%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.4%
  • TO%: 18.6%
  • Shot Volume: 107.8

6. Baruch Bearcats (New York, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.773
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Post Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 35.3% Rim, 25.1% Non-Rim Twos, 39.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52.9% Rim, 27.4% Non-Rim Twos, 30.9% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.6%
  • OREB% allowed: 27.7%
  • TO%: 22.1%
  • Shot Volume: 105.6

5. Virginia Cavaliers (Charlottesville, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.763
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (98th), Post Up (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 30.5% Rim, 26.8% Non-Rim Twos, 42.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 48.7% Rim, 35.6% Non-Rim Twos, 29.2% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.1%
  • OREB% allowed: 23.3%
  • TO%: 19.3%
  • Shot Volume: 104.0

4. Miles Golden Bears (Fairfield, AL)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.754
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Transition (100th), Post-Up (93rd), P&R Ball Handler (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 32.2% Rim, 35.5% Non-Rim Twos, 32.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52.6% Rim, 32.7% Non-Rim Twos, 26.6% 3PT
  • eFG%: 42.3%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.8%
  • TO%: 18.9%
  • Shot Volume: 107.9

3. Memphis Tigers (Memphis, TN)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.752
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (100th), Spot-Up (97th), Transition (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.3% Rim, 27.2% Non-Rim Twos, 36.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 45.3% Rim, 34.6% Non-Rim Twos, 28% 3PT
  • eFG%: 41.2%
  • OREB% allowed: 29.4%
  • TO%: 20.2%
  • Shot Volume: 109.2

2. Shawnee State Bears (Portsmouth, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.749
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): They were 85th-percentile or higher in all but one category (Hand-Off); 90th-percentile or higher in everything but Spot-Ups and Hand-Offs.
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 32.9% Rim, 30.4% Non-Rim Twos, 36.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 40.4% Rim, 30.7% Non-Rim Twos, 33.5% 3PT
  • eFG%: 40.9%
  • OREB% allowed: 25.2%
  • TO%: 19.5%
  • Shot Volume: 105.7

1. Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets (Ashland, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.74
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Transition (96th), P&R Ball Handler (95th), Cuts (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 33.3% Rim, 27% Non-Rim Twos, 39.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 50.6% Rim, 31% Non-Rim Twos, 29.6% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.7%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.3%
  • TO%: 23.7%
  • Shot Volume: 102.6

The best offenses in women’s college basketball, 2019-20

This is the same basic idea as my post on the 25 best offenses in men’s college basketball, but just using the Synergy Sports numbers. I didn’t have as much time as I’d like to knock this one out, and I’d like to move on to profiling defenses later this week before spending another two days on offensive success.

Below is each team’s shot chart, their best play types, shooting splits, and tempo, which is calculated via Ken Pomeroy’s equation listed here.

25. Hawaii Pacific Sharks (Honolulu, HI): 0.936 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Off-Screen (99th-percentile); Transition (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.6% Rim, 23.2% Non-Rim Twos, 40.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55.4% Rim, 35.7% Non-Rim Twos, 36% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.34 possessions (would rank #7 of 353 among D-1 men’s offenses, per KenPom)

24. Drake Bulldogs (Des Moines, IA): 0.936 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (99th), Post-Up (97th), Off-Screen (97th), Spot-Up (91st)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.7% Rim, 17.5% Non-Rim Twos, 39.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 64.4% Rim, 38.6% Non-Rim Twos, 33.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.57 possessions (#3 of 353)

23. Our Lady of the Lake Saints (San Antonio, TX): 0.938 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (97th), Spot-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.4% Rim, 27.7% Non-Rim Twos, 29.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 57.5% Rim, 37.8% Non-Rim, 33.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 88.79 possessions (#1 of 353)

22. Drury Panthers (Springfield, MO): 0.938 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (96th), Transition (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.6% Rim, 25.9% Non-Rim Twos, 31.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60.1% Rim, 38.8% Non-Rim Twos, 36.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 80.46 possessions (#1 of 353)

21. UAB Blazers (Birmingham, AL): 0.939 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Cuts (98th), P&R Ball Handler (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 34.9% Rim, 24.4% Non-Rim Twos, 40.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.7% Rim, 32.9% Non-Rim Twos, 37.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.97 possessions (#121 of 353)

20. Union Bulldogs (Jackson, TN): 0.94 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), P&R Ball Handler (99th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41.5% Rim, 28% Non-Rim Twos, 30.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 56.4% Rim, 43.6% Non-Rim Twos, 40.3% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.01 possessions (#19 of 353)

19. Marist Red Foxes (Poughkeepsie, NY): 0.941 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (99th), Spot-Up (94th), Transition (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 34.8% Rim, 28.1% Non-Rim Twos, 37.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.3% Rim, 44% Non-Rim Twos, 35.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 68.46 possessions (#217 of 353)

18. Nebraska-Kearney Lopers (Kearney, NE): 0.942 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (98th), Spot-Up (97th), Post-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45% Rim, 16.6% Non-Rim Twos, 38.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 59.2% Rim, 38% Non-Rim Twos, 34.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.76 possessions (#84 of 353)

17. Southeastern Fire (Lakeland, FL): 0.945 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post-Up (99th), Spot-Up (97th), Cuts (96th), Transition (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 53.9% Rim, 14.3% Non-Rim Twos, 31.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60.9% Rim, 40.5% Non-Rim Twos, 34.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 77.34 possessions (#3 of 353)

16. Connecticut Huskies (Mansfield, CT): 0.946 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), Spot-Up (96th), Post-Up (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 38.4% Rim, 26.5% Non-Rim Twos, 35.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.5% Rim, 38.5% Non-Rim Twos, 39.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.7 possessions (#86 of 353)

15. Baylor Lady Bears (Waco, TX): 0.947 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Post-Up (98th), Transition (97th), Cuts (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 47.3% Rim, 34.8% Non-Rim Twos, 17.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 59.8% Rim, 42.1% Non-Rim Twos, 37.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.57 possessions (#25 of 353)

14. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (Fort Myers, FL): 0.948 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Transition (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.9% Rim, 9% Non-Rim Twos, 54.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 56.1% Rim, 35.4% Non-Rim Twos, 33.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.32 possessions (#27 of 353)

13. Westmont Warriors (Santa Barbara, CA): 0.954 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), P&R Ball Handler (99th), Spot-Up (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 30.6% Rim, 18.1% Non-Rim Twos, 51.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 51.4% Rim, 39.3% Non-Rim Twos, 37% 3PT
  • Tempo: 65.5 possessions (#329 of 353)

12. Iowa Hawkeyes (Iowa City, IA): 0.954 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post-Up (100th), Spot-Up (95th), Transition (95th), Cuts (91st)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.5% Rim, 22.5% Non-Rim Twos, 37% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.3% Rim, 40.1% Non-Rim Twos, 36.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.27 possessions (#13 of 353)

11. Indiana Tech Warriors (Fort Wayne, IN): 0.963 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (99th), Spot-Up (98th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.2% Rim, 17% Non-Rim Twos, 36.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.4% Rim, 33.2% Non-Rim Twos, 36.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.35 possessions (#25 of 353)

10. Bryan College Lions (Dayton, TN): 0.965 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Cuts (100th), P&R Ball Handler (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.2% Rim, 11.2% Non-Rim Twos, 43.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55.3% Rim, 37.8% Non-Rim Twos, 37.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 78.29 possessions (#2 of 353)

9. Abilene Christian Wildcats (Abilene, TX): 0.969 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (100th), Spot-Up (99th), P&R Ball Handler (99th), Post-Up (99th), Transition (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 47% Rim, 6.8% Non-Rim Twos, 46.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 59.3% Rim, 37.5% Non-Rim Twos, 38% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.59 possessions (#58 of 353)

8. Arkansas Razorbacks (Fayetteville, AR): 0.976 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), P&R Ball Handler (95th), Spot-Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.2% Rim, 23.5% Non-Rim Twos, 39.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 54.8% Rim, 37.5% Non-Rim Twos, 38% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.08 possessions (#4 of 353)

7. Wartburg Knights (Waverly, IA): 0.978 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Transition (100th), Cuts (100th), Post-Up (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.3% Rim, 7.3% Non-Rim Twos, 47.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.4% Rim, 40% Non-Rim Twos, 35.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.61 possessions (#24 of 353)

6. South Dakota Coyotes (Vermillion, SD): 0.98 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Cuts (98th), Transition (97th), Post-Up (97th), P&R Ball Handler (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.3% Rim, 25.7% Non-Rim Twos, 34% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.1% Rim, 38.8% Non-Rim Twos, 37.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.3 possessions (#65 possessions)

5. Glenville State Pioneers (Glenville, WV): 0.982 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (100th), Spot-Up (99th), Transition (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.9% Rim, 21.3% Non-Rim Twos, 40.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.7% Rim, 39.2% Non-Rim Twos, 35.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 89.41 possessions (#1 of 353)

4. Taylor University Trojans (Upland, IN): 0.983 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Transition (100th), Cuts (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36% Rim, 13.3% Non-Rim Twos, 50.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55% Rim, 36.8% Non-Rim Twos, 40.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.04 possessions (#177 of 353)

3. Walsh Cavaliers (North Canton, OH): 0.984 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (98th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.4% Rim, 24.9% Non-Rim Twos, 28.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60.7% Rim, 40.9% Non-Rim Twos, 38% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.25 possessions (#3 of 353)

2. Ashland Eagles (Ashland, OH): 1.045 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Everything but Post-Up (89th) and P&R Roll Man (70th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.2% Rim, 21.8% Non-Rim Twos, 32% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.8% Rim, 44.5% Non-Rim Twos, 46.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.37 possessions (#7 of 353)

1. Oregon Ducks (Eugene, OR): 1.054 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Every single play type not named Hand-Off (61st). Of the 11 play types offered, Oregon ranked in the 98th-percentile or higher in ten.
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37% Rim, 25.1% Non-Rim Twos, 37.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 66.1% Rim, 45.7% Non-Rim Twos, 38.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.52 possessions (#145 of 353)

If you’d like to see more of this, tag me on Twitter @statsbywill or email me statsbywill@gmail.com.

The best offenses in men’s college basketball, 2019-20

Last year, a couple of weeks after the college basketball season, I made my deep exploration into the best men’s college basketball offenses in 2018-19. It led to a full summer of exploring these offenses in greater detail, complete with interviews with coaches and a whole lot of GIFs and game-watching. I loved doing it; it only makes sense that I would do it again.

This year, I decided to expand the, uh, “search” to the top 25 across all levels. Why? Well, why not. SO: here are the very best college basketball offenses of the last five months. I’m doing this in a few different ways than usual. This particular ranking is from Synergy Sports. However, for last year’s KenPom-style ratings, I’ll include that top 25 on the next page, along with the top 25 half-court offenses. It just felt fair to pay tribute to the service that works for all levels of college basketball.

Per Synergy Sports, here were the 25 best offenses of the 2019-20 men’s college basketball season. Below is each team’s shot chart, their best play types, shooting splits, and tempo, which is calculated via Ken Pomeroy’s equation on the next page.

25. Briar Cliff Chargers (Sioux City, IA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.036
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (99th-percentile); Spot-Up (97th-percentile); P&R Roll Man (96th-percentile); ranked in 100th-percentile on P&R as a whole
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39% Rim (any attempt within 4 feet of the rim), 12% Non-Rim Twos, 49% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.6% Rim, 38.5% Non-Rim Twos, 39.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.22 possessions (would have ranked 114th of 353 in D-1)

24. Yeshiva Maccabees (New York, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.037
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.9% Rim, 16% Non-Rim Twos, 38.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.1% Rim, 46% Non-Rim Twos, 39.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 78.07 possessions (2nd of 353)

23. Brigham Young Cougars (Provo, UT)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.039
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), P&R Roll Man (99th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), Post-Up (92nd), 99th-percentile on P&R as a whole
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 26% Rim, 32.5% Non-Rim Twos, 41.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 69.4% Rim, 44.4% Non-Rim Twos, 42.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.7 possessions (133rd of 353)

22. Western Oregon Wolves (Monmouth, OR)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.04
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Post-Up (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.5% Rim, 17.9% Non-Rim Twos, 42.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.2% Rim, 39.5% Non-Rim Twos, 40.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.33 possessions (7th of 353)

21. Walsh Cavaliers (North Canton, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.041
  • Best Play Types: Transition (97th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), Spot-Up (96th), Isolation (93rd), 95th-percentile P&Rs
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.8% Rim, 19% Non-Rim Twos, 44.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.3% Rim, 41.9% Non-Rim Twos, 41.3% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.35 possessions (111th of 353)

20. Gonzaga Bulldogs (Spokane, WA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.041
  • Best Play Types: Post-Up (98th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), P&R Roll Man (97th), Spot-Up (93rd), 100th-percentile P&Rs, 96th-percentile post-ups
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.1% Rim, 22.6% Non-Rim Twos, 31.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.2% Rim, 41.3% Non-Rim Twos, 38.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 72.6 possessions (36th of 353)

19. Dayton Flyers (Dayton, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.041
  • Best Play Types: Cuts (99th), Spot-Up (97th), Transition (97th), 98th-percentile P&R
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.5% Rim, 20.5% Non-Rim, 39% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 71.5% Rim, 44.1% Non-Rim, 37.1% Threes
  • Tempo: 68.0 possessions (233rd of 353)

18. St. John’s Johnnies (St. Joseph, MN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.042
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (98th), Hand-Off (94th), Post-Up (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 43.6% Rim, 21.2% Non-Rim Twos, 35.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.6% Rim, 44.8% Non-Rim Twos, 38.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 63.08 possessions (351st of 353)

17. Linfield College Wildcats (McMinnville, OR)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.042
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (100th), Transition (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41.6% Rim, 15.9% Non-Rim Twos, 42.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 64.9% Rim, 41.7% Non-Rim Twos, 39.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.84 possessions (3rd of 353)

16. Nebraska Wesleyan Prairie Wolves (Lincoln, NE)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.044
  • Best Play Types: Isolation (100th), Cuts (99th), Transition (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.8% Rim, 16.8% Non-Rim Twos, 43.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 67.4% Rim, 45.8% Non-Rim Twos, 35.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.76 possessions (84th of 353)

15. Michigan Tech Huskies (Houghton, MI)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.045
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (100th), Cuts (99th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 32.9% Rim, 26.5% Non-Rim Twos, 40.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.1% Rim, 40.8% Non-Rim Twos, 43.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 67.8 possessions (242nd of 353)

14. Bellarmine Knights (Louisville, KY)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.046
  • Best Play Types: Transition (99th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.1% Rim, 23.3% Non-Rim Twos, 34.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 66.5% Rim, 40.4% Non-Rim Twos, 39.5% Threes
  • Tempo: 66.67 possessions (287th of 353)

13. Lewis-Clark State Warriors (Lewiston, ID)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.048
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Post-Up (97th), 94th-percentile P&R
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.5% Rim, 17.9% Non-Rim Twos, 44.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.5% Rim, 43.7% Non-Rim Twos, 42% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.25 possessions (65th of 353)

12. Mount Union Raiders (Alliance, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.049
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Transition (98th), Cut (97th), P&R Ball Handler (94th), 99th-percentile P&R
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.6% Rim, 18.7% Non-Rim Twos, 40.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.3% Rim, 38.8% Non-Rim Twos, 38.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.66 possessions (56th of 353)

11. Jefferson University Rams (Philadelphia, PA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.05
  • Best Play Types: P&R Ball Handler (94th), Cuts (94th), Transition (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.8% Rim, 26.1% Non-Rim Twos, 36.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.3% Rim, 39.6% Non-Rim Twos, 41.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 68.51 possessions (210th of 353)

10. St. Thomas Tommies (St. Paul, MN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.055
  • Best Play Types: P&R Ball Handler (98th), Spot-Up (96th), Post-Up (96th), 99th-percentile P&R
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 38.8% Rim, 13.5% Non-Rim Twos, 47.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.1% Rim, 41.8% Non-Rim Twos, 38% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.39 possessions (152nd of 353)

9. Morningside College Mustangs (Sioux City, IA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.057
  • Best Play Types: Cuts (99th), Spot-Up (98th), Post-Up (96th), P&R Ball Handler (92nd), 99th-percentile all post-ups
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 48.9% Rim, 15% Non-Rim Twos, 36.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 64.7% Rim, 43.8% Non-Rim Twos, 39.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.37 possessions (63rd of 353)

8. West Liberty Hilltoppers (West Liberty, WV)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.061
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (98th), Hand-Off (94th), Transition (89th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.5% Rim, 16.3% Non-Rim Twos, 38.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.6% Rim, 39.2% Non-Rim Twos, 40.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 81.03 possessions (1st of 353)

7. Olivet Nazarene Tigers (Bourbonnais, IL)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.063
  • Best Play Types: Post-Up (100th), Spot-Up (99th), Cuts (93rd), Transition (92nd), 97th-percentile P&Rs
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.7% Rim, 17% Non-Rim Twos, 37.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.8% Rim, 38.6% Non-Rim Twos, 40.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.51 possessions (7th of 353)

6. Marian Knights (Indianapolis, IN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.065
  • Best Play Types: Transition (96th), Spot-Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 43.9% Rim, 21.7% Non-Rim Twos, 34.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.9% Rim, 40.5% Non-Rim Twos, 43.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 72.53 possessions (37th of 353)

5. Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (Marion, IN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.068
  • Best Play Types: Post-Up (100th), P&R Ball Handler (98th), Transition (96th), Cuts (96th), Spot-Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 48.7% Rim, 15.1% Non-Rim Twos, 36.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.4% Rim, 46% Non-Rim Twos, 39.3% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.1 possessions (8th of 353)

4. Nova Southeastern Sharks (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.078
  • Best Play Types: Cuts (96th), P&R Ball Handler (93rd), Spot-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 44% Rim, 22.9% Non-Rim Twos, 33.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65% Rim, 45.7% Non-Rim Twos, 41.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 81.51 possessions (1st of 353)

3. Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters (Harrogate, TN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.081
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Cuts (99th), P&R Ball Handler (99th), 97th-percentile P&Rs
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.9% Rim, 9.8% Non-Rim Twos, 45.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65% Rim, 44.1% Non-Rim Twos, 40.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 78.32 possessions (2nd of 353)

2. UC San Diego Tritons (San Diego, CA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.095
  • Best Play Types: Cuts (100th), Spot-Up (99th), Transition (98th), 96th-percentile P&Rs
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 33.9% Rim, 13% Non-Rim Twos, 53.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 68% Rim, 43.5% Non-Rim Twos, 40.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.39 possessions (152nd of 353)

1. Northwest Missouri State Bearcats (Maryville, MO)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.146
  • Best Play Types: Every single play type but P&R Roll Man (82nd) and Hand-Offs (74th). Literally every one.
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42% Rim, 12.9% Non-Rim Twos, 45.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.5% Rim, 46.3% Non-Rim Twos, 45% 3PT
  • Tempo: 64.85 possessions (337th of 353)

NEXT PAGE: Top 25 via traditional possession calculations; top 25 half-court offenses

The 64 best NCAA Tournament games of all time (sort of)

Obviously, this sucks. It’s going to suck for a while, and it’s going to be much worse before it gets better. That said: if we are all going to be isolated from each other, we can still enjoy each other’s company digitally.

To cope with this from a basketball standpoint, I’ve decided to create my personal list of the 64 best NCAA Tournament games of all time. What this means is the following:

  • Each round, I’ll be showing off what I believe are the best games, split by seed line. For the Round of 64, that means there’s four 1 vs. 16 games, four 2 vs. 15s, four 3 vs. 14s, etc. Round of 32: two 1/16 vs. 8/9s, etc.
  • This will follow round-by-round. Starting in the Sweet Sixteen, there will be no seed limitations, as by then, there’s too many possibilities, but across the first two rounds, all games will be given out to seed lines to the best of my ability.
  • I can’t promise these are, uh, comprehensive. I’m 26 and the first NCAA Tournament I can remember watching in earnest is either 2001 (title game only) or 2002 (Sweet Sixteen onward). If you like a different game more than the one posted, tell me!
  • I based my selections on two criteria: was this game great and is the full version (or at least extended highlights) available on YouTube. That cut out some phenomenal games, but they were necessary sacrifices. We’ve got to use as much of this free time as possible.

As an introduction – and to get us to 64 games – here is the best First Four game ever: Western Kentucky-Mississippi Valley State, 2012.

Here’s the Round of 64. I hope you enjoy.

Round of 64

1 vs. 16

UMBC-Virginia, 2018.

I think this is a pretty obvious one, as it will now be the only 16-over-1 upset for another year.

Georgetown-Princeton, 1989.

For a long time, this held the standard as the preeminent Close Call. Princeton maybe/maybe didn’t get fouled on the final play of the game; watch and make the call.

Oklahoma-East Tennessee State, 1989. 

But this one is somehow forgotten. ETSU has a wild Tournament history; entering the 1989 Tournament at 20-11 and fourth in the SoCon only to lead 1 SEED OKLAHOMA BY 17 POINTS in the first half seems like it tops the list.

Gonzaga-Southern, 2012. 

There’s a very specific moment in this game – for me, when Southern cuts it to 54-52 – where I really did think I was about to see a 16 seed finally do it.

2 vs. 15

Duke-Lehigh, 2012.

It’s Duke. I can’t not put this on here, man.

Georgetown-Florida Gulf Coast, 2013.

Despite being a worse game, this one beat out both Hampton-Iowa State and Norfolk State-Missouri for mere shock value. It’s one thing when a 15 seed wins; it’s another when a 15 seed totally, systematically demolishes their opponent. I had never seen anything like it since I’d started watching the Tournament.

Robert Morris-Villanova, 2010. 

It sucked not getting this one, to be honest. Robert Morris led almost the entire way, led by eight points with nine minutes to play, and just couldn’t pull it off. Villanova would lose two days later, blunting the impact of this one down the road, but as a game, it beats the pants off of several of the actual upsets.

Tennessee-Winthrop, 2006.

Same with this one. It was a very good game made better by the presence of a buzzer-beater. Winthrop was coached by a dude named Gregg Marshall – heard of him? – and this was Bruce Pearl’s first year at Tennessee. Again, Tennessee lost two days later, but the tension of this game over the final five minutes is sky-high.

3 vs. 14

North Carolina-Weber State, 1999.

Harold Arceneaux is the exact type of small-school player every high seed fears in March.

Baylor-Georgia State, 2015.

For 37 minutes, this was a pretty boring game. However: the final three minutes are delirious.

Marquette-Davidson, 2013.

This one has sadly been lost to time in terms of a full game upload, but the ending is all you really need. 14 seed Davidson came out and owned the game for 39 minutes; unfortunately, you play 40.

Michigan-Pepperdine, 1994.

Not a ton to work with here; the number of great 3/14 games aren’t very high. But this one gets unfairly looked over. Minus Chris Webber, this is Fab Five-era Michigan needing overtime to get past a 14 seed. It’s worth a look.

4 vs. 13

UCLA-Princeton, 1996.

Had Belmont completed the backdoor play last March, it would’ve felt the exact same way as this did for basketball nerds in 1996.

Ole Miss-Valparaiso, 1998.

You see the final play every year, obviously. But did you know it was a four-point game at halftime and within five points for basically the entire second half? Tense!

Louisville-Morehead State, 2011.

Annoyingly, this is all that’s on YouTube…..but that shot is worth inclusion alone.

Syracuse-Vermont, 2005.

On any list of “Greatest Gus Johnson Exclamations in American History,” the part where he starts to say T.J. Sorrentine’s name and just goes “SssssssssssssOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” is #1.

5 vs. 12

Florida-Creighton, 2002.

This game is secretly one of the five best of this first round.

  1. Double overtime!
  2. KYLE KORVER!
  3. A BUZZER BEATER!
  4. One-point final margin!
  5. Udonis Haslem!
  6. Also, the play where Florida deflected the ball out of bounds and the Creighton player holds him back….probably a foul now, yeah?

Drake-Western Kentucky, 2008.

Here’s the thing. If it’s just that buzzer-beater in an otherwise forgettable game, it’s still a good game, because there’s a buzzer-beater. But when you factor in that Drake’s best team ever made a 17-point second half comeback to force overtime, the final score was 101-99, and the guy who made the shot was an otherwise-unnotable four-year Western Kentucky player, it’s basically all of what March Madness is supposed to be. I think this is my personal favorite game of the first 32.

Saint Louis-NC State, 2014.

I picked NC State in this game and still get chest pains every time I see a Wolfpack player step to the line in the final seconds.

Auburn-New Mexico State, 2019.

I had Auburn in the Final Four because I thought it was a very good value pick. It made me look really smart for 39 minutes or so and made me want to die for one. The final 30 seconds or so of this game are genuinely unbelievable.

6 vs. 11

Duke-VCU, 2007.

If you were 16 years or younger in 2007 you thought Eric Maynor was going to be what DeMar DeRozan ended up being.

Miami (FL)-Loyola Chicago, 2018.

Pretty much a perfect finish. The team vying for the upset hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 1985, let alone won a game; the team on top has the head coach of maybe the most famous 11 seed to ever make the Final Four. And the final shot, from the logo…genuinely, had Loyola not defeated Tennessee in the next round, I would have been able to watch this a much happier man.

Iowa-George Washington, 1996.

Not one anyone remembers (I had to do some research on it myself), but a phenomenal game. Iowa comes back from 17 points down in the final eight minutes to win in regulation. Iowa would relive this from the other side of the ball against Northwestern State exactly ten years later.

Maryland-Belmont, 2019.

Watching this and not rooting for Belmont should have been a crime.

7 vs. 10

Nevada-Texas, 2018.

Sometimes I like thinking about how Nevada overcame a 14-point deficit and a 22-point deficit in the span of 48 hours or so to make the Sweet Sixteen.

Michigan-Oklahoma State, 2017.

This was a very rare game: a non-marquee matchup that received a lot of hype and fully lived up to it. It was two of the best offenses in basketball and two very, very good teams that were underseeded. Arguably Derrick Walton’s finest performance. Also arguably the game that got DJ Wilson drafted in the first round.

Gonzaga-Davidson, 2008.

An unfortunate thing about the Stephen Curry Elite Eight run is that, after the first two rounds, the Sweet Sixteen game was over with ten minutes left and the Elite Eight game was a brickfest. That left this game or the Georgetown comeback, and I think this one’s just straight-up better.

Connecticut-St. Joseph’s, 2014.

I still genuinely cannot process that a team that had to go to overtime with a 10 seed on the first day of the NCAA Tournament won the whole thing.

8 vs. 9

Ohio State-Siena, 2009.

Here’s a game that no one remembers but was so, so fun. Siena’s return to the Tournament came after they defeated 4 seed Vanderbilt by 21 points the year before. They faced off against the first post-Greg Oden Ohio State team to get into the Tournament, the game went to double overtime, and you had a phenomenal finish complete with a clutch three-pointer to win it.

Texas-Wake Forest, 2010.

This is the only game on the list that doesn’t have video to go with it, unfortunately. But: it is the game that made me fear Rick Barnes.

Cincinnati-Purdue, 2015.

This game had a buzzer-beater to get to overtime, a near-buzzer-beater that would’ve won it and overtime, and had the incredible storyline of Cincinnati’s coach watching the game from home due to a health scare.

Western Kentucky-Michigan, 1995.

As you’re seeing on this list, one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re watching a great college basketball game in March is to put Western Kentucky in it. I don’t know what it is about this program, but they always bring the goods.

NEXT PAGE: Round of 32 & Sweet Sixteen

How the stats would’ve picked this year’s (theoretical) 2020 NCAA Tournament

BIG OL’ EDITOR’S NOTEEverything you are reading, as follows, is a hypothetical simulation. The 2020 NCAA Tournament obviously did not happen, but I’ve pieced together a field that A. seems realistic and B. helps me waste more time by thinking about it.

So, here we are. I don’t know how much everyone reading this has changed their lives to reflect our global issues, but I do think we all should. The NCAA certainly did, and it’s tough to be rational about it, but we have to. That said, this is our time.

Something I’ve done just about every year since I knew what statistics were was create a mock NCAA Tournament bracket before the real one. This bracket would reflect how I would pick every game when the time came simply because I like being prepared. For the 2019 Tournament, I created a Google Doc that had stats for every seed line. All of this, objectively, would sound purely ridiculous to someone who spends less than ~2 months of the year thinking about college basketball. And yet: I got three of the four Final Four teams right and you didn’t. I’m sorry, that’s a ridiculous brag, but I had to fit it in somewhere.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that in the midst of the NCAA Tournament uncertainty on Thursday, I decided to create a fake bracket on my lunch break at my day job. The Google Doc for this one is titled “Let’s have some fun,” because it should be. Here’s how I made my field of 68:

  • For the most part, I just took the highest-rated conference champion for the Big Six and assumed no bid thieves. Cincinnati technically won the AAC due to the cancellations, so I let them in without a further simulation.
  • For the other 26 conferences, I ran RAND() functions in Excel based on the likelihood that the best team in each conference would win it. This was to reflect that upsets frequently happen in conference tournaments. As such, we ended up with 11 non-first-place conference tournament winners, which is actually a little lower than you’d expect, but makes sense given our restrictions. To save time, every conference that had a team at >50% to win the conference tournament was given a pass into the field. Seemed fair and seemed realistic; I am not God.
  • At-larges made the field on a combination of their Bracket Matrix average seed and Bart Torvik’s projected average seed. This shifted the field a small amount, but 66 of the 68 teams that would’ve made the Matrix’s field of 68 as an at-large made mine. (Xavier and NC State are in my field, while UCLA and Stanford are not. Sorry to all Pac-12 fans; I can create a contingency bracket if you want.)
  • Lastly, the field was seeded 1-68 on said seeding combination. It feels right, and I like how it turned out.

Enough wailing. Here’s your field. Where necessary, I’ve included an asterisk* where the conference champion was someone other than the 1 seed.

The 2020 Will Warren Invitational Field of 68

  • 1 seeds: Kansas, Gonzaga, Baylor, Dayton
  • 2 seeds: San Diego State, Florida State, Villanova, Michigan State
  • 3 seeds: Creighton, Duke, Maryland, Seton Hall
  • 4 seeds: Oregon, Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State
  • 5 seeds: Wisconsin, Butler, BYU, West Virginia
  • 6 seeds: Michigan, Auburn, Penn State, Iowa
  • 7 seeds: Virginia, Illinois, Arizona, Houston
  • 8 seeds: Colorado, St. Mary’s (CA), Providence, Marquette
  • 9 seeds: Rutgers, LSU, Florida, Oklahoma
  • 10 seeds: USC, Texas Tech, Indiana, Arizona State
  • 11 seeds: Utah State, Wichita State/Xavier, Cincinnati, East Tennessee State
  • 12 seeds: Richmond/NC State, Yale, Stephen F. Austin, Liberty
  • 13 seeds: Vermont, New Mexico State, Belmont, Western Kentucky*
  • 14 seeds: Bradley*, Hofstra, Northern Colorado*, North Dakota State*
  • 15 seeds: Texas State*, Winthrop*, Northern Kentucky*, Ohio*
  • 16 seeds: UC Santa Barbara*, Boston University*, Siena/North Carolina Central, Robert Morris/Jackson State*

First four out: Stanford, Texas, UCLA, Mississippi State
Next four out: Northern Iowa, Purdue, Arkansas, Oklahoma State

A quick Q&A session, based on questions I would imagine people asking:

  • Why is Baylor the third overall seed? By Kansas winning the Big 12 Tournament here, we’re assuming Baylor now has four losses on the season, which, in my mind, would elevate Gonzaga to the second overall seed. I don’t know, dude, I just did it because I felt like it.
  • Explain Creighton and Duke as 3 seeds. Creighton was white hot down the stretch of the season; Duke was not, but they are named Duke, so we all rightfully expect them to win the ACC. Again, in our simulation, Florida State won it, so a 3 seed feels accurate. Meanwhile, Creighton did win the Big East in this simulation, but Villanova ranked ahead of them. Why? 1. Ask someone who does this for a living I really don’t know. 2. It actually isn’t that absurd; by Wins Above Bubble, Villanova ranks 7th and Creighton 9th.
  • Kentucky as a 4??? Hater! Correct! I do not like Kentucky. Anyway, this is a team that didn’t crack the KenPom top 20 after January and closed the season 12th in WAB. I’m gonna guess that the teams in actual good conferences would’ve gotten the nod ahead of them. Everyone really undersold how awful it was to watch SEC basketball this season.
  • Explain the Last Four In. Again, not God, but a very white guy who’s drinking coffee out of a Charleston Rainbow Row cup as I type. Anyway:
    • Wichita State ranked 31st in WAB, had good metrics across Torvik and KenPom, and, in our simulation, wins at least one AAC Tournament game.
    • Xavier only ranked 46th, but they had no true bad losses (16-2 against Qs 2-4) and had a true marquee win: their 74-62 road victory over Seton Hall in early February.
    • Richmond: 38th in WAB, made the A10 championship game in our simulation. Xavier got the 11 seed nod only because they were in a significantly stronger conference.
    • NC State: On first run, this was Stanford, but then Stanford totally blew it to Cal in their lone Pac-12 Tournament game…which pushed NCSU just over the edge. They ranked almost exactly the same in metrics averages, but NCSU had a slightly better WAB with one additional Q1&Q2 win. I don’t like either team, to be honest.
  • Explain those who got left out. Just discussed Stanford. UCLA had a worse WAB than any of the four who got in and farted around for half the season. Texas did have a good-enough WAB at 39th but left an awful impression on the committee with a Big 12 quarterfinals loss to Texas Tech, another bubble team. Mississippi State lost to Florida in the SEC quarterfinals and had a worse WAB than the four who got in. The only team in Next Four Out that had a realistic case to me was Northern Iowa, who ranked 41st in WAB, but I simply couldn’t imagine a committee rewarding a blowout MVC quarters loss to Drake with even a First Four Out nod, sadly.

Okay! That’s a lot of words! You came here for a bracket.

The Will Warren 2020 Invitational Bracket

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This one stat will, in fact, not change your life

Chances are, during Championship Week, you’ll be hearing the following statistic left and right:

“Every champion other than 2014 Connecticut in the KenPom era has ranked in the top 20 of offensive and defensive efficiency.”

On its face, this is a correct stat. If you were to click on kenpom.com right now, you would see that 17 of the last 18 champions, minus 2014 UConn, did indeed rank in the top 20 of both categories. I’ll even ignore Dan Dakich saying during the Green Bay/Northern Kentucky game that every champion has ranked in the top 20 of both; he is 94.4% accurate, at least, under this definition.

However: we have a clear issue that seemingly no one at ESPN, CBS, or the variety of networks that broadcast college basketball seem to be discussing. The KenPom rankings referenced are end-of-season rankings, not pre-tournament rankings. So, yeah, no wonder every champion ended up in the top 20! Here’s the actual pre-tournament rankings for every champion in the KenPom era.

  • 2002: Maryland – 5th AdjO, 11th AdjD, 3rd overall
  • 2003: Syracuse – 16th AdjO, 33rd AdjD, 20th overall
  • 2004: Connecticut – 14th AdjO, 7th AdjD, 5th overall
  • 2005: North Carolina – 4th AdjO, 6th AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2006: Florida – 14th AdjO, 18th AdjD, 6th overall
  • 2007: Florida – 1st AdjO, 14th AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2008: Kansas – 1st AdjO, 3rd AdjD, 1st overall
  • 2009: North Carolina – 1st AdjO, 39th AdjD, 3rd overall
  • 2010: Duke – 4th AdjO, 5th AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2011: Connecticut – 22nd AdjO, 25th AdjD, 16th overall
  • 2012: Kentucky – 2nd AdjO, 6th AdjD, 1st overall
  • 2013: Louisville – 17th AdjO, 1st AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2014: Connecticut – 58th AdjO, 12th AdjD, 25th overall
  • 2015: Duke – 3rd AdjO, 37th AdjD, 6th overall
  • 2016: Villanova – 15th AdjO, 7th AdjD, 5th overall
  • 2017: North Carolina – 4th AdjO, 25th AdjD, 3rd overall
  • 2018: Villanova – 1st AdjO, 23rd AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2019: Virginia – 2nd AdjO, 5th AdjD, 1st overall

So, in fact, only 11 of the 18 champions in the KenPom era – barely over half – offered both a top 20 offense and top 20 defense. Generally, the side of the ball that’s been lacking is defense; other than 2003 Syracuse and the two Connecticuts, the other four teams with sub-20 defenses all entered with offenses ranked 4th or higher. Even 2014 Connecticut and 2003 Syracuse did at least have one side of the ball in the top 20, with UConn having one of the strongest defenses in the field.

This particular talking point has irked me for some time. In an era where four of the last six champions didn’t have top 20 units on both sides of the ball, it seems extremely silly to keep promoting this to viewers and giving them the wrong idea. Is it better for a team to be well-rounded on both sides of the ball? Obviously, yes. But it’s not the thing that decides a champion.

Here are several other statistics, all of which are actually true and are more accurate than the one ESPN is using, that I would suggest broadcasters and college basketball tastemakers use.

  • In the KenPom era, 15 of 18 champions ranked in the top six nationally prior to the Tournament beginning.
  • Seven of the last eight champions have had at least one side of the ball rank in the top seven nationally.
  • 17 of the 18 champions in the KenPom era, other than 2014 Connecticut, had both a top 40 offensive and defensive efficiency.
  • The #1 overall KenPom team has won the Tournament only three times in 18 years.

Are we good? We’re good. Let’s keep this from happening all March long.

Close games, luck vs. skill, and why Auburn and Washington are closer than you’d think

In between missing several corner threes at the gym Thursday morning, I posted this on Twitter:

While sitting on the toilet at my day job about three hours later, I posted this:

These results are similar, yet different. It leads me to three separate conclusions:

  1. I would consider this one of the more successful and useful uses of my personally-limited iPhone Screen Time.
  2. That said, the word “decree” is pretty melodramatic. Who thought of this word? Why do we need it?
  3. We treat winning and losing close games a bit differently. If we win, there appears to be slightly more luck involved; if we lose, we did not have enough skill to get us over the top. Also, there was luck involved.

The two test cases for this were Auburn and Washington. By a pure W-L standard, the two teams are having fairly similar seasons in games decided by 7+ points. Auburn is 12-3; Washington is 11-5. In these games, Auburn is averaging a +12.7 point differential; Washington, +8.3. Generally, we would draw from this that Auburn is a better team than Washington, though it’s only about a four-point gap. That’s almost exactly what KenPom says, as they have Auburn as about 4.5 points better on a neutral court before you factor in tempo.

Given that we also know that Auburn and Washington have each played 10 games decided by 6 points or fewer, we would guess that their final W-L records are fairly close. Since Auburn’s point differential in 7+ point games is higher, they would most likely go 6-4 in their close games. Washington, meanwhile, would go about 5-5 with a nearly equal chance at 4-6. If these were true, you would expect Auburn’s overall record to be 18-7, with Washington at either 17-9 or 16-10. Auburn’s better, of course, but the gap is very small.

Of course, that’s not why you’re here. Auburn is 10-0 in games decided by six points or fewer; Washington is 1-9. Overall, this lends the two teams very disparate records: Auburn is 22-3, Washington 12-14. Clearly, Auburn has the Clutch Factor, the all-important Experience (4 seniors in their main lineup, along with a senior sixth man), the Vince Young “he just wins games” argument on their side. If you ask any SEC-based talking head, Auburn Plays the Right Way. They Make the Plays That Matter. They are LeBron, except for all the times LeBron has missed a game-winning shot.

Washington, meanwhile, clearly does things wrong. How else do you explain a 1-9 record in close games? Clearly, their rotation full of freshmen and sophomores just isn’t ready to win. They have no clutch players. Their skill level, despite having three possible first round NBA Draft picks, is just not high enough to win. Luck? What’s luck when you can’t trust anyone on your roster to make shots that matter?

If we’re taking those poll results honestly, we’ve thankfully moved past the stage where the majority of viewers are fully Team Luck or Team Skill. There is an inherent skill in winning close games in certain sports – ask Dabo Swinney or Urban Meyer about their gaudy records in one-score games in college football. Heck, the names you would expect to lead a “records in close games list” lead said list: Bill Self, Mark Few, Jim Boeheim, Dana Altman, Steve Fisher, etc. These are objectively great coaches.

But how do we settle the fact that coaches we also greatly respect, like Billy Donovan, Bob Huggins, Frank Martin, Gregg Marshall, and others, are either right at or below .500 in close games for their career? Were they simply outcoached and outclassed in those losses? Maybe. But that can’t be the excuse every time; otherwise, we would begin to convince ourselves that Andrew Toole – 72-48 in close games at Robert Morris, the highest WP% in basketball – is the most underrated coaching prospect in America. Clearly, Mr. Toole – who I don’t doubt is pretty good at what he does – learned something from going 12-15 in close games from 2015-17 to go 5-2 this year.

The answer to the initial question I proposed, I think, is probably “a bit of both.” Just like in most sports, the better team in a game is probably slightly more likely to win a one- or two-possession game. However, that isn’t always the case. The better team doesn’t win every game, regardless of final margin. Sometimes, weird stuff happens. That’s where luck comes in. It can come in for both the losing and winning team, just like luck could propel a lesser team to defeat a better one.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be an end-all, be-all answer. I obviously believe Auburn’s a better team than Washington. I obviously think they’ve got greater upside. However: I think we look at close games, particularly in terms of wins and losses, in a very odd manner. I don’t think Auburn possesses some sort of magical clutch gene, just like I don’t think Washington possesses an evil voodoo doll gene. To be honest, I value games like Auburn’s blowout loss to KenPom #103 Missouri on Saturday the exact same as I do their one-point double-overtime win against Ole Miss. If we all agree to stop giving outsized importance to one or two-possession games and agree to value a team as a whole, I think we’ll be well on our way to a much better, smarter coverage of basketball.