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.