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NCAA Tournament Bracket Tips: Does Having the No. 1 Offense Lead to Success in March? – Stadium

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Gonzaga has the most efficient offense in the country as the Bulldogs average 128.2 points per 100 possessions (adjusted for their competition), according to kenpom.com. The Zags are 27-2, they haven’t lost since mid-December and they’re a No. 1 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections.

But does having the most efficient offense in the country translate to NCAA Tournament success?

We analyzed the last 17 years worth of data available on kenpom.com to find the answer.

For each season, starting in 2002, we identified the team with the highest adjusted offensive efficiency prior to the NCAA Tournament and tracked their seed and tournament outcome.

The results have ranged from winning the national championship, which is something Villanova, North Carolina and Kansas have accomplished during the kenpom.com era, to missing the NCAA Tournament entirely, which is an unwanted distinction Georgia holds after the offensively explosive Bulldogs missed the 2003 NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Tournament Finish Number of Teams
Won national championship 3
Lost in national championship game 1
Lost in Final Four 1
Lost in Elite Eight 0
Lost in Sweet 16 4
Lost in second round 4
Lost in first round 3
Missed NCAA Tournament 1

Collectively, the 17 teams won 39 NCAA Tournament games, an average of roughly 2.3 wins per school.

[RELATED: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections]

However, teams that earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament were responsible for 31 of those 39 wins, including all four appearances in the national championship game. All eight schools that entered the NCAA Tournament with the No. 1 adjusted offensive efficiency and a No. 1 seed in the last 17 years advanced to at least the Sweet 16.

No. 1 Seed With No. 1 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency NCAA Tournament Finish
2018 Villanova Won national championship
2015 Wisconsin Lost in national championship
2013 Indiana Lost in Sweet 16
2011 Ohio State Lost in Sweet 16
2009 North Carolina Won national championship
2008 Kansas Won national championship
2006 Duke Lost in Sweet 16
2002 Duke Lost in Sweet 16

There’s a considerable drop-off to the individual and collective NCAA Tournament production of teams that had the best offense but earned a No. 2 seed since the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Five schools earned a No. 2 seed and won a combined six games in the NCAA Tournament. Two were upset by a No. 15 seed in the first round and two lost in the second round to a No. 7 or No. 10 seed.

Only Georgetown in 2007 made a deep NCAA Tournament run after entering the tournament with the nation’s No. 1 offense as a No. 2 seed. The Hoyas advanced to the Final Four.

No. 2 Seed With No. 1 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency NCAA Tournament Finish
2016 Michigan State Lost in first round
2012 Missouri Lost in first round
2007 Georgetown Lost in Final Four
2005 Wake Forest Lost in second round
2004 Gonzaga Lost in second round

Just three of the 17 teams examined made the NCAA Tournament but were seeded lower than a No. 2 seed.

Creighton was a No. 3 seed in 2014, California was a No. 8 seed in 2010 and Oklahoma State was a No. 10 seed in 2017. The Cowboys lost in the first round, while the Bluejays and Bears lost in the second round.

However, when also examining those schools’ adjusted defensive efficiency, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that their stays in the NCAA Tournament were short, despite having explosive offenses.

Oklahoma State had a pre-NCAA Tournament adjusted defensive efficiency ranking of No. 134, Creighton’s defense was ranked No. 101 and Cal’s was No. 88. Along with Georgia’s No. 119-ranked defense in 2003, those were four of the five worst adjusted defensive efficiency rankings of the 17 teams examined.

It’s not foolproof to look at the adjusted defensive efficiency for a team with the No. 1 offense nationally – just look at Michigan State in 2016, when the No. 2 seeded Spartans balanced the best offense in the country with the 16th-best defense and they still lost in the first round – but it is informative.

The worst pre-NCAA Tournament adjusted defensive efficiency ranking of one of the 17 teams that advanced to at least the Sweet 16 was North Carolina’s No. 37-ranked defense in 2009, when the Tar Heels won the national championship.

In the data table below, which lists all 17 teams’ pre-NCAA Tournament adjusted defensive efficiency in ascending order, you’ll notice there’s a considerable gap between North Carolina’s No. 37-ranked defense in 2009 and the next highest-rated defense – Missouri’s No. 80-ranked defense in 2012.

It’s not cut and dry, but a team with the No. 1 offense in the country better have a top-30(ish) defense in order to advance to the second weekend.

Season School With No. 1 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Pre-NCAA Tournament Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Ranking NCAA Tournament Finish
2002 Duke No. 2 Lost in Sweet 16
2008 Kansas No. 3 Won national championship
2011 Ohio State No. 14 Lost in Sweet 16
2015 Wisconsin No. 16 Lost in national championship
2016 Michigan State No. 16 Lost in first round
2007 Georgetown No. 19 Lost in Final Four
2006 Duke No. 21 Lost in Sweet 16
2018 Villanova No. 22 Won national championship
2013 Indiana No. 27 Lost in Sweet 16
2004 Gonzaga No. 34 Lost in second round
2009 North Carolina No. 37 Won national championship
2012 Missouri No. 80 Lost in first round
2010 California No. 88 Lost in second round
2005 Wake Forest No. 90 Lost in second round
2014 Creighton No. 101 Lost in second round
2003 Georgia No. 119 Missed NCAA Tournament
2017 Oklahoma State No. 134 Lost in first round

If you’re a fan of high-powered offense and you’re wondering how far to advance the team with the No. 1 offense in the country when filling out your bracket this March, take a close look at the school’s seed and its adjusted defensive efficiency.

If the team with the No. 1 adjusted offensive efficiency is a No. 1 seed and ranks in the top 40 defensively, recent history says you can safely advance that team to the second weekend and roughly half of the time, it’ll play for a national championship.

If the team with the No. 1 offense is seeded lower than a No. 1 seed, especially if it has a defense that ranks outside of the top 40, pay attention to its first-round and potential second-round matchups, because recent history says an unbalanced team with the No. 1 offense is likely to lose in one of those two rounds.

MORE: 2019 NCAA Tournament Schedule, Dates, Locations

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