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.