Getting Defensive

The NFL playoffs are in full swing with four great games with compelling match-ups this weekend. But with the Chiefs’ inexcusable meltdown in Indianapolis still fresh on everyone’s minds, I can’t seem to muster up the will to write about football. Not even the instant classic BCS Championship game, with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston orchestrating a last-minute, game-winning drive to take down the hated SEC, can rescue me from my Chiefs depression. Luckily, this time of year when the Chiefs inevitably find different ways to not win playoff games is generally when my attention begins to shift fully towards college basketball. This is also the time of year when the actual, more meaningful college basketball regular season tips off with conference play.

There are 32 D1 college basketball conferences with a total of 350 teams. The teams from the top conferences really have only played non-conference games at home or at a neutral site. Very few major conference teams have played true road games before the conference season. Once conference play starts is when most of the AQ (which stands for automatic qualifier for BCS, although BCS isn’t a thing anymore…) begin to play true road games on the opposing team’s campus. This generally leads to much more low scoring and defensive-centered games. The bigger programs are having to deal with hostile crowds for the first time and are more pleased with winning in a slugfest rather than a shootout. The teams from the much smaller conferences are the ones who have been playing the big dogs on their home courts during the non-conference play, and they usually have been used as chew toys to pad the stats and perfect the skills of the big guys.

Now that conference play is starting, and everyone is going nuts over how great Ohio State’s Aaron Craft is at defense, it might be worthwhile to take a look at exactly which teams play the best defense. Which teams are more suited to the slugfests that usually occur during conference play? And which conferences are more inclined to smother opposing teams with great defense? These are questions that may be useful to you, the casual college basketball viewer who doesn’t have anything else to watch on a weekday night because NFL playoff games are only on the weekend.

Ken Pomeroy runs a great website that has up-to-date college basketball stats. He also adjusts the data to account for level of competition to estimate what teams would score per 100 possessions against average D1 teams. In this post, we’re looking at adjusted defensive efficiency from Ken Pomeroy’s website to gain a better sense of which teams are more prepared for the defensive battles in conference play. The great Aaron Craft’s own Ohio State Buckeyes are the top team in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing and estimated 85.1 points per 100 defensive possessions. The table below shows the top teams in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency as of 1/8/2014. The rank of the far left of the table is Ken Pomeroy’s overall ranking in which he uses adjusted offensive efficiency, strength of schedule, and other stats to rank the best teams. Even after Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State this week, they are still the overall #1 team in Pomeroy’s rankings.

Rank Team Conf AdjD
1 Ohio St. B10 85.1
2 Arizona P12 89
24 Saint Louis A10 89.2
22 Cincinnati Amer 89.5
28 Virginia ACC 89.7
19 San Diego St. MWC 90.4
35 Clemson ACC 90.7
8 Villanova BE 90.8
38 Florida St. ACC 90.9
7 Michigan St. B10 90.9
6 Pittsburgh ACC 91.3
42 Kansas St. B12 91.4
3 Louisville Amer 92.1
5 Wisconsin B10 92.2
34 VCU A10 92.4
17 Florida SEC 93.4
25 North Carolina ACC 93.6
4 Syracuse ACC 93.9
14 Kansas B12 93.9
12 Iowa B10 94
29 Massachusetts A10 94.3
49 Marquette BE 94.3
46 Illinois B10 94.4
10 Oklahoma St. B12 94.7
11 Iowa St. B12 94.7
27 Xavier BE 94.8
52 Louisiana Tech CUSA 94.8
33 Georgetown BE 94.9
71 LSU SEC 94.9
76 Wake Forest ACC 95

As you can see, the top 30 teams are estimated to allow less than 95 points per 100 possessions according to Pomeroy. The top 2 teams overall, are also the two best defensive teams. All of the top 5 overall teams have an adjusted defensive efficiency in the top 15. At least so far this season, great defense leads to high rankings.

Now when we see those random college basketball games on weekdays on ESPN and Fox Sports 1, we need to look at the conferences to determine if we should take the time to watch or not. Using Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency as a very broad measure for quality of play, we see that the Big Ten has the highest average AdjD per team. According to CBS Sports, the Big XII has the highest conference RPI, over the Big Ten and the Big East. So it is also important to know that although all of the teams in the Big XII don’t play the quality of defense as the Big Ten, the teams are just as competitive overall.

Conf AdjD
B10 95.98
ACC 96.55
BE 96.80
B12 98.00
P12 98.54
SEC 98.56
A10 99.23
Amer 99.27
MVC 102.52
MWC 102.62
MAC 102.71
WCC 103.34
SB 103.85
BW 104.02
Horz 104.08
CUSA 104.23
Sum 104.64
Ivy 104.74
MAAC 104.75
Pat 105.04
CAA 105.21
WAC 106.53
AE 107.02
ASun 107.40
BSky 107.80
NEC 108.02
Slnd 108.14
MEAC 108.25
OVC 108.66
BSth 109.26
SC 109.42
SWAC 110.68

Kansas State and KU lead the Big XII in AdjD, and they happen to be playing each other on Saturday. According to Pomeroy, they both hold an average D1 team to below 94 points per 100 possessions. Defense is always a calling card with Bill Self’s and Bruce Weber’s teams. Kansas has much greater firepower on the offensive side, but it will be interesting to see if K-State avoids it’s usual pants-shitting in the first 5 minutes of the game at historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, KS.

The K-State versus KU game aside, Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency is a great stat to track the level of play of many of the team in the power conferences. Defense is the name of the game in college basketball, and this stat is by far the best stat to track.


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