HOUSTON (AP) — Adam Seiko and his San Diego State teammates are ready the moment the ball is tilted to hunt down ball handlers, make aggressive changes and shut down hard on any shooter.
They are true believers in the oft-repeated notion that defense wins championships.
“It should be a basic statement in every program,” Seiko said.
Yet while the Aztecs bring that approach to this weekend’s Final Four, the reality is different: The teams that cut the nets on the last Monday of the season have largely been top offensive teams over the past few years. last two decades. This means there has been more return for teams with big shot makers compared to a team full of stoppers that have less of an offensive punch.
“I think most teams that go all the way have to have a few guys who can go get their own bucket or can just score at will,” said Florida Atlantic guard Jalen Gaffney, a transfer from UConn.
And it’s shaping up better for Miami and Connecticut than San Diego State and the FAU as the sport hits its biggest milestone after a topsy-turvy season.
“That’s about when you can’t get saves as a defensive team, do you have the offensive firepower to fight without having a great outing on the defensive end?” said Joel Berry II, the 2017 Final Four Most Outstanding Player in North Carolina’s title run and ACC Network analyst. “And if you don’t have it, it’s hard to compete for a national championship.”
A look at KenPom’s data illustrates this point.
Seventeen of the last 20 NCAA champions have finished in the top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency, which measures points scored per 100 possessions. Four — Florida in its 2007 repeat, UNC in 2009, Duke in 2010 and Villanova in 2018 — have been ranked No. 1. And 14 champions have ranked higher in offensive efficiency than defensive, including every year dating back to Duke in 2015.
In comparison, 10 of the 20 champions finished outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency adjusted for points allowed per 100 possessions. That includes the last two champions, Kansas last year (17th, 91.7) and Baylor in 2021 (22nd, 91.1).
Luke Hancock is linked with one of the outliers, having been named the 2013 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in Louisville’s later canceled run to the trophy. This team ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency (84.8) and seventh in offense (117.7), and Hancock appreciates the value of pressure defense after playing for Rick Pitino.
And yet, the ACC Network analyst is also looking to tackle March Madness.
“When you get to that point, it’s all about who’s playing this smooth game and scoring points in my opinion,” he said, adding, “I just think you can’t really compete if you can’t score basketball for six consecutive games.
There’s a glaring example from recent years: Virginia, with a heavy defensive approach and slow tempo that’s seemingly determined to grind hardwood to dust.
The Cavaliers have had first-round tournament exits in three of their last four appearances. But they won the 2019 championship when they had a trio of NBA-related shotmakers in DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy to round out that defense, including Hunter hitting big shots in the overtime finale against Texas Tech. .
It’s a lesson that UConn coach Dan Hurley took seriously, even with his defensive instincts.
Last year’s team fell to New Mexico State for a first-round outing, and Hurley couldn’t ignore that the Aggies had more peripheral firepower. The Huskies therefore added four transfers for the wing.
As a result, UConn comes to Houston having gone from averaging 113.8 points per 100 possessions last year to 120.8 this year, good for third place nationally. Add a top-11 defense and the Huskies beat four NCAA opponents.
“We knew the defense would come with this team,” forward Alex Karaban said. “We just needed the offensive push.”
The Huskies’ opponent in Saturday’s national semifinal is there with them. Miami ranked fifth nationally (119.6) and has four different players who have had at least three 20-point games this year. The offensive versatility, said guard Jordan Miller, relieves the pressure since the Hurricanes know they can score in any situation.
“We’ve been lucky to have a really good offense this year,” Miller said. “So winning games is all about how many saves we can get. … And we never really have a problem scoring the ball.
It’s a different look in the other semi, where FAU has a top-30 unit at both ends while San Diego State is the defensive headliner in Houston. The Aztecs are fourth nationally in holding their opponents to 89.8 points per 100 possessions but 75th in offense (110.7).
Still, San Diego State was good enough to oust tournament-seeded Alabama and hold off a strong Creighton offense in the Regional Finals. That’s why top scorer Matt Bradley isn’t worried about data showing attacking teams have a tournament advantage.
“The thing is, we’ve got a lot of size, we’ve got a lot of athleticism, we’re playing really strong defensively,” Bradley said. “I think when you have those three things, it gives you a chance to beat anybody.”
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap
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