College basketball defenses that are better (or worse) than you think
Yesterday, we took a look at offenses that were better or worse than you thought in 2014-15 based on efficiency metrics. Today, we’ll break down the defenses. Let’s get right to it.
*All stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.
Better than you thought:
Points allowed per game: 62.7 (71st of 351)
Defensive rating: 92.4 (14th of 351)
It was a successful season for Lon Kruger’s bunch, winning 24 games and notching a 12-6 record in league play before bowing out to Michigan State in the Sweet 16. The Big 12 is known for its high-powered, run-and-gun offenses, but if you dig into the numbers, the Sooners were one of the stingiest defensive units in the country last season.
The Sooners didn’t necessarily have a ‘star’ on defense to mirror Buddy Hield’s pizzazz on offense. What they did have, however, was a plethora of solid defenders.
Defensive win shares are an estimate of wins a player is worth to his team based on defensive performance and on/off court splits. Oklahoma had five players register two wins or more, which is a rare feat in college basketball.
That’s as fine of a team effort as you’ll see.
Duke Blue Devils:
Points allowed per game: 64.2 (110th of 351)
Defensive rating: 96.7 (65th of 351)
These guys were national champions for a reason, right? Obviously Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and the rest of the Blue Devils were a dangerous offensive team last season. But while 2014-15 Duke may not have defended like Coach K’s teams from the Christian Laettner era, their defensive ‘woes’ were overstated last season.
Winslow, in particular, was an absolute monster last year. He was the team’s best defender by a good margin. Foes scored just 92.8 points per 100 possessions with No. 12 on the floor, well below the team’s overall mark, and he led the team in defensive win shares with 2.5. Look for freshman Brandon Ingram to possibly fill that void this coming year.
Points allowed per game: 64.8 (131st of 351)
Defensive rating: 96.8 (71st of 351)
Most classified Kansas as ‘mediocre’ defensively last season when in reality, they should have been considered ‘decent.’ In fact, the 2014-15 rendition of the Jayhawks actually improved 36 spots in defensive efficiency from the year prior, when the team featured top NBA prospects Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins.
Unfortunately for Kansas, they’re losing their two best defenders in Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander. Look for incoming freshman Carlton Bragg to provide a major boost for the Jays on that side of the floor.
Honorable mention: North Carolina, LSU, West Virginia, Belmont
Worse than you thought:
Points allowed per game: 58.2 (12th of 351)
Defensive rating: 97.2 (82nd of 351)
This shouldn’t come as a huge shock given Wisconsin’s underrated offense. Throw pace out of the window, and the Badgers actually ranked behind Duke as a defensive group.
But take a look at the numbers, and they only validate Frank Kaminsky’s Naismith Award even more. The 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game were great, but ‘Frank the Tank’ was labeled as a phenomenal offensive player with defensive limitations throughout his college career.
The advanced numbers do not care about mythical ‘limitations.’ Opponents scored 92.6 points per 100 possessions with Kaminsky on the floor – well below Wisconsin’s season rating, and easily the best mark on the Badgers. Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig all registered ratings near 100.
In conclusion, here is an obvious statement: Frank Kaminsky will be missed in Madison.
But perhaps even more than you’d think.
Points allowed per game: 64.0 (101st of 351)
Defensive rating: 103.0 (219th of 351)
When it rains, it pours in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines certainly didn’t turn in the season they wanted to in 2014-15, finishing 16-16 and missing out on the NCAA Tournament.
Historically, John Beilein’s teams have been offensive-minded. And that sounds fine, in theory, if you trot out an elite offense and a mediocre defense. But Michigan didn’t reach either of those levels last season, and they’ll need to tighten the defensive screws in 2015-16.
Here’s what should give Wolverines fans optimism going into this year, though: a healthy Caris LeVert. Michigan’s best player suited up in just 18 contests last season, but still managed to register the second-most defensive win shares on the team. He was also the only rotation regular to finish with a defensive rating below 100.
Points allowed per game: 60.0 (24th of 351)
Defensive rating: 96.7 (66th of 351)
The Huskies’ title defense didn’t quite go as planned last season, and though they were good on the defensive side of the ball, their numbers were a bit inflated (or deflated, depending on how you look at it) thanks to their methodical style of play.
Amida Brimah gets the most attention as the Huskies’ best defender, and he’s a darn good one. The UConn center averaged more than five blocks per 40 minutes last season. But on/off court splits would suggest that sophomore wing Daniel Hamilton is actually Kevin Ollie’s most valuable defender.
Hamilton’s 92.7 defensive rating was tops on the Huskies by a mile, and he may be the best non-big man rebounder in the country, as he snared almost eight misses per game a year ago.
The problem for UConn is simple – outside of Brimah and Hamilton, the rest of the roster is suspect defensively. No returning regular outside of those two posted a defensive rating below 100, and that’s going to have to change if the Huskies want to return to their 2014 glory.
Honorable mention: Pittsburgh, Northern Iowa, Clemson