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Brian Mull | | December 16, 2015

College basketball: Here's why Duke and Notre Dame have the 2 best offenses in the country

  Grayson Allen has helped Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils become the nation's most efficient offense.

The numbers don’t lie – five of the ACC’s offenses are among the nation’s best.

Through the first month of the season, Duke, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Miami and Virgina are among the leaders in adjusted offensive efficiency (AOE), per The metric is an estimate of how many points a team would score per 100 possessions against the average Division I defense.

Here’s what makes each offense click.

Duke - No. 1 in the nation with an AOE of 120.3

The Blue Devils lost their top four scorers off a national championship team and still rank top five for the sixth time in seven years. Despite playing long stretches without a true point guard, Duke protects the ball (14.8 percent turnover rate).

After a slow start, talented freshman Brandon Ingram (above) has an offensive rating of 114.0 or better in the last four games, hitting 8 of 14 3-pointers in that span. Fellow slasher Grayson Allen has picked up where he finished last April, playing like a first-team All-American (137.3 offensive rating).

These Blue Devils attack the basket (46.9 percent free-throw rate) and don’t rely on the 3-pointer as much as past Mike Krzyzewski teams. Only one-third of their field goal attempts are 3-pointers, which is less than the national average of 35.9 percent. But Allen, Matt Jones and Derryck Thornton are shooting 45 percent or better from long range. Those percentages will likely decline when Duke starts ACC play.

Gaudy numbers aside, Duke must evolve without forward Amile Jefferson, who was averaging a double-double but is out indefinitely with a fractured ankle. His absence means an even shorter bench and more minutes for Ingram as a stretch four, a position where Duke has always thrived. But extending possessions (41.7 pct. offensive rebounding rate) has been a valuable piece of Duke’s offense and its board work could suffer without Jefferson, who is the nation’s 14th best offensive rebounder and has made 41 of 60 2-pointers.

Notre Dame - No. 2 with an AOE of 118.8

The Fighting Irish possess a simple, yet sweet combination that tastes delicious to any connoisseur of offense: they get a shot and they make a high percentage of those shots.

Esquire of efficiency Jerian Grant has departed, however, coach Mike Brey’s club remains in the top 20 nationally in turnover rate (14.5 pct.) and effective field goal percentage (.567).

Notre Dame (7-2) doesn't hurry to shoot (66.0 possessions per game, 330th in nation) but takes the shots it wants. Four rotation players make at least 1.5 3-pointers per game and connect on 40 percent of attempts. The Irish have scored 1.10 points / possession or more in eight of nine games.

Having a talented inside-outside duo like point guard Demetrius Jackson (above) and forward Zach Auguste helps as well. Jackson has made 61.4 percent of 2s and 42.9 percent of 3s. Auguste, a 6-10, 245-pound forward, draws almost six fouls per game though he could stand to improve his free-throw shooting (55.8 percent).

Steve Vasturia is often overlooked in the media but not on the opposition’s scouting reports. He scores efficiently on 3s (44.3 pct.) and 2s (58.7 pct.)

North Carolina - No. 3 with an AOE of 117.5

UNC’s offense has improved each game since preseason All-American guard Marcus Paige returned from a hand injury. The Tar Heels like to play fast - their average offensive possession lasts 14.5 seconds - and push to score in transition (one-third of their shots occur in first 10 seconds of the shot clock). Coach Roy Williams has size (21st in nation in effective height), can go eight or nine players deep and field a lineup with five scoring threats. Six of the top eight Tar Heels have an offensive rating of 115.0 or higher.

The Tar Heels are balanced, inside and outside.

A quartet of front-court regulars - Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Justin Jackson - each convert 60 percent or better from 2-point range. While the 3-point line was a trouble spot last season for UNC (7-2), that’s not been the case in 2015-16. Nate Britt and Joel Berry have combined to hit 30 of 73 behind-the-arc (41 percent). Paige, who set the school record for career 3-pointers in Saturday’s loss to Texas, has been sharp in all three outings this season, hitting 9 of 16 from deep and committing a turnover on only 8.4 percent of possessions.

The Tar Heels finished top 11 in adjusted offensive efficiency each of Williams’ first six seasons in Chapel Hill (2004-09) and won two national championships. In the past seven seasons, they cracked the top 11 once (last season) and this year’s team is on pace to be the best in that span.

Miami - No. 5 with an AOE of 116. 2

A mild surprise this season, a close look at the Hurricanes’ offensive stats reveals only strengths. Miami coach Jim Larranaga has always embraced and emphasized advanced analytics with his teams. This group reflects such attention to detail and is dangerous from everywhere.

They make 3-pointers (42.4 pct.), 2-pointers (53.9 pct.), free throws (78.3 pct.), avoid turnovers (15.6 TO rate), frequently reach the line (46.2 pct. FT rate), don’t let opponents steal the ball or block their shots. The only area of offense where they haven’t excelled this season is the offensive glass, yet they’re still above average in creating second chances.

Sheldon McClellan (above) leads the Miami attack, which ranks 209th in average length of offensive possession. His true shooting percentage - which approximates the 2-point percentage a player would need to have to score the points he produces on all shot attempts - is a ridiculous 73.7 percent (third in the nation) and his offensive rating is an equally bonkers 142.5.

Yet, the 8-1 Canes are hardly a one-man operation. They’ve scored 1.15 points per possession in seven of nine games on the strength of balance. The rotation fluctuates between seven and nine players, and the nine who have played at least 31 percent of available minutes have an offensive rating of 108.0 or better.

Virginia - No. 7 with an AOE of 115.7

The Cavaliers are the bright light of reason in any argument against the validity of advanced statistics. In the traditional statistic of scoring offense, their 76.7 points per game average places them in a tie for 126th (out of 351).

Removing tempo from the equation, on the other hand, reveals that the Cavaliers have one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. They just enjoy making defenders spend more time in those troublesome stances. UVa’s average offensive possession takes 18.7 seconds (318th in the nation) yet generally ends well, producing 1.22 points per trip.

Coach Tony Bennett’s club is careful with the basketball (13.8 pct. turnover rate) and has enjoyed a slight bump in 3-point proficiency (38.0 pct.) compared to last year. If form holds, the Cavs will finish with a top 25 offense for the third consecutive season after being ranked 89th or worse in adjusted efficiency during Bennett’s first four seasons.

There are two key components to the Virginia attack. Versatile 6-5 Malcolm Brogdon (above), who can play anywhere from point guard to small forward. He takes 29.4 percent of the shots and has a 121.2 offensive rating. Anthony Gill, a 6-8 forward, is a ferocious rim attacker (57.3 percent on 2-pointers, 61.3 percent free throw rate).

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