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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | November 11, 2018

Nine years of college basketball data show offense matters more in March

Does defense win championships? Not in March.

After comparing nine years of offensive and defensive performance to NCAA tournament success to see which matters more, the winner was clear: offense.

RELATED: College basketball's best defenses this decade

To do this, we looked at two key stats for every Division I team this decade: the team’s offensive rating, and the offensive rating of its opponents.

Put simply, offensive rating is a measure of how many points a team would score in 100 possessions.

So, in the past decade, which teams lead in each category?

In offense, it’s Duke. The Blue Devils have an average offensive rating of 116.33, markedly higher than the Division I average of 103.02. While the Blue Devils have never led the country in offensive ranking this decade, they have been in the top 10 in seven years, and never worse than 16, leading to an average ranking of 7.3, almost twice as good as the next best team (Saint Mary’s, at 14). That’s consistency.

Rk School AvG ORtg AvG ORtg rk NCAAT wins since '10
1 Duke 116.33 7.33 23
2 Saint Mary's (CA) 115.61 14.00 3
3 Gonzaga 114.87 15.78 17
4 Notre Dame 113.21 28.33 8
5 Kansas 113.00 26.44 23
6 Kentucky 112.88 26.11 28
7 Wichita State 112.31 31.78 9
8 Villanova 112.20 51.67 16
9 Belmont 112.08 35.78 0
10 Creighton 111.83 44.33 3

On the defensive end, it’s a toss-up for the top team since 2010. On one hand, Stephen F. Austin leads Division I with an average rating of 91.62 — miles ahead of the Division I average of 101.79. But San Diego State has had the most consistently high-ranked defenses, with an average ranking of 19.9.

Rk SCHOOL AvG Opp. ORtg AvG Opp. ORtg rk NCAAT wins since '10
1 Stephen F. Austin 91.62 20.78 2
2 San Diego State 92.27 19.89 6
3 Virginia 92.81 40.89 7
4 Cincinnati 92.84 28.67 6
5 Louisville 93.19 38.11 16
6 Wichita State 93.31 34.67 9
7 Gonzaga 94.31 34.22 17
8 North Carolina Central 94.53 64.75 0
9 Ohio State 94.72 45.56 13
10 Kentucky 94.87 47.67 28

But how does that translate to performance in the NCAA tournament?

Looking at the teams that lead each category should give you some clue. Behind Kentucky’s 28, Duke has the most NCAA tournament wins since 2010 with 23. Stephen F. Austin and San Diego State combine for just eight.

MORE: A bracket geek's take-it-to-the-bank 2019 March Madness predictions

But are those outliers, or marks of a trend? Do the strongest offensive teams have more NCAA tournament success than the strongest defensive teams?

To answer that, we turned to correlation coefficients, which help measure the relationship between two sets of numbers, showing how closely trends in one set match trends in another. For our purposes, those sets were offensive rating/opponent offensive rating and NCAA tournament wins since 2010.

Again, the data here favored offenses, showing that in terms of NCAA tournament success, a team’s performance in offensive rating was approximately 50 percent more important than its performance in opponent offensive rating.

We can see this more simply if we look at all Final Four teams this decade.

The average Final Four team’s offense ranks around No. 39 in the country, and their defense near No. 55. If we focus on national champions, those numbers get even better, at approximately No. 21 for offenses and No. 42 for defenses.

Year Team ORtg (rank) Opp. ORtg (rank) Result
2010 Duke 115.7 (7) 91.7 (14) Champion
2010 West Virginia 111.4 (23) 97.7 (99) Lost in Final Four
2010 Michigan State 108.7 (50) 96.5 (66) Lost in Final Four
2010 Butler 106.8 (78) 92.4 (18) Runner up
2011 Connecticut 109.2 (43) 97.8 (87) Champion
2011 Virginia Commonwealth 108.3 (54) 101.1 (171) Lost in Final Four
2011 Kentucky 112.8 (14) 95.6 (44) Lost in Final Four
2011 Butler 109 (45) 98.1 (96) Runner up
2012 Kentucky 116.5 (4) 91.2 (14) Champion
2012 Ohio State 111.6 (18) 89.4 (5) Lost in Final Four
2012 Kansas 108.8 (41) 91.4 (16) Runner up
2013 Wichita State 107.5 (49) 94.3 (50) Lost in Final Four
2013 Syracuse 107.3 (53) 89.4 (10) Lost in Final Four
2013 Michigan 116.1 (3) 97.7 (116) Runner up
2014 Connecticut 108.9 (87) 95.9 (24) Champion
2014 Florida 111.1 (63) 91.8 (10) Lost in Final Four
2014 Wisconsin 115.7 (13) 100.7 (94) Runner up
2014 Kentucky 112.4 (43) 100.1 (78) Runner up
2015 Duke 119.4 (4) 96.7 (64) Champion
2015 Wisconsin 121.1 (1) 97.2 (82) Lost in Final Four
2015 Michigan State 109.7 (46) 98.2 (93) Lost in Final Four
2015 Kentucky 115.5 (11) 84.4 (1) Lost in Final Four
2016 Villanova 115.4 (9) 94.2 (15) Champion
2016 Oklahoma 111 (48) 99 (84) Lost in Final Four
2016 Syracuse 106.7 (120) 99.3 (90) Lost in Final Four
2016 North Carolina 118 (4) 99.8 (100) Runner up
2017 North Carolina 116 (10) 97 (48) Champion
2017 Oregon 114.2 (15) 95.2 (24) Lost in Final Four
2017 South Carolina 102.9 (197) 91.8 (4) Lost in Final Four
2017 Gonzaga 116.4 (9) 86.7 (1) Runner up
2018 Villanova 122.2 (1) 99.1 (69) Champion
2018 Loyola (IL) 108.4 (97) 94.7 (12) Lost in Final Four
2018 Kansas 115.3 (14) 101.9 (148) Lost in Final Four
2018 Michigan 110.8 (56) 95.3 (17) Runner up

*Louisville's appearances in 2012 and 2013 were later vacated.

All combined, the numbers from the past nine years show an overwhelming trend — offense matters more in March.