Defense Wins Championships

Rick Barnes is a defensive coach. He just is, right? That's been the party line for years now: Barnes coaches hard-nosed defense, but his teams can falter on the offensive end.

As Lee Corso would say, not-so-fast my friend. While that's the popular sentiment, the numbers tell a totally different story. In eight of the past 10 years, Barnes has produced a top-25 offense in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency. That's a feat his teams have done just four times on the defensive end. And more importantly* Texas has produced a top-30 defense in adjusted defensive efficiency five times.

* More on this in just a bit.

Here are the numbers (top 30 defenses are in bold):

SEASON Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Rank Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Rank
2002-2003 3 44
2003-2004 15 22
2004-2005 25 44
2005-2006 4 10
2006-2007 5 62
2007-2008 3 36
2008-2009 39 28
2009-2010 25 25
2010-2011 21 2
2011-2012 31 44

Why is a top-30 defense important? Because, while the saying goes that "defense wins championships", in college basketball, it's goes even further than that. In college basketball, defensive gives you a chance to win championships. In the last 10 years, just four teams, out of a possible 40, have made the Final Four with defenses ranked worse than No. 30 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Ironically enough, Barnes's 2003 team — ranked 44th — was one of those to make it. The other three were 2003 Marquette (101) and Butler (49) and VCU (86) in 2011.

In the 2012 Final Four, set to be played later today, three of the four teams are ranked in the top five in adjusted defensive efficiency: Louisville (1), Ohio State (2) and Kansas (4). The worst of the bunch, Kentucky, ranks 11th, and has an otherworldly shot-blocker in Wooden Award winner Anthony Davis.

But there's something else worth noting here: Barnes's teams have gotten better on the defensive end. Texas has fielded a top-30 defense in three of the last four years, meaning that Barnes, and Texas, are taking steps in the right direction. The only team to miss that mark was this year's team, which relied so heavily on inexperienced players. Don't be surprised if the 2012-2013 team, with more experience and an influx of interior defenders, makes that four out of five.

So when you watch the Final Four today, make sure to watch the defenses. Because that's what allowed those teams to get there.

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