staff, February 8, 2012

Last Tuesday, we watched Illinois and Michigan State fight it out to a 42-41 final. A week later, Ohio State and Purdue matched that point total on the first possession of the second half in an entertaining 87-84 Ohio State win. Both teams used outstanding three-point shooting and minuscule turnover rates to power themselves above 1.30 points per trip, marking a season-high output for both sides.

The Boilermakers went the entire second half without a turnover. Both squads made over half of their threes. This was a shootout, plain and simple, and the most remarkable thing is that the Buckeyes were able to make their decisive run with both Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger on the bench with four fouls. With the likes of Evan Ravenel, Shannon Scott, and Sam Thompson around him, William Buford went on a personal 7-0 run to break open what had been a tie game. That unlikely lineup does deserve credit on the defensive end–while Sullinger sat from 6:50 to 1:45 remaining, Purdue scored just five points on seven possessions, a far cry from the efficiency the Boilers had been riding all game.

Purdue found success by often going small with Robbie Hummel playing the five. Matt Painter has stated before that this is his team's best offensive look, and the results certainly bear that out. Check out the teams' efficiencies when Purdue had a small lineup (Hummel at the five) vs. a big lineup (Carroll/Lawson/Marcius at the five):

Small lineup Big lineup
Purdue 1.68 1.18
Ohio State 1.25 1.43

The Boilermakers were only in the game because of the offensive fireworks provided by the smaller lineup. In the other 31 minutes of clock time, Ohio State outscored Purdue by 15 points. And, in this game at least, the smaller lineup didn't cost Painter's team much on the defensive end, at least in a relative sense (both lineups were torched). Don't be surprised to see more of Hummel at the five as Purdue scratches to reach nine conference wins.

D.J. Byrd had the half of his life, scoring 17 points before intermission and finishing with 24 points on just 12 shots. Kelsey Barlow and Lewis Jackson took advantage of the spread-out Buckeyes to score a combined 28 points, mostly on layups. Buford finished with a career-high 29 points, seven rebounds, and no turnovers.

Even after this decidedly offensive-minded affair, Ohio State continues to lead the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. In fact, the Buckeyes currently have the best adjusted defensive efficiency of the KenPom era (since 2002-03). Here's a chart showing the adjusted efficiency of the nation's best defense in each season:

Remember that, with defensive efficiencies, lower is better. What Ohio State is doing at the defensive end is remarkable, though we probably shouldn't be shocked to see another outburst or two against the Buckeyes to bring their mark more in line with the leaders of recent history. Purdue's explosion bumped Ohio State's adjusted defensive efficiency up from 77.6 to 80.3 points per 100 possessions, a fairly sizable adjustment for one game.

What does having the nation's top defense by this measure portend? Here's a look at what happened to the nation's #1 KenPom defense each season:

Season AdjDE Team NCAA Seed Result
2003 84.2 Kansas 2 Lost in National Championship
2004 83.9 Louisville 10 Lost in Round of 64
2005 84.9 Duke 1 Lost in Sweet Sixteen
2006 84.4 Iowa 3 Lost in Round of 64
2007 82.2 Kansas 1 Lost in Elite Eight
2008 82.8 Kansas 1 Won National Title
2009 82.5 Memphis 2 Lost in Sweet Sixteen
2010 84.5 Florida State 9 Lost in Round of 64
2011 86.2 Florida State 10 Lost in Sweet Sixteen
2012 80.3 Ohio State ?? ??

This is a mixed bag, to be sure, but it's probably more fair to group the Buckeyes with the teams worthy of top seeds than with the Florida States of the world that were not good offensively. It is interesting, however, to see that only two of the last nine top defenses reached the Final Four, and just one of them won a national title (2007-08 Kansas). As with any time you're looking at just one statistic, it's hard to draw meaningful conclusions.

Tonight, it's a doubleheader on BTN. At 5:30pm CT, Penn State visits Michigan State, followed by the 7:30pm CT tip of Michigan at Nebraska. The latter could be a trickier than expected test for the Wolverines–KenPom has Michigan winning by just five points.