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The importance of balance and the Final Four

Defense supposedly wins championships, but so does a bit of offense as well.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It is hard to call anything happening in Gonzaga a turnaround. This is a team that is a perennial top-25 team at this point, is able to draw in some big time recruits and is permanently infused on the national radar of the college basketball landscape.

As good as the Bulldogs usually are in the regular season, they often times struggle in the NCAA Tournament. The teams that seems so good and cause Pavlovian responses fade away before ever sniffing the Final Four. The thing is, were those teams Final Four worthy? Specifically, could they play the defense required to even make it to the Final Four?

The offensive proficiency of the Gonzaga Bulldogs over the past decade isn't much of a secret. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Bulldogs have had a top-10 ranked offense four times in the past decade. In 2006, behind the charge of Adam Morrison, Gonzaga had the top offense in the nation.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, defense wins championships. Gonzaga, most of the time, hasn't had one. That same 2006 team that could shoot the lights out of anyone? Its defense was ranked No. 186 in the nation -- the lowest of any team in the NCAA Tournament that was expected to do anything. As Mark Few watched his team slowly whittle away a huge lead, he might've slowly come to the conclusion that sometimes balance is a good thing.

Every year after that, the gap between offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency has closed for the Bulldogs (for the most part). Gonzaga's defense improved from No. 67 in 2010 to No. 15 last season. This season, according to the metrics, the Bulldogs aren't as focused on defense. But this time around, their offense is much better.

The question is whether or not the Bulldogs defense has improved enough to make it to the Final Four? The second question is whether an improved defense is even required?

In the past 10 years, 19 of the teams in the Final Four had an offense that was ranked in the top 10. 21  teams had a defense that was ranked in the top 10. In the past 10 years, only nine teams in the Final Four have had an offense and defense ranked in both the top 10.

Balance, as it turns out, isn't required. But it does help. There are some pretty severe outliers in this group of teams over the years. The 2006 LSU squad had an offense ranked No. 65 but a defense ranked No. 2. The 2012 Louisville team was the largest transgressor with an offense ranked No. 116 but a top ranked defense. Overall, however, most squads in the Final Four are relatively close between offensive and defensive proficiency -- with an average spacing between the offensive and defensive rankings of 21.175.

In the past 10 years, 27 of the possible 40 Final Four have been less than that average and brought as balanced of an attack as possible to the NCAA Tournament. Here is the past 10 years of Final Four team rankings plotted out onto a graph, with the red dots representing teams that won the national title.


There is still what I like to call the human element in there, or teams that just get hot at the right time. The 2008 Butler team marched to the final with a offense ranked No. 48 and a defense at No. 44. The 2008 VCU team had an offense of No. 25 and a defense of No. 84. So again, March Madness is madness for a reason.

For the most part, the teams that excel at both offense and defense are the ones you will see in March for reasons quite easy to understand. Those teams don't get overwhelmed offensively and can hold their own defensively. That sort of team is Bulldogs of this year. Gonzaga is currently ranked No. 3 in offense and No. 16 in defense, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Bulldogs, on paper, look like they'll finally have what it takes to pull off a deep run into March. All we can do right now, is sit back and enjoy the ride before it becomes time to pull our hair out.