The simple goal of basketball is to score points while preventing your opponent from scoring. We all know that, I'm not breaking down any philosophical walls of hoops knowledge by saying that.
How to go about doing that is all of the tactics behind the sport that can make some coaches famously powerful and cause some to wander into spirals of doubt and confusion. No matter the strategy behind each team, we can measure a team's effectiveness by a simple question: How much does your team outscore your opponent on each possession?
This reduction of the sport to per possession statistics has seen a wave of new numbers and technologies implemented to better track the sport that had been stuck to counting numbers for ages. It all operates under a notion that all opportunities being equal, who would come out ahead.
Ken Pomeroy was the first to become well known for his adjusted per possession numbers and he's been followed by numerous others that have copied, evolved, and invented new methods of their own. Companies like Synergy have taken hoops data to unparalleled heights although with a hefty subscription fee.
Now, all statistics are flawed in a way. You know the saying, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” We can manipulate numbers to tell whatever story we want.
For example, take Player A. His field goal percentage has shot up over 40%, he's shooting 27% better from the free throw line, tripled his rebounds, doubled his blocks, and is hitting his career high in points on a near weekly basis.
Player B is having a down year. His field goal percentage is down two points, his rebounding is down about 33%, his blocks are down significantly, and his scoring has dipped by 20%.
Numbers show what you want them to show if you present it with context designed to mask the realities. Plumlee's numbers are up significantly because he rarely played last season. Sulaimon's scoring numbers are down because he's played more of a passing role on this team than last year's.
Sulaimon's numbers are down but his impact has been even greater thanks to a role as point guard.
With all of that said, I want to take a look at how Duke stacks up statistically to teams from last decade based on per possession numbers and try to cut through all the crap.
First of all, it is going to be difficult to compare Duke to anyone that is identical since Duke's offense is setting records for efficiency this season. The 126.4 adjusted offensive rating for the Blue Devils would be the highest of the Pomeroy era.
Naturally, it was difficult to find matches that were similar in both offensive and defensive performance so instead I focused on teams that had a similar difference in their ratings. This ultimately boils down to teams that were roughly 26 points better than their opponents over 100 possessions.
I compiled a list of similar teams that fell at or near the 26 point difference from each season dating back through 2004. Overall, there were 19 teams that fit the criteria.
Only 2010 and 2012 Syracuse were more than 2 points from 2014 Duke's 26.8 scoring margin.
Of these 19 teams, there were two national champions (2004 UConn and 2006 Florida) and six other Final Four participants. Five of the teams lost to another team on this list in the NCAA tournament.
On average, each team won 3.4 games in the tournament which equates to an Elite 8 appearance. The teams with at least a 26 point scoring margin averaged 4.6 wins per tournament, equating to a Final Four appearance and more often than not a championship game appearance.
Hood's insane efficiency this season has him as one of the best shooters in the ACC.
Of the 17 teams that didn't win the title, all but 3 of them lost to a team in Pomeroy's top ten that year.
Now, this isn't a perfect study. The first flaw is that none of these teams were as good offensively as Duke is and the Blue Devils are no where near as good as these teams on defense. None of them really match the make up of the Blue Devils in terms of roster personnel or tendencies.
However, I think it illustrates that despite Duke's obvious defensive weakness, it has enough offensive firepower to overcome that and compete for a national championship. Obviously, they have the talent to do so and they've slowly worked their way up the polls into a top five position. But there have been reservations that Duke doesn't have the defense to win the title.
After all, the highest defensive rating from a champion over the Pomeroy era was the 2009 North Carolina squad that posted a 92.9 rating. They had a margin of 29.5 points that year.
So, when Selection Sunday comes around in less than a month, which teams should Duke look out for?
10 of the 17 teams lost to someone with a 26 point margin or better. Three others lost to teams with a 22 point margin or better.
Only one other team has more than a 26 point margin: Creighton (26.7)
The teams in the next tier are: Florida (25.4), Arizona (25), Syracuse (24.9), Iowa (24.4), Louisville (24.2), Villanova (23.8), Kansas (23.3), Virginia (22.7), Wichita State (22.5), Wisconsin (22.1)
Now, I'm not saying Creighton is going to win the championship. I'm not even saying Duke should be fearful of the Bluejays, especially considering last year's matchup.
I'm also not saying Duke won't get upset by a lower rated team, just that it is unlikely to come from a team outside this group.
However, if you can look to history and what the numbers have shown throughout the last decade, you'll see that Duke has as good of a chance to win the title this year as any in recent memory. If Duke grabs a 2-seed in the tournament, any one of those teams could knock the Blue Devils off in the Sweet 16 or beyond.
As the tournament nears, keep an eye on which teams cross that 26 point threshold and which teams get placed in Duke's bracket. I would brace yourselves for a Final Four run.