A Tale of Two Units: Boston College’s Historic Offense-Defense Bipolarity

By John Ezekowitz

High flying Reggie Jackson has led BC this year

By all rights, Boston College (14-6, 4-2 ACC) should be an afterthought in the college basketball landscape this year. New head coach Steve Donahue inherited a veteran but extremely thin roster in his first year at the Heights, and the team was picked 10th in the ACC by the media in the preseason. Yet BC has quietly defied preseason expectations, and, despite being 0-2 against the Ivy League this year, has compiled a strong enough resume (including a win over Texas A&M) to be currently projected as an NCAA Tournament team in every major bracket.

The Eagles have done this despite giving not one, but two walk-ons meaningful minutes (Danny Rubin has started all but three games). How have they done it? By being extremely efficient on offense. BC has scored 1.17 points per possession this season (1.12 PPP in conference play), which is good enough to be ranked as the 2nd best offense in the country by Ken Pomeroy. The bad news is that as good as the Eagles are on offense, they are as bad if not worse on defense, ranking 214th in Pomeroy’s adjusted metric. As I found out, Boston College’s current offensive-defensive bipolarity is not just an interesting note, it’s a historical outlier.To see just how unprecedented BC’s efficiency disparity was, I gathered the adjusted offensive and defensive rankings from all teams in the tempo-free era (from 2003-2004 onward) from Kenpom.com.

Make no mistake, the Eagles’ current attack is elite. Boston College’s current Adjusted Offensive Rating of 120.0 ranks as the 40th best in the last seven years. That’s above the 98th percentile of all college basketball offenses since 2004. Now, the task was compare their defense to the defenses of other teams with “elite” offenses.

To do this, I restricted the sample to the 150 best teams in terms of Adjusted Offensive Rating. Why 150? Well it is a round number. More substantively, 150 represents roughly the top five percent of the sample. I think having an offense better than 95 percent of all other teams in the last seven years is a fairly good indicator that a team’s offense is “elite.”

2011 BC is the right-most data point.

Of those 150 teams, BC had by far the worst Adjusted Defensive Rating (104.5). In fact, ‘the Eagles’ Adjusted Defensive Rating was three standard deviations from the average defensive rating (91.40) for these teams! Below is a table of the five “elite” offensive teams with the worst defensive ratings:

Of the teams with the most efficient college basketball offenses of the tempo-free era, Boston College has the least efficient defense, and it is not even close. In fact, the only team within shouting distance is the memorable 2006 Gonzaga Bulldogs, led by Player of the Year candidate Adam Morrison. This is the Gonzaga team whose style of play Pomeroy has (famously?) said “broke my rankings.”

So by any measure, BC has been and will be a very interesting team to watch for the rest of the season. That 2006 Gonzaga team was ranked 41st by Pomeroy, but made the Sweet 16 as a three seed. The Eagles won’t get that kind of seeding, but it will be interesting to see what they can do come March (or if they even make it to the tournament).

If you like your basketball with efficient scoring from both teams, be sure to catch a Boston College game at some point in the next two months. We may never see a confluence of such efficient offense and terrible defense on one team again.

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