Lopsided Lovelies 2019

- Ky McKeon

Every year I like to check KenPom to see which teams have the largest discrepancy between their adjusted offensive rating and adjusted defensive rating. It fascinates me that teams can be dominant on one end of the floor (or pretty good) and equally as bad on the other. Is it coaching? Is it recruiting? I really don’t know, but it’s fun to look at. This year I decided to take this annual bit a step further. Along with a mid-season peek at who the most unbalanced teams in the country this year are, I’ve also provided a little historical context.

Data is interesting (as my colleague Matthew will tell you). Of the 20 2019 Lopsided Lovelies listed below, maybe only two (VCU & SLU) have a real shot at an at-large Tourney berth. This could be an obvious correlation, as to make this list a team has to be awful on one end of the floor. Not many schools punch Tourney berths with either a crappy offense or a crappy defense. To put that thought pattern in perspective, I’ve identified the teams to make the Tourney each of the past ten seasons that had a discrepancy between their offensive and defensive ranking over 100 spots. The results are ENTICING.

Let’s start with…

As of 12/28/2019

One interesting thing I noticed above was that the 2019 “lopsided” defensive teams have fared better this season overall. Of course, teams like VCU, SLU, and Rutgers are elite on that end, while most of the lopsided offensive schools aren’t necessarily tremendous at their “specialty”. None of those squads have much hope for an at-large bid, but teams like Oakland, NIU, William & Mary, SLU, and Loyola have real shots to claim their conference’s auto-bid.

Onto the historical data…

A snapshot of the past 10 years

Red italics show highs. Green italics show lows.

Running through the data, the first thing to notice is the relative parity between teams that make the Tournament that are better on either side of the ball. The “Offensive Teams” column represents number of squads that ranked higher on offense than defense in that particular year (and vice versa in the “Defensive Teams” column). 2016 is the only season in which more than 54% of the teams that made the Tourney leaned heavier on one side of the ball.

The next main piece to note is the section underneath the header “Performance of Teams with Net Difference > 100”. This data set focuses only on those teams to make the Field of 68 with Pre-Tourney offensive and defensive ranks greater than 100 spots apart. As you can see, most of these teams earn low seeds to the Dance (i.e. auto-bids) and most of these teams experience early exits. Of course, this group has produced some killer Tourney teams - 2017 South Carolina and 2011 VCU each made the Final Four, and 2016 Notre Dame made the Elite Eight.

Let’s zoom in a bit closer by year. All ranks are Pre-Tourney and teams listed all have offensive and defensive ranking discrepancies of over 100 spots. At-large bids are in red italics, all other squads made the Dance as an auto-bid…


Woof. Not a good year to be a lopsided offensive squad. Gregg Marshall’s Wichita team was uncharacteristically poor on defense last season and it cost them against Marshall.


South Carolina proved a team elite on just one side of the ball could reach college basketball’s pinnacle. However, 2017 was Bad News Bears for the four lopsided offensive at-large squads.


2016 was a balanced year - only two lopsided offensive squads (one of which was Mike Brey’s gorgeous Irish team) and four lopsided defensive squads, led by Sparty killer Middle Tennessee.


*** Notre Dame likely would have made the Tourney as an at-large if they hadn’t taken down the ACC Tourney crown… At-large bids for Davidson, BYU, and San Diego State reminds me of simpler times.


2014 Creighton had the best offense in the country, but a defense that ranked outside of the top 100 cost the Jays against the 6-seeded Baylor Bears.


*** Like 2015 Notre Dame, 2013 Oregon mayyyyy have made the Tourney as an at-large squad (though it wasn’t nearly as certain as the Irish)… A Sweet Sixteen berth helped prove the Ducks belonged.


2012 was the most unbalanced year of the past ten seasons. Louisville (again another *** team) earned a trip to the Final Four while Florida used Missouri’s gaffe against Norfolk State to run to the Elite Eight. Also, holy shit South Florida was an at-large squad - crazy times.


2011 VCU put Shaka Smart on the map. Can the Rams repeat the magic in 2019?


2010 Cornell rode a hot Steve Donahue-led offense past Temple and Wisconsin before being steam rolled by a little-known squad called Kentucky.


Ten years ago two top ten defensive squads in Florida State and Illinois earned 5-seeds to the Big Dance. But elite defenses couldn’t get the pair past a couple of always-dangerous 12-seeds.

Ten years ago two top ten defensive squads in Florida State and Illinois earned 5-seeds to the Big Dance. But elite defenses couldn’t get the pair past a couple of always-dangerous 12-seeds.