No Country for Defense
Newark, New Jersey will play host to a matchup between two of the best offenses in America on Saturday: No. 1 Villanova against No. 23 Notre Dame.
Both of these teams rank inside the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ranks — Villanova No. 2, Notre Dame No. 6. They’re both scoring better than 1.17 points per possessions, which is really good. Neither program plays that fast — in fact, they’re both close to the basement in terms of tempo — but they rarely turn the ball over, and feature shooters all over the floor.
Notre Dame ranks No. 1 in the nation in turnover rate, and has seven players that have made at least eight 3-pointers and shoot 35 percent or better from deep. As a team, Notre Dame is shooting better than 41 percent on 3-pointers. Sophomore Matt Ryan, who in his spare time may or may not play quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, is shooting a ridiculous 47.6 percent on threes. Ryan currently has a true shooting rate of 67.8 percent, too, which is ridiculous.
On the flip side, Villanova ranks 11th in the nation in turnover rate, and shoots a combined 40.6 percent on threes. They currently house five players who have made at least 11 3-pointers this year, and a shoot at a 41 percent or better rate from downtown.
If you enjoy offense — and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you — this game will be a lot of fun to watch. Tip-off time is set for noon on Saturday.
XRM taking care of the ball
Florida State is currently on pace to have the most efficient offense of Leonard Hamilton’s tenure in Tallahassee. Sterling play from Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac, along with the recent addition of P.J. Savoy’s hot-hand to the lineup (15-29 shooting on 3-pointers in his first four games of the season), has set the tone. The Seminoles, however, have also received a boost from point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who is playing the smoothest basketball of his career.
Rathan-Mayes has been an explosive — but at times inefficient — scorer for most of his three years at FSU. For instance, he made 87 threes his first two seasons, but required 308 attempts (28.2 percent) to do so.
As a junior, though, XRM has shifted his role, and has become a less turnover-prone playmaker. Rathan-Mayes ranks fourth in the ACC in terms of assist rate at 30.4 percent, which is a career high. Despite playing fewer minutes than ever before in college (23.9 per game), XRM is averaging a career best five assist per night, which also ranks fourth in the ACC. After posting a combined turnover rate of 18.5 percent his first two seasons, the junior point guard has knocked that down to 17.6 percent this season.
While his shooting has ticked up (54.8 percent on twos), it’s his refined ball skills that are enabling Rathan-Mayes to experience career highs in PER (18.6) and win shares per 40 minutes (.188).
Does Louisville possess the best defensive player in America?
Donovan Mitchell has seen his role expand as a sophomore at Louisville. He’s playing over 29 minutes per game now — a jump of 10 from a year ago. Mitchell has struggled shooting the ball out of the gate, but his effort on the defensive effort has been profound.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Louisville ranks No. 1 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency: 86.8 points per 100 possessions. So far, Mitchell has been the most impactful player on that side of the ball, which is saying something because Jaylen Johnson and Ray Spalding are great, too.
However, Mitchell is swiping 2.4 steals per game, which is tops in the ACC. He ranks 32nd in the country in steal rate (4.7 percent), per KenPom. Now, steals are great, but they aren’t exactly the best indicator of overall defensive performance. Digging a little further — Mitchell, one of the best athletes in America, currently leads the ACC in defensive win shares.
Sports-Reference.com also has Mitchell with the No. 2 individual defensive rating in the ACC — 78.2 points per 100 possessions, trailing only Virginia’s Isaiah Wilkins.
(I’d also like to point out: I frequently like to refer to Mitchell as the ACC’s Russell Westbrook — check some of his dunks on YouTube to see why. This is a hyperbolic comparison, but Westbrook, in his sophomore season at UCLA, was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year back in 2008. I’m not saying; I’m just saying.)
Enjoy your Friday; dunk you very much for reading.