Ranking the Most Unstoppable Offenses in College Basketball

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 13, 2020

Ranking the Most Unstoppable Offenses in College Basketball

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    Gonzaga's Filip Petrusev
    Gonzaga's Filip PetrusevYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    No team is unbeatable in men's college basketball this year, but there are quite a few offenses that feel like they cannot be stopped.

    That doesn't mean they score on every possession. It doesn't even mean they average at least one point per possession in every game. But they frequently have performances even an elite defense like that of Virginia or Texas Tech would have a hard time slowing down.

    In most seasons, this list is flooded with blue bloods and conventional major-conference representatives. But this year, we have Gonzaga, Dayton, San Diego State and BYU sitting pretty in the top nine.

    It shouldn't come as a surprise that the majority of our top teams also rank near the top in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. However, this ranking is based on more than just one metric of offensive efficiency.

    Which teams have the most unstoppable individual players? How many guys can they count on to score every night? And what are their biggest weaknesses?

    Teams are ranked in ascending order of how much we trust them to score consistently against an average defense.

Honorable Mentions

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    Villanova's Collin Gillespie
    Villanova's Collin GillespieMatt Slocum/Associated Press

    Arizona Wildcats

    Arizona's offensive metrics are great, but that's largely because the Wildcats averaged 88.9 points per game in November. Since then, they've been much more sporadic, punctuated by the 65-52 home loss to UCLA this past weekend. Maybe they'll bounce back for the home stretch, but it seems this freshman-led team is hitting the proverbial wall.


    Baylor Bears

    After winning 52-45 against Texas on Monday night, Baylor is nowhere close to this conversation. In fact, the Bears haven't hit 80 in a game yet in 2020. But there's certainly something unstoppable about the No. 1 team in the AP poll that has won 21 consecutive games. In this case, though, it's the defense.


    Marquette Golden Eagles

    Markus Howard is unstoppable, and he has several teammatesBrendan Bailey, Sacar Anim and Koby McEwenwho have been known to catch fire from distance. Moreover, this offense has been on fire lately, putting up at least 76 points in seven consecutive games (prior to Wednesday night's game at Villanova). But most NCAA tournament-caliber foes have been able to hold this offense in check.


    Northern Iowa Panthers

    There are only a couple of teams that shoot better than Northern Iowa, which ranks fourth nationally in effective field-goal percentage. But the Panthers have only faced two opponents anywhere close to the at-large conversation, and they were held to 55 points in a 68-possession game against West Virginia. Cinderella candidate? Absolutely. Top unstoppable offense? Jury's still out.


    Saint Mary's Gaels

    Saint Mary's can make it rain from three-point range, shooting better than 40 percent as a team. The Gaels also don't commit many turnovers. But they've had some seriously troubling performances at home against Winthrop, Northern Illinois, Santa Clara and San Francisco. When those teams can hold you to an average of 61.0 points in your own gym, you're not unstoppable.


    Villanova Wildcats

    One month ago, Villanova would have been a lock for this list. The Wildcats rarely commit turnovers, they are incredible from the free-throw line and we all know how dangerous Jay Wright's teams can be when they're hitting at least 35 percent of the many three-pointers they attempt in every game. But they've had some lackluster outputs lately against Connecticut, Providence, Creighton and Seton Hall. Hard to call them unstoppable when they've been subdued frequently.

9. BYU Cougars

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    Yoeli Childs
    Yoeli ChildsYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    Some of BYU's year-to-date numbers are incredible.

    The Cougars are leading the nation in three-point shooting with a mark of 42.7 percent. They're also No. 1 in effective field-goal percentage and No. 2 in true shooting percentage, narrowly trailing Dayton in the latter category.

    Per KenPom, BYU is fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency, despite ranking 349th in offensive rebound percentage and 347th in free-throw rate.

    But against "real" competition, the Cougars haven't been anywhere near as efficient. In four games against KenPom Top 25 foesSan Diego State, Houston, Kansas and GonzagaBYU scored 268 points in 284 possessions. It also managed just 68 in a 79-possession loss to Boise State.

    Perhaps it's merely coincidence that BYU had its worst shooting performances against its toughest opponents, but these things are bound to happen from time to time when you rarely get to the charity stripe and don't create second-chance opportunities for yourself.

    The Cougars are loaded with great shooters, yet they are liable to go cold against physical, aggressive defenses that make them work for every inch of open space. So even though they average better than 80 points per game and frequently go through stretches during which the entire team is NBA Jam on fire, it's hard to call them a top-five unstoppable offense when we know a Texas Tech or a Baylor would give them fits.

    Still, watch out for this team in March. When Yoeli Childs is available to them, the Cougars have been a scoring machine. 

8. Kansas Jayhawks

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    Udoka Azubuike
    Udoka AzubuikeReed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Similar to BYU, Kansas has had arguably too many poor showings on offense to belong anywhere close to this list.

    The Jayhawks were held to 55 points in each of the losses to Baylor and Villanova. They scored 66 while committing 28 turnovers in the season-opening loss to Duke. And through 10 Big 12 games, they're only averaging 68.2 points.

    Without question, Kansas' defense is better than its offense and is the biggest reason this is one of the favorites to win the national championship.

    And yet, there seems to be a stretch of 2-5 minutesperhaps multiple such stretches—during every game in which Kansas simply cannot miss.

    It's as if the Jayhawks suddenly remember that they have the current front-runner for KenPom Player of the Year (Devon Dotson) as well as a big man leading the nation in effective field-goal percentage by a country mile (Udoka Azubuike) and just flip a switch to enter takeover mode.

    In the recent win over Texas Tech, they started the game in that mode, jumping out to a 17-2 lead before the Red Raiders even knew what hit them. Even in the low-scoring 60-46 win over TCU this past Saturday, Kansas reeled off 15 points in the span of seven possessions late in the contest to turn a close game into a blowout in a hurry.

    Speaking on behalf of fans in Lawrence as well as anyone trying to figure out who we can trust in the NCAA tournament, it's mighty frustrating that Kansas doesn't play with that type of fluidity and urgency for more than a few minutes per game. However, few teams can turn it on quite like this one.

7. Duke Blue Devils

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    Tre Jones and Vernon Carey Jr.
    Tre Jones and Vernon Carey Jr.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Really, when does Duke not have one of the most unstoppable offenses?

    The Blue Devils are well on their way to a 12th consecutive season ranked in the top eight in adjusted offensive efficiency, even though it often feels like only three guys on the floor have any interest in trying to score.

    Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire and Jack White each averages fewer than seven field-goal attempts per 40 minutes, and Wendell Moore hasn't been a particularly assertive shooter, either. And each of those four players averages at least 13.5 minutes per game, so there's usually two of them out there at any given time, mostly providing defense and/or rebounding while some combination of Vernon Carey Jr., Tre Jones, Cassius Stanley and Matthew Hurt runs the show.

    That's business as usual for Mike Krzyzewski, though. We most vividly remember the phenoms like Zion Williamson and Jabari Parker, but the best Duke teams have always had multiple "role players" like Josh Hairston, Tyler Thornton, David McClure, Matt Jones, Lance Thomas, etc.

    When the Blue Devils won it all in 2010, they only had three players averaging better than 5.6 points per game, and yet they led the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.

    That team thrived on the offensive glass, and so does the current one. Carey is the team leader in that regard, but he averages less than three of Duke's nearly 13 offensive rebounds per game. Aside from Jones and Goldwirewho are more concerned with preventing fast-break opportunitiesit's simply a teamwide effort to not give up on possessions just because a shot goes up.

    Duke did recently have a 63-point dud against Boston College, but it started 0-of-14 from three-point range in a classic trap-game situation prior to facing North Carolina and Florida State in the span of 50 hours. Throw out that outlier, and this has been a top-notch offense for the past three months.

6. San Diego State Aztecs

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    Malachi Flynn
    Malachi FlynnDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    It's incredible that San Diego State is firmly in the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but it's astounding that the Aztecs have put together one of the best offenses in the nation, because scoring efficiently is a concept that had escaped San Diego State for decades.

    Just last season, the Aztecs were 184th in adjusted offensive efficiency, and it wasn't a particularly down year in that regard. They ranked outside the top 150 in that category in four of the past five seasons. Their average rank from 2002 to '19 was 107.4, and they have never finished a season in the top 25.

    But they are in the top 10 this year thanks to a scoring influx from the transfer market.

    Malachi Flynn (formerly of Washington State), Yanni Wetzell (Vanderbilt) and KJ Feagin (Santa Clara) have started every game for the undefeated Aztecs, combining for 37 points and 10 assists per game. Flynn is the undisputed star of the show, but all three have been instrumental in turning this into an offense that averages better than 75 points per game in spite of an adjusted tempo that ranks in the bottom 10 percent nationally.

    In addition to that trio, San Diego State has a pair of juniorsMatt Mitchell and Jordan Schakelwho are each averaging better than 10 points per game and shooting north of 40 percent from beyond the arc.

    This is also one of the most turnover-averse teams in the country, averaging just 10.9 giveaways per game. No individual Aztec is responsible for more than 1.9 of those, and less than half of them are live-ball turnovers (AKA steals).

    And best of luck trying to make a late comeback against this team. Four of the five starters shoot better than 81 percent from the free-throw line. There haven't been many games in which the Aztecs had to salt it away from the charity stripethey usually win comfortably—but they've shot 148-of-177 (83.6 percent) in the 10 games decided by fewer than 15 points.

5. Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Luka Garza
    Luka GarzaCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Iowa is particularly unstoppable at home. Luka Garza and Co. have averaged 81.8 points with a 12-1 record and an average scoring margin of plus-15.0 points per game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Get this team out of its element, though, and those numbers drop to 76.0, 5-6 and negative-1.6, respectively.

    Still, averaging 76 points away from home is solid and a testament to how dangerous the Hawkeyes should be in the tournament.

    It all starts with Garza, who has become a modern-era Tyler Hansbrough. The big man averages 23 points and 10 rebounds per game with the tenacity of a guy who looks like he chops down trees as a light workout. But where he differs from Hansbrough is he also possesses the necessary touch to shoot better than 38 percent from three-point range.

    Garza has scored at least 21 points in 15 of his last 17 games. He also had at least four offensive rebounds in 10 of those contests. And with most of the defense's energy focused on trying to slow that dude down, there's excess floor space for the rest of the Hawkeyes to operate. That isn't to say double-digit scorers Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick need that extra room to make baskets, but it surely doesn't hurt.

    And even though Iowa ranks third in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, there's still a major 'Imagine what could have been?' factor with this offense.

    Jordan Bohannona senior point guard with more than 1,300 points and 500 assists in his careershut down his season after 10 games to have hip surgery and still get a medical redshirt to return next year. Starting forward Jack Nunge was averaging 13.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per 40 minutes when he suffered a torn ACL five games into the season. All due respect to Ryan Kriener and Joe Toussaint, but you have to believe Iowa would be even more lethal if it still had Bohannon and Nunge.

4. LSU Tigers

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    Trendon Watford (2) and Marlon Taylor (14)
    Trendon Watford (2) and Marlon Taylor (14)Julie Bennett/Associated Press

    Ten months ago, I expected LSU to be an unmitigated disaster this year.

    We knew the Tigers were losing senior Kavell Bigby-Williams, and it was a safe (and ultimately correct) assumption they would also be losing Naz Reid and Tremont Waters as early entrants to the NBA draft. Add in the possibility that Skylar Mays and/or Javonte Smart would leaveplus the uncertainty surrounding the whole Will Wade/FBI situationand LSU was an obvious choice for my way-too-early list of high seeds in the 2019 tournament who wouldn't dance in 2020.

    But Wade is still the coach, Mays and Smart are still around and scoring more than 28 combined points per game and the Tigers got a late commitment from 5-star forward Trendon Watford, who is putting up numbers darn near identical to what Reid did last year. Throw in Emmitt Williams and Darius Days thriving in expanded roles, and LSU is even more of an offensive force than it was last year.

    Each of those five starters is averaging at least 12 points per game.

    The Tigers aren't quite as much of a threat to reach the Final Four because their defense is a dumpster fire. (Twice last week, they lost games in which they scored 90.) But if you're looking for a team that's capable of putting up at least 80 points against anyone, look no further.

    The preposterous thing about that statement is LSU has no perimeter game. Only three players on this roster have made more than a dozen triples this season, and two of them (Smart and Days) shoot below 30 percent. And at 35.9 percent, Mays isn't exactly a sniper. The Tigers also record assists on fewer than 46 percent of their made buckets.

    But between Watford, Williams and Days, the Tigers thrive in the paint. That trio combines for 12.4 made twos and 7.4 offensive rebounds per game. Those three also make roughly nine free throws per game for a team that shoots 77 percent from the line.

    LSU simply muscles its way to a bunch of points on a nightly basis.

3. Dayton Flyers

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    Obi Toppin and Jalen Crutcher
    Obi Toppin and Jalen CrutcherTony Tribble/Associated Press

    Everyone knows about Obi Toppin—Dayton's 6'9" rim-rattling dunker with legitimate three-point range and an outside shot at both being named National Player of the Year and going No. 1 in the 2020 NBA draft. Per KenPom, Toppin has posted an O-rating better than 100 in every game but one, and he still went for 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists when he had that 99 score against North Texas.

    But those who haven't watched much Dayton this season are going to be surprised to figure out during the NCAA tournament that Toppin is just one part of the Flyers' remarkable six-man show.

    Toppin makes 70 percent of his two-point attempts, but close behind at 68 percent is Trey Landers, who also shoots almost 40 percent from distance and ranks 19th in the nation in effective field-goal percentage. He only shoots about half as often as Toppin, but he's just as lethal.

    Ryan Mikesell is no slouch as a 65 percent two-point shooter, either, and that trio is primarily responsible for Dayton ranking No. 1 in two-point percentage by a laughable margin.

    In addition to Landers' three-point stroke, the Flyers have Ibi Watson and Jalen Crutcher shooting better than 40 percent from downtownthe latter of whom also averages over five assists per game and seems to save his best performances for Dayton's toughest games.

    The weakest link of the bunch is Rodney Chatman, shooting below 40 percent from the field and frequently struggling with turnovers. But what a luxury it must be to have a sixth-best contributor averaging 7.9 points and 3.5 assists per game.

    Dayton has scored better than one point per possession in every game this season, including the neutral-site losses to Kansas and Colorado. If the Flyers make an early exit from the NCAA tournament, it's hard to imagine it will be because the offense fails to deliver the goods.

2. Louisville Cardinals

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    Jordan Nwora
    Jordan NworaWade Payne/Associated Press

    While Louisville isn't No. 1 on the list, there is no team with more terrifying "spurtability" than the Cardinals.

    In four consecutive recent games against Clemson, Boston College, North Carolina State and Wake Forest, there was a stretch of about six minutes in which they looked like the top candidate to win the national championship.

    Against the Tigers, it was an 11-9 game with 13:40 remaining in the first half. By the 8:20 mark, it was 31-9.

    Against the Eagles, they were down 25-16 after eight minutes. Less than six minutes later, they were up 37-31.

    Against the Wolfpack, they turned a 21-19 deficit into a 41-24 lead in the span ofyou guessed itsix minutes.

    And against Wake Forest, Louisville trailed 49-35 less than a minute into the second half. This one took slightly longer, but the Cardinals went on a 25-4 run over the course of the next six minutes and 25 minutes.

    If they could maintain that pace of roughly 20 points per six minutes for entire games, they'd be eclipsing 130 on a nightly basis.

    And those certainly aren't the only examples of these types of spurts. They're just the most recent.

    In the season opener against Miami (FL), the Cardinals put together a 40-10 run that lasted about 13 minutes. They turned a close game against USC Upstate into a laugher with a 21-2 run late in the second half. Similar story against Miami-Ohio when a 44-40 nail-biter quickly became a 70-43 blowout. And in the marquee road win over Duke, they never relinquished the lead after a 17-1 run early in the first half.

    Such is life for a team with a National Player of the Year candidate in Jordan Nwora and a rotation that runs nine deep with minimal drop-off in production. Louisville's ninth-leading scorer (Samuell Williamson) has put up at least 13 points in three games this season. And its seventh-leading scorer (David Johnson) is a rapidly emerging freshman star who has averaged 18.1 points and 8.4 assists per 40 minutes over his last eight games.

    Good luck trying to find a deeper crop of talent than this.

    Note: This was written before the 64-58 loss to Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. For whatever reason, that's the second time the Cardinals have struggled to score against the sub-.500 Yellow Jackets this season.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Corey Kispert
    Corey KispertYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    When each of your five starters is averaging at least 10 points per game, you're having a good season.

    But when you also have two reserves putting up double digits, you have something special brewing.

    That's where Gonzaga is at with just five games remaining on its regular-season slate. Filip Petrusev (17.2 PPG), Corey Kispert (13.8), Killian Tillie (13.0), Admon Gilder (11.0), Joel Ayayi (10.7), Drew Timme (10.3) and Ryan Woolridge (10.3) are each making significant contributions to an offense that is leading the nation in scoring by a margin of nearly six points per game.

    Gilder (46.6 percent) is the only member of that seven-man rotation making fewer than 53 percent of two-point attempts. As a team, the Zags are at 57.8 percent from inside the arc and 39.1 percent beyond it, ranking third and sixth, respectively, in the country.

    BYU is the only other team in the top 20 in both of those categories, but Gonzaga is drastically better at corralling its (rare) misses and getting to the free-throw line, putting the Bulldogs comfortably ahead of their WCC brethren.

    During its current 17-game winning streak, Gonzaga is averaging 90.6 points and has been held below 83 just once. It didn't even matter that Petrusev missed much of the 92-69 win over BYU with an ankle injury, or that Tillie missed three entire games during that stretch with injuries of his own. There are just too many options for this team to be slowed down.

    It's like watching an 18-wheeler operate on a basketball court: A tire might blow out from time to time, but that doesn't slow this vehicle down. If you want to knock this team out of the NCAA tournament, you better be ready to score at least 85 points, because there's no question that Gonzaga will be prepared to do the same.


    Statistics current through the start of play on Wednesday. Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite. 


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