College Basketball's Top Defensive Teams Ahead Of NCAA Tournament

FairwayJay dives into defense and college basketball stats with teams to isolate during college conference tournaments and March Madness.

Betting tips for college basketball conference tournaments and March Madness

The final week of the college basketball regular season has arrived, and college conference tournaments have begun. Less than two weeks to selection Sunday for the 2021 NCAA Tournament, which is being conducted at selected sites in the state of Indiana using coronavirus safety protocols. Following last year's cancellation of March Madness, there is renewed hope for this year's NCAA Tournament, which will having the opening weekend starting on Friday, March 19 and running for four days. 

NCAA tournament defensive stats betting tipsI'm chipping-in some defensive stats and other information you can bet on and use as you prepare for all the tournament action ahead. Two teams remain undefeated and have set themselves apart in the betting market for the NCAA Tournament. No. 1 Gonzaga (24-0) finished the regular season undefeated and will be a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed regardless of their results in this week's West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. No. 2 Baylor (18-1) suffered their first loss of the season this past weekend at Kansas. The Bears have three regular season games remaining this week with some as makeup following their three weeks off from competitive action due to COVID protocols and rescheduled games. Baylor will still win the Big 12, and be the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament as they too prepare for the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed. Michigan (18-1) is going to win the Big Ten and looks like another No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. The fourth No. 1 seed is to be determined, but there are still a number of tight conference races to be decided this week and conference tournament action to sort through with all the automatic bids ahead as the 31 conference tournaments begin (No Ivy League due to COVID-19). 

Gonzaga (+280), Baylor (+325) and Michigan (+400) are the top favorites to cut down the nets and win the 2021 NCAA College Basketball Championship. William Hill Sportsbook provides the futures odds below for the top teams, but you should always shop for the best odds at online sportsbooks if you're betting on college basketball futures. 

Gonzaga +280
Baylor +325
Michigan +400
Villanova +1200
Iowa +1800
Alabama +2000
Ohio State +2000
Houston +2000
Illinois +2000
Florida State +2000
Texas +2500
Virginia +2500
Creighton +3000
Kansas +3000
West Virginia +3000
Oklahoma +3000
Texas Tech +3000
Wisconsin +3500
USC +4000
North Carolina +4000
Tennessee +4000

Defensive Dominators

Scoring continues to make headlines, and Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring offense (92.9 points per game). Colgate (85.7) is next as the highest scoring small conference team out of the Patriot League. Colgate (11-1) has only played 12 games this season. Baylor (84.9) and Iowa (84.7) are the next highest scoring teams in college basketball. Gonzaga (+23.5) and Baylor (+21.5) lead the nation in scoring margin with both teams outscoring opponents by an average of more than 21 points per game.

But when it comes to tournament time, look towards teams that also play solid defense and providing more key stops and intensity. A review of the stats will provide some direction.

Utilizing a site like can provide you key stats, adjusted numbers, efficiency and tempo ratings along with match-up analysis. However, I also go to conference web pages and review stats and specifically at this time of year conference only statistics for teams and players. With so many stats and situations to evaluate, a good indicator of a team's success and ability to compete consistently can be gauged in opponent's field goal percentage.

Field goal percentage defense is more important than points allowed, because an opponent's points can be determined to a degree by the number of possessions they have, which in turn can be influenced by an offensive pace that creates lower overall possessions in a game. The defending national champs Virginia (from 2019) are once again one of the top teams in scoring defense.

Isolating a team's overall defensive field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage defense remain key indicators when judging a team's defensive ability. These must work in tandem to be efficient since a team can pack the paint defensively to minimize higher percentage two-point shots while sacrificing defense outside the arc. Conversely, too much attention to perimeter defense can sacrifice a team's ability to defend the paint. When a team combines solid defensive play with rebounding strength and the ability to block or alter shots, you have a team that is capable of competing most any night against any team. 

March Madness betting advice tips defenseYet, while strong defensive play is often key to winning more basketball games, successful teams also take care of the basketball, minimize turnovers and have a solid assist/turnover ratio. This is where a strong point guard and leader, along with perimeter defense plays a key part. The ability to create steals and take good shots while controlling the boards inside creates more opportunities, possessions and shots. Thus, look at rebounding rate as another key indicator when evaluating match-ups and working in tandem with defensive shooting percentage and efficiency. Deficient defensive teams often struggle, and many of those teams are in the bottom half of the standings for a reason. 

With these concepts in mind it's up to the handicapper and sports bettor to determine a team's motivation level, how they match-up with each opponent and how these statistics can be used and adjusted throughout the season and upcoming postseason based on quality of opponent faced. Some teams play softer schedules and opponents in the early part of the season while also adjusting to new players, coaches and systems. This season is unlike any other with the pandemic, cancellation and rescheduling of games. All while players perform with no fans in the stands.

I like to focus on conference only statistics as a more accurate barometer of a team's overall strength. However, in smaller conferences where only one team will receive a NCAA Tournament berth, look at how the top teams and conference champions performed against power conference teams in non-conference play when stepping up in class. Again, there were far fewer of those games this season with the pandemic limiting scheduling. 

As teams push towards the finish of the conference season and into postseason play, we have a more accurate barometer with a number of games and meaningful conference stats to review. You can use some of the stats below for the rest of the regular season and into post season play as you do your match-up analysis. The defensive dominator chart is also a good guide to reference for the start of next season when factoring in returning starters, coaching philosophy and a team's defensive strength in a system. 

The stats below are season-long numbers and it's up to you to dig deeper into a team's stat profile and recognize opponents faced, home/road splits, player injury impact, motivational factors and other scheduling and situations including quality coaching.

Through the month of February, 2021 here are the top defensive teams in college basketball with the following parameters: 

 - Allow 42% or less field goal percentage
 - Allow 33% or less shooting from behind the 3-point arc
 - Allow 67 points or less per game 

I've also noted how these defensive dominators do in rebounding the basketball and provided their Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Ranking from KenPom (357 teams). I've included Gonzaga and Baylor in the top group of teams, despite coming up just short in a noted category. Both teams still rank top 20 in Kenpom's adjusted defensive rankings. 

Team Conference FG% Def 3-pt % Def PPG Def Reb Margin Adj Def Rank
Houston American Athletic 37.2 28.1 57.8 9.2 5
Michigan Big Ten 38.4 32.7 65.2 8.4 4
Memphis American Athletic 38.8 27.2 62.6 7.5 2
St. Bonaventure A-10 38.9 30.2 60.9 3.7 36
San Diego State Mountain West 39.3 32.5 60.9 4.9 9
Tennessee SEC 40.1 32.1 63.1 2.1 6
Wright State Horizon 40.1 30.1 66.3 9.1 57
La Tech Conference USA 40.1 29.4 59.7 3.4 33
Mississippi State SEC 40.2 32.3 65.6 7.1 37
Kansas Big 12 40.9 32.1 66.5 4.4 8
Loyola Chicago Missouri Valley 41.1 32.5 56.1 4.7 1
Purdue Big Ten 41.3 32.1 65.7 6.3 15
Clemson ACC 41.4 32.9 61.6 0.2 11
Gonzaga West Coast 41.9 32.9 69.3 7.3 10
Baylor Big 12 42.3 32.1 63.7 4.5 16

This next tier of solid defensive teams are worth noting, but they come up just short in a statistical area or two. 

Team Conference FG% Def 3-pt % Def PPG Def Reb Margin Adj Def Rank
Alabama SEC 40.7 28.7 70.4 1.8 3
Colgate Patriot 40.1 26.3 67.8 4.4 133
USC Pac 12 39.3 33.7 64.9 7.7 21
UC Irvine Big West 39.6 34.3 64.3 8.9 56
Grand Canyon WAC 39.3 30.3 62.9 9.9 118
UC Riverside Big West 39.7 32.2 63.2 4.3 87
Vermont American East 39.5 29.8 62.9 4.4 130
SMU American Athletic 39.5 33.5 66.8 2.4 61
Florida State ACC 40.1 33.6 69.7 5.3 53
Utah State Mountain West 40.1 34.8 63.5 10.9 23
Oklahoma State Big 12 40.6 32.1 70.6 3.6 20
BYU West Coast 40.6 32.5 67.7 7.1 26
Texas Tech Big 12 40.9 33.9 63.2 2.6 19
Arkansas SEC 41.1 31.9 70.2 4.7 13
Illinois Big Ten 41.1 33.2 69.2 9.9 17

Use some of these stat profiles as a guide when handicapping the rest of the college basketball season along with the college conference tournaments (CCT's), NCAA Tournament, NIT and other post-season tournaments.

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay

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