Basketball is a very complicated game. It is littered with intricacies, and like any sport, there are many different ways to be successful. Almost every weekend in college basketball, many of those ways are on display. But sometimes, in a sense, basketball can also be simple. We’re a little over a month into the college basketball season, and at the moment, there’s a bit of a surprise atop the raw offensive efficiency leaderboard: Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s team is averaging 130.5 points per 100 possessions, and, albeit against a fairly weak schedule, Notre Dame’s mark is a full 10 points higher than last year’s season leader, Creighton. Duke is right behind the Fighting Irish at 125.6 points per 100 possessions, good for second in the country. And since Brey spent eight years as an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff, it should come as no surprise that the two offenses, in some ways, are strikingly similar. But why exactly are they so efficient?
At a very rudimentary level, the efficiency of the two offenses comes down to three things:
- Talent. Great offenses can’t be great without great players.
- Scheme and spacing. Both teams space the floor impeccably, and their offenses are extremely well-structured.
- The offenses are well-structured because they are designed to get two things: shots at the rim and three-pointers. These are, fundamentally, the two best shots in basketball – the first one is self-explanatory, and threes are efficient because shooting 40 percent from three is equivalent to shooting 60 percent from two – and both offenses are tailored to get the ball to these areas of the court to players in positions to score.
The third point above gives us a great idea of why the offenses at Duke and Notre Dame have been so successful this season. One of the most important stats in basketball is effective field goal percentage. It measures how much value a team gets out of the shots it takes, regardless of what those shots are. And consistently, the teams with the best effective field goal percentages are the ones that, of course, have good shooters, but also the ones that take as many high-percentage shots as possible. Prior to Duke’s Thursday game against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Duke were the top two teams nationally in two-point field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage (in large part because they don’t shoot many mid-range jumpers). Their offenses are structured to allow players to take the right shots – to allow players to either get to the rim or free behind the arc.