In an attempt to understand what wins basketball games, former ESPN analytics director Dean Oliver identified four factors of basketball success: shooting, turnovers, rebounding and getting to the foul line.
These factors -- applied on offense and defense -- hold different weights, but together they explain a high percentage of a team’s success.
When looking at the national championship game participants, Villanova and North Carolina excelled offensively at one of these four factors in the regular season and have taken that success to a historic level in this NCAA tournament. Both teams are not only good at one of these factors -- shooting for Villanova and offensive rebounding for UNC -- but they are more reliant on them for their offensive success than most other teams in the nation.
Villanova = Shooting Efficiency
Regular-season success: Despite a drop-off in 3-point percentage from the previous season, Villanova entered the NCAA tournament with a 54.3 effective field goal percentage, 11th-best among major conference teams and best in the Big East.
NCAA tournament dominance: Villanova has a 67.3 effective field goal percentage in this year’s tournament, the highest percentage entering the national title game since the 3-point line was introduced to college basketball in 1986-87.
Why does it matter? Every team’s offense is dependent on efficient shooting, but the Wildcats have been one of the three-most dependent teams in all of Division I.
Controlling for the other factors, Villanova’s shooting, which is measured by effective field goal percentage, has been far more important (81 percent relative importance) than an average team (62 percent). Put simply, Villanova’s offensive success has been largely explained by its shooting efficiency, whereas the other three factors have had less of an impact than average.
North Carolina = Offensive Rebounding
Regular-season success: The Tar Heels entered the NCAA tournament with the fourth-best offensive rebounding rate in the country. They rebounded 40 percent of their missed shots leading to 13.9 second-chance points per game.
NCAA tournament dominance: North Carolina has rebounded 47 percent of its missed shots in this year’s tournament, the best offensive rebounding rate for a team in at least the past five NCAA tournaments (min. two games played).
The Tar Heels’ 75 offensive rebounds have resulted in 92 second-chance points. More than 20 percent of North Carolina’s offense this tournament has come off missed shots.
Why does it matter? North Carolina is not only good at rebounding, but rebounding has been more important to its offensive success (18 percent relative importance) than an average Division I team (12 percent).
In the current state of the game, shooting is everything, but for North Carolina, who leads the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, it is just one piece of the puzzle. In comparison to Villanova, the Tar Heels are less reliant on good shooting and more reliant on rebounding for their offensive success.
Anyone watching Saturday’s semifinal games saw the role that each of these factors played in Villanova’s and UNC’s offenses. Whichever team can continue their success in that area of the game could go a long way toward determining the national championship.