Over the course of a few days in the 2016 NCAA tournament, Villanova scored better than 1.50 points per possession not once, but twice. First the Wildcats recorded 1.56 points per trip in their 92-69 Sweet 16 win over Miami, and then coach Jay Wright's team scored 1.51 points per possession in its memorable 95-51 blowout over Oklahoma at the Final Four.
So how unusual is this level of scoring, really? The answer? Very. The top 10 per-possession offensive performances in major-conference play over the past decade are listed below and, as you'll see, the Wildcats' tournament run in 2016 really was extraordinary. In fact if my list included NCAA tournament performances, you'd find Villanova's 2016 games here at Nos. 3 and 9.
In addition to burnishing the Nova legend, compiling these rankings has raised two questions. The first: Why do so many of these games come to us courtesy of the Big Ten? The league isn't commonly regarded as an offensive juggernaut, and indeed in terms of overall efficiency, the Big Ten is most often in the middle of the Division I pack. That being said, the conference has long had a reputation for taking care of the ball, and a lack of turnovers can indeed lead to a profusion of points.
The second question posed by this list is even more vexing. Is it possible -- even conceivable -- that the greatest offensive performance of the past decade was recorded by ... DePaul?
1. DePaul 108, Syracuse 69: March 2, 2006
1.64 points per possession
Jim Boeheim called this game "the worst defensive effort in my 30 years of coaching," and for once a coach grousing about a loss wasn't just indulging in postgame hyperbole. This really does have to be the worst the Orange defense has ever been under Boeheim. I looked at a sample size of 7,000 major-conference games (6,996, to be precise), and the Blue Demons' 39-point blowout ranks as the best single performance by any team on offense.
Karron Clarke scored 27 points for DePaul, and Sammy Mejia added 21. The win pushed the Blue Demons to 12-14 on the season, and if you ask how such a nondescript team in the midst of a nondescript season recorded such an unbelievable game on offense the answer's simple. Former coach Jerry Wainwright's team had a perfect game. DePaul hit 16 3s, connected on 66 percent of its 2s, committed just nine turnovers in 66 possessions and rebounded half of its missed shots. Other teams have shot better from the field (see No. 2, below), and plenty of teams have committed fewer turnovers but in the last decade no major-conference offense has put together the entire package quite like the Blue Demons did one March day in 2006.
2. Ohio State 93, Wisconsin 65: March 6, 2011
The Buckeyes recorded an 83.0 effective field-goal percentage (including a 14-of-15 performance from beyond the arc), and scored 93 points in just 58 possessions. Jon Diebler and Jared Sullinger recorded 27 and 22 points, respectively, on a day when Bo Ryan could only shake his head: "14 of 15? I don't think people do that very often." OSU walked off the floor at 29-2 and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, only to fall to No. 4 seed Kentucky 62-60 in the Sweet 16.
3. Purdue 107, Rutgers 57: Jan. 18, 2016
At the time, this game seemed like merely a blowout suffered by an unusually helpless team on its home floor. It was that, surely, but it was also one of the most dominant offensive performances of the decade. While Purdue's shooting was surprisingly normal, the Boilermakers owned the offensive glass and committed just four turnovers. Incredibly, none of Matt Painter's players scored more than 12 points (though four Boilers did so: Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards, Dakota Mathias and Jacquil Taylor). Rutgers' Corey Sanders easily led all scorers with 23 points.
4. Villanova 105, St. John's 68: March 7, 2015
Maybe it's something about senior nights, because this is already our third one of these on this list. In this case Villanova got the job done with sheer shot volume. Jay Wright's team committed just three turnovers in what was, so far, the last regular-season game coached by Steve Lavin.
5. Wisconsin 78, Northwestern 46: Jan. 23, 2011
The Badgers were actually the road team in this game, but that didn't seem to bother Jon Leuer. The senior recorded 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, and Keaton Nankivil chipped in with 16. Scoring 78 points may not sound momentous, but considering this game had just 50 possessions it was quite a feat.
6. Indiana 94, Penn State 63: March 3, 2007
Yet another senior night. The Hoosiers were honoring Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway, and the seniors combined for 36 points (off the bench).
7. Ohio State 104, Penn State 69: Jan. 5, 2006
Did I mention that Penn State wasn't very good at defense in the mid-aughts? Ron Lewis came off the bench for Thad Matta and scored 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting.
8. Wisconsin 82, Iowa 50: Jan. 20, 2015
Wisconsin fans will still tell you that the correct number for Badger turnovers in this game is really zero, and not the one that Ryan's team was charged with.
9. Syracuse 107, DePaul 59: March 5, 2011
Well, isn't this ironic? It took five years, but the Orange avenged their humiliating 2006 loss to DePaul. Turnabout is fair play, and, yes, it was senior night.
10. Texas A&M 86, Colorado 69: Jan. 12, 2008
This was the first major-conference game Mark Turgeon ever coached, and he'll have a hard time ever duplicating the 1.50 points per trip his Aggies posted that day. All five starters scored in double-figures.