When it comes to March Madness, college basketball experts say the darnedest things. How many of these bromides have you heard over the years by tourney pundits?
- “You need a great guard to do deep in the dance.”
- “There’s more parity in college basketball than ever.”
- “Defense wins championships.”
- “It’s the experienced teams that shine in March.”
- “You need a deep bench to survive in the tourney.”
I’m going to devote my next few blogs to assessing which of these myths have validity and which don’t hold water. Let’s examine the issue of guard play first.
There is no question that the tourney field has gotten more guard-oriented over the years. I looked at the percentage of scoring that teams got from their guards over four seven-year periods starting in 1985, the year the tourney expanded to 64 teams. I found that the number of frontcourt-oriented teams has gone steadily down (blue bars below), while the number of guard-dominant teams has increased (red bars). Take a look:
Between 1985 and 1991, only one in eight tourney teams relied on guards for more than 60% of their points. In the most recent seven-year period, two out of five teams are that reliant on guard scoring.
So there’s no question that more teams are coming into the tourney with guard-oriented squads. The question is: are they performing better than frontcourt-dominant and balanced teams? And the answer is: not at all. Take a look at the PASE performance of one through six seeds relying more on their frontcourt for scoring, getting balanced scoring, and relying on their backcourt:
In three of the four seven-year periods, guard-oriented teams have underachieved against seed expectations—and never more so than in the most recent era. Conversely, frontcourt-dominant teams have beaten expectations in three of the four periods—and own a solid PASE of +.228 since 2006.
Here’s one last indication that you don’t need great guard play to go far in the dance. Since 2006, the average tourney team has relied on guards for 56% of their points. But the average Final Four team has leaned on the backcourt for just 54% of the scoring load. And the champion? They’ve only gotten 50% of their points from guards.
Consider the Myth of the Great Guard debunked.