Piggybacking on Ken Pomeroy’s post on the historically insane defense being played by Texas right now, I resolved to add an exclamation point to his headline the moment I saw the following number:
That’s the average number of points the Longhorns’ conference opponents are scoring on possessions where they do not commit a turnover (what I call an effective possession). In other words, if every team that played Texas was given a magic pill that would make it impossible for them to give the ball away, ever, those teams would still be scoring just 1.02 points per trip. That would make UT the second-best D in their league, behind Kansas. An imaginary Texas D with zero turnovers forced over 653 possessions would actually be better than 10 out of 11 real-world Big 12 defenses.
Mindful of this, I want to pose a question. Is this the best defense we’ve seen in recent years?
Not yet. It’s only Valentine’s Day, and there’s still hoops to be played. But if the Longhorns finish the regular season with anything like the numbers they’re carrying right now, then the answer to that question will be yes.
In particular the field-goal defense being played by Rick Barnes‘ team is little short of astonishing. No major-conference defense over the past five seasons has been able to do what Texas is doing this year. I’ll keep these lists short by including just the top three teams, but keep in mind Texas 2011 ranks No. 1, No. 2, and No. 1 on rankings that have 365 teams each (73 major-conference teams, five seasons including 2011 so far).
Best FG defenses in three categories
Major-conference games only, 2007 to now
In addition the Longhorns are also pretty good on the defensive glass, pulling down 71 percent of Big 12 opponents’ misses. (At least here, however, UT is merely mortal. Kansas has actually been a little better in conference play, hauling in 72 percent of their opponents’ missed shots.) Lastly, Barnes’ team rarely fouls, which really sets the Longhorns apart in the traditionally whistle-happy Big 12.
Of course the final measure of any defense is simply how many points it allows. This season Texas is allowing Big 12 opponents just 0.84 points per possession, which is far better than what any defense from this group has recorded over the past five seasons. The only other defense to allow less than 0.90 points per trip in major-conference play was Kansas in 2007 (0.89).
Lastly, note that the Longhorns look good even in relative terms. Their D is 2.7 standard deviations better than this season’s Big 12 average, a degree of domination which is unheard of for a stat as fundamental as overall defense. No other major-conference defense from the past five seasons has been this much better than its league. Suffice it to say Barnes and his team are doing something right. If it keeps up, it will be record-setting.