March Madness Odds: College Basketball's Top Defensive Teams Ahead Of 2023 NCAA Tournament

FairwayJay dives into NCAA Tournament odds and defense and college basketball stats with teams to isolate during college conference tournaments and March Madness.

Betting tips for college basketball conference tournaments and March Madness

The final week of the college basketball regular season has arrived with the major conferences playing key games over the final two weekends. We're just two weeks from Selection Sunday and the tournament teams and brackets release for the 2023 NCAA Tournament. For the first time, Las Vegas will host a NCAA Tournament regional on March 23 and 25 for the West Region Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. Ahead of the big conference tournaments and March Madness, I'm chipping in some defensive stats for teams and other information you can bet on and use as you prepare for all the tournament action ahead.

I outlined the conference races and key games to watch down the stretch in last week's college basketball coverage here at OSGA. And leading online sportsbooks are ramping up for the barrage of betting during the college conference tournaments and March Madness. 

Top Defensive NCAA teamsAs I covered in Forbes last week, the NCAA Tournament selection committee's initial release of projected No. 1 top seeds included:

- Alabama
- Houston
- Purdue
- Kansas

Recall in my coverage for OSGA ahead of the 2021 NCAA Tournament that Gonzaga and Baylor were No. 1 seeds and played for the National Championship with Baylor beating undefeated Gonzaga. I plan on continuing my annual coverage and Countdown to the NCAA Tournament with top seeds by region along with 3-4-5 seeds by region to give you added information on the top tournament teams.  

Odds to Win College Basketball National Championship

The Big 12 (+250) is the favorite to have a team win the 2023 NCAA Tournament, according to top online sportsbook BetOnline and affiliate odds. The AAC (+350) with top team Houston is next despite the strength and depth of the SEC (+400) and Big Ten (+450). The Pac 12 (+500) may only have a few teams, and the ACC (+1000) is getting little respect this year.

Futures odds will continue to adjust for top payouts as the NCAA tournament approaches and seeds are determined. I've also added Final Four odds.  

+750 Houston
+800 Alabama
+1000 Kansas, Purdue
+1200 UCLA
+1600 UCONN, Arizona
+2000 Baylor
+2200 Texas, Tennessee
+2800 Gonzaga, Miami
+3300 Creighton, Marquette
+3500 Virginia, St. Mary's, TCU
+4000 Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas State
+5000 Xavier
+5500 Kentucky, Iowa State
+6000 Duke, Texas A&M
+7500 Illinois, North Carolina, San Diego State

Teams 100/1 or greater include Maryland, Auburn, Michigan State, Providence, Northwestern, West Virginia, Iowa, West Virginia, Memphis, NC State, Missouri, Oklahoma State

Final Four Odds for top teams: Houston (+130), Kansas (+175), Alabama (+175), Purdue (+200), UCLA (+275), Arizona (+350), UCONN (+400), Baylor (+400), Texas (+500), Tennessee (+500)

High Scoring Teams

Scoring continues to make headlines, and top tournament teams like Gonzaga (86.6), Alabama (83.3) and Arizona (83.2) top the nation in scoring offense. Top teams to watch from smaller conferences looking to win their conference tournaments and make the Big Dance who are scoring at a high rate include Toledo (84.0), Oral Roberts (82.6) and Marshall (82.1) while Xavier (81.9) and Marquette (80.5) out of the Big East add to the teams averaging at least 80 points per game scoring.

Defensive Dominators 

But when it comes to tournament time, look towards teams that also play solid defense with more intensity. Getting key stops and rebounds can help in transition offense, and more importantly limit and even frustrate a team's ability to create options on offense. 

top college basketball defensive teamsUtilizing a site like can provide you key stats, adjusted numbers, efficiency and tempo ratings along with match-up analysis. and add more stats and advanced metrics. However, I also go to conference web pages and review stats and specifically at this time of year conference only statistics for teams and players. With so many stats and situations to evaluate, a good indicator of a team's success and ability to compete consistently can be gauged in opponent's field goal percentage

Field goal percentage defense is more important than points allowed, because an opponent's points can be determined to a degree by the number of possessions they have, which in turn can be influenced by an offensive pace that creates lower overall possessions in a game.

Top scoring defenses ahead of the final week of the regular season and NCAA Tournament include: 

- Houston (55.9)
- Tennessee (57.1)
- North Texas (57.1)
- St. Mary's (58.5)
- UCLA (59.8) 

Isolating a team's overall defensive field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage defense remain key indicators when judging a team's defensive ability. These must work in tandem to be efficient since a team can pack the paint defensively to minimize higher percentage two-point shots while sacrificing defense outside the arc. Conversely, too much attention to perimeter defense can sacrifice a team's ability to defend the paint. When a team combines solid defensive play with rebounding strength and the ability to block or alter shots, you have a team that is capable of competing most any night against any team. 

Yet, while strong defensive play is often key to winning more basketball games, successful teams also take care of the basketball, minimize turnovers and have a solid assist/turnover ratio. This is where a strong point guard and leader, along with perimeter defense plays a key part. The ability to create steals and take good shots while controlling the boards inside creates more opportunities, possessions and shots. Thus, look at rebounding rate and margin as another key indicator when evaluating match-ups and working in tandem with defensive shooting percentage and efficiency. Deficient defensive teams often struggle, and many of those teams are in the bottom half of the standings for a reason. 

College Basketball Top Defensive Teams

Through games on Feb. 23, 2023 here are the top defensive teams in college basketball. 

KenPom's top adjusted defensive efficiency teams and effective FG% defense rank for projected NCAA Tournament Teams (  ):

Top Adj Defense Efficiency Effective FG% Rank
Tennessee 1
Rutgers 9
Mississippi State 10
Alabama 2
St. Mary's 14
Houston 3
Iowa State 112
Kansas 32
Boise State 26
Creighton 45
Arkansas 18

Using the following parameters, I've also noted how these defensive dominators do in rebounding the basketball and provided their Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Ranking from KenPom (363 teams). I've included top teams Alabama, Arizona and Kansas, despite higher points per game defense as other defensive statistics, schedules and adjusted efficiency rankings make them worthy of inclusion. 

 - Allow 42% or less field goal percentage
 - Allow 33% or less shooting from behind the 3-point arc
 - Allow 66 points or less per game 

Teams Conference FG% Def 3-pt % Def PPG Def Reb Margin Adj Def Rank
Houston AAC 35.9 27.2 55.9 7.6 7
Tennessee SEC 35.9 25.0 57.1 6.9 1
Alabama SEC 37.4 27.0 68.6 7.2 5
Mississippi State SEC 38.8 30.1 59.5 3.5 4
Rutgers Big Ten 38.9 29.9 59.8 3.1 3
Auburn SEC 39.3 27.7 65.1 2.8 15
Oklahoma State Big 12 40.1 30.8 66.3 2.6 14
Texas A&M SEC 40.3 33.0 65.8 5.6 45
St. Mary's West Coast 40.3 32.3 58.5 8.1 6
Arizona Pac 12 40.5 32.5 70.6 7.1 40
Illinois Big Ten 40.6 33.0 65.3 5.5 27
UCLA  Pac 12 40.7 30.6 59.8 3.8 2
Connecticut Big East 41.0 29.8 64.5 9.2 21
Michigan State Big Ten 41.0 29.3 65.3 3.3 26
Kansas Big 12 41.0 32.1 68.0 2.2 9
Boise State Mountain West 41.0 30.2 63.0 4.5 10
North Texas Conf USA 41.0 31.1 57.1 4.7 41
Arkansas SEC 40.9 32.0 65.5 3.5 12
Purdue Big Ten 41.2 30.2 61.6 11.3 19
San Diego State Mountain West 42.3 28.6 64.9 4.7 16

Other defensive teams to watch and note for NCAA Tourney: 

Kansas State, TCU, USC and Northwestern 

With these concepts in mind it's up to the handicapper and savvy sports bettor who can also adjust to live betting to determine a team's motivation level, how they match-up with each opponent and how these statistics can be used and adjusted throughout the season and upcoming postseason based on quality of opponent faced. Coaching of course plays a pivotal role in college basketball, but not included in evaluation.

Use some of these stat profiles as a guide when handicapping and betting the rest of the college basketball season and post season tournaments including March Madness

FairwayJay is a proven sports handicapper and insightful analyst. He chips in additional sports betting coverage and reporting on industry news and events. Read more great insights from FairwayJay and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay

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