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March 7, 2011
Tuesday Truths
Final Reality

by John Gasaway

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Welcome to this season's final installment of Tuesday Truths, where we look at how well 157 teams in the nation's top 14 conferences did against their league opponents on a per-possession basis. For a tidy little homily on why this stuff is so very awesome, go here.

ACC: The Kendall Marshall effect

Through games of March 6, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Duke             13-3   68.3    1.09    0.93    +0.16
2.  North Carolina   14-2   70.6    1.05    0.94    +0.11
3.  Virginia Tech     9-7   65.9    1.07    1.00    +0.07
4.  Clemson           9-7   64.5    1.02    0.96    +0.06
5.  Florida St.      11-5   68.8    0.98    0.96    +0.02
6.  Maryland          7-9   69.7    1.05    1.03    +0.02
7.  Boston College    9-7   64.0    1.08    1.08     0.00
8.  Georgia Tech     5-11   68.9    0.98    0.99    -0.01
9.  Miami            6-10   64.3    1.03    1.06    -0.03
10. Virginia          7-9   61.2    0.96    1.01    -0.05
11. NC State         5-11   66.8    1.03    1.10    -0.07
12. Wake Forest      1-15   69.9    0.88    1.15    -0.27

AVG.                        67.0    1.02

Well, look at that. The best team in per-possession terms didn't win the conference. How strange! Get used to it! Welcome to a recurring theme of 2011. In the ACC our theme means it's pretty unusual for a team that outscores its opponents by 0.11 points per trip, as North Carolina did, to win 14 of 16 games. We would ordinarily expect such a team to go 12-4. Then again viewing the conference schedule as one unvarying item is probably a little misleading for any team, and particularly so for the Tar Heels. In the 13 games where Kendall Marshall was the starting point guard UNC averaged 1.09 points per possession, while their defense stayed more or less the same as before. Meaning present-day Carolina is probably closer in quality to Duke than these season totals might indicate.

Big 12: I expect Jim Nantz will be punning on the Morris brothers very soon

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Texas            13-3   65.7    1.10    0.90    +0.20
2.  Kansas           14-2   69.7    1.16    0.99    +0.17
3.  Kansas St.       10-6   67.1    1.05    1.00    +0.05
4.  Missouri          8-8   71.3    1.07    1.02    +0.05
5.  Texas A&M        10-6   61.3    1.03    1.02    +0.01
6.  Colorado          8-8   68.8    1.07    1.08    -0.01
7.  Nebraska          7-9   64.4    1.01    1.03    -0.02
8.  Baylor            7-9   64.7    1.01    1.05    -0.04
9.  Oklahoma St.     6-10   66.8    0.98    1.05    -0.07
10. Texas Tech       5-11   68.9    1.00    1.10    -0.10
11. Iowa St.         3-13   71.0    0.99    1.11    -0.12
12. Oklahoma         5-11   65.0    0.96    1.09    -0.13

AVG.                        67.1    1.04

Right now I have less faith in Texas than I do in any other Tuesday Truths conference leader. (Well, maybe Wichita State.) The Longhorns fell across the regular season's finish line like they hit a trip wire. Over their last five games Rick Barnes' team allowed the Big 12 to score more than a point per trip, and that was with an easy win at home against Iowa State tossed in for statistically cosmetic effect. We may never know what in the world got into Texas between roughly January 11 and February 16, 2011, but whatever it was appears to have come and gone. This year's Big 12 therefore gives me a welcome opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with old-school "Bah! The only thing that matters is winning!" adherents. This time they're exactly right. The conference champion would appear to be the team to watch.

Big East: Notre Dame and St. John's really have improved, just not as much as everyone thinks

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Pitt             15-3   61.9    1.11    0.96    +0.15
2.  Syracuse         12-6   65.0    1.08    0.99    +0.09
3.  Notre Dame       14-4   62.7    1.13    1.06    +0.07
4.  Louisville       12-6   65.5    1.04    0.98    +0.06
5.  West Virginia    11-7   62.0    1.06    1.01    +0.05
6.  Cincinnati       11-7   62.3    1.03    0.98    +0.05
7.  Marquette         9-9   66.0    1.10    1.06    +0.04
8.  St. John's       12-6   65.9    1.02    1.00    +0.02
9.  Villanova         9-9   64.6    1.08    1.06    +0.02
10. Connecticut       9-9   64.3    1.03    1.02    +0.01
11. Georgetown       10-8   62.6    1.04    1.04     0.00
12. Seton Hall       7-11   67.5    0.97    0.99    -0.02
13. Rutgers          5-13   63.6    1.01    1.08    -0.07
14. Providence       4-14   71.4    1.01    1.11    -0.10
15. S. Florida       3-15   63.1    0.98    1.09    -0.11
16. DePaul           1-17   66.5    0.96    1.18    -0.22

AVG.                        64.7    1.04

The campaign to give the Fighting Irish a 1-seed appears to be gathering steam, so let's be specific. The lowest per-possession margin we've seen in conference play from a 1-seed in recent years was the 0.08 recorded by Villanova in 2006. That was the Wildcat team that lost in the Elite Eight to Florida. (It was the least-noticed Elite Eight game ever. It tipped off while George Mason was putting the finishing touches on their OT win over Connecticut.) Know what? Making the Elite Eight and losing to the eventual national champion is pretty good, even for a 1-seed. The fact that they fell short of the oh so totemic Final Four doesn't "prove" Nova was overseeded. But what we can say is that there does seem to be a reflexive and fairly devout belief at large on our hoops landscape that any team emerging from the Big East with an impressive record (the Cats were 14-2 that year) could be worthy of a 1-seed. The legacy of 1,137 in-conference possessions, however, suggests that for better or worse Mike Brey's team has more in common with, say, Louisville than they do with Pitt. BONUS salute! Nice finishing kick by Syracuse, which parlayed the statistical gift of a home game against DePaul into a great leap forward from +0.05 to +0.09 in the span of 40 minutes.

Big Ten: When Ohio State makes 14 of 15 threes they're tough to beat

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Ohio St.         16-2   62.8    1.18    1.02    +0.16
2.  Purdue           14-4   64.8    1.12    0.99    +0.13
3.  Wisconsin        13-5   56.3    1.19    1.09    +0.10
4.  Illinois          9-9   64.1    1.07    1.02    +0.05
5.  Penn St.          9-9   58.6    1.08    1.10    -0.02
6.  Michigan          9-9   60.7    1.06    1.09    -0.03
7.  Minnesota        6-12   61.7    1.03    1.07    -0.04
8.  Michigan St.      9-9   62.3    1.02    1.06    -0.04
9.  Northwestern     7-11   62.0    1.06    1.14    -0.08
10. Iowa             4-14   65.3    0.98    1.10    -0.12
11. Indiana          3-15   63.1    1.02    1.14    -0.12

AVG.                        62.0    1.07

Let us render unto the Buckeyes the compliment of accurate praise: Zounds! What a game in Columbus yesterday: Ohio State 93, Wisconsin 65. Let's see, 93 points in 58 possessions, an effective FG percentage of 83.0 (oh so close to record-setting), and, not least, an efficient and devastating thrashing of the Badgers' season totals for defense. (No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. You are seeing a Bo Ryan team that plays defense at a level worse than the Big Ten's average. Then again Wisconsin's offense is pretty good, I guess.) But let's additionally note that Ohio State has proven themselves a worthy foe on those occasions when they do not shoot 93 percent from beyond the arc. BONUS fun with stats! Not that Thad Matta's team wasn't proficient from the perimeter all year long, of course. In fact Ohio State was more accurate on their threes in conference play (45.2 percent) than Virginia, Auburn, South Carolina, Wake Forest, Arkansas, West Virginia, NC State, Oregon, and LSU were on their twos.

Pac-10: Never mind Washington

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Washington       11-7   71.4    1.11    0.99    +0.12
2.  UCLA             13-5   65.4    1.03    0.97    +0.06
3.  Arizona          14-4   67.9    1.09    1.03    +0.06
4.  USC              10-8   63.4    1.02    0.99    +0.03
5.  Cal              10-8   67.5    1.11    1.10    +0.01
6.  Washington St.    9-9   68.1    1.01    1.00    +0.01
7.  Stanford         7-11   66.1    0.99    1.03    -0.04
8.  Oregon           7-11   66.9    1.00    1.05    -0.05
9.  Oregon St.       5-13   69.4    0.96    1.06    -0.10
10. Arizona St.      4-14   64.2    0.98    1.08    -0.10

AVG.                        67.0    1.03

The optical illusion that the Huskies present here is not entirely their fault. In a more normal year there'd be a big scary Pac-10 team perched above U-Dub not only in wins but also in per-possession terms. In such a year we wouldn't fret too much about +0.12-ish group losing three of their last four, including losses at home to the likes of Washington State and USC. In this or any year a team that finishes the season in that fashion will face some legitimate skepticism come tournament time. I just happen to think there's enough skepticism to go around when speaking of the 2011 Pac-10. Arizona sure can make threes and clean the defensive glass, but their 2FG defense is highly worrisome. (Only Oregon State's was worse in conference play.) Meanwhile it's still unclear whether UCLA can score enough points to balance what is clearly an excellent defense. Even during the Bruins' impressive 8-2 finish their offense was more or less (1.04) the same as what you see here.

SEC: A clear top two

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Florida          13-3   63.0    1.12    1.00    +0.12
2.  Kentucky         10-6   66.4    1.11    0.99    +0.12
3.  Alabama          12-4   65.3    1.01    0.92    +0.09
4.  Georgia           9-7   65.1    1.05    1.00    +0.05
5.  Vanderbilt        9-7   66.1    1.10    1.05    +0.05
6.  Tennessee         8-8   64.4    1.01    0.98    +0.03
7.  Mississippi St.   9-7   68.6    1.02    1.02     0.00
8.  Ole Miss          7-9   66.7    1.06    1.07    -0.01
9.  Arkansas          7-9   64.7    1.02    1.06    -0.04
10. South Carolina   5-11   66.1    0.95    1.05    -0.10
11. Auburn           4-12   66.3    0.91    1.02    -0.11
12. LSU              3-13   65.8    0.87    1.06    -0.19

AVG.                        65.7    1.02

For all the sturm und drang surrounding Kentucky's road woes their record ended up looking somewhat normal. If last year's UK team had even a little of the perimeter prowess of this year's Wildcats...well, let's not go there. Meanwhile Florida is following the Notre Dame recipe to a fault (team that's long had an outstanding offense starts playing better D, often though not always at a slower pace), but somehow the Gators are reaping much less notice in the press. Of course when your resume includes a loss to a non-Belmont Atlantic Sun team, you're going to have trouble getting people to climb on board your bandwagon. Duly noted.

A-10: And speaking of sparsely inhabited bandwagons....

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Xavier           15-1   65.7    1.17    0.95    +0.22
2.  Temple           14-2   65.8    1.10    0.95    +0.15
3.  Richmond         13-3   63.1    1.12    1.00    +0.12
4.  Duquesne         10-6   70.0    1.04    0.93    +0.11
5.  GW               10-6   63.8    1.01    1.00    +0.01
6.  Rhode Island      9-7   66.2    0.99    0.98    +0.01
7.  St. Bonaventure   8-8   63.5    1.07    1.07     0.00
8.  Saint Louis      6-10   64.0    0.95    0.96    -0.01
9.  Dayton            7-9   66.2    0.98    0.99    -0.01
10. UMass             7-9   65.7    0.96    1.01    -0.05
11. La Salle         6-10   72.1    1.02    1.07    -0.05
12. Charlotte        2-14   64.7    0.96    1.08    -0.12
13. Saint Joseph's   4-12   61.4    1.00    1.13    -0.13
14. Fordham          1-15   68.3    0.90    1.14    -0.24

AVG.                        65.8    1.02

Xavier is following the Florida recipe. Both teams performed quite well in conference play, but both are looked at with some suspicion due to some really odd losses. For instance if I told you the "1" in that "15-1" next to Xavier came to the opponent listed at No. 12 here, you would find that odd. And yet in their other 15 games the Musketeers did score some points, didn't they? This group made 55 percent of their twos in league play, which in the A-10 (conference average: 46.7) is remarkable. Not to mention Chris Mack's team's been known to attempt an occasional free throw. Tu Holloway has a little something to do with that, but, really, the way this whole team gets to the line you'd think every game was against Indiana. (Har!) I realize Xavier spooks the laptops but they did outscore the nation's No. 9-ranked conference by more than a fifth of a point per trip. Bear that in mind and feel free to stand up to that smug laptop.

Colonial: Now this is a bid thief

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  George Mason     16-2   64.4    1.16    0.94    +0.22
2.  Old Dominion     14-4   58.9    1.07    0.95    +0.12
3.  Hofstra          14-4   65.3    1.11    1.05    +0.06
4.  VCU              12-6   62.6    1.09    1.04    +0.05
5.  James Madison    10-8   66.2    1.08    1.03    +0.05
6.  Drexel           11-7   62.1    0.96    0.95    +0.01
7.  Northeastern     6-12   61.6    1.07    1.13    -0.06
8.  Delaware         8-10   61.9    1.00    1.06    -0.06
9.  UNC-Wilmington   7-11   62.3    1.02    1.08    -0.06
10. William & Mary   4-14   62.6    1.04    1.11    -0.07
11. Georgia St.      6-12   63.0    0.94    1.02    -0.08
12. Towson           0-18   62.5    1.03    1.20    -0.17

AVG.                        62.7    1.04

Since these final numbers appeared last week, VCU disposed of George Mason 79-63 in the CAA tournament semis, marking the third consecutive season that the Patriots have met their doom in the conference tournament courtesy of the Rams. Shaka Smart's team will face Old Dominion in the title game tonight. A VCU victory would figure to deprive the rest of the nation of one at-large bid: both Mason and ODU appear to be safely in the field, while the Rams will likely require the automatic bid to go dancing.

C-USA: Teams, schmeams -- just look at this league

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  UTEP             11-5   64.8    1.04    0.96    +0.08
2.  UAB              12-4   61.8    1.06    0.99    +0.07
3.  Tulsa            11-5   65.3    1.04    0.99    +0.05
4.  Marshall          9-7   65.3    1.08    1.03    +0.05
5.  Southern Miss     9-7   64.0    1.11    1.08    +0.03
6.  SMU               8-8   60.5    1.03    1.02    +0.01
7.  Memphis          10-6   66.7    0.97    0.98    -0.01
8.  East Carolina     8-8   65.4    1.02    1.05    -0.03
9.  Rice             5-11   64.1    1.00    1.04    -0.04
10. UCF              6-10   63.1    1.00    1.07    -0.07
11. Houston          4-12   64.0    1.01    1.08    -0.07
12. Tulane           3-13   63.6    1.01    1.08    -0.07

AVG.                        64.2    1.03

Forgive me if I don't speculate at length on the tournament potential of UAB or UTEP. While surprises of course can happen, the fact that I have to invoke the possibility of a surprise probably says enough right there. On paper neither the Blazers nor the Miners figure to cause much of a racket in the brackets. (Last year's UTEP team, the one that was handled with relative ease in the round of 64 by Butler, was way more impressive in a Tuesday Truths kind of way.) No, what continues to intrigue me about this year's C-USA is its amazing competitive balance. With all 12 teams squished into a performance space just 0.15 points per possession wide, this should be one highly entertaining conference tournament.

Horizon: Milwaukee's the envy of a couple hundred other teams

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Cleveland St.    13-5   66.4    1.09    0.99    +0.10
2.  Butler           13-5   63.9    1.11    1.02    +0.09
3.  Valparaiso       12-6   66.4    1.03    0.98    +0.05
4.  Wright St.       10-8   62.2    1.04    1.02    +0.02
5.  Detroit          10-8   69.6    1.07    1.05    +0.02
6.  Milwaukee        13-5   66.1    1.06    1.04    +0.02
7.  Green Bay        8-10   65.8    1.03    1.04    -0.01
8.  Loyola           7-11   64.5    1.02    1.03    -0.01
9.  UIC              2-16   65.4    0.95    1.08    -0.13
10. Youngstown St.   2-16   69.4    0.96    1.10    -0.14

AVG.                        66.0    1.04

Outside the Ivy League (where the conference "tournament" is famously said to be 14 games long), you don't often see a team given the chance to play its way into the NCAA tournament on their home floor. That is precisely what Milwaukee will try to do tomorrow night against Butler. The Panthers were given the top seed in the Horizon tournament courtesy of a tie-breaker that clearly does not number Tuesday Truths among its inputs. As for Brad Stevens' team, the Bulldogs could get an at-large bid even if they lose. Then again why chance it? Bubble teams everywhere will be pulling for Butler to record the true road win.

Missouri Valley: Congratulations, Indiana State

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita St.      14-4   63.7    1.10    0.94    +0.16
2.  Missouri St.     15-3   62.1    1.10    1.00    +0.10
3.  Creighton        10-8   62.1    1.08    1.02    +0.06
4.  Indiana St.      12-6   64.8    1.03    0.98    +0.05
5.  N. Iowa          10-8   59.9    1.07    1.05    +0.02
6.  Evansville        9-9   65.5    0.99    1.02    -0.03
7.  Drake            7-11   64.4    0.99    1.05    -0.06
8.  Bradley          4-14   64.4    1.02    1.08    -0.06
9.  Illinois St.     4-14   61.9    0.94    1.05    -0.11
10. S. Illinois      5-13   61.9    0.93    1.05    -0.12

AVG.                        62.9    1.02

The Sycamores are dancing, courtesy of yesterday's thrilling 60-56 win over top seed Missouri State in the title game. During the contest CBS posted a graphic noting that no MVC tournament 1-seed has failed to make the NCAA tournament since 1993. With all due respect to the Bears, that streak is about to come to an end. The Valley is simply not what it was three, four, or five years ago, when it was phenomenal.

Mountain West: Life after Brandon Davies (cont.)

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  BYU              14-2   71.6    1.15    0.97    +0.18
2.  San Diego St.    14-2   64.6    1.08    0.92    +0.16
3.  UNLV             11-5   67.0    1.03    0.96    +0.07
4.  New Mexico        8-8   65.8    1.07    1.01    +0.06
5.  Colorado St.      9-7   67.2    1.01    1.00    +0.01
6.  Air Force        6-10   61.3    1.00    1.06    -0.06
7.  Utah             6-10   66.8    0.97    1.05    -0.08
8.  Wyoming          3-13   68.0    0.94    1.11    -0.17
9.  TCU              1-15   65.6    0.93    1.10    -0.17

AVG.                        66.4    1.02

OK, so at least we know BYU can win at home on senior day against Wyoming without Brandon Davies. As to other potential feats within the Cougars' post-Davies grasp, I inveighed on this very topic late last week. Make haste!

West Coast: Gonzaga vs. Gaels, again

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga          11-3   66.4    1.13    0.96    +0.17
2.  Saint Mary's     11-3   66.0    1.17    1.03    +0.14
3.  Portland          7-7   64.2    1.07    1.05    +0.02
4.  San Francisco    10-4   69.6    1.02    1.01    +0.01
5.  Santa Clara       8-6   66.7    1.04    1.03    +0.01
6.  Pepperdine        5-9   66.9    1.01    1.07    -0.06
7.  Loyola Marymount 2-12   67.3    0.99    1.09    -0.10
8.  San Diego        2-12   63.2    0.89    1.07    -0.18

AVG.                        66.3    1.04

Gonzaga will face Saint Mary's tonight in Vegas in the WCC tourney title game. At the risk of repeating myself, the losing team will likely get an at-large bid anyway but the winning team will have a much more relaxed viewing experience when they tune in to CBS this Sunday night for the selection show.

WAC: Three cheers for weird brackets

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Utah St.         15-1   63.4    1.11    0.89    +0.22
2.  New Mexico St.    9-7   68.8    1.03    0.98    +0.05
3.  Idaho             9-7   65.3    1.04    1.00    +0.04
4.  Boise St.        10-6   67.0    1.03    1.00    +0.03
5.  Nevada            8-8   67.5    1.05    1.04    +0.01
6.  Fresno St.       6-10   65.7    1.00    1.05    -0.05
7.  Hawaii            8-8   66.2    0.97    1.02    -0.05
8.  San Jose St.     5-11   67.4    1.00    1.09    -0.09
9.  Louisiana Tech   2-14   66.3    0.88    1.02    -0.14

AVG.                        66.5    1.01

If you're Utah State you're very happy that the WAC has one of those strange double-bye things (pdf) in its conference tournament. Ordinarily a nine-team league would have a 8 vs. 9 play-in game, and that winner would face the Aggies. But of course that kind of a game has literally zero appeal to a team in USU's position. If you whomp the heck out of Louisiana Tech or San Jose State, no one notices. But if you lose everyone will immediately say you don't deserve an at-large. Which is probably why teams in the Aggies' position so often look so miserable in the first round of their conference tournament. Instead, Utah State's being waved through right to the semis. The WAC will be forgiven for smoothing the road a bit for its best hope.

John uses fewer decimal points on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 is now available on Amazon.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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