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February 19, 2008
Conference Check
Under the Radar

by John Gasaway

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Through games of February 18, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession
Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

ACC: Why do I Keep Hearing about Maryland? What about Clemson?

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM   
1.  Duke             75.7    1.12    0.97   +0.15    
2.  North Carolina   75.9    1.11    0.97   +0.14
3.  Clemson          68.2    1.11    1.00   +0.11
4.  Maryland         72.6    1.07    1.04   +0.03
5.  Wake Forest      71.9    1.03    1.03    0.00
6.  Georgia Tech     72.5    1.05    1.05    0.00
7.  BC               69.6    1.08    1.10   -0.02
8.  Miami            69.0    1.02    1.07   -0.05
9.  Virginia Tech    72.6    0.94    1.01   -0.07
10. Florida St.      68.4    0.97    1.07   -0.10
11. Virginia         69.2    0.98    1.08   -0.10
12. NC State         67.2    1.00    1.12   -0.12

Clemson is easily the worst defensive rebounding team in the ACC. That's significant, because with just a few more defensive boards the Tigers would actually be right there with Duke and North Carolina. Oliver Purnell's charges have made 41 percent of their threes in-conference and they attack the offensive glass. In fact, Clemson's performance has been impressive across the board on both sides of the ball, with the single and critical exception of defensive rebounding. It's never too late to learn to box out: if Trevor Booker can get some help, the Tigers can look very tough in a hurry.

Big 12: Apologies Now Being Accepted at the Erwin Center in Austin, Texas

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Kansas           69.3    1.16    0.93   +0.23
2.  Kansas St.       70.2    1.14    0.95   +0.19
3.  Texas            64.5    1.11    1.03   +0.08
4.  Texas A&M        63.2    1.02    1.03   -0.01
5.  Baylor           73.5    1.04    1.06   -0.02
6.  Oklahoma St.     65.2    1.01    1.03   -0.02
7.  Texas Tech       68.8    0.98    1.02   -0.04
8.  Oklahoma         64.2    1.01    1.07   -0.06
9.  Missouri         72.2    1.01    1.08   -0.07
10. Iowa St.         67.7    0.90    0.99   -0.09
11. Nebraska         66.3    0.92    1.03   -0.11
12. Colorado         60.3    0.98    1.10   -0.12

After Texas lost to USC in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year, Rick Barnes was the target of a good deal of ill-informed criticism. The general belief seemed to be that any coach who had Kevin Durant, but lost in the second round, must have been doing something wrong. Well, look at the Longhorns today: 22-4 after a 77-50 thrashing of Texas A&M in Austin last night. For the third consecutive season, and with three very different groups of personnel, Barnes has put teams on the floor that score points in abundance. Media tropes mandate that a coach hailed for his decided schematic advantages has to have much more of a brooding and Belichickian personality than does the avuncular and approachable Barnes. Never mind: the results on offense in Austin from 2006 to the present have been Beilein-esque. Barnes is becoming to offense what Ben Howland is to D.

Big East: Why do I Keep Hearing about Connecticut? What about West Virginia?

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Louisville       67.4    1.06    0.89   +0.17
2.  Georgetown       62.9    1.04    0.94   +0.10
3.  West Virginia    63.8    1.06    0.97   +0.09
4.  Marquette        68.6    1.07    1.00   +0.07
5.  Pitt             63.7    1.06    1.00   +0.06
6.  Connecticut      69.0    1.08    1.03   +0.05
7.  Notre Dame       73.4    1.07    1.02   +0.05
8.  Cincinnati       65.5    1.00    0.99   +0.01
9.  Syracuse         69.1    1.01    1.00   +0.01
10. Villanova        69.2    0.99    1.02   -0.03
11. Providence       67.2    1.04    1.08   -0.04
12. DePaul           68.1    1.01    1.07   -0.06
13. Seton Hall       70.6    1.02    1.09   -0.07
14. S. Florida       64.1    1.00    1.12   -0.12
15. St. John's       65.4    0.88    1.01   -0.13
16. Rutgers          66.7    0.89    1.05   -0.16

The words "quiet" and "Bob Huggins" aren't usually found in close proximity to each other, but who among us this year is talking about West Virginia? Well, we should be. Without fanfare or even much notice, Huggins has the Mountaineers playing about as well as oh-so-famous Georgetown. Joe Alexander may be the player you see on the "star watch" before a WVU game, but if there's a straw that stirs the drink here it's Alex Ruoff, hitting his shots and recording plenty of steals. West Virginia wins games by avoiding turnovers while forcing them on the other team. It's simple and it works.

Big Ten: Purdue and Kelvin Sampson, New Hampshire and Hillary Clinton. Discuss.

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Wisconsin        60.5    1.08    0.93   +0.15
2.  Purdue           64.1    1.06    0.94   +0.12
3.  Indiana          63.8    1.08    0.96   +0.12
4.  Ohio St.         63.9    1.03    0.92   +0.11
5.  Michigan St.     65.0    1.01    0.97   +0.04
6.  Illinois         63.2    1.01    1.01    0.00
7.  Minnesota        66.6    1.01    1.02   -0.01
8.  Michigan         64.0    0.99    1.07   -0.08
9.  Iowa             60.2    0.91    1.00   -0.09
10. Penn St.         62.1    0.99    1.11   -0.12
11. Northwestern     62.3    0.93    1.18   -0.25

I'm going to depart from my under-the-radar theme for a moment to talk about tonight's very on-the-radar game between Purdue and Indiana in Bloomington. In the wake of the Hoosiers' easy win over Michigan State Saturday night at Assembly Hall, the Kelvin Sampson saga unavoidably progressed to its inevitable "hey, wait a minute" phase. After all, his team beat a top-10 opponent and the fans were even chanting his name by the end of the game, for goodness sake. Is it possible he can actually hang on at Indiana and that rumors of his demise were premature? Well, no. Improving his standing in the eyes of some Hoosier fans is not the same thing as improving his standing with the NCAA. Indiana is free to employ whomever they choose as their coach, of course, but if they wish to participate in NCAA-sponsored postseason events in the next decade they'd be well advised to proceed with the goodbye parties, parting gifts, etc.

Pac-10: A Strong Conference with a Clear Hierarchy

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  UCLA             64.7    1.13    0.97   +0.16
2.  Stanford         62.6    1.04    0.93   +0.11
3.  Washington St.   58.6    1.11    1.03   +0.08
4.  Arizona          63.5    1.09    1.07   +0.02
5.  USC              64.7    1.01    1.00   +0.01
6.  Oregon           63.5    1.10    1.10    0.00
7.  Washington       67.4    0.99    1.01   -0.02
8.  Arizona St.      62.1    1.00    1.03   -0.03
9.  Cal              67.5    1.09    1.13   -0.04
10. Oregon St.       64.8    0.90    1.14   -0.24

The Pac-10 might just be the best conference in the country but, make no mistake, there's a clear and decided drop-off between the conference's third- and fourth-best teams. You could make the case that there's a larger difference between Washington State and Arizona than there is between any two of the following: the Wildcats, USC, Oregon, Washington, Arizona State and Cal. One of the selection committee's most difficult tasks will be deciding just how deep to go into this six-team pool of respectable but not spectacular candidates.

SEC: A Weak Conference with a Clear Hierarchy

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Tennessee        72.1    1.11    0.97   +0.14
2.  Mississippi St.  67.7    1.05    0.94   +0.11
3.  Arkansas         69.2    1.04    1.00   +0.04
4.  Vanderbilt       68.1    1.03    1.01   +0.02
5.  Florida          69.4    1.09    1.07   +0.02
6.  Alabama          68.8    1.02    1.04   -0.02
7.  Kentucky         63.4    1.02    1.05   -0.03
8.  Georgia          67.7    0.97    1.00   -0.03
9.  Ole Miss         70.6    1.07    1.12   -0.05
10. South Carolina   64.6    1.05    1.12   -0.07
11. Auburn           67.5    1.07    1.15   -0.08
12. LSU              65.8    0.99    1.09   -0.10

As I noted last week, Vanderbilt's numbers should continue to improve as they play the second half of an improbably imbalanced conference schedule. (Big game coming up in Nashville next week against Tennessee.) Still, based on performance to date, it'll be a mild surprise if any SEC team besides the Volunteers or Mississippi State survives to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

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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