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January 17, 2012
Tuesday Truths
Back-with-a-Vengeance Edition

by John Gasaway

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

The leagues you see below have already played enough conference games for us to take a look at them here even though it's mid-January. (Basically these are your 18-game leagues, plus the laudably front-loaded 16-game WCC.) They will be joined here soon enough by the ACC, SEC, A-10, C-USA, Mountain West, and WAC.

Big 12: The incredible Prospectus streak without a pun on Bill Self's name continues!

Through games of January 16, 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.  Kansas            5-0   68.5    1.15    0.89    +0.26
2.  Missouri          4-1   64.0    1.17    0.99    +0.18
3.  Baylor            4-1   69.4    1.12    0.99    +0.13
4.  Iowa St.          2-2   70.2    1.04    0.99    +0.05
5.  Texas             2-2   65.5    1.00    1.00     0.00
6.  Kansas St.        1-3   67.4    1.00    1.05    -0.05
7.  Oklahoma St.      2-2   68.4    0.92    1.05    -0.13
8.  Texas A&M         1-4   64.9    0.84    0.99    -0.15
9.  Oklahoma          1-3   66.5    0.97    1.14    -0.17
10. Texas Tech        0-4   64.3    0.85    1.12    -0.27

AVG.                        66.9    1.01

In the aftermath of Kansas' very KU-like 92-74 thrashing of previously unbeaten Baylor in Lawrence last night, some of the Jayhawks had some stock phrases ready for such a situation: The world didn't believe in us, but we knew what we could do, we never stopped believing, etc. To which we, the world, have a ready reply: You lost to Davidson! In Kansas City, for goodness sake! What were we supposed to think? The numbers above look like what they've looked like pretty much every year under Bill Self, and for that the coach deserves much credit because what "everyone" says about this team really is true: they're not as talented as their predecessors in Lawrence. Oh, Thomas Robinson would fit right in with any KU team ever, of course, so would Tyshawn Taylor the way he played last night, and Jeff Withey is almost comically underrated nationally. (That might change quickly if he keeps this up, but the key sound bite here is "My block percentage is better than yours, Anthony Davis.") It is also true, however, that non-Baylor opponents may think to (gasp!) double-team Robinson on occasion, Taylor is not always the Taylor we saw last night, and past Withey -- in the form of players Nos. 4, 5, and 6 or so in the KU rotation -- is where this year's Jayhawks look decidedly different than what we're used to. Nevertheless, while these guys might not emerge victorious from a game against the alumni at Homecoming, I'm on the record as thinking they'll win KU's eighth straight Big 12 crown.

Big East: Why you're right to be surprised by Pitt

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Syracuse          7-0   68.8    1.14    0.91    +0.23
2.  West Virginia     4-2   66.8    1.08    0.96    +0.12
3.  Seton Hall        4-2   65.8    1.03    0.94    +0.09
4.  Cincinnati        4-1   65.1    1.05    0.97    +0.08
5.  Marquette         4-2   69.1    1.05    0.98    +0.07
6.  Connecticut       4-2   62.7    1.05    1.00    +0.05
7.  Georgetown        4-2   63.2    1.02    0.97    +0.05
8.  S. Florida        3-2   59.0    1.03    1.01    +0.02
9.  Rutgers           3-3   65.8    0.97    1.00    -0.03
10. Notre Dame        3-3   59.5    0.98    1.01    -0.03
11. Louisville        2-4   67.3    0.96    1.00    -0.04
12. Villanova         1-5   71.2    1.02    1.10    -0.08
13. St. John's        2-4   68.1    0.95    1.05    -0.10
14. Providence        1-5   66.0    0.96    1.09    -0.13
15. Pitt              0-6   63.2    0.95    1.10    -0.15
16. DePaul            1-4   76.5    0.93    1.11    -0.18

AVG.                        66.1    1.01

Last night at the Carrier Dome Syracuse beat Pitt 71-63, dropping the Panthers to 0-6 in the Big East. Jamie Dixon's team ended the 2011 conference season outscoring their league opponents by 0.15 points per trip, and, as seen here, that same margin has rather neatly and cruelly flipped into the red in 2012. Maybe Pitt was never going to win the 2012 Big East regular-season title, even with a healthy Travon Woodall, but, sweet mother of Ben Howland, who could possibly have seen this coming? My suggested answer: No one! Over six conference games the Panthers have been almost equally bad on offense and defense, but the D's been a little worse and on that side of the ball the most serious problem has been that Dixon's team is being eaten alive on the perimeter. Big East opponents are both shooting and, somewhat more importantly, making tons of threes against this defense. BONUS note of Shavian irony! This may be the best offensive rebounding team Dixon's ever had, and he's had some doozies. You might therefore infer that pretty much everything else on offense has been a Costa Concordia-level mishap. That inference would be spot-on.

Big Ten: If Wisconsin can have a meh offense, does that mean Northwestern will play D someday?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Ohio St.          4-2   68.3    1.12    0.87    +0.25
2.  Michigan St.      4-1   64.6    1.15    0.97    +0.18
3.  Michigan          4-2   59.9    1.05    0.99    +0.06
4.  Purdue            3-2   64.4    1.06    1.04    +0.02
5.  Wisconsin         3-3   57.3    0.99    0.97    +0.02
6.  Illinois          4-1   64.3    1.00    0.98    +0.02
7.  Minnesota         2-4   64.8    1.02    1.05    -0.03
8.  Northwestern      2-3   62.1    1.02    1.07    -0.05
9.  Indiana           3-3   68.1    1.07    1.13    -0.06
10. Iowa              3-3   67.4    0.98    1.08    -0.10
11. Penn St.          1-5   64.7    0.98    1.09    -0.11
12. Nebraska          1-5   60.5    0.84    1.02    -0.18

AVG.                        63.9    1.02

Prior to this year I fully expected that I'd retire sometime mid-century having never seen a mediocre Wisconsin offense. After all, "mediocre Wisconsin offense"? The very words strike the hoops ear as incommensurate. In each of the past four seasons the Badgers were significantly better than the Big Ten average for offense, and one could have therefore concluded that Bo Ryan had figured out the trick to this basketball thing: Zero turnovers and the patience to only take open shots. And yet somehow that recipe isn't working in 2012, at least not in Wisconsin's first six conference games. The Badgers' shooting has been equally terrible both inside and outside the arc, where in league play they rank no. 11 in both endeavors. (Take that, Penn State and Nebraska, respectively!) Losing Jon Leuer is no small challenge, surely, but we've seen Ryan lose the occasional rather good player before and things always kept running smoothly. Not this time, at least not yet. BONUS note of Osborneian irony! I'll continue to track this profoundly important story as it develops, but it's beginning to look as though if only the Big Ten had not added a rather plodding bunch of Cornhuskers this season, 2012 might have been the year at long last when the league lost its designation as the slowest-paced major conference in the land. (See next major conference, below.) Curse you, football! Again!

Pac-12: No, Colorado's not really this good, sue me

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Cal               5-1   65.0    1.12    0.94    +0.18
2.  Colorado          3-2   66.3    1.04    0.91    +0.13
3.  UCLA              3-2   62.5    1.07    0.99    +0.08
4.  Arizona           3-2   63.8    0.98    0.90    +0.08
5.  Washington        4-1   68.6    1.08    1.01    +0.07
6.  Stanford          5-1   64.3    1.04    0.98    +0.06
7.  Oregon            4-2   64.4    1.08    1.08     0.00
8.  Oregon St.        1-5   69.3    1.06    1.13    -0.07
9.  Arizona St.       2-3   61.4    0.99    1.07    -0.08
10. Washington St.    1-4   64.7    1.03    1.13    -0.10
11. USC               0-5   59.3    0.80    0.98    -0.18
12. Utah              1-4   59.6    0.84    1.11    -0.27

AVG.                        64.1    1.01

Time for some rollicking good threnody: I miss you already, old Pac-10! You had the coolest schedule. Five organically occurring and genuine rivalry pairings. Everyone played everyone. Pointless nostalgia? Au contraire! Welcome to this year's Pac-12, imbalanced in two key respects. Everyone doesn't play everyone, but everyone wants to play teams in the league's bottom third. Why? Those teams are really bad! Remove Colorado's rather emphatic whomping of Utah in Boulder on New Year's Eve from the mix, for example, and the Buffaloes' efficiency margin drops down to a somewhat more congruent +0.01. On the other hand, for what it's worth I think Cal actually is good. Gaseous "Bah! The Pac-12's terrible!" know-nothings will underrate Mike Montgomery's team all year, but of course that's true every season and the Bears -- or a given year's version thereof -- invariably get shipped to the East Coast in the NCAA tournament and lose a close game in the round of 32 to a No. 1 or 2 seed. It's the circle of life. Bring it on.

Colonial: Ron Hunter, I salute you!

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Georgia St.       5-1   65.7    0.94    0.75    +0.19
2.  VCU               4-2   64.7    1.06    0.89    +0.17
3.  Old Dominion      5-1   63.9    1.01    0.87    +0.14
4.  Drexel            4-2   60.6    1.01    0.89    +0.12
5.  George Mason      5-1   64.4    1.04    0.94    +0.10
6.  Northeastern      4-2   61.8    1.01    0.96    +0.05
7.  Delaware          3-3   65.2    1.02    1.02     0.00
8.  Hofstra           0-6   67.0    0.98    1.07    -0.09
9.  UNC-Wilmington    3-3   67.8    1.03    1.13    -0.10
10. James Madison     1-5   65.6    0.92    1.04    -0.12
11. William & Mary    2-4   62.5    0.90    1.03    -0.13
12. Towson            0-6   58.9    0.73    1.07    -0.34

AVG.                        64.0    0.97

If you watched Georgia State last year and decided on a whim to shut your eyes every time they played defense, you would see zero difference between that 2011 team and what's taking place this season. Both incarnations of the Panthers scored or are scoring 0.94 points per trip in conference play. But under new head coach Ron Hunter GSU has registered improvement on defense that can only be termed paranormal. True, Georgia State hasn't exactly faced a who's-who of outstanding opposing offenses. Even though they played a road game at George Mason, the Panthers have still had a relatively benign conference schedule to date. (That's a nice way of saying yes, the home game against Towson is in the books. Hey, the stats for Hunter's team looked good even before that game.) But even seen in context the numbers are simply ridiculous. CAA opponents are shooting 33 percent on their twos and committing turnovers on 28 percent of their possessions -- and the Panthers are somehow performing these feats without fouling. If the season ended today, this is your national Coach of the Year right here. Hands down.

Horizon: Now this is balance....

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Milwaukee         6-1   64.1    0.97    0.87    +0.10
2.  Cleveland St.     5-2   61.8    1.07    0.98    +0.09
3.  Wright St.        4-4   61.3    0.95    0.92    +0.03
4.  Valparaiso        5-2   65.3    1.07    1.05    +0.02
5.  Detroit           3-5   65.6    1.04    1.03    +0.01
6.  Youngstown St.    4-3   61.1    1.05    1.04    +0.01
7.  Butler            4-3   64.7    0.97    0.97     0.00
8.  Green Bay         3-4   65.9    0.99    0.99     0.00
9.  UIC               2-5   62.7    0.96    1.04    -0.08
10. Loyola            0-7   57.1    0.87    1.08    -0.21

AVG.                        63.0    0.99

I love you, Horizon schedule! Five rivalry pairings that run the gamut from artificially contrived through plausible to organic and naturally occurring. Everyone plays everyone. Throw a stick at this league and you'll hit eight teams of more or less equal worth -- plus the Chicago teams (har!). If I had to pick a best Horizon team on January 17 I'd go with those feisty Cleveland State Vikings, but certainly Milwaukee has the league's best single unit in the form of the Panther defense. (Suggestion for opposing Horizon offenses: give up on threes against Milwaukee. They're just not going to happen.) And, yes, I understand that the worse a certain team from Indy looks in January the more likely it is they'll be in the Superdome in April. It's the circle of life. Bring it on.

Missouri Valley: Being Gregg Marshall

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita St.       6-1   65.5    1.13    0.93    +0.20
2.  Creighton         6-1   67.4    1.15    1.04    +0.11
3.  Missouri St.      4-3   65.6    1.06    1.01    +0.05
4.  Evansville        3-4   66.5    1.09    1.05    +0.04
5.  Drake             4-3   67.5    1.05    1.04    +0.01
6.  N. Iowa           3-4   65.6    1.01    1.00    +0.01
7.  S. Illinois       3-4   68.7    1.04    1.10    -0.06
8.  Illinois St.      3-4   65.0    1.05    1.12    -0.07
9.  Indiana St.       2-5   66.7    0.99    1.08    -0.09
10. Bradley           1-6   68.9    0.95    1.16    -0.21

AVG.                        66.7    1.05

In non-Doug McDermott news, Wichita State is really good at basketball. They'll likely be underrated all year by gaseous "Bah! Who've they played!" types, and nothing Gregg Marshall's team does in Valley play is going to impress those types unduly. WSU will get a Bracketbusters road game in February, and perhaps the best they can hope for there is that a) Murray State is still undefeated, and b) somehow the Shockers draw the Racers. (If the pairings were being made today that jewel could go instead to a fellow Bracketbuster roadie like Saint Mary's.) Therefore the likelihood that Wichita State will be mis-seeded in the NCAA tournament is pretty good. Then again in this sport you can play your way out of a mis-seed. I'll be watching the Shockers.

West Coast: Catholics and Mormons playing basketball! Mass hysteria!

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Saint Mary's      6-0   66.5    1.23    0.99    +0.24
2.  Gonzaga           4-1   67.2    1.10    0.88    +0.22
3.  BYU               5-1   73.7    1.13    0.93    +0.20
4.  Loyola Marymount  3-2   69.9    0.97    0.94    +0.03
5.  San Francisco     2-4   69.8    1.05    1.06    -0.01
6.  San Diego         1-4   70.5    0.94    1.10    -0.16
7.  Portland          2-3   68.9    0.93    1.10    -0.17
8.  Pepperdine        1-5   63.5    0.87    1.07    -0.20
9.  Santa Clara       0-4   70.6    0.97    1.19    -0.22

AVG.                        69.0    1.02

I fully expect that I'll retire sometime mid-century having never seen a mediocre Saint Mary's offense. After all, "mediocre Saint Mary's offense"? The very words strike the hoops ear as incommensurate. In each of the past four seasons the Gaels have been significantly better than the WCC average for offense, and one could therefore conclude that Randy Bennett has figured out the trick to this basketball thing: Recruit Australians who never miss. That recipe is working again in 2012. BONUS WCC fun fact! Did you know BYU played San Diego last night? It's true! I guess you'd know it if the Cougars had lost.

John uses fewer decimal points on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. This free article is an example of the content available to Basketball Prospectus Premium subscribers. See our Premium page for more details and to subscribe..

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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