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March 5, 2012
Tuesday Truths
Final Reality

by John Gasaway


Welcome to this season's final installment of Tuesday Truths, where I 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: Remember North Carolina?

Final results, 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.  North Carolina   14-2   70.1    1.10    0.93    +0.17
2.  Duke             13-3   66.6    1.11    1.01    +0.10
3.  Florida St.      12-4   66.7    1.02    0.95    +0.07
4.  Virginia          9-7   60.1    0.99    0.92    +0.07
5.  Miami             9-7   65.2    1.05    0.98    +0.07
6.  Clemson           8-8   63.6    1.02    0.98    +0.04
7.  NC State          9-7   67.0    1.04    1.01    +0.03
8.  Maryland         6-10   67.8    0.98    1.04    -0.06
9.  Virginia Tech    4-12   61.7    0.96    1.03    -0.07
10. Georgia Tech     4-12   61.8    0.94    1.05    -0.11
11. Wake Forest      4-12   64.8    0.95    1.08    -0.13
12. Boston College   4-12   64.8    0.88    1.05    -0.17

AVG.                        65.0    1.00

The fact that the Tar Heels finished the year outscoring the ACC by such a healthy margin is rather remarkable, given that they were on the wrong end of a 33-point decision when they visited Florida State back in January. Not that Roy Williams' team somehow earns extra credit for being so drop-dead terrible in one game, of course. I just want to note that over the course of their other 15 conference contests UNC was more or less what we expected in the preseason when they were voted No. 1 in the nation. On all conference basketball courts besides the one in Tallahassee, the Heels outscored an aberrantly weak ACC by an aberrantly large 0.20 points per possession. I know they're not "fiery" and that they "lack the killer instinct," but they also happen to be pretty good at basketball.

Thursday - Sunday, Philips Arena, Atlanta
This is a very important ACC tournament for Miami and NC State. The teams above them in the standings (UNC, Duke, and Florida State) will be in the NCAA tournament. So too, apparently, will be their co-inhabitant at 9-7 in-conference, Virginia. But there's still some doubt regarding the fate of the Hurricanes and the Wolfpack. Jim Larranaga's team will open against Georgia Tech, and if all goes well there the Canes will next take on Florida State. Meanwhile Mark Gottfried's men have drawn Boston College as their first-round foe. (Win there and the Pack would play Virginia.) Phrasing this as delicately as possible, the ACC's two bubble teams have been handed two ideal opponents. (Though, in theory, Georgia Tech is more or less at "home." If any such atmospheric advantage actually materializes in Philips Arena in the nightcap on Thursday night, I will be surprised.) Miami and NC State have zero control over how many at-large bids will be available, of course, but purely in terms of the bracket they've been handed the opportunity to record one more win is there.

Big 12: The Sprint Center's in Missouri, but it could still qualify as a "border" clash

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kansas           16-2   66.1    1.11    0.93    +0.18
2.  Missouri         14-4   64.8    1.15    1.04    +0.11
3.  Baylor           12-6   66.1    1.09    1.01    +0.08
4.  Iowa St.         12-6   67.0    1.07    0.99    +0.08
5.  Kansas St.       10-8   66.0    1.02    0.97    +0.05
6.  Texas             9-9   66.2    1.04    1.03    +0.01
7.  Oklahoma St.     7-11   65.9    1.00    1.07    -0.07
8.  Texas A&M        4-14   62.0    0.93    1.03    -0.10
9.  Oklahoma         5-13   66.5    0.97    1.07    -0.10
10. Texas Tech       1-17   63.7    0.84    1.09    -0.25

AVG.                        65.4    1.02

The common perception would hold that Kansas is a little better than Missouri, who in turn is a little better than Baylor, who in turn is clearly better than the Big 12's other tournament teams: Iowa State, Kansas State, and Texas. The legacy of a few thousand possessions and round-robin scheduling, however, suggests a different possibility. Perhaps Kansas is in fact clearly better than Missouri, who in turn is a little better than Baylor and Iowa State, who in turn are a little better than Kansas State.

Wednesday - Saturday, Sprint Center, Kansas City
Bracket (pdf)
Look for two unusually strong and important quarterfinal games: Baylor vs. Kansas State, and Iowa State vs. Texas. All of the above except the Longhorns "should" join Kansas and Missouri in the NCAA tournament, and Rick Barnes' team is knocking on that same door. Suffice it to say these are big games between teams that are more or less evenly matched. By stark contrast the Jayhawks and Tigers will have every opportunity to arrive at the semifinals as fresh as a daisy, relatively speaking. Bill Self's team will open play against the winner of Oklahoma-Texas A&M, while Frank Haith's group takes on the Oklahoma State-Texas Tech survivor. Can we get just one more Border War battle (on the actual border no less)?

Big East: The last we'll see of this group -- and maybe this kind of group

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Syracuse         17-1   64.7    1.10    0.94    +0.16
2.  Marquette        14-4   69.4    1.07    0.98    +0.09
3.  Georgetown       12-6   62.8    1.02    0.95    +0.07
4.  Notre Dame       13-5   59.5    1.04    0.98    +0.06
5.  Cincinnati       12-6   64.1    1.04    0.99    +0.05
6.  Louisville       10-8   66.7    0.99    0.95    +0.04
7.  West Virginia     9-9   63.2    1.06    1.03    +0.03
8.  S. Florida       12-6   59.8    0.97    0.95    +0.02
9.  Connecticut      8-10   63.8    1.02    1.02     0.00
10. Seton Hall       8-10   65.5    0.98    0.99    -0.01
11. Pitt             5-13   63.7    1.00    1.06    -0.06
12. Villanova        5-13   68.8    1.01    1.08    -0.07
13. Rutgers          6-12   65.3    0.96    1.03    -0.07
14. Providence       4-14   64.8    1.04    1.12    -0.08
15. St. John's       6-12   67.5    0.98    1.09    -0.11
16. DePaul           3-15   71.8    1.00    1.12    -0.12

AVG.                        65.1    1.02

Feast your eyes not only on the last time these particular 16 programs will be together (West Virginia's leaving now for sure -- Pitt and Syracuse will leave sometime soon), but also on an unusually homogeneous league in terms of performance. There's only one Syracuse, to be sure, but beyond the Orange just see for yourself: 15 teams wedged into a relatively small per-possession space. Even DePaul is showing strange new respectability, relatively speaking. As long as Jim Boeheim's team isn't involved, attendees at the Garden this week should see their fair share of closely contested games.

Tuesday - Saturday, Madison Square Garden, NYC
Bracket (pdf)
And speaking of DePaul and their strange new respectability, the fact that the Blue Demons will tip off the tournament against Connecticut is simply too eerie for words. Last year the same two teams met on Tuesday at the Garden. Yes, the same group of Huskies that went on to win the national title, started their amazing post-season run in the most ignominious surroundings imaginable: playing in the BET on Tuesday against lowly DePaul. Maybe Jim Calhoun's men can channel that same karma in 2012, though if UConn successfully defends their national title we can all officially give up paying attention to the "college basketball" "regular season" forever. In other news, Nos. 1 through 6 above are locked into the NCAA tournament. Beyond that point West Virginia, UConn, Seton Hall, and USF are all experiencing varying levels of unease, going roughly from least (Mountaineers) to most (Bulls).

Big Ten: The importance of succeeding consecutively

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Ohio St.         13-5   65.4    1.10    0.93    +0.17
2.  Michigan St.     13-5   62.5    1.08    0.92    +0.16
3.  Wisconsin        12-6   58.0    1.03    0.97    +0.06
4.  Michigan         13-5   58.9    1.06    1.01    +0.05
5.  Indiana          11-7   65.4    1.11    1.06    +0.05
6.  Purdue           10-8   64.0    1.10    1.09    +0.01
7.  Northwestern     8-10   61.0    1.08    1.12    -0.04
8.  Minnesota        6-12   62.6    1.00    1.04    -0.04
9.  Iowa             8-10   65.8    1.03    1.09    -0.06
10. Illinois         6-12   63.7    0.97    1.05    -0.08
11. Penn St.         4-14   62.3    0.97    1.10    -0.13
12. Nebraska         4-14   61.9    0.93    1.09    -0.16

AVG.                        62.6    1.04

If I transported you into the present day from January and whisked a cover off these numbers for the first time, you'd probably think, "Wow! Ohio State and Michigan State are both outstanding!" And, indeed, on paper they are, but neither of them could quite sustain that impression for long enough in actual sequential time for us to get properly enthused. For a long while the Spartans looked like the real thing, but then Tom Izzo's team dropped its last two games. Those two losses came against quality opponents (at Indiana -- you're no one in 2011-12 if you haven't lost in Bloomington -- and at home against the Buckeyes), but a modicum of the Syracuse "just win, baby" attitude would have yielded tremendous perceptual returns here. Maybe it's simply a case of getting the best teams from the nation's best conference away from each other and letting them beat up on some other opponents for a change. Before we get that far, however, there's a get-together taking place this week in Indy....

Thursday - Sunday, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Bracket (pdf)
The Spartans and Buckeyes will join, at a minimum, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Purdue in representing the league in the field of 68. Congratulations to the Wolverines on winning their first Big Ten title since 1986. I started writing about basketball during the depths of that program's despair, and one of the first things that struck me forcibly as a new provider of content was the very high number of Michigan fans that chimed in with their thoughts even though, at the time, their team was terrible. I'm happy for those fans, however, I'm also compelled to report that, as the numbers above would suggest, Michigan in 2012 comprises an unusually beatable Big Ten tournament No. 2 seed. That's good news for Northwestern, which is trying to get into the NCAA tournament for the first time ever, and which can face UM if they get past Minnesota in the first round. The Wildcats and Wolverines played two OT games this season, and John Beilein's team emerged victorious both times. Last point. If Tim Hardaway for some reason should start making threes, I am on the record as thinking the numbers above should be taken with a grain of salt.

Pac-12: The league's downtrodden rose up, kind of

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Cal              13-5   66.8    1.07    0.95    +0.12
2.  Arizona          12-6   65.2    1.06    0.96    +0.10
3.  Oregon           13-5   67.0    1.12    1.02    +0.10
4.  UCLA             11-7   65.3    1.06    0.97    +0.09
5.  Washington       14-4   68.8    1.03    0.96    +0.07
6.  Colorado         11-7   66.6    1.01    0.96    +0.05
7.  Stanford         10-8   65.7    1.00    0.97    +0.03
8.  Oregon St.       7-11   70.2    1.06    1.08    -0.02
9.  Washington St.   7-11   63.2    1.04    1.09    -0.05
10. Arizona St.      6-12   62.0    0.93    1.06    -0.13
11. USC              1-17   61.8    0.82    1.01    -0.19
12. Utah             3-15   62.2    0.86    1.08    -0.22

AVG.                        65.4    1.01

The season did not end particularly well for the Pac-12, which saw both its conference champion, Washington, and its nominal best team, California, lose their last games -- all while the league's most storied program had its laundry aired in a most public fashion. It's bad enough that the league brought down the curtain on the 2012 regular season as the nation's No. 9 conference in Pomeroy rating (behind not only the other five majors, but also the Mountain West, A-10, and Missouri Valley). It's even worse that no team was able to rise above the 11 other entrants and make a Memphis-type statement: Hey, we know our league's bad, but it's not our fault and anyway we're good.

Wednesday - Saturday, STAPLES Center, LA
Bracket (pdf)
Both Cal and the Huskies currently reside in most mock brackets, but their seeds are low enough -- in the 10 to 12 range -- that it certainly wouldn't set their fans to worrying about player-fatigue if those teams chose to win a game or two in LA later this week. The Golden Bears could well run into the same Stanford bunch that just beat them 75-70 in Palo Alto yesterday, assuming Johnny Dawkins' team prevails in a first-round contest over Arizona State. (Note the Sun Devils were oddly feisty this weekend, defeating Arizona 87-80 in Tempe.) On the other side of the bracket Washington's quarterfinal opponent will be the winner of Washington State vs. Oregon State. Lastly take heed of two per-possession observations, offered diffidently and in the context of a league where clearly no one should fear anyone when speaking of Nos. 1 through 9. Oregon was better than you'd think for a team that you heard nothing about. And UCLA was better than you'd think for a team you heard about for all the wrong reasons.

SEC: What are you doing for National Kentucky's Offense is Even Better than its Defense Month?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kentucky         16-0   62.1    1.20    0.94    +0.26
2.  Vanderbilt       10-6   63.0    1.12    1.01    +0.11
3.  Florida          10-6   62.4    1.10    1.04    +0.06
4.  Alabama           9-7   62.9    0.99    0.94    +0.05
5.  Tennessee        10-6   64.0    0.99    0.95    +0.04
6.  Mississippi St.   8-8   62.8    1.06    1.08    -0.02
7.  Ole Miss          8-8   64.2    1.00    1.03    -0.03
8.  LSU               7-9   64.6    0.96    1.01    -0.05
9.  Georgia          5-11   60.7    0.97    1.05    -0.08
10. Auburn           5-11   62.5    0.91    0.99    -0.08
11. Arkansas         6-10   68.7    1.00    1.09    -0.09
12. South Carolina   2-14   62.1    0.94    1.10    -0.16

AVG.                        63.3    1.02

Last week I declared March as National Kentucky's Offense is Even Better than its Defense Month, and I'm pleased to report that my Month is clearly catching on with fans and even influencing the behaviors of actual basketball teams. For instance Alabama decided to do its bit by finishing the year with what was, strictly speaking, the stingiest D in SEC play, allowing opponents just 0.9367 points per trip, while that notably permissive gang up in Lexington allowed opponents to ring up an astonishing 0.9375 points per possession. No contest! No, wait, what I really mean is scrutinizing figures this far to the right of the decimal point is folly, particularly when the alleged No. 1 defense in truth benefited from a heavy diet of weak offenses from the vestigial SEC West. (The West and East no longer exist, technically. Tell that to the schedule.) But let us nevertheless note that there are defenses in the league that did roughly what Kentucky's did. The same simply can't be asserted on the other side of the ball. In March of 2012 I see it said in august precincts that "statistics are readily available at the click of a mouse, providing countless opportunities to assess teams from leagues famous and obscure." One test of what William James would have called the cash-value of that statement over the next several days will be the degree to which a Hoops Nation advising an actual nation of three-week fans understands that Kentucky's offense is better than its defense.

Thursday - Sunday, New Orleans Arena, New Orleans
Bracket (pdf)
No, I don't understand how Tennessee is the No. 2 seed here, either. Don't sweat it. At a minimum the league will send UK, Florida, and Vanderbilt to the NCAA tournament. Barring a first-round loss by 50 points to South Carolina and a perfect tsunami of upsets in other conference tournaments, Alabama will join that trio. The drama, if there's any to be had, should center on Mississippi State and the aforementioned Volunteers. The Bulldogs are projected as an NCAA 11 or 12 at the moment, so they'll want to win that first-round game against Georgia. And if Cuonzo's Martin team wins a game or two watch the resulting chatter collide with what is said to be a prohibitively high RPI (No. 75 at the moment). In a side of the bracket populated by the aforementioned two Bulldog-themed programs (MSU and UGA), Auburn, and Ole Miss, a win or two is not at all unlikely for the Vols.

A-10: When I'm hospitalized I want a better bracket

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Saint Louis      12-4   64.3    1.06    0.92    +0.14
2.  Temple           13-3   67.5    1.13    1.02    +0.11
3.  St. Bonaventure  10-6   65.6    1.08    0.99    +0.09
4.  Dayton            9-7   65.9    1.11    1.06    +0.05
5.  La Salle          9-7   69.0    1.04    1.00    +0.04
6.  Xavier           10-6   67.6    1.05    1.01    +0.04
7.  Saint Joseph's    9-7   65.2    1.05    1.03    +0.02
8.  UMass             9-7   74.5    0.99    0.98    +0.01
9.  Richmond          7-9   64.1    1.04    1.05    -0.01
10. Duquesne          7-9   67.0    0.99    1.05    -0.06
11. Charlotte        5-11   68.3    0.96    1.03    -0.07
12. GW               5-11   63.0    1.01    1.08    -0.07
13. Rhode Island     4-12   68.1    0.99    1.08    -0.09
14. Fordham          3-13   65.9    0.93    1.15    -0.22

AVG.                        66.8    1.03

Saint Louis head coach Rick Majerus was hospitalized in Pittsburgh this weekend while his team was in town to play Duquesne. As a result Majerus wasn't on the sidelines as his Billikens prevailed over the Dukes, 75-60. The coach says he's fine now, and when asked about his team's chances to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000 he replied: "We are the second-best team in the seventh-best league in the country so I would think we are in." Actually the Billikens may be the best team in the seventh-best league in the country, so I would think they are in.

Tuesday, campus sites
Friday - Sunday, Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
Bracket (pdf)
It's a good thing SLU projects to be safely in the field of 68, because their A-10 bracket looks surprisingly punitive. There's a good chance that merely to reach to conference title game the Billikens will have to defeat first La Salle and then Xavier, your per-possession Nos. 5 and 6 in a 14-team league. Ouch! Meantime Temple benefits not only from a kinder bracket (the winner of UMass-Duquesne, and then the winner of Saint Joseph's-Charlotte) but also, of course, from a much shorter commute to the Boardwalk. Like the Billikens, the Owls are currently projected as something in the 6 to 8 range in the NCAA tournament.

Colonial: Ain't that a shame

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Drexel           16-2   60.6    1.08    0.92    +0.16
2.  VCU              15-3   65.5    1.03    0.88    +0.15
3.  Old Dominion     13-5   64.7    1.00    0.87    +0.13
4.  George Mason     14-4   67.7    1.02    0.94    +0.08
5.  Georgia St.      11-7   63.5    0.96    0.89    +0.07
6.  Delaware         12-6   66.7    1.02    0.98    +0.04
7.  Northeastern      9-9   62.4    0.98    1.01    -0.03
8.  Hofstra          3-15   65.2    0.96    1.02    -0.06
9.  James Madison    5-13   64.9    0.98    1.06    -0.08
10. William & Mary   4-14   61.9    0.97    1.07    -0.10
11. UNC-Wilmington   5-13   67.0    0.96    1.08    -0.12
12. Towson           1-17   62.0    0.80    1.06    -0.26

AVG.                        64.3    0.98

One of the few things that I actively dislike about this, the most likable time of the year by far, is that anytime Team X is brought up for discussion on a telecast, Team X is always -- always -- adjudged as worthy of an NCAA tournament bid. That's a luxury afforded to all of us, the televised and obscure alike; the praise we offer is inexhaustible. The good people gathering on the 15th floor of the Westin in Indianapolis this week, however, have a limited number of bids to offer. I recognize that, so accept the following in that context: I'd like to see both Drexel and VCU in the NCAA tournament. The two teams meet tonight in the CAA championship game in Richmond (in the Rams' hometown, though not on their home floor). There's a chance Shaka Smart's team can go dancing even if they lose the title game; there is no chance, apparently, that the same can be said of Bruiser Flint's squad. The Dragons haven't lost a game since January 2, they outscored a top-14 league by 0.16 points per trip, and they dutifully went on the road for BracketBusters and blew out Cleveland State by 20. If they somehow get into the tournament they will present a tangible threat to the teams in their vicinity in the bracket. So too would/will the Rams.

C-USA: As long as they're not playing a home game against UTEP, Memphis is really good (cont.)

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Memphis          13-3   65.7    1.12    0.90    +0.22
2.  Tulsa            10-6   62.7    1.04    0.97    +0.07
3.  Southern Miss    11-5   63.5    1.06    1.03    +0.03
4.  UCF              10-6   62.8    1.04    1.01    +0.03
5.  Marshall          9-7   64.3    1.04    1.03    +0.01
6.  UAB               9-7   60.9    0.99    0.99     0.00
7.  UTEP              7-9   62.1    0.96    0.98    -0.02
8.  Rice              8-8   66.1    0.96    0.98    -0.02
9.  East Carolina    5-11   64.2    1.00    1.05    -0.05
10. SMU              4-12   59.7    0.93    1.00    -0.07
11. Houston           7-9   65.3    0.99    1.09    -0.10
12. Tulane           3-13   63.5    0.94    1.05    -0.11

AVG.                        63.4    1.01

After suffering their thoroughly puzzling 60-58 loss at home to UTEP on February 18, Memphis ended the year on a ruthless tear. In four games the Tigers outscored their opponents by 0.30 points per possession, a margin that must evoke memories of Tyreke and Derrick among the locals. Adonis Thomas is reportedly about to resurface after recovering from his ankle injury, but, with all due respect to the NBA-track freshman, Will Barton and the gang were already on a trajectory to terrify some highly-seeded but notably unlucky round of 32 opponent anyway. I trust by the time you read these words my pamphleteering on behalf of Josh Pastner's team will have had its intended result, and that this team will be ranked in the top 25. If not, my advice -- judiciously considered and offered carefully -- is to ignore all rankings forever.

Wednesday - Saturday, FedExForum, Memphis
Bracket (pdf)
When a team outscores its league by more than a fifth of a point per trip during the regular season and then plays the conference tournament on its home floor, said team is something of a favorite. I refer of course to Memphis, who will be in the NCAA tournament even if the world is rocked by a Tiger loss in this C-USA event. The only question at hand is whether Pastner's team will be seeded in the 8-9 range by the good people at the NCAA. If so, what a titanic round of 32 game that would set up. I think it more likely, however, that Memphis will move on up George and Weeezie style and instead terrorize some poor hapless No. 2 or 3 seed in that round. In other news Southern Miss has been a mortal lock to be over-seeded in the NCAA tournament since January. The Eagles are currently projected as a No. 9 seed.

Horizon: Valpo plays for a bid at home

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Cleveland St.    12-6   62.9    1.08    0.95    +0.13
2.  Valparaiso       14-4   62.9    1.05    0.99    +0.06
3.  Detroit          11-7   65.0    1.06    1.02    +0.04
4.  Youngstown St.   10-8   63.3    1.04    1.01    +0.03
5.  Butler           11-7   63.8    0.96    0.94    +0.02
6.  Milwaukee        11-7   64.2    0.99    0.97    +0.02
7.  Green Bay        10-8   65.8    1.03    1.02    +0.01
8.  Wright St.       7-11   61.4    0.93    0.96    -0.03
9.  UIC              3-15   62.2    0.96    1.08    -0.12
10. Loyola           1-17   59.0    0.92    1.09    -0.17

AVG.                        63.0    1.00

Tomorrow night Valparaiso will host Detroit in the title game of the Horizon tournament, with the winner receiving what will surely be the league's only NCAA bid. Ordinarily the fact that the Titans defeated the league's best per-possession team, Cleveland State, to get this far would be more impressive, but CSU really struggled over the last three weeks of the season. Then again UDM star Ray McCallum certainly helped extend those struggles in the semifinals, to the tune of 26 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. For their part the Crusaders will be able to call upon 2012 Horizon POY Ryan Broekhoff, a 6-7 junior who exhibited remarkable shooting accuracy from both sides of the arc this year. In a post-Butler league, these are indeed the conference's two most talented members.

Missouri Valley: A multiple-bid league for the first time since 2007

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita St.      16-2   65.4    1.15    0.94    +0.21
2.  Creighton        14-4   65.4    1.15    1.05    +0.10
3.  Evansville        9-9   66.3    1.08    1.04    +0.04
4.  Missouri St.      9-9   62.5    1.01    0.99    +0.02
5.  N. Iowa           9-9   62.3    1.03    1.01    +0.02
6.  Drake             9-9   66.0    0.99    1.00    -0.01
7.  Illinois St.      9-9   64.3    1.04    1.05    -0.01
8.  Indiana St.      8-10   64.5    1.00    1.04    -0.04
9.  S. Illinois      5-13   65.1    0.97    1.09    -0.12
10. Bradley          2-16   67.1    0.90    1.10    -0.20

AVG.                        64.9    1.03

Last week I talked about the MVC tournament presenting Wichita State "with a fair degree of seed-deflating risk." Well, guess what? The Shockers did indeed fall in the Arch Madness semifinals to Illinois State, 65-64. Tim Jankovich's Redbirds then proceeded to take Creighton all the way to overtime before falling just short of reaching their first NCAA tournament since 1998. The latest bracket projections are now showing Wichita State as a 5 or a 6, while Creighton's popping up in the range of a 6 or a 7. In other words the seeds of these two will be far more similar than their respective performances were during their 18-game round-robin conference schedules. BONUS memo to officials! An otherwise characteristically exquisite Arch Madness was marred needlessly by too many technical fouls called for hanging on the rim after a dunk. Surely Missouri Valley referees are the first people I've run across so concerned about excessive showboating and poor sportsmanship in what the rest of the sentient hoops world sees as a remarkably staid and laudably straight-arrow MVC. Creighton was penalized by such calls in their semifinal win over Evansville, before seeing that particular worm turn in the form of two free points in the second half of a conference championship game that went to OT. If players are doing chin-ups while screaming "HOW DO YA LIKE ME NOW!" that's one thing. But in cases where players are hurtling down the court at high velocity and their lower bodies swing out for an instant when that momentum's arrested by the action of dunking, I beg officials to re-apprehend the obvious. Yes, we wish to promote good sportsmanship. We also wish to determine automatic bids on the floor, not according to the whims and caprice of glorified figure-skating judges.

Mountain West: What does Steve Alford have against our nation's air defense?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  New Mexico       10-4   65.3    1.08    0.91    +0.17
2.  UNLV              9-5   67.9    1.05    0.97    +0.08
3.  San Diego St.    10-4   65.6    1.02    0.97    +0.05
4.  Colorado St.      8-6   64.2    1.03    1.03     0.00
5.  Wyoming           6-8   60.3    0.98    0.98     0.00
6.  TCU               7-7   66.2    1.05    1.08    -0.03
7.  Boise St.        3-11   63.9    0.93    1.05    -0.12
8.  Air Force        3-11   62.6    0.90    1.05    -0.15

AVG.                        64.5    1.00

I do think New Mexico's the best team in the Mountain West, but I also have a hunch: a) that's not saying much in 2012, and b) the Lobos are not really as impressive as they look here. In two games against Air Force, Steve Alford's team achieved a per-possession scoring margin that was a tad robust, outpacing the Falcons to the tune of 0.52 points per trip. In 12 games against the rest of the Mountain West, conversely, UNM's margin was a much more descriptive +0.11 points per possession. As chance would have it Alford's team opens the MWC tournament with a quarterfinal against this very same Air Force stat-stuffer.

Thursday - Saturday, Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
Bracket (pdf)
San Diego State's showing up in mock NCAA brackets as a No. 7 seed, which is a little lofty in relation to how well they actually played in 14 Mountain West games. The Aztecs open the MWC tournament against Boise State and, assuming they prevail there, face the winner of TCU-Colorado State. That figures to be a competitive game, one where SDSU would be favored but not by as much as commonly thought. On the other side of the bracket New Mexico and UNLV will likely collide more or less right away (in the semis -- unless Air Force or Wyoming, respectively, can do something about it). That semifinal projects to produce your favorite in the title game. Feel free to give a slight edge to the Runnin' Rebels throughout the proceedings. This shindig's taking place on their home floor, and Dave Rice's team hasn't lost a home game this year. If this were a one-bid league, or if the conference had a really good non-UNLV team that was in danger of being under-seeded by the NCAA selection committee, the choice of venue would be a crime against hoops humanity. However with the Aztecs, Rebels, and Lobos all safely dancing no matter what, the tournament's location can be classified with the same words Hyman Roth applied to Frank Pentangeli: small potatoes. Even the league's bona fide bubble team, CSU, is safely tucked away on the other side of the bracket, far away from UNLV. If the Rams make the title game no one will criticize them for losing to the home team. (Fun fact: Colorado State at the moment has a better RPI than either New Mexico or SDSU.) Scheduling a conference tournament in advance on a participant's home floor (as opposed to awarding that privilege at the end of the season to your top seed) begs to be an issue some year; it is no issue this year.

West Coast: The other incredible streak in this league

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Saint Mary's     14-2   65.0    1.17    1.00    +0.17
2.  Gonzaga          13-3   66.9    1.09    0.93    +0.16
3.  BYU              12-4   73.8    1.07    0.94    +0.13
4.  Loyola Marymount 11-5   66.9    1.04    0.99    +0.05
5.  San Francisco     8-8   70.9    1.07    1.04    +0.03
6.  San Diego         7-9   66.7    1.01    1.07    -0.06
7.  Portland         3-13   67.8    0.94    1.09    -0.15
8.  Pepperdine       4-12   63.1    0.92    1.08    -0.16
9.  Santa Clara      0-16   68.2    0.99    1.17    -0.18

AVG.                        67.7    1.03

Gonzaga's streak of regular-season WCC titles won or shared was snapped this year, but tonight at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas the Zags will play in their 15th consecutive West Coast championship game. That is quite a run. Mark Few's men shredded a quality BYU team 77-58 in the semis, a game in which Bulldog freshman Kevin Pangos, clearly intent on making me look good for choosing him as my WCC POY, lit up the Cougars for 30 points. Gonzaga will face Saint Mary's, of course. The Gaels arrive fresh off a 83-78 win over San Francisco in the semis, a game where SMC trailed for the first 28 minutes of the contest. Tonight's game pits rival against rival for the millionth time, however it should have little impact on what we hear from the NCAA this Sunday evening. As for BYU, they find themselves in the clubhouse and nervous. More or less squarely on the bubble, the Cougars will have to see how many at-large bids are taken away by upsets in other conference tournaments this week.

WAC: The league's bid is up for grabs in Vegas

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  New Mexico St.   10-4   70.4    1.09    0.97    +0.12
2.  Nevada           13-1   64.1    1.11    1.00    +0.11
3.  Utah St.          8-6   61.7    1.08    1.04    +0.04
4.  Louisiana Tech    6-8   68.5    1.03    1.03     0.00
5.  Idaho             9-5   63.3    1.05    1.06    -0.01
6.  Fresno St.       3-11   61.5    1.00    1.05    -0.05
7.  Hawaii            6-8   70.6    1.02    1.08    -0.06
8.  San Jose St.     1-13   64.5    1.01    1.16    -0.15

AVG.                        65.6    1.05

As I noted last week, there's a 42-point victory over Hawaii baked into the New Mexico State numbers you see here. (What is it with teams from the Land of Enchantment and funky scoring distributions, anyway?) Consequently I prescribe a healthy dose of filial piety toward that stern father figure known as the "actual standings." Nevada got some fortuitous bounces, goodness knows, winning 13 of 14 games while outscoring the opposition by a Vanderbilt-like per-possession margin. But in the 2012 WAC there would appear to be no corresponding great-but-unfortunate rival close at hand to inherit our rightful esteem.

Thursday - Saturday, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Bracket (pdf)
The chances of Nevada emerging from the WAC tournament with the league's automatic bid are unusually low for a team that won its league by three games. This is a function of two factors: 1) the Wolf Pack are unusually weak relative to the field for a 13-1 team; and 2) they've been done no favors by the bracket, which requires them to win three games on a neutral floor. At least the bracket correctly identified the conference's weakest link, San Jose State, and dutifully served them up as a quarterfinal opponent for David Carter's team. After that, however, Nevada will have to earn their bid the hard way.

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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