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March 10, 2008
Conference Check
Final Reality Edition

by John Gasaway

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Through games of March 9, 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: Dig Those Crazy Inscrutable Tar Heels

									 
                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM   
1.  North Carolina   74.7    1.13    0.99   +0.14
2.  Duke             75.3    1.11    0.99   +0.12    
3.  Clemson          69.4    1.07    1.00   +0.07
4.  Georgia Tech     72.4    1.05    1.05    0.00
5.  Virginia Tech    72.2    0.97    0.98   -0.01
6.  Maryland         72.7    1.03    1.04   -0.01
7.  Miami            69.6    1.06    1.07   -0.01
8.  Wake Forest      71.7    1.01    1.05   -0.04
9.  Virginia         70.3    1.03    1.08   -0.05
10. Florida St.      67.7    0.99    1.05   -0.06
11. BC               69.3    1.04    1.11   -0.07
12. NC State         67.4    1.01    1.14   -0.13

North Carolina ended the conference season the way the way it entered it, acclaimed as the best team in the ACC. They did it by winning at Duke on a night when a still-decelerated Ty Lawson couldn't push the pace and when Tyler Hansbrough shot no free throws. If Lawson isn't pushing the pace and Hansbrough isn't shooting freebies, what in the world do you have with this team? Whatever it takes, I guess. On this night, it was defense. The Heels won't be confused with Louisville or Kansas on D anytime soon, but over the course of a 16-game schedule UNC did indeed make conference opponents miss their shots. They also took care of the defensive glass. Don't count them out just because they're ranked number one in the polls.

Big 12: Pay No Mind to That Team Between Kansas and Texas

									 
                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Kansas           69.2    1.16    0.92   +0.24
2.  Kansas St.       70.2    1.11    1.01   +0.10
3.  Texas            65.3    1.09    1.00   +0.09
4.  Baylor           72.2    1.08    1.07   +0.01
5.  Texas A&M        63.6    1.01    1.01    0.00
6.  Oklahoma St.     64.6    1.02    1.03   -0.01
7.  Oklahoma         63.6    1.01    1.03   -0.02
8.  Nebraska         64.1    0.98    1.02   -0.04
9.  Missouri         69.4    1.04    1.10   -0.06
10. Iowa St.         66.9    0.92    1.02   -0.10
11. Texas Tech       70.4    0.97    1.08   -0.11
12. Colorado         61.4    0.97    1.10   -0.13

Behold the limits of stats. The numbers here say Kansas State is the second-best team in the conference. You and I know that's not the case. The Wildcats have declined steadily since winning at home against Kansas on January 30. Chalk the numerical illusion here up to a spectacular first five games in-conference. Even over their last 11 contests, though, K-State played well enough to rate as the Big 12's third-best team. They just haven't played anywhere near as well as we, and doubtless they, thought they would based on those first five games.

Big East: Connecticut is Fine as Long as They Don't Play Providence

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Louisville       67.0    1.06    0.91   +0.15
2.  Georgetown       62.6    1.04    0.92   +0.12
3.  Connecticut      67.7    1.11    1.02   +0.09
4.  West Virginia    64.5    1.07    0.99   +0.08
5.  Marquette        69.1    1.06    0.98   +0.08
6.  Notre Dame       72.2    1.11    1.04   +0.07
7.  Pitt             64.7    1.09    1.05   +0.04
8.  Syracuse         70.6    1.04    1.02   +0.02
9.  Villanova        69.0    1.00    1.00    0.00
10. Providence       67.6    1.03    1.08   -0.05
11. Cincinnati       64.4    0.98    1.03   -0.05
12. Seton Hall       69.6    1.03    1.09   -0.06
13. DePaul           67.0    1.04    1.12   -0.08
14. S. Florida       63.9    0.99    1.09   -0.10
15. St. John's       65.3    0.90    1.02   -0.12
16. Rutgers          66.3    0.88    1.05   -0.17

Connecticut hammered Cincinnati by 45 points last night, boosting the Huskies all the way up to third place in the Big East's tempo-free derby. Next to Drake's uncanny imitation of the '69 Mets, I'd have to rate the UConn offense as this year's biggest surprise. Looking at conference games only, Jim Calhoun's 2007 team was the second-worst shooting team in major-conference hoops. This year, different story. Their shooting is OK and they're taking care of the ball, but, most importantly, they get to the line more often than any other Big East team. Credit that last stat mostly to Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, but note also that A.J. Price has come a long, long way in one year. Now if Coach Calhoun can just continue to take his time, uh, "working Jerome Dyson back into the rotation," this team will go far.

Big Ten: Bo Ryan is National Coach of the Decade

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Wisconsin        60.2    1.09    0.91   +0.18
2.  Purdue           64.6    1.05    0.94   +0.11
3.  Michigan St.     63.1    1.06    0.97   +0.09
4.  Indiana          64.8    1.08    1.01   +0.07
5.  Ohio St.         63.5    1.02    0.95   +0.07
6.  Illinois         61.8    0.99    0.99    0.00
7.  Minnesota        65.1    1.01    1.03   -0.02
8.  Iowa             59.2    0.94    1.02   -0.08
9.  Michigan         64.5    0.96    1.04   -0.08
10. Penn St.         62.0    0.98    1.12   -0.14
11. Northwestern     61.3    0.95    1.16   -0.21

I'm just tossing this out there, but here's what we know. Wisconsin had a surprise Final Four appearance in 2000, but past that there was very little in the way of a usable foundation, tradition, natural recruiting base, etc., when Bo Ryan arrived in Madison in 2001. Clearly the Badgers have been the best team in the Big Ten over the ensuing seven seasons. What coach this decade has done as much with so little? Just asking.

Pac-10: Behold the Cardiac Bruins

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  UCLA             64.9    1.13    0.96   +0.17
2.  Stanford         63.2    1.05    0.97   +0.08
3.  Washington St.   58.5    1.09    1.01   +0.08
4.  USC              65.3    1.06    1.01   +0.05
5.  Arizona          63.5    1.08    1.06   +0.02
6.  Oregon           63.8    1.11    1.10   +0.01
7.  Washington       67.7    1.01    1.03   -0.02
8.  Arizona St.      62.8    1.00    1.02   -0.02
9.  Cal              67.6    1.09    1.15   -0.06
10. Oregon St.       66.2    0.87    1.17   -0.30

Is it just me, or is it almost like UCLA wants to be a two-seed every year? Seriously, it's early March and the Bruins just seem bound and determined to lose a game to somebody like, oh, I don't know, Cal, just like they did last year in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament. So then the committee is forced to make them a two-seed and then they go and beat a one-seed like Kansas in the regional final. If I were a fan of North Carolina, Memphis or Tennessee, I would really be pulling for the Bruins in the Pac-10 tournament quarters this year.

SEC: Tennessee's Better Than I Thought They'd Be

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Tennessee        71.5    1.12    0.97   +0.15
2.  Mississippi St.  67.7    1.05    0.96   +0.09
3.  Arkansas         68.8    1.04    0.99   +0.05
4.  Vanderbilt       68.4    1.05    1.03   +0.02
5.  Kentucky         63.4    1.02    1.01   +0.01
6.  Florida          68.2    1.11    1.10   +0.01
7.  Ole Miss         69.7    1.06    1.08   -0.02
8.  Alabama          69.0    1.03    1.06   -0.03
9.  LSU              66.7    1.00    1.06   -0.06
10. Georgia          66.8    0.96    1.03   -0.07
11. Auburn           67.5    1.06    1.14   -0.08
12. South Carolina   65.0    1.01    1.10   -0.09

I was skeptical about Tennessee coming into this year, because last year their defense was so porous and so reliant on opponents' turnovers. Well, guess what? The Volunteers have improved. Oh, they still like to turn you over, but at least now they do something else, as well. Specifically they make you miss threes. If you're watching Bruce Pearl's team in the tournament and the other team is making threes and taking care of the ball, the Volunteers just might be in trouble. Until then, watch them coast.

Missouri Valley: One More Time with Feeling

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Drake            61.5    1.14    1.03   +0.11
2.  Illinois St.     61.6    1.06    0.99   +0.07
3.  S. Illinois      61.1    1.02    0.96   +0.06
4.  Creighton        63.9    1.04    1.02   +0.02
5.  Missouri St.     64.6    1.04    1.03   +0.01
6.  Bradley          67.3    1.06    1.05   +0.01
7.  N. Iowa          60.3    1.02    1.04   -0.02
8.  Indiana St.      63.4    1.02    1.05   -0.03
9.  Wichita St.      60.5    0.99    1.07   -0.08
10. Evansville       64.5    0.92    1.06   -0.14

I already posted these numbers last week but here they are again for easy reference. Drake's 79-49 dismantling of Illinois State in the MVC Tournament title game yesterday certainly was impressive, though it might have robbed the Valley of a second bid. We'll see.

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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