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January 15, 2013
Tuesday Truths
Too-Early Edition

by John Gasaway

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Welcome to this season's first installment of Tuesday Truths, where I'll look at how well 131 teams in the nation's top 11 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.

This week I'm looking at the leagues that have already played enough games to be worth your evaluative while. Coming soon: Big 12, SEC, A-10, C-USA, and Mountain West.

ACC: Strange days in Chapel Hill

Through games of January 14, 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              2-1   67.8    1.10    0.91    +0.19
2.  Miami             3-0   64.8    0.95    0.80    +0.15
3.  NC State          3-0   70.5    1.16    1.03    +0.13
4.  Maryland          1-2   69.7    0.97    0.91    +0.06
5.  Florida St.       2-1   66.3    1.05    1.03    +0.02
6.  Boston College    1-2   69.4    1.11    1.10    +0.01
7.  Virginia          1-2   60.3    0.87    0.92    -0.05
8.  Wake Forest       2-1   66.8    0.96    1.02    -0.06
9.  North Carolina    1-2   62.9    1.00    1.07    -0.07
10. Clemson           1-2   61.5    0.89    0.99    -0.10
11. Virginia Tech     1-2   68.5    1.01    1.15    -0.14
12. Georgia Tech      0-3   66.6    0.88    1.03    -0.15

AVG.                        66.3    1.00

Did I mention it's early? The ACC has played just 17 percent of its schedule to this point, but I'm getting less squeamish in my old age. What the heck, if my former boss Nate Silver can write about the 2016 election (we will all have jet packs and clear bubble helmets in 2016), I can write about the 2013 ACC on January 15.

I've already made my thoughts clear on Duke's prospects if Ryan Kelly is out for any significant amount of time. (Non-Insider version: It is my professional opinion that now is the time to you-know-what.) So allow me a few words on that other blue-blood up the road a ways. North Carolina, a team that was ranked No. 11 in the AP preseason poll, has surprised pretty much everyone by not being very good at basketball. But from my chair the specific form this particular unforeseen event has taken on has been even more surprising: Carolina, as seen here, hasn't been especially good at defense. And give a big analytic thank-you to Roy Williams for inadvertently providing a 189-possession illustration of the (relative) unimportance of rebounding. The Heels have been amazing on the boards at both ends of the floor in conference play, leading the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. Alas, that has not stopped opponents from scoring more points than North Carolina.

Big East: Last year's D plus a hypnotized Russ Smith nets to No. 1

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Louisville        4-0   66.6    1.09    0.81    +0.28
2.  Syracuse          4-0   63.3    1.09    0.88    +0.21
3.  Notre Dame        2-1   59.6    1.21    1.11    +0.10
4.  Marquette         3-0   59.4    1.06    0.99    +0.07
5.  Cincinnati        2-2   61.2    1.02    0.97    +0.05
6.  Villanova         2-1   67.3    1.05    1.00    +0.05
7.  Pitt              1-3   59.5    1.07    1.04    +0.03
8.  Connecticut       2-2   67.4    1.07    1.05    +0.02
9.  DePaul            1-2   75.9    0.98    1.03    -0.05
10. Georgetown        1-2   61.8    0.86    0.93    -0.07
11. Providence        1-3   68.5    0.98    1.06    -0.08
12. St. John's        1-3   69.4    0.86    0.96    -0.10
13. Rutgers           2-2   62.0    0.95    1.07    -0.12
14. Seton Hall        1-3   65.4    0.96    1.13    -0.17
15. S. Florida        0-3   60.3    0.75    1.00    -0.25

AVG.                        64.5    1.01

My reservations with regard to Louisville entering the season were as severe as they could possibly be given that I publicly stated my belief that the Cardinals would win the Big East. Meaning I stated that belief in a quavering kind of "I can't believe I'm saying this" voice. This offense was so very bad last season -- worse, really, than just about anyone realized -- and, with all due respect to Luke Hancock, the essentials of that situation could have stayed more or less the same this season. Instead, Rick Pitino's offense has improved dramatically, and Russ Smith is a legitimate national POY candidate. Last night during the Cards' dismantling of Connecticut in Hartford, Bill Raftery compared Smith to Dee Brown after the Louisville senior attacked the basket on a transition 1-on-2, scored with a burst of head-snapping acceleration, and left everyone with the sense that he had made the correct tactical decision. To say I did not anticipate Smith garnering such comparisons would be to put it mildly, but here we are. The Cardinals are my choice as the best team in the country at the moment.

As for the highly confusing Pitt Panthers, one observation: Jamie Dixon's men have fouled like a Frank Martin-era Kansas State team in their first four Big East games.

Big Ten: Extremity! In strength! In dumb football division names! etc.

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Michigan          3-1   63.2    1.20    0.93    +0.27
2.  Wisconsin         3-0   58.5    1.03    0.81    +0.22
3.  Indiana           3-0   72.2    1.07    0.91    +0.16
4.  Minnesota         3-1   66.7    1.16    1.01    +0.15
5.  Michigan St.      3-1   67.7    1.02    0.93    +0.09
6.  Ohio St.          3-1   66.0    0.97    0.89    +0.08
7.  Purdue            2-2   65.9    0.96    0.99    -0.03
8.  Iowa              1-3   69.2    0.94    1.00    -0.06
9.  Illinois          1-3   66.7    0.95    1.05    -0.10
10. Northwestern      1-3   62.7    0.94    1.14    -0.20
11. Nebraska          0-4   60.7    0.77    1.01    -0.24
12. Penn St.          0-4   62.7    0.79    1.05    -0.26

AVG.                        65.2    0.98

It is widely accepted that five of the best 15 or 20 teams in the country come from the Big Ten (Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Michigan State). Call that the Big Ten's worst-case scenario, because, if a mid-January Tuesday Truths and Ken Pomeroy pretty much any time are to be believed and Wisconsin does turn out to be good, it's possible that Jim Delany can claim six of the nation's top squads. That's remarkable, given that the corresponding such number for each of the other five major conferences would go something like this:

ACC: 2
Big 12: 2
Big East: 3
Pac-12: 1
SEC: 2

Too bad for the Big Ten that conference strength in college basketball is so vague and diffuse. What good is being the consensus best conference in the country by a mile if that status can't guarantee you a national title (it can't), a Final Four slot, or, for goodness sake, at least an outright ACC-Big Ten Challenge win? (That didn't happen either.)

Tuesday Truths will spend much of its analytic ammo this season on those five or six teams, and will probably give sidelong glances to Purdue, Iowa, and Illinois, as well. So at the outset let me state an intriguing possibility with regard to the league's bottom quartile, namely, that these three teams (Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State) will be aberrantly helpless in the face of all this Big Ten might. Early returns suggest this could be the case.

Pac-12: Even rogues can be wronged

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Washington        3-0   62.8    1.03    0.90    +0.13
2.  UCLA              4-0   68.0    1.04    0.93    +0.11
3.  Oregon            3-0   67.4    1.07    0.97    +0.10
4.  Arizona           3-1   66.7    1.08    1.02    +0.06
5.  Arizona St.       3-1   62.9    0.99    0.93    +0.06
6.  USC               2-2   66.9    1.01    0.99    +0.02
7.  Stanford          1-3   67.1    0.99    1.01    -0.02
8.  Cal               2-2   64.7    0.97    1.00    -0.03
9.  Colorado          1-3   70.6    0.99    1.05    -0.06
10. Utah              0-4   58.6    0.92    1.03    -0.11
11. Washington St.    0-3   64.0    0.96    1.11    -0.15
12. Oregon St.        0-3   70.6    0.94    1.09    -0.15

AVG.                        65.8    1.00

Remind me again why Kevin O'Neill was fired yesterday? My first instinct is usually to distrust the cynical interpretation of any news event (cynicism, like naivete, is too formulaic). But the cynical telling of O'Neill's firing -- that he was pushed out the door so he wouldn't get the credit for any coming turnaround -- will have an excellent chance of receiving support from our old friend reality. The Trojans have a good shot at finishing around .500 in conference play, thanks mainly to an offense that is (fire the coach who did this!) day-and-night better than the historically bad and injury-riddled unit that we saw on that side of the ball last season. The timing appeared curious, but appearing curious is the prerogative of any athletic director. So be it.

In non-ex-coach news, Arizona has played 275 possessions against Pac-12 opponents and outscored the other team by just 0.06 points per trip. More is expected of the Wildcats. Good thing for Sean Miller's team it's still early. (Did I mention it's early?)

Missouri Valley: The power of the three

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Creighton         5-0   64.1    1.28    1.00    +0.28
2.  Wichita St.       4-1   64.0    1.12    0.98    +0.14
3.  Evansville        4-1   63.2    1.08    1.05    +0.03
4.  N. Iowa           2-3   62.7    1.00    0.98    +0.02
5.  Missouri St.      3-2   58.8    1.06    1.05    +0.01
6.  Indiana St.       3-2   68.3    1.02    1.01    +0.01
7.  Illinois St.      0-5   68.3    0.99    1.08    -0.09
8.  S. Illinois       1-4   64.8    1.05    1.15    -0.10
9.  Bradley           2-3   64.9    0.93    1.04    -0.11
10. Drake             1-4   67.7    0.97    1.14    -0.17

AVG.                        64.7    1.05

When you devote a good deal of your offense to the three-point shot, and you make 53 percent of your attempts from out there in conference play, you look like Creighton. That's an extraordinary number up there next to their name for points per possession, one that can't last. So let's celebrate it while it's still here.

There's a possibility that last season's ridiculously good shooting by Creighton will be eclipsed by even more ridiculous shooting this season. The Bluejays have come in for criticism regarding their defense now and again, but obviously if you're scoring 1.28 points per possession you can pretty much cry all the way to the Sweet 16, if not further.

West Coast: Do not foul these Cougars

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  BYU               4-0   69.0    1.20    0.88    +0.32
2.  Gonzaga           3-0   64.3    1.26    1.11    +0.15
3.  San Diego         3-0   61.4    1.05    0.90    +0.15
4.  Saint Mary's      2-1   65.3    1.17    1.10    +0.07
5.  San Francisco     0-4   67.3    1.05    1.12    -0.07
6.  Portland          1-2   61.5    0.89    0.97    -0.08
7.  Santa Clara       1-3   67.6    1.08    1.17    -0.09
8.  Pepperdine        1-3   62.4    0.87    1.05    -0.18
9.  Loyola Marymount  1-3   68.5    0.95    1.15    -0.20

AVG.                        65.2    1.06

BYU has recorded the rather eye-popping numbers you see here against Loyola Marymount, San Francisco, Pepperdine, and Santa Clara. That's not a WCC murderer's row, by any means, but outscoring the other teams by 0.32 points per possession is not to be taken lightly, either. Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws together draw 13 fouls per 40 minutes and shoot a combined 79 percent at the line. But Dave Rose's team also plays defense, holding all those hapless West Coast opponents to just 42 percent shooting on their twos. Maybe Gonzaga will have some competition after all.

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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Leave Rick Barnes Alon... (01/14)
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Tuesday Truths (03/05)
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