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February 17, 2009
Conference Check
All-You-Can-Eat Edition

by John Gasaway

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Bon appétit!

ACC: If Your D is Questionable, Pray You Get Florida State in Your Pod

Through games of February 16, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession
Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM   
1.  North Carolina   75.6    1.15    1.00   +0.15
2.  Duke             68.7    1.04    0.93   +0.11    
3.  Clemson          70.1    1.06    1.00   +0.06
4.  Wake Forest      74.8    1.04    0.99   +0.05
5.  Florida St.      69.9    0.97    0.96   +0.01
6.  Virginia Tech    68.6    1.07    1.08   -0.01
7.  BC               68.2    1.10    1.11   -0.01
8.  Miami            66.8    1.06    1.08   -0.02
9.  NC State         68.4    1.03    1.08   -0.05
10. Maryland         70.4    0.98    1.04   -0.06
11. Georgia Tech     72.6    0.89    0.98   -0.09
12. Virginia         70.7    0.95    1.09   -0.14

Carolina is Carolina, Duke is in free fall, Wake Forest plays to the level of its opponent (or did until Saturday), yadda, yadda. You've heard all that before--let's talk about Florida State! The Seminoles are the Minnesota of the ACC: getting some pretty respectable seeds in a lot of brackets right now, but also on track to have the weakest offense of any at-large team. (Unless, of course, the Gophers wrest that title away from the 'Noles.) Stay tuned.

Big East: How Many Bids Do You See Here? (cont.)

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Connecticut      66.7    1.10    0.93   +0.17
2.  Pitt             65.8    1.18    1.01   +0.17
3.  Marquette        69.0    1.14    1.00   +0.14
4.  Louisville       68.6    1.02    0.90   +0.12
5.  Villanova        72.4    1.09    1.02   +0.07
6.  West Virginia    67.7    1.04    0.98   +0.06
7.  Syracuse         71.7    1.07    1.05   +0.02
8.  Providence       72.9    1.06    1.06    0.00
9.  Notre Dame       69.0    1.09    1.10   -0.01
10. Georgetown       64.7    1.05    1.09   -0.04
11. Cincinnati       64.3    1.04    1.09   -0.05
12. Seton Hall       68.0    1.05    1.11   -0.06
13. S. Florida       63.3    0.95    1.06   -0.11
14. Rutgers          66.9    0.94    1.08   -0.14
15. St. John's       66.8    0.94    1.08   -0.14
16. DePaul           65.9    0.92    1.18   -0.26

As recently as Friday night's Villanova/West Virginia game, I heard announcers wondering aloud if the Big East would get ten bids. (Seriously. The word "ten" passed their lips.) Well, right now I'm seeing seven. More importantly, so does Joe Lunardi.

Big Ten: Locked in at Six?

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Michigan St.     63.1    1.11    0.94   +0.17
2.  Wisconsin        58.2    1.08    1.00   +0.08
3.  Illinois         61.0    1.00    0.93   +0.07
4.  Purdue           62.4    1.00    0.94   +0.06
5.  Ohio St.         63.1    1.05    1.01   +0.04
6.  Minnesota        63.4    0.98    0.98    0.00
7.  Penn St.         61.2    1.01    1.05   -0.04
8.  Michigan         61.0    0.98    1.02   -0.04
8.  Northwestern     61.0    1.02    1.08   -0.06
10. Iowa             57.4    0.98    1.09   -0.11
11. Indiana          64.3    0.92    1.10   -0.18

Penn State's defense has improved dramatically this year, as evidenced by the fact it's mid-February and here I am weighing their tournament chances. That being said, there appears to be a rather neat separation between the Big Ten's top six teams and the next three: the Nittany Lions, Michigan and Northwestern. We'll see if that separation is still intact in three weeks.

Big 12: Missouri Says, "Show Me! (A Clear Top Three!)"

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Oklahoma         68.6    1.15    0.99   +0.16
2.  Kansas           68.7    1.09    0.93   +0.16
3.  Missouri         73.5    1.08    0.92   +0.16
4.  Texas            67.0    1.07    1.02   +0.05
5.  Nebraska         63.7    0.96    0.98   -0.02
6.  Texas A&M        65.2    1.05    1.07   -0.02
7.  Kansas St.       67.7    1.02    1.05   -0.03
8.  Oklahoma St.     73.1    1.05    1.09   -0.04
9.  Baylor           69.6    1.06    1.12   -0.06
10. Iowa St.         65.7    0.94    1.06   -0.12
11. Texas Tech       72.0    0.98    1.10   -0.12
12. Colorado         63.1    0.94    1.12   -0.18

Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri continue to look well nigh indistinguishable against the rest of the Big 12: the Sooners are doing it with offense; the Jayhawks and the Tigers are getting it done with D. I, for one, am looking forward to March 4, when Oklahoma visits Missouri.

Pac-10: Rampant Egalitarianism on the Left Coast

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  UCLA             63.8    1.15    1.03   +0.12
2.  Washington       71.2    1.13    1.02   +0.11
3.  Arizona St.      58.1    1.11    1.01   +0.10
4.  Cal              64.7    1.09    1.05   +0.04
5.  Arizona          63.8    1.08    1.06   +0.02
6.  USC              62.1    1.03    1.03    0.00
7.  Washington St.   56.4    1.01    1.02   -0.01
8.  Stanford         66.5    1.04    1.09   -0.05
9.  Oregon St.       57.3    0.95    1.08   -0.13
10. Oregon           65.5    0.95    1.17   -0.22

Eight days ago I proclaimed UCLA underrated and said that their offense is superb. Well, it is. Their defense, though, had a really bad trip to the state of Arizona this past weekend. In fact, at times it appeared the D didn't make the trip at all. Most peculiar from a Ben Howland team. Of course a lot of that had to do with superb performances by Arizona State and, especially, Arizona. The Wildcats look like they'll keep their tournament streak alive (24 consecutive appearances and counting), after all. That's good news for the Pac-10, which has watched USC simultaneously play itself into serious tournament jeopardy.

Special note for devotees of slow-paced hoops: Pullman, Washington is the place you ought to be. Washington State is averaging less than 55 possessions per 40 minutes over their last four games.

SEC: Yes, Every Team Plays the No-Respect Card, but LSU Actually Has a Point (cont.)

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  LSU              70.7    1.09    0.92   +0.17
2.  Kentucky         70.2    1.03    0.93   +0.10
3.  Tennessee        69.6    1.10    1.00   +0.10
4.  Florida          71.8    1.09    1.01   +0.08
5.  South Carolina   75.8    1.03    0.99   +0.04
6.  Auburn           70.2    1.03    1.01   +0.02
7.  Mississippi St.  69.9    1.03    1.01   +0.02
8.  Ole Miss         68.1    1.02    1.07   -0.05
9.  Vanderbilt       67.9    0.98    1.06   -0.08
10. Alabama          70.8    0.99    1.06   -0.07
11. Arkansas         70.1    0.95    1.10   -0.15
12. Georgia          70.5    0.87    1.07   -0.20

A week from today LSU hosts Florida; the following Saturday they visit Kentucky. Assuming the Tigers take care of business before then (road game at Arkansas, then a home game against quietly surprising Auburn), those two games will be huge in sorting out this year's SEC.

Speaking of quiet surprises, Auburn took care of Mississippi State with notable ease at home on Saturday. Jeff Lebo's team has improved greatly on D since last year. (They had room to.) The January 31 loss at home to Vanderbilt, however, was unfortunate.

Conference USA: Why, Look at That--Memphis is Good!

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Memphis          65.0    1.16    0.89   +0.27
2.  Houston          70.2    1.10    0.98   +0.12
3.  UAB              66.1    1.07    0.98   +0.09
4.  Tulsa            64.6    1.03    0.97   +0.06
5.  UTEP             71.9    1.05    1.01   +0.04
6.  UCF              65.4    1.09    1.05   +0.04
7.  Tulane           65.6    0.98    1.04   -0.06
8.  E. Carolina      65.6    1.11    1.18   -0.07
9.  Marshall         65.0    1.00    1.11   -0.11
10. Southern Miss    64.1    1.04    1.16   -0.12
11. Rice             65.7    0.97    1.09   -0.12
12. SMU              64.8    0.93    1.06   -0.13

Looking at the numbers for a conference in which one team has won 52 consecutive league games is a stark departure from what we're used to here at Conference Check. For one thing, the other 11 teams sort themselves out in no small measure according to how often they've played Memphis so far: once (e.g., Houston, UAB) or twice (Tulsa). Pity Tulane. The Green Wave is already buried in the middle of the pack and they haven't even played the Tigers yet.

For the record, last year's Final Four team outscored C-USA opponents by 0.29 points per trip. John Calipari's 2009 team certainly appears to be rounding into form.

Mountain West: Chaos is Good

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  New Mexico       63.6    1.14    0.96   +0.18
2.  BYU              68.9    1.12    0.97   +0.15
3.  Utah             64.5    1.12    0.99   +0.13
4.  San Diego St.    64.2    1.08    0.95   +0.13
5.  UNLV             65.3    1.08    0.98   +0.10
6.  TCU              63.3    0.99    1.08   -0.09
7.  Wyoming          66.4    1.03    1.17   -0.14
8.  Colorado St.     66.6    0.98    1.16   -0.18
9.  Air Force        57.7    0.87    1.16   -0.29

For my money, the Mountain West will be far and away the most fun to watch of any conference from now to Selection Sunday. There are five teams of more or less comparable caliber, whether viewed by my lights or even through the lens of those old-fashioned relics known as "the standings." I have no idea what the committee will do when confronted with this situation.

As I've noted before, New Mexico is interesting because they were thoroughly unimpressive until the ball went up in the first game of MWC play. Since then they've been the best team in the league. Tonight they play at BYU, and of course if they win it would be huge for their tournament hopes. A much more likely scenario, however, is that they lose a close game in Provo. If so, they'll then want to run the table. They very well could, with their only remaining road games being at Colorado State and Wyoming.

Missouri Valley: Creighton's Current Performance Exceeds their Timing

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  N. Iowa          61.5    1.11    0.99   +0.12
2.  Creighton        65.8    1.10    1.00   +0.10
3.  Illinois St.     62.5    1.05    0.96   +0.09
4.  Bradley          62.0    1.04    1.02   +0.02
5.  Evansville       64.7    0.95    0.99   -0.04
6.  S. Illinois      62.5    0.99    1.03   -0.04
7.  Wichita St.      61.8    0.97    1.02   -0.05
8.  Drake            62.7    0.99    1.04   -0.05
9.  Indiana St.      63.1    0.96    1.04   -0.08
10. Missouri St.     62.4    0.97    1.06   -0.09

Creighton has been dominant (to the tune of a +0.22 efficiency margin) during a six-game winning streak that includes a victory at Northern Iowa. If they'd started this last-lap kick a smidge earlier, it might have been enough for them to secure an at-large bid. As it is, the Valley is almost certainly fated to be a one-bid league. If the Bluejays win the MVC tournament and get that bid, opponents beware. This team is better than they looked in January.

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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