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January 12, 2010
Tuesday Truths
Way, Way Early Edition

by John Gasaway

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Welcome to the first installment of what will be a weekly feature here at Prospectus, one where we'll look closely at how well 126 teams in 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.)

Tune in next Tuesday for our first look at some 16-game conferences. Heck, eventually we'll have enough possessions in the bank to start tracking a 14-game league on Tuesdays. But for now enjoy what we already have on the following four conferences. There's a lot of basketball to be played between now and Selection Sunday, of course. Even so, interesting things are already afoot in the following 18-game leagues.

Big East: Still bunched up coming out of the gate

Through games of January 11, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

                      Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Louisville        71.0    1.14    0.99    +0.15
2.  West Virginia     64.4    1.16    1.01    +0.15
3.  Villanova         71.0    1.21    1.07    +0.14
4.  Pitt              67.8    1.09    0.96    +0.13
5.  Georgetown        61.2    1.08    0.98    +0.10
6.  Syracuse          74.4    1.05    0.99    +0.06
7.  Connecticut       71.6    1.02    0.96    +0.06
8.  Notre Dame        67.1    1.14    1.12    +0.02
9.  Cincinnati        68.4    1.03    1.04    -0.01
10. Marquette         62.0    1.10    1.11    -0.01
11. Providence        73.7    1.07    1.10    -0.03
12. Seton Hall        72.1    1.02    1.07    -0.05
13. St. John's        67.2    0.92    1.07    -0.15
14. S. Florida        66.5    0.95    1.15    -0.20
15. Rutgers           67.8    0.94    1.20    -0.26
16. DePaul            64.1    0.91    1.20    -0.29

At this point in the season it's best to look at groupings rather than outright rankings. True, Louisville tops this list by a hair, but then again last night the Cards lost at home to this list's nominal number three, Villanova. Suffice it to say that the 'Ville, 'Nova, West Virginia, and Pitt have all looked good early.

Note as well that while Syracuse is ranked in the top five nationally in both major polls, the Orangemen are yet to crack the top five in their own conference in tempo-free terms. Tough league! No, seriously, Jim Boeheim's team is a very interesting case. No one who saw the 'Cuse thrash Cal and North Carolina on consecutive nights in Madison Square Garden seven weeks ago could fail to be impressed. But the ten-point loss at home to Pitt at the start of calendar 2010 was somewhat less impressive. My hunch is that the polls probably do have Syracuse ranked more or less correctly; I'll look for a good performance from this team on Saturday at West Virginia to confirm said hunch.

Big Ten: Purdue's better than they look here

                      Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Michigan St.      66.7    1.11    0.88    +0.23
2.  Wisconsin         61.1    1.02    0.86    +0.16
3.  Illinois          65.1    1.05    0.91    +0.14
4.  Purdue            66.7    1.06    0.95    +0.11
5.  Minnesota         70.7    1.04    1.01    +0.03
6.  Michigan          62.4    1.06    1.03    +0.03
7.  Ohio St.          66.0    0.94    1.00    -0.06
8.  Northwestern      67.5    1.05    1.15    -0.10
9.  Indiana           69.2    0.89    1.01    -0.12
10. Penn St.          60.2    0.95    1.12    -0.17
11. Iowa              65.6    0.86    1.08    -0.22

The Boilermakers have already gone to Wisconsin, a trip that pretty reliably dings any team's numbers. So don't be too quick to dismiss a group that in calendar 2010 has already scored double-digit wins at home against the likes of West Virginia and Minnesota.

Meanwhile Michigan State has started the conference season right, stomping Northwestern and Iowa on the road and edging Wisconsin at home. The Spartans' next three games are in East Lansing (against Minnesota, Illinois, and the aforementioned Hawkeyes), and at the moment those opponents would seem to line up rather tidily from most- to least-challenging for Tom Izzo's team.

For while it pains this Illinois grad to say it, the numbers appearing here for the Illini are somewhat misleading. Bruce Weber's team has had a very cushy schedule to open Big Ten play (at home vs. Northwestern and Iowa, on the road at Indiana). That beautiful "0.14" is highly fragile.

Pac-10: Watch Cal on the road this weekend

                      Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Cal               65.4    1.14    0.98    +0.16
2.  Arizona St.       61.7    1.00    0.88    +0.12
3.  Arizona           66.8    1.09    1.00    +0.09
4.  USC               58.8    0.91    0.88    +0.03
5.  Oregon            67.4    1.09    1.06    +0.03
6.  Oregon St.        66.9    0.97    0.99    -0.02
7.  Washington St.    65.0    1.01    1.08    -0.07
8.  Stanford          63.6    1.00    1.07    -0.07
9.  UCLA              65.0    1.01    1.09    -0.08
10. Washington        69.4    0.99    1.14    -0.15

For all the sturm und drang about how epically awful the Pac-10 is supposed to be this season, the Bears of Berkeley arguably have the potential to be about as good come March as everyone was saying they'd be last October. No, the OT loss at home to UCLA last week wasn't particularly a ringing endorsement of Mike Montgomery's group, but any team that shoots this well and commits so few turnovers is going to present a challenge to opposing defenses. Anyway, that's the theory. The reality is Cal is about to leave the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion and embark on their Pullman-to-Seattle swing. Let's see how they fare on the road at Washington State and Washington.

Bonus prediction: The Huskies aren't really this bad. There's just no way.

Missouri Valley: The buzz about Northern Iowa is fully justified

                      Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  N. Iowa           61.1    1.08    0.87    +0.21
2.  Wichita St.       65.7    1.02    0.91    +0.11
3.  Missouri St.      64.8    1.14    1.06    +0.08
4.  Illinois St.      63.1    1.05    0.98    +0.07
5.  Indiana St.       65.9    0.99    0.96    +0.03
6.  S. Illinois       64.8    1.02    1.03    -0.01
7.  Creighton         65.8    0.97    1.01    -0.04
8.  Bradley           67.3    1.09    1.16    -0.07
9.  Drake             65.4    0.86    1.00    -0.14
10. Evansville        65.8    0.88    1.10    -0.22

The only problem with the buzz about the Panthers is that it's overdue. Indeed the impressive thing about the separation you see here is that three of UNI's five league games have been on the road. The date to circle is next Tuesday, when Ben Jacobson's group travels to Wichita. That game promises to be a showdown between what are easily the Valley's two best defenses.

John uses fewer tables on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.

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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<< Previous Article
The Arenas Incentive (01/11)
Next Article >>
Around the Rim (01/12)

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