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March 2, 2010
Tuesday Truths
Remember Duke?

by John Gasaway

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Welcome to the latest installment of Tuesday Truths, where I look 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.)

ACC: There's a team in Durham, North Carolina, that you should know about

Through games of March 1, 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             12-2   65.9    1.11    0.93    +0.18
2.  Maryland         11-3   69.0    1.10    0.99    +0.11
3.  Clemson           8-6   68.6    0.98    0.95    +0.03
4.  Florida St.       8-6   66.9    0.98    0.96    +0.02
5.  Virginia Tech     8-6   69.4    1.00    0.99    +0.01
6.  Georgia Tech      7-7   69.3    0.99    0.99     0.00
7.  Wake Forest       8-6   70.1    1.00    1.00     0.00  
8.  BC                5-9   65.4    1.01    1.06    -0.05
9.  Virginia          5-9   64.5    0.96    1.02    -0.06
10. North Carolina   4-10   70.1    0.97    1.03    -0.06
11. NC State         4-10   67.1    0.98    1.06    -0.08
12. Miami            4-10   65.4    1.01    1.09    -0.08

I can't explain exactly why no one's paying attention to Duke this year. Maybe it's a lack of highly-ranked ACC rivals. (Though I keep telling anyone who'll listen that Maryland's really good.) Maybe it's the memory that the Blue Devils haven't made the Elite Eight in six years. Whatever the reason, it's really unusual to see a team this dominant in a major conference--much less in the storied ACC itself--getting this little ink. This week Duke passed Kansas as the best team in major-conference play on a per-possession basis.

Big 12: K-State vs. KU, Wednesday night

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kansas           13-1   68.3    1.14    0.98    +0.16
2.  Kansas St.       11-3   71.5    1.07    0.96    +0.11
3.  Missouri          9-5   70.1    1.06    0.97    +0.09
4.  Baylor            9-5   66.5    1.12    1.04    +0.08
5.  Texas             9-6   71.4    1.07    1.01    +0.06
6.  Oklahoma St.      8-6   69.7    1.07    1.04    +0.03
7.  Texas A&M         9-5   65.5    1.04    1.01    +0.03
8.  Iowa St.         3-11   68.8    0.98    1.08    -0.10
9.  Colorado         4-10   69.1    1.02    1.12    -0.10
10. Texas Tech       4-10   71.4    0.98    1.09    -0.11
11. Oklahoma         4-11   67.8    0.99    1.11    -0.12
12. Nebraska         2-12   65.0    0.95    1.09    -0.14

The last time you saw Kansas they were busy making Oklahoma State look like far and away the best offense in the Big 12. Which is ironic, because that distinction actually belongs to the Jayhawks. Wednesday night that KU offense will see what it can do at home against a visiting Kansas State defense that's tops in the league. Which, again, is a little strange. This marks the first time in recent memory that the Big 12's best defense has been located somewhere other than Lawrence. Should be a good game.

Big East: Could this be the year for nine bids?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Syracuse         14-2   69.9    1.11    0.98    +0.13
2.  West Virginia    12-5   64.7    1.14    1.01    +0.13
3.  Villanova        12-4   72.4    1.15    1.05    +0.10
4.  Marquette        10-6   63.2    1.10    1.03    +0.07
5.  Louisville       10-6   65.2    1.12    1.07    +0.05
6.  Pitt             11-5   61.9    1.08    1.04    +0.04
7.  Georgetown        9-8   66.5    1.09    1.06    +0.03
8.  Notre Dame        8-8   64.3    1.15    1.13    +0.02
9.  Connecticut       7-9   68.8    1.01    1.00    +0.01
10. Cincinnati        7-9   65.4    1.02    1.05    -0.03
11. Seton Hall        7-9   67.9    1.06    1.10    -0.04
12. St. John’s       5-11   64.5    0.97    1.03    -0.06
13. S. Florida        7-9   65.3    1.03    1.10    -0.07
14. Providence       4-12   72.9    1.09    1.17    -0.08
15. Rutgers          5-11   68.3    0.97    1.12    -0.15
16. DePaul           1-15   63.5    0.95    1.12    -0.17

It's a long shot, especially in view of the fact that the teams that would figure to get the eighth and ninth bids, Connecticut and Notre Dame, play each other tomorrow night. Still, it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. Nine bids for a conference would be a first, though purists will note that previous leagues have put a higher percentage of their teams into the tournament. Take the ACC in 2007, for example: Seven of 12 edges out nine of 16. Even so, two teams each in three regions and three teams in the other? It would be a sight.

Big Ten: Wisconsin's better than pollsters and bracketologists think, but....

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wisconsin        11-5   57.8    1.09    0.95    +0.14
2.  Ohio St.         13-4   63.3    1.08    0.96    +0.12
3.  Purdue           12-4   63.9    1.05    0.96    +0.09
4.  Michigan St.     12-4   63.4    1.05    0.98    +0.07
5.  Illinois         10-6   64.7    1.01    0.99    +0.02
6.  Minnesota         8-8   63.5    1.06    1.05    +0.01
7.  Michigan         6-10   59.6    0.99    1.01    -0.02
8.  Northwestern     7-10   61.6    1.09    1.13    -0.04
9.  Penn St.         3-13   61.3    1.01    1.09    -0.08
10. Iowa             4-12   61.6    0.96    1.06    -0.10
11. Indiana          3-13   64.3    0.92    1.12    -0.20

Certainly the Badgers are better than commonly perceived. But one additional thing to keep in mind about what you're seeing here is that Bo Ryan's team owes some of its statistical success to two games where they outscored Indiana by very nearly a half-point for every possession the two teams played. Yes, other Big Ten teams get to play the Hoosiers too, so just for fun I unilaterally removed IU from the conference. (Not literally. Just to see how the other ten teams have fared against each other.) If there were no Indiana this year Wisconsin would still be better than widely supposed, but this list would show a three-way tie at the top between the Badgers, Ohio State, and Purdue. FYI.

Pac-10: First title since the Eisenhower administration? Really?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Cal              12-5   67.1    1.13    1.01    +0.12
2.  Washington        9-7   71.3    1.06    0.99    +0.07
3.  Arizona St.      10-6   63.0    1.04    0.98    +0.06
4.  USC               8-8   62.0    0.93    0.90    +0.03
5.  Arizona           8-8   68.0    1.04    1.02    +0.02
6.  Oregon St.        7-9   62.0    0.94    0.96    -0.02
7.  UCLA              8-8   63.3    1.02    1.06    -0.04
8.  Stanford         7-10   65.4    1.00    1.05    -0.05
9.  Washington St.   6-10   66.2    0.99    1.07    -0.08
10. Oregon           6-10   64.6    0.95    1.06    -0.11

Congratulations to Cal, which clinched at least a share of its first Pac-10 regular season title in 50 years with their 62-46 win over Arizona State on Saturday in Berkeley. Now, let's talk about USC. I know that from a distance it might be easy to think that the Trojans, who are ineligible for postseason play due to self-imposed sanctions stemming from O.J. Mayo-era hinkiness, have packed it in, so to speak. After all, they've now lost three straight games (two of them at home) to teams below them on this list. Don't believe it. Teams that have packed it in don't play this kind of defense (allowing just 0.84 points per trip over the last three games). It's just that SC can't score points right now, and when that happens to a team I believe them.

SEC: The first-place team got there with defense

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kentucky         12-2   71.3    1.07    0.93    +0.14
2.  Vanderbilt       11-3   70.6    1.11    1.05    +0.06
3.  Florida           9-5   66.1    1.09    1.05    +0.04
4.  Mississippi St.   9-5   68.7    1.02    0.98    +0.04
5.  Tennessee         9-5   67.5    1.00    0.97    +0.03
6.  Ole Miss          7-7   69.4    1.05    1.04    +0.01
7.  Arkansas          7-7   71.9    1.03    1.03     0.00
8.  Alabama          4-10   64.5    0.99    1.00    -0.01
9.  Georgia           5-9   67.7    1.06    1.09    -0.03
10. Auburn            5-9   69.5    1.04    1.08    -0.04
11. South Carolina    5-9   68.3    0.98    1.06    -0.08
12. LSU              1-13   64.2    0.90    1.09    -0.19

Yesterday I observed that Kentucky hasn't exactly been on fire lately when it comes to hitting threes. Well, it's only fair to note that they dish out the same treatment to their SEC opponents, who are making just 27 percent of their threes against the Wildcats. In the book this year I wondered how soon John Calipari "will be able to get them [UK] playing Memphis-level defense." Pretty darn soon.

A-10: My Dayton accord

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Xavier           12-2   70.2    1.12    0.96    +0.16
2.  Temple           12-2   62.4    1.07    0.92    +0.15
3.  Dayton            8-6   67.2    1.03    0.90    +0.13
4.  Richmond         11-3   64.2    1.06    0.93    +0.13
5.  Rhode Island      8-6   68.9    1.09    1.04    +0.05
6.  Saint Louis      10-4   63.4    0.97    0.93    +0.04
7.  Charlotte         9-5   69.3    1.02    1.00    +0.02
8.  GW                6-8   67.5    1.00    0.99    +0.01
9.  St. Bonaventure   6-8   68.0    0.98    1.02    -0.04
10. Duquesne          6-8   70.6    0.98    1.04    -0.06
11. UMass            4-10   70.6    0.99    1.07    -0.08
12. La Salle         3-11   70.4    0.97    1.06    -0.09
13. Saint Joseph’s   3-11   70.2    0.91    1.06    -0.15
14. Fordham          0-14   70.6    0.89    1.14    -0.25

Last week I waded into this whole reality-based stats vs. tradition-based brackets dichotomy and, I must say, I resolved the inherent tensions there rather neatly. I thought the world would hail my triumph, give me a medal, and declare the matter closed. But, no, for some reason the medal hasn't arrived yet. So I'm going to try again but this time I'll be Twitter-brief. See Dayton? I'm not saying they must or even, perhaps, should be included in the field of 65. I am saying that if they somehow wriggle in, it is in the best interest of everyone involved--including and perhaps most especially the opposing head coach in the first round--that the Flyers be seeded according to two scoops of reality vs. just one of tradition.

Conference USA: Speaking of tradition-based brackets....

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  UTEP             13-1   67.6    1.05    0.90    +0.15
2.  Marshall         10-4   68.6    1.11    0.99    +0.12
3.  Memphis          11-3   66.4    1.15    1.07    +0.08
4.  UAB              11-3   65.1    1.00    0.94    +0.06
5.  SMU               7-7   60.0    1.05    1.01    +0.04
6.  Tulsa             9-5   66.7    1.04    1.01    +0.03
7.  Houston           6-8   69.6    1.05    1.03    +0.02
8.  Southern Miss     6-8   59.9    0.99    0.97    +0.02
9.  UCF               5-9   64.1    1.02    1.10    -0.08
10. Tulane           2-12   67.0    0.89    1.02    -0.13
11. Rice             1-13   65.9    0.93    1.09    -0.16
12. E. Carolina      3-11   67.9    0.92    1.09    -0.17

UAB's in an interesting spot right now. At the moment the consensus is that the Blazers are in the field of 65, but just barely. Meanwhile their final two games will be at home against fellow bubble team Memphis and then on the road at UTEP. It's a huge week for Mike Davis and his team.

Missouri Valley: This season's in the books

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  N. Iowa          15-3   59.0    1.03    0.91    +0.12
2.  Wichita St.      12-6   63.4    1.06    0.99    +0.07
3.  Illinois St.     11-7   63.2    1.06    1.01    +0.05
4.  Missouri St.     8-10   64.1    1.11    1.08    +0.03
5.  Bradley           9-9   64.9    1.05    1.05     0.00
6.  Creighton        10-8   64.0    1.05    1.06    -0.01
7.  S. Illinois      6-12   64.6    1.02    1.04    -0.02
8.  Indiana St.       9-9   63.3    1.03    1.06    -0.03
9.  Drake            7-11   62.5    1.03    1.07    -0.04
10. Evansville       3-15   64.0    0.94    1.10    -0.16

And, much like last year, the season ended with Northern Iowa faltering a little at the finish. Now the Panthers will try to repeat their 2009 MVC tournament title.

Mountain West: All hail New Mexico. Just don't mouth off to their coach.

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  BYU              11-3   71.0    1.13    0.93    +0.20
2.  UNLV             10-5   65.9    1.10    0.96    +0.14
3.  New Mexico       13-2   66.6    1.09    0.98    +0.11
4.  San Diego St.     9-5   65.9    1.08    0.99    +0.09
5.  Utah              7-7   64.9    0.99    0.97    +0.02
6.  Colorado St.      6-8   66.8    0.95    1.03    -0.08
7.  TCU               5-9   62.4    0.97    1.06    -0.09
8.  Wyoming          2-12   69.0    0.95    1.12    -0.17
9.  Air Force        1-13   57.1    0.89    1.16    -0.27

I repeat: If you are anywhere near Vegas, get yourself to the Thomas & Mack Center next week for the MWC tournament. Four very good teams will be there looking to improve their NCAA tournament seed, or even just get into the field.

WCC: This season's in the books, part II

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga          12-2   68.1    1.15    0.97    +0.18
2.  Portland         10-4   63.4    1.12    0.98    +0.14
3.  Saint Mary’s     11-3   66.9    1.14    1.00    +0.14
4.  San Francisco     7-7   67.2    1.00    1.02    -0.02
5.  Loyola Marymount  7-7   68.5    1.02    1.06    -0.04
6.  San Diego        3-11   62.4    0.95    1.03    -0.08
7.  Santa Clara      3-11   64.9    0.93    1.04    -0.11
8.  Pepperdine       3-11   65.7    0.94    1.13    -0.19

The WCC tournament takes place this weekend in Vegas. Gonzaga is projected as a six-seed in the NCAA tournament, while Saint Mary's right now is being shown as a nervous 12. Then there's the fact that, as seen here, Portland played every bit as well as the Gaels in-conference. Assuming the two teams make it that far (the Pilots will play the winner of Santa Clara vs. San Diego), that should be a very important and entertaining 2 vs. 3 semifinal.

John is currently delving even deeper into this little-known "Duke" team 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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