Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 31, 2010

Gonzaga’s no shoo-in for WCC title

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken Pomeroy @ 4:09 am

I’ve had this post in my back pocket for a few weeks. Actually, I would have liked to have written it before Gonzaga’s first game with Saint Mary’s a little over two weeks ago. Back on the morning of January 14, it appeared that Saint Mary’s may well have been the best team in the West Coast Conference. However, national perception was just the opposite, and furthermore, that Gonzaga was significantly better than the Gaels. For example, Gary Parrish did a feature on the Zags that day and concluded it by stating that “barring an unexpected collapse” the Zags would win another WCC title.

To channel my inner Bilas here, reasonable minds can differ but the choice of the word “collapse” seemed kind of extreme in these circumstances. Heck, “unexpected” got to me a little, too. Because, on that day we could have reasonably anticipated that the Zags might not win the conference title outright for the first time since 2002. Then that night, Gonzaga went into Moraga and easily beat SMC, forcing me to question my own existence. Having already won at Portland and at Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga had a stranglehold on the conference race, regardless of what their entire body of work said about how good they were relative to Saint Mary’s.

Since then, not much had changed. Saint Mary’s had been winning conference games convincingly while the Zags had struggled. Elias Harris was getting lots of press while Omar Samhan was not. Then last night, disaster struck for Gonzaga – they fell to a bad San Francisco team and fell into a tie for first in the conference standings. This turn of events has now prompted me to use the remaining game-by-game win probabilities to assess both Gonzaga’s and Saint Mary’s chances of winning the conference title.

First, here are the chances of each team finishing with a particular WCC record…

       GU     SMC
13-1  23.9%  18.2%
12-2  42.3%  43.8%
11-3  25.8%  31.3%
10-4   8.0%   6.7%

(In the interest of full disclosure, I calculated the one, two, and three-loss scenarios and lumped all other options into the four-loss bin.)

From here, one can compute the chances of each team finishing above the other.

Chance of winning WCC

Gonzaga........42.2%
Saint Mary's...36.1%
Tie............21.7%

The problem for the Gaels is that the team with the best loss loses conference tourney tie-breakers. Most tie scenarios are going to involve SMC losing at Portland (and winning at Gonzaga), thus the Zags’ chances of earning the top seed in the WCC tourney are still a bit better than 60 percent. Keep in mind also that I’m ignoring Portland in this scenario. They actually have a non-zero chance to win a title outright, although that chance may be no more than one or two percent.

Saint Mary’s may be better, but Gonzaga has the easier road over the second half of the conference schedule and therefore is still in the driver’s seat. However, it wouldn’t be the biggest choke job in college hoops history if Gonzaga somehow finds themselves playing from the two-seed in the WCC tourney for the first time in years.

January 29, 2010

Two Players?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:51 am

Alert reader TW read my column on Seattle University getting down to just four players in Tuesday’s 123-76 loss to the University of Washington and remembered an even crazier mismatch played by Wichita State. Fortunately, Google News has archived a story about the game, which pitted the Shockers against the Indiana State Sycamores in February 1989.

The two teams brawled late in the first half, and Indiana State’s bench got involved in the wild melee. All eight Sycamore reserves (including Eddie Bird, brother of the school’s most famous hoops star) were ejected, as well as the two players from both sides who instigated the fighting. That left Indiana State to play the entire second half with just four players. Wichita State coach Eddie Fogler told his team to take it inside instead of settling for jumpers, and while that allowed the Sycamores to hang around–in fact, they got as close as four points–ultimately two players fouled out, leaving two on the floor to try to defend five. (That’s a “2- zone”, or a “line” defense.) The Shockers won the game 84-69.

Actually, if you click that link and scroll up, you’ll see that the 5-on-2 mismatch wasn’t the craziest development in college hoops on Feb. 24, 1989. That honor went to Mike Krzyzewski‘s Duke team using a zone (!) against North Carolina State. Although, if Ben Howland can be forced to rely on a 2-3 zone at UCLA, perhaps anything is possible.

If any other readers have stories of NCAA teams playing short-handed, pass them along to kpelton@basketballprospectus.com.

January 28, 2010

All-Star Reserves Leaked

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:14 pm

Though the official announcement of All-Star reserves before tonight’s TNT double-header is still several hours away, individual results began trickling in last night and Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears have what are apparently the full rosters for both conferences. Assuming Wojnarowski and Spears is correct–and there’s no reason to doubt them–Western Conference coaches chose the same seven players I had in my picks earlier this week.

The East is where things were apparently a bit different. As expected, the coaches went with veterans Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce, leaders on contending teams. The selection of Derrick Rose was a bit more surprising, but Rose has played at an All-Star level in the month of January, his slow start was apparently largely due to injury and Rose is a second-year player on the rise. It’s hard to get worked up over his inclusion.

While each of the choices may be reasonable individually, they added up to one omission that appears to truly deserve one of my least favorite words in the English language, the overused “snub.” (Each year, approximately 850 players are “snubbed” for the All-Star Game, according to at least one media report. And yes, I do know there are fewer players than that in the league.) Atlanta’s Josh Smith has been, by WARP, one of the top 10 players in the NBA. If not quite that good, Smith rates well by all the other individual metrics (he’s 16th in EWA, John Hollinger‘s equivalent PER over replacement). The Hawks, one of the league’s better teams, have been 10.8 points better per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor, and his adjusted plus-minus for this season ranks 18th in the league.

Basically, it’s hard to make the argument that Smith has not been one of the league’s best 20 or so players, and certainly one of the 12 best in the Eastern Conference. The usual explanations don’t seem to apply here. It’s not exactly like Smith an obscure favorite of statistical analysts or a star on a losing ballclub (Eric Freeman points out at The Dagger that, since Charlotte and Chicago won last night, every All-Star is from a team with a record at .500 or better). We’re talking about the third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on an elite team that is sending two other players (Johnson and Al Horford) to Dallas. Smith was surely hurt to some extent by the voting format–Johnson and Rose probably split the backup guard votes that didn’t go to Rajon Rondo, while he most likely only appeared on ballots in the utility spots. Beyond that, however, I just don’t get this at all.

Don Jackson is to clairvoyance what NBC is to succession planning

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:01 am

Mississippi State freshman Renardo Sidney still isn’t eligible (you’ll find an uncommonly perceptive and well-written background piece here), and so this week his lawyer Don Jackson did what he always does. He sent out a press release and said in effect: Hey, this thing’s just about wrapped up! Renardo should be on the floor anytime now!

At which point the NCAA did what it always does. They released a statement and said in effect: With the possible exception of characters in a Tennessee Williams play, we’ve never seen anyone who can blend a strikingly tenuous grasp on reality with an unceasing and indeed unquenchable thirst for the limelight quite like Don Jackson.

OK, the NCAA doesn’t really talk like that. More like: “Mr. Jackson is wrong in his description of Renardo Sidney, Jr’s., initial-eligibility status, and he continues to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Amateurism Certification Process.”  

So if you have an RSS reader, it plays out like this every time. An item from a reputable outlet (in this case ESPN.com) pops up: “Renardo Sidney could be on the court soon.” Wow! Really? (Click on item, insert Homer Simpson whiny voice.) Oh, it’s not reality. It’s just Don Jackson again.

Though to be fair, I guess the words of Sidney’s attorney have actually displayed a certain Dewey-Defeats-Truman consistency in relation to subsequent events. Jackson says Saints, you bet Colts.    

January 25, 2010

Weekend in Hoops: I’m all in for Kentucky/Favre

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:34 pm

Later today 19-0 Kentucky will ascend to the number one ranking in the polls, thanks in equal measure to one eminently forgettable week from Texas and to UK’s own rather emphatic 101-70 win over Arkansas in Lexington on Saturday.

So welcome to Kentucky Week here at Basketball Prospectus! I’ve decided to call upon the awesome power and majesty inherent in my position (“college hoops dude,” I think) to mobilize all the resources that Prospectus can bring to bear and concentrate them on one hitherto obscure and shamefully overlooked team. “John Wall“? “John Calipari“? You may not have heard these names before, but by the time Friday rolls around you’ll know these so-called “Wildcats” as well as you do your own name!

On tap for this week….

Ken Pomeroy has officially recorded the “get” of the year: An exclusive on-the-record interview with himself on the implications of Kentucky’s relatively “low” Kenpom rating (currently ninth in the nation), as well as additional thoughts on the college hoops courtscape.

Bill Simmons says Daryl Morey is “Dork Elvis.” I guess that means Kevin Pelton is Dork Big Mama Thornton. Kevin and yours truly will have a cross-disciplinary Back-and-Forth on the sudden yet unmistakable Eric Bledsoe-for-the-2010-Lottery boomlet. What on earth have these boomlet people been smok–uh, I mean, what does the future hold for Bledsoe in 2010 and beyond?

–And much, much, more! (Hint: UK should look pretty good in tomorrow’s Tuesday Truths.)

The ACC’s leading “Williams” in terms of offense
For once it’s not Roy Williams. No, to this point in the season that honor would definitely go to Gary Williams, whose Maryland team has ripped through its first four conference games to the tune of 1.17 points per trip. Will that number fall? Of course! But the point is these games are in the books, they happened, and Terps have already played this way for fully 25 percent of their ACC schedule. In conference play Greivis Vasquez and the gang have made more than half of their (rare) threes while never ever turning the ball over. At 3-1, the Terps’ only loss has been in OT at Wake Forest. They get Miami at home tomorrow night before going to Clemson on Sunday. Keep an eye on them. 

Wow! What a game in New Orleans!
I hardly know where to start, seriously. You think you know what’s going to happen, but in the end there are always so many unexpected occurrences. Turnovers, big plays, and, one team just wanting it more.

What? You think I’m talking about the NFC champion Saints? That was pretty cool, but actually I’m talking about Tulane‘s very strange 61-46 loss at home to East Carolina yesterday afternoon. Not only did the visiting Pirates enter this game winless in CUSA, they were also in that most unique of non-Ivy League positions: Mack McCarthy‘s team was playing its second road game in two days (they lost 68-53 at Southern Miss on Saturday), making this a true NBA-style back-to-back. Be that as it may, ECU shook off any weariness and held the Green Wave to a really paltry point total in what was actually a fast (76-possession) game. Indefatigable road warriors of Greenville, NC, I salute you!

In other NFL-obscured news, Indiana lost 58-43 at home to Iowa last night, a result that has been attributed in part to a late-arriving Colts-distracted crowd in Bloomington. The Hawkeyes may want to schedule all future games in close spatial and temporal proximity to the Super Bowl, World Cup, vampire movie release dates, etc.: This was their first win on the road in the Big Ten since March 4, 2008.

No, seriously, about that game in New Orleans….
I stumbled into this whole writing about college hoops thing due to a series of coincidences, any one of which was pretty insignificant taken by itself. One example: A few years ago a LA Times columnist wrote that Mike Krzyzewski had “saved” college basketball when he turned a blind eye to a potential opportunity to coach the Lakers and instead stayed at Duke. Mind you I have used oceans of figurative internet ink singing Coach K’s praises in the years since, and I particularly and specifically admire his willingness to adapt himself stylistically to changing circumstances and personnel (a willingness that his coaching mentor did not always display).

Nevertheless, the cringing obsequiousness and vaporous imprecision inherent in saying that any one non-John Wooden human has “saved” college basketball led me to stand on my desk (again, figuratively) at my day job that very day and make the following Scarlett O’Hara vow: As Dean Smith is my witness, I can write about college basketball in a way that is much better and much more informative than this guy.

Well, maybe I have and maybe I haven’t, but I will say this for that LAT columnist. He was a model of stoic reserve compared to Fox last night.

If Minnesota scored a touchdown, Fox would show Brett Favre. If New Orleans scored a touchdown, Fox would show Brett Favre. If Percy Harvin fumbled, Fox would show Brett Favre. If Adrian Peterson fumbled, Fox would show Brett Favre.

If they were going into commercial, Fox would show Brett Favre. If they were coming out of commercial, Fox would show Brett Favre. If the Vikings had the ball, Fox, unavoidably, would show Brett Favre. If the Saints had the ball, Fox, avoidably, would show Brett Favre. 

When Peterson had fumbled about 113 times, Fox showed Brett Favre talking to Peterson on the sidelines and the announcers said with oleaginous presumption that Brett Favre had been called upon “to be a psychologist” for Peterson for much of the night. When Brett Favre injured his ankle, Fox showed Brett Favre’s worried family in the stands. (When Cedric Griffin, the Vikings’ best cornerback, injured his ankle on the opening kickoff of OT, Fox did not show his worried family in the stands.) When Garrett Hartley kicked the game-winning field goal for the Saints in OT, giving the city of New Orleans its first Super Bowl berth in 43 years of professional football, Fox showed Brett Favre.

I had of course heard that Favre is the subject of some media attention from time to time. But until you actually sit through three-and-a-half hours of it you can’t truly grasp the depth of the media pathology at work here. And the strange part is at this point it has little to do with Favre. For all I know he’s one swell guy. I do know that prior to his Favrian interception at the end of regulation he was humming in some sweet strikes, especially in the first half. But, sweet mother of Princess Diana, no human up to and including St. Francis of Assisi could possibly withstand this level of camera- and announcer-adulation.

In today’s less Brett Favre-ish venues….
Seriously, this news does not involve Brett Favre at all, so you may want to just skip it. Anyway: Washington continues to make my friend Kevin Pelton very, very sad with each and every anemic road performance they record. (Road efficiency margin in Pac-10 play: -0.24 points per trip, meaning U-Dub away from Seattle is the functional equivalent of Rutgers.)…Drake continues to be way more dangerous to opponents than their 10-11 record would indicate….Dominique Jones scored 46 points in South Florida‘s 109-105 win in OT at Providence, a game in which the Friars led by 13 with a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation. “Epic collapse“? You be the judge! But Keno Davis is right to fret vocally about his D: USF needed “just” 83 possessions to veer well north of the century mark on points….Chandler Parsons did his incredible buzzer-beating thing again for Florida, this time against South Carolina. Gator fans no doubt consider it karmic payback after an equally incredible last few seconds went the Gamecocks’ way on this very same weekend last year….Marquette has lost a lot of close games….So has Penn State….Pundits are murmuring one-and-done murmurs about Hassan Whiteside of Marshall. Glad I got in on that ground floor….At 12-8 overall, Illinois continues to make Gene Hackman, Will Leitch, Roger Ebert, Hugh Hefner, Ang Lee, and yours truly very, very sad, the latest example being the Illini’s 73-68 loss at Northwestern on Saturday night. I’m worried about my brother’s well-being because he hasn’t called to gloat yet.

Unfiltered-back!
Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Only a matter of time before UConn becomes a POT!
On Friday I noted that Connecticut is on-pace to attempt fewer threes this season in Big East play than any other team in recent major-conference history. The readers respond!

Hey, John,

Just read your latest Unfiltered post on UConn and three-point attempts. You mention that interim coach “Blaney doesn’t need to turn into John Beilein overnight,” but, looking at the stats, who would take the extra threes? Stanley Robinson is the team’s best three-point shooter percentage-wise, but he is most effective around the hoop for broken plays. After that, the next highest percentages are Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson. Despite the percentages, Dyson is clearly the best shooter on the team–so is he the logical answer?

Many thanks!

Matt G.  

Since I noted the Huskies’ aversion to threes they went out and beat number one Texas rather easily in Storrs, 88-74. (What a great atmosphere at Gampel. Too bad UConn has to shuttle between campus and the notably more funeral XL Center in Hartford.) I of course am taking full credit for the win, since Associate Head Coach George Blaney‘s team attempted an incredible (for them) 15 threes in this game. Connecticut didn’t shoot particularly well from outside (they made six), but I do think a somewhat more normal distribution of shots will help an offense that has struggled thus far in Big East play. Make no mistake: UConn’s defense has been fine so far in-conference. If the offense can look anything like it did on Saturday, this is indeed a much more effective team than the one I groused about rather dyspeptically three weeks ago.   

January 22, 2010

Roy Deals with Hamstring

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:04 pm

As if the Portland Trail Blazers have not been beset by the injury bug enough this season, Brandon Roy will miss at least the next week because of his strained right hamstring, which he re-aggravated Wednesday in Philadelphia after sitting out the previous two games. The Columbian and The Oregonian both reported this morning that Roy will undergo Platelet-Rich Plasma treatment today in Seattle from Seahawks team doctors.

PRP treatment–which involves injecting the patient’s own blood, with the platelets included, into the injured area (see this New York Times article)–is cutting edge, but the evidence of its success is mixed. Prospectus injury expert Will Carroll has been cynical on its value. Here’s what he had to say in a March Q&A with D Magazine after Rangers shortstop Michael Young had the treatment for a similar injury:

Will Carroll: PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) and the prolotherapy kick we’ve seen in baseball this year has yet to convince me that it’s effective. I recently read a study on PRP in a general population and also the Wired article about placebo effectiveness. There seems to be some middle ground. Look, it doesn’t seem to hurt, but it’s pretty unclear if it helps. We’ve seen some positives (Andrew Miller), some negatives (Xavier Nady), and some “shrugs” …

A recent study showed PRP as being no better than a placebo at treating Achilles tendinitis.

After the reinjury, the Blazers will presumably be more conservative with Roy this time around. Portland has gone 2-1 without Roy, playing better basketball at the offensive end without the team’s leading scorer by getting production from a variety of sources. Jerryd Bayless had a career-high 31 points when Roy sat out at San Antonio last month and came up big down the stretch Wednesday in Philadelphia, but had just one point in last Friday’s win over Orlando. That night, sharpshooters Martell Webster (24 points) and Steve Blake (18) led the way. The Blazers struggled at times to score without Roy in Monday’s loss at Washington, but even that game was ultimately lost at the defensive end of the floor.

Elsewhere, Cleveland will be without Mo Williams for the next 4-6 weeks after he sprained his left shoulder. I’m withholding judgment on the severity of the injury to the Cavaliers until we find out how badly Delonte West injured his left ring finger in last night’s win over the L.A. Lakers. Cleveland has played well with West at the point this season (and Williams has an improbably terrible net plus-minus rating), so I think Williams’ injury alone won’t be too much of a problem. If both guys go down, however, the Cavaliers will be dangerously thin in the backcourt.

UConn, on and off the floor

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:47 pm

Let’s do “off the floor” first. 

This week Connecticut announced that Jim Calhoun will be taking a leave of absence of undetermined length for health reasons. Here’s wishing Coach Calhoun good health right away and for many years to come.

Now, I want to talk for a moment about Dom Perno, Bill Foster, and Roy Danforth. Who the heck are Dom Perno, Bill Foster, and Roy Danforth? They are the men who preceded Calhoun at Connecticut, Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, respectively. I know that Calhoun, Coach K, and Boeheim have been in their current positions forever, but, as hard as it is to fathom, the job will outlive the current occupant’s tenure in all three cases. At some point each of these legends will step aside.

Recent history suggests it’s tough to replace a multi-decade coaching legend without suffering at least a brief programmatic hiccup sooner or later. Whether your example of choice is Georgetown after John Thompson, Indiana after Bob Knight, or North Carolina after Dean Smith (more specifically after Bill Guthridge), we have seen this process play out before. Blue-chip programs can occasionally miss the NCAA tournament, often while they’re reconstituting themselves in the wake of a legend’s departure. Calhoun’s leave of absence merely reinforces what Connecticut, Duke, and Syracuse should all be thinking about and, more importantly, doing in 2010: Succession planning.

Occurring in tandem with the patently surreal college football headlines of the past few weeks, Calhoun’s sabbatical has reminded me anew how D-I schools might want to close thy “gruff yet genial lawyer alum” and open thy “savvy HR type” when it comes to hiring ADs. Just a thought. 

As for “on the floor”….

To this point in Big East play the Huskies have devoted just 18 percent of their attempts to threes. I’ll be interested to see if Associate Head Coach George Blaney lets the team shoot more often from beyond the arc. He should.

Because there are no threes….Huh? There are? 
Fewest threes attempted by major-conference teams, 2007-09
Conference games only

                     3FGA/FGA(%)
Virginia Tech 2007      20.8
Wake Forest 2009        20.9
Washington 2009         20.9
USC 2009                21.3
North Carolina 2008     21.4
Connecticut 2009        22.2

Far and away the best offense on this three-averse list is the 2008 edition of North Carolina, which reached the Final Four thanks in large part to excellent D and total domination on the offensive glass. Put simply, not shooting threes worked for that team. In ACC play the Tar Heels’ offense was an amazing two standard deviations better than the conference average.

Past Carolina there are a lot of good-but-not-great offenses here, ones populated by players who would be in the NBA the following season, to wit: James Johnson, Jeff Teague, Jon Brockman, Hasheem Thabeet, and A.J. Price. On the other hand the pity-date at this here prom in terms of offense is clearly USC last year, which despite having its own soon-to-be lottery pick (DeMar DeRozan) managed a scant 1.04 points per trip in the Pac-10. In the case of the Trojans, giving up on threes merely made them a much easier scout.     

SC is not alone. Last year Evansville indulged in a quixotic and ontologically doomed attempt to turn the clock back to the early 1980s, devoting just 19 percent of their shots to threes in Missouri Valley play. The direct and indeed entirely predictable result was that opposing D’s happily sagged into a tight little ball directly under the hoop and the Aces scored just 0.97 points per trip in-conference. Basically if four in every five shots are twos, you are announcing in advance to your opponent what you intend to do. Which, again, can work on occasion and maybe even is kind of manly in a Belichickian kind of way. Provided you have the talent backing you up.

Which brings us back to UConn. The Huskies plainly have talent that will soon be on display in the NBA, but the question is whether this particular configuration of players can score points in the Big East when they’ve so clearly telegraphed what they’re going to do on offense. The answer here might be no. Blaney doesn’t need to turn into John Beilein overnight or anything, but I suspect that not being the single most three-averse team in the recent history of major conference basketball would probably help keep opposing D’s a smidge more honest.   

BONUS “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes” link! Syracuse has an absolute PDF-free jewel of a time capsule at their site. Click here for group photos of every team going back to 1973-74. If you want to track evolving trends in sock heights, hairstyles, and the relative capaciousness of shorts over the decades, this is the place for you. Pay particular attention to the intense looking young assistant coach at the left end of the second row in 1976-77.

External Linkage: On the Razorbacks, Grizzlies, Knicks and (of course) Mizzou

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 1:13 pm

No, I’m not referring to an STD with the title of this post. In my completely unofficial–and temporary–capacity as the BBP communications director, I just wanted to float a couple of links to Web portals where the Basketball Prospectus brand has bobbed up. Two of them concern items I was involved with, so you can clearly see my motivation in this matter.

Now I can die in peace

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:39 pm

Strangely and indeed shamefully unaware that statistics which accurately capture things that really happened are for baseball only, the official sites for the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10, and SEC now include offensive and defensive rebound percentages.

Laudably reality-kissed Commissioners John Swofford, Dan Beebe, John Marinatto, Larry Scott, and Mike Slive, I salute you. Next time you see me expect a hearty fist-pound, truly.   

Note however that the Big Ten is yet to catch this wave. How ironic!

(HT: Alert reader Chris S.)

January 21, 2010

Streak-fail all around

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:39 am

It’s been a while since you could respond to “Anything happen last night?” with “Well, Memphis lost a CUSA game and DePaul won a Big East game.” Funny thing is, while both streaks were of course bound to be snapped sometime, neither figured to end last night. This here sport will surprise you.

The Tigers fell to UTEP 72-67 at the Fed Ex Forum in Memphis, bringing their 64-game CUSA winning streak to an end. For a team with a shield-your-eyes bad offense (see below) marooned in a media oubliette like El Paso, the Miners have received a surprising amount of coverage and attention this season. But last night Tony Barbee‘s group earned the pub, hitting 53 percent of their twos, 44 percent of their threes, and 16-of-22 free throws. Give the credit there to Jeremy Williams and Christian Polk, among others. Meanwhile Memphis officially committed just 12 turnovers but to the naked eye it looked like 11 of those came in the last four minutes. If a steal can be one of those proverbial “daggers,” Randy Culpepper picking Elliot Williams‘ pocket with 58 seconds left in a four-point game was a dagger.

There’s no particular shock and awe attached to an unranked team not going undefeated in their conference, of course. But you have to admit this does look a little strange…. 

I’ve never seen anything except “Memphis” next to that “1.” 
Through games of January 20, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     Pace    PPP    Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Marshall         66.8    1.23     1.05   +0.18
2.  Tulsa            67.4    1.16     0.98   +0.18
3.  Memphis          63.2    1.12     1.01   +0.11
4.  Houston          70.4    1.09     0.99   +0.10
5.  UAB              64.0    0.99     0.92   +0.07
6.  UTEP             63.2    0.96     0.93   +0.03
7.  UCF              68.8    1.09     1.09    0.00
8.  SMU              59.2    1.00     1.01   -0.01
9.  Tulane           68.7    0.94     1.01   -0.07
10. Southern Miss    60.7    0.93     1.02   -0.09
11. Rice             65.9    0.96     1.17   -0.21
12. E. Carolina      67.6    0.91     1.15   -0.24

Speaking of downright visually strange, try this on for size:

I’ve never seen anything except “DePaul” next to that “16.” 
Through games of January 20, conference games only

                     Pace    PPP    Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Villanova        71.7    1.21     1.04   +0.17
2.  West Virginia    64.4    1.13     0.99   +0.14
3.  Louisville       68.7    1.14     1.03   +0.11
4.  Syracuse         71.6    1.10     0.99   +0.11
5.  Georgetown       64.2    1.11     1.03   +0.08
6.  Pitt             64.8    1.10     1.02   +0.08
7.  Marquette        61.1    1.13     1.06   +0.07
8.  Connecticut      69.2    1.02     0.97   +0.05
9.  Cincinnati       66.4    1.01     1.00   +0.01
10. Notre Dame       66.5    1.09     1.12   -0.03
11. Providence       72.5    1.05     1.10   -0.05
12. St. John’s       65.5    0.93     0.98   -0.05
13. Seton Hall       71.1    1.03     1.10   -0.07
14. S. Florida       67.5    0.95     1.09   -0.14
15. DePaul           63.4    0.88     1.12   -0.24
16. Rutgers          71.1    0.91     1.16   -0.25

The Blue Demons beat Marquette 51-50 at Allstate Arena last night, thanks to a game-winning jumper from Mike Stovall with 0.7 seconds left. It was a fitting capper to an improbable result: Stovall is pretty good at recording steals but he hasn’t exactly been unconscious from the field this year. Go figure, he scored five points in the game’s last ten seconds to end DePaul’s 24-game Big East regular season losing streak. (Note that, rather capriciously, the Memphis streak included conference tournament games. The Blue Demons’ streak did not. This team won a game at Madison Square Garden against Cincinnati last March.)

If you saw any part of this game you likely noticed that DePaul simply looked different in their body language. They were active on defense. (Yes, I just wrote those words about a post-2007 DePaul team.) I don’t suppose that Tracy Webster‘s group is a shoo-in for an NIT bid or anything, but it would appear that perhaps a corner, at long last, has been turned. 

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