Welcome to the season’s final installment of Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 131 teams in the nation’s top 11 conferences did 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: Fear Kelly-equipped Duke
Through games of March 10, 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 14-4 67.7 1.14 0.99 +0.15
2. Miami 15-3 64.0 1.07 0.93 +0.14
3. Virginia 11-7 60.5 1.05 0.94 +0.11
4. North Carolina 12-6 68.8 1.04 0.98 +0.06
5. NC State 11-7 68.2 1.09 1.04 +0.05
6. Maryland 8-10 67.6 0.97 0.98 -0.01
7. Boston College 7-11 63.5 1.04 1.09 -0.05
8. Georgia Tech 6-12 66.9 0.93 1.00 -0.07
9. Clemson 5-13 62.0 0.93 1.01 -0.08
10. Wake Forest 6-12 69.0 0.95 1.03 -0.08
11. Florida St. 9-9 63.1 0.98 1.08 -0.10
12. Virginia Tech 4-14 64.8 0.99 1.14 -0.15
AVG. 65.5 1.02
If I’m understanding this correctly, when Ryan Kelly is sidelined by an injury Duke’s defense take a big hit. But when he’s on the floor the Blue Devils’ offense is even more amazing than it was without him (and it was pretty amazing without him). That, friends, is one indispensable player. My suggestion to Mike Krzyzewski is that the young lad be encased in bubble wrap and excused from every second of practice. (That’s another thing. Kelly sitting out for six weeks and then promptly scoring 36 points against one of the best defenses in the nation in his first game back was definitely an eloquent amicus brief in the case of Iverson v. Every Coach Ever.)
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 ACC play: Infrequency with which NC State opponents attempted threes: 22.7 percent of FGAs.
Duke, Miami, North Carolina, and NC State will dance. Virginia needs to show well at the ACC tournament, and the Cavaliers also need a bare minimum of surprise champions in the other conference tournaments taking place around Division I. Tony Bennett’s team looks great here but keep in mind that, to an extent that’s unusual among peer teams, the Hoos’ per-possession greatness was recorded at home and nowhere else. (See below, way down there under the West Coast.) UVA will get the chance to show what they can do away from Charlottesville when they play the winner of NC State-Virginia Tech Friday afternoon in Greensboro.
In the 2012 NCAA tournament Bill Self proved once and for all that this so-called “offense” thing is way overrated. Save for one magical half against North Carolina, Self’s team couldn’t buy a basket. And the Jayhawks wondered and worried and fretted about that fact all the way to the national championship game.
Self might have to pull that same shtick again this season. Save for 45 magical minutes in Ames, these Jayhawks aren’t exactly sowing terror in the hearts of opposing defenses either. On the Big 12 season as a whole, KU’s shots from the field just didn’t fall, a nuisance that Self worked around with extra helpings of offensive rebounding and free throws. Speaking of work-arounds, having Jeff Withey and Travis Releford on your defense helps too. I won’t be shocked if Kansas plays a series of tense low-scoring games in the days and weeks to come.
Bruce Weber, I salute you! Somehow the news just is not getting smuggled out even at this late date, but Kansas State scored 1.20 points per trip over its last seven games. If Kansas governor Sam Brownback would only display the kind of leadership we so desperately need as a nation and combine the offense in Manhattan with the defense in Lawrence, you’d have something approximating KU 2008.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 Big 12 play: Frequency with which Iowa State attempted threes: 46 percent of FGAs.
Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Iowa State are in, though the Cyclones are showing up in the mocks on the 11 line. A pairing with the Sooners in the Big 12 quarters Thursday afternoon is therefore a welcome development for ISU. Losing to a fellow at-large wouldn’t figure to be especially catastrophic. Winning against that at-large would be better still. And Baylor still has work to do. The 81-58 win over Kansas in Waco over the weekend was a start, but a victory over Oklahoma State in Thursday night’s quarterfinal would be helpful as well.
Big East: I’m done pointing out that Louisville is historically mighty
Now that you know Rick Pitino’s team strides the fin de siecle Big East like a colossus, I will additionally point out that Buzz Williams could take you, me, and three guys plucked at random from the crowd at the Bradley Center and mold us into the Big East’s best offense. After all, he did exactly that this season with a roster that had just lost 2012 Big East POY Jae Crowder and Crowder’s co-conspirator in insane excellence from a junior college transfer, Darius Johnson-Odom. Faced with those departures, Williams shrugged and invited Vander Blue into his office in October, where the following exchange took place:
WILLIAMS: Hi, Vander. Say, you know how you’ve been largely ineffective on offense so far?
WILLIAMS: That’s going to change. From now on you’ll be, say, 12 percentage points more accurate on your twos. Oh, and you’ll do it while playing more minutes and carrying a much larger load of possessions.
In a league where the average team made 46 percent of its twos, Marquette connected on 53 percent of their attempts inside the arc, and, again, this was not with Kentucky-in-2012 talent by any means. Williams happens to be an avuncular guy who occasionally wears silly jackets, so people have warm fuzzies for him and rightly so. Conversely Brad Stevens is an avuncular guy who does not wear silly jackets and people (correctly in my view) hail him as some kind of hoops savant. Conclusion: it’s the jackets! Williams deserves a spot up there on those same bleachers. I say this annually on the eve of Carousel season, but I once again implore athletic directors to take a very long look at the assistant coaches you already have on-site before making any hiring decisions.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 Big East play: Frequency with which Seton Hall committed turnovers: 24.8 percent of possessions.
In: Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Pitt, Syracuse, Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati. There’s a good chance the Big East tournament will be relatively untroubled by bubble implications, freeing everyone to focus on being sad and nostalgic. I myself will be on-site moping about moodily for Thursday night’s session. See you there.
Big Ten: It may be impossible for any program to duplicate Indiana 2010-13
The path navigated by the Hoosiers over the past four seasons is going to be exceptionally difficult for any other program to repeat, not that any program would want to try. Said path starts here: 1) Be possibly the worst major-conference team in the nation. That’s where Indiana was in 2010.
Presenting the Hoosiers’ in-conference efficiency margins in each of the past four seasons:
Heck, forget 2010. In November of last season I was still being asked whether I thought IU had any shot at all at making the 2012 NCAA tournament. When I picked Indiana to win at home against Kentucky that December I was told I was crazy — by Indiana fans. It’s easy to forget now, but that UK game really was this program’s jeweled pivot, and no one has thought the same way about the Hoosiers ever since.
Fun with home/road splits! See below, way down there under the West Coast. Indiana’s per-possession scoring margin on the road in Big Ten play (+0.14) would have been good for second place in this season’s actual league (see above). These guys looked very normal at Illinois and Minnesota, and, goodness knows, at home against Ohio State, but every team in D-I has looked very normal at some point this season. Make no mistake, the Hoosiers are tough.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 B1G play: Infrequency with which Wisconsin opponents attempted threes: 23.6 percent of FGAs.
Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois are dancing. The Illini will carry the crushing burden of the Negative Efficiency Margin Curse, to wit: No team that’s been outscored in conference play has done much of anything since West Virginia came within a whisker of the 2005 Final Four. Perhaps that’s because if you’re outscored during conference play you’re not very good at basketball.
Meanwhile Iowa still lurks on the fringes of this whole field of 68 thing, but the Hawkeyes are likely in a line where teams like Virginia, Ole Miss, Baylor, and possibly Middle Tennessee are ahead of them. Fran McCaffrey now says Iowa’s calamitous non-conference schedule was a conscious choice and that his team needed to learn what it feels like to win. Fine. Now that the team knows what it feels like to win, it would be really nice to parlay that into an actual win in the quarters Friday night against Michigan State (assuming of course the Hawkeyes successfully navigate their way past Northwestern on Thursday). The Spartans are the No. 3 seed, and I’ve made no secret of my fear that the 3-line at the B1G tournament is cursed. (Ask Eric Gordon about Blake Hoffarber sometime.) You sit around the hotel and/or arena and you see no fewer than seven entire games transpire before you even take the floor for the first time. It’s just bad karma. Maybe Iowa can benefit.
Thank you, Pac-12, for illuminating our nation’s collective hoops psyche
The Pac-12 has come in for a good deal of abuse since its last really strong season (as the Pac-10) in 2009. But it seems like that abuse has largely abated this season. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I just don’t hear as much muttering about the sorry state of the Pac-12. If this is correct it’s kind of interesting. It suggests to me the way to hush critics is to have several — say, a half-dozen — pretty good teams, as opposed to having one or two really good ones.
Pollsters, laptops, and Tuesday Truths all stand shoulder to shoulder in declaring Arizona this league’s best team (even though UCLA won the regular-season title outright). But the Wildcats hold that distinction in a league that, in performance terms, is the most homogeneous major conference in Tuesday Truths’ relatively young history. It’s an open question whether UA is really all that much better than several other Pac-12 teams this season, just like it’s unclear whether this Arizona team’s any better than the Derrick Williams team or Washington in 2011, back during the bad old high-abuse days. Yet the abuse has diminished. The key here appears to be the ability to stay away from “one-bid league” jokes. If you can do that, a potential lack of seriously good teams need not be an issue.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 Pac-12 play: Accuracy exhibited by Washington State opponents on two-point shots: 53.8 percent.
A banner year for our Poster Child for Performance Homogeneity, the Pac-12: Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, Colorado, and Cal are all likely in, representing the highest number of bids the league has received since 2009. No bubble drama here, it would seem; the league is set to sprinkle its teams liberally in between seeding lines 4 through 10 in the field of 68. At the moment Stanford is probably as good as any of those other teams. Go figure.
SEC: So what just happened there with that whole Florida thing?
The Gators have just wrapped up the most statistically dominant season this feature has ever witnessed from a major-conference team (Kentucky last year: +0.26), and all it got Billy Donovan’s men was a 14-4 record. That record includes the latest in what now feels like an eerily familiar series of close-but-no-cigar road games, Saturday’s 61-57 loss at Kentucky. What are we to make of this team? Glad you asked. Here are Four Theses on Florida.
1. Turns out Florida is not the greatest team of the modern era after all. Part of their statistical glory was achieved thanks to 160 minutes against what were clearly the league’s three worst teams: Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi State. Take out those 160 minutes, and the Gators’ per-possession scoring margin drops to +0.21. Then again….
2. We’re cherry-picking — every good team gets to play an occasional bad team — and +0.21 is still really good.
3. No SEC team has scored more than 0.97 points per trip in any game where Will Yeguete played more than one minute. Doubt UF’s perimeter obsession on offense all you want — I’m right there with you — but this D has been consistently tough.
4. Among recent major-conference teams outscoring their leagues by 0.20 points per trip or more (there aren’t many of those), Florida ranks a clear No. 3 in my Gasaway Non-Bald Dome Index (GNBDI), clearly behind Kansas 2008 and Kentucky 2012, but also comfortably ahead of Texas 2011. It would be a mistake to pencil the Gators in for either a national title or a first-weekend exit just yet.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 SEC play: Infrequency with which Florida opponents score: 0.85 points per trip.
Bubble, thy name is “SEC.” Florida and Missouri are in. Kentucky and Tennessee are currently projected as No. 12 seeds, meaning they have zero grounds to feel comfortable five days out from Selection Sunday. Ole Miss is right on the line between in and out. Alabama is a few spots below the Rebels.
This is a completely eccentric and subjective view, but to my eyes the bubble team that got the worst SEC tournament draw is the Volunteers. Cuonzo Martin’s men get the winner of South Carolina-Mississippi State, a classic example of a game where (rightly) no one will care if Tennessee wins but there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth if they lose against an opponent that’s already won a game. Speaking of eccentricities, Ole Miss will actually be the higher-seeded team in a probable quarterfinal against Missouri.
To repeat a phrase used in this space more or less every week, give the numbers here the due caution that a 16-team league with a 16-game schedule demands. As it happens I do think Saint Louis is likely the best team in the conference. I suspect that VCU is the best of the rest, and that La Salle, Temple, and Butler are all at-large-caliber performers. And that’s the sum total of my confident statements on this season’s A-10. I should like it very much if in future seasons the league either has more games or fewer teams.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 A-10 play: Lack of accuracy exhibited by Charlotte on three-point shots: 25.4 percent.
Saint Louis, VCU, and Butler are headed to the field of 68. Temple almost certainly is as well, though the Owls are shown these days as a No. 11 seed. A win on Friday night against the UMass-GW winner would probably be advisable. The team with the most interesting situation of all, however, is La Salle. The Explorers are currently popping up as a No. 12 seed, and, of all opponents, they’ve drawn Butler in the quarters. (Or so we think. The Bulldogs must first get past Dayton, and, as seen here, that is no foregone conclusion.)
So, yes, bubble repercussions will likely be felt in Brooklyn this week. Too bad, too, because if the A-10 tournament were relatively untroubled by bubble implications, that would have freed everyone to focus on being puzzled and conflicted about Temple going to the league formerly known as the Big East, while, we think, Butler prepares to join seven current Big East teams in a new Big East. I myself will be on-site and just as puzzled as ever for Saturday afternoon’s session. See you there.
C-USA: Even a hollow shell of the former Big East is a good move for Memphis
For a second consecutive season Memphis has dominated Conference USA, but for a second consecutive season they’re at risk for being seeded in the 8-9 range, meaning (often) a very good opponent in your first game and (always) a preposterously good opponent in your second one. That’s a tough seed to draw, but next season things should improve for the Tigers with their move to the non-Catholic remnant of the current Big East. True, Josh Pastner’s team is taking a good portion of C-USA with them (UCF, SMU, and Houston), so things won’t look all that different. Still, getting one or even two games a season against UConn, Cincinnati, and (let’s not forget) Temple will be huge for Memphis. Perform well in those games and you should acquire the escape velocity needed to get a slightly higher seed after a very good regular season.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 C-USA play: Frequency with which Southern Miss opponents committed turnovers: 23.5 percent of possessions.
A confident march through the C-USA tournament at the BOK Center in Tulsa could help Memphis make the case for a seed in the 6-7 range in the NCAA tournament, and that would be big. Meanwhile Southern Miss refuses to be pushed all the way off the mock boards. The Golden Eagles could be earn themselves a central role in Selection Sunday speculation with an appearance in the title game. Or they can end that speculation entirely, of course, by winning that title game.
Missouri Valley: Congratulations on winning Arch Madness, you get Gonzaga
On a day when Doug McDermott was held to 14 points, Creighton won the Missouri Valley tournament title game 68-65 over Wichita State thanks in part to five threes from Ethan Wragge. The Bluejay offense skidded off track in February, but it’s worth remembering that the team’s year-end totals still look great, and indeed for long stretches of the season opposing teams simply couldn’t keep up with these guys.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 Valley play: Accuracy exhibited by Creighton from the field: 60.4 effective FG percentage.
The Bluejays are projected as a No. 8 seed, and seeing this offense go up against Duke, Indiana, Gonzaga, Louisville (shudder), or some other hegemon cut from this same cloth in the round of 32 would be slightly entertaining, to say the least. Wichita State should navigate the brackets as a 10 or thereabouts.
Mountain West: Colorado State springs a surprise ending
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM
1. Colorado St. 11-5 64.2 1.12 1.01 +0.11
2. New Mexico 13-3 64.6 1.04 0.93 +0.11
3. San Diego St. 9-7 65.2 1.03 0.95 +0.08
4. UNLV 10-6 66.7 0.99 0.94 +0.05
5. Boise St. 9-7 64.7 1.05 1.03 +0.02
6. Air Force 8-8 64.1 1.04 1.08 -0.04
7. Fresno St. 5-11 60.8 0.94 1.00 -0.06
8. Wyoming 4-12 59.2 0.90 1.01 -0.11
9. Nevada 3-13 64.7 0.96 1.10 -0.14
AVG. 63.8 1.01
Congratulations to Larry Eustachy and his Rams, who mounted a furious Tuesday Truths rally to just barely beat New Mexico at the tape, +0.1072 to +0.1056. And in the round-robin Mountain West, CSU can indeed strut around a bit on the basis of a razor-thin margin like that. The best information we have, based on over a thousand possessions balanced between home and road, is that these two teams are very similar in terms of how well they play basketball. The fact that UNM will likely get a No. 3 seed and Colorado State will get a 7 is not ideal, perhaps, but it’s certainly far from the worst such mishap we’ve seen in March.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 MWC play: Pace at which Wyoming played basketball: 59.2 possessions per 40 minutes.
See above: New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado State, and San Diego State will hear their names called on Selection Sunday. Boise State will very likely be able to make that same claim, particularly if the Broncos win their quarterfinal against the Aztecs tomorrow night in Vegas. Not bad for a nine-team league. Congratulations, MWC. You cracked the code.
The best possible situation for the West Coast
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM
1. Gonzaga 16-0 63.7 1.21 0.91 +0.30
2. Saint Mary’s 14-2 64.5 1.14 0.94 +0.20
3. BYU 10-6 69.0 1.10 1.00 +0.10
4. Santa Clara 9-7 66.5 1.06 1.05 +0.01
5. San Francisco 7-9 66.8 1.05 1.07 -0.02
6. San Diego 7-9 63.6 0.99 1.07 -0.08
7. Pepperdine 4-12 63.6 0.96 1.11 -0.15
8. Portland 4-12 64.5 0.92 1.09 -0.17
9. Loyola Marymount 1-15 64.9 0.91 1.09 -0.18
AVG. 65.2 1.04
If I’m ever named the commissioner of a nine-member mid-major conference that has three teams ranked below No. 200 in Division I basketball, I guess what I would hope for would be the following:
1. Give me the best mid-major since Memphis in 2008, and while you’re at it…
2. Besides that aforementioned squad, give me another team that is possibly the best one my league has had in the last four years (except of course for this season’s monster rival). Let them be grossly overlooked and underrated by the national media, mostly due to that other historic team. In fact, let them be mis-seeded down around 11, so they can drop on some poor hapless 6 seed like a jaguar out of a tree.
It’s all lined up pretty well for the West Coast.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 WCC play: Infrequency with which San Francisco recorded offensive rebounds: 21.0 percent of USF missed shots.
Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are poised to do the league proud, albeit from opposite seeding extremes.
BONUS valedictory goodness! Just to do this last-day thing right, here are the per-possession home/road splits for every major-conference team this season. Teams are shown in order from highest to lowest variance in performance, home vs. road.
Arkansas was two completely different teams depending on the game’s venue. Northwestern and Pitt were the same everywhere, which can be good news (Panthers) or bad news (Wildcats). Kansas State and Michigan had the same seasons in different conferences.
Generally speaking I get the yips if a national title contender shows up too high in this sequencing (I’m looking at you, Bill Self), but maybe that’s just me.
Looking through old emails, I find the first mention of a potential basketball version of the venerable Baseball Prospectus site in a note I received from Ken Pomeroy on April 26, 2007. (Subject line: “Busy?” Ken is nothing if not winningly understated.) By Memorial Day I had quit my day job.
During that summer there were several conference calls with Ken and, as he put it, “this guy from Prospectus.” That turned out to be Nate Silver. The three of us thought we were not only launching a website but also working on the first ever tempo-free college hoops preview book. As chance would have it, the latter fell through soon after I’d quit the aforementioned day job. (Ah, good times. We got the book up and running the next season.) Ken and I ended up taking all the previews we’d written for the “book” and simply flinging them up on the new site that fall, as Joe Sheehan graciously moonlighted from his work on the baseball side to help us get on our feet.
In the days and years that followed, Ken, Kevin Pelton, Bradford Doolittle, Anthony Macri, Sebastian Pruiti, Neil Paine, Dan Feldman, Dan Hanner, Corey Schmidt, John Perrotto, Asher Fusco, C.J. Moore, Nic Reiner, Jeff Nusser, Kyle Whelliston, Drew Cannon, and many others made Basketball Prospectus a place of remarkable analytic activity and centrality. I learned from all of these writers, and I worked hard just to keep up.
For six seasons I was given the opportunity to roam topically wherever I wanted, and I roamed with vigor. My work benefited from the prestige of a brand that had been established long before I arrived, and no strings were attached. It was a sweet gig, and for that I have Baseball Prospectus to thank.
When the site launched I had essentially the same relationship with televised college basketball commentary that a person sitting in a theater has with the characters in a slasher movie. I would talk at my TV screen and tell the commentators appearing on it not to go into particular rooms, analytically speaking. But, lo and behold, my talking had no visible effect.
Today, I’m happy to report, the commentary on my TV screen has changed for the better. I don’t flatter ourselves for an instant that it was Prospectus that wrought this change. No one not named either “Dean Smith” or “Dean Oliver” should flatter themselves with much in our field. But the boast I will make is that no group put the case for change more cogently, more doggedly, or more persuasively than did the writers at Basketball Prospectus. I’m proud to have been one of those writers.