If you’ve been reading along here for a while, you know I have what can only be termed a morbid interest in teams that go winless in-conference. I can’t help it: the O-fer is surprisingly rare and therefore interesting.
Going into last year, no team had gone winless in major conference play since 2004, when Texas A&M went 0-16 in the Big 12. Then in 2008 Oregon State came along, in their pre-Craig Robinson version, and the Beavers joined the club, so to speak, with an 0-18 mark in the Pac-10.
Meaning in the last five full seasons of major conference hoops (2003-04 to 2007-08), there have been over 300 individual conference seasons played by the 73 teams in those leagues. And of those 300+ seasons, just two of them ended without a single win. That’s rare.
A moment’s reflection brings home how hard it truly is to go winless across an entire conference season. Your team has to be either incredibly unlucky or it has to be struggling so badly that it can’t even win a home game against the conference’s second-worst team. That just doesn’t happen very often.
And yet this year there are no fewer than three major-conference teams still without a win even as Valentine’s Day fast approaches: DePaul (0-11, Big East), Georgia (0-8, SEC), and Oregon (0-11, Pac-10). Will any of them join the A&M-OSU club? Will all of them?
Let’s consider each case individually.
DePaul: Rethinking this whole “let’s join the Big East” thing
Big East pace and efficiency rankings
Through games of February 9, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)
(This is entirely off-subject, but if anyone had told me five weeks ago that Seton Hall would be performing at the exact same levels on both sides of the ball in-conference as Notre Dame, I would have said, “Sheeyah, and I suppose Georgetown will be 4-7.”)
Note that DePaul plays basically the same level of offense as three other struggling Big East teams. The real problem for the Blue Demons, however, is defense. It was just two short years ago that, led by Wilson Chandler and Marcus Heard, this team actually played very good (if little noticed) D. Those days are long gone. DePaul allowed Big East opponents to score 1.12 points per trip last year and, as seen above, things have stayed essentially the same on that front in 2009.
So while it would be tempting to predict that the Blue Demons will win their game at home tonight against Seton Hall, the Pirates’ slightly above-average offense doesn’t bode well for DePaul fans. Note that SHU has already won road games at St. John’s and Rutgers. And the Blue Demons have already lost at home to South Florida, a team playing at a similar level to the Hall.
Assuming a loss tonight, the date for the Demons to circle here is the February 28 game at home against St. John’s. It’s almost certain to be their last best hope.
DePaul’s chances of going O-fer: Fair.
Georgia: Embracing the stereotype of non-Kentucky SEC hoops ennui
With an OK defense but an extraordinarily impotent offense, the Bulldogs are bizarro DePaul. On January 29 head coach Dennis Felton was relieved of his duties and Pete Herrmann took over on an interim basis. Two days later the Dawgs just missed getting off the proverbial schneid, losing by five at Alabama.
With that opportunity gone, Georgia is done no favors by the imbalance of power in the SEC. The league as a whole may be “down,” but the Bulldogs nevertheless find themselves trapped in the cellar of a six-team SEC East that could quite possibly send four teams to the NCAA tournament. The fifth-best team, Vanderbilt, may not remind anyone of UNLV 1991, but the Commodores are at least respectable and, as it happens, improving rapidly on offense. Even in their previous bad-offense incarnation, the ‘Dores beat UGA by ten in Nashville on January 14. The return date in Athens will be played February 25.
By contrast the easy pickings for Georgia (oxymoron noted, speaking relatively) would figure to be in the West but, alas, the Dawgs get but one bite at each of those apples. And as luck would have it, their game against the SEC’s 11th-best team, Arkansas, will be an away game, to be played in Fayetteville on March 1. (Hey, that’s shaping up to be a big weekend.)
Georgia’s chances of going O-fer: Good.
Oregon: What happened?
Pace PPP PPP EM
1. UCLA 63.4 1.16 0.99 +0.17
2. Arizona St. 58.4 1.09 1.00 +0.09
3. Washington 70.2 1.12 1.03 +0.09
4. Cal 64.4 1.08 1.04 +0.04
5. USC 63.0 1.02 0.99 +0.03
6. Arizona 63.3 1.05 1.05 0.00
7. Stanford 66.3 1.03 1.08 -0.05
8. Washington St. 57.0 0.99 1.04 -0.05
9. Oregon St. 56.8 0.94 1.08 -0.14
10. Oregon 64.7 0.97 1.17 -0.20
Note the DePaul-like appearance here, a relatively weak offense matched with an incredibly permissive D.
The Ducks’ prognosis is simple: they’ll have a three-game home-stand between February 19 and March 1, featuring games against Stanford, Cal, and Oregon State. If the Ducks win a game or even two, this home-stand will be where it happens. As both the in-state rival and the league’s ninth-best team, the Beavers in particular loom large. While much improved from last year (and even that’s putting it mildly), Craig Robinson’s team is notably benign on offense, making them the perfect opponent for this Duck defense. That should be a big game.
Oregon’s chances of going O-fer: Poor.
BONUS staving-off-the-bagel note! Behold Air Force, 0-9 in the Mountain West and displaying an efficiency margin in league play (-0.31) akin to what Oregon State laid down last year (-0.30). The Falcons are downright Georgian in their struggles to score. Their best chance to evade history’s cruel grip will come on consecutive Saturdays, February 21 and 28, when the nine-team MWC sends its eighth- and seventh-best teams, Colorado State and Wyoming, to pay visits to Colorado Springs.