Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 26, 2009

UAB’s Moment

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:33 pm

Tonight Memphis travels to Birmingham and puts their 54-game Conference USA winning streak on the line at UAB (ESPN2, 9 Eastern). I know it may seem like year in year out the Blazers are always the second-best team in C-USA.

Well, they are:

Looking up at Memphis again 
Through games of February 25, 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    PPP      EM
1.  Memphis          65.8    1.15   0.87   +0.28
2.  UAB              66.3    1.09   0.97   +0.12
3.  Houston          71.1    1.08   1.00   +0.08
4.  Tulsa            65.0    1.04   0.97   +0.07
5.  UTEP             71.2    1.01   0.98   +0.03
6.  UCF              66.2    1.07   1.05   +0.02
7.  Tulane           65.6    0.99   1.02   -0.03
8.  Marshall         65.3    1.02   1.09   -0.07
9.  E. Carolina      64.5    1.09   1.18   -0.09
10. Rice             65.6    0.97   1.07   -0.10
11. Southern Miss    63.7    1.03   1.16   -0.13
12. SMU              65.3    0.91   1.05   -0.14 

True, Mike Davis‘ team has benefited statistically from playing three of its last four games against conference opponents with “Southern” in their names (Miss and Methodist). Still, this is pretty clearly the league’s best non-Memphis team. What’s more, the Blazers have made significant improvements in a key area since last year.

That key area is defense. This year UAB has performed the neat rather Purdue-flavored trick of creating more turnovers while slowing their pace. League opponents are coughing up the ball on almost 22 percent of their trips, even though the Blazers have brought their tempo down to 66 possessions per 40 minutes (it was 69 last year). At the same time opposing teams are having significantly less success on their threes. Perimeter D has gone from a weakness to a strength this year in Birmingham.  

All the while the offense has continued to hum at last year’s (pretty high) level. Robert Vaden still shoots an astounding number of threes, and though his results there this season have been just average (36 percent) he does present opposing defenses with the hoops-attention equivalent of a shiny object, one that has helped his teammates to do good works in their own right. Lawrence Kinnard may want to cut down on the threes, but at 6-8 he’s been a force for good inside the arc on offense. Even Kinnard, however, can’t compete with Paul Delaney in that department. The 6-2 senior has posted a two-point percentage this year that fairly screams typo: 65 percent. (And twos constitute the overwhelming majority of his shots.) With Vaden, Kinnard, and Delaney, Davis has a really nice big three.

Speaking of that number, watch the perimeter tonight. UAB is shooting fewer threes this year (you would too if you had a guard making 65 percent of his twos), but for the first time in recent memory Memphis opponents are actually achieving an average amount of success from out there. Who knows: some early threes, a little momentum, a rocking home crowd, and then the Tigers go back home a disgraceful 54-1 since March 2006? Stranger things have happened. 

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