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December 1, 2009, 12:10 PM ET
Big Ten thankful for “degree of DeChellis”

by John Gasaway

I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that the most sublime and savory use of Twitter imaginable relates to college hoops, specifically the ability to get quotes from sideline huddles in real time. For instance the other day at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Bob Huggins was yelling at his West Virginia team (it’s true!) for free-lancing on D: “We don’t switch! We never talked about switching!” Thanks to the ever vigilant Gary Parrish we had that knowledge before the ball had even been whistled back into play.

So I can only assume that the relative lack of working press in Charlottesville last night accounts for the fact that I didn’t get a tweet spelling out what Ed DeChellis must have told his Penn State team last night late in the Nittany Lions’ victory over Virginia. I just know in my bones it went down like this:

Alright, men. Here’s the thing. I know we’re up by 12 and there’s only three minutes left, but I want you to make this close down the stretch, OK? You see there’s this guy at Basketball Prospectus who’s convinced I’m some sort of wiz in close games because we always win them. But he won’t write about any of this if we don’t let Virginia back in the game. Let’s see if we can get this final margin down to about three, got it?  

Sure enough, Penn State beat the Cavaliers 69-66 in Charlottesville last night to give the Nittany Lions’ league a precious and rare 1-0 lead in this year’s installment of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Talor Battle came very close to outscoring eight other PSU players combined, recording 32 points by making 5-of-9 threes and getting to the line 13 times. It turned out his team needed every one of those five threes.

I realize the name “DeChellis” rarely pops up in conversations centered on coaches who give their teams a decided schematic advantage in the closing minutes, but that may have to change pretty quickly here. For one thing I think DeChellis looks a lot like Norman Dale. ‘Nuff said.

OK, one more point. DeChellis is virtually unrivalled in the field of achieving wins in spite of a silly and extraneous factor like how well your team scores points and prevents scoring. Behold:

Exceeding expectations to an extreme degree 
Largest differences between per-possession performance and W-L
Conference games only: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC, 2006-09

                      Mean   Actual
Penn St., 2008        3-15    7-11
Oregon St., 2009      3-15    7-11
Kentucky, 2008         8-8    12-4
Texas Tech, 2008      4-12     7-9
Villanova, 2006       11-5    14-2
Georgia, 2009         0-16    3-13
Missouri, 2006        2-14    5-11
Alabama, 2007         4-12     7-9
St. John’s, 2007      4-12     7-9  
Penn St., 2009        7-11    10-8
Penn St., 2006        4-12    6-10

Translate “Mean” as: “Based on 292 conference seasons played by 73 teams over the course of four years, teams that are outscored by 0.14 points per trip, as Penn State was in Big Ten play in 2008, will typically finish 3-15.” So the Nittany Lions in 2008 and last year’s Oregon State team finished in a virtual dead heat for the title of Most Fortunate Major-Conference Team Ever. (Where “Ever” means since 2006. I noted the Beavers’ remarkably fortuitous season last February and as a result I subsequently received a flurry of unabashedly gleeful ”Can you believe this?” emails, tweets, and texts in the preseason when Doug Gottlieb picked the Beavers to finish third in the Pac-10 this year. Hey, the way the Pac-10 is looking Gottlieb may just turn out to be a regular Nate Silver, with OSU functioning as his 2008 Tampa Bay Rays and Obama candidacy combined. Stay tuned.)

Clearly you don’t want to get in a close game if you’re playing against DeChellis. Only thing: Don’t call it luck. I now prefer the more precise term “degree of DeChellis,” which, I suppose, comprises my own modest stab at coming up with something as succinct and accurate as UHB 

The Nittany Lions’ victory last night underscored the quotidian and cumulative nature of this here Challenge. You might be interested only in tonight’s game between Michigan State and North Carolina, but the conference that wins this thing will have to win games like Penn State vs. Virginia, or Virginia Tech vs. Iowa. Absent a PSU win last night, the Big Ten right now would be staring at having to win six of ten games tonight and tomorrow, which, how to put this nicely, would have been difficult. As it is, the occurrence of something unprecedented and world-shaping (i.e., the Big Ten winning an ACC-Big Ten Challenge) has to be entertained as a live possibility for at least one more day.  

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