Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 5, 2010

I like the Pac-10. There, I said it.

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:54 am

I realize that any mention of the Pac-10 in 2010 has to consist of a snarky roll of the eyes followed by outrage that this conference doesn’t contain 2009-variety North Carolina or even 2008-variety UCLA. Well, sue me. That’s not where I’m going.

Last night I watched the second half of Arizona at Washington, a game the Huskies won 81-75. Aside from easily the worst call in the history of carbon-based life forms it was a highly competitive contest between two well-coached athletic teams in front of a raucous capacity crowd in a venerable and aura-enhancing old barn of a venue. Quincy Pondexter is going to be wearing an officially licensed NBA-insignia ballcap soon (sooner, perhaps, than, say, Sherron Collins or Kyle Singler), and last night I watched him put the finishing touches on a 30-point outing. No, the Pac-10 isn’t going to produce this year’s national champion, but neither are any of 30 other conferences and no seems to be particularly outraged at them. 

In terms of postseason play USC has chosen to sit this one out, of course, but otherwise this year promises to be a nine-team fight for NCAA tournament life. I think that just might be fun to watch.

A pellucid and peerless parody of parity 
Conference games only, through February 4
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Arizona St.      6-4   65.3    1.05    0.96   +0.09
2.  Arizona          6-4   68.7    1.07    0.98   +0.09
3.  Cal              6-4   69.3    1.09    1.00   +0.09
4.  USC              5-5   61.4    0.97    0.92   +0.05
5.  Washington       5-5   71.8    1.04    1.02   +0.02
6.  UCLA             6-4   62.7    1.02    1.05   -0.03
7.  Stanford         4-6   66.5    1.02    1.08   -0.06
8.  Oregon St.       3-6   62.7    0.92    0.99   -0.07
9.  Washington St.   4-6   67.9    1.01    1.11   -0.10
10. Oregon           4-5   65.9    1.00    1.10   -0.10
 

Those pushy little weenies known as stats say that right now the Missouri Valley is even more egalitarian than what you see here. I say ignore stats. Just because every team in between Northern Iowa and Evansville has performed at a remarkably similar level in conference play doesn’t mean Northern Iowa and Evansville don’t exist. The Pac-10, by stark contrast, lacks a bully like the Panthers or a winless team like the Aces. On the left coast this year every road win is an Event.   

So I’ll be watching tomorrow night when Arizona State visits Seattle. The Sun Devils are having a better year than anyone could have anticipated from a team that just donated James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph to the NBA. As for U-Dub, yes, they’ve been hapless on the road. But say this for Lorenzo Romar‘s group: They’re outscoring Pac-10 opponents by 0.16 points per trip at Hec Ed, meaning as long as they stay within spitting distance of Union Bay they’re the functional equivalent of a Syracuse team that is fast becoming Duke-ishly over-covered. (I like Jim Boeheim, I’m happy for the Orangemen, and their defense is indeed incredible. But if I hear one more time about how “unselfish” the Big East’s sixth-best offense is, I’m going to be forced into extreme measures. “Unselfishness Must Die,” or some such, I don’t know. Just saying.)

Last year every mention of the SEC had to consist of a snarky roll of the eyes followed by outrage that the conference didn’t contain 2007-variety Florida. Well, it didn’t, and when no SEC teams made the Sweet 16 the verdict was settled. It was a down year. 

It was a down year, of course, but that didn’t prevent LSU from giving North Carolina far and away its toughest test on the Tar Heels’ march to the national championship. While opponents like Oklahoma, Villanova, and Michigan State were pushed aside by Carolina with little visible exertion, Trent Johnson‘s Tigers played UNC even for 31 minutes before tasting the inevitable.

This year the Pac-10 appears to be about where the SEC was last year. And while the Pac-10 may have to pin its NCAA hopes on just one team in 2010, that team’s chances will be a function of the seed and the bracket that the selection committee gives them, not their conference affiliation.       

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