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January 13, 2012, 12:46 PM ET
Tuesday Truths for a post-UConn world

by John Gasaway

Next week on a day that I trust I don’t need to specify here, the hardy perennial known as Tuesday Truths will roll out for its fifth season. Each week the Truths will track the per-possession performance of 157 teams in conference play.

The NCAA tournament selection committee and indeed most of the world at large evaluates college basketball teams based on their wins and losses. I look at wins and losses too — Syracuse is very good, Towson not so much — and once I’ve done that I like to delve in deeper still and look at possessions.

There’s a lot to recommend possessions analytically. For one thing there are many more of them than there are games. A Big East team will play about 1200 possessions in-conference. Think of it in TV terms: Tuesday Truths provides you with an HD image comprised of about 1200 lines, not just 18.

Another handy feature of possessions is that their outcomes are highly variable, much more so than the outcomes of games. In any given two-possession increment, maybe both teams will score two points, maybe one team will score three and the other zero, maybe neither team will score, etc. Basically there’s no telling what will happen. Conversely with a game we know in advance there will be one win and one loss recorded. That’s the nature of this thing called sports, of course, but for our more precise evaluative adjectives it’s nice to have an instrument that’s a tad less blunt. Tuesday Truths seeks to fill that need.

The Big East and Big Ten each have to get 18 games and a conference tournament in the books before Selection Sunday, so those two leagues have already logged enough action for us to take our first tentative peek.

Seeing some separation between No. 1 and the rest…. 
Through games of January 12, 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.  Syracuse         5-0     70.0    1.15     0.92   +0.23
2.  Seton Hall       4-1     67.3    1.04     0.94   +0.10
3.  Cincinnati       3-1     63.2    1.03     0.95   +0.08
4.  West Virginia    3-2     64.5    1.08     1.01   +0.07
5.  Marquette        2-2     71.0    1.06     1.01   +0.05
6.  Notre Dame       3-1     59.7    1.00     0.96   +0.04
7.  Rutgers          2-2     64.5    1.00     0.97   +0.03
8.  S. Florida       2-2     59.1    1.04     1.02   +0.02
9.  Connecticut      3-2     63.5    1.04     1.02   +0.02
10. Georgetown       3-2     63.7    1.00     1.00    0.00
11. St. John’s       2-3     69.6    0.97     1.04   -0.07
12. Louisville       1-3     65.3    0.95     1.03   -0.08
13. Providence       1-4     65.3    1.00     1.08   -0.08
14. Villanova        1-4     70.9    1.00     1.09   -0.09
15. Pitt             0-4     64.5    0.94     1.10   -0.16
16. DePaul           1-3     77.8    0.95     1.12   -0.17

Don’t get caught up in who’s in second or eighth or whatever. It’s January 13 and in-conference strengths of schedule played to date vary wildly. Just scoop up the low-hanging cognitive fruit: man, Pitt’s struggling. Gee, Syracuse is best in the league on both sides of the ball. Zounds, I know all coaches talk about playing an exciting up-tempo brand of ball, but this time Oliver Purnell actually meant it.

The Spartans are unbeatable away from aircraft carriers and Manhattan 

                     W-L     Pace    PPP    Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Michigan St.     4-0     64.6    1.15     0.90   +0.25
2.  Ohio St.         3-2     68.5    1.10     0.86   +0.24
3.  Michigan         4-1     59.5    1.08     0.94   +0.14
4.  Purdue           3-2     64.4    1.06     1.04   +0.02
5.  Illinois         4-1     64.3    1.00     0.98   +0.02
6.  Wisconsin        2-3     58.0    1.00     1.00    0.00
7.  Indiana          3-2     68.3    1.09     1.11   -0.02
8.  Minnesota        1-4     63.8    0.99     1.07   -0.08
9.  Penn St.         1-4     63.6    0.99     1.08   -0.09
10. Northwestern     1-3     61.6    0.95     1.05   -0.10
11. Iowa             2-3     68.4    0.94     1.10   -0.16
12. Nebraska         1-4     61.9    0.84     1.03   -0.19

For years people yelled at Michigan State for committing too many turnovers. This year the Spartans are giving the ball away on just 18 percent of their possessions in Big Ten play. Conclusion: yelling works. Doubtless Tom Izzo is yelling at his team for their strangely average defensive rebounding in conference play, but as seen here the D as a whole has hardly suffered as a result. At the opposite end of that spectrum Indiana’s been rather permissive on defense for a team that’s currently being projected as a No. 2 seed in March.

Last year Connecticut won the national championship after a desultory regular season in which they finished No. 10 in the Big East in per-possession terms. One might therefore infer that Georgetown is a shoo-in to win it all in New Orleans this year. Perhaps the more mediocre the Hoyas look in February, the better their chances will be in April. Or maybe last year was just strange. We’ll see.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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