Tuesday Truths: Cold-Weather Edition

Welcome to Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 127 teams in the nation’s top 11 conferences are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis. For a tidy little homily on why this stuff is so very awesome, go here.

Say this for the NFL, the whole idea of playing the Super Bowl in a northern clime has created an entirely new and suspenseful topic of discussion. As it happens your intrepid possession-tracker is in the greater New York City area at the moment (yellow-jacketed Super Bowl greeters at the Newark Airport was a nice touch), and if the weather’s like this in five days the Broncos and Seahawks will be cold. I am.

American: How the other half lives
Through games of January 27, 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.  Louisville        6-1   70.4    1.14    0.89    +0.25
2.  Cincinnati        8-0   64.1    1.06    0.90    +0.16
3.  Memphis           5-2   69.5    1.08    0.98    +0.10
4.  SMU               5-2   65.7    1.02    0.92    +0.10
5.  Connecticut       4-3   66.6    1.16    1.06    +0.10
6.  Houston           3-4   67.6    0.97    1.04    -0.07
7.  Rutgers           2-5   69.7    0.95    1.07    -0.12
8.  Temple            0-7   68.7    1.01    1.14    -0.13
9.  UCF               1-5   67.6    0.93    1.14    -0.21
10. S. Florida        1-6   67.6    0.90    1.12    -0.22

AVG.                        67.8    1.02

The difference in performance between Nos. 5 and 6 — Connecticut and Houston — in American play is a yawning gulf that separates the league’s top and bottom halves. As a result, the conference merits your particular interest whenever teams from within that top five actually, you know, play each other. In that spirit, here’s an American Top-Five Alert: Cincinnati plays at Louisville Thursday night. 

Note additionally that at some point in the not too distant future we may actually have to start talking about SMU, possibly the best Division I program in one of our nation’s more capacious states. The Mustangs have played their way comfortably into the American’s top half along with the expected teams: Memphis, the Huskies, the Bearcats, and of course the ACC-bound Cardinals. I tell you that SMU coach is an up-and-comer! I like the cut of his jib. Remember that guy’s name.

A note on staff population explosions. The official SMU roster page lists 14 players and no fewer than 17 “Coaches and Support Staff.” That’s 1.21 adults to help each and every young person put the ball into the hoop, and this isn’t Duke or Kentucky we’re talking about, either. Up-and-coming SMU head coach, I salute you! Truly, sir, you preside over a fiefdom worthy in its bureaucratic sprawl of a British subaltern in Mawlamyine in 1922.

BREAKING NEWS on the (patent pending) ACC Vortex of the Underrated 

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Virginia          6-1   63.5    1.12    0.87    +0.25
2.  Duke              6-2   62.9    1.20    0.99    +0.21
3.  Syracuse          6-0   54.2    1.14    0.94    +0.20
4.  Pitt              6-2   64.8    1.14    1.00    +0.14
5.  Florida St.       4-3   61.7    1.05    1.04    +0.01
6.  North Carolina    2-4   65.5    1.00    1.02    -0.02
7.  Notre Dame        2-5   65.2    1.06    1.11    -0.05
8.  Maryland          3-4   69.2    1.02    1.07    -0.05
9.  Wake Forest       4-3   64.4    1.02    1.08    -0.06
10. Miami             2-5   56.2    0.93    1.01    -0.08
11. Clemson           4-3   58.2    0.97    1.06    -0.09
12. Boston College    1-5   61.5    1.06    1.16    -0.10
13. Georgia Tech      2-5   64.0    1.00    1.10    -0.10
14. NC State          3-4   66.3    0.97    1.10    -0.13
15. Virginia Tech     1-6   60.3    0.95    1.09    -0.14

AVG.                        62.5    1.04

I introduced the concept of an ACC Vortex of the Underrated at Insider yesterday, and, by gar, this term is catching on like wildfire. And by that I mean I’m using it again today.

Start with Duke, a team with a beautiful borderline-Kansas-like offense and a D that had terrible outings against Notre Dame and Clemson but otherwise has been quite serviceable. Checking in at No. 17 in this week’s AP poll, the Blue Devils look somewhat underrated at the moment. Said moment surely won’t last long, however, if the structural essentials of this remorseless scoring machine (zero turnovers, tons o’ three-point attempts, tons o’ three-point makes) stay the same.

Next we have Pitt, which looked really bad in allowing Duke to make 13 of 25 threes last night but may yet turn out to be a pretty good team. Jamie Dixon chose to play a relatively undistinguished non-conference slate, and that combined with the Blue Devils’ perimeter exhibition will leave the Panthers out in the rankings/esteem cold (this linking device is gold!) a while longer. Don’t like it? Win some games. The numbers suggest you may be able to do just that.

Lastly there’s Virginia, still beautiful in Tuesday Truths after lo these many games. The Cavaliers are still unranked, but, in fairness to the pollsters, the only new information Tony Bennett’s team has supplied to us since last week when they were unranked was beating North Carolina and Virginia Tech in a pair of home games. With all due respect to the Heels and Hokies, that’s not currently the behavior that makes pollsters sit up and rank you alongside Arizona. Fortunately for fans in Charlottesville, their Hoos will get a somewhat decent chance to amaze and shock this week with road games at Notre Dame and Pitt.

Weekly Syracuse tempo tracker: Still slow. Oddly.

Big 12: Is Kansas a few turnovers away from having the greatest offense ever?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kansas            6-0   69.5    1.20    1.03    +0.17
2.  Oklahoma St.      4-3   72.1    1.09    1.02    +0.07
3.  Texas             5-2   70.9    1.07    1.02    +0.05
4.  Oklahoma          6-2   70.9    1.11    1.06    +0.05
5.  Kansas St.        4-3   65.6    1.06    1.03    +0.03
6.  Iowa St.          3-3   74.2    1.05    1.03    +0.02
7.  Texas Tech        2-5   62.1    1.13    1.16    -0.03
8.  West Virginia     3-4   66.6    1.10    1.15    -0.05
9.  Baylor            1-5   67.3    1.05    1.11    -0.06
10. TCU               0-7   65.4    0.91    1.17    -0.26

AVG.                        68.5    1.08

Scoring 1.20 points per possession in conference play is a feat in its own right, but what’s really amazing about Kansas is that the Jayhawks have done it while giving the ball away on 21.6 percent of their possessions. That’s the worst turnover rate in the Big 12 by far. Texas Tech claims the second-worst TO rate and the Red Raiders cough the ball up 19.2 percent of the time in league play. The Big 12 average is just 17.1.

So I say ignore the lofty standard set by the Oklahoma State offense (13.7 percent), and set up that Big 12 average as KU’s goal. If Bill Self’s team had merely committed a turnover 17.1 percent of the time instead of 21.6, you’re looking at an offense that would have scored a truly ridiculous 1.27 points per trip in six conference games.

Of course, even with the ugly turnover rate Kansas is a perfect 6-0 in the Big 12. Maybe this is all nitpicking. Still, future opponents — during the conference season or in the NCAA tournament — may not be so accommodating as to allow the Jayhawks to continue to win games while donating the ball on better than one in every five possessions. Keep an eye on the turnovers.

Big East: If St. John’s started to be good on offense would anyone notice?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Creighton         7-1   65.9    1.23    1.02    +0.21
2.  Villanova         7-1   66.2    1.17    1.04    +0.13
3.  Xavier            5-2   68.7    1.16    1.09    +0.07
4.  Providence        5-2   63.4    1.10    1.06    +0.04
5.  Seton Hall        3-4   66.0    1.06    1.07    -0.01
6.  St. John's        2-5   66.5    1.02    1.06    -0.04
7.  Marquette         3-4   64.7    1.01    1.07    -0.06
8.  Georgetown        3-6   65.0    0.96    1.03    -0.07
9.  Butler            1-7   63.5    0.98    1.10    -0.12
10. DePaul            2-6   67.8    0.99    1.14    -0.15

AVG.                        65.8    1.07

For a while now the book on St. John’s has been to shake one’s head sorrowfully at the weak offense and, more specifically, at the long two-point jumpers that have been so pervasive at the Garden of late. That book was a trusty guide to the Red Storm soul right up until mid-January, when something dramatic happened. I have it on deep background that a players-only meeting was held, and an emotional D’Angelo Harrison addressed his gathered teammates as follows:

HARRISON (clears throat at podium): Let’s play DePaul.

Problem solved. Over the last four games Steve Lavin’s men have hit 52 percent of their twos, which is important because at SJU twos are pretty much the only kind of shot that happens. Tonight this sassy new-look St. John’s has a golden opportunity to amaze and shock as the team journeys to frigid Omaha to play Creighton.

Big Ten: Consistency thy name is Michigan offense. Or Stauskas. One of those.

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Iowa              5-2   70.2    1.12    0.96    +0.16
2.  Michigan St.      7-1   64.5    1.11    0.96    +0.15
3.  Michigan          7-0   62.4    1.19    1.05    +0.14
4.  Wisconsin         4-3   64.9    1.16    1.06    +0.10
5.  Ohio St.          3-4   67.1    1.01    0.97    +0.04
6.  Minnesota         4-4   65.2    1.09    1.12    -0.03
7.  Purdue            3-4   65.2    0.99    1.02    -0.03
8.  Indiana           3-4   66.2    0.97    1.01    -0.04
9.  Illinois          2-6   65.1    0.93    1.01    -0.08
10. Nebraska          2-5   66.3    0.97    1.06    -0.09
11. Penn St.          1-6   66.5    0.96    1.07    -0.11
12. Northwestern      3-5   61.1    0.84    1.04    -0.20

AVG.                        65.4    1.03

The last time we saw Michigan look normal, the year was 2014. Gas cost $3.46 a gallon, readers greeted each new edition of Tuesday Truths with an awed hush, and a shivering nation wondered about the looming prospect of a Super Bowl played in a northern clime. Lastly, on January 2 of that year, the Wolverines scored a shockingly pedestrian 64 points in their 61-possession win at Minnesota.

Since that long ago epoch, John Beilein’s team has not failed to record at least 1.13 points per in any game. Over this six-game non-pedestrian span UM has made 60 percent of its twos and 40 percent of its threes. (I think there’s a t-shirt design waiting to happen there.) For Nik Stauskas personally, those six-game numbers are 60 and 46 percent respectively, and in that stretch he’s taken 25 percent of the shots that occur in this offense during his minutes. Well, I can certainly see why the Wooden committee wants nothing to do with this guy.

Pac-12: Can Washington State make history? (continued)

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Arizona           7-0   65.0    1.12    0.87    +0.25
2.  UCLA              5-2   73.3    1.12    0.96    +0.16
3.  Cal               5-2   70.0    1.11    1.00    +0.11
4.  Stanford          4-3   67.4    1.10    1.06    +0.04
5.  Utah              3-5   64.6    1.03    1.00    +0.03
6.  Oregon St.        3-4   66.6    1.11    1.11     0.00
7.  Colorado          4-4   66.7    1.02    1.03    -0.01
8.  Washington        5-3   67.0    1.04    1.05    -0.01
9.  Oregon            2-5   70.9    1.08    1.09    -0.01
10. Arizona St.       4-3   72.1    0.99    1.01    -0.02
11. USC               1-6   70.3    0.92    1.15    -0.23
12. Washington St.    1-7   59.6    0.81    1.11    -0.30

AVG.                        67.8    1.04

As seen here, the Cougars are very bad on offense. But can Washington State parlay this badness into something more lasting and historic? Here are the benchmarks for major-conference futility (what I like to call The Sub-0.90 Club) in the Tuesday Truths era:

Major-conference games only

                        PPP
USC               2012  0.82
Texas Tech        2012  0.84
TCU               2013  0.86
Utah              2012  0.86
LSU               2011  0.87
Oregon State      2008  0.87
Boston College    2012  0.88
Wake Forest       2011  0.88
Georgia           2009  0.88
Rutgers           2008  0.88
Texas Tech        2013  0.89

Your performance to date is record-setting, Cougs. Good luck escaping ignominy. Having seen the last of Arizona should help you there.

Weekly PANT update. Performance Against Normal Teams continues to be a trend-setting metric that has the Pac-12 hoops world buzzing.

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Arizona           5-0   67.6    1.11    0.94    +0.17
2.  UCLA              4-2   72.0    1.08    0.97    +0.11

The Bruins have had success on defense by flouting the conventional wisdom that says you shouldn’t let opponents attempt threes. In fact teams playing UCLA have shot a bunch of threes, but those shots haven’t gone in.

An SEC duopoly. Again.

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Florida           6-0   63.1    1.12    0.92    +0.20
2.  Kentucky          5-1   66.7    1.13    0.94    +0.19
3.  Ole Miss          5-1   69.7    1.04    0.94    +0.10
4.  Missouri          3-3   65.2    1.08    1.04    +0.04
5.  Tennessee         3-3   64.2    1.01    1.01     0.00
6.  LSU               3-3   68.2    1.04    1.04     0.00
7.  Georgia           4-2   65.1    0.99    1.01    -0.02
8.  Arkansas          2-4   70.2    0.99    1.01    -0.02
9.  Alabama           3-3   63.8    1.04    1.06    -0.02
10. Texas A&M         3-3   64.0    0.97    1.00    -0.03
11. Vanderbilt        2-4   63.2    1.00    1.09    -0.09
12. Mississippi St.   3-3   69.8    1.00    1.09    -0.09
13. Auburn            0-6   68.8    0.97    1.09    -0.12
14. South Carolina    0-6   70.9    0.98    1.11    -0.13

AVG.                        66.6    1.02

Florida and Kentucky rank No. 1 and 2 in SEC play on both offense (UK is No. 1) and D (the Gators). As seen here, the weak link in this four-unit chain of hegemony is the Wildcat defense — about as good as that of Ole Miss — but you get the idea. It may turn out to be the case that this league is once again all about Gainesville and Lexington and not much else.

Bracket projections are currently showing Missouri and Tennessee down around the 11 and 12 lines, and, as it happens, the Tigers and Volunteers end their regular seasons with a meeting in Knoxville. That contest could be touted as an elimination game if the contestants continue to allow about as many points as they score.

And in that same par-for-the-course vein, a “What happened to LSU?” note could be in order at some point if the Tigers continue to hover around 0.00. That’s actually not all that different from what we saw in Baton Rouge last year.

The A-10 could use a PANT of its own

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  UMass             4-1   68.3    1.09    0.96    +0.13
2.  Saint Louis       5-0   67.7    1.00    0.88    +0.12
3.  VCU               4-1   71.4    1.05    0.94    +0.11
4.  GW                4-1   68.4    1.08    0.99    +0.09
5.  Richmond          4-1   64.5    1.07    1.03    +0.04
6.  St. Bonaventure   2-4   68.7    1.04    1.02    +0.02
7.  La Salle          3-2   66.8    1.03    1.01    +0.02
8.  Saint Joseph's    3-2   66.8    1.06    1.06     0.00
9.  Rhode Island      2-4   64.5    0.99    1.03    -0.04
10. George Mason      0-6   68.3    1.03    1.11    -0.08
11. Dayton            1-4   66.5    1.04    1.13    -0.09
12. Duquesne          2-4   70.2    1.04    1.13    -0.09
13. Fordham           1-5   67.5    0.97    1.15    -0.18

AVG.                        67.8    1.03

Performance Against Normal Teams might be a good metric to deploy in the A-10 in addition to the Pac-12. Take out UMass’s pitiless 90-52 stomping of Fordham this weekend, for example, and the Minutemen’s per-possession margin drops to a mere +0.03.

When I become A-10 commissioner, my First 100 Minutes agenda will be twofold: 1) 18 games (duh); and 2) Get my top four Tuesday Truths teams to play each other on occasion. Thus far there’s been just one such game, GW’s 76-66 win over VCU in DC a couple weeks ago. Until the A-10′s heavies bump into each other a few more times — and we’re looking at another two weeks before they do — we won’t know much about these teams.

Missouri Valley: Possibly the last non-Wichita State note of the season 

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita St.       8-0   62.5    1.13    0.89    +0.24
2.  Indiana St.       7-1   63.8    1.08    0.98    +0.10
3.  N. Iowa           4-4   63.2    1.17    1.07    +0.10
4.  Loyola            3-5   62.6    1.05    1.03    +0.02
5.  Illinois St.      4-4   65.1    0.96    0.98    -0.02
6.  Drake             2-6   63.9    1.04    1.11    -0.07
7.  Missouri St.      4-4   63.6    1.04    1.13    -0.09
8.  Bradley           3-5   60.7    0.99    1.09    -0.10
9.  S. Illinois       2-6   60.3    1.04    1.14    -0.10
10. Evansville        3-5   63.8    0.99    1.11    -0.12

AVG.                        63.0    1.05

Loyola is a very strange team, one that demonstrates just how irrelevant shooting from the field really can be. The Ramblers are hitting 56 percent of their twos in Valley play, which makes Porter Moser’s team more accurate inside the arc with respect to its league than Arizona or Syracuse are with respect to theirs. Loyola also plays good (though not Wichita State-good) field goal defense, giving the Ramblers the best effective FG percentage disparity in the conference.

When your shots go in and the opponent’s do not, that should work out in your favor. However a huge deficit in turnovers and the fact that Moser’s men are pummeled on the boards at both ends of the floor has largely negated all those makes and misses. We’ve long known there’s more to this game than shooting, but Loyola is taking this truism to hitherto unexplored extremes.

Weekly Valley tempo and style tracker: Still faster and imbued with more sheer per-possession offensive firepower than the ACC. Oddly.

Mountain West: San Diego State separates itself

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  San Diego St.     7-0   64.9    1.08    0.93    +0.15
2.  New Mexico        6-1   66.4    1.13    1.06    +0.07
3.  Boise St.         4-3   65.3    1.10    1.05    +0.05
4.  Nevada            5-2   61.0    1.07    1.02    +0.05
5.  Wyoming           4-2   57.7    1.04    1.00    +0.04
6.  UNLV              4-3   64.8    1.04    1.00    +0.04
7.  Colorado St.      3-4   63.8    1.04    1.04     0.00
8.  Air Force         3-4   65.2    1.07    1.08    -0.01
9.  Utah St.          2-5   61.0    1.05    1.07    -0.02
10. Fresno St.        1-7   65.8    1.03    1.14    -0.11
11. San Jose St.      0-8   64.4    0.91    1.12    -0.21

AVG.                        63.7    1.05

The Aztecs have put a little more Tuesday Truths breathing room between themselves and the rest of the league since last week, and any time you do that with two road wins (even if one of them’s against San Jose State) it’s impressive. And while I’m not yet ready to put SDSU in my national top five as the good pollsters at the AP have done, it’s clear beyond any doubt that Steve Fisher knows how to shut down opposing offenses and that Xavier Thames is one of the best players in the country.

Get used to SDSU looking this good. Between here and next week’s Truths there is only a home game against Colorado State to be played.

West Coast: Gonzaga separates itself

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga           8-1   64.8    1.15    0.94    +0.21
2.  Saint Mary's      6-2   64.8    1.16    1.07    +0.09
3.  BYU               5-4   70.4    1.16    1.08    +0.08
4.  San Francisco     6-3   64.3    1.09    1.09     0.00
5.  Portland          4-5   66.1    1.08    1.08     0.00
6.  Pepperdine        5-5   66.6    1.05    1.07    -0.02
7.  Santa Clara       3-6   65.5    1.04    1.11    -0.07
8.  Pacific           2-6   67.9    1.07    1.15    -0.08
9.  San Diego         3-6   61.8    1.03    1.11    -0.08
10. Loyola Marymount  3-7   69.2    1.02    1.12    -0.10

AVG.                        66.1    1.08

Speaking of the good men and women at the AP poll, they have Mark Few’s team perched just outside the top 25. That sounds about right. The Zags, per usual, are beating the stuffing out of kenpom’s No. 9-ranked conference, and Gary Bell has returned to action after a broken hand sidelined him for six games.

With Bell, Kevin Pangos, and Drew Barham, Few has three players who hit at least 45 percent of their threes while shooting at a moderate to high volume. And as a team the Bulldogs have actually shot better on their twos in WCC play (relative to the respective averages) than they have on their threes. Few’s men will most likely make it all the way to the NCAA tournament without triggering a whole lot of notice or discussion, and with their wins (Arkansas on a neutral floor, at West Virginia) and losses (Dayton on a neutral floor, Kansas State in Wichita, at Portland) that’s not a wholly unjust plight. Just know in advance that this group can score.