Tuesday Truths: Promotional Synergies 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.

The labored ex post facto linking device of today’s Truths is the word “frozen,” referring both to the weather (greetings, weekly Severe Weather Alert email!) and to the smash-hit animated feature produced by my employer’s parent company. Synergy, bay-bee! And I’m not talking about scouting hoops or charting man versus zone.

American: Why the first-place team has a “5.” next to its name
Through games of February 10, 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        8-2   69.1    1.15    0.93    +0.22
2.  Connecticut       6-4   66.2    1.14    0.99    +0.15
3.  SMU               8-3   66.7    1.06    0.93    +0.13
4.  Memphis           7-3   70.1    1.10    0.99    +0.11
5.  Cincinnati       11-1   63.2    1.03    0.93    +0.10
6.  Rutgers           4-7   70.6    1.01    1.10    -0.09
7.  Houston           4-7   68.2    0.96    1.09    -0.13
8.  Temple            1-9   68.0    1.03    1.17    -0.14
9.  S. Florida        3-8   65.8    0.95    1.10    -0.15
10. UCF               1-9   66.1    0.95    1.15    -0.20

AVG.                        67.4    1.04

To this point in the season the Louisville and Connecticut offenses have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the league. Meanwhile on D, the Cards, Cincinnati and SMU collectively represent the state of the art. 

The Bearcats are every bit as good on defense as your eyes are telling you, but on offense Mick Cronin’s team has scored points at a rate that falls a hair below the league average. Note however that a statistically mediocre offense has not prevented Sean Kilpatrick and company from going a highly commendable 7-0 in American games decided by single digits — clutcher than clutch. These guys have made even Michael Snaer-era Florida State look like a bunch of scaredy-cat chokers.

Pro bono promotional synergies for SMU. The Mustangs are now ranked for the first time since 1985, which was the year “Back to the Future” was released. In that movie Marty McFly travels back in time to see his parents in high school in the year 1955. Coincidentally, the same amount of time, more or less, has now elapsed between 1985 and today.

I see a tie-in: Larry Brown as Doc, Nic Moore as Marty, and a DeLorean streaking across the floor at Moody Coliseum. I can just picture it: Brown and Moore traveling back to 1985, a strange and long since eclipsed epoch filled with working pay phones, stone-washed jeans, and the RPI. It’s gold.

ACC: Can a defense be as bad as BC’s without bad luck?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Virginia         11-1   61.6    1.10    0.88    +0.22
2.  Duke              8-3   62.4    1.25    1.04    +0.21
3.  Syracuse         10-0   55.4    1.15    0.98    +0.17
4.  Pitt              8-3   61.3    1.09    0.98    +0.11
5.  North Carolina    6-4   67.9    1.03    0.97    +0.06
6.  Florida St.       5-7   62.3    1.05    1.05     0.00
7.  Maryland          6-6   67.4    1.05    1.06    -0.01
8.  Miami             3-8   57.0    0.99    1.04    -0.05
9.  Notre Dame        3-8   63.1    1.04    1.11    -0.07
10. Boston College    2-8   61.1    1.09    1.17    -0.08
11. Clemson           6-4   57.2    0.94    1.01    -0.07
12. Wake Forest       4-6   65.2    1.00    1.10    -0.10
13. Georgia Tech      3-8   64.3    0.96    1.06    -0.10
14. NC State          5-5   66.2    0.98    1.09    -0.11
15. Virginia Tech    1-10   59.8    0.92    1.11    -0.19

AVG.                        62.2    1.04

Boston College is allowing conference opponents to score 1.17 points per trip, and to put that astonishing figure into context it means every opponent, on average, is magically transformed into being slightly better than Syracuse on offense for a game. Also keep in mind that Steve Donahue’s team has actually caught something of a scheduling break to this point, having already played two games against notably weak-on-offense Virginia Tech. Yet there’s that number again: 1.17. This figure is so bad it simply must reflect a toxic brew of true incompetence and horrendously bad luck, right?

Right. Notre Dame’s ACC opponents have actually been a tad more accurate in the paint (50.6 percent) than have BC’s (50.1), but 39 percent three-point shooting by teams facing the Eagles has put the final nail in this defensive coffin. Well, that and the fact that those teams never commit turnovers. Curse BC’s lack of defensive effort if you wish, but also remember that it’s very difficult for a D to be this bad without a little wrath from the hoops gods.

Weekly Syracuse tempo tracker: Still slow, clocking in at No. 127 out of the teams tracked here. Even making due allowance for various Wisconsin teams of the recent past, off the top of my head this is probably the best convergence of “beastly” and “slow” I’ve seen in a while.

Weekly “We will all toil in Virginia’s underground sugar caves” tracker. The Cavaliers are hanging on to first place in the Truths by the slimmest of margins, but of course the larger point is that the Hoos and Duke are vying for that top spot at a very high and borderline Florida level of performance. If every team in Division I played every other team home and away, it’s possible that Tony Bennett’s team would ascend by its own merits into the top 10 in the AP poll. Instead we’ll only be playing another seven weeks or so of hoops, and at the moment UVA’s being projected as a No. 4 seed. Believe me, Cavalier fans will take that. It beats last year.

Big 12: Behold a seven-team middle class

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kansas            9-2   69.7    1.16    1.03    +0.13
2.  Kansas St.        7-4   66.1    1.07    1.02    +0.05
3.  Oklahoma          7-4   71.2    1.11    1.07    +0.04
4.  Texas             7-3   69.0    1.06    1.02    +0.04
5.  Oklahoma St.      4-6   69.3    1.08    1.05    +0.03
6.  West Virginia     7-5   68.9    1.10    1.10     0.00
7.  Iowa St.          6-5   73.0    1.07    1.08    -0.01
8.  Texas Tech        4-6   61.5    1.10    1.11    -0.01
9.  Baylor            2-8   66.5    1.03    1.12    -0.09
10. TCU              0-10   64.9    0.91    1.14    -0.23

AVG.                        68.0    1.07

To this point in the season the Big 12′s been pretty to be easy to describe. There’s Kansas being Kansas, then seven other teams in one big lump, Baylor being pretty Baylor, and TCU being very very TCU. (The most statistically extreme behavior in conference play has been the Horned Frogs’ utter helplessness on the defensive glass. Truly when it comes to defensive boards TCU’s theme song is “Let It Go.” Har!)

(Synergy.)

In case you’re wondering, Iowa State carried a somewhat more respectable +0.03 efficiency margin into last night’s surprisingly emphatic 102-77 loss at West Virginia.  Before the ambush in Morgantown the AP’s pollsters saw this as the nation’s 11th-best team, but that might be a little generous for a group that’s virtually defined “average” on both sides of the ball in Big 12 play.

Pro bono promotional synergies for Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. Forget which conference is “the best in the country,” I hereby name the Big 12 our nation’s most entertaining league. Where else can you find rampant parity, a brisk pace, and a rather surprising lack of strong defenses? If you like scoring, this is the conference for you.

A weekly feature: [Previously forlorn Big East team] looking strangely good

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Creighton         9-2   65.9    1.18    1.01    +0.17
2.  Villanova         9-1   65.9    1.17    1.01    +0.16
3.  Xavier            6-4   66.7    1.11    1.09    +0.02
4.  St. John's        3-6   66.9    1.04    1.03    +0.01
5.  Georgetown        6-6   64.6    1.02    1.03    -0.01
6.  Providence        6-6   64.2    1.06    1.08    -0.02
7.  Seton Hall        4-6   64.9    1.03    1.06    -0.03
8.  Marquette         5-5   65.4    0.99    1.03    -0.04
9.  Butler            2-9   63.5    0.99    1.08    -0.09
10. DePaul            2-9   67.1    0.99    1.14    -0.15

AVG.                        65.5    1.06

In non-Villanova-Creighton news, St. John’s has won five of its last six games, the only loss being a three-point setback in Omaha. Over that six-game stretch Steve Lavin’s men have outscored their Big East opponents by 0.11 points per possession, thanks in large part to an enormous Virginia-style advantage in turnovers.

And if you’re still tracking Chris Obekpa’s eBlk% (and by gosh who isn’t?), that number now stands at 8.8. Translated into actual words, this figure suggests the young man is blocking as many shots as ever on a per-possession basis but saw his minutes dip significantly in late December and throughout much of January. Obekpa’s been logging more playing time over the past four games, however. Stay tuned.

In this same non-Villanova-Creighton spirit, I see that Georgetown has stolen a page from the St. John’s playbook and is looking  oddly respectable of late. Curious behavior from a group left for dead after Josh Smith’s annual unplanned departure. (Not to mention a team that just last month didn’t exactly have Hoya fans tingling with glee.) In addition to that win over short-handed Michigan State at Madison Square Garden 10 days ago, John Thompson’s group has scored 1.19 points per trip during this current 3-0 stretch in Big East play. I haven’t closed the book on you yet, Hoyas.

Big Ten: Home to a brilliant young defensive wizard of a coach

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Michigan St.      9-2   64.3    1.09    0.97    +0.12
2.  Iowa              7-4   68.5    1.12    1.00    +0.12
3.  Michigan          9-2   62.2    1.16    1.06    +0.10
4.  Wisconsin         6-5   64.0    1.10    1.03    +0.07
5.  Ohio St.          6-5   64.5    1.04    0.98    +0.06
6.  Minnesota         5-6   63.0    1.07    1.08    -0.01
7.  Indiana           4-6   64.2    0.98    1.00    -0.02
8.  Purdue            4-7   64.1    0.98    1.04    -0.06
9.  Penn St.          3-8   66.0    0.99    1.07    -0.08
10. Illinois          3-8   64.5    0.96    1.05    -0.09
11. Nebraska          4-6   64.8    0.94    1.04    -0.10
12. Northwestern      5-6   61.1    0.86    1.00    -0.14

AVG.                        64.3    1.02

I’m speaking of course of Tim Miles at Nebraska. (Who’d you think I was talking about?) The Huskers’ head coach has managed to decouple an annoying little performance feature like “opponents never miss” from that somewhat important thing known as defense.

The striking aspect about the Huskers this season has been that if an opponent launches a shot from the field, it’s going to go in. The Big Ten is hitting 52 percent of its twos and 37 percent of its threes against these guys. Nebraska has the worst field-goal defense in the league and it’s not even close. In fact, here’s a shield-your-eyes comparison. The Big Ten’s been more accurate from the field against the Huskers than the ACC’s been against Boston College. Ouch!

But the overall defense in Lincoln actually hasn’t been as bad as one would expect. It’s not great, of course, but Michigan, to take one example, will have to up its game slightly to have a D this good. Nebraska has parlayed the Big Ten’s best defensive rebounding percentage (76.1) and a fair number of opponent turnovers into a defense that’s arguably better than it “should” be. Devilish decoupling defensive dauphin from the Dakotas Tim Miles, I salute you!

Pac-12: A theory of injuries

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Arizona          10-1   64.6    1.08    0.89    +0.19
2.  UCLA              7-3   72.3    1.10    0.97    +0.13
3.  Stanford          6-4   67.6    1.08    1.03    +0.05
4.  Utah              5-6   64.9    1.06    1.01    +0.05
5.  Cal               6-4   69.8    1.06    1.02    +0.04
6.  Arizona St.       7-4   71.9    1.02    0.99    +0.03
7.  Colorado          7-4   66.3    1.04    1.03    +0.01
8.  Oregon            3-8   70.2    1.06    1.06     0.00
9.  Oregon St.        5-6   67.9    1.06    1.09    -0.03
10. Washington        5-6   67.5    1.02    1.09    -0.07
11. USC               1-9   70.1    0.94    1.13    -0.19
12. Washington St.    2-9   60.4    0.88    1.12    -0.24

AVG.                        67.8    1.03

Watching Brandon Ashley totter around the Arizona sidelines on the largest crutches I’ve ever seen has led me to wonder anew whether the impact of a season-ending injury on a team’s performance doesn’t tend by its very nature to be overstated. Our first impression of an injury is always surprise. An injury, after all, is news in the classic sense of that term. A player was here before, now he’s gone.

But the good thing about basketball is that we have these guys called reserves. If Sean Miller were forced to play with just four guys, losing Ashley would indeed be catastrophic. Instead, Miller’s been enough of a recruiting monster that he’s able to replace Ashley in the starting lineup with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who only happens to have been a national top-25 recruit.

Now, it may well turn out that the totality of a very talented freshman’s performance, on both offense and defense, won’t be as good as what Ashley would have achieved as  a sophomore. But what’s the net impact to the team of a slight drop-off at one of the five positions on the floor? Not to mention Arizona was already playing 30 percent of its possessions without Ashley, even when he was healthy. Maybe the structural givens of the situation lead us to overstate the impact of many injuries.

SEC: A tale of two defensive collapses

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Florida          10-0   62.2    1.13    0.90    +0.23
2.  Kentucky          8-2   67.2    1.14    0.99    +0.15
3.  Tennessee         6-4   62.5    1.09    1.02    +0.07
4.  Ole Miss          7-3   68.8    1.07    1.04    +0.03
5.  LSU               6-4   70.5    1.08    1.07    +0.01
6.  Georgia           6-4   64.2    1.03    1.02    +0.01
7.  Missouri          4-6   65.5    1.10    1.10     0.00
8.  Arkansas          4-6   69.4    1.01    1.04    -0.03
9.  Vanderbilt        5-5   62.0    1.02    1.05    -0.03
10. Auburn            3-7   68.5    1.03    1.07    -0.04
11. South Carolina    1-9   68.9    1.01    1.09    -0.08
12. Alabama           3-7   63.6    1.00    1.10    -0.10
13. Texas A&M         4-6   63.5    0.92    1.02    -0.10
14. Mississippi St.   3-7   66.8    0.94    1.07    -0.13

AVG.                        66.0    1.04

The SEC certainly does not lack for forlorn programs that haven’t been to the NCAA tournament in a long time, but, as indicated by these figures, the two worst defenses in the league have actually belonged to a couple of more respectable members: Alabama and Missouri. And, yes, saying the words “Alabama” and “worst defense” together is just too strange. For years Anthony Grant’s team has been shaky on offense, sure, but always excellent on D.

Not any more. SEC opponents now shoot better on their twos (49 percent) than Bama does (47.5), and those same opponents are also achieving decent results in the areas of taking care of the ball and crashing the offensive glass. It’s all a very odd and different spectacle in Tuscaloosa.

As for Frank Haith’s Tigers, they are being absolutely killed by opponents’ threes. Whether Haith has made a conscious choice to let opposing teams fire away from out there or whether it has just occurred somehow, a whopping 42 percent of SEC opponents’ shot attempts have been launched from beyond the arc. Add to that the fact the those teams have shot 38 percent from out there, and you can see why Mizzou’s been outscored by 57 points from three-point land in SEC play.

Right now Missouri’s hanging on for dear life in the mock brackets as a No. 12 seed, but if the Tigers continue to get scorched like this from the perimeter their tournament prospects could be seriously imperiled.

A-10: Beware FIF!

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  GW                7-2   68.2    1.09    0.95    +0.14
2.  Saint Louis       9-0   67.5    1.03    0.89    +0.14
3.  VCU               7-2   69.7    1.06    0.94    +0.12
4.  UMass             6-3   68.3    1.07    1.00    +0.07
5.  St. Bonaventure   3-6   67.2    1.06    1.03    +0.03
6.  Saint Joseph's    6-3   66.4    1.01    1.02    -0.01
7.  Dayton            4-5   65.0    1.08    1.09    -0.01
8.  La Salle          4-5   66.3    1.00    1.02    -0.02
9.  Richmond          5-3   65.6    1.02    1.05    -0.03
10. Rhode Island      2-7   65.5    0.99    1.06    -0.07
11. George Mason      1-8   67.8    1.04    1.12    -0.08
12. Duquesne          2-7   69.9    0.99    1.10    -0.11
13. Fordham           2-7   68.0    0.98    1.16    -0.18

AVG.                        67.3    1.03

George Washington gets to thumb its nose at the rest of the league for one week at least, but do be advised that there is what grim hoops analysts in white lab coats term a Fordham Inflation Factor (FIF) at work here. Teams fortunate enough to play the Rams often see a big boost in their Tuesday Truths numbers. Take away the Colonials’ pitiless 93-67 thrashing of Fordham over the weekend, and Mike Lonergan’s men are outscoring the league by 0.11 points per trip.

Pro bono promotional synergies for A-10 commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade. The odd A-10 schedule, which fiendishly delayed collisions between good teams for as long as possible, is about to put some decent contests on the table at long last. VCU hosts GW tomorrow night, then plays at Saint Louis on Saturday. High time. My suggestion for next season is on the table: 18 games.

Missouri Valley: Power abhors a vacuum 

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita St.      12-0   63.2    1.12    0.90    +0.22
2.  N. Iowa           5-7   64.7    1.17    1.12    +0.05
3.  Indiana St.       9-3   64.7    1.05    1.00    +0.05
4.  S. Illinois       6-6   61.2    1.09    1.07    +0.02
5.  Loyola            4-8   62.6    1.03    1.03     0.00
6.  Illinois St.      6-6   65.1    0.98    0.99    -0.01
7.  Bradley           6-6   61.7    1.02    1.04    -0.02
8.  Missouri St.      6-6   62.5    1.07    1.12    -0.05
9.  Drake             3-9   63.3    1.03    1.12    -0.09
10. Evansville        3-9   65.1    0.99    1.14    -0.15

AVG.                        63.4    1.05

In the Valley right now the second-best team in the league is outscoring its conference opponents by just 0.05 points per trip. That is a fairly low Big 12-style number for a No. 2 team, and it means we’ve been cheated out of an opportunity to see Wichita State lay its perfect season on the line against a really tough conference opponent on the road. For this reason — plus the fact that the Shockers are insanely good at basketball — I’m on the record as believing Gregg Marshall’s men will run the table, and by that I more specifically envision an Arch Madness title and a “0″ in the loss column come NCAA tournament time. We’ll see.

Weekly Valley tempo and style tracker: Still faster and imbued with more sheer per-possession offensive firepower than the ACC. Barely, but still oddly.

Mountain West: Waiting patiently for the two best teams to play each other

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  San Diego St.    10-0   63.6    1.09    0.95    +0.14
2.  New Mexico        9-1   64.3    1.14    1.02    +0.12
3.  UNLV              7-4   62.3    1.05    1.01    +0.04
4.  Boise St.         5-6   63.8    1.11    1.07    +0.04
5.  Nevada            7-4   62.0    1.07    1.03    +0.04
6.  Wyoming           5-5   56.7    1.05    1.02    +0.03
7.  Colorado St.      5-6   63.4    1.05    1.03    +0.02
8.  Fresno St.        4-7   64.4    1.07    1.09    -0.02
9.  Utah St.          4-7   61.5    1.07    1.12    -0.05
10. Air Force         3-8   63.8    1.00    1.08    -0.08
11. San Jose St.     0-11   63.2    0.89    1.15    -0.26

AVG.                        62.6    1.05

The Mountain West is suffering from a slight case of A-10 scheduling. San Diego State and New Mexico have clearly distinguished themselves as the league’s two best teams, and the good news is the Aztecs and Lobos will play against each other twice.

Meanwhile Steve Fisher’s team has work to do at Wyoming this evening. Larry Shyatt’s men will likely slow the game to a crawl, which shouldn’t faze SDSU in the slightest — I’m just relaying the information as a warning label for viewers. A tight game in the 50s or even 40s would not be a stunning surprise, though “stun” will be deployed if the Cowboys should prevail.

Same kind of deal: New Mexico faces a tough road test tomorrow night at Boise State. It’s not inconceivable that the league’s two best teams may drop a game or two before they meet up.

West Coast: The Big 12 should grab BYU

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga          11-1   65.1    1.11    0.94    +0.17
2.  BYU               9-4   70.0    1.17    1.07    +0.10
3.  Saint Mary's      8-4   64.7    1.10    1.05    +0.05
4.  Pepperdine        7-6   66.2    1.07    1.06    +0.01
5.  San Francisco     8-5   64.9    1.09    1.08    +0.01
6.  Portland          5-7   65.4    1.09    1.10    -0.01
7.  Pacific           4-8   67.2    1.11    1.15    -0.04
8.  San Diego         4-9   61.9    1.03    1.10    -0.07
9.  Santa Clara       4-9   64.9    1.03    1.11    -0.08
10. Loyola Marymount 3-10   69.1    1.00    1.13    -0.13

AVG.                        65.9    1.08

Currently projected as a No. 12 seed, Dave Rose’s Cougars are holding on for dear life in the mock brackets. Here’s hoping BYU gets that job done. This is a highly entertaining group, one that both scores and allows a fair number of points and does so at a relatively high velocity.

Eric Mika and Nate Austin are remorseless offensive rebounding man-weapons, and Tyler Haws is still doing his best Julius Randle impression and drawing three fouls before the opening tip. BYU has to take care of business this week on a NorCal swing against Pacific and Saint Mary’s, and then it’s home for a showdown next week against Gonzaga. The Cougs’ season may ride in the balance in this three-game stretch. It promises to be entertaining to watch.