Next week on a day that I trust needs no further specification here, Tuesday Truths will spring to life for a seventh season. In the peripatetic feature’s latest incarnation, the Truths will track every possession in conference play for the American, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, A-10, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, and West Coast. If a Final Four team arises from outside of that group, you’ll have to say you saw it all coming thanks to some non-Truths source. My apologies in advance.
I track all those possessions not only so I can make snarky comments on Twitter, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, to acquire an added measure of information that I can’t get any other way. A team’s record in conference play gives me just 18 (or, in the case of the incorrigibly lazy A-10, 16) data points, each one of which is binary. In a game where both teams play very well, someone still has to lose.
Tracking possessions, on the other hand, gives me over a thousand data points (possessions played in-conference), each one of which accords to a greater or lesser extent with the won-loss information while being a good deal more descriptive on top of it. In a game where both teams play very well, both teams will look good on a per-possession basis. And when those thousand or so data points are balanced between home and road venues and drawn from competition against nominal programmatic equals, I’ve found it’s good information to have. Not infallible, by any means, but still quite handy.
By way of a preview, let’s take a quick peek at two major conferences that have already completed 24 percent of their respective schedules. Laudably diligent Big East and Big Ten, I salute you!
Big East: Why the Creighton-Villanova game should be played in Fort Wayne, Indiana
Through games of January 15, 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. Creighton 5-0 66.7 1.23 0.98 +0.25 2. Villanova 4-0 67.5 1.16 0.96 +0.20 3. Xavier 4-1 67.8 1.19 1.09 +0.10 4. Georgetown 3-2 65.8 0.97 0.98 -0.01 5. Marquette 2-2 64.7 1.01 1.06 -0.05 6. Providence 1-2 64.8 1.00 1.06 -0.06 7. DePaul 2-3 67.0 0.99 1.07 -0.08 8. Seton Hall 1-3 64.3 1.02 1.13 -0.11 9. St. John's 0-4 67.7 0.97 1.10 -0.13 10. Butler 0-5 64.8 1.02 1.16 -0.14 AVG. 66.1 1.06
Not to pick old nits, but I still find it surpassingly odd that Creighton was unranked in the preseason AP top 25. (The pollsters apparently had a much higher opinion of Gregory Echenique than I did.) In any event, the Bluejays, as seen here, have what may be the best offense in the nation. In the early going Greg McDermott’s men have also been playing respectable D. If that combination persists, it will officially be time to inform Villanova that they have some competition.
Assuming Creighton takes care of business at Providence on Saturday and the Wildcats do likewise at home against DePaul, that should be one sweet showdown Monday night in Philly between Doug McDermott and JayVaughn Pinkston. Only quibble: I would really like to see Nova playing a road game Saturday before hosting its top league rival on the back end of a Saturday-Monday turnaround. Staying comfortably at home the whole weekend gives the Cats a decided advantage in this one, as sheer miles traveled continues to be perhaps the most underrated factor in hoops. (Ask West Virginia about being three states away from the rest of the Big 12 sometime.)
Big Ten: A strong top 42 percent
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM 1. Wisconsin 3-1 66.0 1.20 1.00 +0.20 2. Michigan St. 5-0 63.7 1.09 0.90 +0.19 3. Michigan 4-0 60.1 1.20 1.03 +0.17 4. Iowa 3-1 72.2 1.09 0.95 +0.14 5. Ohio St. 2-2 69.2 1.06 0.97 +0.09 6. Purdue 2-2 66.7 1.07 1.06 +0.01 7. Minnesota 2-2 61.1 1.07 1.10 -0.03 8. Illinois 2-3 66.1 0.97 1.02 -0.05 9. Indiana 2-2 66.8 1.05 1.10 -0.05 10. Penn St. 0-5 67.0 0.97 1.14 -0.17 11. Nebraska 0-4 66.3 0.92 1.10 -0.18 12. Northwestern 1-4 60.8 0.84 1.12 -0.28 AVG. 65.5 1.04
I realize it’s mid-January, so I trust my pronouncements are suitably tentative and cautious. But I like the top five teams in the Big Ten as shown here, and I’m not sure, as yet, that any of the other seven are worthy of an NCAA bid. (In his latest projection my ESPN colleague Joe Lunardi shows a sixth B1G team, Minnesota, playing Stanford in Dayton.)
Ohio State may yet get some more points on the board (an occasional offensive board would help), and Michigan in its post-Burke and sans-McGary era has proven suitably effective thus far against the league’s bottom 58 percent. The rest of the top five require no hosannahs from me, though if I’d told you before the season that Bo Ryan would average 66 trips per 40 minutes, you would have classed that as about as likely as Butler playing terrible defense and being worse in per-possession terms than DePaul. Who knew.