Tuesday Truths: “We can be heroes” edition

DB

“Just for one day.” Not a bad anthem for mid-majordom.

Today marks a first for Tuesday Truths. A branch office of the venerable franchise has been opened in Bristol, and per-possession Truths for the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, and American await you over at ESPN Insider. There you’ll find the same trusty numbers and winningly phrased analysis you’ve come to demand hereabouts, only with a vastly superior layout. Make haste.

Welcome to Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 55 mid-majors are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

Major-conference Truths are at ESPN Insider.

Learn how to coach and strategize the A-10 way 
Through games of January 11, 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.  VCU                   3-0   70.9    1.07    0.87    +0.20
2.  St. Bonaventure       3-0   70.7    1.23    1.04    +0.19
3.  Rhode Island          2-1   64.3    1.19    1.01    +0.18
4.  Dayton                2-1   66.8    1.08    0.91    +0.17
5.  George Washington     2-1   66.3    1.12    0.97    +0.15
6.  Saint Joseph's        2-1   71.5    1.08    1.05    +0.03
7.  Davidson              2-1   73.9    1.11    1.09    +0.02
8.  Richmond              1-2   67.8    1.14    1.16    -0.02
9.  La Salle              1-2   66.9    0.94    0.98    -0.04
10. Fordham               1-2   68.0    1.03    1.09    -0.06
11. UMass                 1-2   71.1    1.00    1.16    -0.16
12. Saint Louis           1-2   61.4    0.93    1.14    -0.21
13. Duquesne              0-3   71.7    0.87    1.09    -0.22
14. George Mason          0-3   67.6    0.89    1.13    -0.24

AVG.                            68.6    1.05
KenPom rank: 8
% of games played: 17

We’ve seen just 21 games played thus far in the Atlantic 10, so rather than lecture at great length on the unstoppable St. Bonaventure offense (keep going, Bonnies) or the oddly phenomenal La Salle interior defense (the 1-2 Explorers have held conference opponents to 37.6 percent shooting inside the arc) I propose instead to offer a coaching point courtesy of Will Wade. It is plain to me that, before the season started, the new VCU head coach sat Melvin Johnson down in his office.

The following conversation ensued.

WADE: Say, Melvin, you know how last year for Coach Smart you attempted six or seven threes per game and shot 36 percent from out there?

JOHNSON: Yes.

WADE: This season I want you to try eight or nine threes per game but connect 46 percent of the time.

JOHNSON: Got it.

Coach Wade, I salute you! This Saturday the Rams will play crosstown rival Richmond on the Spiders’ home floor in the Robins Center.

Welcome back, CAA

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Hofstra               3-1   69.3    1.16    1.03    +0.13
2.  William & Mary        3-1   67.3    1.10    1.00    +0.10
3.  Northeastern          3-1   67.8    1.10    1.02    +0.08
4.  James Madison         2-2   68.2    1.03    0.97    +0.06
5.  UNC Wilmington        2-2   67.2    1.05    1.01    +0.04
6.  Elon                  2-2   74.7    1.06    1.06     0.00
7.  Coll. of Charleston   2-2   62.6    1.04    1.05    -0.01
8.  Drexel                1-3   67.2    0.99    1.06    -0.07
9.  Towson                2-2   68.1    0.99    1.07    -0.08
10. Delaware              0-4   71.1    0.93    1.18    -0.25

AVG.                            68.4    1.05
KenPom rank: 9
% of games played: 22

After a four-year absence the Colonial makes its triumphant return to Tuesday Truths. Why? Because the CAA’s having an excellent season.

Last season Northeastern won the league’s automatic bid, and you can make a case that in 2015-16 Hofstra, William & Mary, UNC Wilmington, James Madison, College of Charleston, and, yes, the Huskies themselves are all as good as or maybe even better than Bill Coen’s team was a year ago.

Of course the likelihood is that we are speaking here of an unusually deep one-bid conference that happens to be having an excellent season, with an emphasis on the “one-bid conference” part. Still, if nothing else giving the Colonial the Tuesday Truths treatment will allow all of us to spectate the conference tournament (March 4-7, in Baltimore) that much more knowledgeably.

Why the Valley is the most NBA-like conference in Division I

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita State         4-0   65.1    1.16    0.87    +0.29
2.  Northern Iowa         2-2   61.8    1.17    0.90    +0.27
3.  Evansville            3-1   67.6    1.02    0.83    +0.19
4.  Indiana State         3-1   71.6    1.02    0.91    +0.11
5.  Illinois State        3-1   65.7    0.99    0.96    +0.03
6.  Southern Illinois     3-1   68.8    0.98    0.95    +0.03
7.  Missouri State        2-2   63.5    0.93    1.03    -0.10
8.  Loyola                0-4   64.5    0.88    0.99    -0.11
9.  Drake                 0-4   64.1    0.87    1.13    -0.26
10. Bradley               0-4   66.9    0.68    1.11    -0.43

AVG.                            66.0    0.97
KenPom rank: 12
% of games played: 22

It has been well documented that the offensive rebound is dying in the NBA. Curiously enough it is the Missouri Valley Conference — the consistently slow-paced league in the our nation’s heartland  — that, in this respect, is mimicking the next level most faithfully. (This could help recruiting.) Make no mistake, the Valley really, really dislikes offensive boards.

My question this season will be whether the Valley’s active disdain for offensive rebounding explains any part of its appallingly low league-wide number for offensive efficiency (see above: 0.97 points per possession). Naturally this same question can be phrased more positively — maybe transition defense is so vital that being really good at it just kills opposing offenses.

To this point in the season the Valley’s total disavowal of offensive boards (offenses are rebounding just 24.7 percent of their misses in MVC play) has been the single most aberrant statistical feature recorded in any offensive category by any of the 12 Tuesday Truths leagues. Unfortunately for my cheeky hoops-research question, however, the Valley also happens to have been terrible so far in terms of turnovers (sporting a league-wide 20.4 TO percentage), so that hasn’t helped put points on the board either. Let’s return to this question when more games have been played.

Mountain West: Recruiting, expectations, and Dave Rice

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  New Mexico            3-0   75.1    1.07    0.87    +0.20
2.  San Diego State       3-0   64.8    1.10    0.95    +0.15
3.  Boise State           3-0   68.8    1.17    1.02    +0.15
4.  Fresno State          2-2   71.8    1.00    1.00     0.00
5.  Wyoming               2-2   67.2    0.92    0.92     0.00
6.  Colorado State        2-1   70.2    1.05    1.06    -0.01
7.  Nevada                2-2   75.2    0.98    1.01    -0.03
8.  UNLV                  0-3   70.7    0.89    0.91    -0.02
9.  Utah State            1-3   67.2    0.99    1.09    -0.10
10. San Jose State        0-4   66.3    1.00    1.12    -0.12
11. Air Force             1-2   70.3    0.85    0.98    -0.13

AVG.                            69.8    1.00
KenPom rank: 10
% of games played: 19

UNLV sacked Dave Rice yesterday, after the Rebels got off to a winless start in Mountain West play that was every bit as unimpressive on close inspection (see above) as it was in the standings. By all accounts “a class act,” Rice was far more successful on the recruiting trail the past two years than the Rebels were on the floor. UNLV has missed the last two NCAA tournaments, and despite a measurable decline in the strength of the Mountain West the Rebels are just 18-21 in conference play since the start of the 2013-14 season.

Sometimes I wonder whether the risk associated with recruiting really well is worth the reward for a coach at a non-blue-chip program (hereafter NBCP). Here’s a complete list of NBCPs that have ranked in the top five nationally in a given recruiting year since 2010, not counting our current season (based on Drew Cannon’s canonical front-loaded rating curve):

                 National recruiting rank, year
Memphis          No. 3, 2010; No. 4, 2013
NC State         No. 5, 2010; No. 5, 2012
St. John's       No. 3, 2011
Baylor           No. 4, 2012
UNLV             No. 5, 2014

The so-called conventional wisdom on all these coaches is (or, in two of these cases now, was) fairly similar, suggesting to me that conventional wisdom sometimes seeks the most direct and least arduous cognitive path. And indeed I’ve already nominated Scott Drew and, possibly, Mark Gottfried as the best examples nationally of achieving success primarily through unexpectedly good recruiting. But just to be brutally bottom-line about this exercise, the results achieved by these five programs over the past five seasons has been a mixed bag to say the least. Yet we continually hail every very good recruiting class as something that will most certainly lead to better days for any non-blue-chip program.

None of which is to say Rice was done in by unrealistic expectations. If anything he may have been let go even sooner had he not been such a good recruiter. Nevertheless, his dismissal reminds us that success on the recruiting trail isn’t synonymous with results on the floor. Too often we talk and write as though it were.

The WCC is a season-long ad for scoring

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Saint Mary's          5-1   62.3    1.22    0.93    +0.29
2.  Gonzaga               5-0   67.6    1.30    1.10    +0.20
3.  BYU                   3-1   72.3    1.22    1.05    +0.17
4.  Portland              2-3   74.3    1.13    1.12    +0.01
5.  San Francisco         3-3   71.5    1.16    1.17    -0.01
6.  Pacific               3-3   67.2    1.04    1.11    -0.07
7.  Pepperdine            3-2   66.9    1.07    1.14    -0.07
8.  Santa Clara           2-4   65.3    1.04    1.15    -0.11
9.  San Diego             0-4   65.5    0.91    1.12    -0.21
10. Loyola Marymount      0-5   63.7    0.90    1.14    -0.24

AVG.                            67.7    1.10
KenPom rank: 11
% of games played: 29

The West Coast Conference is really good at offense. Because I was mounting a “Save the Offensive Rebound!” campaign with reference to the Missouri Valley (see above), I happened to pull together numbers from all 12 Tuesday Truths leagues. Compared to other conferences in the top third of D-I, the WCC is getting it done offensively thanks to great shooting (51.6 effective FG percentage) and a ridiculously low turnover rate (15.8 percent). When your fourth-best offense is scoring 1.16 points per trip, you’re putting points on the board.

So cue the “Bah! Learn to play some defense!” harrumphing from readers who may be true connoisseurs of defensive basketball or who may simply wish they were reading this from someplace like San Diego or Malibu instead of somewhere a bit more frosty. Be that as it may, the WCC stands out. Gonzaga has crept back into the rankings nationally, and the way Mark Few’s team is scoring — even without Przemek Kanowski — the Bulldogs are a clear threat to end SMU’s perfect season in Dallas one month from tomorrow (assuming the Mustangs make it that far without a loss).

As for Saint Mary’s, no, the Gaels haven’t left the state of California yet this entire 2015-16 season. (Hey, it’s a big state. That game SMC lost in Malibu on Saturday would be the equivalent of a road trip to Georgia Tech for Duke or UNC. Which, granted, would be a somewhat more impressive statement on the Gaels’ behalf if they had won.) We’ll have to see how Randy Bennett’s men fare across the breadth of the West Coast’s 18-game slate, but certainly their start has been better than expected.