Tuesday Truths: Mott the Hoople edition

This “Simpsons” clip from three years ago coincidentally included a cameo from Alan Rickman along with the Bowie-authored “All the Young Dudes.” More recently Daniel Radcliffe’s deft tribute to Rickman ricocheted around social media, which made me remember that time when Radcliffe appeared on BBC Radio 1’s Innuendo Bingo….

If we can copy “The Office” and audition-based contestant reality shows from the Brits, surely we need to nick Innuendo Bingo as well. (The one with Hugh Jackman was also well done.)

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.

A-10: Perceptual lags and Will Wade’s Rams
Through games of January 18, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  VCU                   5-0   70.3    1.14    0.91    +0.23
2.  Dayton                4-1   67.1    1.11    0.97    +0.14
3.  Rhode Island          3-2   62.6    1.17    1.04    +0.13
4.  Saint Joseph's        4-1   71.3    1.12    0.99    +0.13
5.  St. Bonaventure       4-1   70.4    1.19    1.08    +0.11
6.  George Washington     3-2   67.5    1.11    1.01    +0.10
7.  Richmond              2-3   69.3    1.14    1.10    +0.04
8.  Davidson              3-2   72.1    1.12    1.09    +0.03
9.  Duquesne              2-3   74.7    0.97    1.05    -0.08
10. La Salle              1-4   65.1    0.96    1.08    -0.12
11. George Mason          1-4   69.7    0.99    1.13    -0.14
12. UMass                 1-4   71.8    1.00    1.16    -0.16
13. Saint Louis           1-4   68.7    0.96    1.14    -0.18
14. Fordham               1-4   66.8    0.96    1.17    -0.21

AVG.                            69.1    1.07
KenPom rank: 8
% of games played: 28

Dayton is marked as being clearly the A-10’s best team in the polls (the Flyers were the only team in the league to appear in the “also receiving votes” small print this week) and in the mock brackets, where Archie Miller’s guys are showing up as a No. 6 seed. Meanwhile VCU is invisible in the former locale and hanging on for dear life on the No. 12 line in the latter. Yet it is the Rams who rank No. 1 by a healthy margin here and at KenPom. Whom to believe?

You should believe Ken and yours truly, naturally. No, just kidding. Actually things can change, and, anyway, the A-10’s played a smaller percentage of its games than any Tuesday Truths league besides the SEC. It’s also true that to a certain extent the Rams have made their own bed, perceptually speaking. Wade’s men are 1-5 against the six best opponents they’ve faced, having lost to Duke, Wisconsin, and Florida State on neutral floors, Georgia Tech on the road, and Cincinnati at home. (Though they did beat Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia.)

I’m not penciling in VCU for the Final Four, I’m just staying open, for the time being, to two possibilities: 1) the A-10 may not have any teams as good as Virginia Commonwealth was in 2014; and 2) within that no-really-good-teams collective, the Rams may yet rate out as the best of the bunch. At a minimum it’s safe to say that when you’re just five games into your A-10 coaching career and opposing coaches are already refusing to shake your hand after the game, you’ve made quite a splash. Will Wade, I salute you.

CAA: Fate, the hoops gods, and Tony Shaver

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Hofstra               4-2   71.1    1.08    0.99    +0.09
2.  James Madison         4-2   68.2    1.06    0.98    +0.08
3.  William & Mary        4-2   66.6    1.11    1.05    +0.06
4.  UNC Wilmington        4-2   69.0    1.11    1.06    +0.05
5.  Northeastern          4-2   66.5    1.08    1.03    +0.05
6.  Towson                4-2   68.3    1.02    1.02     0.00
7.  Coll. of Charleston   2-4   62.2    1.03    1.05    -0.02
8.  Elon                  3-3   72.7    1.06    1.08    -0.02
9.  Drexel                1-5   68.7    0.91    1.02    -0.11
10. Delaware              0-6   69.8    0.96    1.16    -0.20

AVG.                            68.3    1.04
KenPom rank: 9
% of games played: 33

William & Mary is one of just five present-at-the-creation Division I programs to have never played in an NCAA tournament. (Fans of Northwestern, Army, St. Francis Brooklyn, and The Citadel can also be heard emitting croaks and gasps that approximate the wailing of damned souls.) Therefore the fact that this season the Tribe have what is apparently the best non-VCU team the CAA’s seen since Drexel in 2012 should be great news.

Well, it is great news — except that for some reason the Colonial has risen as one in 2016 and there are four other teams more or less exactly as good as W&M happens to be this season. Meaning the entire top half of this season’s Colonial would walk away with an on-paper automatic bid in any of the previous three seasons. Hoops gods, why do you torture the Tribe so?

The bad news about a (presumed) one-bid conference playing its tournament on a neutral floor is that, just like the annoying skeptics like to say, the stakes in the regular season are relatively low. (For example Tony Shaver’s guys just lost an overtime thriller at UNC Wilmington. It was a tremendously entertaining game that will have little in the way of tangible repercussions come March. Seeding matters a good deal less when the floor is neutral and the league’s best teams constitute a uniform series of co-equals.) The good news is the conference tournament itself will make excellent viewing. I repeat: March 4-7, in Baltimore.

Valley: Fate, the hoops gods, and Marty Simmons

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita State         6-0   66.2    1.16    0.88    +0.28
2.  Evansville            5-1   68.4    1.04    0.84    +0.20
3.  Northern Iowa         2-4   61.9    1.05    0.93    +0.12
4.  Indiana State         4-2   70.3    1.01    0.96    +0.05
5.  Southern Illinois     5-1   68.2    1.06    1.02    +0.04
6.  Illinois State        3-3   66.8    0.99    1.00    -0.02
7.  Loyola                1-5   62.8    0.88    0.93    -0.05
8.  Missouri State        3-3   64.0    0.93    0.99    -0.06
9.  Drake                 0-6   65.4    0.93    1.16    -0.23
10. Bradley               1-5   65.1    0.71    1.05    -0.34

AVG.                            65.9    0.97
KenPom rank: 12
% of games played: 33

Evansville coach Marty Simmons sprang from a version of “Hoosiers” that took place across the state line in Illinois, where he starred for Lawrenceville High School. (He was a few years ahead of and a few miles removed from fellow eastern Illinois product Thad Matta, who made his name as a Hoopeston-East Lynn Cornjerker.) After Simmons led Lawrenceville to  back-to-back Class A state titles in the event that gave us the term “March Madness,” it was time to take the next logical step and play for Bob Knight at Indiana.

Simmons lasted two years (or 1.95 years longer than Larry Bird had) before transferring to Evansville, where he’s been the head coach since 2008. Following the General’s example to a fault, he tried in 2009 to quite literally boycott threes just as Pat Knight subsequently did at Lamar in 2013. In retrospect Simmons’ boycott appears to have been a coaching whim that he chose never to repeat. (Conversely Knight’s ukase coincided with a 3-28 campaign by the Cardinals. Declaring in advance that you’re philosophically opposed to an entire portion of the sport makes one’s offense an easy scout.) Evansville still doesn’t shoot many threes, but the Purple Aces try just enough from out there to keep defenses honest.

That approach is yielding results, and Simmons is coaching the best team he’s ever had at Evansville. (This is true even when making due correction for what hoops analysts in white lab coats term the “they’ve already had games against Bradley and Drake” effect.) Egidijus Mockevicius is having a Valley POY-level season, and thus far the MVC’s made just 40 percent of its twos against UE. The Aces already lost at Wichita State by three; they’ll get another shot at the Shockers a week from Sunday. First up, however, will be tough road games against both Indiana State and a much improved Southern Illinois team.

Mountain West: Yet another reason never to worry about “conference strength”

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  San Diego State       5-0   65.1    1.04    0.92    +0.12
2.  UNLV                  2-3   71.4    1.05    0.93    +0.12
3.  Boise State           4-1   68.5    1.07    0.98    +0.09
4.  New Mexico            3-2   73.3    1.05    0.96    +0.09
5.  Fresno State          3-2   71.4    1.03    1.01    +0.02
6.  Utah State            3-3   68.0    1.08    1.09    -0.01
7.  Wyoming               3-3   67.0    0.92    0.94    -0.02
8.  Colorado State        2-3   69.7    1.08    1.11    -0.03
9.  Nevada                2-3   74.6    0.97    1.01    -0.04
10. San Jose State        1-5   67.2    1.00    1.07    -0.07
11. Air Force             1-4   69.7    0.87    1.11    -0.24

AVG.                            69.6    1.01
KenPom rank: 10
% of games played: 29

On paper it’s been steady as she goes for the Mountain West ever since the league’s dream season of 2013, when the conference earned five NCAA tournament bids and outranked the oh-so-snooty likes of the Big 12 and SEC in the KenPom ratings. A season like that comes once every decade or so, but at first glance it would appear the MWC’s been on an even keel for the three ensuing seasons.

Well, look again. Yes, the Mountain West’s overall statistical strength is pretty much what it was last year and the year before that, but some of that strength stems from things as easily overlooked as San Jose State’s year-to-year improvement. SJSU really is better (last year the Spartans had the season Bradley and Rutgers are having now), and certainly that’s great news for Dave Wojcik and his players. But at the top of the standings the picture is less rosy for the league.

This may turn out to be the weakest set of “best” teams the MWC has seen in a very long time. Indeed if mock brackets are any indication the Mountain West may be looking at its first one-bid season in 15 years. That is one dark scenario, and the premortems have already begun. Numerically speaking this is the No. 10-ranked league in Division I, but it’s the Mountain West’s misfortune that its ranking reflects a rather tightly bunched group of so-so teams. The league would likely prefer that the same ranking be the product of a few extreme outliers, good and bad.

WCC: The Bulldogs are humbled (correct usage)

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Saint Mary's          6-1   62.2    1.23    0.94    +0.29
2.  Gonzaga               6-1   68.5    1.24    1.03    +0.21
3.  BYU                   4-2   73.8    1.14    1.03    +0.11
4.  Portland              3-4   74.6    1.10    1.11    -0.01
5.  Pepperdine            4-3   67.3    1.10    1.12    -0.02
6.  San Francisco         3-5   73.0    1.14    1.18    -0.04
7.  Pacific               3-4   66.4    1.04    1.13    -0.09
8.  Santa Clara           3-5   64.1    1.05    1.14    -0.09
9.  Loyola Marymount      2-5   65.4    0.98    1.12    -0.14
10. San Diego             1-5   66.8    0.93    1.13    -0.20

AVG.                            68.2    1.09
KenPom rank: 11
% of games played: 39

Gonzaga lost at home to BYU last week by the score of 69-68. It marked the second consecutive time the Cougars have come away from Spokane with a win, and, considering the Bulldogs are 63-4 at home in WCC play over the last decade, that’s kind of a big deal.

Mark Few has of course been unexpectedly deprived of the services of Przemek Karnowski. Not long before that the coach was expectedly deprived of the services of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. The Zags could have survived one of those developments and still emerged as the team to beat in the West Coast. Faced with both events, however, Gonzaga now has a real fight on its hands.

As indicted by that rather incredible “1.24” up there under “PPP,” Few’s guys are having no trouble whatsoever in terms of scoring. What’s changed is that for perhaps the first time in five seasons the Bulldogs are so-so on D. For example so far the WCC has made 47 percent of it twos against the Zags, a far cry from last season’s number (40). A tense title race in an exceptionally high-scoring league may not sound ideal to Few, but it should be entertaining for the rest of us. Better still the entertainment starts Thursday, when Gonzaga plays at Saint Mary’s.