Tuesday Truths: Justice can wait edition

It’s been two weeks now since the Farce at Fort Collins, time enough to sift the rubble, digest the lessons learned, and make recommendations for the future.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that requiring officials to huddle around a monitor is no guarantor of justice. Indeed it appears that requiring officials to do so with regard to teams from the state of Colorado in particular is, for some unknown reason, a positive menace.

Reviews drive everyone crazy. They drive me crazy too. Intrusions do detract from the game, and they need to be whittled down to a bare minimum. In a perfect world we would have correct calls every time delivered instantly.

We don’t live in a perfect world. In the old days, of course, we simply lived with the “delivered instantly” part. That did not always go well. Someone needs to write up the cross-sport history of reviews, but my cursory exploration of the subject suggests the 1979 AFC championship game might be a good place to start.

Much closer to temporal home, we may want to think back to the 2011 Big East tournament before we embark on any reforms of the review process. Possibly the only thing worse than seeing refs huddle around a monitor is seeing refs abjectly refuse to huddle around a monitor.

Maybe the next time a Fort Collins situation arises the refs can make sure the replay is running at the correct speed.

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: The spelling gods visit their wrath on the “Fayers”
Through games of February 22, 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                  12-2   70.4    1.15    0.95    +0.20
2.  Dayton               11-3   68.0    1.09    0.94    +0.15
3.  Saint Joseph's       11-3   70.3    1.13    0.98    +0.15
4.  George Washington     9-5   66.4    1.10    1.03    +0.07
5.  St. Bonaventure      10-4   68.8    1.12    1.05    +0.07
6.  Rhode Island          7-7   65.0    1.07    1.01    +0.06
7.  Davidson              8-6   70.5    1.13    1.11    +0.02
8.  Richmond              6-8   67.0    1.11    1.11     0.00
9.  Duquesne              5-9   74.4    1.04    1.07    -0.03
10. UMass                 5-9   71.0    0.98    1.06    -0.08
11. Fordham              4-10   67.2    0.97    1.09    -0.12
12. Saint Louis           5-9   70.3    0.94    1.07    -0.13
13. George Mason         3-11   69.1    0.98    1.12    -0.14
14. La Salle             2-12   65.4    0.92    1.15    -0.23

AVG.                            68.8    1.05
KenPom rank: 8
% of games played: 78

Amid reports that UNLV has already approached Archie Miller about its head coaching position, Dayton has put together two of its worst three defensive performances of the entire A-10 season over the last week. Losing at Saint Joseph’s isn’t so very surprising, but the Flyers followed that up with a loss at home to St. Bonaventure. Now VCU’s in first place both in the standings and here at Tuesday Truths. What happened?

Well, this certainly didn’t help….


As a close student of both college basketball and spelling, I project that Dayton will be at a disadvantage in the A-10 title race until and unless the VCU cheerleaders spell out “RYMS.” Or maybe I’m overfitting this data based on my own personal interests. Perhaps what has really hurt UD over the last two games is 25 percent three-point shooting along with a near-George-Mason-like low-low opponent turnover rate. Fayers not named Charles Cooke have gone 4-of-31 from beyond the arc over the last 80 minutes.

BONUS segue and correctly spelled protectionist note. Just think how good would James Madison be right now (see below) if Cooke were still with the Dukes. Then there’s Damion Lee, of course, who left Drexel for Louisville. If I’m CAA commissioner Tom Yeager, I’m thinking seriously of building a wall around my conference and forcing the ACC and A-10 to pay for it.

CAA: Earl Grant probably won’t make the tournament, but….

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  James Madison        10-6   67.6    1.06    0.97    +0.09
2.  Hofstra              12-4   69.4    1.10    1.02    +0.08
3.  UNC Wilmington       13-3   69.1    1.09    1.02    +0.07
4.  William & Mary       10-6   68.3    1.15    1.08    +0.07
5.  Coll. of Charleston   8-8   61.8    0.96    0.93    +0.03
6.  Towson               10-6   66.2    1.06    1.04    +0.02
7.  Northeastern          7-9   65.2    1.04    1.06    -0.02
8.  Elon                 6-10   70.4    1.04    1.07    -0.03
9.  Drexel               2-14   65.3    0.95    1.09    -0.14
10. Delaware             2-14   68.0    0.98    1.15    -0.17

AVG.                            67.1    1.04
KenPom rank: 9
% of games played: 89

For the past few weeks I’ve been making two points about the Colonial. First, it’s really competitive, with no single team standing out from the pack. And, second, it’s an unusually strong mid-major conference, where “mid-major” denotes a one-bid league. This is arguably the strongest one-bid conference in the nation.

It’s likely the CAA’s bid will go to one of the teams near the top of the per-possession standings, but rather than harangue you yet again with tales of Rokas Gustys and Chris Flemmings I want to briefly consider an alternate scenario. What if College of Charleston somehow manages to win the Colonial tournament in Baltimore next month? It’s an intriguing hypothetical, simply because the Cougar defense is arguably the best unit on either side of the ball in the entire league. (Meanwhile the CofC offense is no Golden State. Duly noted.)

Earl Grant’s guys are at the forefront of a stylistic wrinkle also seen from programs as various as Denver, Arkansas Little Rock, and Texas State. If you’ll forgive the seeming contradiction, these are slow-paced harassing defenses. As seen here CofC is easily the slowest-paced team in the league, yet the Cougars lead the Colonial in opponent turnover percentage. Clark deploys 6-5 Payton Hulsey as a never-shoot defensive specialist, and the Cougars came with an overtime session of beating UNC Wilmington at home this past weekend. And assuming CofC does indeed fall short of the NCAA tournament (which, again, is the probable outcome), hold on to your Cougar stock for 2016-17. There’s only one senior in Grant’s eight-man rotation.

Valley: Why I’m leery of the Shockers

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita State        14-2   66.6    1.14    0.86    +0.28
2.  Evansville           11-5   68.7    1.04    0.95    +0.09
3.  Northern Iowa         9-7   61.9    1.06    0.98    +0.08
4.  Illinois State       11-5   66.0    1.04    0.97    +0.07
5.  Southern Illinois    10-6   68.4    1.04    1.02    +0.02
6.  Loyola                7-9   64.4    0.98    0.99    -0.01
7.  Indiana State         7-9   70.0    0.98    1.02    -0.04
8.  Missouri State        7-9   68.3    0.97    1.06    -0.09
9.  Drake                1-15   65.9    0.96    1.13    -0.17
10. Bradley              3-13   66.1    0.82    1.05    -0.23

AVG.                            66.6    1.00
KenPom rank: 11
% of games played: 89

Wichita State’s actually outscoring the Valley by a larger margin that what we saw from this program in 2014, when Gregg Marshall’s team was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Frankly, this fact has my laptop very enthused. Yes, the MVC as a whole is slightly weaker than it was two years ago, but the key word there is “slightly.” The difference in strength really isn’t all that glaring statistically. Does all of the above mean the Shockers are being grossly underrated in 2016?

It’s certainly possible, but I confess that right now I’m a bit of a skeptic on that front. WSU’s gaudy scoring margin has been achieved over the course of not only 14 wins but also two losses. Basically the Shockers have been in three close games in conference play, and they’ve lost two of them. Everything else has been a Wichita State blowout. This has given Marshall’s guys one sweet scoring margin, but if you line up 2016 next to 2014 you can see how similar per-possession advantages can be constructed in different ways. Green means “blowout,” losses are in red:


History hasn’t been all that kind to teams that lose two, three, or four times yet still rack up huge scoring margins by blowing out opponents 55 percent of the time or more. (I’m defining a blowout as outscoring the opponent by at least 0.30 points per trip. Florida 2013 is the locus classicus.) Conversely teams that achieve ostentatious scoring margins through the simple expedient of never losing afford me a bit more analytic peace of mind. Kentucky in 2012, for example, blew SEC opponents out “just” 38 percent of the time. Don’t tell my laptop, but at root I’m unpersuaded that “winning by 28 instead of 18 — except when you’re in a close game” will translate all that well to the field of 68. “Not getting into close games” seems to translate better.

Mountain West: The Aztecs love Cal

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  San Diego State      13-1   64.8    1.04    0.91    +0.13
2.  New Mexico            9-5   72.0    1.08    0.99    +0.09
3.  Boise State           8-6   69.9    1.09    1.03    +0.06
4.  UNLV                  7-8   74.5    1.02    0.98    +0.04
5.  Fresno State          9-5   68.4    1.02    1.00    +0.02
6.  Nevada                8-6   72.7    0.98    0.97    +0.01
7.  Wyoming               6-9   65.9    1.04    1.07    -0.03
8.  Colorado State        6-8   68.5    1.08    1.11    -0.03
9.  Utah State            5-9   67.3    1.06    1.11    -0.05
10. San Jose State       3-12   68.2    0.95    1.04    -0.09
11. Air Force            5-10   67.8    0.93    1.07    -0.14

AVG.                            69.1    1.03
KenPom rank: 10
% of games played: 80

With its 78-56 win at San Jose State this past weekend, San Diego state clinched at least a share of the Mountain West title. Congratulations, Aztecs.

No other MWC team has any realistic shot at earning an at-large bid. The only drama left in this league is whether the Aztecs themselves can pull off that feat should they be bounced out of the Mountain West tournament in Vegas next month. That answer right now is a definite maybe.

SDSU’s quote-unquote best win (and, really, its only candidate for the honorific) is its 72-58 victory over California in Vegas on Thanksgiving Day. For the balance of the season no one noticed or cared about that game, but now that the Bears are mounting a late push in the Pac-12 one Aztec win from three months ago could actually loom rather large. If you’re a San Diego State fan, you’re definitely hoping Cal pulls of an upset at Arizona this weekend.

WCC: The Streak is in real peril

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga              13-3   67.4    1.21    0.99    +0.22
2.  BYU                  12-4   73.3    1.15    0.97    +0.18
3.  Saint Mary's         13-3   62.4    1.14    0.99    +0.15
4.  Pepperdine           10-7   67.5    1.08    1.06    +0.02
5.  Portland             6-10   71.5    1.10    1.13    -0.03
6.  San Francisco         8-8   73.0    1.09    1.12    -0.03
7.  Pacific              5-11   66.9    0.99    1.08    -0.09
8.  Santa Clara          6-10   67.4    1.04    1.14    -0.10
9.  Loyola Marymount     5-12   67.6    1.02    1.14    -0.12
10. San Diego            3-13   66.6    0.90    1.07    -0.17

AVG.                            68.8    1.07
KenPom rank: 12
% of games played: 90

If any single WCC regular-season game is going to figure into the selection committee’s deliberations it is surely Saint Mary’s 63-58 win on the road at Gonzaga. That single outcome boosted the Gaels all the way “up” (ha) to the 11-line in the mock brackets, while the loss put the Bulldogs right on the cut line. Some mocks have Mark Few’s team in, some have them out — almost all agree it’s that close. The Zags have been to every NCAA tournament since 1999, but, barring a WCC tournament title, it’s difficult to envision Few’s guys having a completely stress-free Selection Sunday.

BONUS Cougar note. I don’t want to say ignore BYU’s efficiency margin, exactly, but do take it with a grain of salt. A 58-point win tends to skew the numbers a bit.