Next week on a day that I trust requires no further specification here, Tuesday Truths will return for an eighth season.
This rite of the bleak midwinter has now appeared at three different sites and been situated amidst wildly varying levels of graphic support. Yet here it is, still standing. It is the Tubby Smith and/or Lon Kruger of college basketball features.
For 2017, Tuesday Truths will track every possession in conference play for the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, American, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, and WCC. This is more or less the top third of Division I, and the idea is to cast a net large enough to either: a) spot a nascent national champion early; or b) offer grounds for proper and informed surprise when a dark horse shocks the world come April.
College basketball is strange in leaving approximately 35 percent of a team’s schedule purely to its coach’s discretion. I certainly don’t ignore that 35 percent — I’ve written lots of words from November up to now — but I have found in addition that there’s much to be gained from looking at the 1200 or so possessions that a team records in conference play.
First, those 1200 or so possessions are immune to a coach’s scheduling discretion (though, outside a pure round-robin, a league’s scheduling discretion isn’t necessarily a Platonic ideal in and of itself). Second, those possessions are equally balanced between home and road. Third, they’re recorded against opponents that, by their very league affiliation, are nominal programmatic equals.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, those possessions are non-zero-sum and richly descriptive. Both teams can have a great game, even though one must lose. Each team can have a terrible outing, even though one must win. Having 1200 or so scalable bits of data (there can be zero, one, two, three, or even more points scored on any given trip) for a team yields a far more detailed picture than merely looking at 18 or even 30-odd binary ones (win-loss) the way a certain three-letter antique does.
Not to mention those possessions can also tell us about the game itself. Just as a refresher, this is where the story left off last year:
The shot clock worked. NCAA, I salute you. pic.twitter.com/FEhp0UlCrw
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) March 7, 2016
We should be open to the possibility that the 30-second shot clock that was instituted before the 2015-16 season has been an unqualified and sweeping if somewhat overlooked success, one that accomplished exactly what the NCAA set out to do. Indeed there’s a chance that — while the Big East may go its own iconoclastic way and actually decelerate this season — the ACC, Big Ten and especially the SEC could all end up playing a much faster brand of hoops than what we’ve seen from these leagues in the recent past. Kentucky in particular is operating at a far higher rate of speed than ever before in John Calipari’s tenure. Even more remarkably, I just used the “Big Ten” and “faster” in the same sentence and you didn’t bat an eye.
Strange and perhaps even startling happenings are afoot in 2017. My pledge to you is that the Truths will cover this whole sprawling, vivid, and unruly canvass in tidy well-aligned tables made up of the finest 10-point Courier that WordPress has to offer. See you next Tuesday.