Tuesday Truths: Halftime edition

Welcome to Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 120 teams in the nation’s top 10 conferences are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

The conference seasons have now more or less reached their midpoints. No more “it’s early” qualifiers and disclaimers. Time for sweeping declarations made in the most emphatic and dogmatic timbres imaginable. Louisville is good! (Relatively speaking.) Carlton Bragg doesn’t matter! (So far.) The Big Ten is strange! (Possibly.)

And so forth….

The Cardinals may indeed turn out to be as good as they look here….

Mitchell

It will be bad news for the rest of the ACC if Donovan Mitchell continues to believe he’s actually Bryce Alford. (louisvillecardinal.com)

Through games of January 30, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession   Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

ACC                       W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Louisville            6-3   68.9    1.13    0.94    +0.19
2.  North Carolina        7-2   74.5    1.14    1.01    +0.13
3.  Virginia              6-2   62.1    1.10    0.98    +0.12
4.  Duke                  5-4   72.6    1.13    1.06    +0.07
5.  Miami                 4-4   67.1    1.05    1.03    +0.02
6.  Florida State         6-3   73.8    1.05    1.03    +0.02
7.  Notre Dame            6-4   66.9    1.07    1.06    +0.01
8.  Syracuse              5-4   67.0    1.12    1.11    +0.01
9.  Wake Forest           3-6   71.7    1.11    1.13    -0.02
10. Georgia Tech          5-4   68.1    0.97    1.01    -0.04
11. Virginia Tech         5-4   71.2    1.09    1.14    -0.05
12. Clemson               2-6   66.4    1.06    1.14    -0.08
13. Boston College        2-7   71.5    1.03    1.12    -0.09
14. NC State              3-6   74.3    1.01    1.14    -0.13
15. Pitt                  1-7   66.0    0.99    1.17    -0.18

AVG.                            69.5    1.07
Acceleration since 2015:       10.0%
KenPom rank: 2
% of games played: 49

Louisville is blowing out opponents, and moreover the Cardinals are doing so without the benefit of either Quentin Snider (injured hip) or Tony Hicks (hand). Any team that’s 0.19 points better than the ACC on every possession is, by definition, a threat to win the national title.

Right?

I’m certainly not going to sneeze at a win at home over NC State (a feat that Duke tried and rather conspicuously failed to record), but the Truth in Hoops Stat Labeling Act of 2017 does require that I at least show you all the ingredients that went into making that preposterous scoring margin…

Louisville vs. the ACC

                             W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
vs. Pitt and NC State        2-0   69.5    1.37    0.80    +0.57
vs. everyone else            4-3   68.7    1.06    0.98    +0.08

In the past Rick Pitino’s been known to excel with teams that played outstanding defense as a season-long holding action while they slowly but surely figured out how to score. That could be what’s happening here. For his part Donovan Mitchell has suddenly decided that he can make threes, and ACC opponents are finding to their chagrin that last year’s 25 percent shooter from beyond the arc is but a distant memory. Against the Wolfpack, Mitchell went off for 28 points thanks to 6-of-10 shooting on his treys.

Put a scorer like that on the floor with what may be the nation’s best defense, and you are confronting opponents with one tall order. I will only add two notes of caution to watch for as the Cards’ schedule becomes more challenging.

This is not the best bunch of two-point scorers you will run across, and, for a second consecutive season, this statistically excellent defense is a strangely foul-prone statistically excellent defense. Sure, Pitino has front court depth to burn. Fouls won’t hurt this defense, but free throws can most certainly help an opposing offense.

What we really mean when we say Bragg’s suspension is “huge”

Lucas

The importance of Landen Lucas now far exceeds his production (which, for the record, is also considerable). (kcstar.com)

Big 12                    W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  West Virginia         5-3   70.6    1.13    1.03    +0.10
2.  Baylor                7-1   65.7    1.04    0.96    +0.08
3.  Kansas                7-1   71.5    1.14    1.07    +0.07
4.  Iowa State            5-3   69.2    1.07    1.03    +0.04
5.  Kansas State          4-4   69.3    1.08    1.07    +0.01
6.  Oklahoma State        3-6   70.2    1.12    1.14    -0.02
7.  TCU                   3-5   68.8    1.01    1.07    -0.06
8.  Texas                 2-6   72.7    0.97    1.03    -0.06
9.  Oklahoma              2-7   70.7    0.98    1.05    -0.07
10. Texas Tech            3-5   64.6    1.03    1.12    -0.09

AVG.                            69.3    1.06
Acceleration since 2015:        6.9%
KenPom rank: 1
% of games played: 46

Last week when Kansas announced that Carlton Bragg was being suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules, it was said on social media that Bam Adebayo would score a great many points against the shorthanded Jayhawks at Rupp Arena in what was sure to be a Kentucky win on Saturday night. Instead, he scored 10, and KU won the game.

Why do we always do this with news of an unexpected absence? At least in the case of the season-ending knee injury suffered by Creighton’s Maurice Watson, the player in question was a high-usage starting point guard. Bragg on the other hand was already sitting on the bench for two out of every three Big 12 minutes even when he was available.

In other words Bragg was 20 percent of KU’s on-floor contingent when he was in the game, and he was there 33 percent of the time. His suspension therefore compels Bill Self to adjust what is happening with respect to less than seven percent of his team’s total player-minutes. Sure, Bragg’s a better option for that covering that seven percent than his replacements, Dwight Coleby or Mitch Lightfoot. But, again, we’re talking about an achingly small slice of the overall KU performance pie. (Besides, Coleby at least knows his way around major-conference hoops. He averaged 17 minutes a game as a reserve at Ole Miss in 2015.)

Of course if Landen Lucas suffers a season-ending injury or violates unspecified rules or decides he want some of that sweet, sweet Grayson-level coverage and trips someone, then we’re talking about a different kettle of fish. Specifically, Bragg’s absence brings us one giant step closer to a situation where not having him would be huge. But it’s not at all clear that his suspension alone will have a significant impact on any game where Lucas is present, healthy, eligible, and can log a somewhat foul-prone 27 minutes or so. Fret accordingly.

Can the zone save this KU defense? It could, as Jesse Newell astutely notes, in the sense that it affords the Jayhawks a better shot at spacing out the five allotted fouls for Lucas. Then again I’m on the record as expecting that a meh Kansas defense (which, to be clear, is what we’ve seen statistically across not one but two zone-brushed games in Morgantown and Lexington) will be plenty good enough to get the job done, thanks to an outstanding offense. And if it turns out that Josh Jackson really can make threes? No one will be talking about this defense for long.

Has something like Justin Patton’s 2015, 2016, and 2017 ever happened before?

Patton

It’s been a good 16 months. (gocreighton.com)

Big East                  W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Villanova             7-2   65.2    1.15    0.99    +0.16
2.  Creighton             6-3   70.9    1.09    1.04    +0.05
3.  Xavier                5-3   71.2    1.09    1.04    +0.05
4.  Butler                7-3   66.5    1.10    1.05    +0.05
5.  Marquette             5-4   68.2    1.17    1.13    +0.04
6.  Georgetown            3-6   70.5    1.02    1.03    -0.01
7.  Seton Hall            3-5   68.9    1.01    1.03    -0.02
8.  Providence            4-6   67.3    1.03    1.09    -0.06
9.  St. John's            4-6   73.0    1.01    1.10    -0.09
10. DePaul                1-7   67.3    0.95    1.12    -0.17

AVG.                            69.0    1.06
Acceleration since 2015:        6.6%
KenPom rank: 3
% of games played: 50

Creighton lost by 20 at Georgetown last week, and, no, Mo Watson isn’t coming through that door. So how about some good news for the Bluejay faithful?

That’s easy. Even a no-Watson Creighton can still make some noise this season, because Justin Patton has happened….

                      %Min     %Shots       2FG%    
Justin Patton         64.2      21.8        73.4
Mo Wagner             56.8      23.4        69.3
T.J. Leaf             76.6      22.0        65.6
Jock Landale          69.9      29.9        63.2
Przemek Karnowski     54.9      26.1        61.8
Bam Adebayo           69.3      16.2        61.5
Ethan Happ            65.1      26.6        60.6

kenpom.com

It’s safe to say no one saw this coming. When Greg McDermott first asked Patton if he’d accept a scholarship, the Omaha product had literally no other offers. Even as a seven-footer who’d signed with a major-conference program, Patton still came out of high school ranked No. 63 nationally in the recruiting class of 2015.

Now Patton’s set to break any number of precedents. For starters he could become the winner of the NBA lottery’s “lowest-ranked out of high school ever” award for one-and-dones. He could also become just the second redshirt freshman to be taken in the lottery in the one-and-done era. And, really, Patton would be the first performance-based redshirt to go one-and-done and land in the first round, period. Ben McLemore was redshirted at Kansas in 2011-12 as a partial qualifier. Conversely Patton was redshirted because when he first arrived on campus the true freshman was, in the words of McDermott, “so far away from being able to play in a college game.”

All of the above would mark a stark departure from most one-and-done-era lotteries, which have instead tended toward rote reaffirmations of what the high school rankings said one year earlier. Then again maybe last summer’s draft started this Patton-esque upward-mobility trend rolling, with first-rounders Malachi Richardson (ranked No. 29 nationally out of high school), Malik Beasley (37), Dejounte Murray (45), and even lottery pick Marquese Chriss (52) all pushing this same envelope. Perhaps the NBA is more real-time than ever with its evaluations. If so, Patton stands to benefit while setting a new standard.

The Big Ten has a shot at historic weirdness

Gophers

Minnesota’s cornerstone “good win” came in overtime at Purdue on New Year’s Day. More recently, however, the Gophers have lost five straight. (twincities.com)

Big Ten                   W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wisconsin             7-1   64.1    1.10    0.95    +0.15
2.  Northwestern          7-2   66.7    1.09    0.96    +0.13
3.  Maryland              7-1   68.6    1.09    0.97    +0.12
4.  Purdue                6-3   70.3    1.13    1.01    +0.12
5.  Michigan State        5-4   67.0    1.05    1.00    +0.05
6.  Michigan              4-5   63.2    1.16    1.14    +0.02
7.  Indiana               4-5   66.5    1.12    1.14    -0.02
8.  Minnesota             3-6   68.3    0.99    1.01    -0.02
9.  Nebraska              4-5   68.8    1.06    1.08    -0.02
10. Ohio State            3-6   69.3    1.03    1.09    -0.06
11. Penn State            4-5   69.5    0.93    1.00    -0.07
12. Iowa                  4-5   70.5    1.02    1.10    -0.08
13. Illinois              3-6   67.3    1.03    1.11    -0.08
14. Rutgers               1-8   68.9    0.82    1.00    -0.18

AVG.                            67.8    1.04
Acceleration since 2015:        8.8% 
KenPom rank: 4
% of games played: 49

Mock brackets are currently showing the Big Ten as earning eight bids: Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland, Northwestern (yawn), Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, and Michigan.

Maybe that won’t come to pass, maybe the present woes being endured by the Gophers and the Hoosiers will linger too long for remedy, maybe bid-thieves will emerge from elsewhere, or perhaps some combination of all of the above will transpire. Still, there’s a chance that eight bids could happen for the Big Ten. That would be historic, on no fewer than three fronts.

First, there have only been six instances in the entire history of the NCAA tournament where a league has earned eight or more bids. Second, no league named something besides “the Big East” has ever done it. Lastly, the Big East sent really high seeds into the dance in all six of those years.

Forget double-digits, eight bids is more rare than you think

Eight bids or more
            Year    Bids   Highest seed(s)
Big East    2011     11    Pitt (1)
Big East    2012      9    Syracuse (1)
Big East    2013      8    Louisville (1)
Big East    2010      8    Syracuse (1)
Big East    2008      8    Georgetown (2)
Big East    2006      8    UConn (1), Villanova (1)

While I suspect Wisconsin could turn out mightier than commonly believed — any team that outscores its league by 0.15 points per trip while opponents are hitting 41 percent of their threes is doing something right — for the moment the Badgers are being projected as a No. 4 seed. Maybe that seed can be improved, but I don’t suppose letting Rutgers take you to the 45th minute (and not even at the RAC in Piscataway, either, but right there in the Garden where everyone could see it!) is the way to go about doing that.

It’s possible, then, that the Big Ten could flood the seed lines in between about Nos. 4 and 12, give or take, with eight teams perceived as being pretty good but not great. No part of that sentence has ever happened before.

You can’t regress toward the mean if the season’s already over. Michigan’s now completed half of its Big Ten schedule, and the Wolverines’ conference opponents are still shooting 49 percent on their threes.

I choose to see Washington as an uplifting parable on team sports. So there.

Fultz

What does it say about basketball as a sport and recruiting as an endeavor if the presence of one of the nation’s most efficient college players and a surefire NBA lock can’t help his team shoot better than Oregon State? (Getty)

Pac-12                    W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Oregon                8-1   68.2    1.17    0.93    +0.24
2.  Arizona               9-0   68.3    1.17    0.97    +0.20
3.  Utah                  6-3   69.7    1.15    1.00    +0.15
4.  UCLA                  6-3   74.1    1.17    1.09    +0.08
5.  Cal                   6-3   65.5    1.04    1.01    +0.03
6.  USC                   5-4   69.6    1.03    1.05    -0.02
7.  Colorado              2-7   69.0    1.09    1.14    -0.05
8.  Stanford              3-6   70.3    0.96    1.03    -0.07
9.  Arizona State         3-6   72.9    1.11    1.19    -0.08
10. Washington            2-7   69.4    1.02    1.12    -0.10
11. Washington State      4-5   66.5    1.02    1.16    -0.14
12. Oregon State          0-9   65.1    0.94    1.19    -0.25

AVG.                            69.1    1.07
Acceleration since 2015:        5.5%
KenPom rank: 6 
% of games played: 50

This is a golden age for the Pac-12 in more ways than one. Arizona, UCLA and Oregon are a combined 58-8, and fully 25 percent of those losses had to happen due to intra-Gang-of-Three scheduling.

Meanwhile the competition for the Pac-12 freshman of the year award promises to be the best such race in any conference since…well, I’m taking nominations. I am by no means an NBA essentialist, however, one-and-dones are a fair first-level proxy for the presence of quality freshmen. It’s conceivable that Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Lauri Markkanen and T.J. Leaf could all be 2017 lottery picks. That would be a first for any league in the one-and-done era. (Hardly surprising in light of the fact that last summer, for example, there were but five freshmen from all of Division I selected with lottery picks.)

The only apparent dark cloud on this Pac-12 horizon is the likelihood that, barring a conference tournament surprise of Feltonian dimensions, the aforementioned Fultz is going to slip into and out of our college game without leaving much in the way of an impression — or, more precisely, without a chance to do so on the biggest stage the sport affords, the NCAA tournament. How can this be? Where do I file my complaint?

For my part, I choose to file my spectating objection with Fultz’s lack of foresight in failing to get some other blue-chippers to join him in Seattle (darn kid acts like he can do whatever he pleases), and leave it at that. This is hardly a surprise, after all.  If there’s one conclusion to be drawn not only from Fultz and Ben Simmons but also, I dare say, from D’Angelo Russell and O.J. Mayo, it’s that a player, singular, is not enough. A player, singular, is never enough. Fultz is an extraordinary talent playing for a team that’s making 46 percent of its twos in conference play.

The knee-jerk reaction to this state of affairs will be to find fault with the coaching, again, but why do laptops — demonstrably and endearingly fallible on any number of other things from Baylor all the way to Justin Patton — see this “spectacular freshman makes no discernible difference for previously mediocre team” thing coming every single time? Maybe this SFMNDDFPMT thing is a feature of the sport, not a coaching bug. Maybe it really does take a team.

Equal time for Kentucky’s other, uh, developmental opportunity

Cal

Calipari asked his players this week: “Can you be a stopper?” Good question. 

SEC                       W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kentucky              7-1   75.2    1.21    0.98    +0.23
2.  Florida               6-2   69.6    1.10    0.96    +0.14
3.  South Carolina        7-1   71.4    1.00    0.88    +0.12
4.  Alabama               6-2   68.7    1.01    0.95    +0.06
5.  Georgia               4-4   69.9    1.01    0.98    +0.03
6.  Mississippi State     4-4   71.5    1.07    1.06    +0.01
7.  Tennessee             4-4   72.3    1.05    1.05     0.00
8.  Arkansas              5-3   71.2    1.10    1.10     0.00
9.  Vanderbilt            3-5   67.5    1.10    1.10     0.00
10. Texas A&M             3-5   68.7    0.99    1.06    -0.07
11. Ole Miss              3-5   73.3    0.96    1.04    -0.08
12. Auburn                3-5   74.2    1.03    1.12    -0.09
13. Missouri              0-8   72.3    0.94    1.08    -0.14
14. LSU                   1-7   75.3    1.02    1.20    -0.18

AVG.                            71.5    1.04
Acceleration since 2015:       11.5% 
KenPom rank: 5
% of games played: 44

I’ve offered a few thoughts at ESPN.com on a Kentucky offense that was made to look oddly normal in back-to-back games by Tennessee and Kansas (to the tune of scoring 153 points in 154 possessions). Without giving away the gist of the piece, I trust the Wildcats will soon be back to their high-scoring feats, though in ways that won’t always match what we’ve seen from John Calipari teams in the past.

From my chair the UK defense looked less lethargic than the offense in the two losses (allowing 161 points in those same 154 possessions), but I realize this evaluation will be in the eye of the beholder. In fact, I’ll go those beholders one better. You want to worry about this defense?

There’s something happening here….

Kentucky opponent 2FG%
Conference games only
                 Opp.
                 2FG%
2010             44.2
2011             41.9
2012             40.8
2013             43.7
2014             45.6
2015             44.0
2016             41.1

2010-16 AVG.     43.0

2017 (so far)    48.5

In terms of two-point defense, this year’s group is well over five percentage points worse than Calipari’s seven-season average heading into 2016-17. This drop in effectiveness has been rendered mostly irrelevant and/or invisible by two factors. First, this offense has been, for the most part, amazing. Second, this group of young Wildcats has been outstanding on the defensive glass in conference play. That being said, it’s been a very long time since the paint was anywhere near this hospitable for Kentucky opponents.

The concern for UK fans isn’t necessarily what any potential defensive shortcomings could mean in terms of SEC play. Actually the Wildcats easily handled South Carolina — which pretty clearly boasts the league’s best defense — and did so, mostly, without De’Aaron Fox. The more plausible doomsday scenario is instead that this will be something to fret about come tournament time, when the brackets throw the nation’s best offenses at you in rapid succession.

If you’re worried about your team’s depth, be glad you’re not an SMU fan

American                  W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Cincinnati            8-0   67.0    1.10    0.86    +0.24
2.  SMU                   8-1   62.1    1.18    0.95    +0.23
3.  Tulsa                 6-2   69.3    1.04    0.97    +0.07
4.  Houston               6-4   63.5    1.05    0.99    +0.06
5.  UCF                   5-4   68.1    1.00    0.95    +0.05
6.  Memphis               6-3   68.2    0.96    0.92    +0.04
7.  Connecticut           5-4   63.7    1.00    0.97    +0.03
8.  Temple                2-7   66.8    0.99    1.07    -0.08
9.  East Carolina         2-7   65.5    0.85    0.98    -0.13
10. Tulane                1-8   72.7    0.91    1.09    -0.18
11. South Florida         0-9   69.3    0.86    1.12    -0.26

AVG.                            66.9    0.99
KenPom rank: 7
% of games played: 49

Southern Methodist has a really, really short bench, a fact that did not prevent the Mustangs from prevailing against Tacko Fall and UCF 65-60 in Orlando over the weekend.  With Jarrey Foster unavailable for the game due to a concussion, Tim Jankovich chose to give 36-plus minutes to five of his players: Semi Ojeleye, Shake Milton, Ben Moore, Ben Emelogu, and Sterling Brown. Fortunately for SMU fans, this tiny band of brothers is quite good at what it does. You can search Tuesday Truths for a long time before you’ll find an offense that shoots this well (42 percent on threes in American play), takes care of the ball, and crashes the offensive glass. This is the best offense in the league, and it’s no mistake that the Ponies are a two-point loss at Cincinnati away from sitting on a 15-game win streak right now. If Jankovich’s guys don’t fall over from fatigue, they’re going to be a tough out come March.

Agreement between laptops, mock brackets and the standings? Can it be?

A-10                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  VCU                   6-2   69.5    1.11    0.94    +0.17
2.  Rhode Island          5-3   70.9    1.09    0.96    +0.13
3.  Dayton                6-2   69.8    1.01    0.89    +0.12
4.  Richmond              7-2   72.8    1.06    1.00    +0.06
5.  Davidson              4-4   68.9    1.07    1.02    +0.05
6.  St. Bonaventure       5-3   68.4    1.05    1.02    +0.03
7.  La Salle              5-3   68.5    1.09    1.08    +0.01
8.  George Washington     4-4   65.6    1.04    1.07    -0.03
9.  UMass                 2-7   74.0    0.96    1.00    -0.04
10. George Mason          4-4   72.1    1.00    1.05    -0.05
11. Saint Joseph's        3-5   69.4    0.94    0.99    -0.05
12. Fordham               3-5   67.3    0.95    1.04    -0.09
13. Duquesne              2-7   71.9    1.01    1.12    -0.11
14. Saint Louis           2-7   64.7    0.91    1.10    -0.19

AVG.                            69.6    1.02
KenPom rank: 8
% of games played: 46

Mock brackets at the end of January are advising us that Dayton is a fairly safe tournament bet, while VCU and Rhode Island are on trajectories that could land them in the bracket as double-digit seeds. Sure enough, those three are already beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the A-10 in per-possession terms. Perhaps the standings will follow suit, though for the time being Richmond, St. Bonaventure and La Salle are continuing to keep URI company in the general vicinity of the three-loss line. Speaking of the Spiders, Chris Mooney’s men will get another shot at inserting themselves into this conversation tomorrow night when they journey a few blocks down Cary Street Road to visit Virginia Commonwealth.

You can’t regress toward the mean if the season’s already over, part II. Dayton has played 558 possessions of A-10 basketball, and the Flyers’ conference opponents are still shooting just 25.6 percent on their threes.

Game of the Year of the week, tomorrow night in Normal

Missouri Valley           W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita State         9-1   70.2    1.16    0.91    +0.25
2.  Illinois State       10-0   65.4    1.07    0.88    +0.19
3.  Loyola                6-4   67.1    1.09    1.04    +0.05
4.  Missouri State        5-5   65.5    1.04    1.02    +0.02
5.  Northern Iowa         5-5   65.6    0.98    1.00    -0.02
6.  Southern Illinois     5-5   65.7    1.01    1.04    -0.03
7.  Drake                 5-5   71.0    1.03    1.09    -0.06
8.  Evansville            1-9   67.4    0.91    1.02    -0.11
9.  Indiana State         1-9   69.7    0.96    1.10    -0.14
10. Bradley               3-7   68.0    0.90    1.05    -0.15

AVG.                            67.6    1.02
KenPom rank: 10
% of games played: 56

If Illinois State is truly ready to rip this league out of Wichita State’s clutches (and, incidentally, present a good profile for an at-large bid should the need arise), the Redbirds have the perfect opportunity to prove it tomorrow night at home against Northern Iowa. The Panthers don’t look too impressive here, but keep in mind Ben Jacobson’s guys have now won five in a row. The difference in Cedar Falls the last two weeks has been defense, as UNI has held its opponents to just 0.90 points per trip during this win streak. Of course ISU’s no slouch on that side of the ball either. The scoring could be low but the stakes will be high at Redbird Arena.

My streak of consecutive posts without a pun on Normal continues! Illinois State hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1998, when head coach Kevin Stallings led the Redbirds into the round of 32 with an overtime win against Tennessee. The game-winner that day was hit by ISU’s current head coach, Dan Muller:

The table will continue to be run until Thursday night, possibly longer

West Coast                W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga              10-0   68.9    1.25    0.84    +0.41
2.  Saint Mary's          9-1   60.0    1.17    0.95    +0.22
3.  BYU                   7-3   73.4    1.09    0.97    +0.12
4.  San Francisco         5-5   66.2    1.03    1.00    +0.03
5.  Santa Clara           6-4   64.0    1.01    1.04    -0.03
6.  San Diego             4-6   64.2    0.98    1.03    -0.05
7.  Loyola Marymount      3-7   69.9    0.98    1.06    -0.08
8.  Pacific               2-8   66.1    0.93    1.11    -0.18
9.  Pepperdine            2-8   69.0    0.95    1.17    -0.22
10. Portland              2-8   63.4    0.92    1.16    -0.24

AVG.                            66.5    1.03
KenPom rank: 11 
% of games played: 56

I’ve never seen a scoring margin as high as Gonzaga’s at the midpoint of a conference season, and Tuesday Truths has been around for eight seasons. A month ago I hazarded a view that said the Bulldogs would be the nation’s last undefeated team, but that they would suffer their first loss Thursday night at BYU at an altitude of 4,551 feet. Would I have made this same pick if you’d put me in a time machine and shown me this ridiculous and unprecedented late-January per-possession margin? That is a very good question. Throw a stick at the Zags’ stats and you’ll hit something incomprehensible. In WCC play Mark Few’s team is hitting 63 percent of its twos, and turning the ball over on just 13 percent of its possessions.

Opponents are making just 40 percent of their tries inside the arc. Zach Collins has the highest block rate in the league, and ranks fourth in steals. I’ve watched Kentucky dominate a largely quiescent SEC with occasional hiccups for years, but I’ve never witnessed anything quite like what Gonzaga’s doing to its conference. Is it too late for a mid-season program transfer to the Pac-12?