Tuesday Truths: Post-Gaga 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.

You’re right to love Swanigan, and, oh, by the way, John Collins has something to say

Collins

A Biggie who blocks shots? Is that possible?

Through games of February 6, 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            7-4   68.4    1.13    0.96    +0.17
2.  Virginia              8-3   61.8    1.10    0.96    +0.14
3.  North Carolina        9-2   72.7    1.16    1.04    +0.12
4.  Florida State         8-3   72.3    1.11    1.01    +0.10
5.  Duke                  6-4   71.5    1.14    1.06    +0.08
6.  Syracuse              7-4   66.2    1.14    1.12    +0.02
7.  Notre Dame            6-5   67.0    1.08    1.07    +0.01
8.  Wake Forest           5-6   71.8    1.12    1.12     0.00
9.  Miami                 5-5   65.7    1.07    1.07     0.00
10. Georgia Tech          5-6   68.7    0.96    1.02    -0.06
11. Virginia Tech         5-5   70.3    1.06    1.14    -0.08
12. Boston College        2-9   71.5    1.03    1.14    -0.11
13. Clemson               3-7   67.6    1.03    1.15    -0.12
14. NC State              3-8   72.4    1.05    1.17    -0.12
15. Pitt                  1-9   65.0    1.03    1.19    -0.16

AVG.                            68.8    1.08
Acceleration since 2015:        8.9%
KenPom rank: 2
% of games played: 59

Wake Forest has climbed into the bubble picture and will stay there as long as the Demon Deacons hover in the area of .500 in ACC play. This projects to be a really good year to go 9-9, 8-10 or possibly even 7-11 in said league.


If the Deacons do indeed reach their first tournament since 2010, John Collins will deserve a spot of honor alongside Danny Manning on the cover of the commemorative coffee table book. (“Streakin’ Deacons!” No, wait, “A Wake at Last!” I’m just spit-balling here.) Luke Winn had Collins pegged for a sophomore breakout all the way back in the preseason, and, man, was that a good call.

In fact, Collins’ stat line this season compares quite favorably to that of a certain double-double machine from our nation’s heartland….

          %Min  ORtg   %Shots   OR%    DR%  Blk%   FD/40   FT%   2FG%
Collins   62.7  119.7   29.0   15.6   26.2   7.7    7.7   72.4   61.0   
Swanigan  79.4  114.4   25.6   11.2   33.2   2.2    6.3   79.6   55.8

Player stats: kenpom.com

Caleb Swanigan’s been able to elide the distinction between “minutes” and “minutes for a big guy” in a way no college player has since perhaps Anthony Davis. (The Purdue sophomore’s logging 83 percent of the available minutes in conference play.) That is huge, and it also helps his per-game stats. In addition Swanigan’s making about one three a game while trying two of them. Collins doesn’t go there yet.

Conversely the Deacons get a prized combination of offensive rebounding and rim protection from Collins. (The latter endeavor is mission-critical, to say the very least, in Winston-Salem. Wake never forces turnovers, and ACC opponents are recording a very high number of three-point attempts.) Manning’s big guy has averaged 23 points and 13 boards with four blocks over the last two Deacon wins.

These are two outstanding sophomores who should both merit very long looks as their respective conferences’ POYs.

Beware of Brad Underwood

Pokes

For a team that’s under .500 in conference play, the Cowboys sure can score.

Big 12                    W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  West Virginia         6-4   70.0    1.14    1.05    +0.09
2.  Kansas                9-2   71.3    1.13    1.07    +0.06
3.  Baylor                7-3   65.6    1.02    0.97    +0.05
4.  Iowa State            6-4   69.4    1.08    1.06    +0.02
5.  Kansas State          5-6   68.4    1.06    1.06     0.00
6.  Oklahoma State        4-6   69.5    1.13    1.14    -0.01
7.  TCU                   5-5   68.3    1.04    1.06    -0.02
8.  Texas                 3-7   71.1    0.97    1.03    -0.06
9.  Texas Tech            4-6   64.6    1.03    1.10    -0.07
10. Oklahoma              2-8   70.0    0.99    1.07    -0.08

AVG.                            68.8    1.06
Acceleration since 2015:        6.2%
KenPom rank: 1
% of games played: 56

I’ve begun to wonder whether Oklahoma State may have the best offense in the country at this moment.  That sounds like a stretch given the numbers shown above, but in exchange for the comfort afforded by a large sample size it’s also true that the figures I trot out here are weighed down by the dead past of early January and even (gracious) the tail end of calandar 2016.

Conversely in the here and now the Cowboys have been tearing opponents up into tiny jagged shards of mewling helplessness….

Conference games only
                    PPP      eFG%     TO%       OR%  
First five games    1.08     51.4     20.8      35.6 
Last four           1.22     58.3     21.3      40.9    

Three of those last four games happened on the road, and one was at West Virginia. Present-tense OSU is basically UCLA, only with offensive boards — and, yes, turnovers.

Speaking of those giveaways, the Pokes’ number for points per effective (turnover-less) possession over the last four games is 1.55. The best way to translate that ridiculous number is “Literally unstoppable if they ever hold on to the ball.” Well, that raises a good question….

Jawun Evans is his team writ small, an outstanding player who would be extraordinary if he could eliminate a few turnovers. Evans has given the ball away nine times in his last 109 possessions on the floor, and it’s a compliment to the sophomore’s teammates to note that the OSU offense is so good that each turnover is a disaster. Evans isn’t the last word in efficiency or (especially) accuracy from the field, but the sheer volume of his workload paves the way for the highly lethal likes of Jeffrey Carroll, who only happens to have the league’s best offensive rating in Big 12 play.

Did I say turnovers are a good question or a moot one? Oklahoma State’s turnover rate for the Big 12 season as a whole is unsightly, and it’s actually a little bit worse over the last four games. Then again those games were all wins. I’ve never seen a team not sweat the turnovers because they shoot and rebound so incredibly well, but maybe Brad Underwood’s on to something.

Last thing: Baylor comes to Stillwater tomorrow night. The Bears are, it would appear, the last best hope for an honest to goodness defense in the 2017 Big 12. Should be a nice collision.

Jay Wright, defensive mastermind

NovaD

Big East                  W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Villanova             9-2   66.4    1.14    0.98    +0.16
2.  Creighton             7-4   70.3    1.10    1.05    +0.05
3.  Xavier                7-3   70.8    1.10    1.06    +0.04
4.  Butler                7-4   66.6    1.09    1.05    +0.04
5.  Marquette             6-5   68.5    1.17    1.14    +0.03
6.  Georgetown            4-7   69.9    1.02    1.03    -0.01
7.  Seton Hall            4-6   68.0    1.01    1.02    -0.01
8.  St. John's            5-7   73.9    1.02    1.09    -0.07
9.  Providence            4-7   67.0    1.02    1.09    -0.07
10. DePaul                1-9   67.7    0.98    1.14    -0.16

AVG.                            68.9    1.06
Acceleration since 2015:        6.5%
KenPom rank: 3
% of games played: 60

Marquette is connecting on 45 percent of its threes in conference play, and so it’s looking increasingly likely that Villanova will not (gasp) have the league’s best offense over the course of the 18-game Big East schedule. Needless to say this is most unusual. In fact this would be the first time such a heresy has occurred since Greg McDermott’s son was running amok in the league.

Should such an unthinkable event come to pass, it looks like Jay Wright will have to console himself instead with having the Big East’s best defense. Indeed, as indicated by the numbers above, that title may be all but locked up already.

Villanova’s been fortunate that opposing Big East offenses have converted just 32 percent of their threes, because, truth be told, those opponents have launched a really high number of attempts from out there. (Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart are no slouches in that department, either. If you like threes, go to a Nova game.) Otherwise, this is a solid no-explanation-necessary defense across the board. Most notably for an extremely perimeter-oriented group that’s not exactly brimming with depth, these guys force a fair number of turnovers. Salute.

Also, reserve a special salute for Darryl Reynolds. While the country hangs on every twist and turn in the saga of player availability in the Kansas frontcourt, Reynolds just keeps chugging along as, more or less, the entire Villanova frontcourt. The senior forces just enough misses, blocks an occasional shot and, most crucially, stays out of foul trouble. Reynolds is backed up by Eric Paschall, a onetime wing from Fordham who’s been rechristened as a 4 at Nova while sometimes logging spot duty at the 5. As I said, Reynolds is kind of important.

The Badgers again confuse us by not blocking opponents’ misses

Happ

It is really tough to make twos against these guys. (David Stluka, uwbadgers.com)

Big Ten                   W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wisconsin             9-1   63.2    1.08    0.93    +0.15
2.  Purdue                8-3   70.3    1.12    0.99    +0.13
3.  Maryland              8-2   68.4    1.09    0.99    +0.10
4.  Northwestern          7-3   66.7    1.07    0.98    +0.09
5.  Michigan State        6-4   66.7    1.06    0.99    +0.07
6.  Michigan              4-6   63.3    1.14    1.13    +0.01
7.  Minnesota             4-6   68.0    1.00    1.01     0.00
8.  Indiana               5-6   67.2    1.10    1.11    -0.01
9.  Iowa                  6-5   70.5    1.04    1.07    -0.03
10. Nebraska              4-7   68.4    1.04    1.09    -0.05
11. Ohio State            4-7   68.2    1.04    1.10    -0.06
12. Penn State            4-7   69.9    0.95    1.01    -0.06
13. Illinois              3-8   66.1    1.00    1.10    -0.10
14. Rutgers               2-9   68.8    0.85    1.02    -0.17

AVG.                            67.6    1.04
Acceleration since 2015:        8.5% 
KenPom rank: 4
% of games played: 63

There are 28 units on either side of the ball in the Big Ten — 14 offenses and a like number of defenses — and fully 26 of them have close statistical contact with at least one compatriot from another program. Even the excellent Michigan offense, for example, is given some company by the corresponding bunch from Purdue. Similarly, the Wolverine defense has its own numerical buddy, of sorts, in the form of Indiana.

That being said, there are two clear exceptions to this rule of performance herding. One is the Rutgers offense, of which the less said the better. (Good win this past weekend, though.) The other outlier is quite clearly the Wisconsin defense, which is limiting the Big Ten to 0.93 points per trip when no other team can manage a number anywhere close to that.

Greg Gard’s guys are getting this job done by holding conference opponents to 41.7 percent shooting on their twos. That’s an outstanding number that has no precedent among recent Big Ten defenses, particularly ones not named “Wisconsin” that block as few shots as the Badgers do.

Lowest opponent two-point accuracies, with league block % ranks
B1G games only, 2013-17
                                      B1G
                           Opp.       Blk% 
                           2FG%       rank
Wisconsin        2017      41.7        8
Wisconsin        2013      42.2        7
Michigan State   2016      42.3        3
Purdue           2015      42.4        3

B1G block % ranks: kenpom.com

Ethan Happ recorded five blocks against Minnesota last month, but for the most part he’s not keeping Joel Embiid up nights. Nor, of course, is Nigel Hayes, but that hasn’t made it any easier for opponents to get the ball in the basket against these two.

The cognitive rain shadow left behind by the presence of Bo Ryan in Madison for 15 years has primed us to really, truly want to talk about offense or innovation or zero-turnover ball or Bronson Koenig corner threes when we see these uniforms. We might want to fight that instinct for now. Wisconsin’s big story this season is its defense.

Game of the Year of the week: Thursday in Westwood

Ducks

Pac-12                    W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Oregon               10-1   67.4    1.18    0.95    +0.23
2.  Arizona              10-1   67.4    1.15    0.99    +0.16
3.  UCLA                  8-3   74.7    1.20    1.06    +0.14
4.  Utah                  6-5   69.3    1.12    1.00    +0.12
5.  Cal                   8-3   65.3    1.04    1.01    +0.03
6.  USC                   7-4   70.6    1.04    1.04     0.00
7.  Colorado              3-8   69.2    1.09    1.13    -0.04
8.  Arizona State         4-7   71.8    1.11    1.16    -0.05
9.  Stanford              4-7   70.9    0.97    1.04    -0.07
10. Washington            2-9   71.5    0.99    1.13    -0.14
11. Washington State      4-7   67.5    1.03    1.18    -0.15
12. Oregon State         0-11   65.3    0.94    1.18    -0.24

AVG.                            69.2    1.07
Acceleration since 2015:        5.6%
KenPom rank: 6 
% of games played: 61

I’ll be offering some thoughts on UCLA at ESPN.com this week in advance of the Bruins’ showdown with Oregon at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night. For now, allow me to lavish some equal-time attention on the Ducks.

To recap, Dana Altman’s men have hosted UCLA, done the Colorado-Utah altitude tour, suffered their lone conference loss, and, most recently, beaten Arizona to a bloody pulp in Eugene. When you don’t miss any shots, you are difficult to beat.

Historic shooting won’t recur every night (in fact my pet theory is that such games just happen when and where the hoops gods wish), but do keep in mind this defense has been excellent in its own right. In fact I have to wonder whether part of Oregon’s relative invisibility in the discussion of excellent defenses nationally isn’t at least partly visual.

Altman looks and carries himself less like Frank Martin than any coach alive, and his players aren’t particularly burly or imposing. Speaking of visual red herrings, the Ducks have an abundance of rather vibrant and demonstrably arresting uniforms, plus a floor that, even after six-plus years, still takes me three or four possessions per game to tune out completely.

All true, but Pac-12 opponents are shooting significantly worse than the league average on their twos against these guys, and when that happens history suggests you’re looking at a really good defense. Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher make life tough for opposing offenses. That dynamic won’t necessarily make itself felt at Pauley Pavilion — UCLA shot really well against the Ducks even in Eugene — but it’s an encouraging tendency over the long haul.

If ever there were a trap game. Keep an eye on Altman’s team on the back end of this trip, too. USC can’t make twos, but Andy Enfield’s guys sport what’s actually a pretty fair opponent turnover rate in the low-low-turnover Pac-12.

Florida and the potential value of balance

White

Mike White is about to eat out-of-frame prey with his arms, only the joke’s on him because he in turn is about to be devoured by a giant felt alligator. (USATSI)

SEC                       W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Florida               8-2   70.6    1.12    0.93    +0.19
2.  Kentucky              8-2   75.0    1.16    1.00    +0.16
3.  South Carolina        9-1   71.7    1.02    0.90    +0.12
4.  Alabama               6-4   69.2    1.02    1.00    +0.02
5.  Tennessee             5-5   74.0    1.04    1.02    +0.02
6.  Arkansas              6-4   71.2    1.11    1.10    +0.01
7.  Georgia               4-6   69.9    1.01    1.01     0.00
8.  Vanderbilt            4-6   67.3    1.09    1.09     0.00
9.  Ole Miss              5-5   73.1    1.00    1.02    -0.02
10. Mississippi State     5-5   71.8    1.02    1.05    -0.03
11. Texas A&M             4-6   68.3    1.00    1.06    -0.06
12. Auburn                4-6   74.3    1.04    1.11    -0.07
13. Missouri              1-9   72.0    0.94    1.10    -0.16
14. LSU                   1-9   75.0    1.00    1.20    -0.20

AVG.                            71.6    1.04
Acceleration since 2015:       11.7% 
KenPom rank: 5
% of games played: 56

For one week, at least, we can think of the SEC as the league where South Carolina may win the regular-season title, Kentucky will definitely get the most attention (and likely the highest tournament seed), and, oh, yeah, Florida may turn out to be the best team.

This kind of confusion stems in part from how very different these three teams are. People will continue to yell at Kentucky to start playing defense (the same thing is yelled at UCLA and, kind of, Kansas), but of course no one thinks to upbraid South Carolina for not playing offense. The Gamecocks are accepted as is. We may want to do the same with Mike White’s team, which excels on both sides of the ball. To quote every movie ever, it’s so crazy it just might work.

In their 88-66 dismantling of the Wildcats over the weekend in Gainesville, the Gators held Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe to 7-of-24 combined shooting from the field. Even the usually emphatic Bam Adebayo was made to look oddly diffident. (It surely helped UF’s cause that De’Aaron Fox still didn’t appear to be 100 percent healthy.) It was a team effort by Florida, and that’s not at all unusual. Any team that forces misses inside the arc, limits tries outside it, and takes care of the ball is built to hang around.

Of course, this “team effort” stuff could hamper a proper appreciation of (or even seed for?) Florida. Kasey Hill and Canyon Barry are each good stories in their own ways, but on a team where no one averages 14 points it may be difficult to find one Gator to hold up as a true “these guys could go all the way” totem. (Devin Robinson?)

Not to mention UF plays at Georgia tonight, and there’s no way that game isn’t close. Just about every game the Bulldogs play is close, and so far UGA’s lost (nearly) every one of them. Mark Fox’s guys are due, and, oh, yeah, Yante Maten may be the best player in the SEC. Go strong, Gators. Eat or be eaten.

Game of the Year: Sunday in Dallas

American                  W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  SMU                  10-1   62.7    1.19    0.91    +0.28
2.  Cincinnati           10-0   66.2    1.10    0.88    +0.22
3.  Houston               7-4   63.9    1.06    0.99    +0.07
4.  UCF                   6-5   68.2    1.00    0.96    +0.04
6.  Memphis               7-4   68.6    0.97    0.94    +0.03
5.  Tulsa                 6-4   67.9    1.01    0.99    +0.02
7.  Connecticut           5-5   64.0    1.00    1.00     0.00
8.  Temple                4-7   67.2    1.02    1.07    -0.05
9.  East Carolina         3-7   65.5    0.85    0.98    -0.13
10. Tulane               1-10   71.7    0.93    1.10    -0.17
11. South Florida        0-11   69.5    0.90    1.13    -0.23

AVG.                            66.8    1.00
KenPom rank: 7
% of games played: 59

No potentially elite team nationally is shrouded in as much mystery as SMU. Right now the best opponent that Tim Jankovich’s guys have faced all year would be Cincinnati, and the Mustangs dropped a two-point decision to the Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena last month. The two teams will play again on Sunday in Dallas in what should be the most momentous regular-season showdown in the American’s young life since the salad days of 2014, back when Shabazz-equipped UConn and defending champion Louisville were tearing into each other.

Now, who else have the Ponies played besides Mick Cronin’s guys? I don’t know, TCU? Michigan? USC? Whomever it is, they’re no Gonzaga. Laptops up to and including mine (see above) adore Semi Ojeleye, Shake Milton, Sterling Brown, Ben Moore and company just the same because on paper they shoot like Villanova, crash the offensive glass like West Virginia and defend quite well.

I mostly nod in agreement with my laptop, though sometimes the two of us get into testy exchanges regarding what to me is SMU’s inexplicable and almost Steve Alford-like serenity in the face of opponents attempting tons of threes. Someday that’s got to rise up and bite you, right? Conversely if the Mustangs ever think to channel their inner Duke, slap the floor, and force those opponents off the arc, you’ll find me on this bandwagon with both feet.

Why do we have refs?

A-10                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Dayton                8-2   69.0    1.06    0.89    +0.17
2.  VCU                   8-2   69.1    1.12    0.96    +0.16
3.  Rhode Island          7-3   70.0    1.10    0.96    +0.14
4.  Richmond              8-3   72.3    1.07    1.02    +0.05
5.  Davidson              5-5   68.9    1.05    1.00    +0.05
6.  St. Bonaventure       6-4   68.8    1.04    1.01    +0.03
7.  La Salle              6-4   68.8    1.11    1.11     0.00
8.  George Mason          5-5   69.8    1.05    1.05     0.00
9.  UMass                 2-8   73.6    0.97    1.03    -0.06
10. George Washington     4-6   65.8    1.05    1.11    -0.06
11. Saint Joseph's        3-7   68.7    0.94    1.01    -0.07
12. Fordham               4-6   66.8    0.97    1.05    -0.08
13. Duquesne              2-9   71.8    0.98    1.12    -0.14
14. Saint Louis           3-7   63.6    0.93    1.10    -0.17

AVG.                            69.1    1.03
KenPom rank: 8
% of games played: 56

On Saturday, St. Bonaventure pulled ahead of VCU by one point with less than a second left in the game, at which point all heck broke loose at the Reilly Center:

As you know by now, the Bonnies were assessed a technical foul (not for a premature court storm, per se, but, in part, because a security guard swiped the ball). JeQaun Lewis made the resulting free throw to send the game into overtime, and the Rams eventually won 83-77.

Premature court storms and/or situations where a security guard might swipe the ball are fairly rare, but they do happen because we have affirmatively chosen to create the conditions where they will happen. This whole idea of putting time “back” on the clock is a relatively recent tweak to Dr. Naismith’s game, one that’s a laudable move in the direction of justice, and, yes, a feature that will ineluctably lead to occasional premature court storms.

Actually one took place just this season in a far higher-profile setting (no offense) than the Reilly Center. Right before New Year’s, undefeated and No. 2-ranked UCLA visited Oregon, and as the game’s final seconds wound down the Bruins held a one-point lead. Then Dillon Brooks hit a three. Here’s shaky from-the-stands video of Brooks’ shot. Watch as fans run on to the court at Knight Arena, and remember one thing. The game’s not over.

My colleague Bill Walton promptly went nuts because no technical was called. It’s not often I get to be the “Hey, chill out, bro, it’s all good” Wavy Gravy to Bill’s strict-constructionist button-down plastic-fantastic Madison Avenue scene Nixon, but here we are. I can’t speak for you or for Bill, but I’m here to witness a a contest between two competing teams to determine which one possesses the higher degree of basketball prowess. Conversely if someone wants to launch a league that tests host programs’ abilities in crowd control, decorum, and security fencing, well, go to it. I won’t be there to watch. Singapore will be the new Chapel Hill-Durham.

Officials, you exist because we need you here to adjudicate the competition. You’re a necessary evil, and if we can ever figure out a way to eliminate you entirely we will. You should not be primarily responsible for player- and crowd-safety, and we should have better ways of ensuring that such Maslow-level requirements are met than giving points to the visiting team. Above all you’re not here to adulterate the competition with well-intentioned yet extraneous non-basketball elements. The next time there’s a premature court storm — and there will be one — take as much time as you need, clear the court, put 0.4 seconds back on the clock, and see what happens. That is my basketball utopia. Now, tell me yours.

Dr. Richard Kimball would love the Shockers’ fast pace

Missouri Valley           W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita State        11-1   69.7    1.17    0.90    +0.27
2.  Illinois State       11-1   64.9    1.03    0.92    +0.11
3.  Loyola                6-6   66.4    1.09    1.05    +0.04
4.  Missouri State        6-6   65.4    1.05    1.04    +0.01
5.  Southern Illinois     7-5   65.3    1.04    1.03    +0.01
6.  Northern Iowa         6-6   65.0    0.97    0.99    -0.02
7.  Drake                 5-7   71.1    1.03    1.09    -0.06
8.  Evansville           2-10   67.0    0.95    1.03    -0.08
9.  Indiana State        2-10   68.9    0.98    1.10    -0.12
10. Bradley               4-8   68.3    0.93    1.06    -0.13

AVG.                            67.2    1.02
KenPom rank: 10
% of games played: 67

This past weekend Wichita State took would-be rival Illinois State out to the woodshed in Wichita with some gusto, pasting the Redbirds 86-45. True, it wasn’t entirely a fair fight: ISU had to do without MiKyle McIntosh, who’s currently sidelined by a knee injury. Then again while I think the world of McIntosh (who is both a featured scored and a high-value interior defender), I don’t suppose his presence alone is equivalent to an additional 42 points. In any event, the situation here is the same as it was last week and, likely, the same as it will be right up until Arch Madness. The team that doesn’t get the auto-bid (and, of course, that could be both the Shockers and Illinois State — maybe surging Loyola can pull off some trickery in the conference tournament) will have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

When not whomping the heck out of MVC arrivistes Marshall can be found schmoozing with Harrison Ford, who was in Wichita last week for some reason….

Ford

 

Marshall reportedly pestered the icon best known for his roles in two action-figure-ready franchises not with snippets of dialogue from those usual suspects but instead with lines from…”The Fugitive”? Well played, Coach. That hospital where Dr. Kimball was lurking in order to clear his name employed everyone from a young Jane Lynch to a young Julianne Moore. Good times.

Is Moraga too salubrious to confer a big home-court advantage?

West Coast                W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga              12-0   69.5    1.24    0.85    +0.39
2.  Saint Mary's         11-1   59.8    1.18    0.93    +0.25
3.  BYU                   8-4   73.7    1.08    0.97    +0.11
4.  San Francisco         7-5   67.4    1.03    0.96    +0.07
5.  Santa Clara           7-5   63.7    1.00    1.05    -0.05
6.  Loyola Marymount      4-8   69.0    0.99    1.05    -0.06
7.  San Diego             4-8   62.6    0.95    1.07    -0.12
8.  Pacific              2-10   65.8    0.96    1.13    -0.17
9.  Pepperdine            3-9   69.0    0.96    1.15    -0.19
10. Portland             2-10   63.7    0.90    1.14    -0.24

AVG.                            66.4    1.03
KenPom rank: 11 
% of games played: 67

Gonzaga will put its perfect record on the line Saturday night at Saint Mary’s, and a win there will mean the Bulldogs have a very, very good chance to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. For their part the Gaels will confront Mark Few’s guys with Jock Landale, great outside shooting, and robust rebounding at both ends of the floor. That being said the Zags have emerged victorious three of the last four times they’ve visited SMC, and those wins came by an average margin of 18 points per contest.

I blame Moraga. Saint Mary’s happens to be situated in a location that’s just too beautiful to make opponents apprehensive. If Randy Bennett’s smart, he’ll arrange for traffic in the Caldecott Tunnel (coals to Newcastle, I know), and have the Zags sit for an hour in the only spot in the entire vicinity that’s not a photo op. I mean, look at this place….

SMC.jpg

 

I have a buddy who grew up in adjacent Orinda, and he acts like this is normal somehow. It is so not normal. With the possible exception of Tucson, no place that’s both nice and warm has a good home-court advantage. It’s antithetical. (Hawaii being quite plainly its own jet-lag-fueled special case.) The Gaels are good enough to transcend this dynamic and certainly no sport gives a bigger boost to the home team than college basketball, but this may not be your normal home-court situation.

Plus Gonzaga’s pretty good. You know, that whole “+0.39” thing.