Tuesday Truths: Final reality

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

A shot volume dynasty


UNC’s dominance on the offensive glass is made even more effective by the Tar Heels’ low turnover rate. (Jeffrey A. Camarati)

Through games of March 5, 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.  North Carolina       14-4   70.2    1.16    1.03    +0.13
2.  Louisville           12-6   67.9    1.13    1.01    +0.12
3.  Virginia             11-7   60.6    1.05    0.95    +0.10
4.  Florida State        12-6   71.1    1.12    1.03    +0.09
5.  Duke                 11-7   68.7    1.14    1.08    +0.06
6.  Notre Dame           12-6   67.9    1.10    1.05    +0.05
7.  Wake Forest           9-9   71.7    1.14    1.12    +0.02
8.  Syracuse             10-8   67.0    1.12    1.12    +0.01
9.  Miami                10-8   63.6    1.05    1.04    +0.01
10. Virginia Tech        10-8   67.7    1.10    1.14    -0.04
11. Clemson              6-12   66.8    1.09    1.14    -0.05
12. Georgia Tech         8-10   69.0    0.94    1.00    -0.06
13. Pitt                 4-14   64.7    1.02    1.14    -0.12
14. Boston College       2-16   71.6    1.00    1.15    -0.15
15. NC State             4-14   70.9    1.03    1.18    -0.15

AVG.                            68.0    1.08
Acceleration since 2015:        7.6%
KenPom rank: 2

In winning the 2017 ACC regular-season title outright, North Carolina came close but could not quite capture still another banner of sorts. This group was very nearly the best offensive rebounding team Roy Williams has ever had in Chapel Hill. Alas, the Tar Heels in 2008 rebounded 43.0 percent of their misses in ACC play, while this season Carolina posted a 42.1.

Still, in future years when Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley attend UNC reunions, they can boast to Tyler Hanbrough and Deon Thompson that the 2017 team recorded a far superior shot volume. Nine years ago the Heels were giving the ball away 19 percent of the time in conference play. That’s so old fashioned, and, worse, it deprived one of the best offensive rebounding teams of recent years a significant number of opportunities to flex those muscles.

Conversely the low-turnover version of Carolina we now see before us generated shot attempts better than any team in major-conference play for a second consecutive year.

Best 2017 numbers for shot volume index (SVI)

Turnover, offensive rebound %s; SVI
Major-conference games only
                       TO%    OR%     SVI
North Carolina        16.1   42.1   103.7
Louisville            16.2   35.0   100.3
Florida State         15.7   32.9    99.9
Arizona               15.9   33.2    99.8
UCLA                  14.6   29.9    99.8
Wisconsin             16.3   33.4    99.4  
Butler                15.0   29.9    98.8
Arkansas              15.5   30.1    98.8   

North Carolina’s sheer volume of shot attempts explains how a team that shot a hair worse than the league average from the field in ACC play nevertheless had the conference’s best offense. In fact this is the first time UNC’s been able to make this “We’re No. 1 (on offense in the ACC)!” claim since 2009. Hmm.

Expected ACC bids: 10 (North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia, Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Wake Forest)

There was a moment earlier in the season when it appeared probable that one or more ACC teams would go into the NCAA tournament with sub-.500 records in conference play. That looks less likely now. It turned out Pittsburgh and NC State especially were not as good as anticipated. That plus another rebuilding year from Boston College was enough to provide a fund of 44 wins for the rest of the league. The result’s a fairly clean break in the standings (though not in the per-possession results) after Wake Forest at 9-9.

Heading into Championship Week, this therefore looks like a 10-bid league with a relatively low potential for bubble drama. The only things that could conceivably change what you’re hearing would be: 1) a loss in the first round for Wake to BC; or 2) a run to the title game by Georgia Tech. Syracuse is likely safe even in the event of a big loss to Miami in the second round, but I wouldn’t recommend that the Orange test the hypothesis.

Coaching arrivals/departures. NC State fired Mark Gottfried on February 16, but has allowed him to finish the season. Was it really just 718 days ago that a relatively svelte BeeJay Anya was making life perfectly miserable for any Villanova player foolish enough to venture into the paint? The Wolfpack beat the Wildcats in the round of 32 that day, and everyone knew the sophomore would continue to develop and be a big part of an NC State resurgence, just like everyone knew Jay Wright was destined to keep falling short of the second weekend. Life comes at you fast.

The Jayhawks are good at threes, and that’s enough


Makes that in past years were Perry Ellis twos have been replaced in 2017 with threes that opponents find 50 percent more painful. Free Mason.

Big 12                    W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  West Virginia        12-6   70.0    1.09    0.99    +0.10
2.  Kansas               16-2   70.9    1.13    1.05    +0.08
3.  Baylor               12-6   64.2    1.06    1.00    +0.06
4.  Iowa State           12-6   68.7    1.11    1.07    +0.04
5.  Oklahoma State        9-9   69.0    1.16    1.13    +0.03
6.  Kansas State         8-10   68.5    1.02    1.06    -0.04
7.  Oklahoma             5-13   69.5    0.99    1.04    -0.05
8.  TCU                  6-12   66.6    1.03    1.09    -0.06
9.  Texas Tech           6-12   64.9    1.03    1.09    -0.06
10. Texas                4-14   68.9    0.97    1.06    -0.09

AVG.                            68.1    1.06
Acceleration since 2015:        5.1% 
KenPom rank: 1

Kansas just went 16-2 in what statistically is the strongest league we’ve seen in over a decade. Yes, some close-game magic was involved in the win total, but that glass can be seen as half-full too.  Last year’s losses by double-digit margins at places like Oklahoma State and Iowa State became this year’s close wins.

Take one step forward if you saw all this coming two years ago, but I for one am still rubbing my eyes at the sight. Bill Self has extended his monumental streak of Big 12 titles to a 13th year with a defensively unimposing team that shoots more threes than the league average, and, needless to say, makes them. Threes are what KU is good at, and there’s nothing else KU is as good at as threes.

Nor is it entirely clear to me that Jayhawk fans need to fret about living and dying by the three. Kansas won its two worst three-point-shooting games of the conference season, after all, at home against the Cowboys and, more impressively, at Baylor. Frank Mason is a potential national player of the year not only because he’s a deadly outside shooter but also because he draws fouls, takes care of the ball and plays defense while being on the floor all of the time. We should be careful to distinguish between “Kansas doesn’t do X as well as it used to,” which is very often true this season, from “Kansas is suspect at X,” which is not necessarily the same thing.

I will admit, however, that it’s weird visually. True, this is a sneaky-good offensive rebounding team, and the Jayhawks improved at forcing misses in the paint as the season progressed. Nevertheless, defense and twos were long Self’s calling cards, and the bottom line says the 2017 Jayhawks are fair to middling on both counts. At the end of the day Kansas made 41 percent of its threes against the Big 12. That, more than anything else, is what has earned KU its No. 1 seed in the field of 68.

Expected Big 12 bids: Five (Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State)

There will be bubble drama in Kansas City this week, as Kansas State tries to play its way off of the First Four Out line and into the field of 68. As it happens, however, the bracket does K-State no favors. Bruce Weber’s team will face Baylor in the quarterfinals, meaning KSU’s No. 8-ranked offense in Big 12 play will be confronted with far and away the league’s best defense in terms of forcing misses. Then again Kansas State did win in Waco this year. Go strong, Wildcats.

Coaching arrivals/departures. Anything’s possible, but the Big 12 went on a hiring spree in both the 2015 and 2016 cycles, and now half the coaches in the league are in their first or second seasons. It could be quiet this time around for the conference.

Kris Jenkins, unsung hero


This rare photo is believed to show Jenkins shooting a two. (USATSI)

Big East                  W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Villanova            15-3   65.9    1.16    0.98    +0.18
2.  Butler               12-6   66.6    1.12    1.06    +0.06
3.  Creighton            10-8   71.7    1.09    1.03    +0.06
4.  Marquette            10-8   69.3    1.15    1.11    +0.04
5.  Providence           10-8   67.2    1.04    1.05    -0.01
6.  Seton Hall           10-8   67.5    1.04    1.05    -0.01
7.  Xavier                9-9   68.6    1.08    1.10    -0.02
8.  Georgetown           5-13   69.2    1.01    1.05    -0.04
9.  St. John's           7-11   75.0    1.01    1.10    -0.09
10. DePaul               2-16   68.2    0.97    1.13    -0.16

AVG.                            68.9    1.07
Acceleration since 2015:        6.5%
KenPom rank: 3

Josh Hart’s going to be a deserving first-team All-American, Jalen Brunson’s been praised to the skies by John Gasaway, and Jay Wright seems to always be either writing a book or having a book written about him.

Then there’s Kris Jenkins. He ended last season with what may long be the most famous college basketball shot attempted by someone not named Laettner. What can you possibly do for an encore?

When you’re famous for a three you made, keep shooting threes.

Most three-point attempts over the last two seasons

Major-conference players only
Andrew White    Nebraska/Syracuse    467
Kris Jenkins    Villanova            466
Bryce Alford    UCLA                 429
Shep Garner     Penn State           423                 

Data: sports-reference.com

Jenkins is connecting on 38 percent of his threes, and his combination of volume and success has allowed highly-perimeter-oriented Villanova to do something rather remarkable inside the arc. With opposing defenses spread from sideline to sideline by Jenkins and Hart, the Wildcats have been able to feast in the paint.

Pop the cork and buy that Villanova-related book, because this really is the best two-point shooting team in recent memory — by a mind-blowing margin, I might add.

Best 2FG%s, 2008-17
Major-conference games only
Villanova      2017    60.7
UCLA           2010    57.2
UCLA           2017    56.9
Creighton      2014    56.8
Utah           2017    56.8
Creighton      2017    56.3
Kansas         2011    56.3

I for one am getting Wright’s tome, going straight to the index, and looking for “Two-point accuracy, insane levels of.” I expect there may be a line or two in there on the value of having a high-volume defense-magnet like Jenkins spotted up outside the arc.

Expected Big East bids: Seven (Villanova, Butler, Creighton, Marquette, Seton Hall, Xavier, Providence)

Putting 70 percent of your league or more into the bracket is the very definition of a good year — it’s only been done five times in the 32 modern-era tournaments up to now. So this will be a big deal if the Big East can pull it off (though it will be lost in the celebration of the ACC putting 67 percent of its conference into the bracket). I will add just one note of caution.

Four Big East teams — Marquette, Seton Hall, Xavier, and Providence — are clustered perilously close together down around the No. 10 seed line. That’s safe enough in theory, but any combination of normal bid thievery from, say the American and/or A-10 tournaments, continued collapsing from the Musketeers (the X-men have to play in the first round against DePaul), one quarterfinal face-plant by any of the other three, and/or the committee’s now-annual selection grenade (never forget Tulsa) could prove calamitous for the Big East in particular.

Coaching arrivals/departures. Georgetown will have a decision to make. The Hoyas fell off a cliff on offense this season, and whether it was bad or good timing that this occurred alongside some outstanding (and entirely and understandably overlooked) interior defense will be in the eye of the beholder. Either way, the fact that this is being spoken of as a moment of decision and that former players are being quoted anonymously and that the keep/fire pros and cons are being recited is of course its own form of decision. Who knows, this may be kicked down the road a bit and things could seem to quiet down, but I’m not sure this moment doesn’t itself form a cul-de-sac, one from which few tenures emerge safely. As former Saint Louis head coach Jim Crews put it, all coaches are interim.

Can Biggie finish the paradigm shift that Pittsnogle started?


He doth bestride the narrow court like a Colossus. (USA Today)

Big Ten                   W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Purdue               14-4   69.3    1.11    0.99    +0.12
2.  Michigan             10-8   63.7    1.16    1.07    +0.09
3.  Wisconsin            12-6   63.8    1.05    0.97    +0.08
4.  Maryland             12-6   67.4    1.09    1.03    +0.06
5.  Minnesota            11-7   69.5    1.03    1.00    +0.03
6.  Michigan State       10-8   67.7    1.05    1.02    +0.03
7.  Northwestern         10-8   65.5    1.03    1.01    +0.02
8.  Iowa                 10-8   70.5    1.05    1.06    -0.01
9.  Indiana              7-11   68.3    1.08    1.11    -0.03
10. Illinois             8-10   66.6    1.00    1.04    -0.04
11. Ohio State           7-11   68.4    1.05    1.09    -0.04
12. Penn State           6-12   70.1    0.97    1.03    -0.06
13. Nebraska             6-12   68.9    1.00    1.09    -0.09
14. Rutgers              3-15   66.8    0.89    1.05    -0.16

AVG.                            67.6    1.04
Acceleration since 2015:        8.5% 
KenPom rank: 4

If Caleb Swanigan had been born in 1987 instead of 1997, would  a 6-foot-9 250-pound post player like he is be allowed to try two threes per game the way he does in 2017? Surprisingly that answer may be yes. An even better question might be what would have happened to him if he’d been born in 1992. Then our answer would almost certainly be no.

I’m not going to base a dissertation on something as notoriously unreliable as team-declared position classifications, but it’ll do for a paragraph. Using the database for players classed as “C,” “F-C,” or “C-F” at sports-reference.com, it appears that the era around the mid-aughts marked something of a golden age of stretch-5s. Back then Kevin Pittsnogle was leading John Beilein’s West Virginia team to the Final Four while usual suspects like Vanderbilt, Princeton, Northwestern, and Air Force regularly featured three-point shooting big men. Even as late as 2008, a post player as prominent as Kevin Love could attempt 82 threes over the course of 39 games.

Then, the year after Love jumped to the pros, the three-point line was moved back a foot. Perhaps not coincidentally, the three-point shooting “C”s, “F-C”s, and “C-F”s that had been a vocal minority in Division I charted a steep population decline in the data.

Maybe those guys are, at last, making a comeback: Swanigan’s shooting 45 percent on his threes, and he’s doing so as a foul-drawing interior scorer who also happens to be perhaps the nation’s premier defensive rebounder. His Big Ten POY award holds both descriptive accuracy and historical relevance as a matter of style.

Expected Big Ten bids: Seven (Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State)

Illinois and Iowa will tell you they’re still in this thing and they’re coming to the Big Ten tournament in DC to play their way off the bubble. Well, they may be right. The Illini are showing up in First Four Out territory, while the Hawkeyes are found under headers starting with “others” or “also.” Fran McCaffery’s men will play Indiana in the second round, while John Groce’s team will face Michigan there. Once upon a time the Illini beat the Wolverines easily in Champaign, and afterward one of the victorious orange-bedecked men branded UM as “white collar.” Since that moment Beilein’s team has outscored its Big Ten opponents by 0.13 points per possession. The Michigan staff should hire that guy.

Coaching arrivals/departures. Did the late-season push made by Illinois make the case for keeping the coach? What will happen next at Indiana? What is to become of Ohio State, and will this programmatic “air pocket” prove transitory? The Big Ten will not lack for carousel intrigue the next few days.

UCLA 2017 is paying the sincerest compliment to Wisconsin 2015


Welsh doing Welsh things.

Pac-12                    W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Oregon               16-2   67.7    1.18    0.97    +0.21
2.  UCLA                 15-3   73.3    1.20    1.03    +0.17
3.  Arizona              16-2   66.7    1.15    1.00    +0.15
4.  Utah                 11-7   68.5    1.11    1.00    +0.11
5.  Cal                  10-8   65.1    1.00    0.98    +0.02
6.  Colorado             8-10   68.3    1.10    1.09    +0.01
7.  USC                  10-8   70.2    1.08    1.07    +0.01
8.  Stanford             6-12   69.5    1.00    1.06    -0.06
9.  Arizona State        7-11   71.0    1.07    1.15    -0.08
10. Washington State     6-12   67.9    1.02    1.15    -0.13
11. Washington           2-16   70.8    0.98    1.15    -0.17
12. Oregon State         1-17   65.8    0.92    1.16    -0.24

AVG.                            68.7    1.07
Acceleration since 2015:        4.9%
KenPom rank: 6

The standard telling of UCLA in 2016-17 goes like this: Lonzo Ball dropped from the sky, Bryce Alford started playing off the ball and with a higher degree of shot-launching discretion inside the arc, T.J. Leaf helped too, Rupp happened, Bruin shots all went in all season long, the defense struggled, and here we are.

That’s mostly correct, actually. The one twist I’m not sure I’d been made aware of, however, is that UCLA, as great as the team looked in December, has been a work in progress throughout the season.

This Bruin betterment has been easy to miss because the shots really have been going in all season long, but in truth the change has been rather dramatic. Where once this was “just” (ha) an amazing shooting team along the lines of Creighton in 2014, now Steve Alford’s group is something much closer (and therefore much more scary to opponents) to Wisconsin in 2015. Like Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and company, UCLA’s bringing together: 1) ridiculous accuracy; 2) NBA talent; and 3) high shot volume.

Right, No. 3 is the new and improved part. You’re not mistaken, it didn’t used to be there.

Shot volume index (SVI): Bruins 2017 and Badgers 2015

Turnover, offensive rebound %s; SVI
Conference games only
                                     TO%    OR%     SVI
UCLA       2017 first 9 P12 games   15.8   26.1    96.6
UCLA       2017 last 9 P12 games    13.5   33.7   102.9
Wisconsin  2015                     11.8   32.2   104.2   

The microscopic turnover rate is of course a team-wide triumph, but credit for the significantly improved offensive rebounding goes primarily to Thomas Welsh. The junior has pulled down 13 percent of the Bruins’ misses during his minutes in Pac-12 play, good for No. 2 in the league behind only Stanford’s Reid Travis. In other news the conference-season-ending number for UCLA’s notoriously bad defense was not at all notoriously bad. Remind me again as to the basis for our skepticism of this team?

Expected Pac-12 bids: Four (Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, USC)

Cal’s season-ending altitude tour — a 30-point loss at Utah followed by an eight-point defeat at Colorado — did it no favors in the eyes of bracketologists, who suspect that the Bears will now have to play their way into the field from First Four Out territory. The men from Berkeley will start on that task with a first-round game against Oregon State. Win there, and Cuonzo Martin’s guys will get a neutral-floor rematch with the Utes.

Coaching arrivals/departures. Barring a miracle run to a Pac-12 tournament title, Washington’s about to spend its sixth consecutive NCAA tournament watching the festivities. A run like that will trigger speculation at any major-conference program, only this one happens to have signed Michael Porter, Jr., for next season. The high school senior is already being projected as a 2018 lottery pick. If the Huskies elect to make a change anyway, a head coach who’s been a veritable one-man pipeline funneling early-entry picks to the NBA will find other opportunities to pursue. Give that newly available coach an Executive Senior Director for Talent Sequencing, and you should be good to go.

UK’s shown us the best-case scenario for statistically extreme youth


Seniors are overrepresented in this picture relative to their share of UK minutes

SEC                       W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kentucky             16-2   73.2    1.13    0.98    +0.15
2.  Florida              14-4   71.1    1.09    0.94    +0.15
3.  South Carolina       12-6   71.2    1.00    0.93    +0.07
4.  Arkansas             12-6   70.5    1.12    1.08    +0.04
5.  Vanderbilt           10-8   67.1    1.06    1.03    +0.03
6.  Alabama              10-8   67.4    0.99    0.96    +0.03
7.  Georgia               9-9   69.7    1.03    1.04    -0.01
8.  Ole Miss             10-8   74.1    1.01    1.02    -0.01
9.  Texas A&M            8-10   67.5    1.01    1.03    -0.02
10. Tennessee            8-10   71.7    1.01    1.04    -0.03
11. Mississippi State    6-12   72.2    0.99    1.05    -0.06
12. Auburn               7-11   74.7    1.07    1.13    -0.06
13. Missouri             2-16   70.0    0.96    1.09    -0.13
14. LSU                  2-16   74.3    1.03    1.20    -0.17

AVG.                            71.1    1.04
Acceleration since 2015:       10.9% 
KenPom rank: 5

We began the 2016-17 season by talking about the top two teams in the preseason AP top 25: Duke and Kentucky. Now, 18 weeks later, the Blue Devils are ranked No. 14 and on track for perhaps a No. 4 seed. The Wildcats have fared rather better, ranked No. 8 and looking at a probable spot on the No. 2 line in the bracket that comes out Sunday evening.

Make no mistake, a No. 2 seed after a 26-5 regular season is: a) outstanding; and b) about as outstanding as it gets for a team with so little experience returning from the previous season.

Youngest AP preseason top-10 teams in one-and-done era
%RPMs: Percentage of returning possession-minutes from previous season

                     %RPMs   AP preseason   NCAAT seed    NCAAT result
Kentucky      2013     6          3            N/A            N/A
Kentucky      2016    16          2             4             R32
Kansas        2014    22          5             2             R32
Duke          2016    24          5             4             S16
Kentucky      2017    26          2             ?              ?
Florida       2015    29          7            N/A            N/A
N. Carolina   2010    29          6            N/A            N/A           

Preseason expectations for these young teams have had a tendency to overshoot the mark, but Kentucky is performing as well as any previous such team. In fact if the Wildcats reach the Elite Eight, that in itself will set a record of sorts for one-and-done-era extreme youth.

Next season we will start this cycle over again and vote a similarly green group as the preseason No. 1 or No. 2. So be it.

Expected SEC bids: Five (Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Vanderbilt)

Vanderbilt is being shown as one of the last teams in the field, and the Commodores open the SEC tournament with a second round game against Texas A&M. Win there, and Bryce Drew’s guys are looking at a quarterfinal against Florida.

Coaching arrivals/departures. Missouri has parted ways with Kim Anderson. There will also be attention given to whether another such shoe might not drop at LSU.

Omnicompetent SMU


Semi Ojeleye arrived at Duke in the same class as Jabari Parker, but he’s still just a junior.

American                  W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  SMU                  17-1   63.3    1.20    0.94    +0.26
2.  Cincinnati           16-2   64.1    1.09    0.89    +0.20
3.  Houston              12-6   64.9    1.06    0.99    +0.07
4.  UCF                  11-7   66.2    0.99    0.95    +0.04
5.  Connecticut           9-9   63.6    1.03    1.01    +0.02
6.  Memphis               9-9   68.3    0.99    1.00    -0.01
7.  Temple               7-11   66.6    1.01    1.04    -0.03
8.  Tulsa                8-10   66.8    1.00    1.05    -0.05
9.  East Carolina        6-12   65.9    0.90    1.01    -0.11
10. Tulane               3-15   71.3    0.97    1.10    -0.13
11. South Florida        1-17   68.3    0.90    1.14    -0.24

AVG.                            66.3    1.01
KenPom rank: 7

The usual habit in basketball is to speak of tradeoffs. Team X is great at spacing opposing defenses out, but this costs them offensive rebounds. Team Y has multiple shooters, but these same guys can’t possibly be expected to be world-beaters on defense.

Then you come across a (small) group like SMU, which seems to be operating in an entirely tradeoff-free zone. In American play the Mustangs finished first in offense, accuracy from the field (by a mile), two- and three-point accuracy, offensive rebound percentage and defensive foul rate. Meanwhile Tim Jankovich’s team finished second in defense, turnover rate and defensive rebounding. They do it all.

SMU plays a famously small rotation, with Shake Milton, Semi Ojeleye, Ben Moore, and Sterling Moore all on the floor for heavy minutes game in and game out. That isn’t by the book, but if fatigue were going to be an issue it probably would have happened by now.

The one sore thumb in this beautiful performance picture is the incredibly high number of three-point attempts recorded by opponents. That should be a danger sign along the same lines as the short bench, but, again, maybe the Ponies are forging their own path. Houston made 14 threes at Moody Coliseum in January, and all it got the Cougars was a 21-point loss. Jankovich’s guys will be given a ho-hum seed, but this team could be a tough out.

Expected American bids: Two (SMU, Cincinnati)

Awaiting a tournament breakthrough


Former UMass star Marcus Camby dropped in on his old coach John Calipari after Kentucky won at Texas A&M. The 1996 Minutemen are still the only A-10 team to reach the Final Four.

A-10                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Dayton               15-3   69.3    1.09    0.96    +0.13
2.  VCU                  14-4   69.0    1.08    0.96    +0.13
3.  Rhode Island         13-5   68.1    1.06    0.95    +0.11
4.  Richmond             13-5   70.5    1.07    1.02    +0.05
5.  St. Bonaventure      11-7   69.4    1.04    1.00    +0.04
6.  Davidson             8-10   69.0    1.03    1.02    +0.01
7.  George Mason          9-9   69.6    1.05    1.05     0.00
8.  George Washington    10-8   66.8    1.06    1.07    -0.01
9.  La Salle              9-9   68.4    1.04    1.06    -0.02
10. Fordham              7-11   65.0    0.95    1.01    -0.06
11. UMass                4-14   72.4    0.98    1.05    -0.07
12. Saint Joseph's       4-14   69.3    0.96    1.05    -0.09
13. Duquesne             3-15   70.3    1.00    1.10    -0.10
14. Saint Louis          6-12   63.3    0.95    1.09    -0.14

AVG.                            68.6    1.03
KenPom rank: 8

The Atlantic 10 hasn’t received a top-four seed since the No. 4 seed that Saint Louis earned in 2013. Conversely the best seed the league’s received over the last two tournaments has been a No. 7.

Seeding isn’t everything, of course. Dayton reached the 2014 Elite Eight as a No. 11 seed. Still, the difference between the deep and competitive A-10 and leagues like the Missouri Valley and West Coast is clear. Wichita State and Gonzaga dominate their conferences, albeit with an occasional Illinois State or Saint Mary’s-slash-BYU to keep things interesting. Those dominant teams can then be in a position (though are hardly guaranteed) to get really good seeds.

Since its founding in the 1970s the A-10 has seen a fair number of teams leave to join the major conferences. Pitt, Villanova, Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Xavier and Butler have all passed through the conference at one time or another. Now the league’s led for the most part by Dayton and VCU — excellent programs that can be relied upon to make the tournament year after year. When at least one A-10 program takes that next step and shows up on the top four seed lines, then we’ll be on to the next chapter in the league’s story.

Expected A-10 bids: Two (Dayton, VCU)

Rhode Island is locked in a zero-sum standoff for a spot in the field with teams like Vanderbilt and Illinois State. Expect to hear these names a lot in the coming days. For the Rams’ part, they get a bye all the way to the A-10 quarterfinals, where they’ll await either St. Bonaventure, UMass, or Saint Joseph’s.

Possible one-bid league


Missouri Valley           W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Wichita State        17-1   68.7    1.21    0.92    +0.29
2.  Illinois State       17-1   64.0    1.04    0.90    +0.14
3.  Loyola               8-10   65.4    1.07    1.04    +0.03
4.  Southern Illinois     9-9   65.4    1.01    1.03    -0.02
5.  Missouri State       7-11   65.5    1.03    1.06    -0.03
6.  Northern Iowa         9-9   63.5    0.94    0.99    -0.05
7.  Evansville           6-12   67.0    1.00    1.07    -0.07
8.  Indiana State        5-13   68.9    0.96    1.03    -0.07
9.  Bradley              7-11   67.9    0.96    1.04    -0.08
10. Drake                5-13   70.2    1.01    1.12    -0.11

AVG.                            66.7    1.02
KenPom rank: 10

Watching the Missouri Valley tournament championship game slip away from Illinois State’s grasp made me feel bad, because I knew this was hurting the Redbirds’ chances for an at-large. (Though, who knows, Dan Muller’s guys could still get in.) At the same time, it did my Tuesday Truths heart good to see the table above depicted so faithfully within the span of 40 minutes.

If you look at what took place during the MVC regular season, you’d say ISU has the conference’s best defense, but more importantly the Wichita State D has a large and even decisive advantage over the Redbird offense. Well, that’s exactly what happened in St. Louis. Paris Lee was heroic, but Illinois State simply couldn’t score against a defense that is only slightly less mighty than Illinois State’s own.

Thank goodness the Shockers got an automatic bid, and we weren’t kept in suspense over whether a 29-5 team that went 17-1 in-conference and has been to the Final Four within the past five years is worthy of an at-large. That would be such a tough call.

Expected Valley bids: One (Wichita State)

At a minimum Illinois State has to hope for the A-10 tournament to be won by Dayton or VCU, and for the American tournament to be won by SMU or Cincinnati. Even that may not be enough.

The NCAA tournament can’t come soon enough for Gonzaga


March 23, 2013. (Spokesman-Review)

West Coast                W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga              17-1   70.5    1.22    0.85    +0.37
2.  Saint Mary's         16-2   59.9    1.17    0.92    +0.25
3.  BYU                  12-6   73.3    1.07    0.98    +0.09
4.  San Francisco        10-8   67.9    0.98    0.96    +0.02
5.  Santa Clara          10-8   62.5    1.03    1.02    +0.01
6.  Loyola Marymount     8-10   68.7    0.97    1.03    -0.06
7.  Pacific              4-14   66.4    0.95    1.08    -0.13
8.  San Diego            6-12   62.7    0.95    1.09    -0.14
9.  Pepperdine           5-13   68.6    0.96    1.17    -0.21
10. Portland             2-16   65.2    0.91    1.12    -0.21

AVG.                            66.6    1.02
KenPom rank: 11

In an alternate history where top-seeded Gonzaga went to a national semifinal instead of No. 9 seed Wichita State in 2013, fewer people (some, but fewer) would now be asking whether the Bulldogs are “really” Final Four material. That’s life outside the major conferences. A bad day is taken to be somehow representative. No one says Tom Izzo can’t coach his way out of a paper bag against Conference USA teams in the round of 64, but the Zags will hear this again and again until they put it to rest. They now have the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Expected WCC bids: Two (Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s)