The UT Arlington Mavericks quietly extended the nation's second-longest winning streak to 16 games Wednesday night, pushing their Southland conference record to 12-0. The streak is a school record, and UTA, at 20-5 overall, is enjoying what is unquestionably its best basketball season in school history.
This season is UT Arlington's last in the Southland, as they'll migrate to the WAC next year. As the last remaining uninterrupted charter member of the conference, it was sure to be a unique year. Still, I'm not sure anybody expected it to be this exceptional. Not since 1971-72, in which Louisiana Tech finished 8-0 in a seven-team iteration of the conference, has a Southland team gone completely unblemished in the regular season. Four games remain, but Ken Pomeroy gives the Mavericks a 36 percent chance of running the table.
Though I certainly can't capture the electricity surrounding the program as well as Ross Lancaster did in this piece, I thought I'd take a look at how impressively the Mavericks have played this conference season, primarily defensively.
A once-over of efficiency statistics last week convinced me that this was one of the strongest defensive outfits the Southland has produced over the past decade. Thankfully, KenPom.com has conference-only efficiency stats dating back to 2009 and BasketballState.com has similarly organized numbers going back to 2006. I took what I could from these resources and then individually tabulated conference-only efficiency stats since 2003, using Ken Pomeroy's Game Plan feature. All the efficiency stats are raw and I decided to exclude conference tournament games. Since the 2002-2003 season, there have been 116 Southland teams. Here's a chart of the top 12 Southland defenses since that year:
Year Defensive Eff.
Stephen F. Austin 2009 83.2
UT Arlington 2012 84.1
Southeastern Louisiana 2005 87.8
Sam Houston State 2005 89.4
Sam Houston State 2008 89.9
Stephen F. Austin 2012 90.6
UT Arlington 2003 91.4
Stephen F. Austin 2008 91.6
Sam Houston State 2003 91.9
Sam Houston State 2007 93.5
Nicholls State 2009 93.8
Stephen F. Austin 2003 93.9
It's clear the defensive prowess this decade has belonged to Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State -- each program has four teams on this list. The most excellent team defensively was the 2009 Stephen F. Austin squad that finished 13-3, won the conference tournament, and advanced to the NCAA tournament as a No. 14 seed. Right on the heels of those Lumberjacks, though, is this year's UT Arlington team. The Mavericks are in the conference's top three in every major defensive statistical category, force tons of turnovers and have limited conference opponents to an effective FG percentage of 42.4.
Next, I was interested in how many of these exceptional defenses were accompanied by equally robust offenses. I figured there would be a healthy amount of imbalance between offensive and defensive production. For this, we'll take a page out of John Gasaway's efficiency margin (EM) template and include offensive efficiency (OE) numbers along with EM.
Year DE OE EM
UT Arlington 2012 84.1 103.6 19.5
Stephen F. Austin 2008 91.6 108.2 16.6
Stephen F. Austin 2003 93.9 108.1 14.2
Sam Houston State 2007 93.5 107.5 14.0
Sam Houston State 2003 91.9 105.2 13.3
Stephen F. Austin 2009 83.2 95.1 11.9
Southeastern Louisiana 2005 87.8 98.7 10.9
Sam Houston State 2005 89.4 98.3 8.9
Sam Houston State 2008 89.9 98.8 8.9
UT Arlington 2003 91.4 99.6 8.2
Nicholls State 2009 93.8 100.0 6.2
Stephen F. Austin 2012 90.6 96.7 6.1
Considering efficiency margin, no Southland team this decade even comes close to UT Arlington this year. (The Northwestern State team that pulled the 14-over-3 upset of Iowa in the 2006 NCAA tournament finished a whopping 15-1 and posted a +14 in conference EM, but they were particularly proficient offensively that year.) Though it's difficult to find efficiency statistics going back farther than a decade, I was very curious as to how good this team is relative to other historical Southland teams. Using sports-reference.com's Simple Rating System (SRS), UT Arlington's 5.1 mark is the highest for a Southland team since 1986-87 Louisiana Tech's 7.0. In the ensuing 24 seasons, only the giant-killing 2005-06 Northwestern State team (4.0) and the 2009-10 Sam Houston State outfit (3.7) remotely approach UTA's current 2012 rating.
Saturday the Mavericks travel to Ogden, Utah, to take on Damian Lillard and Weber State in the BracketBuster game I'm most excited about. After the weekend trip, UT Arlington comes back for the final month with a chance to make a triumphant exit out of the conference they helped found. The Mavericks still have time to overtake 2009 SFA as the decade's strongest Southland defense and, more significantly, they have an opportunity to stake their claim as the best Southland team in a quarter-century.
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