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January 22, 2013
Tuesday Truths
Gator-Bait Edition

by John Gasaway

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Welcome to Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 131 teams in the nation's top 11 conferences are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis. For a tidy little homily on why this stuff is so very awesome, go here.

This week for the first time we have enough games in the books to look at all six major conferences, plus the Missouri Valley and West Coast. Next week the A-10, C-USA, and Mountain West will at long last join the evaluative fun.

ACC: One Wolfpack Nation Under Gottfried

Through games of January 21, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Duke              3-1   68.8    1.08    0.88    +0.20
2.  Miami             4-0   63.1    0.97    0.85    +0.12
3.  NC State          4-1   67.5    1.07    0.98    +0.09
4.  Virginia          2-2   58.9    0.90    0.86    +0.04
5.  Maryland          2-3   68.9    0.89    0.88    +0.01
6.  Boston College    1-3   66.5    1.09    1.08    +0.01
7.  North Carolina    2-2   64.8    0.96    0.98    -0.02
8.  Clemson           2-3   61.3    0.94    0.96    -0.02
9.  Florida St.       2-2   63.4    0.96    1.03    -0.07
10. Wake Forest       2-3   65.2    0.92    1.01    -0.09
11. Virginia Tech     2-2   67.5    1.01    1.11    -0.10
12. Georgia Tech      0-4   67.8    0.86    1.03    -0.17

AVG.                        65.3    0.97

Duke will visit Miami tomorrow night, in a showdown of the ACC's early-early-season Tuesday Truths Nos. 1 and 2. I will have occasion to write about the Hurricanes this week at ESPN, so allow me a few words here on the third member of the ACC's early-early-season Big Three.

When Mark Gottfried was hired by NC State on April 5, 2011, I remember being unimpressed, and a quick Google Archive dive indicates my sentiment was widely shared by national writers at the time. But say this for Gottfried. He got his team to the 2012 Sweet 16, and he's already made a mark with his surprisingly good recruiting. T.J. Warren is one of the best freshmen in the nation, Rodney Purvis was actually ranked higher in the class of 2012 than Warren, and next year's incoming class looks very good on paper as well.

Observers were quick to brand NC State as a disappointment this season, simply because the ACC's coaches in their infinite wisdom picked the Wolfpack in the preseason to win the league. Hey, maybe NC State will do exactly that. Stranger things have happened. But even if they don't it's worth pointing out that Gottfried has already improved the program measurably. This offense is much better than it was last season, thanks mainly to the highly efficient paint scoring supplied by Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie. (The defense? Work in progress.) Perhaps the Wolfpack got the right man for the job in 2011 after all. Debbie Yow, I salute you!

Big 12: Travis Ford is 6-30 in Big 12 road games, and don't let that fool you

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kansas            4-0   66.0    1.03    0.87    +0.16
2.  Baylor            4-1   66.0    0.97    0.83    +0.14
3.  Kansas St.        4-0   66.0    1.09    0.97    +0.12
4.  Oklahoma          3-1   65.3    1.09    0.98    +0.11
5.  Iowa St.          3-1   65.7    1.12    1.02    +0.10
6.  Oklahoma St.      2-3   68.9    0.96    0.88    +0.08
7.  West Virginia     1-3   62.9    0.94    0.98    -0.04
8.  Texas             0-4   65.5    0.91    1.04    -0.13
9.  TCU               0-5   61.0    0.79    1.00    -0.21
10. Texas Tech        1-4   63.4    0.83    1.12    -0.29

AVG.                        64.8    0.97

Don't read too much into the underwhelming "6" next to Oklahoma State here. The Cowboys have trudged through a front-loaded schedule, one that has already required them to play road games against the league's current Tuesday Truths Nos. 2, 3, and 4. Other things being equal one would expect OSU's numbers to improve after upcoming home games against Nos. 5 and 7.

You may hear some fretting about the Cowboys' inability to win on the road, a little like what we heard with regard to Kentucky in 2010-11. I'm not picking the Pokes to reach the Final Four just like that bunch of Wildcats did, but I do advocate precision in fretting. The worry with Oklahoma State is not that they aren't winning on the road. Last I checked the NCAA tournament doesn't have any road games, and, anyway, losing by between seven and 10 points in places like Manhattan, Norman, and Waco is hardly cause for alarm.

No, the worry with the Cowboys is simply their offense. It's not very good. OSU is monstrous on the defensive glass, but they choose to say no thanks to offensive boards, and they present little threat from the perimeter. An opposing D that stays away from fouling has a very good shot at giving Oklahoma State a game.

Big East: Apparently Alex Dragicevich was a regular Jeff Withey

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Louisville        4-1   65.9    1.09    0.87    +0.22
2.  Syracuse          6-0   61.5    1.09    0.94    +0.15
3.  Pitt              3-3   60.9    1.04    0.96    +0.08
4.  Marquette         4-1   61.2    1.04    0.98    +0.06
5.  Cincinnati        4-3   61.4    1.03    0.99    +0.04
6.  Georgetown        3-3   60.3    0.98    0.96    +0.02
7.  Notre Dame        3-3   60.7    1.09    1.08    +0.01
8.  Connecticut       2-3   66.1    1.06    1.06     0.00
9.  Villanova         2-3   68.8    0.93    0.96    -0.03
10. St. John's        3-3   69.8    0.90    0.94    -0.04
11. Providence        2-4   69.3    0.97    1.03    -0.06
12. DePaul            1-4   74.9    0.95    1.02    -0.07
13. Rutgers           3-3   62.4    0.99    1.07    -0.08
14. S. Florida        1-4   59.2    0.89    1.04    -0.15
15. Seton Hall        1-4   65.6    0.96    1.11    -0.15

AVG.                        64.5    1.00

I've been very surprised by Notre Dame's lackluster showing on defense to this point. Last season the Irish had what by any measure was a strong D, one that limited Big East opponents to just 0.98 points per trip. This season Mike Brey brought everyone back from that team, with the exception of part-timer Alex Dragicevich (who transferred to Boston College). Yet for some reason this defense has suffered what can charitably be termed a total collapse.

It's early, of course, but with one-third of their conference season already in the books, ND is the proud owner of the No. 14 defense in a 15-team league. Last night Georgetown, who had hardly reminded anyone of 2012-vintage Kentucky on offense prior to visiting South Bend, rang up 63 points in a 55-possession contest.

Ordinarily I'm a big believer in not fouling -- I've been working on converting Frank Martin to my view of things for years now -- but when you're absolutely never fouling yet you're also allowing conference opponents to make 53 percent of their twos, maybe it's time for a token hack or two just to turn the page attitudinally.

Big Ten: Illinois is the swing vote

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Michigan          4-1   63.7    1.21    0.98    +0.23
2.  Wisconsin         4-1   59.8    1.04    0.91    +0.13
3.  Indiana           4-1   65.9    1.08    0.97    +0.11
4.  Minnesota         3-2   66.5    1.16    1.06    +0.10
5.  Michigan St.      5-1   66.5    1.04    0.95    +0.09
6.  Ohio St.          3-2   64.9    0.96    0.91    +0.05
7.  Purdue            3-2   64.8    0.98    0.98     0.00
8.  Iowa              2-3   68.2    0.97    1.00    -0.03
9.  Northwestern      2-4   61.2    0.99    1.11    -0.12
10  Illinois          1-4   65.9    0.93    1.06    -0.13
11. Nebraska          1-5   61.6    0.84    1.01    -0.17
12. Penn St.          0-6   64.2    0.87    1.07    -0.20

AVG.                        64.4    1.01

For the most part the Big Ten has already sorted itself out with commendable speed. Michigan and Indiana will be national title contenders. Wisconsin will be Wisconsin. Michigan State will get lots of defensive boards. Minnesota will terrify opponents with their ability to secure offensive rebounds at will, while terrifying their own coach with their inability to stop committing turnovers. Ohio State will be highly respectable but limited for as long as the Someone to Help Deshaun tour continues. Iowa and Purdue will be tough at home. Northwestern, hobbled and depleted, will be every opposing offense's favorite defense. And Nebraska and Penn State will be helpless.

But the one wild card in this mix is Illinois. Right now, of course, the Illini aren't very good, simply because when you're a perimeter-oriented team that's hitting only 23 percent of your threes, you're not going to be very good. In this respect Tyler Griffey furnishes a handy synecdoche. A 57 percent three-point shooter in games played last November. Griffey has hit just 19 percent of his threes in December and January. He is currently the careful steward of an 0-for-14 run from beyond the arc.

Poetically enough, this run of perimeter futility has coincided with a stretch where opposing teams have found they can't miss from outside. Those two percentages -- the Illini's three-point accuracy and that of their Big Ten opponents -- will converge, but this aberrant run of fortune has actually helped bring expectations down to a level more appropriate for this particular team.

Pac-12: Arizona has a very good offense

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Arizona           4-1   66.3    1.09    0.98    +0.11
2.  Oregon            5-0   69.0    1.07    0.98    +0.09
3.  Washington        4-1   63.3    1.02    0.94    +0.08
4.  UCLA              5-1   69.6    1.01    0.94    +0.07
5.  Stanford          2-3   66.4    1.01    0.99    +0.02
6.  USC               3-3   68.0    1.01    1.00    +0.01
7.  Arizona St.       3-2   63.2    0.96    0.96     0.00
8.  Colorado          2-4   67.9    0.96    1.00    -0.04
9.  Cal               2-3   64.4    0.96    1.02    -0.06
10. Utah              1-5   60.9    0.97    1.04    -0.07
11. Washington St.    1-4   64.2    0.96    1.05    -0.09
12. Oregon St.        0-5   71.1    0.93    1.05    -0.12

AVG.                        66.2    1.00

Three weeks ago today I wrote that if Arizona could just stop giving the ball away, they would have a really good offense. Sean Miller obviously read that piece, turned to his assistants, said "This Gasaway guy makes a lot of sense" (I get that a lot), and the rest is history.

In Pac-12 play the Wildcats have committed a turnover on 18 percent of their possessions. That's not mind-bending by any means, but it ain't bad either. And given that this is the league's best offense per effective (or turnover-less) possession, the result has been a healthy number of points scored by Miller's team.

UA's coming off its most impressive conference performance to date, an easy 71-54 win at Arizona State. In that game precocious freshman Brandon Ashley harassed the criminally underrated Carrick Felix into a miserable showing (1-of-8 shooting, with seven turnovers). These young Cats were overrated early due to the pernicious and virulent Cult of the Undefeated, but in truth this may turn out to be the best team seen in the Pac-10/12 in years.

SEC: The Gators can either get normal or move to the NBA

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Florida           4-0   63.5    1.19    0.77    +0.42
2.  Ole Miss          4-0   70.8    1.10    0.91    +0.19
3.  Kentucky          3-1   66.6    1.06    0.97    +0.09
4.  Alabama           3-1   62.5    1.04    0.96    +0.08
5.  Texas A&M         2-2   60.1    1.03    1.00    +0.03
6.  Arkansas          2-2   67.3    0.91    0.90    +0.01
7.  South Carolina    1-3   66.6    0.94    0.95    -0.01
8.  Missouri          2-2   67.6    0.98    1.02    -0.04
9.  Tennessee         1-3   67.7    1.02    1.08    -0.06
10. Auburn            2-2   65.9    0.98    1.06    -0.08
11. Vanderbilt        1-3   65.1    0.85    0.95    -0.10
12. Mississippi St.   2-2   66.0    0.86    0.99    -0.13
13. LSU               0-4   68.6    0.87    1.03    -0.16
14. Georgia           1-3   65.0    0.90    1.10    -0.20

AVG.                        66.0    0.98

Yes, "+0.42" is indeed the most ridiculous number in Tuesday Truths history, and I've been the traffic cop at this particular corner now for six seasons. Who knows, maybe Florida will go the way of the 2010-11 Texas defense and flame out after having posted some early metrics that defied gravity. But right now all I have is what's already happened, and based on that I voted Billy Donovan's team No. 1 in the nation. (A gesture that clearly had a resounding impact on the opinions formed by my colleagues. Hey, you try persuading Dick Vitale. He's feisty.)

Here is how preposterous Florida has been in SEC play. The Gators have hit 59 percent of their twos and 40 percent of their threes -- and their offense is actually their weak link. The defense has been even better, relative to the respective conference averages.

Stop dwelling on Patric Young's physique (doing so has always sounded a little like a backhanded compliment) and give the kid big praise for developing some serious low-foul shot-blocking credibility from out of thin air. I certainly don't expect UF to continue to hold SEC offenses to less than 0.80 points per trip, if for no other reason than part of that number comes from opponents' 24 percent three-point shooting. (It's like the Gators get to play Illinois every game. Har!) But Florida's performance on both sides of the ball can "regress" a long way and still be indicative of a Final Four trajectory.

Missouri Valley: The Omaha-Wichita axis

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Creighton         6-1   64.7    1.22    1.01    +0.21
2.  Wichita St.       6-1   65.0    1.10    0.97    +0.13
3.  N. Iowa           3-4   64.5    1.04    0.97    +0.07
4.  Indiana St.       5-2   66.0    1.05    1.01    +0.04
5.  Missouri St.      3-4   59.5    1.05    1.07    -0.02
6.  Evansville        4-3   64.7    1.04    1.07    -0.03
7.  Illinois St.      1-6   67.7    0.99    1.05    -0.06
8.  Bradley           4-3   63.8    0.99    1.05    -0.06
9.  S. Illinois       1-6   63.7    1.03    1.15    -0.12
10. Drake             2-5   69.3    0.96    1.11    -0.15

AVG.                        64.9    1.05

Creighton lost at Wichita State 67-64 on Saturday in a fun game at a packed Charles Koch Arena in Wichita. The loss marked just the fourth time in the Bluejays' last 25 regular season Valley games where Greg McDermott's team was held under a point per possession.

It would appear that once again CU and WSU are fated to be the Valley's two best teams, and the difference between them is perhaps not as great at Tuesday Truths is suggesting in January. Gregg Marshall knows a thing or two about very good defense; that, plus Minnesota-level work on the offensive glass in Valley play (Carl Hall, I salute you!) may well land these Shockers in the mix at the top of the league in 2013.

BONUS suggestion for Wichita State President John W. Bardo! Consider the benefits of starting up a Department of Spelling. I've been rooting through box scores for a while now, but I've never before seen a school misspell the name of their own arena. (And it's not like "Charles Koch Arena" is "loquacious" or "aitch." I mean, really now.)

West Coast: Where the scoring is frequent

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  BYU               5-1   68.2    1.16    0.90    +0.26
2.  Gonzaga           4-0   63.2    1.24    1.04    +0.20
3.  Saint Mary's      4-1   64.9    1.11    1.00    +0.11
4.  San Diego         4-1   64.0    1.02    0.97    +0.05
5.  Santa Clara       3-3   67.5    1.14    1.10    +0.04
6.  San Francisco     1-5   67.3    0.99    1.09    -0.10
7.  Pepperdine        1-4   63.1    0.93    1.10    -0.17
8.  Loyola Marymount  1-5   67.5    0.95    1.12    -0.17
9.  Portland          1-4   62.0    0.81    1.00    -0.19

AVG.                        65.3    1.04

Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith is best remembered for this quote: "Fans like home runs. And we have assembled a pitching staff to please our fans." That's must be how WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich feels about his league's defenses. If you like offense, the West Coast is the place for you, a conference where scoring 1.11 points per trip is good for fourth place.

On Thursday BYU and Gonzaga will collide in Spokane, and for once the mighty Zags offense should, in theory, face a WCC defense than can at least give them a game. As seen here the Cougars have been tops in the league in that department, a distinction they've achieved by shutting down the paint and refusing to foul yet somehow also forcing the other team into turnovers. You don't often see all three of those performance characteristics coinciding.

Then again BYU should have an angry group of Bulldogs on their hands. All in all it's been a bad January for teams that flat-out had games put away entering the final seconds. Ask the Denver Broncos.

John uses fewer decimal points on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. This free article is an example of the content available to Basketball Prospectus Premium subscribers. See our Premium page for more details and to subscribe.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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