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February 12, 2013
Tuesday Truths
Theme-Free 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.

ACC: If Miami weren't being Miami, we might be talking about the Hoos right now

Through games of February 11, 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.  Miami            10-0   65.5    1.09    0.88    +0.21
2.  Virginia          7-3   60.8    1.03    0.89    +0.14
3.  Duke              8-2   68.2    1.11    0.99    +0.12
4.  North Carolina    6-4   69.5    1.01    0.98    +0.03
5.  NC State          6-5   69.0    1.07    1.04    +0.03
6.  Maryland          5-6   66.9    0.98    0.97    +0.01
7.  Georgia Tech      3-7   68.0    0.92    0.96    -0.04
8.  Clemson           4-7   62.8    0.94    1.00    -0.06
9.  Boston College    2-8   64.3    1.02    1.09    -0.07
10. Wake Forest       4-7   68.9    0.94    1.04    -0.10
11. Virginia Tech     2-8   65.3    0.96    1.09    -0.13
12. Florida St.       5-5   62.9    0.93    1.06    -0.13

AVG.                        66.0    1.00

I don't suppose Virginia is quite as good as they look here, because Virginia looks fantastic here. Keep in mind North Carolina outscored the ACC by 0.15 points per trip on their way to a national title in 2009. Then again that was a stronger ACC, and the "+0.14" you see here has its fair share of possessions against hapless and supine second-half Florida State and Clemson types baked into it. Finally, I don't want to oversell a team that lost at Georgia Tech nine days ago. Still, I do think the hype-to-performance ratio in Charlottesville could use a slight adjustment.

In roughly the same fashion that a young John Elway was hyped coming out of Stanford as "Namath with knees," we've always known that a standard-issue Tony Bennett team that could actually, you know, score points would be a fearsome spectacle. That is what we're seeing at the moment from these Cavaliers. In their past two games (at home against Clemson and at Maryland) they've scored 158 points in 129 possessions. Joe Harris is hitting shots from both sides of the arc, and Akil Mitchell is getting the job done in the paint. Then all of the above turn around and act like your normal Virginia team on D.

Sure, the Cavaliers picked a tough year to announce their arrival, what with the dudes in Coral Gables doing a pretty fair imitation of UCLA in 1973 and all. (Not to mention another ACC team which currently resides at No. 1 in one poll.) But the near- and medium-term prospects for this program are suddenly ostentatiously bright. With just one senior of note (Jontel Evans) and no hint of a whisper of an echo of NBA interest in any of these guys (search in vain for the word "Virginia" here), Bennett's positioned for a fun next 14 months.

Big 12: I don't just say this to every conference; this is my favorite conference

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Baylor            6-4   67.8    1.00    0.88    +0.12
2.  Kansas            8-3   66.0    1.03    0.93    +0.10
3.  Oklahoma St.      7-3   69.2    1.02    0.93    +0.09
4.  Kansas St.        8-3   62.6    1.08    1.01    +0.07
5.  Iowa St.          6-4   66.5    1.09    1.03    +0.06
6.  Oklahoma          7-4   66.1    1.03    0.98    +0.05
7.  West Virginia     5-5   62.9    1.00    0.96    +0.04
8.  Texas             2-8   65.6    0.93    1.01    -0.08
9.  TCU              1-10   61.8    0.81    1.05    -0.24
10. Texas Tech        2-8   63.9    0.85    1.09    -0.24

AVG.                        65.2    0.98

Don't freak over Baylor showing up at No. 1 here. (Unlike some teams, Scott Drew's men put their 160 minutes against TCU and Texas Tech to good statistical use.) The real story is the solid phalanx of five or six good teams who are all more or less equally matched.

Basically the top half of the Big 12 can, occasional end-of-the-world events notwithstanding, be counted upon to thrash the worst teams in the league irrespective of game venue, while also defending one's home floor against fellow top-half members. Whether it's Baylor at Oklahoma State, or Iowa State at Kansas, or Kansas State at Oklahoma that's your particular cup of tea, those have all been fantastic games.

Joe Lunardi currently projects all six of the above named teams making the field of 68, with the Cyclones nabbing the lowest seed (a 10). Bring your lawn chairs here, No Great Teams This Year theorists. In the Big 12 you may be correct, but there are a lot of really good teams, any of whom I can easily envision making the second weekend. It will be fun to watch.

Big East: A clear top three -- for now

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Louisville        7-4   63.4    1.05    0.92    +0.13
2.  Pitt              8-4   68.1    1.05    0.92    +0.13
3.  Syracuse          8-2   61.4    1.08    0.95    +0.13
4.  Georgetown        8-3   60.9    1.02    0.93    +0.09
5.  Marquette         8-3   61.9    1.07    1.00    +0.07
6.  Villanova         6-5   67.3    0.99    0.93    +0.06
7.  Connecticut       6-4   66.0    1.05    1.02    +0.03
8.  Cincinnati        6-5   61.6    0.99    0.97    +0.02
9.  Notre Dame        7-4   59.5    1.09    1.08    +0.01
10. St. John's        7-5   68.1    0.95    0.97    -0.02
11. Providence        4-7   66.5    0.98    1.03    -0.05
12. Rutgers           3-8   63.1    0.94    1.06    -0.12
13. Seton Hall        2-9   63.9    0.94    1.08    -0.14
14. DePaul            1-9   72.1    0.95    1.10    -0.15
15. S. Florida       1-10   59.5    0.87    1.07    -0.20

AVG.                        64.2    1.00

Tuesday Truths sees Louisville, Pitt, and Syracuse as equally mighty, and as clearly better than the rest of the Big East. This is also the tale currently being told by Sagarin, and by KenPom. Now if these bothersome "standings" would just fall in line.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the return of James Southerland is clearly good news for the Orange. Jim Boeheim has no shortage of players willing to take shots, and he also has a few who can make shots, but, with the possible exception of Brandon Triche inside the arc, this Venn diagram's sole point of overlap is represented in the person of Southerland.

There's no law that says a Big Three can't morph into a Fearsome Foursome, of course, and Georgetown is indeed playing very well. On their current six-game winning streak John Thompson III's men are outscoring opponents by 0.18 points per trip, thanks mainly to absolutely brutal Louisville-caliber defense. Had the Hoyas not given the worst team in the league its only conference win, they would currently be on a 9-0 run.

Memo to Breslin security: Don't trust any "Big Ten interns"

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Michigan          8-3   61.9    1.16    0.99    +0.17
2.  Indiana           9-2   66.5    1.14    0.98    +0.16
3.  Michigan St.      9-2   64.5    1.06    0.98    +0.08
4.  Wisconsin         8-3   59.5    0.98    0.92    +0.06
5.  Ohio St.          7-4   62.7    1.02    0.96    +0.06
6.  Minnesota         5-6   60.8    1.09    1.04    +0.05
7.  Iowa              4-7   65.7    0.98    0.99    -0.01
8.  Illinois          4-7   64.4    1.00    1.06    -0.06
9.  Purdue            5-6   63.8    0.96    1.05    -0.09
10. Northwestern      4-7   60.2    0.98    1.09    -0.11
11. Nebraska          3-8   61.8    0.91    1.02    -0.11
12. Penn St.         0-11   64.6    0.85    1.06    -0.21

AVG.                        63.0    1.01

Michigan State hosts Michigan tonight, and let's just acknowledge in advance that the game will indubitably come down to the last minute, some team or another will be up three, some coach or another will or will not foul, a three will go in (likely banked), and a good time will be had by all. (What lane violations were to the tournament last year, fouling or not fouling up three is to this regular season.) It's how the Big Ten rolls this season.

The Spartans went through that January phase where it seemed like every game they played came down to the last possession, and Tom Izzo's men won them all. Tuesday Truths, as you can see, tends to be highly suspicious of such shenanigans, and so there's a clear drop-off shown between the Big Ten's Nos. 2 and 3.

I do think Indiana and Michigan are the class of the league, but I'm not sure the difference between those two teams and MSU is quite as profound as what's being shown here. For one thing Izzo has my permission be obnoxiously smug to Tom Crean and John Beilein whenever the small matter of Wisconsin arises. For another, the Spartans are, weirdly and somewhat quietly, making 41 percent of their infrequent threes in conference play. I for one won't be surprised if MSU gradually shrinks the statistical gap between themselves and the Big Two, starting this evening.

Pac-12: I don't just say this to every conference; this is my favorite conference

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Arizona           8-3   68.0    1.05    0.96    +0.09
2.  Stanford          6-5   67.4    1.03    0.97    +0.06
3.  UCLA              8-3   69.9    0.99    0.95    +0.04
4.  Arizona St.       7-4   66.1    1.03    1.00    +0.03
5.  Oregon            8-3   68.5    0.99    0.96    +0.03
6.  Colorado          6-5   66.5    0.99    0.97    +0.02
7.  Washington        5-6   67.8    0.98    0.98     0.00
8.  USC               6-5   68.6    1.00    1.01    -0.01
9.  Cal               6-5   65.4    0.99    1.00    -0.01
10. Oregon St.        2-9   68.0    1.02    1.07    -0.05
11. Washington St.    2-9   64.5    0.98    1.07    -0.09
12. Utah              2-9   63.1    0.94    1.06    -0.12

AVG.                        67.0    1.00

Behold, 12 teams crammed into a narrow performance space spanning a mere 0.21 points per trip between Nos. 1 and 12. How narrow is that? Skip on down to the SEC. Narrower than the difference between that league's Nos. 1 and 2. Qualitative similarities are fun to watch, and that is why the Pac-12 is my favorite conference.

Qualitative similarities give you weird stuff like Cal winning at Arizona. As the Wildcats played that game they had a "1" next to their name in an awful lot of mock brackets. Who's to say that's not the seed line where Sean Miller's team will indeed find themselves come March? Not I. Those wins against Miami and Florida continue to look very shiny, and having your league's best offense to go along with a thoroughly respectable D will always be an effective combination. Next up for UA, a reprise of the Sabatino Chen game, this time in Boulder. The Buffs should be pumped and aggrieved.

For goodness sake keep Mark Bradley far away from Pullman! Washington State is good at defensive rebounding. Other than that, well, consider the plight of a Cougar fan in 2013. Theirs is the worst shooting team in the Pac-12, but WSU also boasts the league's most permissive field-goal defense. Furthermore the Cougs foul often, and they have opted to play at the conference's second-slowest pace. On the plus side, they can boast of being better at basketball, so far, than Utah. So there's that.

SEC: The premature Kentucky panic may have been premature in a panicky sort of way

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Florida           9-1   63.7    1.18    0.83    +0.35
2.  Kentucky          8-2   66.2    1.07    0.96    +0.11
3.  Missouri          6-4   67.9    1.09    1.03    +0.06
4.  Ole Miss          7-3   69.9    1.07    1.02    +0.05
5.  Alabama           7-3   60.8    0.97    0.93    +0.04
6.  Arkansas          5-5   67.7    0.96    0.95    +0.01
7.  Texas A&M         4-6   60.4    0.96    0.97    -0.01
8.  Vanderbilt        3-7   62.7    0.94    0.98    -0.04
9.  Georgia           6-4   61.3    0.95    1.00    -0.05
10. Tennessee         4-6   64.1    0.99    1.04    -0.05
11. LSU               4-6   67.4    0.92    0.99    -0.07
12. Auburn            3-7   64.7    0.96    1.04    -0.08
13. South Carolina    2-8   65.4    0.92    1.01    -0.09
14. Mississippi St.   2-8   67.9    0.87    1.08    -0.21

AVG.                        65.0    0.99

When Kentucky was doing highly un-Kentucky-like things such as losing at home, convincingly, to Texas A&M, I was already on the record as being serenely confident that the Wildcats would work things out. Well, it was all an act. I mean, seriously, at home? To the Aggies? Absolutely that's cause for concern. People like to talk about "young teams," but you actually don't see a team this achingly young all that often. So this was terra incognita, and who's to say these kids couldn't have just curled up into a worried and distressed fetal ball at that point?

Since the A&M debacle, UK has outscored their SEC opponents by 0.15 points per trip. True, that stretch of basketball was notably Florida- and Missouri-free, but I'm not touting John Calipari's team as favorites to win the national championship. I'm just saying they may turn out to be a solid at-large no-brainer after all. (Lunardi currently has them on the 9 line.)

Tonight the Cats will be in Gainesville to try their luck against the statistical bullies known as the Gators. Kentucky's strong suit, Nerlens Noel and the great interior D he engenders, would figure to be less of a magic pill against Billy Donovan's perimeter-oriented outfit, but we shall see. I'm just happy the SEC's tournament-quality teams are finally starting to ricochet against one another, a welcome development that will continue next Tuesday when Florida visits Missouri.

A-10: I'm very open to Butler pulling a Butler

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Saint Louis       7-2   67.1    1.06    0.91    +0.15
2.  VCU               7-2   66.4    1.11    1.01    +0.10
3.  UMass             6-3   68.0    1.06    0.97    +0.09
4.  Butler            7-2   64.7    1.06    0.98    +0.08
5.  La Salle          6-3   66.4    1.04    0.96    +0.08
6.  GW                5-4   66.6    1.04    0.96    +0.08
7.  Xavier            6-3   62.2    1.04    0.99    +0.05
8.  Dayton            3-6   65.4    1.05    1.03    +0.02
9.  Temple            5-4   65.9    1.05    1.05     0.00
10. Richmond          4-5   64.0    1.00    1.02    -0.02
11. Saint Joseph's    4-5   63.1    1.04    1.08    -0.04
12. Charlotte         5-4   68.0    0.98    1.02    -0.04
13. St. Bonaventure   4-5   62.7    1.05    1.10    -0.05
14. Rhode Island      1-8   63.6    0.98    1.08    -0.10
15. Fordham           2-7   68.8    0.96    1.15    -0.19
16. Duquesne          0-9   68.2    0.93    1.12    -0.19

AVG.                        65.7    1.03

I left Butler off the top 25 I do each week at ESPN, but chalk that up as the forced result of a forced-choice exercise. If I'm going to be an early adopter on teams my colleagues aren't paying any attention to yet (it's my raison d'etre -- well, that and Steak and Shake), that will by definition entail offloading some other teams that those colleagues are still carrying around from last week. So the Bulldogs were squeezed out this week.

Clearly there's still a lot to like here even without John Gasaway's blessing the week of February 11, and indeed my sources tell me that Brad Stevens is in fact gamely carrying on the best he can under this heavy blow. Specifically, here's what I like: Brad Stevens; the modern game's best approximation of Pete Maravich in the person of Rotnei Clarke; and a punishing, nay, suffocating interior D. The Bulldogs even have luck on their side. Andrew Smith is going to miss some time while he tends to an abdominal injury, but, if that has to happen, the week when you host Charlotte and visit Fordham's not a bad moment for it.

C-USA: Josh Pastner, I salute you!

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Memphis           9-0   68.1    1.10    0.90    +0.20
2.  Southern Miss     7-2   65.8    1.14    0.95    +0.19
3.  UCF               7-2   65.9    1.07    0.98    +0.09
4.  UTEP              6-3   60.5    1.05    0.98    +0.07
5.  SMU               3-7   63.1    0.98    0.99    -0.01
6.  East Carolina     4-5   70.5    1.03    1.06    -0.03
7.  Tulane            4-5   64.8    1.02    1.05    -0.03
8.  Tulsa             5-5   65.5    0.97    1.01    -0.04
9.  UAB               3-6   67.8    0.98    1.03    -0.05
10. Houston           3-6   67.7    1.06    1.12    -0.06
11. Marshall          3-6   69.7    0.96    1.07    -0.11
12. Rice              1-8   61.1    0.95    1.17    -0.22

AVG.                        65.9    1.03

Memphis staked its claim as the clear No. 1 in C-USA, traveling to Hattiesburg over the weekend and beating Southern Miss convincingly, 89-76. Go ahead, raise your "tallest midget in the circus" objection to "clear No. 1 in C-USA." All the Tigers can do during their last season in the league is win it, and they appear well on the way to doing so.

Josh Pastner's team is doing a very compelling imitation of Jim Calhoun-era Connecticut, while the rest of C-USA has portrayed a hopelessly overmatched Big East foe. Memphis has prohibited the making of two-point shots against them, and they've done so in a relatively foul-free manner. Calhoun rode that fiendishly simple combination to a great many wins, and it's serving Pastner in good stead in 2013.

Missouri Valley: If Creighton actually isn't all that good, the Valley's in trouble

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Creighton         9-4   64.2    1.20    1.04    +0.16
2.  Wichita St.       9-4   62.8    1.08    0.94    +0.14
3.  N. Iowa           7-6   61.4    1.00    0.93    +0.07
4.  Indiana St.       9-4   64.4    1.05    0.99    +0.06
5.  Illinois St.      6-7   68.6    1.04    1.02    +0.02
6.  Evansville        6-6   64.2    1.01    1.03    -0.02
7.  Missouri St.      5-8   60.0    1.02    1.10    -0.08
8.  Drake             5-7   68.8    1.00    1.09    -0.09
9.  Bradley           6-7   64.2    0.98    1.08    -0.10
10. S. Illinois      2-11   62.9    0.96    1.13    -0.17

AVG.                        64.2    1.03

Back before the Big East crumbled, the league pretty reliably alternated seasons where it was outstanding with ones where it was overrated. And what drove me crazy about the overrated seasons was that the league's top teams losing games was always somehow taken as evidence of how "tough" the Big East was (instead of evidence that the league's top teams weren't very good).

The Valley will try to spin in that same direction now that Creighton's losing games not only on the road but also at home. That's not to take anything away, mind you, from those feisty Redbirds from Normal. (Hey, I put you in on that ground floor last week!) But, with all due respect to Wichita State and Indiana State, if the Bluejays aren't doing that thing where they never miss a shot, right now I'm not seeing a lot in this league that says "second-weekend."

Mountain West: Let's table this discussion just a bit longer

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Colorado St.      6-2   64.8    1.08    0.91    +0.17
2.  San Diego St.     6-3   64.6    1.02    0.93    +0.09
3.  New Mexico        7-2   66.5    0.97    0.89    +0.08
4.  UNLV              5-4   67.8    0.98    0.95    +0.03
5.  Air Force         5-4   65.6    1.01    1.05    -0.04
6.  Boise St.         4-5   65.4    1.03    1.08    -0.05
7.  Wyoming           2-7   59.3    0.90    0.97    -0.07
8.  Nevada            3-6   65.9    0.96    1.04    -0.08
9.  Fresno St.        2-7   62.7    0.91    1.03    -0.12

AVG.                        64.7    0.98

In the next 11 days Colorado State will play games against San Diego State (home), UNLV (road), and New Mexico (home). There's even a trap game at Air Force thrown in for good measure. All questions regarding the Rams will then be answered, and all doubts will either be confirmed or allayed.

Meantime let me state for the record that the Aztecs' Jamaal Franklin combines defensive rebounds with missed threes in a voluminous manner that (Bill Walton voice) no other player in the HIS-tory of Division I basketball ever has.

West Coast: Hurry up, Game of the Year

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga          10-0   63.9    1.21    0.93    +0.28
2.  Saint Mary's     10-1   64.7    1.16    0.95    +0.21
3.  BYU               8-4   70.3    1.11    0.99    +0.12
4.  Santa Clara       5-5   67.2    1.09    1.07    +0.02
5.  San Diego         6-5   64.3    0.97    1.02    -0.05
6.  San Francisco     4-7   67.5    1.04    1.09    -0.05
7.  Pepperdine        3-8   64.4    0.97    1.10    -0.13
8.  Portland          2-9   64.0    0.86    1.05    -0.19
9.  Loyola Marymount 1-10   64.3    0.93    1.14    -0.21

AVG.                        65.6    1.04

For the umpeenth time in recent history, the entire point of the entire WCC season is the game that the league's best team, Gonzaga, plays on the road against the league's very good (much better than people realize) No. 2, Saint Mary's. That game happens Thursday night, and how polite was it of BYU to emphasize that these really are the conference's two best teams by phoning in that ghastly performance at home against San Francisco?

When SMC and the Bulldogs mix it up, the worst team two-point percentage to be found in conference play is 53. These teams both fill it up, and Moraga boasts one jewel of a band box. Attendance for this one is mandatory. See you there.

John uses fewer decimal points on Twitter: @JohnGasaway.

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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