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February 26, 2013
Tuesday Truths
Crunch Time 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: Convergence

Through games of February 25, 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            13-1   64.6    1.06    0.90    +0.16
2.  Duke             11-3   68.7    1.13    0.99    +0.14
3.  Virginia          9-5   61.0    1.07    0.93    +0.14
4.  North Carolina    9-5   69.7    1.04    0.98    +0.06
5.  NC State          8-6   68.9    1.08    1.05    +0.03
6.  Maryland          7-7   67.2    0.99    0.98    +0.01
7.  Boston College   4-10   64.1    1.03    1.09    -0.06
8.  Clemson           5-9   62.1    0.93    0.99    -0.06
9.  Wake Forest       5-9   68.5    0.95    1.02    -0.07
10. Georgia Tech     4-10   67.0    0.90    0.98    -0.08
11. Florida St.       6-8   63.7    0.96    1.09    -0.13
12. Virginia Tech    3-11   65.0    0.98    1.12    -0.14

AVG.                        65.9    1.01

Miami has finally agreed to stop all this UCLA 1973 nonsense and start coming back to the field already. The Hurricanes will visit Duke Saturday night, and the potential for further convergence in both the standings and the numbers seen here is very real.

About those Blue Devils. The wait for Ryan Kelly's return continues, but meantime let us salute Mike Krzyzewski for steering this no-Kelly vessel about as well as you'd expect from the most successful coach in Division I history. Sans Kelly, Duke has been 0.11 points better than the ACC on each possession, and that's pretty good. Some of the Devils' severest tests are yet to come, however, in the form of road games at Virginia and North Carolina.

Without Kelly this is still an ACC contender and a fairly remorseless three-point machine. That being said, this particular ACC contender is getting the job done in spite and not with the help of a little thing called defense. Conference opponents have made 52 percent of their twos against Duke in its present configuration of personnel. A probable No. 1 seed will help shield the Blue Devils from the ramifications of that kind of permissiveness for a time, but it is likely to be an issue at some point. Unless of course recent reports are accurate and Kelly does indeed return.

Big 12: The implications of Elijah Johnson's Brandon Paul moment

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kansas           12-3   66.0    1.05    0.92    +0.13
2.  Kansas St.       12-3   62.6    1.12    1.00    +0.12
3.  Oklahoma St.     10-4   68.0    1.04    0.94    +0.10
4.  Iowa St.          9-6   67.4    1.13    1.04    +0.09
5.  Baylor            7-7   68.2    1.02    0.95    +0.07
6.  Oklahoma          9-5   67.2    1.06    0.99    +0.07
7.  West Virginia     6-8   63.5    0.98    1.01    -0.03
8.  Texas            4-10   64.9    0.96    1.04    -0.08
9.  Texas Tech       2-12   65.3    0.89    1.12    -0.23
10. TCU              1-13   61.9    0.82    1.09    -0.27

AVG.                        66.0    1.01

Up until the last 10 days Elijah Johnson was recording bone-chillingly bad shooting percentages for Kansas. Whether that was because he was being asked to play out of position, as the conventional wisdom holds, or simply because the entire world had become the free throw line to his Ryan Evans is open to conjecture. But the net effect to the Jayhawks' title chances was unmistakable, and it reminded me of the relevant scene in "Patton." Bill Self had precisely the right instrument (defense by Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, plus the best freshman in the country as a featured scorer -- albeit a strangely diffident one at times), at precisely the right moment, in precisely the right place. In 10 days Patton could have been in Berlin, and all he needed was a few miserable gallons of gasoline. Just so, all Self needed was non-Ben backcourt shooting that hit D-I's 50th percentile.

Johnson isn't always going to explode for 37 legitimate and two somewhat gratuitous points like he did in last night's 108-96 overtime win at Iowa State. But a Johnson who is merely competent makes KU, at a stroke, much more similar qualitatively to last year's Final Four team. Not to mention a sassy "Yay, Normalcy!" Johnson rebrand would allow concerned hoops fans everywhere to turn our attention to Naadir Tharpe's bone-chillingly bad shooting percentages (32 percent on twos, and 21 percent on threes in Big 12 play), and more specifically the fact that he's recording those misses while personally accounting for one in every four KU shots during his in-conference minutes.

Why coaches should do one-and-done or two-and-through: In the rankings and in the mock brackets, Kansas State is regarded as fundamentally different than Kansas. But the counsel of a thousand Big 12 possessions suggests these two teams may be much more similar in performance terms than people think. True, KU with new-look Johnson could separate from the pack, and K-State has two road games remaining (at Baylor and Oklahoma State) to the Jayhawks' one (also in Waco), so the numbers seen here are a work in progress. Still, the Wildcats have been surprisingly good to this point. I don't have the final tallies from the relevant years at Southern Illinois in front of me, but based on stops in Champaign and now Manhattan it would appear that early-era Bruce Weber teams are often very good on offense.

Big East: A clear top two?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Louisville       10-4   63.7    1.06    0.90    +0.16
2.  Georgetown       11-3   61.7    1.03    0.91    +0.12
3.  Pitt              9-6   66.3    1.04    0.93    +0.11
4.  Syracuse         10-5   61.9    1.07    0.98    +0.09
5.  Marquette        11-4   61.9    1.08    1.00    +0.08
6.  Villanova         9-7   66.4    0.99    0.94    +0.05
7.  Connecticut       9-5   65.2    1.06    1.01    +0.05
8.  Notre Dame       10-5   59.4    1.07    1.05    +0.02
9.  Cincinnati        7-8   61.3    0.97    0.97     0.00
10. Providence        7-8   66.1    1.01    1.04    -0.03
11. St. John's        8-7   67.4    0.94    0.97    -0.03
12. Rutgers          4-11   62.8    0.97    1.08    -0.11
13. DePaul           2-12   70.5    0.98    1.12    -0.14
14. Seton Hall       3-13   63.7    0.94    1.08    -0.14
15. S. Florida       1-13   59.9    0.87    1.08    -0.21

AVG.                        63.9    1.01

Georgetown and Louisville met in Washington D.C. on January on 26, and the Hoyas prevailed 53-51. At the time the game prompted much "What's wrong with Louisville?" talk, for it was the Cardinals' third straight defeat. But as John Thompson III's team has morphed slowly but surely into Florida's doppelganger statistically, that loss looks better and better.

And I'm not just throwing around Florida comparisons willy-nilly, either. Since the win over Louisville, Georgetown has outscored the Big East by 0.34 points per possession. There's a home game against DePaul thrown in there for cosmetic effect, granted, but keep in mind the Gators get to snack on Mississippi State occasionally, and I shudder to think what will happen to Ohio State's numbers after Thursday night. So the Hoyas' numbers are as legit as any other behemoth's.

Here, then, is the very top of your 2013 Big East in a nutshell. Louisville is the performance equivalent of last year's 17-1 Syracuse team. Meanwhile Georgetown has a D that, somewhat incredibly, is just as good as if not better than Rick Pitino's. Plus (and this is the kicker) Thompson also has a certain star player able to leap tall opposing team home win streaks in a single bound. If said star does not win Big East POY, I'll get Gloria Allred to sue this fin de siecle league for one thing or another, because clearly something ain't right.

Statistical busybody James Southerland, I salute you! If you caught the tail end of last night's Syracuse-Marquette game, you saw a rather remarkable sight, one that Jay Bilas nimbly termed "the three-point version of Moses Malone." It went like this:

00:49              MISSED 3 PTR by SOUTHERLAND, James
00:49              REBOUND (OFF) by CHRISTMAS, Rakeem
00:46              MISSED 3 PTR by SOUTHERLAND, James
00:46              REBOUND (OFF) by SOUTHERLAND, James
00:42              MISSED 3 PTR by SOUTHERLAND, James
00:42              REBOUND (OFF) by SOUTHERLAND, James
00:33  67-63  H 4  GOOD! 3 PTR by SOUTHERLAND, James

Within the confines of a single possession, James Southerland attempted four three-pointers, to go along with two offensive boards. It was like seeing some weird genetic mutation created from the combined DNA of Marshall Henderson and Jack Cooley.

Big Ten: Bo Ryan is always good at something

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Indiana          12-2   65.9    1.16    0.96    +0.20
2.  Michigan         10-4   62.4    1.14    1.00    +0.14
3.  Wisconsin        10-4   58.8    1.01    0.90    +0.11
4.  Michigan St.     11-4   64.5    1.06    0.98    +0.08
5.  Ohio St.         10-5   62.5    1.02    0.96    +0.06
6.  Iowa              6-8   65.3    1.00    0.99    +0.01
7.  Illinois          7-8   64.0    1.02    1.02     0.00
8.  Minnesota         6-8   61.4    1.02    1.04    -0.02
9.  Purdue            6-8   64.2    0.96    1.05    -0.09
10. Nebraska         4-10   61.7    0.91    1.04    -0.13
11. Penn St.         0-14   64.6    0.89    1.07    -0.18
12. Northwestern     4-11   59.8    0.93    1.11    -0.18

AVG.                        62.9    1.01

It's well known that Wisconsin exists solely to sow analytic confusion and spawn pernicious stereotypes, and sure enough the Badgers are at it again this season. As seen here, they really are as slow-paced as advertised, but past that the misunderstandings multiply rapidly.

Take the idea that Wisconsin always plays "tough, rugged" defense. That has most certainly been the case the past two seasons. But it's not the defense that's always excellent in Madison. What's always -- and I do mean always -- excellent in Madison is instead an ineffable quality I term Something, and Something can change from year to year.

Rank in Big Ten play, points scored and allowed per possession

     Offense   Defense
2013    7         1
2012    8         3
2011    1         7
2010    1         1
2009    1         5

That makes four of the last five seasons where Wisconsin was No. 1 in the Big Ten in either offense or defense. (Yes, I'm going ahead and awarding the Badgers this season's title for the league's best defense. They've lapped the field.) Somewhere in the vicinity of November 1, 2011, the great Offense for Defense Inversion ceremony took place in the bowels of the Kohl Center, and Bo Ryan's team has been invincible on defense and meh on offense ever since. The man doesn't specialize in either offense or defense, just excellence.

(In retrospect you can see why some of us were pretty enthused about that 2010 team, and why we were somewhat surprised when they had a hard time putting away Wofford in the round of 64 before they were blown off the floor in the next game by Cornell.)

Pac-12: How long until Ben Howland's doing 5-Hour Energy ads?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Arizona          11-4   66.4    1.06    0.97    +0.09
2.  Oregon           11-4   67.7    0.99    0.94    +0.05
3.  UCLA             10-4   70.6    1.00    0.96    +0.04
4.  Colorado          8-6   64.2    1.00    0.96    +0.04
5.  Stanford          7-8   68.6    1.02    0.99    +0.03
6.  Cal              10-5   65.6    0.99    0.98    +0.01
7.  Arizona St.       9-6   63.8    1.03    1.02    +0.01
8.  Washington        7-8   66.5    0.98    0.99    -0.01
9.  USC               7-7   68.6    0.99    1.02    -0.03
10. Oregon St.       3-12   67.5    1.01    1.07    -0.06
11. Washington St.   2-13   63.2    1.01    1.10    -0.09
12. Utah             3-11   62.7    0.94    1.05    -0.11

AVG.                        66.3    1.00

Last week I noted that the Pac-12 was the most homogeneous league in recent major-conference history in terms of performance. That's still the case, but the conference is making baby steps toward normalcy, as its clear best team is now outscoring the rest of the gang by 0.09 points per trip. To be sure, that's still a minuscule scoring margin -- that plus five bucks will get you fourth place and a grande latte in the Big Ten -- but it's a little less minuscule than the "0.06" that popped up here a week ago.

Arizona makes its trip to SoCal this week, with a game at USC tomorrow night followed by one at UCLA on Saturday. You heard much more about the Bruins in the preseason than you have of late, but a regular-season title for Ben Howland's team is by no means out of the question. UCLA finishes with home games against both Arizona schools and then a road trip to visit both Washington schools. Don't be surprised if the season finale at Hec Ed in Seattle has something to say about who wins or shares the Pac-12 title.

I have no idea who put what in Howland's coffee this season, but the Bruins' acceleration in terms of tempo has been remarkable. Maybe it's the stimulating effects of the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion, all I know is fans in Westwood are reliably being treated to five extra possessions of hoops in each 40 minutes compared to last season. Value-added disciple Ben Howland, I salute you!

SEC: Game of the Year of the Week tonight!

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Florida          12-2   63.5    1.17    0.84    +0.33
2.  Missouri          8-6   68.4    1.07    0.99    +0.08
3.  Ole Miss          9-5   68.6    1.09    1.00    +0.08
4.  Alabama          10-4   61.8    0.97    0.93    +0.04
5.  Kentucky         10-4   65.4    1.07    1.03    +0.04
6.  Tennessee         8-6   63.1    1.04    1.01    +0.03
7.  Arkansas          8-6   68.3    0.96    0.96     0.00
8.  Vanderbilt        5-9   61.3    0.98    0.97    -0.01
9.  Texas A&M         6-8   60.4    0.97    0.99    -0.02
10. LSU               7-7   66.5    0.98    1.00    -0.02
11. Georgia           7-7   61.7    0.94    0.99    -0.05
12. South Carolina   3-11   65.3    0.89    1.00    -0.11
13. Auburn           3-11   65.3    0.94    1.08    -0.14
14. Mississippi St.  2-12   66.5    0.84    1.10    -0.26

AVG.                        64.7    0.99

Every Tuesday it's the same thing. We meet up here, agree that Florida's numbers are absurd, and talk about the big game the Gators have coming up this evening. Today is no different.

Tonight Tennessee will host Billy Donovan's team, and as chance would have it the Volunteers have actually been playing pretty well of late. During this current five-game winning streak, Cuonzo Martin's team has rung up 1.14 points per trip thanks in equal measures to beastly offensive rebounding and unsustainably good (46 percent) three-point shooting. I should tut-tut sternly and wag my analytic finger at fool's-gold shooting like that (Jordan McRae is on a personal 10-of-13 streak), but the truth is a few made threes tonight could come in handy, and it won't help the Gators to learn later that Tennessee's shooting did fall back to earth against some other opponent.

Entering the season I thought the Volunteers were going to surprise people by being top-25 caliber. Then Martin lost Jeronne Maymon to injury, and the Volunteers surprised me by being way worse -- particularly on D -- without Maymon than I would have expected. But the Tennessee I've seen the last few games makes me think maybe I was right the first time. (I like thinking that.) This team in full health would have been pretty good. Tonight watch to see if the Vols can hit the offensive glass and wear out Patric Young in the process. People like to fret about Florida's thin front line, and a road game against an opponent molded along Izzo lines is as good a time as any for that fret.

A-10: VCU is the best example of "feast or famine" ever

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Saint Louis      10-2   65.9    1.08    0.92    +0.16
2.  VCU              10-3   67.6    1.10    1.00    +0.10
3.  Butler            9-4   64.7    1.05    0.97    +0.08
4.  La Salle          9-4   65.9    1.06    0.98    +0.08
5.  UMass             7-6   70.0    1.07    1.02    +0.05
6.  Xavier            8-5   63.6    1.02    0.98    +0.04
7.  Temple            8-5   67.7    1.07    1.04    +0.03
8.  GW                6-6   67.4    0.99    0.98    +0.01
9.  Dayton            4-8   65.4    1.05    1.04    +0.01
10. Richmond          6-6   64.2    1.01    1.01     0.00
11. Saint Joseph's    6-6   62.8    1.05    1.07    -0.02
12. St. Bonaventure   6-7   65.5    1.05    1.08    -0.03
13. Charlotte         6-6   67.8    0.96    1.03    -0.07
14. Rhode Island     3-10   64.3    0.97    1.05    -0.08
15. Duquesne         1-12   68.3    0.94    1.11    -0.17
16. Fordham          2-11   68.2    0.94    1.13    -0.19

AVG.                        66.2    1.03

VCU has a jewel of an offense, and when you consider that these guys haven't been able to hit any threes this year (31 percent in A-10 play) it makes one wonder whether Shaka Smart might actually deserve even more acclaim than he already receives. True, Saint Louis made life miserable for Treveon Graham for 40 minutes (the Billikens have been doing that to a lot of people), but for the season as a whole the sophomore's been outstanding as the featured scorer for a top-25 mainstay.

Those would be the stories I would tell about the Rams this season, and not so much the whole havoc thing. For while VCU has once again succeeded beautifully at forcing opponents into turnovers (it has happened on a whopping 27 percent of possessions in conference play), this team will in fact go only as far as their exemplary offense can take them. Even with all those opponent turnovers, this is merely the A-10's No. 6 defense. When opponents hang on to the rock they annihilate this helpless defense to the tune of 1.37 points per trip. Now that's havoc.

C-USA: D.J. Stephens and Travis Releford will have all of us toiling in their sugar caves -- discuss

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Memphis          13-0   69.4    1.12    0.92    +0.20
2.  Southern Miss    10-3   65.5    1.10    0.97    +0.13
3.  UTEP              7-5   60.7    1.03    0.98    +0.05
4.  UCF               8-5   67.1    1.05    1.04    +0.01
5.  Tulane            6-6   64.8    1.06    1.05    +0.01
6.  East Carolina     7-6   69.9    1.04    1.04     0.00
7.  UAB               5-7   67.3    0.98    1.00    -0.02
8.  SMU               3-9   63.8    0.98    1.01    -0.03
9.  Tulsa             6-7   66.9    0.98    1.02    -0.04
10. Houston           4-8   68.2    1.05    1.10    -0.05
11. Marshall          5-8   68.8    0.97    1.04    -0.07
12. Rice             1-11   61.6    0.96    1.19    -0.23

AVG.                        66.2    1.03

I don't know which bat signal was flashed by whom from which skyscraper roof, but the player category known as the Boutique Efficiency Marvel (BEM) is exhibiting the most curious behavior of late. It started with D.J. Stephens of Memphis. Go to KenPom and you'll find Stephens limned in the numerical equivalent of "Oh, isn't that cute!" terms. The 6-5 senior is currently No. 1 in the nation in offensive efficiency, in large part because on paper he shoots about once a month.

Then the strangest thing happened. Stephens started shooting like he was at the grown-ups table, and those shots have continued to go in just like they did when he was on a strict one-shot-per-half diet. In his last two outings Stephen has racked up 30 points on Stephens-like 12-of-14 shooting. Meanwhile at Kansas, master of defensive Hero Ball Travis Releford is showing similar stirrings, averaging a highly-efficient 16 points per game over his last four contests. Coaches, hear my plea. If you have a BEM, stuff him with possessions like he's Jimmer at an All-Star game. You'll be glad you did.

How misevaluated was my Valley

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Creighton        11-5   63.9    1.16    1.02    +0.14
2.  Wichita St.      12-4   63.6    1.07    0.94    +0.13
3.  N. Iowa          10-6   61.4    1.02    0.94    +0.08
4.  Indiana St.       9-7   65.2    1.03    1.00    +0.03
5.  Illinois St.      7-9   68.4    1.04    1.02    +0.02
6.  Evansville        8-8   64.8    1.02    1.02     0.00
7.  Missouri St.     6-10   59.6    1.03    1.10    -0.07
8.  Drake            6-10   68.4    1.00    1.09    -0.09
9.  Bradley           7-9   65.3    0.99    1.08    -0.09
10. S. Illinois      4-12   62.2    0.97    1.10    -0.13

AVG.                        64.3    1.03

Faithful readers know that the Missouri Valley has practiced a form of serial greatness this season. There is always a Valley team playing really well, and that team changes from week to week. Creighton, Wichita State, Illinois State, and now Northern Iowa have all had their turns.

Now the funny part. That flavor of the month has never been Indiana State, yet somehow it is the Sycamores who are on the bubble and in the hunt for a third Valley NCAA bid (along with usual suspects in Omaha and Wichita). Seems like a lot of evaluative weight to place on 45 minutes of ball back in December, doesn't it? Sure an OT win over Miami is impressive, but Florida Gulf Coast beat the early pre-Amazing-Transformation Hurricanes too. At what point does respect for the good win cross the line to cult?

Mountain West: Steve Alford, I salute you!

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Colorado St.      8-4   65.2    1.09    0.99    +0.10
2.  San Diego St.     8-5   65.3    1.05    0.95    +0.10
3.  New Mexico       10-2   65.9    0.99    0.90    +0.09
4.  UNLV              8-5   67.3    0.97    0.94    +0.03
5.  Boise St.         6-6   64.7    1.04    1.06    -0.02
6.  Air Force         6-6   65.2    1.04    1.08    -0.04
7.  Wyoming           4-9   59.6    0.89    0.98    -0.09
8.  Fresno St.       3-10   61.0    0.92    1.02    -0.10
9.  Nevada            3-9   65.0    0.96    1.07    -0.11

AVG.                        64.4    1.00

Thanks to a Brandon Paul moment from Kendall Williams (46 points on 10-of-13 three-point shooting), New Mexico posted a 91-82 win at Colorado State. The Lobos still have to play home games against San Diego State and Wyoming, as well as road games at Nevada and Air Force, but it's going to be difficult to keep Steve Alford away from some form of regular-season title, quite possibly an outright one.

Alford has brought UNM to this commanding position thanks to a Bo Ryan-like moment of his own. As seen here the Lobos have far and away the league's top defense. And then in the one game when the opponent lights them up for 1.19 points per trip, the New Mexico head coach had the foresight and intelligence to tell one of his players to become Kevin Durant for a couple hours. Well done, sir.

West Coast: Game of the Year of the Week Thursday!

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Gonzaga          14-0   63.6    1.22    0.91    +0.31
2.  Saint Mary's     12-2   64.3    1.12    0.95    +0.17
3.  BYU               9-5   69.3    1.11    1.00    +0.11
4.  Santa Clara       8-6   66.2    1.06    1.06     0.00
5.  San Diego         6-8   64.0    0.96    1.04    -0.08
6.  San Francisco     6-9   67.1    1.03    1.07    -0.04
7.  Pepperdine       4-10   63.8    0.96    1.08    -0.12
8.  Portland         4-11   64.6    0.92    1.08    -0.16
9.  Loyola Marymount 1-13   64.2    0.91    1.09    -0.18

AVG.                        65.2    1.03

The last best hope of preventing Gonzaga from running the table comes Thursday night, when the Zags play at BYU. The Cougars look pretty good here, but in truth Dave Rose's team has dropped three of its last four WCC games. If the powers that be in Provo have any clever schemes for uniform color-wearing among spectators, now is surely the time to wheel those out.

Mark Few's team is outscoring its league by 0.31 points per trip, raising the question of whether this is the mightiest mid-major in a long while. It's a fair question. In 2008 Memphis outscored a C-USA that was a smidge stronger than this WCC by 0.29 points per possession, and that group made it to the 45th minute of the national championship game. Plus there's the fact that if not for some Hinkle Magic and, yes, a Brandon Paul moment from Brandon Paul, we'd be having the Indiana 1976 discussion with these Zags. I say doubt them at your peril.

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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