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March 3, 2009
Conference Check
March At Last! Edition

by John Gasaway

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There are just 12 days left before Selection Sunday, and you should know that the method the selection committee will use to select and seed the field of 65 teams has nothing to do with what you see here. The committee's evaluation will be, for lack of a better term, digital: you either won a game or you lost it. Home or away. Conference or non-conference. The committee slices and dices wins and losses a lot of different ways, but when it comes down to it, that's all they look at: wins and losses.

You might use that approach too if you had to evaluate and seed dozens of teams. The much more analog measure of per-possession performance used here, then, won't tell you who's going to get in. What it can help you with, though, is figuring out how confident you should be about that team when it's time to fill out your bracket in a couple weeks.

ACC: North Carolina's the Same as Last Year--Really Good

Through games of March 2, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession
Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM   
1.  North Carolina   75.3    1.16    1.01   +0.15
2.  Duke             68.9    1.08    0.96   +0.12    
3.  Clemson          70.1    1.08    1.01   +0.07
4.  Wake Forest      74.4    1.06    1.01   +0.05
5.  Florida St.      69.0    1.00    0.98   +0.02
6.  Miami            65.9    1.06    1.07   -0.01
7.  BC               67.3    1.09    1.11   -0.02
8.  Virginia Tech    68.4    1.05    1.08   -0.03
9.  NC State         68.2    1.04    1.10   -0.06
10. Maryland         69.5    1.00    1.07   -0.07
11. Virginia         69.3    0.96    1.06   -0.10
12. Georgia Tech     73.4    0.90    1.03   -0.13

The early-season excitement surrounding North Carolina was based on two facts. First, the Tar Heels were a Final Four team last year. Second, everyone was back this year. Of course, "everyone" has turned out not to include Marcus Ginyard. Maybe Ginyard's absence explains, in part, why the Tar Heels have "merely" stayed pretty much where they were last year: at a really high level.

Tar Heels Then and Now

Conference games only, 2009 figures through games of March 2

                         Opp.
         Pace    PPP     PPP      EM   
2008     74.7    1.13    0.99   +0.14
2009     75.3    1.16    1.01   +0.15  

The improved accuracy that ACC opponents are showing on their threes is suggestive of a D that misses Ginyard. The dip in defensive rebounding, however, is more mysterious. In any event, an improved offense--due mostly to a slight decrease in turnovers--has picked up this slack and kept UNC in the land of the solid one-seeds.

Big East: Can Cincinnati Still Get a Bid?

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Connecticut      66.4    1.11    0.94   +0.17
2.  Pitt             67.0    1.16    1.01   +0.15
3.  Louisville       67.7    1.06    0.92   +0.14
4.  Marquette        69.3    1.12    1.01   +0.11
5.  West Virginia    66.4    1.05    0.97   +0.08
6.  Villanova        71.5    1.09    1.01   +0.08
7.  Syracuse         71.9    1.10    1.04   +0.06
8.  Providence       72.7    1.07    1.08   -0.01
9.  Notre Dame       68.8    1.08    1.10   -0.02
10. Georgetown       64.6    1.03    1.06   -0.03
11. Seton Hall       68.9    1.04    1.09   -0.05
12. Cincinnati       64.1    1.03    1.10   -0.07
13. St. John's       66.6    0.96    1.08   -0.12
14. Rutgers          67.6    0.94    1.08   -0.14
15. S. Florida       62.5    0.92    1.07   -0.15
16. DePaul           66.0    0.93    1.18   -0.25

Keep an eye on the Bearcats. ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has Mick Cronin's team listed as a member of the "next four out" (as opposed to the "first four out"). More to the point, Cincinnati has a relatively friendly remaining schedule, with a road game at South Florida and a home game against Seton Hall. Those games could well improve the numbers you see here (though of course not dramatically so). In short, it's March 3 and by tempo-free lights the Bearcats rank as a solid 12 in a 16-team league, yet it's not out of the realm of possibility that they could go dancing. Stay tuned.

Big Ten: Wisconsin Emphasizes...Offense?

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Michigan St.     63.6    1.07    0.94   +0.13
2.  Purdue           63.9    1.03    0.94   +0.09
3.  Wisconsin        58.0    1.07    1.00   +0.07
4.  Illinois         61.1    0.98    0.92   +0.06
5.  Ohio St.         61.7    1.07    1.06   +0.01
6.  Minnesota        63.2    0.97    0.97    0.00
7.  Michigan         61.3    1.00    1.03   -0.03
8.  Penn St.         60.0    1.00    1.04   -0.04
9.  Northwestern     60.3    1.03    1.07   -0.04
10. Iowa             57.2    0.98    1.07   -0.09
11. Indiana          63.5    0.93    1.11   -0.18

Behold the new-look Badgers. Did you ever think you'd see the day when a Bo Ryan defense could be described as only "slightly above average"? Today is that day. Wisconsin's conference opponents have feasted in the paint this season and made more than half of their twos. Only the standard-issue excellence that we always see in Madison on the defensive glass has kept this D from falling off even further. The good news is that this offense is second only to Michigan State's, thanks mainly to the fact that the Badgers have given the ball away on less than 16 percent of their possessions.

Big 12: The Most Important Game of the Year, Oklahoma vs. Missouri

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Kansas           69.3    1.10    0.92   +0.18
2.  Missouri         73.1    1.07    0.94   +0.13
3.  Oklahoma         68.8    1.14    1.01   +0.13
4.  Texas            67.4    1.07    1.01   +0.06
5.  Oklahoma St.     71.9    1.08    1.06   +0.02
6.  Texas A&M        65.5    1.07    1.05   +0.02
7.  Kansas St.       67.4    1.02    1.05   -0.03
8.  Nebraska         62.8    0.95    0.99   -0.04
9.  Baylor           68.7    1.05    1.11   -0.06
10. Iowa St.         65.5    0.94    1.05   -0.11
11. Texas Tech       71.8    1.00    1.12   -0.12
12. Colorado         62.3    0.92    1.11   -0.19

By "most important" I mean "I really want to see the game tomorrow night." It's March and I feel like I still haven't seen Oklahoma play a quality opponent when the Sooners have been fully-staffed, shall we say. (How is that possible?) Jeff Capel's team is still shown in most brackets as a one-seed and they have the record to match, sure. I just want to see them play, with Blake Griffin in the lineup on the road against an opponent that does not fear them. Missouri does not fear them.

Pac-10: Washington State's (Very Slow) Big Push

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  UCLA             64.6    1.15    1.05   +0.10
2.  Washington       70.9    1.11    1.01   +0.10
3.  Arizona St.      58.4    1.09    1.00   +0.09
4.  Cal              64.4    1.08    1.05   +0.03
5.  Washington St.   57.0    1.02    1.02    0.00
6.  Arizona          64.1    1.07    1.07    0.00
7.  USC              61.8    1.03    1.04   -0.01
8.  Stanford         65.1    1.04    1.10   -0.06
9.  Oregon St.       58.1    0.97    1.07   -0.10
10. Oregon           65.3    0.97    1.15   -0.18

The shot that Washington State's Taylor Rochestie made to beat Arizona State in overtime in Pullman on Saturday was remarkable. I've seen estimates ranging up to 27 feet, but whatever the exact distance may have been it was clearly from way downtown. Still another remarkable thing about that shot is that it had been preceded by only just possessions--in a game, mind you, that went an extra five minutes. The Cougars are a really slow-paced team but if it works, keep doing it. In their last three games, WSU has wins against UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. They've been getting it done with offense, and their final game is at Washington. If the Cougars can somehow pull off the upset in Seattle, they'll finish 9-9. Worthy of bubble talk? Alas, not likely, due to a high RPI (87).

SEC: Auburn? Yes, Auburn.

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  LSU              69.9    1.10    0.96   +0.14
2.  Florida          70.3    1.12    1.04   +0.08
3.  Kentucky         69.0    1.03    0.97   +0.06
4.  Auburn           69.9    1.04    0.99   +0.05
5.  Tennessee        68.5    1.10    1.05   +0.05
6.  South Carolina   75.4    1.02    1.00   +0.02
7.  Alabama          70.3    1.04    1.05   -0.01
8.  Mississippi St.  70.0    1.01    1.03   -0.02
9.  Ole Miss         68.3    1.02    1.06   -0.04
10. Vanderbilt       68.5    1.01    1.05   -0.04
11. Arkansas         70.6    0.97    1.08   -0.11
12. Georgia          69.9    0.87    1.06   -0.19

I know we writers are contractually prohibited from talking about any SEC West team this year besides LSU (and even the talk of Trent Johnson's team started up only in the last seven days), but I'm here to break that rule and talk about Auburn. Admit it: you can't name a single Auburn player this year, can you? I'll cover for you. DeWayne Reed, Korvotney Barber, Tay Waller and company have played oddly good defense this year. I say "oddly" because this is a team that last year allowed conference opponents to score 1.14 points per trip. How times have changed at Beard-Eaves Coliseum. Impress your friends: Auburn is good. The Tigers will have the perfect opportunity to prove it Saturday when they host LSU for their season finale, though first they have to face improving Alabama on the road tonight.

Mountain West: The NCAA's Preferred Source of Non-"Major" At-Large Bids (cont.)

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  New Mexico       64.1    1.12    0.96   +0.16
2.  BYU              68.5    1.10    0.95   +0.15
3.  Utah             64.6    1.10    0.99   +0.11
4.  San Diego St.    63.6    1.05    0.99   +0.06
5.  UNLV             66.4    1.05    0.99   +0.06
6.  Wyoming          66.9    1.04    1.11   -0.07
7.  TCU              64.0    0.99    1.06   -0.07
8.  Colorado St.     65.9    1.01    1.15   -0.14
9.  Air Force        58.0    0.89    1.15   -0.26

New Mexico continues their quixotic ways, nowhere to be seen in any brackets yet clinging to their tempo-free status as the Mountain West's best team. (Not that the Lobos looked the part Saturday night, struggling to beat Colorado State in double-overtime in Fort Collins.) That status will be up for grabs tonight when league-leading Utah visits Albuquerque. The Utes are smarting from a 13-point loss at BYU, while New Mexico is just trying to keep hope alive. It's March, and the games keep getting bigger.

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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Mythbusting (03/04)

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