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March 10, 2009
Conference Check
Final Reality Edition

by John Gasaway

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The regular season is history. We now know exactly how well these 104 teams performed during conference play on a per-possession basis. True, the Big East schedule comes nowhere near an ideal home-and-away round robin, but then again, that's exactly what we find in the Pac-10, the Mountain West and the Missouri Valley. Every other conference here falls somewhere in between those two extremes. Also keep in mind, of course, that not all conferences are created equal. An efficiency margin in C-USA is not directly transferrable to the Big East.

Given all that, how well do these numbers predict performance in the NCAA tournament? Very well. Throw out Wisconsin the past couple years and you could even say very well. Enjoy.

ACC: I'm Worried about Duke, Coach K is Not

Through games of March 8, 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   74.7    1.16    1.01   +0.15
2.  Duke             69.2    1.08    0.98   +0.10    
3.  Clemson          70.5    1.09    1.01   +0.08
4.  Wake Forest      74.3    1.07    1.01   +0.06
5.  Florida St.      69.1    1.00    0.98   +0.02
6.  Miami            65.8    1.06    1.07   -0.01
7.  BC               66.9    1.08    1.11   -0.03
8.  Virginia Tech    68.6    1.04    1.08   -0.04
9.  NC State         67.3    1.05    1.11   -0.06
10. Maryland         69.3    0.99    1.06   -0.07
11. Virginia         69.1    0.96    1.06   -0.10
12. Georgia Tech     72.8    0.92    1.02   -0.10

ESPN's Andy Katz has a post up this week reporting that, despite their loss at Chapel Hill Sunday, Duke is feeling good about their sassy new look. "The Jon-Scheyer-Elliott Williams experiment is working so well that Duke is quite pleased with its progress going into the postseason," Katz reports. Well, mark me down as not pleased with the Blue Devils' progress--because in fact there's been no progress on defense. There's been regression.

The Williams experiment began on February 19, when the highly-touted freshman got the start at Madison Square Garden in Duke's 76-69 win over St. John's. Williams subsequently averaged 33 minutes per outing over the Blue Devils' last five ACC games, during which time Duke allowed their opponents to score 1.09 points per trip. That's not wholly or even particularly Williams' doing, of course, and it's true that over that same period the Blue Devils scored enough points (1.16) to win games. Nevertheless, for Duke's players and coaches to proclaim Carolina-level satisfaction with a team playing Miami-level D strikes me as somewhat premature.

Big East: Making it Easy for the Selection Committee

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Pitt             66.9    1.17    1.01   +0.16
2.  Connecticut      66.6    1.10    0.95   +0.15
3.  Louisville       68.0    1.06    0.92   +0.14
4.  Villanova        71.8    1.10    1.01   +0.09
5.  West Virginia    65.9    1.06    0.98   +0.08
6.  Syracuse         71.1    1.10    1.02   +0.08
7.  Marquette        69.0    1.12    1.04   +0.08
8.  Notre Dame       68.7    1.08    1.09   -0.01
9.  Georgetown       63.9    1.01    1.03   -0.02
10. Providence       72.9    1.07    1.10   -0.03
11. Seton Hall       69.2    1.03    1.08   -0.05
12. Cincinnati       63.7    1.02    1.10   -0.08
13. St. John's       66.2    0.95    1.07   -0.12
14. S. Florida       61.9    0.93    1.05   -0.12
15. Rutgers          66.7    0.92    1.06   -0.14
16. DePaul           65.5    0.92    1.17   -0.25

If I were on the selection committee, I would look at this and see a big beautiful gaping chasm between the conference's seventh-best team, Marquette, and its eighth-best, Notre Dame. This is a seven-bid league. The other nine teams are down three flights of stairs.

Big Ten: It May Not Look That Way When You Watch Them, But....

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Michigan St.     63.6    1.06    0.93   +0.13
2.  Wisconsin        57.8    1.08    1.00   +0.08
3.  Purdue           63.6    1.02    0.95   +0.07
4.  Illinois         61.1    0.98    0.93   +0.05
5.  Ohio St.         60.8    1.07    1.05   +0.02
6.  Minnesota        62.2    0.98    0.98    0.00
7.  Michigan         61.0    1.01    1.03   -0.02
8.  Penn St.         59.7    1.00    1.04   -0.04
9.  Northwestern     59.6    1.03    1.07   -0.04
10. Iowa             56.8    0.99    1.07   -0.08
11. Indiana          63.2    0.93    1.12   -0.19

Averaging just 63 points a game in conference play, Wisconsin actually had the best offense in the Big Ten this year. Yay, tempo-free stats.

Big 12: What to Do With the Sooners?

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Kansas           69.5    1.09    0.94   +0.15
2.  Missouri         72.9    1.08    0.96   +0.12
3.  Oklahoma         68.8    1.13    1.02   +0.11
4.  Texas            67.5    1.07    1.03   +0.04
5.  Texas A&M        66.2    1.08    1.05   +0.03
6.  Oklahoma St.     71.5    1.09    1.07   +0.02
7.  Nebraska         63.1    0.97    0.98   -0.01
8.  Kansas St.       67.7    1.02    1.05   -0.03
9.  Baylor           68.4    1.05    1.10   -0.05
10. Texas Tech       71.7    1.02    1.11   -0.09
11. Iowa St.         65.6    0.95    1.07   -0.12
12. Colorado         63.2    0.92    1.10   -0.18

One of the most interesting questions to be answered this week is whether or not Oklahoma can earn "back" a one-seed if it wins the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners were projected to be a one for weeks, only to be bumped down to a two in most mock brackets when they lost at Missouri last week. If Jeff Capel's team does cut down the nets at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City on Saturday, and if that's enough to win them a one-seed, you'd have to like the chances of an "underdog" two-seed like Louisville or Memphis against a one-seed that was a step behind Kansas in the Big 12.

Pac-10: Can UCLA Win When They're Not Supposed To?

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  UCLA             64.5    1.17    1.04   +0.13
2.  Washington       70.6    1.10    1.00   +0.10
3.  Arizona St.      59.0    1.09    1.01   +0.08
4.  Cal              65.7    1.09    1.07   +0.02
5.  USC              62.0    1.04    1.03   +0.01
6.  Arizona          64.6    1.10    1.09   +0.01
7.  Washington St.   57.4    1.01    1.02   -0.01
8.  Stanford         65.3    1.06    1.11   -0.05
9.  Oregon St.       58.2    0.96    1.09   -0.13
10. Oregon           65.7    0.97    1.17   -0.20

The Bruins, along with Pitt and North Carolina, clearly have one of the best offenses in the country. Ben Howland's team figures to be either a four- or possibly a five-seed, one that could give a one-seed's D a run for its money in the Sweet 16.

SEC: Performance Bears Imperfectly on Happiness

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  LSU              69.5    1.08    0.97   +0.11
2.  Florida          69.9    1.10    1.03   +0.07
3.  Auburn           69.9    1.04    0.98   +0.06
4.  Tennessee        68.9    1.09    1.04   +0.05
5.  Kentucky         69.1    1.02    0.98   +0.04
6.  South Carolina   74.8    1.02    0.99   +0.03
7.  Mississippi St.  69.8    1.03    1.03    0.00
8.  Alabama          70.5    1.03    1.05   -0.02
9.  Vanderbilt       68.4    1.02    1.04   -0.02
10. Ole Miss         68.4    1.05    1.07   -0.02
11. Arkansas         70.5    0.98    1.09   -0.11
12. Georgia          70.3    0.88    1.06   -0.18

People in Lexington, Kentucky, are miserable. People in Columbia, South Carolina, are elated. Absent an SEC tournament championship, the team in the first locale isn't going to the NCAA tournament. The team in the second location might. Yet the two teams were virtually identical, possession for possession, in SEC play. Go figure.

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

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  New Mexico       64.6    1.11    0.97   +0.14
2.  BYU              68.3    1.08    0.94   +0.14
3.  Utah             64.6    1.10    0.99   +0.11
4.  San Diego St.    63.4    1.05    0.98   +0.07
5.  UNLV             65.3    1.02    0.98   +0.04
6.  Wyoming          67.5    1.03    1.10   -0.07
7.  TCU              63.9    0.98    1.07   -0.09
8.  Colorado St.     65.9    1.00    1.15   -0.15
9.  Air Force        58.1    0.88    1.11   -0.23

Congratulations to New Mexico, tempo-free champions of the MWC in a photo-finish over BYU. For your brackets, remember: everyone plays everyone in the Mountain West. The Lobos and the Cougars have shown they're one level up from Utah, even if the Utes did beat LSU by 30.

C-USA: Total Domination of Epic Proportions (Yawn)

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Memphis          65.3    1.13    0.86   +0.27
2.  UAB              66.8    1.06    0.96   +0.10
3.  Tulsa            64.5    1.06    0.97   +0.09
4.  Houston          69.4    1.09    1.01   +0.08
5.  UTEP             71.2    1.02    0.98   +0.04
6.  UCF              66.0    1.07    1.06   +0.01
7.  Tulane           66.3    0.98    1.02   -0.04
8.  Marshall         65.0    1.02    1.08   -0.06
9.  E. Carolina      65.0    1.07    1.18   -0.11
10. Rice             64.7    0.96    1.07   -0.11
11. Southern Miss    63.7    1.01    1.15   -0.14
12. SMU              64.5    0.95    1.09   -0.14

This is a case where Memphis' conference does indeed hurt the Tigers. If John Calipari's team were in the Big East or perhaps even the SEC, they would have had opportunities to prove that they've replaced Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts and haven't missed a beat. In Conference USA, however, even an undefeated record isn't enough, it would appear, to convince the hoops world that you're as good as you were last year. Well, they are as good (outscoring C-USA by 0.27 points per trip) as they were last year (0.29).

Missouri Valley: Once More with Feeling

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  N. Iowa          61.2    1.09    0.97   +0.12
2   Creighton        66.3    1.10    1.00   +0.10
3.  Illinois St.     62.6    1.05    0.96   +0.09
4.  Bradley          61.8    1.03    1.01   +0.02
5.  S. Illinois      62.9    1.00    1.03   -0.03
6.  Evansville       64.5    0.97    1.01   -0.04
7.  Drake            62.5    0.97    1.01   -0.04
8.  Wichita St.      62.3    0.99    1.04   -0.05
9.  Indiana St.      63.0    0.99    1.04   -0.05
10. Missouri St.     62.4    0.96    1.06   -0.10

The Valley of course ended their regular season a week ago and I already posted these numbers once, but what the hey, here they are again for ease of linking. Creighton will be sweating out Selection Sunday after having been blown off the floor in their Arch Madness semifinal against Illinois State. Congratulations to Northern Iowa, winners of the conference tournament and recipients of the automatic bid. Drake set new standards for Valley surprises last year, but keep in mind that no one was picking the Panthers last November. Ben Jacobson, take a bow.

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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