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February 2, 2010
Tuesday Truths
Love for the Undefeated

by John Gasaway

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Welcome to the latest installment of Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 126 teams in 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: Take a good look at this conference right here

Through games of February 1, 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              5-2   67.9    1.08    0.93    +0.15
2.  Maryland          4-2   68.5    1.08    0.94    +0.14
3.  Virginia          4-2   67.2    1.05    0.97    +0.08
4.  Georgia Tech      4-3   68.7    1.00    0.97    +0.03
5.  Clemson           4-4   69.7    0.94    0.93    +0.01
6.  Virginia Tech     3-3   68.8    0.99    1.00    -0.01
7.  Wake Forest       4-3   70.7    0.99    1.00    -0.01  
8.  Florida St.       4-3   67.5    0.96    0.99    -0.03
9.  North Carolina    2-4   69.9    1.00    1.05    -0.05
10. NC State          2-5   68.3    1.03    1.11    -0.08
11. BC                3-5   64.5    0.98    1.07    -0.09
12. Miami             2-5   66.1    1.01    1.12    -0.11

No truly scary teams, right? After all, Duke just got whacked by Georgetown in Washington D.C. on Saturday and, at the risk of skipping ahead, the Hoyas may be merely the Big East's fifth- or sixth-best team. So why is it that by the lights of at least one widely respected measure the ACC is the best conference in the nation? Simple: The league has bad teams but no truly awful ones. Remember this over the next few weeks as debates rage over whether the Big East is better than the Big 12. Talking about a conference through the medium of its NCAA tournament entrants is one thing. Talking about it "top to bottom" is quite another. Define your terms in advance.

Big 12: Best offense plus best defense equals this....

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kansas            6-0   69.0    1.19    0.98    +0.21
2.  Texas             5-2   73.0    1.08    1.00    +0.08
3.  Baylor            3-3   69.3    1.12    1.04    +0.08
4.  Kansas St.        4-3   72.5    1.04    0.99    +0.05
5.  Missouri          4-2   71.4    1.05    1.01    +0.04
6.  Oklahoma St.      4-4   69.2    1.04    1.03    +0.01
7.  Texas A&M         4-3   64.6    1.05    1.05     0.00
8.  Colorado          2-5   69.3    1.10    1.15    -0.05
9.  Oklahoma          3-4   67.2    0.94    1.04    -0.10
10. Nebraska          1-5   61.8    0.95    1.06    -0.11
11. Iowa St.          2-4   71.0    1.00    1.11    -0.11
12. Texas Tech        2-5   71.7    1.00    1.14    -0.14

Year after tempo-free year, Kansas looks this dominant within the Big 12. True, a lot of those years you could call into question the relative strength of the conference itself. But not in KU's national championship year of 2008, and not this year. With rivals like Texas, Kansas State, Missouri, and Baylor--two of whom are in the Big 12 North along with the Jayhawks--Kansas will come by any statistical dominance honestly this season. So far Bill Self's team is hegemonic just the same thanks to the league's best defense (fun fact: KU's conference opponents have made just 38 percent of their twos) and an offense that's even better.

Big East: An incredible January for the Villanova offense

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Villanova         8-0   71.3    1.21    1.04    +0.17
2.  West Virginia     6-2   63.8    1.13    0.98    +0.15
3.  Syracuse          8-1   70.3    1.07    0.97    +0.10
4.  Louisville        5-4   67.2    1.14    1.06    +0.08
5.  Marquette         4-5   63.4    1.12    1.04    +0.08
6.  Georgetown        6-3   65.1    1.10    1.02    +0.08
7.  Pitt              6-3   64.2    1.06    1.01    +0.05
8.  Cincinnati        5-4   66.8    1.04    1.03    +0.01
9.  Connecticut       3-6   69.4    1.00    1.02    -0.02
10. Providence        4-5   73.8    1.09    1.11    -0.02
11. Notre Dame        4-5   66.8    1.11    1.14    -0.03
12. Seton Hall        3-5   68.2    1.06    1.10    -0.04
13. S. Florida        4-5   66.4    1.04    1.11    -0.07
14. St. John’s        2-6   66.1    0.92    1.00    -0.08
15. DePaul            1-8   62.8    0.91    1.12    -0.21
16. Rutgers           1-8   70.2    0.92    1.17    -0.25

Jay Wright's team has had far and away the league's best offense in conference play, thanks to excellent shooting from both sides of the arc. Despite the Wildcats' reputation as a guard-heavy group, 'Nova makes their twos, pounds the offensive glass, and gets to the FT line as frequently as any other Big East team. They'll need all of the above as they embark on a brutal six days of basketball. After hosting Seton Hall tonight, Villanova will play at Georgetown on Saturday and then follow that up with a Monday night visit to West Virginia. Check back here a week from today to see how the Cats' numbers look after they've run that gauntlet.

Big Ten: Michigan State just wins--which is the nominal object of the sport

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Michigan St.      9-0   64.7    1.05    0.94    +0.11
2.  Wisconsin         6-3   58.7    1.03    0.93    +0.10
3.  Purdue            6-3   65.0    1.06    0.98    +0.08
4.  Ohio St.          6-3   63.7    1.05    0.97    +0.08
5.  Michigan          4-5   61.4    1.01    0.96    +0.05
6.  Illinois          6-3   66.7    1.03    0.99    +0.04
7.  Minnesota         4-5   66.0    1.02    1.06    -0.04
8.  Northwestern      3-6   63.2    1.05    1.13    -0.08
9.  Iowa              2-7   63.0    0.92    1.02    -0.10
10. Indiana           3-5   65.5    0.92    1.03    -0.11
11. Penn St.          0-9   61.3    0.95    1.09    -0.14

At 9-0, Michigan State has outscored its conference opponents by the exact same per-possession margin as 6-3 Arizona or a 6-1 Gonzaga team that has everyone freaked because they suddenly look so mortal. Which is why the excellent Spartan blog The Only Colors recently acknowledged that computers don't like this MSU team as much as pollsters do. Then again last year's team wasn't exactly a statistical behemoth either, and you might remember they made it to Detroit anyway. As my colleague Bradford Doolittle detailed in this year's book, no coach in the 64/65-team era has overachieved relative to his team's NCAA tournament seed as consistently as Tom Izzo. And the Spartans are on-track to receive a very high seed from the human-bedecked selection committee.

Pac-10: Curled up in a tight little ball

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Arizona           6-3   67.2    1.09    0.98    +0.11
2.  Cal               6-3   69.8    1.10    1.00    +0.10
3.  Arizona St.       5-4   64.9    1.03    0.95    +0.08
4.  USC               4-5   61.0    0.97    0.91    +0.06
5.  Washington        4-5   70.7    1.05    1.03    +0.02
6.  UCLA              5-4   62.9    1.00    1.04    -0.04
7.  Stanford          4-5   67.1    1.00    1.06    -0.06
8.  Oregon St.        3-6   62.7    0.92    0.99    -0.07
9.  Washington St.    4-5   67.8    1.01    1.10    -0.09
10. Oregon            4-5   65.9    1.00    1.10    -0.10

Last week I said there was a clear distinction between the Pac-10's haves and have-nots. Not looking so clear now, is it? Amazing what a couple bad road outings from USC can do to the numbers.

SEC: Don't dismiss the Commodores just yet

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Kentucky          5-1   72.7    1.11    0.97    +0.14
2.  Vanderbilt        5-1   70.1    1.16    1.11    +0.05
3.  Alabama           3-4   63.6    0.95    0.90    +0.05
4.  Mississippi St.   4-2   70.0    1.00    0.96    +0.04
5.  Ole Miss          4-3   69.2    1.05    1.02    +0.03
6.  Florida           4-3   65.7    1.11    1.08    +0.03
7.  Tennessee         4-2   67.4    1.00    0.98    +0.02
8.  South Carolina    4-3   67.7    1.02    1.02     0.00
9.  Arkansas          3-3   72.0    1.00    1.04    -0.04
10. Georgia           1-5   67.9    1.08    1.12    -0.04
11. Auburn            2-5   69.3    1.00    1.10    -0.10
12. LSU               0-7   62.7    0.90    1.11    -0.21

I realize Vanderbilt looked mediocre at best at Kentucky on Saturday, a mediocrity mirrored by the numbers here. But keep in mind four of their six conference games have been played on the road and yet Kevin Stallings' team has still had easily the SEC's best offense to date. Keep an eye on them.

A-10: Xavier says, Thank you Fordham!

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Xavier            7-1   71.0    1.14    0.93    +0.21
2.  Temple            6-1   62.9    1.08    0.93    +0.15
3.  Dayton            4-3   67.6    1.02    0.92    +0.10
4.  Rhode Island      5-2   69.2    1.06    0.97    +0.09
5.  Richmond          5-2   63.7    1.03    0.94    +0.09
6.  Charlotte         6-1   68.6    1.01    0.95    +0.06
7.  Saint Louis       3-3   63.2    0.92    0.91    +0.01
8.  La Salle          3-4   68.2    1.01    1.04    -0.03
9.  GW                2-5   64.5    0.98    1.03    -0.05
10. St. Bonaventure   2-4   67.2    0.97    1.03    -0.06
11. UMass             2-5   71.2    0.97    1.03    -0.06
12. Saint Joseph’s    2-5   71.5    0.96    1.06    -0.10
13. Duquesne          2-5   68.7    0.94    1.06    -0.12
14. Fordham           0-8   71.5    0.87    1.13    -0.26

With their 108-60 dismantling of the Rams on Sunday, the Musketeers leap to the top of the A-10's per-possession standings. Much like CUSA, this should be a really fun race to watch.

Conference USA: We have a Matt Doherty sighting

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  UTEP              6-1   66.3    1.03    0.90    +0.13
2.  Tulsa             6-1   66.1    1.05    0.95    +0.10
3.  Memphis           5-2   65.5    1.11    1.03    +0.08
4.  SMU               3-3   59.2    1.04    0.97    +0.07
5.  Houston           4-3   71.3    1.08    1.02    +0.06
6.  Marshall          4-3   67.3    1.12    1.06    +0.06
7.  UAB               6-1   63.8    0.96    0.91    +0.05
8.  Southern Miss     2-4   59.9    0.98    0.95    +0.03
9.  Rice              1-6   66.5    0.95    1.08    -0.13
10. Tulane            1-6   69.0    0.86    1.00    -0.14
11. UCF               2-5   65.9    0.98    1.12    -0.14
12. E. Carolina       1-6   67.2    0.89    1.05    -0.16

Look at SMU, strikingly respectable and outscoring opponents by a robust 0.07 points per trip. Indeed the Mustangs have improved dramatically on both sides of the ball since last year. Coach Doherty, I provisionally salute you! Keep up the good work.

Missouri Valley: Justice for the Redbirds!

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  N. Iowa          10-1   59.1    1.05    0.89    +0.16
2.  Wichita St.       8-3   64.3    1.03    0.96    +0.07
3.  Illinois St.      6-5   63.3    1.05    0.99    +0.06
4.  Missouri St.      5-6   64.7    1.11    1.10    +0.01
5.  S. Illinois       4-7   65.4    0.99    0.99     0.00
6.  Drake             6-5   64.0    1.02    1.04    -0.02
7.  Creighton         6-5   65.5    1.02    1.04    -0.02
8.  Bradley           5-6   66.0    1.02    1.04    -0.02
9.  Indiana St.       5-6   64.6    1.01    1.05    -0.04
10. Evansville       0-11   65.2    0.91    1.09    -0.18

One could argue that the BracketBuster pairings announced yesterday did no particular favors, promotional or otherwise, for Illinois State. Tim Jankovich's team got a no-TV home game against Morehead State, while Missouri State was given a slot on the Deuce to host Luke Babbitt and Nevada. (Nothing against the Eagles of MSU, mind you. In fact the numbers suggest fans will see a pretty good game that day in Normal. Still, this so-called "TV" does come in handy for a program.)

Mountain West: BYU still looks good, even with a loss

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  BYU               6-1   70.1    1.10    0.91    +0.19
2.  New Mexico        6-2   69.4    1.03    0.93    +0.10
3.  UNLV              5-2   68.0    1.07    0.99    +0.08
4.  San Diego St.     4-3   67.1    1.05    1.02    +0.03
5.  Utah              3-4   68.5    0.98    0.98     0.00
6.  Wyoming           2-5   69.3    1.01    1.07    -0.06
7.  Colorado St.      3-4   68.8    0.94    1.03    -0.09
8.  TCU               2-5   62.6    0.94    1.04    -0.10
9.  Air Force         1-6   58.0    0.91    1.14    -0.23

The Cougars are the only non-Kansas outfit in this 126-team horde that has both its conference's best offense and its best defense thus far. Kudos to New Mexico for defending the home floor and beating BYU last week 76-72. But Dave Rose's team still looks like the top dog in the Mountain West, at least at the beginning of February.

WCC: There for the taking? Maybe?

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Portland          5-2   64.4    1.15    0.94    +0.21
2.  Saint Mary’s      6-1   67.8    1.19    1.03    +0.16
3.  Gonzaga           6-1   69.3    1.14    1.03    +0.11
4.  San Francisco     3-4   69.1    1.00    1.06    -0.06
5.  San Diego         2-5   61.8    0.96    1.03    -0.07
6.  Pepperdine        3-4   68.5    1.01    1.10    -0.09
7.  Santa Clara       1-6   64.8    0.95    1.07    -0.12
8.  Loyola Marymount  2-5   67.6    0.98    1.13    -0.15

On Sunday my colleague Ken Pomeroy said that Gonzaga is no shoo-in for the WCC title this year. The way the Zags have been playing of late, Ken is exactly right. In a league so clearly dominated by its three best teams, Gonzaga has clearly played like the third-best team.

True, the Zags already have road wins at both Portland and Saint Mary's safely tucked away in their pocket. (Ken rates their chances of winning the WCC at better than 60 percent, which is considerable.) But that's kind of my point: Mark Few's team won those two games and came out of them with better-looking numbers than the Pilots and Gaels, respectively. The fact that the Zags' overall performance still lags behind its two conference rivals, then, reflects the fact that Portland and Saint Mary's have been pounding on the rest of the league. The Zags, for whatever reason, haven't.

John also sings the praises of undefeated teams on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.

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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