WEEKLY LESSON: EXPANDING OUR HORIZONS
This season, we talk a lot about the same seven teams. The Big East powers: UConn, Pitt, Louisville. The ACC powers: North Carolina, Duke and (occasionally) Wake Forest. Big 12 king Oklahoma. If someone were to conduct a survey of all national-pundit writing on college basketball in '08-09, I wouldn't be surprised if it said 75 percent focused on that septet. They were the top seven teams in the AP poll last week. They've won big games. They've earned the right to be covered. I'll be in Hartford tonight to see Pitt-UConn, and write even more about them. But a good question I like to ask at this time of year is, Are We Forgetting About Anybody? Because it's our fault if we let a good team sneak up on us in the NCAA tournament.
My goal for for Sunday was to reorder the AP's Top 25 by how they've performed, statistically, in conference games. This required taking teams' efficiency margins from conference games only, and then figuring out a way to weight them based on conference strength. The efficiency margins (points scored per possession minus points allowed per possession) came from bbstate.com's conference-splits database, and I used kenpom.com's conference ratings (essentially, their average Pythagorean winning percentages) as coefficients. This yielded a figure I call Weighted Efficiency Margin (WEM), which may not be perfect, but it's better than the RPI. Here's how teams ranked in order of WEM:
Rk. Team Conf. Conf. Weighted EffMgn Rating Margin 1 UConn +0.23 .8696 +0.20 2 Memphis +0.26 .6868 +0.18 3 Missouri +0.18 .8522 +0.15 4 Michigan State +0.18 .8495 +0.15 5 Pitt +0.17 .8696 +0.15 6 UCLA +0.16 .8738 +0.14 7 Oklahoma +0.16 .8522 +0.14 8 Gonzaga +0.27 .5164 +0.14 9 Kansas +0.15 .8522 +0.13 10 Marquette +0.14 .8696 +0.12 11 Xavier +0.19 .6396 +0.12 12 UNC +0.13 .8819 +0.11 13 Duke +0.12 .8819 +0.11 14 Louisville +0.11 .8696 +0.10 15 Villanova +0.11 .8696 +0.10 16 Butler +0.17 .5835 +0.10 17 Illinois +0.11 .8495 +0.09 18 Arizona State +0.10 .8738 +0.09 19 Utah State +0.14 .5463 +0.08 20 Purdue +0.08 .8495 +0.07 21 Clemson +0.07 .8819 +0.06 22 Wake Forest +0.06 .8819 +0.05 23 Florida State +0.02 .8819 +0.02 24 Syracuse +0.01 .8696 +0.01 25 Ohio State 0.00 .8495 0.00
What we learned from that mess above:
* There are three teams we have, to a degree, been forgetting about: Memphis, Missouri, and Michigan State. Especially Memphis. The Tigers sort of fell off the map after failing to win any of their marquee games -- against Xavier, Georgetown and Syracuse -- in November and December. But they've tinkered with their offense (moving Tyreke Evans, the nation's best freshman, to the point) and are playing even better defense than they did during last year's run to the national-title game. Even after removing the Conference USA stat-inflation, Memphis is the second-most efficient team in the country. Missouri, meanwhile, has a case for being the best team in the Big 12 -- even better than Oklahoma. And Michigan State has managed to be hyper-efficient despite losing Raymar Morgan to an extended series of illnesses -- good enough to be mentioned in the same conversation with top-five teams such as Pitt or Oklahoma.
* UConn doesn't just deserve to be No. 1 on the basis of record. The Huskies have blown away the Big East -- they've been more than twice as efficient as Louisville! -- and have the highest WEM of any team in the country. And they aren't getting the highest conference-coefficient boost, either: kenpom's formula likes the ACC and Pac-10 better than it does the Big East.
* There are some efficient teams being left out of the AP's Top 25, either because of lackluster non-conference performance or lack of overall exposure. I suspect LSU, the headliner of the next table, will creep into today's poll, but the Tigers have been ignored for far too long. Their WEM of +0.14 would be in the top 10, and Washington, Kentucky, Davidson and (surprisingly) Temple also should be included in the discussion:
Rk. Team Conf. Conf. Weighted EffMargin Rating EffMargin -- LSU +0.18 .7799 +0.14 -- Washington +0.12 .8738 +0.10 -- Kentucky +0.11 .7799 +0.09 -- Davidson +0.27 .2890 +0.08 -- Temple +0.11 .6396 +0.07
WEM may not have much staying power in the lexicon of college hoops stats, but it helps us expand our radar. Talk more Memphis, more Missouri, more Michigan State, keep an eye on LSU and Washington, and you might be a better-prepared bracketeer come tourney time.
SI.COM'S STARTING FIVE
(Wearing '77 Marquette tops, designed by Bo Ellis. These stay untucked!)
1. Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina: He stepped up this week every time the Heels needed him, scoring 25 and dishing out five assists against Duke on Wednesday, and then putting up 21 and 4 against Miami on Sunday. (He also swore, but we'll forgive him.)
2. Jodie Meeks, G/F, Kentucky: He may not be a traditional two-guard, but you could do a lot worse than having Meeks at the two. He had another one of his "unconscious" games on Saturday against Arkansas, going for 45 points on 17-of-24 shooting.
3. Tasmin Mitchell, F, LSU: Consider this the beginning of our LSU Coverage Effort. Tas' had 41 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and no turnovers against Mississippi State on Wednesday. Everyone missed that while they were watching UNC-Duke.
4. Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma: 40-and-20s shall now be called Griffins. Big Blake had 40 points and 23 boards against Texas Tech on Saturday ... and he only played 31 minutes!
4. Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn: The Most Powerful Force in America had quite the Saturday, missing a triple-double by just one block against Seton Hall. (He finished with 25 points, 20 boards and nine swats.)
THE ONE GAME YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT
Monday, Feb. 16: Pitt at UConn (in Hartford, Conn.), 7 p.m.:
It's the Huskies' first big game without Jerome Dyson. You'll see plenty of Kemba Walker, A.J. Price and Craig Austrie trying to hound Levance Fields and force Pitt's other guards -- Jermaine Dixon, Ashton Gibbs, Gilbert Brown -- to make plays. And you'll see Thabeet-vs.-Blair, the best big-man matchup you're going to get all year in the Big East. It's the Biggest Big Monday of the season, and I'm picking UConn in a dogfight, by four.
YOUR MONDAY MOMENT OF ZEN
This, from 2006, is what Carolina kids do to celebrate beating Duke: jump over a burning bush (or a "Hansbrough," in the vernacular of hustle-praising ESPN announcers).