The conference teams continue to shuffle in this, the last week of conference play, but most have settled into a configuration where the net efficiencies have aligned -- with one or two exceptions -- with their conference records. Bracketology 101 listed 11 Big East teams in the field of 68, the lowest seed, Marquette, on the #9 seed line in the West Region (the weakest of the four regions). The #9 seed is well above the cohort identified by "right side of/wrong side of..." labels. Marquette's status, and that of the other 0.500-level Big East teams therefore, is not in doubt...this week anyway. Of interst too (per Bracketology 101, though those guys are hardly alone) is the number of relatively high seeds the conference teams appear to be in line to draw come Selection Sunday. As of this week, Big East teams due to draw a #1 seed, a #2 seed, two #3 seeds, two #4 seeds and two #5 seeds; that is eight of the top 20 seeds in the tournament allocated to a single conference. Joe Lunardi over at ESPN has seven teams dispersed in the top five seed lines, Jerry Palm (CBS) has seven teams in his top five seed lines as of 3/3
and Hoops Report has six in the top five seed lines in their March 3 bracket.
Sorted by net efficiency and including results through Thursday night's games, St. John's, by virtue of their road loss to Seton Hall on Thursday night, drops back under the "great divide" (net efficiency of zero line), making the positive/negative split 10-6 again. That divide remains remains distinct, with a 21 point "gap" between Georgetown at the bottom of the net positive group (0.010) and St. John's, recipients of a 14 point drubbing at the Rock Thursday night, at the top of the net negative group (-0.011). Villanova, Georgetown, Cincinnati and and Connecticut share a 20 point tier, as large a point spread as the gap that separates Georgetown from St. John's. Pittsburgh and DePaul continue to regress to the mean (the net efficiency of zero), drawing closer to the teams clustered just above and below. St. John's and Marquette continue to stand apart from their peers. By a Pythagorean calculation the Warriors' won-loss record is 1-2 games below their "net performance". The Johnnies' won-loss record by contrast is a surprising +3 off of their Pythagorean Winning Percentage. Thursdays' game is a good illustration of what has happened to the Red Storm. A solid offensive effort by Dwight Hardy was lost in a 14 point Pirate shooting blitz (the Hall shooters could not miss...), as Johnnies' Coach Steve Lavin was ejected from the game with three or so minutes to play.
Offense vs. Defense in Conference Games
Most Big East have 17 conference games on the books. Enough I believe, to take a look at how their offenses and defenses stacked up in conference play. The mean efficiency through this week is 103.1, a bit higher than the average for all of Division 1. Using offensive and defensive efficiencies computed at Ken Pomeroy's website, I developed the scatter chart (below) which indicates how each team's offensive and defensive efficiencies compared to the conference mean.
Almost as surprising as the clear spread of Pittsburgh (and DePaul) from the rest of the conference is the cluster of six teams, all NCAA-bound as of this week, around the offensive axis. All six teams have "good" defenses, but none appear to have particularly strong offenses. That cluster, in a conference this dominant relative to the rest of Division 1, may explain why so many will, status quo ante on Selection Sunday, make the field of 68. Those who have noticed Seton Hall's defense this season are not seeing things. The chart confirms Hall Coach Kevin Willard does indeed have the Pirates playing defense this season. Any discussion in the Nova Nation, which may have been triggered by the Wildcats' late season swoon, would have to favor those who cite the decline in the defense as the root cause for decline, as if Notre Dame's 20 made three point field goals were not conclusive enough. Unlike the Irish, Villanova's offense is not robust enough to overcome the defensive weaknesses. Would an additional four points in offensive efficiency (about 0.04 points per possession on average) really translate into an additional four wins? Probably not.