Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
"Power" conference tempos: getting a little slower and a lot more uniform
I'll return for real on November 1 but I thought I'd continue a young August tradition and interrupt my otherwise total off-season hiatus for a single post on tempo.

(This is also my first post from the new Wonk World HQ in Indy. The Twin Cities had their charms--outstanding theater, beautiful lakes in the heart of the city, and easily the best radio station in the U.S.--but say this for the new place: people here actually follow this thing called "basketball." Cool!)

As I did last summer, I've been running some numbers in the off-season in an attempt to shed some light on the little matter of pace. (More on how I go about this here.) Blogger extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy, of course, already has data on every team's average number of possessions per game--numbers based on each team's entire season.

Building on Ken's indispensable endeavors, I thought it'd be interesting to once again zoom in a bit and look specifically at the closed ecosystems of conference play. So, without further ado, here's how fast the six "power" conferences played last year, from fastest to un-fastest....

Average possessions per 40 minutes, 2006 (conference games only)
1. ACC (68.4)
2. Big XII (66.8)
3. SEC (66.7)
4. Big East (65.8)
5. Pac-10 (65.2)
6. Big Ten (64.0)

ACC (average: 68.4)
1. Maryland (74.2)
2. Duke (73.7)
3. North Carolina (71.3)
4. Florida State (70.2)
5. Georgia Tech (69.8)
6. Clemson (69.3)
7. Wake Forest (67.7)
8. Virginia Tech (66.9)
9. Virginia (66.4)
10. NC State (65.8)
11. Miami (63.2)
12. Boston College (62.0)

Big XII (average: 66.8)
1. Iowa State (72.1)
2. Kansas (70.3)
3. Colorado (70.0)
4. Texas Tech (67.1)
5. Missouri (66.9)
6. Baylor (66.7)
7. Oklahoma State (66.2)
8. Nebraska (65.6)
9. Kansas State (65.3)
10. Oklahoma (63.7)
11. Texas A&M (63.7)
12. Texas (63.6)

SEC (average: 66.7)
1. Tennessee (71.6)
2. Georgia (69.4)
3. Mississippi St. (69.2)
4. LSU (68.5)
5. Florida (68.4)
6. Arkansas (67.4)
7. Auburn (66.1)
8. Kentucky (66.1)
9. Mississippi (64.9)
10. Alabama (64.4)
11. Vanderbilt (63.0)
12. South Carolina (61.0)

Big East (average: 65.8)
1. Connecticut (69.8)
2. Syracuse (69.8)
3. Marquette (68.9)
4. Providence (67.8)
5. Pitt (67.7)
6. Cincinnati (67.5)
7. Seton Hall (66.6)
8. Villanova (66.6)
9. Louisville (66.2)
10. Notre Dame (65.2)
11. Rutgers (65.2)
12. St. John's (64.0)
13. West Virginia (63.7)
14. South Florida (62.5)
15. DePaul (61.8)
16. Georgetown (58.8)

Pac-10 (average: 65.2)
1. Washington (69.7)
2. Arizona (69.4)
3. USC (67.7)
4. Oregon State (65.5)
5. Arizona State (65.2)
6. Stanford (64.9)
7. UCLA (63.6)
8. Oregon (62.5)
9. Cal (62.2)
10. Washington State (61.4)

Big Ten (average: 64.0)
1. Michigan (66.6)
2. Indiana (66.4)
3. Wisconsin (65.3)
4. Ohio State (65.1)
5. Iowa (64.9)
6. Purdue (64.8)
7. Michigan State (64.7)
8. Penn State (62.6)
9. Minnesota (62.4)
10. Illinois (62.3)
11. Northwestern (58.8)

So what do we make of these numbers?
1. Games in the "power" conferences appear to have slowed a little. Last year the summary looked like this:

Average possessions per 40 minutes, 2005 (conference games only)
ACC (72.2)
Pac-10 (71.2)
Big XII (67.1)
Big East (66.7)
SEC (66.5)
Big Ten (63.8)

Is this a trend toward slower games? If it is, blame UCLA and Texas. Last year the Bruins and the Longhorns both played suffocating D, thanks in part to the fact that they both hauled in 70 percent of their opponents' (abundant) misses off the defensive glass. Getting defensive rebounds means having bodies on the glass and not in transition--and so both teams averaged less than 64 possessions per game in conference play. (Not that defensive boards always translate into slower games--see Washington for a particularly notable exception to this tendency. Also note: the Horns, unlike UCLA, also had a superb offense. That was a great team that LSU beat in the Elite Eight.)

2. Differences in pace across conferences shrank rather dramatically from year to year. Last season every power conference averaged between 64 and 68.4 possessions per 40 minutes. Are regional variations vanishing? Is total tempo homogeneity fated to arrive soon? Stay tuned!

3. The Pac-10 in particular was significantly slower last season than in 2005. UCLA served as the veritable poster-child for this shift. In 2005 the Bruins flew up and down the court at a rate of about 72 possessions per game. Last year: 64. Synecdoche of the Pac-10 UCLA, Wonk salutes you!

4. Conferences that add teams for purely football reasons pay a price: slower basketball games. See bottom two teams under "ACC," above.

5. BONUS fifth point! The north side of Chicago is home to some of the slowest hoops anywhere. Between DePaul (61.8 possessions per 40 min.) and Northwestern (58.8), hoops-loving Chicagoans have ample opportunity to multi-task during games, needing to pay attention only to the last 10 seconds of each shot clock.

But what about actual (intended) pace as opposed to merely games with lots of turnovers?
One thing about this possessions-per-game stat that's always kind of bothered me is how teams that are terrible at holding on to the ball are made to appear "fast," while teams that are outstanding at taking care of the rock look "slow." Last year, for example, Michigan was the "fastest" Big Ten team--thanks in no small part to the fact that they'd give the ball away on about one in every four possessions. Maryland was also kind of like that last season:

Most possessions per 40 minutes, 2006 (conference games only)
1. Maryland (74.2)
2. Duke (73.7)
3. Iowa State (72.1)
4. Tennessee (71.6)
5. North Carolina (71.3)
6. Kansas (70.3)
7. Florida State (70.2)
8. Colorado (70.0)
9. Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Connecticut (tied at 69.8)

So the Terps were the "fastest" power-conference team in the nation at 74.2 possessions per conference game. Well, yeah--but then they also happen to have coughed the ball up on an alarming 23 percent of their possessions in ACC play. Make no mistake, Maryland indeed played at a fast tempo--but their number of possessions was inflated by their striking inability to hold on to the ball. (Striking but not unsurpassed--see Georgia Tech, benevolent givers to the opponent on no fewer than 25.8 percent of their possessions in-conference. Ye gods.)

And so the question becomes this: what if we removed a team's own turnovers from the equation? Well, let's give it a shot:

Possessions without turnovers per 40 minutes, 2006 (conference games only)
1. Iowa State (60.1)
2. Tennessee (59.1)
3. Duke (58.8)
4. Maryland (57.0)
5. Colorado (56.4)
6. Cincinnati (56.2)
7. Arizona (56.1)
8. West Virginia (56.1)
9. Virginia Tech (55.9)
10. Washington (55.7)

For now let's call this stat effective possessions ("ePoss"?). It's merely a team's average number of possessions per 40 minutes, minus the percentage of possessions on which they, on average, turn the ball over. (Read up on turnover percentages here.)

I have no idea if I'll use this again but right now it feels kind of handy, speaking as it does to tempo, ball-control, and the ability to force your opponent into TOs--all in one benign little number. Look at West Virginia: buried far down the list on straight possessions-per-game (63.7) but nevertheless notching the same number of FGAs and FTAs as a much faster offense because they never turned the ball over.

Leaders in ePoss, Wonk salutes you!

Now resumes the hiatus
See you November 1.


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