Monday, December 31, 2012

Pac-12 Offensive Preview

Heading into the Pac-12 schedule with an unblemished 12-0 record, things are looking bright for the Cats.  While the conference has improved since last year, there is still plenty of room for betterment.  The Pac has only one team in the Top 25, and only two others (Oregon and Colorado) receiving any votes.  The conference fares slightly better or worse in objective rating schemes, like these (1, 2, 3), so at this point, two things are very clear.  First, the Cats should be strong favorites to win the the Pac-12 conference.  Second, an NCAA tournament berth seems almost certain.  Of course, you never know what can happen.  A rash of injuries, for example, could derail this train.

To preview the conference season, which begins on Wednesday, I want to do a simple offensive comparison of all twelve teams.  Please keep in mind that these comparisons are somewhat problematic because they do not take into account strength of schedule.  Colorado and USC have faced some very difficult competition in their nonconference schedules, while other teams rank among the lowest in the nation in terms of strength of schedule, most notably both schools from Oregon, the Utah Utes, Washington State, and Arizona State.  Also, there are two games remaining before the conference season begins.  This evening, Oregon hosts Nevada, and Oregon State will face the Texas-Pan American Broncs.

The three graphs below show shooting percentages for all teams in the conference.  The Cats rank in the top four in all categories.  We are ranked 4th for shots inside the arc.  Notably, Arizona State leads all teams in this category, with UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, and Utah essentially all tied for second.  The Cats are third in three point shooting behind the Beavers and Buffaloes.   Notice the major drop off between the ninth place Ducks and 10th place Cardinal.   The Cats are first in free throw shooting, just ahead of the Utes.   There are only two teams that rank among the the top five in all three categories, and one is Arizona.  The other?  Utah.   I would be careful about reading too much into the Utes' numbers, as they have faced two non Division I opponents (Willamette and the College of Idaho).  They also have losses to Sacramento State, SMU, BYU, and Cal State Northridge.

The most important measure of a team's offensive prowess is the number of points scored per possession.  This is a pure measure of a team's efficiency in putting points on the board, regardless of how many possessions a game has.  There are two teams that stand out as having very good offenses, and yes, one is Arizona.  The Cats are averaging 1.11 points per possession, but so are the UCLA Bruins.  The Cats have been ever so slightly better (1.113 vs 1.109), but UCLA is a very good team.  Where the Bruins are struggling is defense, but there is good reason to believe that they are moving in the right direction.  If any team is going to challenge the Cats for the conference title, my pick would be UCLA.  From the graph below, it should be clear why.

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