I recently heard this from a sportswriter at a major newspaper (on a show featuring “competitive sports banter”) with regards to St. Joe’s chances of making it to San Antonio…

They could only beat the 5th place team in the Big 12 [Texas Tech] by 5 points.

Most folks believe that the winner of the Oklahoma State/Pitt game – which should be the Cowboys – will beat the Hawks if SJU gets that far. With that in mind, let’s review the statement above. What was Texas Tech’s last loss before the NCAA Tournament? It was in the Big 12 Tournament. On a neutral court. By 5 points. To Oklahoma State.

In order to see why St. Joe’s should beat Wake Forest, let’s look at some numbers. I am going to present some data which shows points per possession – both allowed defensively and scored offensively averaged over the course of the season.

The first set of numbers shows the top 10 D1 teams in “defensive efficiency” – points allowed per possession. The second set of numbers is their “offensive efficiency” – points scored per possession – and how they rank nationally in that category.

NCAA Defensive Efficiency Leaders
1.  Louisville             .857    1.024 (110)
2.  Mississippi Valley St. .875     .989 (201)
3.  Stephen F. Austin      .884    1.038 ( 90)
4.  Pittsburgh             .888    1.085 ( 31)
5.  East Tennessee St.     .890    1.023 (114)
6.  Connecticut            .890    1.102 ( 17)
7.  Holy Cross             .891     .959 (252)
8.  Cincinnati             .891    1.113 ( 13)
9.  Stanford               .894    1.089 ( 26)
10. Saint Joseph’s         .898    1.136 (  4)

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that these numbers are not adjusted for the competition. So we can’t accurately say that the Delta Devils of Mississippi Valley had the 2nd best defense in America. They’re nowhere close. But I think it is safe to say that Louisville had the best defense, since their competition was very good and their lead in this category over the next best quality team is substantial.

Two teams on here that aren’t surprising are Pitt and UConn. Note that they have pretty good offenses also. But bringing this back to the game at hand, St. Joe’s checks in at #10.

Now let’s look at the best offenses. Again, the first set of numbers shows what these teams score per possession. The second set of numbers is their defensive efficiency and how they rank nationally.

NCAA Offensive Efficiency Leaders
1.   Gonzaga         1.180    .944 ( 63)
2.   Troy St.        1.155    .984 (147)
3.   Utah St.        1.149    .949 ( 76)
4.   Saint Joseph’s  1.136    .898 ( 10)
5.   Oklahoma St.    1.133    .912 ( 22)
6.   Arizona         1.133   1.015 (217)
7.   Air Force       1.128    .945 ( 67)
8.   Wake Forest     1.127   1.017 (225)
9.   Murray St.      1.126    .955 ( 87)
10.  Chattanooga     1.119   1.026 (252)

There are a lot of things to say about this list.

The first thing that struck me was that St. Joe’s is the only team on both lists.

The second thing that hit me was Air Force. My original reason to make these calculations was to see how Air Force’s defense really stacked up to the rest of the nation. They were often referred to as having the best scoring defense in the game based on their commanding lead in the points per game category. But the secret to their success was that Princeton offense. Try to convince someone knowledgeable about the game that the Falcons had one of the best offenses in the nation. On second thought, don’t.

Then you have Oklahoma State. Many folks have said the Oklahoma State/Pitt matchup is worthy of the Final Four. Well on one end of the court it might as well be the national championship, with OSU’s offense that leads the nation in shooting percentage against Pitt’s Steel Curtain II defense.

Another interesting team is Arizona. Their offense was great, agreeing with the fact that they led the nation in points per game. But the reason they could never get anywhere was their especially leaky defense.

Then we see Wake Forest, with a similar profile. Their offensive numbers, when adjusted for their opponents would rank as one of the five best. But their defense makes me borrow a phrase from Martin Lawrence…Damn, Gina! Even considering their brutal schedule, it’s hard to sugarcoat being #225 out of 326.

This is where the analysis of tonight’s game has been lacking. Much has been made of the matchup between Wake’s guard tandem of Justin Gray and Chris Paul, and the Hawks’ Jameer Nelson and Delonte West. But all that’s mentioned is their respective offensive numbers. Isn’t defense half of the game? And this is where I think Gray and Paul are no match for Nelson and West.

The hard part is making a connection from the fact that Wake plays poor defense as a team to the fact that its guards deserve a large chunk of the responsibility. A start is by seeing that Wake’s 3-point shooting defense was the worst in the ACC. But guards have to do more than defend perimeter shooting, they have to prevent getting burned on the drive also. And that part of their defensive ability is difficult to measure.

I suppose you could look at what opposing guards did in terms of 2 point baskets and assists. This would get you close enough to the real answer – but that takes time I don’t have. So we’ll just have to see how things play out. The way it looks to me is that Chris Paul is headed for the type of game that will make up everyone’s mind on whether he should stay in college for his sophomore year…and almost make up Billy Packer’s mind on whether St. Joe’s could play .500 ball in the ACC.