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5 Years: Big East Efficiency Margins vs Standings

Statistics taken from,

This is a continuation from yesterday's "True Grit" post, which was a look at how the Big East basketball teams' standings matched up with their efficiency margins, since those margins (offensive efficiency - defensive efficiency) are a decent, though flawed, tempo-neutral way of rating teams.

Initially, I had intended on writing about the disparity between last year's coaches' ranking of Big East teams and their actual finishes. But, challenged by the Bearcats Blog, I tossed together a table of wins/ losses, efficiency margins, and whether or not teams finished in a higher slot in the standings (average efficiency margin rank - average actual standing rank) than their efficiency margin would state.

Like any college basketball fan with a pulse knows, the Big East has a serious tier system. Using the averages of each year's efficiency margin for order, and averaging over the past 5 years of the 16-team Big East, it's amazingly stark. I have included the average wins and losses for each team for comparison. See the table, below>>:

Avg W
Avg L
Team OE
Opp OE
Avg Finish
Avg EM Rank
Avg EM-Avg W/L
Pittsburgh 12 5.2 110.0 101.4 8.7 3.4 4.2 0.8
Louisville 11.8 5.4 106.3 97.8 8.4 4.2 4.6 0.4
Georgetown 11 6.2 107.5 99.6 7.9 4.8 4.2 -0.6
West Virginia 10.8 6.4 108.7 101.1 7.6 4.8 4.2 -0.6
Connecticut 11 6.2 104.8 97.6 7.2 6.0 5.2 -0.8
Marquette 10.8 6.4 107.7 101.9 5.9 4.8 6.0 1.2
Villanova 11.6 5.6 107.8 102.2 5.6 4.4 4.8 0.4
Notre Dame 9.8 7.4 111.4 107.3 4.1 6.6 6.4 -0.2
Syracuse 10.4 6.8 105.2 101.5 3.7 5.8 6.8 1.0
Providence 6.6 10.6 105.2 109.3 -4.0 11.4 11.2 -0.2
Seton Hall 7.2 10 103.3 108.3 -5.0 10.2 10.8 0.6
Cincinnati 6.6 10.6 99.8 106.7 -7.0 10.8 11.6 0.8
St. John's 5.8 11.4 93.5 102.9 -9.3 12.8 13.8 1.0
DePaul 4.2 13 99.0 109.3 -10.3 12.8 13.2 0.4
South Florida 4 13.2 95.8 107.1 -11.3 13.6 14.2 0.6
Rutgers 4 13.2 95.2 108.0 -12.8 13.4 14.2 0.8

The full spreadsheets are here, with teams' finishes over the past 5 years.

Note that difference of 7.7 points per 100 possessions between Providence (the best team with little success over the past 5 years) and Syracuse, the team above Cincinnati in efficiency margin? That's a LOT. That's a gulf. That's a sea.That's the expression of a league with 7-9 teams competitive for the NCAA Championship every year, and a second division with one or two teams that get pesky.

Some notes, for trivia:


  • The best single season in-conference offensive rating was 116.9, posted by Pittsburgh in 2008-09 with DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields and crew.
  • But for consistency of offensive attack, look at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, with an average offensive rating of 111.4. Coach Mike Brey is excellent at getting scoring performances - midtempo, uptempo, it don't matter.
  • On defense, the Louisville Cardinals spent the 2007-08 season enveloping conference opponents in a smothering embrace, allowing 91.6 points per 100 possessions. Last year (106.6) was a significant departure from the previous 3 seasons - by more than 14 points per 100 possessions. Even more interesting is that last year's cardinals were the most efficient scorers (110.5 per 100) in the past 5 years.
  • Over the past 5 years, the Connecticut Huskies were the superlative defensive team, averaging a defensive rating of 97.6.
  • The best efficiency margin for a season was posted by the Georgetown Hoyas - per 100 possessions, they were 16.4 points better than Big East opponents in 2006-07. As an aside, that was also the slowest paced team in this 5-year stretch.
  • And the best over the last 5 years of Big East play by efficiency margin is the always stalwart, often not-so-sexy Pittsburgh Panthers. Kudos to excellence.


  • In efficiency terms, the worst single-season Big East offense of the last 5 years was the 2007-08 Rutgers Scarlet Knights team. Thanking them from the 14th spot (if such interactions happened) was St. John's - just a notch better in squeezing points from their possessions.
  • Oh, but St. John's was superlative at NOT converting offensive opportunities over the 5 year period. You knew they were bad, I am sure, but didn't know they were the worst. CAVEAT, SIR/ MADAM! If we only look at the Fred Hill years (2006-2010), St. John's was always a little bit better than the fellas from Piscataway.
  • For defensive porosity, the single season loser is the DePaul Blue Demons in 2008-09 (117 points per 100 possessions). It was bad. Second place was last year's Providence team, 116.5 defensive efficiency.
  • That DePaul season also earns them the worst defensive rating over the 5 year period; though they had a solid 97.8 rating on defense in 2006-07. And had a winning record under Jerry Wainwright. But played in the NIT.
  • The worst single season in-conference efficiency margin posted was from DePaul, at -25 in 2008-09. (Wainwright's "STANCE" yell didn't do much to help the defense that year. Yeesh.)
  • The squad with the worst efficiency margin over the whole period was Rutgers. Funny thing - the Scarlet Knights were close to even in efficiency margin in 2005-06. Then they hired Fred Hill, who proceeded to coach the league's worst offenses, and bottom 4 defenses, every single year. One consistent turd lain, nicely done.

Performing Above + Beyond Efficiency Margins

In terms of where teams rank in efficiency margin minus where they end up in the actual standings... Marquette comes out looking awesome. The Golden Eagles are better than their efficiency numbers (or mmmaybe worse than their record? Ha!). Due to a number of sharp, low-turnover guards who dominated the ball? The crafty coaching acumen in closer games? Hey, I haven't delved into the whys, I just looked at the whats.

In second place is the St. John's Red Storm. That is to say, St. John's should have ended lower in the standings than you think, according to efficiency margin. In both 2006 and 2007, the Red Storm ended up two spots higher than their margin would indicate. I'll add a caveat here- when St. John's was getting beat, they had no way of slowing down the other team's run. But in 2007, especially, their record didn't speak to how they struggled in games - being crushed by Pitt, Georgetown, Seton Hall and Louisville while beating Syracuse and Notre Dame.

Disregard Syracuse in this one; the entirety of their figure comes from the 2005-06 season, when, apparently, they were just terrible, but scraped out a 7-9 record. That same year, Notre Dame found a way to outscore opponents by 3.4 points per 100 possessions... and go 6-10, 11th in the standings. Their efficiency margin should have put them 6th. Conversely, the margin from the 2007-08 season - the one that let the world know that Harangody was the Big East poster boy - should have had them in 6th place. Instead, they were second in the Big East.

Besides Connecticut, which I spoke on yesterday, and the aforementioned Syracuse, only the Cincinnati Bearcats underperformed their efficiency margin by more than 1 spot in the standings, in 2006-07. They should have been better than last place that year.

Also of interest

  • Despite a 10-8 record in 2009-09 under Keno Davis, Providence has not had a positive efficiency margin in the last 5 years.
  • South Florida should have had a losing record last year. That said, they made a huge leap forward, improving 7.2 points/ 100 possessions between 2009 and 2010.
  • Seton Hall has been closing the gap between offensive and defensive efficiencies - by scoring more effectively.

Feel free to comment below, or explain something about your team. And keep checking in to the East Coast Bias for more looks at the Big East and St. John's basketball; I'll get to last year's preseason coaching poll tomorrow.