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KenPom Loves the Hoyas

Despite their near-unanimous Local No. 1 ranking, Hoyas fans seem perpetually disgruntled with their Bog coverage. Here's a sop: college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy has the Hoyas as the seventh-best team in the country. He has their offense as the most efficient in the country; in fact, as the most efficient Division I offense since he began tracking such things four years ago. He calls them a legit Final Four contender, just a notch below the more renowned teams at Florida and UCLA and North Carolina and Ohio State. He's even infatuated with Roy Hibbert; "I've had a love affair with Roy Hibbert for a long time; print that on Valentine's Day," he advised.

Pomeroy, you'll recall, has built a niche as sort of the Rob Neyer of college hoops, creating statistical measurements that offer more perspective than mere won-loss records, or than the won-loss-centric RPI. He has many fans, including Philly college hoops blogger and Bog friend J. Tannenwald. Here are things I didn't know about Pomeroy until I bugged him last night while he was trying to watch San Diego State beat UNLV.

1) He's a 1991 graduate of West Potomac High in Alexandria.

2) He's a 1995 graduate of Virginia Tech.

3) His father was a Maryland fan. As a form of youth rebellion, Pomeroy instead rooted for Virginia, at least, before he went to Tech.

4) As another form of youth rebellion, he chose not to adopt his father's anti-Georgetown feelings, and although he was never really a Hoyas fan, he in fact cried when they lost the 1982 national championship game.

5) He has a full-time job as a meteorologist.

None of those things, though, has any affect on his current Georgetown infatuation. (Well, with the possible exception of the meteorologist thing.) The back story, for those who don't know, is that Pomeroy grew curious a few years back when he heard TV experts extolling Air Force's defense, based on the scant points-per-game the Falcons allowed. He wondered whether the low PPG number wasn't rather a function of the deliberate pace of Air Force games, and some number-crunching confirmed that belief. Air Force, the number-crunching revealed, had an unremarkable defense, but a highly efficient offense.

This has all been written elsewhere, with greater thought and detail, but the point is, KenPom has since had a major soft spot for successful teams that play at a slower pace, because he feels such teams are undervalued by the more literal-minded national media. Offensive efficiency, the theory goes, is infinitely more important than pure scoring prowess; no one would seriously argue that VMI (102.7 ppg) has the best offense in the country just because they play at a speed that makes the Suns look lackadaisical.

KenPom's offensive ratings are therefore based on shooting percentages, turnovers, rebounds and free throws. And, as noted above, this year's Georgetown team has the best offensive rating since he began keeping track. The previous best? The 2005 North Carolina national championship team.

"Georgetown is screwed by the fact that they play at such a slow pace, so no one really appreciates what they do offensively," he told me. "They don't score as much as North Carolina, they can't, because they have 20 possessions less than North Carolina. When people look at offensive effectiveness, they look at how many points you score a game. Carolina scores 88 [2nd in the country], Georgetown scores 69 [160th]. Even now, now that the Hoyas are rolling, people get sucked in and think they're a defensive team, but considering the number of possessions they get, their offense is incredible....

"I think [people] misunderstand the team, let's put it that way. I mean, if you see them play, you understand that their offense is pretty awesome, but people that don't see them play game in and game out, they think they're like Princeton or Northwestern, they get them confused with an ordinary low-scoring team. Obviously that's not the case. Their offense is unstoppable."

See? He likes 'em. And this is closely related to his Roy Hibbert infatuation. People criticize Roy for being slow and oafish, but KenPom says you need to take into account his minutes and the pace of his offense. He even wrote a piece last year arguing that, when he's actually on the floor, Hibbert is nearly as dominant a college player as Shelden Williams.

"When [Hibbert] has 20 points, it's hard to explain how amazing that is," Pomeroy said. "Georgetown is playing 80 percent or 70 percent the possessions of North Carolina. He couldn't play in a North Carolina system obviously--he'd get gassed after two minutes--but if somehow he could play in that system, he'd be averaging over 20."

And these numbers aren't mere whimsy; all four Final Four teams in 2005, for example, were in the top six in offensive efficiency. KenPom's overall rankings are based on a combination of those offensive ratings with similar defensive ratings and a bunch of other stuff. (Here's how the Local Poll would look according to Pomeroy: Georgetown, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Virginia, ODU, VCU, George Mason, GW, Towson, William & Mary, American). The ratings obviously aren't a perfect predictive tool--Texas was ranked No. 1 going into last year's tournament--but Pomeroy did have Mason in the high 30s last year. And despite the "next George Mason" talk and enthusiastic backers, VCU is 65th right now.

Anyhow, KenPom acknowledges that Georgetown will likely not be a Final Four favorite, but he said with a favorable draw, a Final Four appearance wouldn't surprise him at all. I asked if he's been in touch with the team's coaching staff--Jim Larranaga's son Jay traded several e-mails with KenPom last spring, and Larranaga himself wrote a nice note during the Final Four--but he said he doesn't think the Hoyas coaches even know of his existence. And while I figured he would be a Hoya Fan's folk hero, he said he's hardly even heard from any Georgetown fans this season.

"Maybe I'm a little narcissistic here, but I'm expecting the love from them," he said.

I assured him that he would be well-loved after I wrote this item, at least by the four or five G'town fans who check in regularly to complain about a lack of coverage. Anyhow, then I wrote him an e-mail to confirm a couple facts, and he wrote me back the following:

"I just realized that the G'town fans might love me, but my Hokie friends will be pissed..."

Oh well. Everyone can't love you.


By Dan Steinberg  |  February 14, 2007; 2:09 PM ET
Categories:  College Basketball  
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