I AM A SUCKER for esoteric statistics. I don't really care which team scores the most points or gives up the least. I want to know how they do it.
Ken Pomeroy's (kenpom.com) terrific site has changed the way I look at the game. Knowing how teams play is much more important than the raw numbers. Any team can hold the score down if it has fewer possessions. The critical number is points per possession on offense and defense.
Well, Pomeroy has now gone beyond the merely esoteric. He is now delving into the future.
Not sure when he started this, but I noticed it about this time last year. When teams have 10 or so games in the books, Pomeroy's computer model projects the rest of their seasons, game-by-game.
I decided to check out his projections for the locals and the unbeatens. I pulled the numbers before the weekend's games.
Temple is projected to finish 24-7, 12-4 in the Atlantic 10. No doubt Fran Dunphy would take that and a solid NCAA seed right now.
The Owls have the eighth best defense, allowing just 84.5 points per 100 possessions. They also have the fifth best turnover percentage, making them a team that does not beat itself.
I wrote a few weeks ago that, among city players, only Temple's Lavoy Allen and La Salle's Rodney Green could crack Villanova's rotation.
That was before Temple's Ryan Brooks, always a solid player, went well beyond solid. And the Owls' Juan Fernandez went completely off in the wins over Villanova and Seton Hall. Those two are playing like they want to play a few March games in that four-letter tournament.
Villanova is projected to finish 20-10, 9-9 in the Big East. Now before all you Wildcat fans panic or rush the site, I think the numbers are off.
The projections are based on what has gone down so far. They can't account for Reggie Redding's defense, leadership and intelligence. They can't account for the freshmen getting a better idea of how Jay Wright wants to play defense.
And defense (95.8 points per 100, 109th) has been the issue for Villanova. The Wildcats have the right players for their style of defense. They just don't know how to play it yet. They will know soon or they won't be playing.
La Salle fans won't be happy with the 16-14, 7-9 A-10 projection. I think the Explorers have really been hurt by the loss of Ruben Guillandeaux during the most challenging part of their schedule. You have to think they would have been more competitive against Villanova, Kansas and Oklahoma State with him.
Also, as good as Green is, I think he would be even better if he didn't also have to be the primary ballhandler. Which is where Chester High's Karon Burton could have really helped. But he left school after his legal issues.
Saint Joseph's (12-18, 5-11) broke that six-game losing streak, but the A-10 has more good teams than any time in memory.
Drexel (15-15, 10-8 Colonial) seems about right.
So, what about Penn? Well, the projection is 3-25, 2-12 Ivy. The good news is that the Quakers have only a 2.19 percent chance of going winless.
Again, the projection can't account for the coaching change. Glen Miller is out and Jerome Allen is in. Or the possibility that Tyler Bernardini will be back at some point.
It is difficult to quantify how a group of players will react to different voices in practice and in meetings. Anybody who understands the situation knows that Penn needed a change. We shall see how much it mattered over time.
Texas is 17th in offense and first in defense. The Longhorns are projected to finish the regular season 30-1.
Kansas is second in offense and seventh on defense. The Jayhawks are projected to finish 28-3.
West Virginia and Syracuse are projected to be 27-3 and 28-3, respectively.
Purdue is expected to finish 25-5 and Georgetown 22-7, before losing to Old Dominion. The numbers suggest New Mexico (27-4) is no illusion.
However, the kenpom numbers clearly think Kentucky is a semi-fraud. The Wildcats are projected to finish 24-7, 9-7 in the SEC.
Me? I think Kentucky is going to get better as John Calipari's teams typically do.
The three other unbeatens going into the weekend? Missouri State (25-4) is for real, Seton Hall (19-10) and Texas Tech (20-10) are not; both lost on Saturday.
Temple is No. 2 in the RPI, meaning the Owls are not only playing a very difficult schedule, they are winning the games.
William & Mary, getting top 25 votes for the first time since 1977-78, is No. 13. Cornell, which won the Holiday Festival with wins over Davidson and St. John's, is No. 20.
The Pac-10 looks like last season's SEC, a proud conference in a down season.
Until USC beat Tennessee Saturday, the league was 0-10 vs. the top 25. The standard-bearers, UCLA and Arizona, are 3-6 and 5-5, respectively. Arizona needed a Nic Wise three-point heave at the overtime buzzer to beat Lipscomb (4-7) on Monday in Tucson.
California, the preseason favorite, has lost its only three games against live opponents - Syracuse, Ohio State and New Mexico.
So, what's up? Simple.
The league, which was the country's most compelling a few years ago, has just lost too many top underclassmen to the NBA.
* Got to love Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku. For his career, he shoots 64.4 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from the foul line.
* Remember Malcom Grant, who came to Villanova with the Coreys (Fisher and Stokes)? After sitting out last season as a transfer, he is averaging 11.4 points for 12-1 Miami.
* Notre Dame guards, Tory Jackson and Ben Hansbrough (Tyler's brother) have 129 assists against just 36 turnovers.
* Texas freshman guard J'Covan Brown was 34-for-35 (97.1 percent) from the foul line.
* In Saturday's loss at Purdue, Ball State was 1-for-1 from the arc. Purdue does play very good perimeter defense, but 1-for-1?
* Kansas State won at Alabama on Saturday night. K-State coach Frank Martin and 'Bama coach Anthony Grant were teammates at Miami Senior High.