The Saint Mary's Gaels played a game on Tuesday which was noticed by virtually no one. The official attendance was 2,033. The game wasn't televised, and college basketball fans aren't paying attention because it's Exams Week and there are few games worth paying attention to.
The Saint Mary's game was no exception. They were hosting 0-5 Jackson State, a team from the weakest basketball conference in the nation – the SWAC. Saint Mary's was off to a pedestrian start which included losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech. So it's hard to fault fans for not paying attention.
But what happened on the court was worth seeing. The Gaels offense was ruthlessly efficient. Following the game Coach Randy Bennett said," we played really efficient offensively. I don't even know what the stats say, but I just know we played right offensively."
His comment about not knowing what the stats say made me want to look into them. So what do they say?
First, Saint Mary's scored 120 points in a 76 possession game. That's 1.579 points per possession (PPP). That's a lot. It turns out that it was the most scored by Saint Mary's this year, slightly eclipsing the 1.564 they scored ten days earlier against Cal Poly. That's no big deal, right? Jackson State is a bad team, and Cal Poly – though they won at UCLA – isn't exactly a world beater.
So I looked at last year. Then the year before. In all I went through 15 years of Saint Mary's boxscores and it turns out that it wasn't just their highest scoring game of the season, but it was the highest scoring game of the past decade and a half. And that decade and a half included plenty of scrubs (though I limited the analysis to games vs Division I opponents).
Here's the list.
To put that into some sort of perspective I compared that to the best offenses in basketball. I looked at the nation's top-10 offenses (offensive efficiency) and how their top performances were this season. The next best performance was Indiana's dismantling of Sam Houston State to the tune of 1.48 PPP. I leaned on Statsheet to compare them with every game played this season by all teams, and only one (Xavier over Norfolk State) was higher than the Gaels vs Jackson State. Here are the top-10 offenses and their best offensive performances of the year.
|1||Indiana||Sam Houston State||99||67||1.48|
|5||Ohio State||Missouri Kansas City||91||69||1.32|
|9||Saint Mary's||Jackson State||120||76||1.58|
|10||Notre Dame||Chicago State||92||63||1.46|
Next, I looked at all games played over the past 15 years between Division I opponents. There are roughly 5,000 of these games played every season, so the dataset now expanded to 75,000 games.
That Xavier game, which is the only game this season which bettered the Gaels, turned out to be the 3rd most efficient performance in those 75,000 games. And the Gaels came in at No. 22 and No. 24. So in the span of ten days, the Gaels twice performed at a level that is in the top 1/30th of 1% of every game played in the past 15 years.
|1998-99||Norfolk State||North Carolina A&T||107||62||1.73|
|2009-10||Ohio State||St. Francis (PA)||110||67||1.64|
|2008-09||Pittsburgh||MD Baltimore County||91||57||1.60|
|2006-07||Tennessee||Long Beach State||121||76||1.59|
|2007-08||Arizona State||St. Francis (PA)||95||60||1.58|
|2011-12||Notre Dame||Sacred Heart||106||67||1.58|
|2012-13||Saint Mary's||Jackson State||120||76||1.58|
|2012-13||Saint Mary's||Cal Poly||86||55||1.56|
|2010-11||IUPU Fort Wayne||SIU Edwardsville||107||69||1.55|
So what's different in the past ten days? The first five games began with the same starting lineup. But after a loss to Pacific, junior Beau Levesque was pulled as a starter, and Saint Mary's went to a 3-guard lineup. They run 3-guard lineups all the time during the course of games, so this was no big deal. But the Gaels lost that game too, and they also lost starting guard Stephen Holt to a knee injury, and he's since missed three straight games. He was replaced by junior Jorden Page, and the Gaels immediately hung 1.56 PPP on Cal Poly. And the lineup has stayed the same since then.
It will be interesting to see what Coach Bennett does when Holt is ready to play again. Has his tinkering (and his forced hand due to injury) been the difference, or is this just a statistical anomaly?
Regardless, the offense displayed of late has been remarkable. Their next game is a week from today – a rematch vs Pacific.