Just how dominant has Saint Mary’s offense been?

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.

Season Opponent Home/Away Points Possessions PPP
2012-13 Jackson State Home 120 76 1.579
2012-13 Cal Poly Home 86 55 1.564
2010-11 Chicago State Home 121 82 1.476
2010-11 Loyola Marymount Away 98 68 1.441
2010-11 Mississippi State Home 94 66 1.424
2009-10 Howard Home 94 66 1.424
2006-07 Portland Away 87 62 1.403
2008-09 Pepperdine Home 96 69 1.391
2009-10 Portland State Home 101 73 1.384
2011-12 San Diego Home 84 61 1.377

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.

Rank Team Opponent Points Possessions PPP
1 Indiana Sam Houston State 99 67 1.48
2 Duke Temple 90 68 1.32
3 Florida Marquette 82 60 1.37
4 Pittsburgh Delaware 85 59 1.44
5 Ohio State Missouri Kansas City 91 69 1.32
6 Michigan IUPUI 91 69 1.32
7 Creighton Presbyterian 87 61 1.43
8 Gonzaga Pacific 85 64 1.33
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.

Season Team Opponent Points Possessions PPP
2006-07 Butler Cleveland State 92 52 1.77
1998-99 Norfolk State North Carolina A&T 107 62 1.73
2012-13 Xavier Fairleigh Dickinson 117 68 1.72
2007-08 Pacific UC Davis 95 57 1.67
2005-06 DePaul Syracuse 108 65 1.66
2009-10 Ohio State St. Francis (PA)  110 67 1.64
2001-02 Kent State Marshall 116 71 1.63
2010-11 Ohio State Wisconsin 93 57 1.63
1999-00 Providence Binghamton 119 73 1.63
2009-10 Marquette Presbyterian 102 63 1.62
2007-08 Portland State Montana 108 67 1.61
2007-08 North Carolina Arkansas 108 67 1.61
2011-12 Belmont Kennesaw State 98 61 1.61
2009-10 Virginia Commonwealth Towson 112 70 1.60
2001-02 Texas Texas Tech 96 60 1.60
2008-09 Pittsburgh MD Baltimore County 91 57 1.60
2006-07 Tennessee Long Beach State 121 76 1.59
2004-05 Oklahoma Baylor 103 65 1.58
2007-08 Arizona State St. Francis (PA)  95 60 1.58
1999-00 Michigan State Michigan 114 72 1.58
2011-12 Notre Dame Sacred Heart 106 67 1.58
2012-13 Saint Mary's Jackson State 120 76 1.58
2010-11 Wisconsin Northwestern 78 50 1.56
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.