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The stats could lie for Terps

Dino Gregory and the Terrapins have the second-best efficiency margin in the ACC.
Dino Gregory and the Terrapins have the second-best efficiency margin in the ACC. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blog excerpt from

As Maryland ventures through the final two weeks of the regular season, it will do so as one of the most efficient teams (per possession) in the ACC. We've discussed on many occasions this season how potent the Terrapins have been on offense this year, how crisp their execution has been most of the time and how that portends well for the down the line. But in terms of quantifying Maryland's efficiency level, this forum had relied solely on observations and stat lines.

The folks at Basketball Prospectus, however, have used a decades-old, yet seldom-used, formula to determine precisely how efficient Maryland has been this season. Using a measuring stick first employed by Dean Smith during his days roaming the sidelines at North Carolina, Basketball Prospectus has calculated that the Terrapins (heading into Wednesday night's game against Clemson) possess an efficiency margin of plus-0.11, which ranks second in the ACC behind Duke (plus-0.16).

What, exactly, constitutes a team's efficiency margin? According to John Gasaway, a writer for Basketball Prospectus, it's a calculation that measures a team's points per possession against the points per possession tallied by its opponents.

"A college basketball game is going to have something between 50 possessions [per team] if it's really slow, or 75, 80 on the other hand if it's really fast," Gasaway said. "The only way to make sense of any of the stat totals in there is if you know which of those extremes the game was played at."

For instance, Maryland is averaging 68.6 possessions per game in ACC play this season (the sixth-highest average among ACC teams) and is scoring 1.08 points per possession. The Terrapins' opponents, meantime, are scoring 0.97 points per possession. Simple subtraction (points per possession minus opponents' points per possession) gives Maryland a plus-0.11 efficiency margin.

"Of course, it all depends on the quality of your opposition, but speaking of major-conference teams, if they are playing conference games against opponents in their own league, generally speaking, if you score one point or better per possession, that's good," Gasaway said in a telephone interview. "If you score 1.1 point per possession, that's great. And if you score 1.2, that's simply stratospheric, out of this world, historic, fantastic. That would be a general rule of thumb."

So what do all these numbers mean? Well, Gasaway says they can be used to help predict how a team will fare in the NCAA tournament. He said Maryland, for instance, will be ranked too low if it receives the No. 7 seed many prognosticators currently are giving them. According to Gasaway, the Terrapins are comparable to Purdue (plus-0.11 efficiency margin) and Syracuse (plus-0.11).

Last season, Maryland owned a minus-0.07 efficiency margin entering the postseason and proceeded to defeat California (plus-0.02) in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Terrapins fell to Memphis (plus-0.27) in the second round, though the Tigers' rating surely was inflated by their inferior competition in Conference USA.

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