Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Every game Minnesota plays is a "bad loss" for somebody
Florida State got beat on their home floor by something called Florida International 65-60 on Sunday, prompting Wonk to muse aloud once again: how in the world could Minnesota have lost at home to Florida State? The Seminoles are 4-4: their other losses have come to now-trendy Texas A&M Corpus Christi (TAMUCC to the cognoscenti), TCU, and Kent State. Yes, FSU also posted a win at Mississippi--woe be to the Rebels.

Since the Florida State debacle the Gophers have pledged their devotion to defense and have posted a road win at Nebraska (classified by Husker beat writers, rightly, as a "bad loss" for Nebraska) and a win at home over Central Michigan (who played Kent State tougher than Florida State did). And, for a juco transfer scoring-wing type, Vincent Grier is putting up some surprisingly nice numbers in columns like rebounds and FG pct.

But Wonk just keeps coming back to one irrevocable fact. They lost at home to Florida State.

Indefatigable hoops guy Jeff Shelman, Wonk salutes you!
Alert readers may have noted the presence of the first new denizen in a long while under Wonk's blog links on this page. Your intrepid blogger is pleased to spread the word that Jeff Shelman, who covers college hoops for both and for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, has a blog and it's a great read--and not just because he lists Big Ten Wonk as his first link under "hoops blogs I like." (How observant Jeff Shelman is!) For one thing he posts his own ballot from the AP poll. (And, since you asked, he's right: Oklahoma State clearly is the number 2 team in the nation, not Kansas or Georgia Tech.)

For a long while, Wonk has been convinced that "Jeff Shelman" is actually four people and that at any given moment "Jeff Shelman" is present in multiple places, kind of like Ronald McDonald or Santa or Kelly Ripa. How else to explain what Wonk lives: your intrepid blogger arises each day in Minneapolis and pads downstairs to find a copy of the Star Tribune waiting for him on the front step, complete with a pithy well-researched article by "Jeff Shelman" on some member or aspect of the otherwise oft-inscrutable Minnesota Golden Gophers. Then Wonk fires up the laptop, moseys over to and finds this very same "Jeff Shelman" has posted on Washington's Nate Robinson, or on Kent State, or on Marquette's Tom Crean.

And now he blogs, too! "Jeff Shelman," Wonk gets tired just watching you. Welcome to the wild wacky world of hoops blogging.

BONUS gratuitous reader-involvement gimmick. The crack staff on Wonk's Promotions and Marketing Desk have been hectoring your intrepid blogger with emails saying I need to come up with a readership-involvement "hook" along the lines of ESPN's "Send Dickie V. Packing" promotion. So it shall be! Wonk is delighted to announce that the coming days will bring with them this blog's first interview: a talk with Jeff Shelman--and you, the reader, get to pick Wonk's interview template!

Choose from:

A) Chris Matthews interviews Georgia Senator Zell Miller on MSNBC's "Hardball," 2004. ("I wish we lived in the day when you could challenge a person to a duel!" etc. Transcript here.)

B) Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala interview Jon Stewart on "Crossfire," 2004. (Transcript here. Stewart: "How old are you?" Carlson: "Thirty-five." Stewart: "And you wear a bow tie.")

C) Jon Stewart interviews Posh Spice on "The Daily Show," 2002. (Posh Spice (to audience): "Why are you laughing?! I don't think he's funny.")

D) Katie Couric interviews Bob Dole, 1996 (Dole blathered on about the equivalent dangers of tobacco and...milk. Wonk remembers a pained George Will sifting the rubble afterward and asking aloud how anyone could possibly get in an argument with Couric, "America's niece.")

Send in those votes today!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan hosts Boston University in Ann Arbor tonight and the injury-riddled Wolverines have reduced UM beat writers to filing stories on a veritable murderer's row of who-dat's: John Andrews, Dani Wohl, Ashtyn Bell, and Sherrod Harrell. (Links here and here. This second link says the burden of leadership now falls on sophomore guard Dion Harris. That is likely bad news for Wolverine fans: see yesterday's post on points per weighted shot and especially the ten lowest players in the league in that category.)

Big Ten coaches tout their league in their weekly telecon here and here.

Inveterate iconoclast Reid Hanley of the Chicago Tribune chirps happily on about the strength of the Big Ten, as reflected in the conference's robust RPI (second only to that of the ACC). Verily, Wonk says: that nice RPI is a product of a very small number of games: Illinois wins over Gonzaga, Wake Forest, and Oregon; Iowa wins over Louisville and Texas; a Wisconsin win over Maryland; and, maybe, a Michigan win over Notre Dame (which is already starting to tarnish since the Irish lost by 11 at home to DePaul on Saturday). Besides, using RPI in December is a bit like a drunk using a lamppost: it is done more for support than illumination.

Jeff Washburn of the Lafayette Journal and Courier says foul trouble will be big trouble for Purdue until Matt Kiefer returns from the injured list (and beyond, Wonk is tempted to add).

Indefatigable Indiana beat writer Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star has posted the latest installment of his excellent Q&A forum here. (You'll be shocked--shocked--to find that angry IU fans are calling for Mike Davis's job. For his part, Hutchens is preaching [snicker] reason and patience. Sheeyeah, as if! Good luck with that, Terry!)

Illinois is ranked #1 in both major polls for the second consecutive week and coach Bruce Weber shocked Illini beat writers by inviting Georgia Senator Zell Miller to his Monday session with reporters and promptly erupting in a screaming fit of rage: "We should be the permanent number 1! Just abolish the damn polls! You fancy-pants writers all think you're so big! Get out of my face! I wish we lived in the day when you could challenge a person to a duel!" No, seriously, Weber reacts with predictable and fatherly we-haven't-done-anything-yet pooh-poohing here and here. (Illini-taking-finals coverage here.)

Matt Trannon, second on the Michigan State football team with 36 receptions this season, will start practicing with Tom Izzo's men this week. (Link here. Spartans-taking-finals coverage here.)

Jeff Rice of the Centre Daily Times gives a briskly efficient position-by-position report card to Penn State at the one-third point here. And David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News says the Nittany Lions will have to keep the homegrown talent home if they want to compete in the Big Ten, instead of seeing recruits like Williamsport's Chevon Troutman flit away to far-off, um, Pittsburgh.

Juco transfers Vincent Grier of Minnesota, Carl Landry of Purdue, Je'Kel Foster of Ohio State, and Doug Thomas of Iowa get some too-long-delayed pixel love from Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline here.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Yesterday Wonk wondered aloud what's the deal with Wisconsin's Brian Butch: a 6'11" McDonald's All-American averaging just 12 minutes and five points a game. Wonk's readers respond!


As a Badger reader of yours, I feel compelled and somewhat qualified to answer your inquiry about what the deal is with Brian Butch. I still really like the guy as a player, as he brings an ability to shoot from the perimeter like few other 7-footers can, and an intensity and competitive spirit that can’t be taught. That being said, a few things are limiting him so far this year:

1) His 12 minutes per game are somewhat related to the fact that he’s playing behind Mike Wilkinson (as you know, a very solid option), and Zach Morley, who has looked outstanding in spurts. Add former starter Andreas Helmigk into the mix, and front court minutes are tough to come by in Madison. And that’s not even accounting for the fact that Alando Tucker used to play the 4. All are more proven than Butch, and are more likely to play in crunch time. This was never more evident than in the Wisconsin-Maryland game, where Butch had perhaps his best game to date, but rightfully sat down in the closing minutes in favor of Wilkinson and Morley.

2) Butch has some obvious physical limitations. As you likely know, his redshirt year came after a high school senior where he spent a portion of the year playing at 195 pounds. Not exactly a great playing weight for a 7-footer. He’s bulked up to around 240, and I think anytime someone changes their body that drastically, there’s bound to be some problems.

3) Completely unrelated to that second point (which I’m not sure I totally buy into, anyway), Butch is a slow guy. Sometimes it looks like he’s thinking too much, but other times it’s apparent that he’s just slow footed. I don’t really know what else to say about that.

4) The knock on Butch has traditionally been his defense (played lots of zone in high school), though he has looked generally sound when I’ve seen him play.

In the end, you could say that one should expect more from a McDonalds’ All-American, and first-team USA Today All-American? And if you were to say that, I’d tell you that you’re darn right. Butch was never a prototypical high school All-American, though. When you’re a 7-footer that can shoot 3-pointers,everyone these days gets a picture of Dirk Nowitzki, which Butch is definitely not. Butch isn’t a guy who should be handling the ball, but should in time become a guy who can bang a bit down low and become a dependable power-forward (after all, Mike Wilkinson came in as a skinny, perimeter oriented guy, as well). It’s a new skill set that he needs to pick up. His gaudy high school numbers were largely the product of him knowing how to take advantage of his height and shooting ability against smaller men.

The real guy to watch on the Badgers is Greg Stiemsma, their freshman center who’s out with a foot injury right now. I liked him better than Butch in high school, and I liked him better after the one exhibition game he played in. He’s the one with the star potential.

Chris W.

Question posed, answered, and settled. Thanks, Chris! (Note to alert readers: Chris has a nifty blog of his own.)

Butch definitely suffers from category trouble, as alert reader Chris indicates. The first time Wonk heard Butch's name the lanky Wisconsin phenom was being mentioned in sentences alongside fellow high-schoolers LeBron James and Luol Deng.

Meanwhile the lively discussion of Wonk's All-Head-Case Team continues....


Love your site. One stat clearly shows why Bracey Wright should be on your All-Head-Case team: eight assists. On the season. From a guard. For comparison, let's look at another off guard who is the team's only scoring threat: Vincent Grier. He had more assists (9) after two games. In fact, both Aaron Johnson and Carl Landry, power forwards for weak teams, had more assists after 6 games than Bracey.

Pierre Pierce is also a great selection, for things that "don't show up on the scoreboard." For instance, his turnover margin doesn't reflect the 5 or 6 times per game when he flies out of control to the basket in front of 3-4 defenders and puts up a circus shot, or tries to take a 26 footer with 15 seconds left on the shot clock during a close game. The best examples of the former was against ISU with a couple minutes left in the game, and of the latter was against Texas (which he actually made). This also doesn't take into account the fact that in the last two games he has been involved in shoving matches with UNI's John Little (during the game) and ISU's Curtis Stinson (post-game). He's no Jacob Jaacks, but he's easily the Hawkeye's biggest head case since Luke Recker.

Howard Z.
A wonk in training from Iowa City

Thanks, Howard!

BONUS Wonk preemptive strike. Before some smart-alecky reader emails me and points out that Wright's a regular Oscar Robertson compared to Wonk's own beloved Roger Powell, who has only four assists so far this season, let your intrepid blogger just state for the record:

Roger Powell has only four assists so far this season.


Good day, Wonk,

I've noted recently that both my friends and the MSM have begun to seriously consider the possibility of your Illini going undefeated throughout the regular season (see Katz's Weekly Watch on I imagine most people don't think this is very likely, but I'd go much further than that and be downright shocked if anyone made it through the conference cleanly. Illinois has the best chance this year (I'd put it at about 10 percent), followed by Michigan State (I'd say about eight percent, with the schedule help), with no one else cracking five percent. Am I wrong about this?

Shawn M.

For the non-linkers in the crowd, Katz has this to say: "Once the Illini get into the league, there are only three likely trouble spots -- at Wisconsin on Jan. 25, at Michigan State on Feb. 1 and at Iowa on Feb. 19 -- that could derail this club from running the table."

Anyway, no, Shawn, I don't think you're wrong about this. In fact, I think you're spot-on right about this. The chances are very very very slim that anyone will run the table in the Big Ten.

BONUS Wonk waffle: However, in a year in which the Lakers were beaten easily in the Finals and the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead in the ALCS, Wonk has found he looks smarter longer by avoiding all waffle-less statements and predictions.


One thing I wanted to look a little closer ended your points per weighted shot (PPWS) post by showing how many points Illinois and Indiana would score given equal field goal and free throw attempts.

However, if you multiply each component by the team's corresponding rate FG/FT shooting pct., you get a[n] (insignificantly) different result.

Take it easy,
Ryan K.

Ryan, who runs the excellent and woefully unduplicated at other Big Ten schools Hawkeye Hoops blog, alludes correctly to some bases Wonk left untouched in yesterday's post, where your intrepid blogger held up the points per weighted shot stat (PPWS) not only as an evaluative measure but also as a predictive tool for a player's or team's scoring output. Ryan's point, phrased in a decorous tone that belies its impregnability, is simply: hey, if you want to predict points, so-called Wonk, I have a novel thought. How about multiplying shooting percentage by attempts?

True enough. So let Wonk be clear: this PPWS is thus far feeling like a really interesting way of comparing apples (Dee Brown) to oranges (Kelvin Torbert). By collapsing all shot attempts--two's, three's and FT's--into a single points-driven figure it may turn out that it really does achieve some cognitive cogency in evaluating disparate player types. But it does so at the cost of some numerical symmetry. And, besides, all predictive tools are mushy. That's why we watch the games.

Thanks for the customarily close read, Ryan!

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