Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Is Ohio State being overlooked?
Statistics from non-conference play are, of course, questionable. And when viewed comparatively across teams, they're downright iffy: they reflect mostly which opponents each coach has chosen to play. And yet....

Wonk can't help noticing what an intriguing stat line Ohio State has put up thus far:

First in the Big Ten in three-point shooting, turnover margin, and field goal percentage defense (tie).

Second in three-point defense and assist/turnover ratio.

Third in scoring margin and scoring defense.


Call Coach Majerus and order up some oh-fense
Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News
says the Big Ten is down. He's right.

Last night traditional conference stalwarts Indiana and Purdue scored a total of 103 points between them in double-digit losses at home to unranked nonconference opponents. Notre Dame won at Indiana 55-45 (links here and here) and Oklahoma won at Purdue 66-48 (links here and here).

The Hoosiers and Boilermakers are at the bottom of the Big Ten in field goal percentage and, along with Northwestern, in scoring offense. More tellingly, perhaps, Purdue and Indiana are at the bottom of the conference in points per field goal attempt:

1. Iowa 1.44
2. Michigan State 1.43
3. Minnesota 1.40
4. Illinois 1.38
5. Wisconsin 1.37
6. Ohio State 1.33
7. Penn State 1.29
8. Michigan 1.17
9. Northwestern 1.12
10. Purdue 1.07
11. Indiana 1.05

This number (discussed here on the College Basketball Blog yesterday) has the feel of a classic pass-fail stat. Wonk isn't ready to pick Iowa to win the Big Ten because they lead Michigan State in PPFGA by .001. In fact, the top five teams are all within .07 points per FGA and the top seven are within .015: pretty much a wash. But look how Indiana and Purdue lag well behind the leaders. (And note the surprisingly poor showing by Michigan, as well.)

Defense is customarily spoken of as a difference-maker in college basketball because it is assumed players can score: they're recruited out of high school on that basis and on the assumption that they can be taught defense. But Indiana and Purdue aren't meeting this threshold assumption this year. They just can't score.

Gophers playing defense?
Minnesota's 57-48 win at Nebraska last night was a surprise. (Links here, here, and here.) The Gophers hadn't won a true road game against a nonconference opponent in four years. But what was even more surprising was that they did it with defense, something that's been in short supply in the Dan Monson era. Nebraska's not North Carolina but they did come into the year with some promising newcomers and were expected to be slightly better than last year's club, a team that beat Kansas and took Oklahoma State into overtime in Stillwater.

But last night the Huskers were held to .333 shooting and just 22 second-half points by Monson's who-dat's. Vincent Grier, he of the Latrell Sprewell twin hair-sprouts, hit two big three's in the final two minutes to lead a 15-0 run for the Gophers.

(So how in the world did this team lose on its home floor to Florida State?)

EXCLUSIVE Wonk investigative report: Wonk gets results!
As of yesterday, the main men's basketball page on the Big Ten's official website at long last no longer carries a link to "Q&A with Kris Humphries," a story that had been posted to on December 16, 2003. (Note to archivists: this link still works.)

That's right. For 357 days, hard-working middle-class American families had to struggle on day-to-day knowing they lived in a country with a major-college athletic conference web site that acted as if Kris Humphries were still in college.

Wonk is not too modest to point out to any potential Pulitzer nominating-committee readers (it's G-A-S-A-W-A-Y) that I owned this story, pillorying unfeeling fat-cat Big Ten plutocrats with hard-hitting posts here, here, and here. Let's face it: Wonk left the New York Times and Washington Post desperately playing catch-up, eating my dust, and doing the best they could with my leavings. Your intrepid blogger is currently proofing galleys on the behind-the-scenes book that will detail late-night meetings with anonymous sources in parking garages and that will no doubt lead to a major motion picture starring George Clooney as Wonk and Nicole Kidman as the Wonk Wife.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Illinois plays at Georgetown tonight. (Links here, here, and here. View from the Hoyas' turf here.) The Hoyas enter the game 3-1, having opened the season with an 18-point loss at home to Temple before posting wins against the Citadel, Davidson, and Penn State. The last time Georgetown beat a #1 team was February 27, 1985, when Patrick Ewing led the Hoyas over Chris Mullin and St. John's, 85-69.

Meanwhile, the Illinois-Oregon game will proceed as scheduled this Saturday at the United Center in Chicago, despite calls from some faculty and student groups in Eugene to cancel the game as a protest against the U of I's continued use of Chief Illiniwek as its symbol. The teams are scheduled to play again next year in Portland and the two schools have agreed that the Chief will not perform at halftime at that game. (More here and here.)

Mark Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says Wisconsin is playing good perimeter defense. Vic Feuerherd of the Wisconsin State Journal says Marquette's Travis Diener won't be at full-speed in Saturday's game against the Badgers in Milwaukee due to an ankle sprain suffered in practice Monday.

Jeff Rice of the Centre Daily Times says Penn State's Ben Luber is expected to return to action in Saturday's game against Pittsburgh in State College. Luber's been out three weeks due to what the team terms personal reasons.

Grant Wahl of says Illinois, "Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, and North Carolina are playing better than anyone, but if there's a first among equals, it's Illinois."

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

Yesterday Wonk expressed his eagerness to see Oklahoma State play at Kansas and to see the Jayhawks play at OSU. The ever-alert readership points out, however, that your intrepid blogger will have to wait a while for one of those games....

Oklahoma State will visit Lawrence this year, but the Jayhawks don't have to go to Stillwater. The vagaries of the Big 12's schedule rob the Jayhawks of the old home-and-home with the Sooners and Cowboys (and prevents the assumption of such a series w/ Texas).

Not a huge deal in the end, it always seems like the home team in those big one-off games will be the beneficiary when it comes to winning the league, but there always seem to be enough unexpected results to minimize the effect.

Bret LaGree

Thanks, Bret! (Note to all other alert readers: Wonk likes and highly recommends Bret's Jayhawkcentric blog.)

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