Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, December 30, 2004
BONUS final abnormal edition
Wonk is climbing in the car tomorrow with the Wonk Family and returning home. There will be no post tomorrow.

COMING Monday....
Special return-of-full-strength-Wonk edition, featuring:

A chat with Jeff Shelman. The indefatigable Shelman not only posts frequently and insightfully on college hoops for, he also covers the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Updated PPWS numbers for the best and worst of 60-odd Big Ten starters and key reserves. Will Dee Brown still be number 1? Will David Teague still be anchor man? Tune in Monday!

The season's last match up of undefeateds?
Wonk has long admired indefatigable Illini beat writer Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald & Review. In April 2003, for example, I learned 48 hours in advance of the fact that Bill Self would be leaving Illinois from the inferences and ellipses imparted deftly yet unmistakably by a classic Tupper column.

So it's good news to find that Tupper has a blog (more precisely, a blog-themed running post hosted within the Herald & Review site). Regarding tomorrow's clash in Vegas between Illinois and Cincinnati, Tupper says the backstory for the game goes beyond the fact that the Illini bounced the Bearcats out of the NCAA's last year:

I think Bob Huggins was embarrassed--and ticked off--after last season’s NCAA Tournament rout. He didn’t like the way his team played and he hated it that Illinois said trash talking prior to the game got them riled up. You can bet Huggins will create some kind of motivation beyond mere revenge.

Should be a good game.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Wisconsin beat Alabama 76-62 in Madison last night. (Links here and here.) Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal says last night's victory suggests the Badgers' bigs are ready for Big Ten play. Wonk says the Bo Ryan template may at last be returning, even in the absence of Devin Harris. The Crimson Tide shot .444 on the road and outrebounded the Badgers--and lost by 14. Wisconsin turned the ball over just five times.

Michigan State beat North Carolina-Asheville 92-63 in East Lansing last night. (Links here, here, and here.)

Michigan beat Delaware State 66-48 in Ann Arbor last night. (Links here and here.)

Minnesota beat North Carolina-Greensboro 94-59 in Minneapolis last night. (Link here.)

Penn State beat Long Island 80-56 last night in the consolation game of the ASU/ Hoops Classic in Tempe, Arizona. (Link here.)

Illinois plays Northwestern State at Valley High School in Las Vegas tonight in the Vegas Holiday Classic. (Links here, here, and here.)

Purdue hosts Baylor tonight. (Links here and here.)

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Still more proof of the Wonk dictum: whining works
For weeks your intrepid blogger has been bemoaning the curious lack of blogs devoted to individual conference teams. Aside from the excellent Hawkeye Hoops site, Wonk has searched in vain for a blog that covers a Big Ten team, any team....

Until now! Wonk is delighted to herald the arrival of the tastefully named Illini Wonk blog, devoted exclusively to a certain #1 team that's been playing like a #19 the last couple games. Illini Wonk, Wonk salutes you!

That now brings the total number of Big Ten team-dedicated blogs up to two--and Wonk defines a blog as something in the first-person that's regularly updated. There is, granted, a handy Penn State blog that Wonk uses to find good stuff but it chooses to restrict itself to links only. And there is a Michigan blog that may yet achieve regularly-scheduled posting. (BONUS pre-emptive strike: Wonk is aware of the irony of mentioning "regularly-scheduled posting" when he himself has been posting sporadically of late. Hey, it's the holidays.)

But by and large the field is clear. Readers to your keyboards! Close thy Wonk and open thy Emerson: start blogging!

Gonzaga Bulldogs, Wonk salutes you!
Your intrepid blogger is late to this particular bandwagon, granted, but last night furnished the latest piece of proof that something extraordinary has taken place in the space of six seasons in Spokane, Washington. Gonzaga beat #3 Oklahoma State 78-75 in Oklahoma City. (Link here.) If this doesn't put the Zags in the top five (which of course it won't) then all polls are useless: Gonzaga's defeated Washington, Georgia Tech and now the Cowboys, losing only to Illinois. For a WCC team located on the border between Idaho and Washington to have this kind of resume--not to mention their record of success in March--is nothing less than a (beautiful) refutation of the college hoops givens that are supposed to hold sway everywhere and at all times. The Zags have somehow achieved escape velocity and put themselves into a one-team category of their own invention. Wonk salutes not only the players and coach Mark Few but also the until recently beleaguered Minnesota coach Dan Monson, who started this ball in motion. Well done, gentlemen.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana beat Ball State 71-59 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis last night. (Link here.) The win snapped a six-game losing streak for the Hoosiers but was overshadowed by rumors of an alleged impending demise for coach Mike Davis. The perhaps aptly named Indianapolis TV station WISH reported before last night's game that Davis may be fired in the event of a loss. IU Athletic Director Rick Greenspan termed the report groundless.

Iowa beat Air Force 73-63 in Iowa City last night. (Links here, here, and here.) The Hawkeyes shot an I-guess-that's-acceptable .675 from the field.

Penn State continued its dogged one-team effort to bring down an entire conference's RPI, losing to previously 2-6 Valparaiso 69-56 last night at the ASU/ Hoops Classic in Tempe, Arizona. (Link here.) The Hoops Classic continues tonight with the Nittany Lions facing Long Island University.

Ohio State beat New Hampshire 77-59 in Columbus last night. (Link here.) Terence Dials posted 24 points and 14 boards.

Wisconsin hosts Alabama in Madison tonight. (Links here and here.)

Michigan State hosts North Carolina-Asheville tonight. (Link here.)

Minnesota hosts North Carolina-Greensboro tonight. (Link here.)

Trust Wonk: Michigan hosts Delaware State tonight but links are hard to come by with the Rose Bowl fast approaching. BONUS Wonk analysis: this is when you know you have a true football school on your hands.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
BONUS borrowed-computer edition!
Wonk interrupts his holiday leisure to come to you LIVE from the in-laws! Um, so we'll keep this short and sweet....

COMING January 3
Special return-of-full-strength-Wonk edition, featuring a chat with Jeff Shelman. The indefatigable Shelman not only posts frequently and insightfully on college hoops for, he also covers the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Carrying over the lackluster play they displayed against Missouri, Illinois allowed Longwood (yes, Longwood) to hang around within single digits as late as ten minutes into the second half before finally putting away the Lancers 105-79 in Champaign last night. (Links here, here, and here.) When is breaking 100 and winning by 26 a bad thing? When your opponent calls a timeout 28 seconds into the game (Wonk is not making this up) specifically so they can take a picture of the scoreboard which at the time displayed a 2-2 game. The Lancers shot .533 from the field, including 8-of-19 on their three's.

Wisconsin beat Western Carolina 89-49 in Madison last night. (Links here and here.) EXCLUSIVE Wonk analysis of why the Badgers won: they put up (not a typo) 76 field goal attempts. EXCLUSIVE Wonk analysis of how the Badgers got off 76 FGA's: they beat the Catamounts senseless on the boards, 53-33.

Northwestern beat Delaware State in Evanston last night, 50-43. (Latest in a series of archetypal Welsh-Ryan Arena scores; links here and here.) The unexpectedly close score left NU coach Bill Carmody grumbling of possible lineup shuffles.

Indiana hosts Ball State tonight. (Link here.)

Iowa hosts Air Force tonight, a game coach Steve Alford is calling "scary" because of the notably deliberate style employed by the Falcons. (Links here and here.)

Penn State faces Valparaiso tonight in the first round of the ASU/ Hoops Classic at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Arizona. (Link here.)

Ohio State hosts New Hampshire tonight. (Link here.)

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!
Thursday, December 23, 2004
BONUS out-the-door edition!
Your intrepid blogger's getting in the car this morning with the Wonk Family and heading to the Wonk Boyhood Home for the holidays. Posting will be non-existent the rest of this week and intermittent next week.

COMING January 3
Special return-of-full-strength-Wonk edition, featuring an interview with Jeff Shelman. The indefatigable Shelman not only covers college hoops for, he also covers the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Missouri played by far its best game of the year and Illinois played by far its worst game of the year and the result was a 70-64 Illinois victory in the annual Braggin' Rights game at the Savvis Center in St. Louis last night. (Links here, here, here, and here. Meanwhile there's wall-to-wall Braggin' Rights coverage this morning from the columnists of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Jeff Gordon, Bryan Burwell, and Bernie Miklasz chip in their thoughts here, here, and here.) James Augustine was nonexistent (two points, four boards, fouled out), the Illini shooting was cold (.423), and the vaunted assist makers mostly took the night off (just 13 for the game). Ken Pomeroy got his wish: they're human!

Charlotte beat Indiana 74-73 in Bloomington last night on a last-second half-court shot by Brendan Plavich. (Link here.) The refs on the court initially ruled the shot had come after the buzzer but reversed their call after reviewing the tape, giving Charlotte the win. The Hoosiers were left muttering angrily about their home-court clock, which gave an opponent time to catch, dribble, and shoot all in just seven-tenths of a second. Indiana's lost six in a row.

Northwestern beat Robert Morris 72-58 in Evanston last night. (Link here.)

Minnesota beat St. Francis (PA) 85-67 in Minneapolis last night. (Link here.)

Ohio State beat Mercer 102-77 in Columbus last night. (Link here.) All-Wonk selection Terence Dials posted 29 points and 13 boards.

Wonk back!
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Guards: Illinois vs. Iowa
Yesterday Wonk discussed an article by Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportline that had asked whether or not Iowa's three guards were better than Illinois' more well-known trio. Wonk's readers respond!


I took part in that message board at cbs.sportsline yesterday, but I'm sure my posts were gone by mid-afternoon.

I'll summarize a few of my points from that discussion board:

Free throws - You were right about the Illini's passing taking away from their FTs. But also consider that teams tend to rack up FTs at the end of close games they are leading. The other team is willing to concede a pair of FTs in order to stop the clock. Illinois hasn't played a game yet where that's been a factor. Iowa, on the other hand, has played a few of those. It should be no surprise that Iowa's guards have more FTs.

Rebounds - Illinois and Iowa have roughly the same number of offensive rebounds (thru 10 games), but Illinois is shooting 5% better than Iowa. This means the Illini are more efficient on the offensive glass. The reason Iowa outrebounds Illinois overall is because their opponents take more shots. Both teams' opponents are shooting roughly the same (40% - IL, 42%- IA), but Iowa's opponents have put up an average of 3 more shots per game. When you look at defensive rebounding efficiency, Iowa is grabbing 75% of their opponents' missed shots, and Illinois is getting 73%.

If anything, I'd rather have the Illini's rebounding numbers because it means their opponents aren't putting up as many shots, which leads to fewer scoring opportunities. I see the rebounding differential between the teams as more of a testament to Illinois's defense than Iowa's superiority on the glass.

As far as the guards go, Illinois plays for the fast break. Their guards are looking to get the outlet pass, not give it. As you said, it's a matter of who plays which role.

Drew S.

Thanks, Drew!

Meanwhile, Ryan, who runs the excellent Hawkeye Hoops blog, has some thoughts on the same topic....


Excellent discussion of the Doyel column today. Your point about Deron Williams is a good one - if you add this year's Luther Head to the expected versions of Williams and Brown, I doubt this whole question is even posed.

The thoughts on the interaction of free throws and assists are interesting too. I'm not basing it on anything concrete, but I would expect teams that shoot a lot of free throws to have fewer assists simply because getting fouled takes away a shooter's field goal attempt, and thus the corresponding passer's chance at an assist (which I think is about the same as you said about the Kings).

Individual players shooting a lot of free throws have fewer assists...because...they're shooting more, and thus passing less? Sounds simple, but it makes sense to me at least.

Take it easy,

Thanks, Ryan!

Can box scores be trusted?
Yesterday Wonk noted the euphoria that Drew Neitzel can seemingly trigger in the Michigan State press by merely scoring eight points and recording one assist. Wonk's readers respond!

Hey, Wonk,

I know I saw Neitzel get at least two assists last night, he hit brown (could have been Ager) on the fast break for an alley-oop lay-up, and then hit Ager in the left corner for a 3 on the fast break. Neither player dribbled or hesitated before shooting, gotta be assists right?

Marcus S.
MSU class of '99

Thanks for the keen eye, Marcus! Man, if Neitzel can't get credit for his assists at the Breslin Center, imagine what his numbers on the road will look like.

In defense of Paul Davis
Hi there, Wonk,

As a result of your recent discussions of the All-Head Case Team, and of Paul Davis in particular, I began to suspect something altogether terrifying: that perhaps everyone, including myself, is wrong about Paul Davis. That perhaps the all-encompassing meta-narrative that has crystallized around Paul, the one that leads to endless "Trying to Figure Out Paul Davis" stories in the media and perhaps even his inclusion on your own AHC team, is at its core misguided.

Taken aback, I ran for the stats. On the year, Davis is averaging 13 points a game. Not superb, but certainly a respectable number considering the amount of offensive weapons State currently has (Mo Ager, a member of the All-Wonk 2.0 team, leads the team with an average of 14.3). What's more, the 13 a game isn't a result of wild fluctuations in productivity: Davis has scored in single digits only twice this year (GW and Delaware State), the same as Ager and Alan Anderson.

Furthermore, while Davis is prone to taking a play off now an then, he certainly isn't known for acting in a particularly odd manner on the court, fouling out, or otherwise leaving his teammates in the lurch.

So if we're dealing with a player that scores well consistently, often has good games against good competition (see Duke), and acts in an extremely consistent and predictable manner, why is he on everyone's All Head Case Team? Some may say expectations, or perhaps his sleepy/gloomy on-court visage, but I believe the true answer lies in Paul's unrelenting willingness to eviscerate himself in the press on a weekly basis. In effect, Paul has allowed himself to be crowned King of the Head Cases (apologies to St. Crispin), and this has legitimized the living, breathing narrative that informs each Spartan fan's every waking hour during basketball season. Or at least mine.


Shawn M.

Good food for thought, Shawn! Class, read Shawn's email and be ready to discuss when we get back.

Happy Holidays, everyone!
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
The debate
Yesterday Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline posted what he said was "a question, not a declarative statement." Without going to the trouble of hacking into Doyel's Outlook, Wonk can guarantee that such minute distinctions were lost on the writers of the many irate emails that Doyel has no doubt received. (The mini "discussion board" at the bottom of cbs.sportsline articles tops out at 200 posts. As this is written there have been 200 posts just since 7pm last night. BONUS actual quote from the discussion board that Wonk swears he is not making up: "You guys are a bunch of retards." And your intrepid blogger doesn't even want to think of what Illiniboard must look like right now.)

But Doyel's right: his question merits discussion. His question is this: "Is Illinois' three-guard lineup of Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head clearly, unmistakably better than Iowa's trio of Jeff Horner, Pierre Pierce and Adam Haluska?" For his part, Doyel, an apparent Oasis fan, ends up with a "definitely maybe," after having made the following points:

Iowa's guards average more points (45.8), rebounds (14.6), and steals (5.7) than Illinois' guards (43.1, 9.9, and 3.7).

Illinois' guards average more assists (17.6) than Iowa's guards (12.6).

Iowa's guards are bigger: average 6'4", 197, vs. 6'2", 187 for Illinois.

Illinois' guards don't shoot as many free throws (55) as Iowa's (129).

So much for Doyel's post. What of his question? Who's better? Only you, the informed Big Ten fan, can settle this question! Doubtless you'll do so by meeting and deliberating in the public sphere like the good Habermas types you are and exercising your own civic hoops responsibility. To help you make this terribly weighty decision, Wonk offers the following walk-around of the matter. (BONUS full disclosure: your intrepid blogger is an Illinois fan.) Call it Wonk's voter information guide....

This entire discussion is brought to you by Deron Williams. Ironically, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year is perhaps the least discussed player of the six so far this year. Simply put, if Williams had the kind of numbers thus far this year that he had last season in scoring efficiency, this question of whose guards are better would never have come up. If Williams were shooting .394 on his three's (last year's number) instead of .308 (this year's), Illinois would be beating opponents by an average of 23 points a game instead of by an average of 22--um, which itself is pretty good. Which is Wonk's way of saying: while it's true that Williams' shooting has dropped noticeably (and his turnovers have increased from 2.5 to 3.1), he is also, lest we forget, the leading assist man on the leading assist team in the nation.

Dee Brown and Jeff Horner are both having years rivaled only by Arizona State's (strangely under-hyped) Ike Diogu and very few others nationally. (Or they were until an impostor wearing Horner's jersey snuck onto the floor of the United Center last night and coughed up this line: 3-of-14 from the field, 1-of-6 on three's, seven points.) Wonk was impressed with Horner's year as early as November 26 and with Brown's by December 2. Brown reminds Wonk a little of Wayne Gretzky (albeit on a much smaller scale) in the sense that both guys comfortably excel in what are usually two mutually contradictory categories: value as a brand name and statistical excellence. The University of Illinois, the Big Ten, ESPN--they all love Brown, his jets, and his smile. Even to an Illinois fan it sometimes feels like you can't swing a cat without knocking down a poster or two of Brown. But so far this year Brown is walking the walk: first in the conference in points per weighted shot (PPWS), averaging 14 points and 5 assists a game, and shooting .520 on his three's. And as for Horner, again, his numbers speak for themselves: this side of Oscar Robertson, Wonk can't remember anyone putting up such stellar marks for scoring (16.5), assists (6.7), and rebounds (5.4).

Different teams, different roles. Iowa's guards score and rebound more, yes, but then again, Iowa's other two starters score and rebound less (22.4 points, 10.3 rebounds) than Illinois' other two (23.2, 12.2). (Strong rebounding by guards can make one say "Wow!" as indeed Wonk does above. It can also, however, make one say "Wow! How in the world can Erek Hansen only be getting three boards a game?")

Follow the ball. Illinois leads the nation in assists. The assists are coming from the three guards (Roger Powell has five all year). Assists are definitive of and dispositive for the 2004-05 Illini. If Illinois is going anywhere it's going to be with assists and defense, period. In both categories they're superior to Iowa's guards--Luther Head is a notch above any of the other five on D; Adam Haluska is, right now, a notch below the others.

Doyel has simply missed, badly, on Pierce. And how appropriate! For Pierce himself is a guy who misses badly and often. I don't know if Doyel's read is a simple case of seeing stats and not actual games or perhaps a result of seeing only the Texas game in Maui, capped off by Pierce's thrilling game-winning three. Certainly for Doyel, as for most of us, a guy who averages 16 points with almost six boards and four assists is, say no more, a stud. But the truth here is more interesting: Doyel's high opinion of Pierce is not widely shared even among Iowa fans, one of whom wrote in last week to commend Wonk on including Pierce on the All-Head-Case Team:

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 Iowa State 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 Northern Iowa's John Little (during the game) and Iowa State's Curtis Stinson (post-game). He's no Jacob Jaacks, but he's easily the Hawkeye's biggest head case since Luke Recker.

And then there's the consistently outstanding Ryan at the Hawkeye Hoops blog, who recently ranked players "who miss a lot of shots, stay in the lineup for one reason or another, and continue to miss a lot more shots." To evaluate these players Ryan came up with what he calls the Pierre Pierce Rating "in deference to his willingness to lead his team in shots while trailing at least five teammates in shooting effectiveness." And, as it happens, the "top" players according to the Pierre Pierce Ratings will be familiar to readers of this blog and fans of PPWS: David Teague, Dion Harris, Brandon McKnight, Pierce--the usual suspects, as it were.

Speaking of the latest PPWS numbers, let us not forget the following:

Give any player the same number of shots--FGA's and FTA's--that Pierce shoots and 54 Big Ten players would score more points.

That includes who-dat's like Marlon Smith, Warren Carter, and Rico Tucker. That includes offensively-challenged bigs like Matt Kiefer, Brent Petway, and Zach Morley. And that includes every player on the Iowa roster currently averaging more than 15 minutes a game: Mike Henderson, Doug Thomas...even Erek Hansen for goodness sake--all would score more points than Pierce with the same shots. (Pierce had a characteristically Piercian line last night: 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 from the line.)

BONUS Wonk hunch. Doyel's point about the free throw attempts--or lack of them by Illinois--actually echoes some thoughts Wonk's been having for a while. My working assumption has been that FTA's are undervalued simply because, until the last minute, they're boring to watch. (Free throws are important the other 39 minutes, too. This is not unlike sabremetrician Bill James's point about "closers" in baseball: why in the world would you wait to bring in Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning if the game is about to be decided in the sixth?) Still, Bo Ryan has been doing weird and wonderful if little noticed things in Madison for a few years now by maximizing his own FTA's and minimizing those of his opponent. So Wonk is predisposed to look kindly on Doyel's FTA's = "aggressive" premise. And yet....

The 2004-05 Illini may give the lie to Wonk's cherished little theory. The question to Doyel would be this: why is it any more "aggressive" to drive to the basket than to execute a six-pass series where you get a back-door or open three? Wonk's hunch would be that assists may even be inversely correlated to FTA's. Teams with lots of assists (think 2002 Kings) don't go to the line very much because the primary mode of ball movement is the pass rather than the dribble.

BONUS Wonk note on steals. As a stat it needs to be taken out behind the shed and put out of its misery. Today if we can. It's almost as subjective as an error in baseball but much more numerous, meaning its squishyness is compounded. Plus, as Ken Pomeroy's pointed out, Connecticut won a national championship last year despite being the fifth worst team in the nation at forcing turnovers. Abolish this stat.

So much for Wonk's voter information guide. The decision is now in your hands! Whose guards are better? Send in those votes today!

The wonderful game with the annoying name
Illinois plays Missouri tonight at the Savvis Center in St. Louis in the annual Braggin' Rights game. (Links here, here, here, and here. Count the number of times "wary" appears in the headline on these links.) This will be the 24th game in the series (Illinois leads 15-8) and it's a great tradition: the Savvis Center (superb venue for a college game) is split 50-50, Santa hats are everywhere, two bands are competing, and there's a constant loud roar such as Wonk hears in no other game or arena. (Beer sales, rare at college games, may have something to do with this last item.)

True, Missouri is "down" this year--for anyone who's missed the last two years of soap opera in Columbia, Skip Myslenski of the Chicago Tribune connects the dots here. Missouri's average attendance is 8,710 in the new 15,061-seat Mizzou Arena. Meantime, Mizzou fans have been known to shop for a new coach in their chat rooms. For a while UAB's Mike Anderson was drawing particular interest from the Tiger faithful.

But Wonk still eagerly anticipates tonight's game. It says December and the holidays to many fans of the two schools, particularly in the St. Louis area.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Erek Hansen blocked six shots as Iowa smoked Texas Tech 83-53 at the United Center in Chicago last night. (Links here, here, and here.) The "game flow" graphic on the write up illustrates how the Hawkeyes bolted out to a lead in the first half that was never seriously threatened for the remainder of the game. Bobby Knight, to-the-point as always, said simply, "We're just a team that isn't very good right now. Iowa had something to do with the way we played tonight, but I'm not sure anybody could be forced into playing as poorly as we did in the first half."

Michigan State beat UCLA 76-64 in East Lansing last night. (Links here, here, here, here, and here.) The palpable hunger for Drew Neitzel to do well can be gauged by the fact that eight points, one assist and no turnovers netted him this headline in the Detroit Free Press: "Reserves Trannon, Neitzel add extra energy." Todd Schulz of the Lansing State Journal echoes the "Trannon" part of the headline here.

All good news for the Big Ten, right? Back-to-back lopsided wins on ESPN2 over major-conference competition. What could possibly spoil the evening....

Buffalo beat Penn State 72-70 in State College last night. (Links here and here.) There was a mini Nittany-Lion-boomlet just waiting to boom in the wake of their surprisingly stout performance against Pittsburgh. Not after last night: 19 turnovers, 4-of-20 on their three's. Ye gods....

Indiana hosts Charlotte tonight (Link here.) Bracey Wright had his nose surgically repaired on Monday and will wear a Rip Hamilton-esque protective mask tonight. Wright's nose was broken in Sunday's game against Missouri when Spencer Laurie delivered an elbow to the Hoosier guard.

Minnesota hosts St. Francis (PA) tonight. (Links here and here.) St. Francis boasts both a gaudy no. 33 in the RPI and one of the five coolest nicknames in college sports: the Red Flash.

Ohio State hosts Mercer tonight. (Link here.)

Also tonight: Northwestern hosts Robert Morris.

Frank Burlison of the Sporting News offers up "five surprising Wooden Award candidates," including Luther Head of Illinois.

Wisconsin freshman Greg Steimsma has returned to practice after suffering an injured right foot five weeks ago but is not expected to see game action any time soon.

Jeff Washburn of the Lafayette Journal and Courier says Carl Landry has been a bright spot in an otherwise dark year for Purdue. What, no mention of Landry's inclusion on the All-Wonk team? That does it. Washburn doesn't get a Wonk Holiday Greetings card this year.

BONUS coverage of Michigan State transfers: in his first game since transferring to Detroit from Michigan State, Brandon Cotton scored 27 points to lead his team over Eastern Michigan Monday night.

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


Thanks for the explanation and tracking of PPWS. It'll help me win dinner! Why? Because, as a big fan of all things Illini, I made a comment to a fellow alum that watching Nick Smith play was frustrating. Now it's more than just some "dumb chick" shooting her mouth off.

Read up, Petey-boy. The PPWS says more than I can say. Stats really do speak louder than words! Nick's "great perimeter shot" just won't seal the deal for me (or for the stat books).

Beth R.

Yeah, Petey-boy, read up!

Thanks, Beth!
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
BONUS Rick Majerus-inspired change-in-plans edition!
Yesterday Wonk alerted readers to the fact that he would be traveling today and that there would be no Tuesday post. Wonk is traveling--off to the airport in a bit here--but my admiration for Rick Majerus is such that I've decided to do a 180 just to keep the folks guessing. (One scoop ESPN didn't get!) Plus I'm up early....

Are head-cases really easier to predict than gamers?
Last week Wonk updated the All-Wonk and All-Head-Case teams, each of which had its inception in those bygone days of early November 2004. In the case of the All-Wonk Team, only Ohio State's Terence Dials kept his spot. Elsewhere, Mike Wilkinson, T.J. Parker, Greg Brunner, and Lester Abram were replaced by Jeff Horner, Aaron Johnson, Maurice Ager, and Carl Landry.

But in the case of the All-Head-Case Team, Wonk stood pat: Bracey Wright, Pierre Pierce, Paul Davis, Nick Smith, and Daniel Horton looked like head-case locks to Wonk seven weeks ago and they still do.

This leads to an intriguing question: are head-cases actually more stable by virtue of their very instability than the proverbial team player? To address this question, Wonk herewith offers the Crispin Glover Hypothesis: head-cases don't change. With talented shooting guards as with family members, we yearn for them to change and hail the slightest token adult gesture as a sign of maturation. But they don't truly change.

Wonk emphasizes the word "hypothesis." Surely there are instances of one-time head-cases who turned it around. Clue wonk in!

(All about Crispin Glover here.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Arizona State beat Northwestern last night in Tempe by the notably lopsided score of 90-55. (Links here and here.) The Wildcats were outscored 55-23 in the second half and the Sun Devils drained 13 of 20 three's for the game.

Iowa faces Texas Tech tonight at the United Center in Chicago. (Links here, here, and here.) "We're playing a team that we try to mimic," says coach Steve Alford. "Our defensive rules are right from coach Knight's book. Our screening, how we cut, how we move the ball offensively - that's straight from coach Knight's program." Meanwhile Susan Harman of the Iowa City Press-Citizen says a game in the United Center is in effect a "home" game for the Hawkeyes. She's right: there are similarities to Carver-Hawkeye. For one thing, as of a couple weeks ago, only 4,500 to 5,000 tickets had been sold. (Hi-yo!)

Michigan State hosts UCLA in East Lansing tonight. (Links here and here. More from the Waiting for Neitzel beat here.) BONUS note on Wonk's vast influence. Fresh off being hailed by your intrepid blogger as having the conference's fifth-best numbers in PPWS, State's Alan Anderson gets some too-long-delayed print love.

Penn State hosts Buffalo tonight in State College. The Nittany Lions will play without senior Jamaal Tate, who has decided to quit the team in order to focus on his recovery from alcoholism.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!
Monday, December 20, 2004
No, Virginia, there is no Wonk. Tomorrow.
Note to readers: Wonk will be traveling tomorrow and thus will not post. (Back Wednesday.) Hope you enjoy today's special double-issue, designed to carry you through this singular ordeal. Meantime be advised that Wonk is in negotiations with a major television production company for a holiday season clay-mation children's special entitled, A Day Without Wonk, featuring very special (i.e, very posthumous) performances by Burl Ives, Fred Astaire, and Boris Karloff.

Loch Ness Monster photographers of the Detroit News, Wonk salutes you!
Michigan State beat Delaware State in East Lansing Saturday by the surprisingly diminutive and non-lopsided score of 63-45. (Links here, here and here. More from the Waiting for Neitzel beat here.) Wonk All-Head-Case first-teamer Paul Davis attempted two field goals all game, one of which was actually captured for posterity (here) by a Detroit News photographer. All of which moves Wonk, who never makes predictions, to make a prediction: in the wake of a two-FGA performance by Davis in a home game against Delaware State, watch for a fresh spate of Trying to Figure Out Paul Davis stories, possibly soon enough for the run-up to State's next game (tomorrow against UCLA).

As much a part of Mondays as MNF: PPWS
It's back! The handy stat that captures more than just points from the field (e.g., points per shot or PPS), it takes in FGA's and FTA's. It's points per weighted shot (PPWS), developed by John Hollinger and brazenly renamed by Wonk. As promised, here are the very latest Big Ten PPWS numbers, including all games played through yesterday.

1. Illinois (1.26)
2. Michigan State (1.24)
3. Iowa (1.18)
4. Ohio State (1.16)
5. Minnesota (1.16)
6. Wisconsin (1.10)
7. Penn State (1.09)
8. Michigan (1.04)
9. Northwestern (1.02)
10. Purdue (0.94)
11. Indiana (0.93)

What it means. Give Illinois a game with 55 FGA's and 20 FTA's and they'll likely score about 80 points. Give Indiana the same number of shots and they'll likely score about 59.

Highest individual PPWS
1. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.58)
2. Roger Powell, Illinois (1.47)
3. Jeff Horner, Iowa (1.45)
4. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (1.42)
5. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.41)
6. Brent Lawson, Minnesota (1.41)
7. Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State (1.38)
8. Luther Head, Illinois (1.37)
9. James Augustine, Illinois (1.37)
10. Maurice Ager, Michigan State (1.34)

Lowest individual PPWS
1. David Teague, Purdue (0.74)
2. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.75)
3. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.79)
4. Brandon McKnight, Purdue (0.88)
5. Dion Harris, Michigan (0.89)
6. Ron Coleman, Michigan (0.91)
7. Davor Duvancic, Northwestern (0.92)
8. Robert Vaden, Indiana (0.93)
9. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (0.94)
10. Mohamed Hachad, Northwestern (0.95)

Give Dee Brown 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll likely give you about 23 points. Give David Teague the same shots and he'll likely give you about 11.

In yesterday's less Wonk-ish venues....
UCLA beat Michigan 81-79 Saturday in Pauley Pavilion. (Link here.) Coming off a home loss to Boston University, the Wolverines got their offense in order--four players in double figures for an injury-riddled team playing at UCLA is no small thing. But they also allowed the Bruins to shoot .587 from the field, including 12-of-14 for leading scorer Dijon Thompson.

Northwestern beat Seton Hall 53-44 Saturday in Evanston. (Latest in a series of archetypal Welsh-Ryan Arena scores; links here and here.) The Pirates shot just .286 from the field. Ye gods. Maybe that explains how you can lose a game by nine points even when you get 21 offensive boards.

Despite coughing up 20 turnovers (granted, four less than their opponent), Iowa beat Western Carolina 88-75 Saturday in Iowa City. (Excellent you-are-there recap at the Hawkeye Hoops blog. Mainstream links here, here, and here.) Wonder why Jeff Horner made the All-Wonk Team (2.0)? Look at his line: 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting (4-of-5 on his three's) and ten assists. And he got yanked from the game with three minutes left in the first half and was chewed out by Steve Alford! Do it every game, coach. Wonder why Pierre Pierce made the All-Head-Case Team even though he too shot lights-out (8-of-11) from the field? Look at his line from the line: 4-of-10. Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune says local-area native Pierce is older and wiser.

Purdue's luck may just be getting better. The Boilermakers won their second consecutive one-point game Saturday, beating Evansville 62-61 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Links here, here, and here.) The thin personnel with which Gene Keady is facing his last season in West Lafayette can perhaps best be illustrated by the fact that Carl Landry's game-winning tip-in actually came on a play which Keady had drawn up specifically for Brandon McKnight--whose struggles thus far this year have been amply documented by Wonk and who at the moment was 4-for-15 on the night (about to go 4-for-16). BONUS bad omen: Purdue was outrebounded by the Aces to the tune of 33 to 24.

Amid growing speculation over whether or not Illinois can go undefeated through the regular season, Bruce Weber reacts with predictable and fatherly we-haven't-done-anything-yet pooh-poohing here.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The aforementioned Illinois team beat Valparaiso in Champaign yesterday 93-56, in what was actually the first of four games that the Illini will play as part of the Las Vegas Holiday Classic. (Links here, here, and here.) Reserves Richard McBride and Shaun Pruitt both suffered sprained right ankles during the game. Both are expected to return in time for Missouri on Wednesday. James Augustine says bring on the Tigers!

Why is the Las Vegas Holiday Classic (a five-team round-robin?) such a confusing mess? Link here. Illinois is "considering" allowing ESPN two weeks of access for an "In the Life" episode.

The aforementioned Missouri team beat Indiana in Columbia yesterday 56-53. (Links here and here.) The Tigers overcame a 17-point second-half deficit and won despite scoring only 16 first-half points. Bracey Wright had his nose broken in two places by a Spencer Laurie elbow with a little more than a minute remaining in the first half. He returned in the second half but scored only four points after the play. The thin personnel with which Mike Davis is facing his latest season in Bloomington can perhaps best be illustrated by the fact that with 18 seconds left in the game Davis specifically drew up a play for Robert Vaden--whose struggles thus far this year have been amply documented by Wonk and who at the moment was 4-for-12 on the day. BONUS bad omen: The Hoosiers have been outrebounded in every game they've played this season.

Ohio State beat Morehead State (official motto: not affiliated with Agnes) 74-48 in Columbus last night. (Links here and here.) Thad "glass half-empty" Matta fretted nonetheless about Buckeye turnovers. They had 11. BONUS note to Thad Matta: 11 turnovers is bad for a player, Thad, not for a team. Enjoy the journey, OK guy?

Also: Northwestern plays at Arizona State tonight.

Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline says Indiana's loss to Missouri had to be the most painful of the current five-game slide because the Tigers, even in Columbia, were the most beatable team in that brutal stretch. BONUS proof that Doyel is furtively reading Big Ten Wonk: he, like Wonk, is appalled that Florida State would lose at home to Florida International. He, like Wonk, is appalled that Michigan would lose at home to Boston University.

While Wonk is away: UCLA visits Michigan State and Texas Tech plays Iowa in the United Center in Chicago tomorrow night. Also tomorrow: Buffalo visits Penn State.

Wonk back!

Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

When Wonk makes a mistake he'll let you know, thank you!
Odd how little press was given to Gonzaga's very impressive 85-73 win over Georgia Tech in Las Vegas Saturday night--lost in the Rick Majerus kerfuffle, perhaps. But Wonk's readers keep their eye on the ball! When your intrepid blogger padded downstairs to his computer Sunday morning he found the following waiting for him:


Your blog, November 29th: "How good is Illinois? No one knows. Yet. One thing we do know is that Gonzaga had no business being in the top 25."

You wanna take this back? BTW, I like your site. You should do predictions for the Big Ten games.

Awais B.

Egad! Readers delving into Wonk's archives! The crack professionals on the Wonk Archives Desk told me that only I could do that! And I only dredge up old posts when I'm right! MEMO TO ARCHIVES DESK: Now I want a concerted effort to find out how this happened! I've got know: who goofed!...

Actually, Wonk is going to lobby for a charging foul here: your intrepid blogger thinks maybe he beat Awais to the spot on this one. My blog, December 3:

On Monday Wonk made the fatal error of starting a sentence with "One thing we do know is...." Wonk warning: never start a sentence with "One thing we do know is." It will prove only there is one thing you don't know. You could write, "One thing we do know is that John Madden will not win the swimsuit competition at the Miss World pageant," and then, lo and behold, he'd run out and get some liposuction and implants in the right places and eke out a victory over both Miss Sweden and Michael Moore. Just don't do it.

Oblivious to his own warning, Wonk, in the aftermath of the surprisingly easy victory posted by Illinois over Gonzaga, proclaimed smugly: "One thing we do know is that Gonzaga had no business being in the top 25." No doubt enraged by this post (and, perhaps, by an earlier one which lashed into the Bulldogs' hometown paper, the Spokane Spokesman-Review, for having the temerity to be a paid site), the Zags took to the court Wednesday night--while Wonk and every other person east of Coeur d' Alene was fixated on Wake Forest-Illinois--and thumped 14th-ranked Washington, 99-87.

Wonk's Senior Spokane Bureau Chief reports that the Bulldogs took the floor in a cold fury, chanting "We'll show Wonk!"

In Wonk's defense your intrepid blogger did say that Adam Morrison (game-high 26 points against the Illini and, monotonously enough, game-high 26 points against the Huskies) had game and that the Bulldogs would get better as the season went along. Just didn't know it would be this fast.

In sum: Gonzaga has double-digit victories over both Georgia Tech and Washington. Forget about top-25; they're clearly top-15.

And as for Wonk starting to offer predictions: (with a tip of the cap to Garry Trudeau) are you mad? Wonk only does post-mortems. Find I look smarter that way.

From the crack staff on Wonk's Wholly Extraneous Material Desk
Wonk doesn't usually plug consumer goods in his blog unless he gets a cut, but the inspiration and indeed exact wording for your intrepid blogger's irate "memo" (above) comes from the must-listen "Celebrity Rants" CD, featuring genuine hissy fits thrown by an eclectic mix of celebs past and present. The Britney Spears backstage meltdown Wonk had heard. The Bobby Knight obscenity-laced halftime tirade is old, if still harrowingly appalling, stuff. But newly unearthed gems from Orson Welles, Casey Kasem, Barry White, William Shatner, and, for you old geezers, Howard Cosell make this a valuable addition to any CD library. Trust Wonk on this one. Best/worst moment: a drug-addled Elvis stumbles into a press conference and insists to an audience of fawning sycophantic Elvis fans that he is not drug-addled. As he rambles on in an increasingly violent, if incoherent, rage, the audience never fails to applaud enthusiastically at every pause, including: "You (expletive deleted), I'll rip your (expletive deleted) tongue out by the roots!" (Applause.) You will never listen to the King's version of "I'll Have a Blue Christmas" quite the same way again.

Indiana: who vs. whom
On Friday Wonk posted on Indiana and its brutal schedule. Your intrepid blogger opined that the traditional get-Bracey-Wright-more-touches battle cry is perhaps less persuasive after Wright scores 31 and your team still scores just 58. And loses by 15. (See the Kentucky game.) Wonk's readers respond!


I have a friend who's a big Hoosier fan and his issue isn't whom they play but rather who they play. He is convinced Wright is a team cancer along the lines of Kobe (Bryant, not beef) and that IU will only win after he leaves for the green, green pastures reserved for NBA journeyman. I agree.

Jason H.

Thanks, Jason. Having termed Wright "locker-room Nyquil" himself, Wonk is hardly in a position to dissent too strenuously.

Wonk made it 47 days without any abstruse RPI deconstruction
Hi, Wonk,

I'm a recent new reader--from Big 12 country but enjoy your site very much. I'm actually planning on going to the IU-Missouri game Sunday.

My question that I was hoping someone would address so that I could understand: What to make of the decision to add a home/road component to RPI? I read where it would count 1.4 for a road win and .6 for a home win and neutral courts would be 1.0. I wonder how they will look at games that say Kansas plays in Kansas City when they are playing someone like Oregon? It's a little unfair to call that a true neutral court game. Much like Arkansas playing Illinois in Little Rock wasn't a neutral court game either. Beyond that though, I don't have a handle on how this will affect the RPI. Is this change going to make a small or major difference? Inquiring minds want to know!

Andrew H.

Andrew, Wonk supports this in spirit and awaits only confirmation that the math works as intended but not too much. For this is an Empirical Question! Has someone run the numbers yet (i.e., seen what last year's RPI would have looked like with this new equation)? Clue Wonk in!

One last email then Wonk's gotta jet

I've recently been a convert to your site and, as a Big 10 grad (Iowa), I really dig it.

Scott Long
(Will Carroll Presents)

Thanks, Scott! Note to alert readers: Scott's always-correct (as seen here!) writings can be found on the very fine baseball blog to which he alludes in his signature.

Saturday, December 18, 2004
COMING Monday....
Updated points per weighted shot (PPWS) numbers for the best and worst of 60-odd starters and key reserves in the conference. Will Dee Brown still be number 1? Will David Teague still be anchor man? Tune in Monday!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Northwestern hosts Seton Hall today in Evanston. (Link here.)

Michigan State hosts Delaware State in East Lansing today. (Link here.) Alert readers will recall Wonk's previous foray into wall-to-wall Delaware State coverage (here).

Michigan plays at UCLA today. The Detroit Free Press suggests Dion Harris's numbers have dipped (as noted by Wonk) because of his added ball-handling responsibilities in the absence of Daniel Horton. When Horton's numbers dipped last year, Tommy Amaker said it was because of his added ball-handling and defensive responsibilities. Funny how no one ever frets about the added ball-handling responsibilities for certain guards now excelling at, say, Illinois, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Washington, or Iowa.

Purdue hosts Evansville in the "Boiler Blockbuster" at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight. (Links here and here.) Matt Carroll had surgery on his right foot this week and will be out (you guessed it) four to six weeks. (BONUS Wonk invitation to inveterate iconoclasts. Why does everybody always say "four to six weeks"? Why not say "five" or "approximately five"? Somebody get us out of this rut, please.)

Iowa hosts Western Carolina in Iowa City tonight. (Good preview at the Hawkeye Hoops blog. Mainstream links here and here.)

Tomorrow: Indiana plays at Missouri, Illinois hosts Valparaiso, and Ohio State hosts Morehead State.

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

wonk back!
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