Big Ten Wonk
Monday, January 03, 2005
Already-unpredictable 2005, Wonk salutes you!
Wonk hit the refresh button three disbelieving times but the final kept coming up the same: Bucknell 69, Pittsburgh 66. Your intrepid blogger attributes this result to the fact that, as noted at the time by Wonk, Bucknell hosted the first game of the entire college hoops season. So they've had more time to prepare than anyone else.

On that basis, watch for a national championship game between Bucknell and Princeton. Before you scoff, remember: it's 2005. Anything can happen.

Meanwhile, the undefeateds are down to just seven: Illinois, Kansas, Duke, West Virginia, Boston College, Wichita State, and Texas A&M.

Irony in original unintentional
The Sporting News is out with its "best of 2004" post for college hoops and they've managed to prove with rare aplomb that the medium really is the message: their "All-Most-Under-Appreciated Team" includes someone who allegedly plays for Iowa named "Jeff Hoerner." Link quick before they fix it.

Forget PPG. Remember PPWS.
There's no trick to putting up a nice number for points per game (PPG). Just shoot a lot. But who would get the most points from the same number of shots?

To answer that question we turn to the handy stat that not only measures scoring efficiency, it also captures more than just points from the field (unlike, say, points per shot or "PPS"). This stat takes in both FGA's and FTA's. It's points per weighted shot (PPWS), developed cannily by John Hollinger of the Basketball Prospectus and renamed brazenly by Wonk.

Here are the latest Big Ten PPWS numbers, including all games played through yesterday.

1. Michigan State (1.24)
2. Illinois (1.21)
3. Minnesota (1.21)
4. Iowa (1.19)
5. Ohio State (1.16)
6. Wisconsin (1.10)
7. Michigan (1.07)
8. Penn State (1.07)
9. Northwestern (1.03)
10. Indiana (1.01)
11. Purdue (0.99)

What it means. Give Michigan State a game with 55 FGA's and 20 FTA's and they'll likely score about 79 points. Give Purdue the same number of shots and they'll likely score about 63.

Highest individual PPWS
1. Brent Lawson, Minnesota (1.49)
2. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.40)
3. Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State (1.39)
4. Adam Haluska, Iowa (1.38)
5. Roger Powell, Illinois (1.36)
6. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.36)
7. Luther Head, Illinois (1.35)
8. Aaron Robinson, Minnesota (1.35)
9. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (1.34)
10. Jeff Horner, Iowa (1.33)
11. Doug Thomas, Iowa (1.32)
12. Carl Landry, Purdue (1.32)
13. James Augustine, Illinois (1.31)
14. Chris Hill, Michigan State (1.31)
15. Jeff Hagen, Minnesota (1.30)

Lowest individual PPWS
1. David Teague, Purdue (0.79)
2. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.79)
3. Ben Luber, Penn State (0.84)
4. Brandon McKnight, Purdue (0.85)
5. Dion Harris, Michigan (0.90)
6. Robert Vaden, Indiana (0.92)
7. Michael Thompson, Northwestern (0.93)
8. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.95)
9. Brian Butch, Wisconsin (0.96)
10. Jack Ingram, Illinois (0.97)
11. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (0.98)
12. Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Ohio State (0.98)
13. Davor Duvancic, Northwestern (0.99)
14. Kammron Taylor, Wisconsin (0.99)
15. Dan Coleman, Minnesota (0.99)

All-Wonk Team (2.0) PPWS
Jeff Horner, Iowa (1.33)
Carl Landry, Purdue (1.32)
Terence Dials, Ohio State (1.27)
Maurice Ager, Michigan State (1.27)
Aaron Johnson, Penn State (1.09)

All-Head-Case PPWS
Nick Smith, Illinois (0.79)
Daniel Horton, Michigan (injured: 1.01)
Pierre Pierce, Iowa (1.04)
Bracey Wright, Indiana (1.15)
Paul Davis, Michigan State (1.26)

So who is Brent Lawson? A senior wing from out of Maple Grove, MN (just miles from the Official Current Wonk Residence!). He's averaging but eight points a game but the fact that he's doing it on .630 shooting (not a typo) vaults him to the top of this week's spreadsheet. Wonk welcomes the anomaly: a who-dat at the top of the list is often the cost of doing business when you measure performance via efficiency instead of using good old absolute numbers. We're all adults here. The numbers tell adults that Lawson's had an incredible year shooting the rock and that, in all likelihood, he might want to pull a muscle now while that FG percentage is still ostentatiously north of .600.

A talk with Jeff Shelman
Jeff Shelman is no doubt familiar to many of this blog's readers as the writer behind so many briskly efficient posts on college hoops at He also covers both the college game in general and the Minnesota Golden Gophers in particular for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. And in his spare time, if he has any, he even blogs. Wonk managed to get himself on to Shelman's busy calendar and chatted with him about the Big Ten, the college game, and the people who make it worth blogging about....

Q. Shall we do this like real ESPN studio talent?

A. You bet.

Q. Very well, I am now using lots of hand gestures and TALKING LOUD ENOUGH FOR MY GRANDMOTHER IN THE NEXT ROOM. So, "fact or fiction": the Big Ten is "down."

A. Depends. Is it down in comparison with last year? No. Is it down in comparison with the late '90s, when the league comprised half the Final Four on a somewhat regular basis? Absolutely. There simply isn’t the same kind of top-to-bottom depth as in the past.

This year the league has one great team in Illinois and three pretty good teams in Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin. The Illini are a legit Final Four contender. The other three could all get to the second weekend of the tournament, but they could all lose in the first round as well. After that, what do you have? A mess. Michigan is really the only team I think that has a chance to get to the tournament (I’m sticking with four in, however). Beyond that is a bunch of teams that are pretty average and a couple that aren’t even that. Look at the league’s record against the top leagues. It’s better than a year ago, but it’s not as good as the Missouri Valley’s record against the same conferences. There just aren’t the same kind of players in the Big Ten as in the past.

Q. Forget conference: who is just flat-out the best player you've ever covered or seen?

A. Kenyon Martin, hands-down, the best player I’ve ever covered on a day-to-day basis. Guy was amazing. Saw him become only the third player at Cincinnati to get a triple-double (Oscar Robertson was one of the others) and I watched him get so much better. And even though he tries to be a bad-ass in the NBA, Kenyon is actually one of the nicest guys I ever covered. He thought about questions before answering, was always willing to talk, etc. Plus it was simply amazing to see how far he came in terms of speaking. When he was young, he really struggled with his stuttering, but it got so much better.

Q. What about off the court? Any favorites?

Tie between Joe Forte and J.B. Bickerstaff. Forte was great as a freshman when I covered North Carolina. He got a little punk in him as he got older, but we always got along.

J.B. (now an assistant for his dad with the Charlotte Bobcats) was a senior during the first year that I covered Minnesota. He’d come up every day and talk to me and the guy from the St. Paul paper before practice. He was great. Funny, smart, articulate. Then I got to know him better when he was on Monson’s staff and then the color guy on the Wolves radio broadcasts. Good dude.

Q. Fast forward to April. Let's say Billy Packer is attacked on the street by St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli and left too shaken to go on the air. And while doing advance work in Augusta, Jim Nantz is abducted and held hostage by someone protesting something about Augusta National. CBS asks you which announcers should work the Final Four for both play-by-play and analysis. Any announcer, any network, mix and match any way you like. Whom do you choose?

A. If Packer is attacked by Martelli, I want to see that. I’m not the best on critiquing TV talent because I don’t see as much of it as other people. My favorite guy is Raftery. As far as a PBP guy, I don’t know. Lame answer, I know.

Q. Pretty much but you can rally on this one. Did you ever greet Bobby Knight with: "'sup, Knight?"

A. No. Maybe that's why we've been OK for the most part.

Q. Really? Jeff, you're among friends here. No one will judge you. Did he ever...did he ever...put you in a choke-hold?

A. Nah.

Q. Are you sure? A scoop like that would land some Rathergate-level hits for this blog. Maybe you'd "remember" under hypnosis?

A. Sorry. I’ve covered probably 12 or 15 games in which he coached and he’s always been OK with me. My second year covering Minnesota was his first at Texas Tech and the Gophers played there. I actually got about 30 minutes in his office the day before the game and he was really good. He only got irritated once and that was when I asked one too many questions about Indiana. He said something like, “I’m tired of talking about Indiana, let’s talk about Texas Tech.”

The thing about Knight and the media is that when he’s in the mood to talk or at all interested, he’s as good a quote as anybody. He’s insightful, says interesting things and is great. Other times, he’s so difficult. If he’s not in the mood, you’re just spinning your wheels because he gives one and two word answers. The amazing thing is that after games, he’s almost always a better interview when his team loses.

Q. So, Knight notwithstanding, are coaches really duller today or is that a myth?

A. Oh, somewhat duller, I guess. I think the money has done that. Coaches are paid so much that many have become guarded in what they say. As a group, they’ve unfortunately become more like football coaches. How many really funny coaches are there these days? Not many.

Q. Some of this blog's liveliest email exchanges have centered on Michigan State and specifically on whether or not they're legit second-weekend tournament material. Thoughts?

A. Since I'm engaged to a Michigan State grad, I guess I have to say yes, they'll be there. But really I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. Look at their recent history. They were a second weekend team two years ago, but lost last year in the first round. I think it all depends on two things: the kid point guard [Drew Neitzel] and whether [Paul] Davis comes to play. It’s going to be the same thing every game with these guys. Sometimes they’ll look great, other times they won’t.

Q. In addition to covering a wide territory for, you work the Golden Gopher beat for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Give us your thoughts on this year's Minnesota team.

A. Not as bad as I thought they’d be.

Q. Now there's a marketing hook for an athletic department.

A. No, really, they play hard and they defend much better than I thought they’d be able to. Plus Vincent Grier is much better than I thought he’d be and they’re getting much more out of Jeff Hagen and Aaron Robinson than I ever thought possible. I think they’re better than a year ago. They could win five games in conference and it wouldn’t surprise me.

Q. Not to stray from hoops but isn't Jim Mora's 2001 "Playoffs?!" rant the single greatest moment in postgame press availabilities? If not, what is?

A. I don’t know if it was postgame or not, but my favorite was when A.I. said: “Practice? You’re talking ‘bout practice?” I still laugh at that. My other favorite postgame quote ever was when I covered the Solheim Cup (LPGA version of the Ryder Cup) here in Minneapolis. The European captain was asked if she'd ever thought about playing her two Spanish players together. Her response was: “They both speak Spanish. Just not to each other.”

Q. Will Greg Oden play one minute of college ball?

A. I say no way. He’s not some skinny teenager. He's 16 and he looks 28. In 18 months he could end up the No. 1 pick in the draft. All I know is that would pay for a lot of post-NBA tuition.

Q. Maybe even a post-doc. Final query: Final Four picks?

A. Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma State and somebody from the ACC.

Q. There you have it, readers! Jeff Shelman of says Florida State will represent the ACC in the Final Four. Repeating....

A. No, I meant....

Q. What a scoop! This will land Rathergate-level hits for this blog!....

In yesterday's less Wonk-ish venues....
Minnesota beat Coppin State 79-58 Saturday in Minneapolis. (Link here.)

Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star devoted prime Sunday print real estate to an intriguing indecent proposal: let Indiana coach Mike Davis finish the season, then get rid of him (unless the Hoosiers make the dance). Meantime, can we please just stop talking about it? (First linked to by the indefatigable Yoni at the industry-standard College Basketball Blog.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Penn State blew a 17-point second half lead and lost to Texas A&M at home yesterday, 62-60, allowing the Aggies to remain among the ranks of the undefeated. (Links here and here.) The Nittany Lions missed eight of their last 15 free throws.

Within 48 hours of catching a TD pass in the Sun Bowl, Purdue tight end Charles Davis made his college basketball debut yesterday and contributed his mite (four points, two boards, two assists and a steal) to an 87-67 Boilermaker home victory over Eastern Illinois. (Links here, here, and here.)

Indiana beat Furman 68-52 in Bloomington yesterday. Indefatigable Hoosier beat writer Terry Hutchens says IU now "has a legitimate inside-outside threat with junior guard Bracey Wright and the emergence of freshman forward D.J. White." Wonk says (insert Keith Jackson baritone here): whoa, Nellie! Wright and White put some nice numbers up against the Paladins, Oral Roberts and Ball State. Now let's see what they do at notoriously stat-deflating Welsh-Ryan Arena against Northwestern on Wednesday and against notoriously stingy Wisconsin at home on Saturday.

Minnesota hosts Loyola Marymount tonight. Jeff Hagen's status for the game is in doubt, after he turned his ankle in the first half of Saturday's victory against Coppin State. (Link here.)

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

In defense of PPP and Paul Davis

I really enjoy your column. Thanks.

The PPWS statistic you use is useful, but doesn't points per possession (PPP) give a better overall idea of team performance? Including offensive rebounds and turnovers along with points and attempts in one number is pretty neat, I think.

Likewise, opponent PPP seems like a good measure of overall defensive performance. I can't find a good source for these numbers, and have to calculate them myself when the mood strikes me. Are these online somewhere?

Thanks again,

Joe C.

P.S. Get off Paul Davis's back. He's a good kid and a "pretty good" player. He's not an underachiever or an overachiever, just an achiever.

PPWS vs. PPP is an easy call for Wonk: I want them both! PPWS is pushed front and center in the blog for purely situational reasons, to wit....

Your intrepid blogger is at root lazy and PPWS has the very important virtue of being quicker in Excel, requiring only three ubiquitous numbers: points, FGA's and FTA's. (And yet it tracks suspiciously well with PPP. Hmm....) It's also more meaningfully adapted to individual players than PPP.

Most importantly (and to answer your question), there's already very good info available on PPP. Ken Pomeroy has (his own adjusted version of) the goods here for every Division I team (for both offense and defense) and has promised to update the numbers weekly--a Herculean undertaking. Wonk's said it before and will say it again: Pomeroy is simply indispensable.

Re: Paul Davis. Others agree with you: see Shawn M.'s email from December 23's post. This blogger is always open to lobbying and will continue to throw the floor open for discussion. (For one thing, note Davis's very nice PPWS number, above.) That's part of what Wonk likes about the blog form: things like an All-Head-Case team can evolve instead of becoming ossified.

How 'bout dem Bucks?
Hey, Wonk,

I have something for you to discuss on your site. I'm not an Ohio St. fan but they are really slipping under the radar. They're top-20 in the RPI and look like a legitimate tourney team.

Looking at all their top players they have all made significant improvement in their shooting percentages--especially JJ Sullinger. Ivan Harris has almost tripled his scoring average from last year. Don't know if you've already talked about them; I might've missed it. But if not it seems worth talking about.

Awais B.

Is Ohio State slipping under the radar? That's a tough one. They've chosen to preempt any potential NCAA sanctions by foregoing postseason play and that puts them into a very specific category, one with Michigan 2003 and a few others. Actually that Michigan team might be a teachable example. They started 6-0 in conference and everyone was falling all over themselves to talk about what a great team they were. Then they started playing some road games and, lo and behold, posting some L's. Still, they finished 10-6 in conference, good enough for the dance if they hadn't opted out.

As for Ohio State, they have sweet stats (as noted by Wonk--and Wonk's noting was noted by Ken Pomeroy!) and a nice record. And Terence Dials is, of course, a beast who's making your intrepid blogger look like a genius (no easy task) for putting the big man on the Preseason All-Wonk Team in November. So I'd love to get behind Wonk favorite Thad Matta and the Buckeyes.

But the thing is they haven't played anybody yet so they haven't beaten anybody yet. (Texas Tech? Which of their wins should impress me most? Centenary? TCU? SMU?) Add to that the fact that they lost to Clemson (repeat: they lost to Clemson) and you have reasonable doubt. Mind you, Wonk is eager to be converted. Doubtless we'll learn more Wednesday when Ohio State plays at Illinois.


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