Big Ten Wonk
Monday, January 24, 2005
The conference will now come to order
When this blog began last November, hoops pundits were busily making preseason forecasts and saying that the Big Ten conference race would come down to Illinois, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Now here we are two months and many games later and it's looking increasingly likely that the conference race will really come down to, um, Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, the latter two having won on the road Saturday.

But first something even more momentous....

Congruent with inklings expressed by Wonk in Saturday morning's post (and contrary to forebodings posted earlier) Penn State beat Northwestern 65-62 Saturday in Happy Valley, thus assuring that the Nittany Lions will not go 0-16 in conference. The Wildcats played without Mike Thompson, suspended indefinitely by coach Bill Carmody for missing classes. Aaron Johnson outrebounded the entire Northwestern team, 21 to 17.

Repeat: Aaron Johnson outrebounded the entire Northwestern team, 21 to 17.

Wonk is well aware he'll win this week's Blinding Flash of the Obvious award for what he's about to say but so be it: this was a bad loss for the Wildcats. They failed to do what Buffalo did: win in the Bryce Jordan Center. Given that Northwestern couldn't win at Penn State, it's hard to see the Wildcats winning any of their remaining road games: at Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, or Indiana. That takes them up to 14 in the loss column right there. Win every other game (which is, of course, a stretch) and Northwestern enters the Big Ten tournament at 15-14. More likely: lose at home to Michigan State and to one other team and you're looking at 13-16.

(PSU link here. Wildcat links here and here.)

(This is classic 20-20 hindsight (so let's get right to it!), but events subsequent to the selection of Bill Carmody over Bruce Weber as Coach of the Year in the Big Ten last year have made that selection look about as sagacious and far-sighted as your garden-variety Grammy for best new artist.)

Wisconsin beat Michigan 72-61 in Ann Arbor Saturday. With 1:55 remaining in the game Wolverine guard Daniel Horton went to the floor clutching his right knee. He was carried into the locker room and did not return. Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski says the loss hurts Michigan's chances of getting to the tournament and "if Horton's injury is serious, they're in trouble." After turning the ball over in waves of late, the Wolverines actually did a good job of holding on to the ball and gave the Badgers only ten turnovers--but got hammered on the boards (47 to 32) and at the free throw line (where the visitors launched 14 more attempts than the home team--so much for getting the calls at home). Plus Horton and Dion Harris went a combined 11-of-35 from the field.

Meantime your intrepid blogger is moved to quote a scrap of archival Wonk from November:

"I love Tommy Amaker to pieces but ever since the Eddie Griffin days at Seton Hall his teams have often played as though afflicted with an inexplicable listlessness, one that seems to strike with particular force in the biggest games. When he coached the Hall I chalked it up to Griffin being a 19-year-old head case. When Amaker arrived in Ann Arbor I chalked it up to the disastrous aftermath of the Brian Ellerbee era and the funereal atmosphere in Crisler Arena, the worst basketball venue in the Big Ten (and that’s saying something)….But now I’m beginning to wonder."

Alas, Wonk wonders still. (Badger links here and here. Wolverine links here and here.)

Michigan State beat Minnesota 69-55 in Minneapolis Saturday. With two minutes to play the Gophers had drawn to within five and parallels to Michigan State's game at Wisconsin were beginning to suggest themselves. But then Minneapolis native Alan Anderson secured a key offensive rebound for the Spartans, laid the ball in, and effectively put the game out of reach. The Spartans made 26-of-28 free throws and beat the Gophers senseless on the boards (40 to 25). They needed to: Tom Izzo's team gave the ball away 21 times. (Spartan links here and here. Gopher link here. Gopher go-to scorer Vincent Grier underwent a severe haircut and is now sporting a new non-Sprewell look.)

Iowa beat Purdue 71-57 Saturday in Iowa City. The Boilermakers played without guard Bryant Dillon, who is out for the year after injuring his right knee during practice Thursday. Steve Alford gave Pierre Pierce a rest and played him just 29 minutes (this after Pierce had played the entire 45 minutes of the overtime game at Illinois.) Doug Thomas had a stretch late in the first half for the Hawkeyes that he'll be boring relatives with years from now: somehow virtually every Purdue play resulted in Thomas being by himself with the ball on a breakaway. Many aesthetically pleasing dunks ensued. (Excellent recap at Hawkeye Hoops. Mainstream Hawkeye links here and here. Boiler links here, here, here, and here.)

Indiana beat Ohio State 67-60 Saturday night in Bloomington. The Buckeyes were just 6-of-22 on their three's.(Hoosier links here and here. Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star says Bracey Wright "has taken ownership of an IU basketball team that is slowly finding its way out of that early-season morass." Indeed. On Saturday Wright was his team's leading scorer (though only 6-of-16) and rebounder. Buckeye link here.)

EXCLUSIVE season-long TVRR coverage
As the final horn sounded in Bloomington Saturday night and Indiana and Ohio State brought a busy Saturday of conference action to a close, Big Ten fans from coast to coast turned as one from their ESPN Plus coverage and asked aloud: But what does this do to the TVRR?

The Ten-Venue Road Record (TVRR) consists of a team's record on the road in conference play, not counting games played at Penn State. For reasons outlined here Wonk hypothesizes that just about everyone (well, except Northwestern) will do equally well when they go to Happy Valley. But what about road games played elsewhere? Your intrepid blogger has a hunch that such games may make the difference between unfurling a banner and watching someone else do it. Playing a couple home games might make for a temporarily nice record in the official standings, sure. But Wonk will be keeping an eye on the TVRR as well.

Here's how the TVRR stacks up after this weekend's action:

Illinois (2-0)
Wisconsin (2-1)
Michigan State (1-1)
Michigan (1-1)
Indiana (1-1)
Minnesota (1-1)
Iowa (0-2)
Northwestern (0-2)
Penn State (0-2)
Ohio State (0-3)
Purdue (0-3)

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 (The Basketball Prospectus) and renamed brazenly by Wonk. Here are the latest Big Ten PPWS numbers:

Top 20 PPWS
1. Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State (1.46)
2. Brent Lawson, Minnesota (1.39)
3. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.38)
4. Carl Landry, Purdue (1.36)
5. Luther Head, Illinois (1.34)
6. Aaron Robinson, Minnesota (1.33)
7. James Augustine, Illinois (1.33)
8. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.30)
9. D.J. White, Indiana (1.28)
10. Clayton Hanson, Wisconsin (1.28)
11. Adam Haluska, Iowa (1.27)
12. Maurice Ager, Michigan State (1.27)
13. Jeff Horner, Iowa (1.27)
14. Doug Thomas, Iowa (1.26)
15. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.26)
16. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (1.26)
17. Jeff Hagen, Minnesota (1.26)
18. Courtney Sims, Michigan (1.23)
19. Paul Davis, Michigan State (1.23)
20. Brent Petway, Michigan (1.23)

Bottom 20 PPWS
1. Brandon McKnight, Purdue (0.83)
2. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.88)
3. David Teague, Purdue (0.88)
4. Jamar Butler, Ohio State (0.90)
5. Ben Luber, Penn State (0.92)
6. Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota (0.94)
7. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (0.94)
8. Xavier Price, Purdue (0.95)
9. Dion Harris, Michigan (0.95)
9. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.95)
10. Tim Doyle, Northwestern (0.96)
11. Dan Coleman, Minnesota (0.96)
12. Brian Butch, Wisconsin (0.96)
13. Robert Vaden, Indiana (0.98)
14. Mike Henderson, Iowa (0.98)
15. Patrick Ewing, Jr., Indiana (0.99)
16. Erek Hansen, Iowa (1.00)
17. Mike Thompson, Northwestern (1.01)
18. Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Ohio State (1.01)
19. Daniel Horton, Michigan (1.02)
20. John Andrews, Michigan (1.03)

What it means. Give Kelvin Torbert 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll likely score about 21 points. Give Brandon McKnight the same number of shots and he'll likely score about 12.

What it really means. In his own ruminations, Wonk has taken to using PPWS not so much as a ranking but as more of a character reference. With all due respect to Kelvin Torbert and Brent Lawson, the two top players on this week's list are both little-noticed sharp-shooting wings on teams with multiple scoring threats: the entire Michigan State team in Torbert's case, and Vincent Grier and Jeff Hagen in Lawson's. Thus Torbert and Lawson are able to get open looks from beyond the arc. And, again, your intrepid blogger gives them credit: they're knocking down those shots.

But look at the next three players on the list: Dee Brown, Carl Landry, and Luther Head. While scoring about twice as many points as Torbert and Lawson, these three are performing at virtually the same level of efficiency. Incredible. And Landry in particular merits a new adjective. This guy is not only scoring lots of points, he's somehow doing so efficiently without any--and Wonk means ANY--other scoring threat on his team. What a gamer. Your intrepid blogger is proud to have these three competitors on the All-Wonk Team.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Coverage of tomorrow night's game between Illinois and Wisconsin in Madison is plentiful. Bo Ryan muses about the Kohl advantage here. Badger's-eye view of the Illini here. Profile of the resurgent Mike Wilkinson here. Meanwhile Brian Butch is listed as day to day after injuring his left foot in Saturday's game at Michigan.

On the Illini side of the ledger, Bruce Weber is styling his team as the underdog. Recount of recent Illini history in the Kohl Center here. (This write up includes the following true story and Wonk favorite: last year during a timeout a Badger fan joined the Illinois huddle and pleaded with Bruce Weber to put Nick Smith back in the game.) Profile of Illini "director of basketball operations" Rod Cardinal here.

Illini coverage knows no day off. Yesterday's Illini links: profile of James Augustine here; profile of Deron Williams here; more Illini-gazing here and here.

Also from yesterday: Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal looks at Wisconsin's 38-game home winning streak. Mulhern says the streak's an incredible feat "given the parity that exists in college basketball" today--and he quotes Ohio State coach Thad Matta saying the same thing. The Badgers' streak is impressive, however, Mulhern and Matta have this precisely 180 degrees wrong: parity helps a home winning streak because no team is sufficiently outstanding to be able to beat you on your home floor. Note how all the record home winning streaks (100 games-plus) are from the old pre-parity days?

Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News says Thursday's game between Michigan and Michigan State in East Lansing suddenly looks less enticing, given the Wolverines' recent struggles and the possibility that they may play Thursday without Daniel Horton, who injured his knee in the final minutes of Saturday's game against Wisconsin.

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

Hoosiers for real?
Dear Wonk,

A couple years ago, I could get all my Indiana basketball news from As the team has...hit a stumbling block...finding good stories and analysis became difficult. Last year I searched and searched, never fully satisfied.

But now there is you! Wonderful you. Thank you for your excellent analysis and commentary--you are a daily visit for me.

Question--IU seems to be improving. What do you think the likelihood is of them making a comeback and finishing the season strong (aka, doing well in the tournament)?

Kate S.

Excellent question! This week will tell all. The Hoosiers' next two games are at Minnesota (Wednesday) and at Iowa (Saturday). Go 2-0 in those games and brace yourself for an onslaught of over-the-top Indiana's-back coverage. Your team will be 6-1 in conference with two legitimate (non-Penn-State) road wins. Go 1-1 and the hope-tinged wait-and-see will continue. Go 0-2 and you'll be back to .500--and it'll be like a time-travel machine's taken you back three weeks: fans howling about Mike Davis, articles about how much it would cost to buy him out, etc.

Having seen the games against Western Illinois and Indiana State, Wonk thinks D.J. White has come further faster than any other Big Ten player this year. (Though this blogger would still like to see some more boards from the freshman: he had three Saturday night; Terence Dials, meanwhile, had 13 for Ohio State.) Your intrepid blogger will be interested to see what happens, however, when this young team hits the road--particularly if the opposing team puts some defensive pressure on the backcourt. Again, we'll know a lot more a week from now. But given where IU fans were sitting a month ago (under .500 and mired in a six-game losing streak), Wonk would say things are looking pretty good, all in all.

And thanks for the kind words, Kate!


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