Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Between now and March 13 (first in an occasional series)
Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are in. Three other Big Ten teams are clinging to at least an outside shot of making it to the NCAA tournament: Indiana, Minnesota, and Iowa. This week, in addition to his usual prodigious musings, your intrepid blogger will look at each team's chances--unless one of them falls off the bubble before I post on them, in which case they will have saved me the trouble (insert Edna Krabappel voice here): ha!

(And yes, any team, including Penn State or Purdue, could win the conference tournament and get a bid. Duly noted. From now on this dreary pro forma acknowledgment will be acronymed for the fast-paced lifestyles of busy Wonk readers as ATCWCT.)

Today Wonk looks at those scrappy young Indiana Hoosiers.

Indiana (11-10, 6-4)
Remaining games:
at Ohio State (tonight)
at Michigan (Sunday)
vs. Purdue (2/22)
vs. Michigan State (2/27)
at Wisconsin (3/1)
vs. Northwestern (3/5)

Precisely as Wonk predicted! The Hoosiers are this week's topic A for those of us looking with increasing desperation for the occasional non-Illinois discursive space in the Big Ten. Just within the past 24 hours the little matter of Indiana's tournament worthiness has sparked: a lively discussion on the always lively comments board at Yoni Cohen's industry-standard College Basketball Blog; a coolly precise piece of analysis ("while Indiana has a shot if they go something like 5-1 down the stretch, I don't think they will, especially with Bracey Wright coming back"--ouch!) from the always coolly precise Ken Pomeroy; and even an encyclical from's pocket pontiff, Andy Katz. ("If they can take out Ohio State on the road then the discussion of Indiana as a possible NCAA Tournament team [can] begin." Egad! Wonk is noncompliant! Don't report me.)

Here's the deal with the Hoosiers: if they go, say, 4-2 the rest of the way they are the selection committee's worst nightmare--a profile from hell. Horrified hotel staff at whichever posh hostelry is hosting the committee this year may well see portly AD's running through the halls screaming with their hands above their heads. For when it comes to Indiana, all of the following descriptors could apply: 10-6 in conference (supposedly the gold standard--but so was 9-7 once) but just 15-12 (or so--depending on the Big Ten tournament) overall. An RPI up around the 80s (supposedly verboten). Undefeated in conference at home. Zero quality road wins.

Wonk says those descriptors could apply--this observer doesn't think they will. For one thing Wonk expects Michigan State to win in Bloomington, negating the claim of an undefeated conference run at home. And your intrepid blogger directs your attention to a surprising corner of the Hoosier schedule: the game at home a week from tonight against Purdue. The Boilermakers are actually playing better. Since starting 0-6 in conference they've gone 2-2. They will be up for this game (Gene Keady's last against IU). Carl Landry will be the best player on the floor. And the Hoosiers will be playing on one day of rest, caught between the Scylla of a CBS Sunday and Charybdis of an ESPN Tuesday. Keep an eye on this game.

Bottom, for today: If the Hoosiers lose their nationally televised game tonight at Ohio State, watch for a round of well!-that's-the-end-of-that! talk. Know what? The talk will be correct--if Michigan State finishes the job with a road win a week from Sunday (and assuming, natch, that Wisconsin holds serve at home on March 1).

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 (1.43)
2. James Augustine, Illinois (1.39)
3. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.36)
4. Luther Head, Illinois (1.33)
5. Carl Landry, Purdue (1.32)
6. Brent Lawson, Minnesota (1.30)
7. Jeff Hagen, Minnesota (1.28)
8. Maurice Ager, Michigan State (1.28)
9. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.26)
10. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (1.26)
11. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.26)
12. Adam Haluska, Iowa (1.25)
13. D.J. White, Indiana (1.25)
14. Aaron Robinson, Minnesota (1.24)
15. Chris Hill, Michigan State (1.23)
16. Roger Powell, Illinois (1.23)
17. Courtney Sims, Michigan (1.22)
18. Clayton Hanson, Wisconsin (1.22)
19. Ivan Harris, Ohio State (1.22)
20. Greg Brunner, Iowa (1.21)

Bottom 20 PPWS
1. Ben Luber, Penn State (0.81)
2. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.81)
3. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.85)
4. Brandon McKnight, Purdue (0.85)
5. Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota (0.89)
6. Mike Henderson, Iowa (0.91)
7. Jamar Butler, Ohio State (0.93)
8. Ray Nixon, Wisconsin (0.93)
9. Dion Harris, Michigan (0.95)
10. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (0.96)
11. Andreas Helmigk, Wisconsin (0.96)
12. David Teague, Purdue (0.97)
13. Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Ohio State (0.98)
14. Dan Coleman, Minnesota (0.98)
15. Erek Hansen, Iowa (1.00)
16. Xavier Price, Purdue (1.00)
17. Robert Vaden, Indiana (1.01)
18. Aaron Johnson, Penn State (1.01)
19. John Andrews, Michigan (1.02)
20. Geary Claxton, Penn State (1.03)

What it means. Give Kelvin Torbert 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll likely score about 21 points. Give Ben Luber 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 James Augustine, your intrepid blogger directs your attention to the next three names on the list: Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Carl Landry. While scoring about 100 more points than Torbert or Augustine, 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 consistent scoring threat on his team. What a gamer. Prodigious and efficient scorers Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Carl Landry, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan guard Daniel Horton entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of domestic violence yesterday. Sentencing is scheduled for March 9. Under the statute Horton could face a maximum of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. As a 20-year-old, however, Horton qualifies as a "Youthful Trainee" and could be sentenced to probation instead of jail time. Coach Tommy Amaker says any decision on the timing of Horton's reinstatement will be a university decision and not his alone. (Links here, here, and here.)

Northwestern beat Texas A&M Corpus Christi 59-51 in Evanston last night. (Link here.)

As noted above, Ohio State hosts Indiana tonight in Columbus. Still recovering from a sprained ankle, Hoosier guard Bracey Wright is, as always, listed as questionable for tonight's game. IU has won just one game outside Bloomington this year, their double-overtime victory at Purdue on January 15. As for the Buckeyes, Bruce Hooley of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says the sizzle has gone out of this once storied rivalry--and he has the proof: nearly 4,000 seats still available for tonight's game.

Iowa coach Steve Alford says he doesn't know if he's meeting with Pierre Pierce today or not. Pierce is appealing his dismissal from the team and the first step in the appeal process is a meeting with Alford....Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News looks at the Hawkeyes' chances to make the tournament here....Profile of Greg Brunner here....Freshman Alex Thompson will again start in place of Erek Hansen when the Hawkeyes play at Purdue tomorrow night. But just who is this Alex Thompson? Busy Wonk readers demand analysis! Stats! Insight! Here ya go: "He bounds around the court with the energy of a puppy--a Great Dane puppy who's all arms and legs and bouncing at his good fortune to come upon others who want to play." (Tomorrow! Why Jeff Horner is so like a Central Asian Ovtcharka!)

In the wake of two consecutive losses, Minnesota coach Dan Monson says he's worried about his team wearing down. "I don't think there's any question we're tired," he says.

At .824 in conference, Michigan State is on pace to break the Big Ten record for free throw shooting percentage. The record is .806, set by Purdue in 1969.

Having looked at the tape, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan says his assessment of the Badgers' loss at Illinois on Saturday remains the same: "A couple less turnovers, a few more free throws and they don't hit a couple of those long 3s as the shot clock expired and you have a heck of an opportunity."...Day-before-game Badger's-eye view of Michigan here.

Illinois (aka, the Sports Journalist Full-Employment Act). Copley News Service columnist Mike Nadel looks this morning at the recruiting battle over suburban Chicago guard Jon Scheyer. A junior, Scheyer is actually coached by Bruce Weber's brother. The young man is also getting calls, however, from a certain coach in Durham, North Carolina....Powellapalooza! Bruce Weber frets about Roger Powell's declining production here. And here. Profile of the ordained Pentecostal minister and undersized Illini power forward here. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper gets the final word on the matter here....Inveterate iconoclast Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald somehow wriggled free from the Powell meme: profile of Dee Brown here....Jeff Washburn of the Lafayette Journal and Courier says that while he, like all Big Ten types, will be pulling hard for the Illini in the tournament, he doesn't "have a good feeling" about their chances to win the national championship. And for that he blames the rest of the Big Ten: "With one exception, Illinois has everything an NCAA champion needs. That exception is a rigorous conference schedule."

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

The Johnny Bravo school of scouting
Dear Wonk,

I'm a Badger fan, and I've missed a certain player this season (hint: he's getting sporadic playing times for the Mavs and he's not Michael Finley). This individual was a top-five pick last season, and while he was an outstanding player as a junior, I don't understand how Deron Williams, Luther Head, or Dee Brown are not forecasted at least as high as Harris. All I hear about the Illinois troika is that there's not a top round draft pick amongst them.

Really? What would make someone draft Harris fifth but turn up their nose at Brown, Williams, or Head?

Brian H.

Height, ball-handling, and shooting. As a sophomore in a losing effort in the NCAA tournament against top-seeded and number 1-ranked Kentucky, the 6-3 Harris made Wonk get up out of his chair and say "Wow!" as he repeatedly broke the formidable 'Cats down with dribble penetration. Head's 6-3: too little to be an NBA 3 and he hasn't functioned enough in his career in Champaign as a true 2 to make scouts wholly at ease there. Williams can become a high first-rounder if he displays a consistent outside shot. And Brown's 6-0.

Wonk is not proclaiming on these Illini's fates, mind you. Just parroting NBA scout-speak.

(But, again, Wonk comes back to the obvious: height. Think of it this way. Peoria product and current L.A. Clipper Shaun Livingston is a point guard who is as tall as Greg Brunner and taller than Roger Powell. Bingo, NBA.)


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