Big Ten Wonk
Monday, February 07, 2005
SPECIAL return-of-Wonk edition!
Wonk is back from a few days of goofing off and upon returning your intrepid blogger finds more than one alert reader has emailed to ask nicely yet pointedly what could explain this February sabbatical. Two things, fair readers, each far more elemental and enduring than Big Ten hoops:

1. The anniversary of tying the knot with the Wonk Wife
2. The Minneapolis winter

Your intrepid blogger moved to Minneapolis from northern California last spring and this is the first winter in the new digs. You'd think Wonk's boyhood in central Illinois would have prepared him for January in the Twin Cities. Well, you'd think wrong, and at the first opportunity yours truly grabbed the Wonk Wife and scurried back to our beloved getaway spot, Bodega Bay, CA, for beach-walking, ocean-view hiking, and general non-slush-related living. It was nice.

Then I got back and found out all heck's been breaking loose, to wit....

Pierre Pierce is no longer an Iowa Hawkeye.

Minnesota is winning non-Penn-State road games by 17 and is a legitimate NCAA contender.

Michigan is failing to score 50 and this year's once-trendy dark horse is now waiting for next year.

Wha' happen?....

Illinois beat Indiana 60-47 in Champaign yesterday. The Hoosiers played without Bracey Wright (who injured his ankle last week) and Mike Davis started four freshmen. The Illini led this game 20-3 with eight minutes and change remaining in the first half. Yet Illinois went just 4-of-16 on their three's and recorded a season low for points. "Nothing against Indiana but I'm not sure our guys were mentally ready to play," said Bruce Weber afterward. Deron Williams had the day's split-personality stat line, scoring just one point on 0-for-7 shooting from the field--but also recording 11 assists. (Peoria Journal Star Sports Editor Bill Liesse says of the Illini performance yesterday: "Most teams lose when they're this flat. Illinois, technically, beat Indiana twice as badly as did North Carolina and UConn." Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that Weber will happily take this "freebie wakeup call that doesn't cost Illinois its first loss of the season." More Illini links here, here, here, and here. Hoosier links here and here.)

Minnesota beat Wisconsin 60-50 in Minneapolis Saturday. Wisconsin just doesn't have the horses they used to have. Bo Ryan is trying to guard the likes of Luther Head and Vincent Grier with Clayton Hanson, with predictable results. (Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse says defense won this game for the Gophers. Additional Gopher link here. BONUS Wonk plea for linking: Please use the aforementioned "additional Gopher link," if for no other reason than to gaze upon the spectacular photo of the spectacular moment when Vincent Grier tried to dunk over Alando Tucker--nuff said right there. Badger links here and here.)

Michigan State beat Iowa 75-64 in Iowa City Saturday. (Excellent two-part Herman Wouk-esque recap here and here from Hawkeye Hoops, defining state-of-the-art in team blogs since 2004. Mainstream Hawkeye links here, here, and here. For his part Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz pens this week's Hearty Perennial award winner and says Paul Davis needs to take control and make this his team. Money graf: "Much discussion has surrounded MSU's point guard position. The bigger issue is getting the ball to the big man." More Spartan links here, here, here, and here. BONUS memo to the Detroit Free Press: hey, it's a Big Ten game. Send a beat writer.)

Ohio State beat Michigan 72-46 in Columbus Saturday. The Wolverines committed 18 turnovers--in the first half (29 for the game). Wonk has seen non-guard dominant forces Carmelo Anthony and Emeka Okafor hoist national championship trophies the past two years and thus has a pet theory that nattering TV-heads tend to overstate the importance of guard play come March--but the contra positive proves the rule: when the backcourt fails to perform to a certain level the whole team falls apart. Tommy Amaker's team is in danger of supporting Wonk's theory. (Buckeye link here. Wolverine link here. BONUS memo to the Detroit Free Press: hey, it's a Big Ten game. Send a beat writer.)

Northwestern beat Purdue 67-61 Saturday in Evanston. (Wildcat links here and here. Boiler links here, here, and here.)

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, including yesterday's Indiana-Illinois game:

Top 20 PPWS
1. Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State (1.43)
2. James Augustine, Illinois (1.40)
3. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.35)
4. Brent Lawson, Minnesota (1.34)
5. Luther Head, Illinois (1.33)
6. Carl Landry, Purdue (1.32)
7. Aaron Robinson, Minnesota (1.30)
8. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.28)
9. Jeff Hagen, Minnesota (1.27)
10. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (1.27)
11. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.27)
12. Adam Haluska, Iowa (1.26)
13. Maurice Ager, Michigan State (1.25)
14. Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern (1.25)
15. Roger Powell, Illinois (1.25)
16. Carlton Reed, Iowa (1.25)
17. Chris Hunter, Michigan (1.24)
18. D.J. White, Indiana (1.24)
19. Clayton Hanson, Wisconsin (1.23)
20. Courtney Sims, Michigan (1.23)

Bottom 20 PPWS
1. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.83)
2. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.85)
3. Brandon McKnight, Purdue (0.87)
4. Ben Luber, Penn State (0.89)
5. Mike Henderson, Iowa (0.90)
6. Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota (0.90)
7. Dion Harris, Michigan (0.92)
8. Jamar Butler, Ohio State (0.92)
9. David Teague, Purdue (0.93)
10. Ray Nixon, Wisconsin (0.95)
11. Andreas Helmigk, Wisconsin (0.96)
12. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (0.96)
13. Mike Thompson, Northwestern (0.97)
14. Gary Ware, Purdue (0.98)
15. Robert Vaden, Indiana (0.99)
16. Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Ohio State (1.00)
17. Xavier Price, Purdue (1.00)
18. Dan Coleman, Minnesota (1.00)
19. Tim Doyle, Northwestern (1.01)
20. Erek Hansen, Iowa (1.01)

What it means. Give Kelvin Torbert 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll likely score about 21 points. Give Nick Smith 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, James Augustine, and Brent Lawson, your intrepid blogger directs your attention to the other half of the top six: Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Carl Landry. While scoring about 100 more points than Torbert, Augustine, or 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....
Pat Forde of says North Carolina and Illinois are 1 and 2--the respective states, that is. With Wonk-like caprice, Forde took an arbitrary top three D-I schools from each of 36 states that have three such entities and computed a statewide RPI. The land of Lincoln owes its strong showing to Illinois, DePaul and Southern Illinois.

Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline looks at who's in and who's out for the tournament here and says "Without Pierre Pierce the guess here is that Iowa won't make it." Doyel also says Minnesota is "close enough to touch" its first bid since 1999. (BONUS fun fact: that year's Gopher team lost to...Dan Monson and Gonzaga.) Wonk says: Doyel, Schmoyel, let's hear from Cort Basham!

Syracuse has put in its bid for the "Clockwork Orange" nickname, a moniker that's also been applied to the Illini this year.

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

Upon his return Wonk found many great emails waiting for him on the Illinois-Michigan State game. Alas, that is now last week's news.

So, fair readers, email me some new stuff and remember the official Wonk three-legged stool here: top o' the blog's what Wonk says; the middle's what the media and bloggers are saying; the bottom's what you say.


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