Big Ten Wonk
Monday, November 07, 2005
Everyone's back for Michigan. That's a good thing, right?
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the notably lengthy and strikingly turnover-prone young men from Ann Arbor, proud members of the Big Ten since its founding in 1896....

Last year
13-18 overall, 4-12 in conference.

Dion Harris (14.3 PPG, 0.96 PPWS, 4.8 reb. pct., 6.0 assists per 100 possessions)
Daniel Horton (12.4 PPG, 1.01 PPWS, 5.6 reb. pct., 8.1 a/100 poss.)
Courtney Sims (9.8 PPG, 1.24 PPWS, 14.1 reb. pct., 1.4 a/100 poss.)
Chris Hunter (9.3 PPG, 1.17 PPWS, 11.6 reb. pct., 2.6 a/100 poss.)
Ronald Coleman (7.5 PPG, 1.01 PPWS, 5.8 reb. pct., 2.4 a/100 poss.)
Brent Petway (7.1 PPG, 1.18 PPWS, 16.2 reb. pct., 2.6 a/100 poss.)
Graham Brown (5.5 PPG, 1.15 PPWS, 13.6 reb. pct., 1.9 a/100 poss.)

Lester Abram (6-6 G, medical redshirt--13.1 PPG in 2003-04)
Jevohn Shepherd (6-5 G, Toronto)
Jerret Smith (6-3 G, Romulus, MI)
Kendric Price (6-8 F, Boston)

J.C. Mathis (1.8 PPG)

Official motto for 2005-06
"No, really, we insist: you take the ball."

What we think we know in November
I'm as surprised as the next fan but for whatever reason Michigan (yes, Michigan) is arguably the most thoroughly- and insightfully-previewed college basketball team in the country. It started seven months ago with this outstanding player-by-player preview chipped in way in advance by the keen and ever-feisty Brian at mgoblog (about whom more in a moment). Then, six-and-a-half months later, came the indispensable Ryan Kobliska with his customarily superb overview.

So I'm late to this particular gig. Hey, no problem! Your intrepid blogger does paraphrasing with the best of them. Here's what Brian and Ryan had to say in a nutshell....

1. Michigan was awful last year. They turned the ball over with alarming regularity, they were terrible on the boards (particularly the defensive glass), and the only two efficient scorers they had were either out for the year due to injury (Lester Abram) or underutilized (Courtney Sims).

2. The Wolverines should be better this year. Abram and Daniel Horton are back, which should allow Dion Harris to bring his minutes and shots way down and his efficiency and effectiveness way up, thus giving the bigs more space to operate.

3. The key will be the return of Horton--for good or ill. Brian thinks it imperative that Tommy Amaker make it clear to the historically inefficient scorer "that he is the third or fourth offensive option on the team, behind Sims, Abram, and possibly Harris." Ryan says amen to that: "If [Horton] defers to his teammates, there's potential for a very nice offense to emerge."

Both Brian and Ryan see Michigan as a borderline NCAA Tournament team this season.

I agree with all of the above in every particular.

Good night, everybody! Drive safely.


...Well, maybe just a couple additional thoughts....

The 2005 Michigan Wolverines: what happened?
It's an important question because how you answer it dictates how much confidence you'll have in this year's team. Everyone agrees that Tommy Amaker's team collapsed in the face of devastating losses in personnel. (Again, Abram missed all but the first two games and was given a medical redshirt. Horton missed 18 games. Chris Hunter was out for eight. You get the idea....) But need the collapse have been so total?

Even with their decimated ranks, this is a team, remember, that lost to Illinois by a mere six points. No, Michigan wasn't truly in that league last year. Still, if we're to give Tommy Amaker's team some measure of credit for such a performance (and I do--and did, lauding the Wolverines for playing their "best 16 minutes of the year"), then we also have to be willing to assign some blame for their other performances:

Efficiency margin: points per possession (PPP) minus opponent PPP
2005, conference games only
1. Illinois (+0.24)
2. Michigan State (+0.18)
3. Wisconsin (+0.06)
4. Ohio State (+0.03)
5. Indiana (+0.03)
6. Iowa (+0.02)
7. Minnesota (0.00)
8. Purdue (-0.08)
9. Northwestern (-0.11)
10. Michigan (-0.15)
11. Penn State (-0.24)

This kind of much-worse-than-Purdue outcome would be easier for me to write off entirely had Michigan played all 16 games against the likes of last year's Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin teams.

Thing is, they didn't. And even with their losses in personnel, Michigan was still within shouting distance of the middle of the conference when it came to talent.

Was Minnesota--starting Brent Lawson and Aaron Robinson--really so superior to Michigan in personnel that they indeed should have won in Ann Arbor by 17? How about Indiana? They came to Ann Arbor and gave 18 minutes of playing time to Errek Suhr, a 5-8 walk-on. When walk-ons started wearing the maize-and-blue last year it was time to fold the tents and get busy cursing fate. But wearing Hoosier red, Suhr sank three three-pointers and grabbed four boards (!). And, lastly, don't forget that talent juggernaut and NBA pipeline called the 2005 Purdue Boilermakers. They hosted the Wolverines and destroyed them 84-55.

And we're to concede all this as natural and inevitable?...

Make no mistake: fate gave Michigan a wicked pitch to hit last year. But the Wolverines didn't just swing and miss. They swung, missed, hit the ump with the bat, fell down, clubbed themselves over the head a few times, stumbled back to the wrong dugout, threw up, fell down the steps, hit their head on the bat rack, and fell into a coma.

Which means, even as this blogger expects Tommy Amaker's team to improve markedly this season, there is a lingering potential for unpleasant surprise attached to even a healthy Michigan team.

The 2006 Michigan Wolverines: what will happen?
One thing we think will happen is that they'll turn the ball over a lot. They did in 2004 when they were healthy and they did in 2005 when they were injured. They probably will in 2006, too.

Look at last year's Big Ten "leaders" in turnover percentage: four (!) of the "top" 15 are Wolverines (Chris Hunter, Daniel Horton, Dion Harris and Courtney Sims). Everyone on this team, with the exception of Brent Petway and Ron Coleman (and, Wonk trusts, Abram), turns the ball over. Everyone.

(And now that Petway's been declared academically ineligible and won't see the court until January, the list of players with a normal propensity for TOs has shrunk even further.)

OK, so assume this year's team coughs up lots of TOs. How can they still be effective offensively? With good shooting and strong offensive rebounding. The first half of that equation will, as Brian and Ryan rightly noted, likely require running the offense through Sims and Abram. And if the newly unburdened Harris really does turn out to be a productive option at the 2-guard, this will be further good news for a coach who's due for some.

The question mark is the offensive rebounding. Your intrepid blogger will be keeping a close eye on the oreb pct.: if it really does come to pass that UM does turn the ball over a lot and that Sims and Abram do continue to score efficiently, the Wolverines' efforts on the offensive glass could be the key variable.

As for the D--who knows? Horton has shown a capacity for strong perimeter D (recall Jay Bilas raving about how Horton shut down Notre Dame's Chris Thomas in Ann Arbor last December?) and even in their injured state last year the one thing Michigan did best (and, in Michigan's case, this means they ranked seventh in the conference at it) was force their opponents into turnovers. True, their defensive rebounding was awful last year but Ryan points out that it was excellent the year before--maybe last year was an aberration. We'll see.

Welcome back, Lester Abram!
You high-efficiency 1.26 PPWS in 2004 guy, you. So what if you're a little thin in the assist column? With some of the teammates you've had (and have), holding on to the ball is a moral imperative.

Who's Dion Harris?
We don't know. Harris was undoubtedly the surviving player most directly affected by last year's injuries. While Wonk may be hesitant to throw out Michigan's team stats from 2005 entirely, this blogger is inclined to do just that with Harris's stats. They were pretty bad but Harris was the sole and unceasing focus of defensive attention from every opposing backcourt. Mr. Harris, the tabula rasa is officially yours. Let's see what you can do with it.

Is Courtney Sims Terence Dials or Courtney Sims?
The aforementioned sees-all blogger Ryan Kobliska at Hawkeye Hoops has put the get-off-Sims'-back case in its most persuasive form, pointing out some striking similarities between the much-maligned Wolverine's stat sheet and that of Terence Dials at the same age and stage. Point taken, Ryan! Make no mistake: Sims is an efficient scorer and those are, goodness knows, a scarce commodity in Ann Arbor. His play this year will be one of the single largest factors determining his team's success.

Still, there are some other Big Ten bigs I would pick before Sims in any fantasy draft. Three reasons:

1. Sims is OK on the boards but not better than anyone of note--except for other tall listless Wolverines, various assorted head cases, and the already-indicted-here-for-poor-rebounding D.J. White.

Rebound pct. (returning players only: 2005, all games)
1. Paul Davis, Michigan State (18.4)
2. Matt Trannon, Michigan State (17.8)
3. James Augustine, Illinois (17.4)
4. J'son Stamper, Minnesota (16.9)
5. Doug Thomas, Iowa (16.9)
6. Brent Petway, Michigan (16.2)
7. Alando Tucker, Wisconsin (15.5)
8. Greg Brunner, Iowa (14.9)
9. Terence Dials, Ohio State (14.6)
10. Carl Landry, Purdue (14.5)
11. Courtney Sims, Michigan (14.1)
12. Graham Brown, Michigan (13.6)
13. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (12.3)
14. Matt Kiefer, Purdue (12.3)
15. Geary Claxton, Penn State (11.6)
16. Chris Hunter, Michigan (11.6)
17. Michael Thompson, Northwestern (11.6)
18. Travis Parker, Penn State (11.3)
19. Gary Ware, Purdue (11.1)
20. D.J. White, Indiana (11.0)

2. Sims turns the ball over a lot.

3. Most importantly, Sims makes really dumb statements annually. Last November I saluted Sims for having the bravura to use "Michigan" and "national championship" in the same non-football sentence. One might think subsequent events would have been enough to warn Sims off such verbal careens. One would think wrong--he did it again this year: "We have the talent to win a national championship." Unbowed delusional optimist Courtney Sims, Wonk salutes you!

Horton, stats, and Wonk
Even when Daniel Horton is playing well, his stats are nothing to brag about. The proof is his freshman year.

If the 2003 Big Ten season had ended a few minutes before midnight on February 19 of that year, Horton may well have become the first freshman ever to win Big Ten Player of the Year. Horton dropped 31 points on the Boilermakers that night--yet his stats were undeniably mediocre. Just 8-of-22 from the field and only 3-of-9 on his threes, Horton got his points from the foul line, where he was 12-of-13. (PPWS? A middling 1.10 for the evening.)

But he won the game. "I just kept trying to go to the rack and get to the free throw line," Horton said that night. I saw that game and Horton was a force of nature. He put his team on his back and dared an opponent, on their home floor, to stop his dribble. They couldn't.

As it happened, Michigan was entering its bye week after the Purdue game and the lull gave ample opportunity for the POY talk to build in intensity and volume. (Die-hard Illini fan that I am, I remember that week well. The talk was that Horton was going to take the POY award away from Illini big man Brian Cook.)

Then came the next game: at Wisconsin. This time Horton's stats weren't awful--they were catastrophic: two points in 36 minutes on 1-of-11 shooting from the field (0-of-8 on his threes). Horton had six TOs and just two boards that night. The Badgers destroyed the Wolverines 72-43.

And that was the end of the POY talk.

The moral of the story is this: Horton will never look like Dee Brown on the stat sheet. Just remember, though, he doesn't have to in order to be effective. Color this blogger a confirmed stylistic pluralist.

BONUS link! Big mammoth earnestly chin-pulling story about Horton here.

From Wonk's "She's my daughter! (slap) She's my sister! (slap)" department....
Among this season's returning players, Horton ranked fourth in the conference last year in assists-per-100-possessions.

Among this season's returning players, Horton ranked third in the conference last year in turnovers-per-100-possessions.

(BONUS headline help here.)

From the ominous omissions department
Check out this preseason interview of Amaker: given the opportunity to praise his players in any way he sees fit, the UM coach can only think to call them "athletic" and "experienced."

Sure they are. But will they win?

Jevohn Shepherd is reported to have "opened some eyes during conditioning workouts."

BONUS extracurricular assignment for Wolverine fans!
I read lots of blogs for this little endeavor and Brian at mgoblog is one of this reader's faves. Indefatigable, perceptive, witty, and pugnacious as all get-out when provoked, Brian might be the college sports blogosphere's Mencken if there is one.

Only problem: Brian's currently busy with some sport called "football." (The official position of all Illinois graduates like Wonk is that there is no sport known as "football.") I understand and cheerfully give Brian another seven weeks of grace. However there's another sport that mgoblog seems primed to devote a good deal of attention to even after football is finished. And (insert Vito Corleone voice here) this I will not understand.

The sport in question is college hockey and your intrepid blogger (I'm not making this up) wasn't even entirely sure there was such a sport until landing here in Minneapolis, where sweeps week programming on local TV news (I'm not making this up either) consists of behind-the-scenes investigative reporting on the Gopher hockey team. (Did I mention I miss California sometimes?)

Michigan fans, if you see Brian at a Wolverine hockey game, tell him to stick (har!) with the sport that doesn't require a machine that Wonk's only seen at Toy Story 2: Disney on Ice.

In today's (and this weekend's) less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana beat St. Joseph's (Indiana) 93-65 in an exhibition game in Bloomington Friday night. The game was immediately eclipsed, however, by the news that Hoosier big man D.J. White will miss a minimum of two weeks--and possibly more--after injuring his left foot during the first half. (White is scheduled to undergo an MRI today. If he's diagnosed as having a stress facture he will likely be out of action for at least six weeks.) Marco Killingsworth posted 17 points in just 19 minutes--a stat line that could have been even gaudier had the Auburn transfer been able to do better than 3-of-9 from the line. How you know this was just an exhibition game. The Hoosiers, the slowest-paced major-conference team in the nation in 2005, played at breakneck speed: about 86 possessions (!).

Michigan beat Grand Valley State 77-69 in an exhibition game in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Daniel Horton led the Wolverines with 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Michigan recorded 25 turnovers. (Recap and box score.)

Minnesota beat Southwest Minnesota State 59-50 in an exhibition game in Minneapolis on Saturday. Vincent Grier had 18 points and Maurice Hargrow scored 16 for the Gophers. (Recap and box score. Good profile of Grier here.)

Wisconsin beat UW-River Falls 79-52 in an exhibition game in Madison Saturday night. Alando Tucker posted 18 points and seven boards for the Badgers. Freshman Marcus Landry made a nice debut, notching 11 points and six boards in only 16 minutes. (Recap and box score.)

Ohio State beat Findlay 83-53 in an exhibition game in Columbus yesterday. Terence Dials had 22 points and Bowling Green transfer Ron Lewis added 20 for the Buckeyes. Coach Thad Matta started Dials, Lewis, J.J. Sullinger, Matt Sylvester, and Je'Kel Foster. (Recap and box score.)

Purdue freshman guard Korey Spates has been suspended indefinitely by coach Matt Painter for undisclosed "detrimental" actions. Painter would say only the suspension is not due to any off-court behavior or issues. (Rumors that the trouble started when the Boilers failed to publicly commemorate Spates' 100th career layup in practice could not be confirmed.) Playing without Spates, the Boilermakers defeated Pfeiffer 94-80 in an exhibition game in West Lafayette yesterday, a game in which Purdue trailed by 15 points early in the second half. Carl Landry recorded 33 points and 10 boards--in only 22 minutes. (Good grief.) Boiler freshman Nate Minnoy notched a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. (Recap and box score.)

BONUS preemptive Purdue fretting! Did ex-coach Gene Keady really recruit such a motley crew of shady characters or is first-year coach Matt Painter already proving to be a little, um, quick on the trigger with these suspensions? In addition to Spategate, David Teague and Matt Kiefer also missed yesterday's game, each of them serving one-game suspensions.

Readers of the blogosphere, rejoice!
Ken Pomeroy has ended his sabbatical and is back this morning with his usual brand of impeccable analysis: Joey Dorsey of Memphis is America's most active player--and, um, one of its worst FT shooters, too. (What is it with these college hoops bloggers and their lengthy sabbaticals? Whoever heard of such a thing? I'd say they need a break from the pressure--but what pressure?)

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

Wonk only steals from the best

Great site. Your style reminds me quite a bit of my favorite sportswriter: Gregg Easterbrook, better known as's Tuesday Morning Quarterback. I suspect it's no accident.

As an Iowa fan, it was quite refreshing to read a season preview written without an Iowa bias, but with an attention to detail and accuracy unfamiliar to traditional national publications. It's not that I can't respect Athlon and Street & Smiths...actually, hold on; that's precisely the case.

Interesting analogy between Alford and Nixon. I made a similar comparison between Wonder Boy and George W. Bush last year. I was lauded by roughly 49 percent of the respondents and reviled with equal fervency by the remaining 51 percent. That cannot be a good sign for the future of Iowa basketball.

Adam J.

Thanks, Adam! Wonk idolizes two blogging superheroes and you nailed one of them. (I've fessed up to as much already.) The other is Mickey Kaus.


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