Big Ten Wonk
Friday, November 04, 2005
Iowa's good. So what's going to screw it up this time?
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the veteran band of Pierce-less Iowans gathered in Iowa City, proud members of the Big Ten since 1899....

Last year
21-12 overall, 7-9 in conference. Lost to Cincinnati in first round of NCAA Tournament, 76-64.

Greg Brunner (14.7 PPG, 1.15 PPWS, 14.9 reb. pct., 3.4 assists per 100 possessions)
Adam Haluska (14.2 PPG, 1.23 PPWS, 7.4 reb. pct., 3.0 a/100 poss.)
Jeff Horner (14.0 PPG, 1.13 PPWS, 7.0 reb. pct., 8.5 a/100 poss.)
Mike Henderson (4.9 PPG, 0.94 PPWS, 5.8 reb. pct., 3.2 a/100 poss.)
Erek Hansen (4.8 PPG, 1.01 PPWS, 7.6 reb. pct., 1.6 a/100 poss.)
Doug Thomas (4.6 PPG, 1.11 PPWS, 16.9 reb. pct., 1.1 a/100 poss.)
Carlton Reed (2.6 PPG, 1.03 PPWS, 5.4 reb. pct., 3.9 a/100 poss.)
Alex Thompson (1.6 PPG)
Seth Gorney (0.7 PPG)

Tony Freeman (6-0 G, Westchester, IL)

Jack Brownlee (1.0 PPG)

Official motto for 2005-06
"What could possibly go wrong? No, seriously, we're asking...."

BONUS preemptory full disclosure!
Posting a team preview of the Iowa Hawkeyes when there's a sees-all blogger like Ryan Kobliska stationed on the scene in Iowa City with an outstanding blog like Hawkeye Hoops is a little like someone saying they're going to write a new biography of LBJ because, doggone it, Robert A. Caro just hasn't done enough research.

That is to say the activity that I'm engaged in here is intrinsically superfluous. Your intrepid blogger is keenly aware of this and thus thought long and hard (I'm serious) about posting a three-word Iowa "preview":

"Read Hawkeye Hoops."

But in that event this blog's readers (Hi, Mom and Dad!) would brand me as lame and we can't have that. So here's a little lagniappe on top of Ryan's definitive work....

What we think we know in November
You know the story. A strong November-December followed by bad things. Very bad things. It's as if Iowa's been cursed the last few years.

Here's how Erek Hansen puts it:

"It's almost like every year we're plagued with something happening. With the team we've got this year I don't think anything is going to happen. We've been trying to keep everything so closely knitted together. We've been watching everybody's back just to make sure that nothing happens."

Hawkeye fans are reportedly "nervous"; "tired of hearing the hype in October without seeing results in March."

Does that change this year? I think it does, if for no other reason than simple regression to the mean (of normalcy).

Then again, with Steve Alford at the helm can we ever really be sure of normalcy?

Richard Milhous Alford
Entering his seventh season at Iowa, Alford is on the record as hoping this year is "drama-free."

Wonk says: drama and Alford go together like a screechy voice and Bruce Weber, like politeness and Tommy Amaker, like anonymity and Ed DeChellis.

In fact, so essential does drama seem in the Iowa coach's daily life that I have a working hypothesis: Alford is Nixon (no stranger to drama he).

Like Nixon, Alford draws his motivation from a desire to defeat "enemies." Like Nixon, Alford is compelling--say what you want about the guy, he's interesting. And like Nixon, there's always a "new" and more "at ease" Alford being breathlessly promoted by his apparatchiks.

Example: Alford's players speak of how their coach has "matured." Not a good sign, that. Alford may still seem young-ish to some of this blog's more, um, experienced readers but in fact the guy is functionally equivalent to Bill Self in age. Now, can you imagine an interview with Christian Moody where he talks about how Self has "matured" this year? Of course not.

(A "new Dean Smith"? A "new Lute Olson"? Absolutely redonkulous indeed.)

Bottom line: having Nixon on their sideline doesn't mean Iowa can't have a very successful season. It just speaks to the reason why I--and many others--may not feel comfortable saying flat-out: "Iowa will have a very successful season."

Is what's good for Greg Brunner good for Iowa?
Ryan Kobliska points out correctly that if Greg Brunner is to have any hope of playing as a pro, he has to demonstrate some comfort on the perimeter this year. Brunner's played power forward for the Hawkeyes for three years but, at 6-7, he's shorter than some NBA guards, much less 3's or 4's. So, yes, Brunner may have to get out there on the perimeter if he wants to draw any interest at all from prospective employers in his chosen field.

Only problem: the perimeter's already crowded. You've got Mike Henderson out top, Jeff Horner as the shooting guard, and Adam Haluska on the wing. Putting Brunner out there makes Iowa suddenly look like an Ohio State-style 1-4 perimeter-oriented team (yes, a POT) with (gulp) Erek Hansen as the "1." And that's just not the Hawkeyes' game. With personnel like Brunner, Henderson, and Hansen among your top five players, you'll be hard pressed to become a successful POT. (Iowa ranked ninth in the Big Ten last year in the percentage of their shot attempts that were threes.)

Not to mention the fact that, until Alford gives some more minutes to Doug Thomas, Brunner gives Iowa its only (and I mean only) rebounding. Can Brunner really shoot well enough from outside to make up for the inevitable loss of boards?

This interplay of demands will be interesting to watch.

BONUS! Wonk's Law of November Weight Change!
There is much talk in Iowa City this preseason to the effect that a sassy new-look slimmed-down Brunner is ready to display more quickness this year.

Indeed, every November brings with it talk of offseason weight changes. This year is no different....

Erek Hansen has put on weight on that's a good thing. Rich McBride of Illinois has lost weight and that's a good thing. D.J. White of Indiana has put on weight and that's a good thing.

It's always a good thing, is it not? And thus....

The Wonk Law of November Weight Change: Any offseason weight change, whether a gain or a loss, is without exception held to be good in November.

As for Brunner, whether or not his weight change is good depends on where he plays. Granted, he was slow last season and that had the potential to make him a defensive liability. (Indeed, your intrepid blogger observed this very fact in action and commented on it last January.) And, besides, if Brunner really is to get out on the perimeter at times this year, losing a few pounds won't hurt him.

But if Brunner continues to play in the paint, someone has to explain to me why we're all happy about this. (He's a 4--let him eat!)

High-efficiency low-TO guy Adam Haluska, Wonk salutes you!
Last year at this time I was making fun of the Des Moines Register for an article they ran about then-new-arrival Adam Haluska. The article rather breathlessly related that as a freshman at Iowa State in 2003, "Haluska made 40 of 119 three-point attempts." I merely offered the rather jejune observation that 40 out of 119 is 33.6 percent and 33.6 percent ain't very good.

So your intrepid blogger was right to make fun of the article. But now I'm duty-bound to also note that, in the event, Haluska was better than advertised. He shot 38.9 percent on his threes last year (36.5 in Big Ten play) and was notably efficient in his scoring overall, both from the field and from the line. Perhaps even more impressive, Haluska turned the ball over next to never, even though he was unquestionably one of the Hawkeyes' top three options on offense after the mid-season departure of Pierre Pierce.

Gosh. High-efficiency and low-TO. Haluska's the anti-Pierce!

The wild wacky wonderful world of Jeff Horner's three-point shooting!
If you look at Jeff Horner's stat sheet, it seems so straightforward: the guy's a 40.8 percent three-point shooter, any 3FG pct. starting with a "4" is very good, case closed.

Ah, but the 40.8 conceals as much as it reveals! Horner's shooting was so up and down last year it merits a closer look. So join Wonk, alert readers, as we take a journey into the peaks and valleys that were Jeff Horner's three-point shooting last year! (Maestro! Some yodeling music, if you please!)....

Entering the Big Ten season last January 5, Horner's three-point percentage stood at a Stoudamire-like 50.7. Shooting just 35.5 on his threes in 16 conference games, however, brought that number all the way down to 41.3. Throw in three Big Ten tournament games and a first-round NCAA loss and it's not too much to say that had the season lasted one or two more games, Horner would likely have lost that gaudy "4" for the more ho-hum "3."

In other words, Horner's 40.8 three-point shooting can be thought of as two months of 50 percent shooting followed by three months of 35 percent shooting--which I think sums up the Hawkeyes' uncanny capacity for volatility rather nicely.

Synecdoche of Iowa Jeff Horner, Wonk salutes you!

Who's Mike Henderson?
I'm going to have to trust my posting over my memory and the numbers: late last season I said I was beginning to see good things at last from Mike Henderson. Hold that thought--because on paper Henderson's a triple threat: no scoring, no rebounding, and no assists.

True, he's reputed to be "a savvy defender." And I'm perfectly willing to grant that Henderson's better on D than he is on offense. (A bit like saying Paris Hilton acts better than she sings. Ryan refers to Henderson as "Pierre Pierce lite." Perfect.) But before we make Henderson defensive POY in the Big Ten, let us note one thing. While doing fine (and actually improving) offensively after the departure of Pierre Pierce last season, Iowa suffered noticeably on the defensive end when Henderson took Pierce's minutes:

--Seven conference games with Pierce: 0.94 opponent points per possession (opp. PPP)
--Nine conference games with Henderson: 1.02 opp. PPP

Iowa forced their opponents into significantly more turnovers with Pierce in the lineup (24 per 100 possessions) than with Henderson (17).

Still, the Hawkeye guard is getting much preseason love of the "provides athleticism and defense on the perimeter" variety. Mark this blogger down as a persuadable skeptic on this front: absent subsequent better proofs, this Henderson-as-Bruce Bowen talk has the ersatz feel of a manufactured compliment.

Why you'll continue to see more Erek Hansen than Doug Thomas
Because Coach Alford wishes it. So there. I can't understand it and I've given up trying. Thomas is one of the top rebounders in the Big Ten (even better than Brunner). Hansen blocks shots but couldn't get a rebound on an empty court with the ball waiting for him in a box.

Alex Thompson reportedly stole the show at the Hawkeyes' intrasquad Black & Gold Blowout on October 22. At 6-9, Thompson is slated to alternate between what Alford apparently calls the "big guard" and the wing.

Profile of Tony Freeman here.

JC transfer Kurt Looby will apparently redshirt this season.

(Pierce sentenced to two years in prison.)

BONUS statistical navel-gazing!
Congratulations to Iowa, winner of this blog's first-ever Even Steven Award! In eight major tempo-free statistical categories on both sides of the ball, the Hawkeyes are the only team in the Big Ten who did nothing more than one standard deviation better or worse than the mean in conference play last year. They were average across the board.

Steady relentlessly-non-aberrant Hawkeyes of Iowa, Wonk salutes you!

Funny, Wonk could have sworn he saw the Bearcats win
It says here that Iowa "advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament" last year. Cool! So the telecast of that bogus Cincinnati "win" over the Hawkeyes in the first round must have been a Capricorn-One-style fake-moon-landing hoax. Works for me! (Maybe my beloved Illinois really won the national championship game, too. Hmmm....)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Illinois beat Division III Illinois Wesleyan 82-60 in an exhibition game in Champaign last night that was tied with less than 15 minutes left in the second half. Freshman Jamar Smith led Illinois with 16 points off the bench and 3-of-5 shooting on his threes. Shaun Pruitt also played productively off the bench. The 6-10 sophomore had eight points and seven boards. As for the old geezers, James Augustine had 15 points; Dee Brown had a miserable shooting night (3-of-10) but contributed seven assists. Starting five for Illinois: Brown, Augustine, Rich McBride, Brian Randle, and Warren Carter.

Iowa beat Brock University of Canada 97-36 (not a typo) in an exhibition game in Iowa City last night, thus furnishing a score even more lopsided than what I boldly predicted on Tuesday. Ryan was on the scene and has posted his definitive game recap.

Penn State beat Lock Haven 89-43 in an exhibition game in State College last night. Geary Claxton and juco transfer David Jackson each had 15 points for the Nittany Lions.

BONUS all-Hoosier edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually;
email me!

No offense, Wonk, but IU had no offense

I'm so glad you've returned to the hoops blogosphere! (The BlogArena? BlogoDome? BlogCourt? Perhaps this metaphor has been pushed too far....)

As we've come to expect, your Indiana preview was both thoroughly researched and terrifically written. This Hoosier fan particularly appreciated your insight on the role that defensive rebounding could play for IU this year.

And yet somehow one glaring mistake slipped past your proofreading team. “Wonkpectations” item #2 boldly predicts:

“Even with more turnovers, improvement in an offense that was already good.”

“Already good”?!

Dear Wonk, while your statistics may somehow suggest the presence of relatively high per-possession offensive efficiency (and this is hard for me to accept, but your numbers bear this out), those stats did not have to watch Marshall Strickland dribble holes in the court up near the outline of the state of Indiana.

They did not account for offensive sets featuring D.J. White holding the ball like it needed a diaper-change out past the top of the key.

They were not compelled to witness any number of possessions that ended deep in the clock with a forced 30-foot Bracey Brick.

My enjoyment of hoops is ultimately about aesthetics. Illinois was a pleasure to watch last year not because their efficiency margin was so high, but because they played the game with skill and grace.

When the Hoosiers had the ball, by contrast, they were simply offensive much of the time. Perhaps that's the problem: the coaching staff was trying to learn more about this “offense” thing, looked it up in the dictionary, and simply took definition #2 to heart.

Thanks for a fine preview and a chance for a rant. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the rest of the Big Ten before the season gets going!

Ashton S.

Ashton, dude, we agree! Your eloquent missive charms my aesthetic sense with Illinois-in-2005-variety style--even as it assails me with selective quotation! Let's go to the tape....

My first four adjectives for the 2005 Hoosiers were, and I quote: slow, dull, NBA-style (your intrepid blogger quipped, as you may recall, that in this instance "NBA-style" apparently means the 1953 Fort Wayne Pistons), and admirable--as in admirably efficient.

So I stand shoulder to shoulder with you, Ashton! And, as my scrupulously chosen adjectives clearly show, I did yesterday, too. So what if Indiana was efficient? They were boring! Wonk couldn't agree more.

Keep the good stuff coming, Ashton!

Bracey Wright, Milli Vanilli's Grammy for Best New Artist, etc.

Good stuff. Bracey Wright was always judged on potential, never on stats; over-rated chant most certainly applies.

The snail offense is a big reason many recruits look elsewhere. Thanks for the perspective--now I won't fall so hard when the team underachieves again this year.

Terry D.
Die-hard IU Fan

Thanks, Terry! Keep in mind, though, that I also said that Indiana looks to this blogger a little like Syracuse in 2005 (good offense, mediocre D), a team that started 20-1 and hit the tournament as a 4-seed. Not sure if that rates as "underachievement" or not.

A couple excerpts from other Hoosier emails....
Alert reader and Hoosier fan Patrick H. points out that Marshall Strickland may have struggled from three-point-land last year (30.1 3FG pct.) but in 2004 the erstwhile Hoosier shot a more respectable 35.9 on his threes. Duly noted, Patrick!

Alert reader and Hoosier fan Prabhjot M. suggests D.J. White's underwhelming numbers on the boards would (will) be better if (now that) he('s) got some help! Prabhjot writes: "The problem is that Indiana went with four guards last year and White had to step to the ball on defense anytime it came inside. It's tough to fight for rebounding position when you have to do that every single possession."

Prabhjot, your ability to read behind my words is eerie! You might recall this blogger offered the thought that "White picking up even an extra three points of rebound percentage would be a blessed event for Hoosier fans." I was specifically thinking of Ohio State's Terence Dials when I chose that "extra three points of rebound percentage" wording. Playing in the purest perimeter-oriented 1-4 set in the Big Ten this side of Northwestern, Dials still managed to post a robust 14.6 reb. pct., notably better than White's 11.0.

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