Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
A preface to statistics
Alert readers may have noticed that I've coughed up a baseball-esque wall o' stats as part of the new-year kickoff festivities. And just as surely as a Steve Alford whine about an alleged lack of FTAs follows every Iowa loss, this kind of middle-of-the-night stat-dumping will likely result in an email to your intrepid blogger that will go about like this: Stats are meaningless, watch the games, give me a guy who's a winner any day and you can keep your numbers, etc.

Fear not, fair readers. Two prefatory points I'd commend to your profound consideration....

1. It's November--what else am I going to blog about?
The bevy of stats in this space is not unprecedented. Last November I busied myself with detailed considerations of Michigan State's shooting percentages and assist-turnover ratios--only no one cared because no one was reading any of it. This year, my site counter informs me, is different in that respect.

So sit tight. Right now all we have is our memories, goings-on at practice (zzz), and any other chatter floating around loose out there. But, yippee skippy, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is just a few weeks away. And, just like last season, this Iowa Caucuses of hoops should give us plenty of new material, thus furnishing the escape velocity this blog needs for a justly frivolous acronym-slathered five-month orbit around this thing called Big Ten hoops.

2. Stats don't tell the whole story.
Consider this stat line from last season, posted by a 6-10 Big Ten player:

4.5 PPG, 1.05 PPWS, 11.1 reb. pct., 1.7 assists per 100 possessions

What can we say about this guy? Not much of a scorer, obviously; certainly not an efficient one--his 1.05 PPWS puts him below even the notoriously inefficient Bracey Wright. As for the rest: the 11.1 rebound percentage would be impressive if he were half-a-foot shorter but for a 6-10 guy that's frankly mediocre--if not downright anemic. And if his teammates are waiting for a dish from this guy they'll be waiting a very long time.

(Ha! Now for the Folgers-crystals-like surprise! Ooo, this is gonna be great!) "This guy" is in fact the now-departed Jack Ingram of Illinois. He graduated, he ain't in the NBA, and, goodness knows, he poses no threat to any professional's roster spot. I'm not suggesting Ingram was the second coming of Glenn Robinson--or even Brian Cardinal. And yet....

Was he not a key ingredient in the Illini's season? Let Wisconsin fans answer, mindful of Ingram's two huge threes in Madison that transformed a three-point deficit into a three-point Illini lead in a little more than sixty seconds. Let Arizona fans answer, mindful not only of Ingram's pivotal and fateful steal of the Wildcat inbounds pass in the game's final minute but also of his subsequent, immediate, and decisive action in a chaotic coaching-free zone: moving into screening position on the opposite wing from the ball, a move that made possible Deron Williams' game-tying three. Was he not key?

Stats don't tell the whole story. No one thing tells the whole story. Your intrepid blogger will therefore continue to strive for a C. Wright Mills-esque sociological imagination kind of thing: thoughts resting not only on numbers but also on input from the optic nerves and from the tiny Wonk inner voice (TWIV). We'll see how that goes.

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