Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
What? The Big Ten leads this thing?
Ohio State beat Virginia Tech 69-56 in the kickoff of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge last night in Columbus. Propelled by excellent first-half shooting (and, to my eyes, a strangely lethargic opponent), the Buckeyes led by 21 with 18 minutes to go before the Hokies whittled the margin down to 57-54 at the three-minute mark. From that point Ron Lewis scored seven of his 10 points to lead a 12-2 run that sealed the win for OSU. (Box score.)

One thing I'll say for this Iowa Caucuses of Hoops: as opposed to "preseason" tournaments like the Guardians Classic (where quality opponents face each other fatigued from playing the previous day) or the Maui Invitational (where quality opponents face each other fatigued from playing the previous day--and from the jet lag), the ACC-Big Ten Challenge arguably gives fans their first taste of actual ACC- or Big Ten-style ball.

It was like a real game last night! Gosh! Herewith three observations....

1. Ohio State is an NBA-style team in an NBA-style arena. Last night Bill Raftery said it just as I was thinking it: everyone in an Ohio State uniform wants to create their own shots. Assists are passed (har!) by in Columbus. The Buckeyes were seventh in the conference last season (all games) in assists per field goal--a surprisingly low standing for a hard-core POT such as Thad Matta's team. Instead, it's all about spacing, isolations, and taking your man in the post (Terence Dials--see below) or off the dribble (everyone else).

And as for the venue, as its very name suggests Value City Arena is the college hoops equivalent of U.S. Cellular Field: a relatively new yet strikingly lifeless NBA-ish facility that represents an opportunity missed. If you're a Michigan or Indiana fan and your team plays in a horrible venue you can at least console yourself with the thought that said venue is old and will be replaced someday soon. Not so Value City.

2. No Big Ten player has more of an impact on his team's offensive strategy than Terence Dials. When Dials is out of the game (as he was for 16 minutes last night, though foul trouble wasn't an issue--what was up with that?), Ohio State runs a traditional motion offense. (Pass, go down low, set a pick, post up, gesture madly for the ball, cycle back outside, lather, rinse, repeat.) But when Dials is on the floor the Buckeyes are a strict 1-4 team on offense. It's as if the three-point line is an electric fence and every non-Dials player is wearing one of those restrictive collars. The ball and the other four OSU players stay outside the arc until there's either a post feed or a three.

And I'm not so sure that should be the case. I stand second to none in my praise for Dials, a hard-working undersized big man. But Matta runs the offense like Dials is the second coming of Bill Walton, Tim Duncan, or, um, Greg Oden. (Oliver Stone moment: so maybe this is all preparation for next year. Hmmm....)

3. J.J. Sullinger is underrated--through no fault of yours truly, who gushes over the guy daily. Is there a reason why we never hear "Sullinger" and "NBA" in the same sentence? Here's a guy who's 6-5, built, shoots 44.6 percent on his threes, and rebounds like a tasmanian devil. That profile sounds an awful lot like Nick Anderson to me. Is there a reason no one's talking about Sullinger in terms of "the next level"? Just asking!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Gardner-Webb beat Minnesota 73-72 in Minneapolis last night. It's remarkable that this game was this close--specifically, that the Gophers came this close to winning after trailing by 14 in the second half. Box Score Oddity of the Month nominee: the Bulldogs posted a 63.5 effective FG pct. while Minnesota had just a 38.3 eFG pct. Yet it was a one-point game because "dominance" does no descriptive justice to what the Gophers did to the visitors on the boards (84.0 defensive rebound pct.; 54.5 offensive--"You don't get 24 offensive rebounds if you don't battle," Dan Monson said after the game). Even so, the disparity in shooting was simply too great for Minnesota to overcome. Gardner-Webb sank 12 of 20 threes; the Gophers were 1-of-14 (including an 0-of-6 from Adam Boone). Bright spot: Minnesota got 21 points and 5-of-5 shooting at the line from eager youngster Spencer Tollackson. (Box score.)...Monson was reduced to playing a seven-man rotation last night. Vincent Grier is out for the next month with an injured hand. Rico Tucker is on "academic lockdown." And Dan Coleman missed last night's game due to a "family emergency." "We've got to get some people back healthy and develop some depth," Monson said after the game. "Of the seven guys we played, three of them were freshmen."

ACC-Big Ten Challenge
Frank Burlison of slips his preview in under the wire here.

Illinois plays at North Carolina tonight (ESPN, 9 ET). Bruce Weber will be hobbling around on a fractured right ankle that he injured doing yard work yesterday. (Bruce Weber does yard work? Dude, go Coach K, already, and get an entourage.) On the plus side his team will be sporting fresh out-of-the-box neato new blue uniforms. (Carolina will also be sporting new duds.)...Weber pooh-poohs any talk of a national championship game "rematch," pointing out that both teams are painfully young: "Both of us are just trying to survive." The Illini coach wasn't so sanguine when the game was scheduled, however--in fact, Weber called the Big Ten office to inquire as to why this game was being slated for Chapel Hill instead of Champaign. But that was before Weber knew that Dee Brown was coming back and the entire Tar Heel team was going to the NBA--so now everything's jake....In his dead-tree space this morning, oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper points out that Illinois unsuccessfully recruited two of the young Tar Heels: Tyler Hansbrough (Poplar Bluff, MO) and Bobby Frasor (Chicago Brother Rice). "For a freshman thrust into this scenario, he's done better than OK,'' Roy Williams says of Frasor, who starts at point guard for the Heels. "I think he's got tremendous basketball IQ. He's a better athlete than people think."

BONUS Illini recruiting stuff! The seemingly indefatigable Tupper uses additional dead-tree space this morning to look at the verbal commitment given to the Illini this week by national-top-10 Indianapolis shooting guard Eric Gordon (more specifically, a verbal commitment given by his father). Tupper says Chicago Simeon point guard Derrick Rose is the next target for Weber on the recruiting front....Speculation has it that the Illini crowd chanting Gordon's name at the Illinois-Penn State football game is what sealed the deal. You read that correctly: Gordon attended an Illinois football game and yet is choosing to attend Illinois anyway. Wow. (Other attendees at Memorial Stadium this year had a somewhat different reaction.)

Wisconsin plays at Wake Forest tonight (ESPN, 7 ET) and, if you haven't heard already, Badger freshman Marcus Landry is a stud....Jason Chappell's father, Len Chappell, played at Wake in the early 60s.

Miami plays at Michigan tonight (ESPN2, 9:30 ET). Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press says Daniel Horton has "seized the role" of "dominant presence" for the Wolverines. (I say: Aiiiyeeee! Stop before it's too late!)...Tommy Amaker says he can see the "confidence building in Courtney Sims."

Purdue plays at Florida State tonight (ESPN2, 7:30 ET). Boiler coach Matt Painter says Carl Landry will play. Landry suffered a slight left ankle sprain in the first half of Saturday's game against Xavier and did not practice Sunday. "I know we go through him...but honestly, that's the least of our worries right now," Painter said. "We have to make improvements from our mental approach and toughness approach and win those games." Painter also says he expects to give the Seminoles a healthy dose of Korey Spates tonight: "Korey is the best we have at breaking down the defense."

Clemson plays at Penn State tonight (ESPNU, 8 ET). Nittany Lion coach Ed DeChellis has praise for the Tigers' pressure D: "They're playing the way I hope we can someday get to where we can play in terms of pressure."

Indiana fans are looking forward to tomorrow night's match up between Marco Killingsworth and Shelden Williams of Duke.

Iowa guard Jeff Horner is suffering from a left thigh bruise but says he'll be OK for tomorrow night's game against NC State. More on Horner and his three-point shooting here, a topic on which I've already bloviated.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says he's looking for someone to replace the struggling Drew Naymick in the starting lineup.

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Forecasting the Challenge--aye, there's the challenge
Hey, Wonk,

I check you every day. I'm a long-time IU fan and work at Northwestern, so I'm into Big Ten hoops.

My call for the Big Ten-ACC challenge: Big Ten's first win! 6-5.

I agree with the forecasts by Yoni Cohen and Gregg Doyel for the most part, except for picking Northwestern over Virginia on the road. Doyel says Virginia's got no one to contain Vukusic, but as the UNC-Wilmington proved, that's not something you need to do. Also, Yoni picks Miami over Michigan, but Michigan's rather healthy and Miami's without their point guard, Anthony Harris.

Otherwise it's all common wisdom, but I say keep an eye on the Penn State-Clemson game, too.

I'll be rooting like heck for Indiana over Duke, but if I had any money, I'd probably have to put it on Duke.

Keep on Wonking!

Devin S.

Thanks, Devin. Wonk agrees! While I'll be pulling hard for Northwestern and indeed have no illusions about a thoroughly meh Virginia squad, I was nevertheless struck by Doyel's apparent degree of confidence in predicting victory for a Wildcat team that won one true road game all of last year and, as you note, was bested by the feisty Seahawks this year in the BCA Invitational.

Bo, the swing, and the offensive glass (cont.)
A couple weeks ago when I did my preseason walk-around of Wisconsin, I chanced to remark that Bo Ryan has in effect made a Faustian bargain with the turnover devil in adopting his swing offense. In exchange for never turning the ball over, his team suffers on the offensive glass. Alert readers then emailed me to point out that, in addition, Ryan's preference for a slow pace also hurts the Badgers' chances for offensive rebounds.

Is this systemic? Is it unchangeable fate? Wonk's readers analyze!


Very nice work on your reviews of all Big Ten teams.

One quick note about Wisconsin. In your review, you mentioned the lack of offensive rebounds last year for the Badgers. If the first four games are any indication, this year’s version is going to grab a lot of offensive rebounds. So far they have 58 offensive rebounds or 14.5 per game. One might question whether this trend will continue against better competition, but I believe it will, given what I have seen so far. I view it as more of a personnel issue rather than an inherent feature of the swing offense.

Most of the players who graduated were undersized for their position (Wilkinson) or not particularly quick to the ball (Hanson, Chambliss and Helmigk). In contrast, they have been replaced in the rotation by players who are tall for their position (Butch, Stiemsma, Chappell & Krabbenhoft) or who are extremely quick to the ball (Flowers, Landry, Williams).

This will be an interesting phenomenon to observe as the season progresses.

David L.

You're exactly right, David, that this year's tall Badgers will reveal whether last year's low numbers for offensive rebounding were a matter of personnel or of system. The reason I've thus far inclined rather toward the latter is because the same personnel did quite nicely on the defensive boards. As you say, we shall see. Thanks for the thoughts!

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