Big Ten Wonk
Friday, November 11, 2005
Will Ohio State be the Antoine Walker of the Big Ten (again)?
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the hitherto strikingly perimeter-oriented young men from Columbus, OH, proud members of the Big Ten since 1912....

Last year
20-12 overall, 8-8 in conference. (Due to self-imposed sanctions, Ohio State was ineligible for postseason play last year.)

Terence Dials (15.9 PPG, 1.18 PPWS, 14.6 reb. pct., 1.6 assists per 100 possessions)
J.J. Sullinger (9.7 PPG, 1.20 PPWS, 12.3 reb. pct., 3.7 a/100 poss.)
Matt Sylvester (8.0 PPG, 1.09 PPWS, 7.4 reb. pct., 5.3 a/100 poss.)
Je'Kel Foster (7.7 PPG, 1.20 PPWS, 7.6 reb. pct., 5.7 a/100 poss.)
Ivan Harris (7.3 PPG, 1.19 PPWS, 9.9 reb. pct., 2.1 a/100 poss.)
Jamar Butler (3.6 PPG, 0.93 PPWS, 5.7 reb. pct., 7.3 a/100 poss.)
Matt Terwilliger (1.5 PPG)

Ron Lewis (6-4 G, transfer from Bowling Green--17.0 PPG in 2003-04)
Sylvester Mayes (6-1 G, JC transfer)
Brayden Bell (6-8 C, Salt Lake City)

Tony Stockman (12.0 PPG, 1.02 PPWS, 4.9 reb. pct., 5.2 a/100 poss.)
Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (5.1 PPG, 0.92 PPWS, 5.5 reb. pct. 8.5 a/100 poss.)
Matt Marinchick (1.1 PPG)

Official motto for 2005-06
"Enjoy us not dominating you for one last year."

What we think we know in November
On Wednesday Greg Oden signed his letter of intent to play at Ohio State starting next year. For those who've been trapped at the bottom of a well in Ulan Bator for the past 20 months, the relevant sound bites on Oden once again are: only player besides LeBron James ever to be named national POY as a high school junior; reputed to be the most dominant player to enter college since Lew Alcindor arrived at UCLA in 1965.

So I'm going to take a risk and offer my 2007 preview of the Buckeyes right here. It consists of one word (insert throat-clearing sound-effect here):


Which is to say this year should provide the basis for lots of graphics on broadcasts of Ohio State games in 2007--tables and charts on "Oden's Impact" and the weird and quaint pre-Oden stats from 2006. What do we think those 2006 stats will look like?

Truly a POT's POT
Ohio State was a three-point-shooting team last year...the only problem being they didn't shoot threes very well.

The Buckeyes were tops in the Big Ten in the frequency with which they launched threes (40 percent of their shots were from beyond the arc in conference play) but just ninth (!) in the conference in 3FG pct.

In this Thad Matta's team reminded your intrepid blogger a little of NBA stalwart Antoine Walker, the career 32.6 percent shooter from beyond the arc who nevertheless jacks up a ton of the things. In fact, Walker is said to have responded as follows when asked why he shoots so many threes: "Because there are no fours."

The good news for fans in Columbus is that Tony Stockman is gone. Without Stockman launching 136 bricks from beyond the arc (that's over four a game, people), the Buckeyes' proficiency from the outside figures to improve markedly.

It will have to. How well they shoot from outside will be crucial for Ohio State this year. I'm making the following assumption about this year's team: that they will, like last year, be a POT (perimeter-oriented team). This means Ohio State will: a) shoot a lot of threes; b) give opponents next to no turnovers; and c) perform very badly on the offensive glass. A, B, and C describe last year's Buckeyes to a T.

The wild card in the equation is how many of those threes go in. If 41 percent of them go in you look like Illinois. If only 33 percent of them go in you look like Ohio State.

Granted, there are other wild cards this year. Maybe Bowling Green transfer Ron Lewis will add more of a slashing dimension to the offense and take some pressure off the outside shooters by getting to the line a lot. Still, on a team with the likes of Je'Kel Foster, J.J. Sullinger, and Ivan Harris, I expect to see some threes.

Buckeye D very good--what's up with that?
Canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska has rightly pointed out the Buckeyes' single most striking statistical anomaly last year: the extreme infrequency with which their opponents attempted three-pointers.

My theory (emphasis on the word theory) is that this lack of attempted threes by opponents may have been due to a remarkably uniform consensus among ten other Big Ten coaches on how best to attack Ohio State: go right at Terence Dials and get him tired or in foul trouble or both. There is abundant backcourt depth in Columbus but there is zero frontcourt depth. If you can neutralize Dials, the book says, you can have your way with the Buckeye defense.

That being said, we must also add that opponents following the chapter and verse of said book didn't do all that well against a surprisingly stingy Ohio State defense, one that ranked fourth in the league last year behind Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan State. The strength of said D was its field goal defense, a category where the Buckeyes were second only to the Golden Gophers. Was this systemic (a Matta-brand of lock-down D) or something closer to luck? Personally I incline a little toward the latter (can a team whose "big man" is 6-9 really sustain this level of field goal defense?) but we'll find out one way or the other this year.

You irreplaceable you....
Throw a stick at the bench in Columbus and you'll hit about 11 guys between 6-3 and 6-8 who like to shoot threes--but there's only one (proven) beast down low and that is Terence Dials. The big guy's not much of a free throw shooter but pretty much everything else you get from Dials is choice. Efficient scoring plus solid rebounding and a low turnover rate equals a guy any coach would love to have in the post.

Except for the aforementioned FT issues, Dials' numbers have all trended steeply upward from year to year during his career in Columbus, a career that has spanned two coaches with very different offensive systems. Adaptable and productive stalwart Terence Dials, Wonk salutes you!

Is Ron Lewis the Vincent Grier of 2006?
Probably not. For one thing the Bowling Green transfer has already received much more ink than Grier had at this time a year ago. Still, the similarities are intriguing: both are big-ish guards who don't pose much of a threat from the outside but who penetrate, get to the line a lot, and (Lewis especially) drain the freebies with admirable accuracy.

Lewis started and scored 20 points in the Buckeyes' first exhibition game on Sunday. OSU is loaded in the backcourt this year.

He's a combination 4 and a 2--he's a 6!
I've been a fan of J.J. Sullinger for a while now because the 6-5 Buckeye simply refuses to be categorized. Alert readers of this blog have probably noticed, for example, that from time to time I've use Sullinger as a kind of classroom ruler to rap across the knuckles of much taller but poorer-rebounding types like Northwestern's Mike Thompson or Indiana's D.J. White. In the Buckeyes' strictly 1-4 offensive set last year, Sullinger indeed operated as Terence Dials' only (and I mean only) help on the boards.

But wait! There's more! Sullinger shot 44.6 percent on his threes last year and is just plain efficient in his scoring. And he never (I mean never) turns the ball over. Man. Me likey....

(OK, OK, equal time: like Dials, Sullinger's an adventure every time at the line. Duly noted. I still dig him.)

Hey, kids! He's just the same but with a whacked-out name!
Take my passage above on J.J. Sullinger, take out the praise for the rebounding, and--voila!--you have a pretty good thumbnail description of Je'Kel Foster. Like his teammate, the 6-3 Foster is deadly from the outside, efficient in his scoring, admirably careful with the ball, and thoroughly worrisome at the line. Foster will likely start the season as Thad Matta's primary outside threat.

All you need to know about Matt Sylvester
I went to Illinois. Therefore Matt Sylvester is the devil. (Sounds of uncontrollable sobbing and wall-pounding....)

OK...(sniff), I'm better now. In addition to being the devil, the 6-7 Sylvester's a welcome dose of mid-sized human on a team that needs it. He stands out from his mates in that he dishes assists and he's over 70 percent at the line.

Ivan Harris looks to be this year's first guy off the bench for Matta. A couple days ago I called Minnesota's Dan Coleman a "finesse power forward." Ditto Harris: a 6-8 guy with excellent three-point range (and thus a correspondingly gaudy PPWS). Longtime readers of this blog will recall, however, that Harris apparently has an Eric Lidell-style religious objection to shooting free throws, a noble stand chronicled in this space last year under the hackishly give-me-a-Pulitzer title, Ivan Harris's Remarkable No-Free-Throw Streak (A Five-Part Series).

The aforementioned blogger Ryan Kobliska has already described Jamar Butler perfectly so allow me to merely parrot: Butler is Drew Neitzel. The youth, quickness, ability to distribute, questionable D, woeful (as yet) outside shot--it's all there.

Sylvester Mayes is a juco transfer with a rep for quickness and hitting threes. He will have to be long on both skills to crack this lineup.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Northwestern will play the first regular season game of any team in the Big Ten when they face Lehigh Sunday night in the BCA Invitational in Laramie, Wyoming. Big Ten hoops fans everywhere want to know just one thing: will Ken Pomeroy go all Kyle Whelliston on us, attend the games in Laramie, and file whimsical yet discerning dispatches under an off-the-beaten-hoops-path dateline? Stay tuned!

Indiana beat the University of Indianapolis 96-49 in an exhibition game in Bloomington last night. Marco Killingsworth scored 22 points for the Hoosiers and Marshall Strickland added 15, shooting 3-of-4 on his three-pointers. (Recap and box score.) Guard Roderick Wilmont did not play. He's on suspension for violating team rules and will also be held out of IU's first regular season game next Friday against Nicholls State....Recruit Xavier Keeling has signed a letter of intent to play for Indiana.

Minnesota beat Minnesota-Duluth 78-64 in an exhibition game in Minneapolis last night. Adam Boone scored 30 points for the Gophers and shot 8-of-10 on his threes. (Recaps here and here; box score.)...Bryce Webster and Limar Wilson have signed letters of intent to play for Minnesota.

Penn State beat Edinboro 71-58 last night in an exhibition game in State College. Geary Claxton had 16 points and David Jackson added 11 for the Nittany Lions. (Recap and box score.)

Michigan will play an exhibition game against Northern Michigan tonight in Ann Arbor....Over at this morning Pat Forde "arraigns" five programs on "charges of Impersonating a Big-Time Basketball Program." One of his suspects: the Wolverines. "While the people understand the impact NCAA sanctions have had on the Wolverines, the statute of limitations on excuses has expired. It's time for Michigan to admit that it is a passé program, or else play better and rejoin the ranks of the competitive."

Michigan State will play an exhibition game against a presumably weary Northern Michigan squad tomorrow night in East Lansing.

Cyrus Tate, Justin Johnson, and Jamie Vanderbeken have signed letters of intent to play at Iowa....The Hawkeyes are the subject of a briskly efficient season preview chipped in this morning by the Daily Herald's Lindsey Willhite. (I beg to differ on one point, though. "Where's the issue with Iowa?" Willhite asks. "On the [defensive] end of the floor." Who knows but this may indeed turn out to be the case this year. It was not the case last year, however: in conference games Iowa's offense was just a hair below average; their defense was slightly above average.)

Illinois guard and first-team All-American Dee Brown is profiled this morning by Stu Durando of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

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

Can the 'Cats play past the Big Ten Tournament?

I read your Northwestern critique through purple shades. So, on a scale of 1-11, where would you place my beloved Wildcats? By the looks of things, I should probably not expect a Big Ten championship? How about post-season play at all?

Personally, I don't think this team is going to be as bad as everyone seems to think. I do agree, though, that something other than the performances given by guys like Tim Doyle and Mike Thompson last season, needs to be seriously improved upon. I felt like they were held out as "saviors" and they really didn't produce they way they were supposed to or, they way I thought they would. Vince (Mr. Arizona) Scott needs to be more of a presence in the paint and they need to actually hit their threes. That may be most important. If they can't hit from the perimeter, teams will collapse their defenses and then all cutting lanes will disappear. The two strengths of the "Princeton offense" will then disappear. And so will the ballgames.

Anyway, I just don't think this is 10th place talent. And, with the jumble supposedly in the middle of the Big Ten pack, the 'Cats could surprise.

Mike W.

Mike, on a scale of 1-11, I'd put your beloved Wildcats somewhere in that 3-9 range. How's that for going out on a limb?

Alright, alright: while the Princeton offense can indeed work beautifully (I saw it at its finest, perhaps, when I lived in Sacramento in 2002 and watched the Kings go all the way to the seventh game of the Western Conference Finals), this blogger will be looking at NU's defense first and foremost. And I really will go out on a limb on this one: if the Wildcats don't improve their D (giving up 1.08 points per possession in-conference) it won't matter how well they shoot.

Steals? Open shots for the opponent? Connection? Hello?

Nice to have the basketball season and your astute analysis back! I do have one quibble about some of the statistics, though....


To give you an example: in your analysis of the Northwestern defense, I would conjecture that the potential reason why they were able to get so many turnovers from their opponents was that they might have had a propensity to "gamble" on defense, thereby leaving themselves vulnerable to the "wide-open" jump shots. So potentially improving one area would lead to an unavoidable drop off in the other.

Any thoughts?
Chaitanya R.

Chaitanya, some hoops bloggers see things as they are in Evanston and ask: why? Wonk dreams things that never were in Evanston and asks: why not?

Besides: Minnesota neatly subverted this particular correlation last year, leading the league in both field goal defense and opponent turnover pct. That steals entail risk I'll grant you. (Illinois played a trapping D last year with the stated intention of getting some turnovers even at the cost of an occasional open shot.) But that steals necessarily lead to your opponents shooting as remarkably lights-out as did the Wildcats' last year I would question.

Knowing Northwestern numbers necessitates nervousness!

I'm a die-hard Northwestern basketball fan and a bit of a stats guy. Seemingly nobody out there watches enough Northwestern basketball to write a decent preview. It's amazing--and somewhat encouraging--that just by looking at the numbers, you have written the best pre-season analysis of this team that I have seen yet.

Just wanted to compliment you on your analysis and your site--one I have visited numerous times in the past. Keep up the good work.

All the best,
Gregory K.

To quote Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (opening today at a theater near you, Gregory!), I deserve neither such praise nor such censure! With our father's estate entailed away from his daughters, we have little but our charms to recommend us. Bingley's a sensible man. If I do not betroth myself to Mr. Darcy I will be relegated to a subsistence of penury....

Um, OK, so most of that wasn't on-point. What I meant to say was: thanks for the kudos, Gregory! And, just to be clear, your intrepid blogger's thoughts are indeed based, for better or worse, on watching Wildcat basketball. (See for instance this post from last season, where I limn Michael Jenkins' undeniably effective yet oh-so-ugly three-point shooting stroke). Indeed, the Official Older Brother of Wonk is an NU graduate and your intrepid blogger first strode the beautiful campus in Evanston (surely one of the most picturesque academic enclaves anywhere outside of Pepperdine) as an awestruck 14-year-old Wonk-in-the-making. Many happy associations.

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