Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Wonk's preseason thoughts--now in handy to-go packs!
For those just tuning in, yesterday I at last wrapped up my preseason walk-arounds of every Big Ten team. So I was in a festive and relaxed mood yesterday afternoon when, strolling the grounds of the Wonk World HQ Campus, I happened to run across some members of the crack Wonk marketing department....

This blogger couldn't make out everything they were saying but apparently Wonk needs to "extend the team-preview brand," "leverage our core strengths," "find new markets for old products," and "use a lot of quotation marks."

Very well. I've always been game for new things so here it is: a Big Ten preview in just 50 words!

Illinois: Dee. New guys.

Indiana: Slow pace. New guys.

Iowa: Jinxed? Old guys.

Michigan: Healthy. Good thing?

Michigan State: Izzo. Rebounds. Wins.

Minnesota: Fluke? Finding out.

Northwestern: Defense will tell.

Ohio State: Many threes. Many makes?

Penn State: Anonymous. Overlooked. Rebuilding?

Purdue: Suspension. Injury. Landry.

Wisconsin: So tall. Bo's style?

There you have it! A Wonk preview for today's fast-paced can't-be-bothered-with-verbs readers! (Oops! Ignore the verbs in this paragraph.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Purdue guard David Teague is out for the year after tearing the ACL in his left knee during practice on Monday. He plans to return for his final year of eligibility as a redshirt senior next year. Wonk instanalysis! Yes, this is a tough break for first-year coach Matt Painter and the Boilermakers, especially since they've already said goodbye to Tarrance Crump for the year. (A juco transfer and likely this year's starting point guard, Crump was suspended for the season after he pled guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from a September 25 incident in which a Purdue student was struck by the SUV Crump was driving.) But don't shovel the dirt onto the Boilers' season just yet. While it's true Teague gave Purdue 14 points a game last year, those points came at the expense of a tremendous number of missed shots. If one of the heralded freshmen--Marcus Green or Chris Lutz--can play merely like a freshman, Painter will get surprisingly similar efficiency, if not production. And that doesn't even take into account heralded freshman Nate Minnoy, who has shown both a willingness to shoot and some very nice numbers for rebounding (and even assists) in the first two exhibition games. As for losing Crump, maybe heralded freshman Korey Spates will step in and run the point capably. Oh, and there's also some guy named Carl Landry in West Lafayette. Don't count out Purdue just yet. UPDATE: Painter agrees (zoinks!), pointing out Minnesota entered last season without former starters Adam Boone and Maurice Hargrow and still made the NCAA Tournament.

Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times previews the Big Ten this morning and his look-ahead is way more than 50 words. It does, however, contain this money two-graf:

When March doesn't go well for the Big Ten, the party line is that with all the vagaries involved, NCAA tournament success should not be the measure of a conference.

But when Bucknell and Vermont pull off monumental upsets that clear the way for Big Ten teams to reach the Elite Eight, the conference boasts, "We're the only league in the country that ... blah, blah, blah,'' when it ought to be sending gilt-edged thank-you notes to Lewisburg, Pa., and Burlington, Vt.

(I still think Wisconsin would have had no trouble whatsoever with Kansas, a team that was 3-6 after Valentine's Day last year. And, given that Michigan State beat Duke and Kentucky, isn't a little disingenuous to work up some after-the-fact fear of Syracuse?...By the way, good old Anonymous at the St. Paul Pioneer Press offers another Big Ten preview here.)

Indiana coach Mike Davis says, yes, he feels the pressure to succeed from Hoosier fans. But that's nothing new: "With Indiana basketball, there's always going to be pressure." Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says Davis is in a no-win situation: "I hope this is his last year because I sense this job, and the toxic atmosphere that envelopes this program when the Hoosiers aren't winning, is going to destroy him."...The word in Bloomington is that new backcourt arrivals Lewis Monroe (transferred from Auburn) and Earl Calloway (juco transfer) will enable IU to play at a faster pace: "With Lewis Monroe and Earl Calloway running the show this season, the word Hurryin' will precede 'Hoosiers' as in the old days." Wonk the normative theorist thinks that is exactly what needs to happen. But Wonk the empirical observer is not as certain that's what's going to happen. Keep you posted (har!)...Indefatigable Hoosier beat writer Terry Hutchens has posted the latest installment of his excellent "Ask the Expert" Q&A feature in the Indianapolis Star.

Michigan State will go as far as Paul Davis, Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown and Drew Neitzel can carry them--so says Dave Dye this morning in the Detroit News. (Judging from the accompanying photo, the young men are certainly approaching the task with a grim sense of purpose.) And Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal agrees. But inveterate iconoclast Todd Schulz of the Lansing State Journal says no way, man: it's Brown and Ager that are key. And fellow LSJ contrarian Jon Malavolti says don't forget about Drew Naymick, Goran Suton, and Marquise Gray. (And remember Naymick, Suton, Gray, Delco Rowley, and Idong Ibok, too! OK, Wonk calls timeout. Too many different cognitive groupings of Spartans here. Pick one and go with it. Tom Izzo weighs in with his thoughts here.)

Illinois will open its season against South Dakota State tomorrow night with the following starting five: Dee Brown, James Augustine, Brian Randle, Rich McBride, and Shaun Pruitt. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that Brown says Augustine, Randle, and McBride need to carry themselves with more "swagger"--like freshman Jamar Smith. And in his dead-tree space this morning, Tupper says coach Bruce Weber agrees with Brown's assessment.

Iowa is not selling single-game tickets for the Illinois game in Iowa City on January 7. The only way for fans to purchase a ticket for the game is as part of a multi-game package. The Hawkeyes are apparently attempting to avoid a repeat of last year's visit by the Illini, when a large influx of orange-clad fans turned Carver-Hawkeye Arena into a pseudo-neutral court.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is looking for better point guard play out of Kammron Taylor.

Minnesota coach Dan Monson is looking for more vocal leadership out of Vincent Grier....The sum-up paragraph atop this Gopher preview reads as follows: "The Gophers think they have more talent than last year's NCAA tournament team. But combine questions on defense and in the post with a tough schedule, and improving on last season won't be easy." Wow. That's pretty much what I said. Only shorter....The keen and peripatetic Jeff Shelman chips in with a briskly efficient player-by-player look at the Gophers here. (Another player-by-player run-down here.)...Freshman walk-on Jamal Abu-Shamala has been put on scholarship.

Michigan has received a commitment from recruit Alex Legion. The 6-5 shooting guard is rated as the top prospect in the state of Michigan....Detroit News Wolverine watcher Jim Spadafore says this is the year: Michigan "should make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998."...The apparently indefatigable Spadafore also chips in with a Big Ten preview this morning. Projected order of finish: Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois. (More News season-opening goodies here.)

Uber-active hoops analyst Yoni Cohen offers his November forecast of the field of 65 at this morning.

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

The swing and the offensive glass

Overall that was an excellent critique of the Wisconsin team this year (as all of your Big Ten critiques have been). You clearly identified all of the uncertainties us Badger fans--at least the realistic ones--are feeling about the team.

I just wanted to add a point to your analysis of the Badgers' offensive rebounding (or lack of). Bo emphasizes: 1) solid passing, 2) moving the ball to achieve high percentage shots, 3) position one on one defense, 4) minimizing fouls (which means they will rarely have a high number of steals or blocks because these increase the potential for fouling), 5) blocking out to maximize defensive rebounding, and the one that is critical to offensive rebounding statistics, 6) dropping rapidly on defense so as to not give up any easy fast break points.

So while I agree that the spacing in the swing offense is not necessarily conducive to offensive rebounding, a equally important point is that Bo does not care if they get a lot of offensive rebounds – he prefers they get back on defense. If you watch the Badgers as soon as they take a shot all of the periphery players rapidly drop into defensive position. This usually leaves only one player to go after the offensive rebound. Wisconsin will never be a great offensive rebounding team because it is not part of Bo’s priorities.

I love your tempo- and style-sensitive critiques! Keep up the good work!

Tom M.

P.S. One more point for your extensive knowledge base – to my knowledge this is the first year that Wisconsin has ever had a “Midnight Madness” and it was not well publicized, so that is why the turnout was poor, not because of lack of support or interest from the fans. Bo hated the idea of dragging college athletes to a practice at midnight just to entertain a bunch of other college kids coming out of the bars. He wanted to make it more of a family-oriented, fan appreciation event. Bo was one of the primary driving forces to get the NCAA to change the rule to allow practice to start five hours earlier at 7:00 pm. I’m not sure Wisconsin’s MM will ever reach the attendance level of other major schools because at this point it is more designed to entertain children and the community than zealous fans.

Thanks, Tom! You have like-minded company out there....


Nice job on the Wisconsin report. I believe you nailed the team. I don’t know how you do it across so many teams. You have my undying admiration.

I liked your "few drops of vanilla" metaphor regarding Clayton Hanson. At first he was a three-point specialist. Then he was a defensive stopper. Somehow, his contributions were always downplayed as if he was playing because they had no one else. I guess kids from small towns in rural Wisconsin tend to be treated that way. He ended up hitting 50 percent of his threes last year and drew the assignment of guarding the other team’s best perimeter player.

I believe you are correct in the offensive rebounds being associated with the swing offense. I believe the other coaching factor that is as or more important is the coach’s approach to transition defense. Bo, like Dick Bennett before him, would forgo offensive rebounds to get five back on defense. I suppose the logic is that if we crash the glass we might get a cheap one, but we are more likely to give up more cheap ones at the other end. I don’t think the notion of “follow your shot” is taught much any more, and for good reason.

I have your site bookmarked and love it.

Bruce B.

Thanks, Bruce!

Glaring omission?

Love the blog, but you forgot to give any mention to DeAaron Williams for the Sconnies. This kid can flat out play and will be a future all-Big Ten selection.

Besides that, keep up the good work.

Aaron S.

"Forgot to give any mention"? Moi? Au contraire! Let's go to the tape!

See, there Williams is, carefully included under "New." So I mentioned Williams--I just didn't say anything about him, an omission you have now quite properly rectified. Thanks, Aaron!

(And to fans of Devin Barry, Tanner Bronson, and Morris Cain, I really didn't mention them. Mea culpa.)

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