Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Forget PPG. Remember PPWS.
There's no trick to putting up a nice number for points per game (PPG). Just shoot a lot. But who would get the most points from the same number of shots?

To answer that question we turn to the handy stat that not only measures scoring efficiency, it also captures more than just points from the field (unlike, say, points per shot or "PPS"). This stat takes in both FGA's and FTA's. It's points per weighted shot (PPWS), developed cannily by John Hollinger (The Basketball Prospectus) and renamed brazenly by Wonk. Here are the current numbers for the Big Ten:

Top 20 PPWS: through games of December 5 (8+ min. per game)
1. Errek Suhr, Indiana (1.89)
2. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.72)
3. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (1.53)
4. Ben Allen, Indiana (1.52)
5. Jamar Smith, Illinois (1.48)
6. Paul Davis, Michigan State (1.41)
7. Daniel Horton, Michigan (1.40)
8. Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern (1.39)
9. Kammron Taylor, Wisconsin (1.37)
10. Jammelle Cornley, Penn State (1.37)
11. Ron Lewis, Ohio State (1.37)
12. James Augustine, Illinois (1.35)
13. Tim Doyle, Northwestern (1.34)
14. Jamal Abu-Shamala, Minnesota (1.33)
15. Carl Landry, Purdue (1.32)
16. Marco Killingsworth, Indiana (1.32)
17. Brian Randle, Illinois (1.30)
18. Courtney Sims, Michigan (1.29)
19. Brian Butch, Wisconsin (1.28)
20. Lester Abram, Michigan (1.27)

Errek Suhr's having a pretty good year, huh? Bear in mind that last season Salim Stoudamire led the nation with a 1.38 PPWS. Indeed I see eerie parallels here to last January, when I found to my surprise that a who-dat from Minnesota named Brent Lawson was atop the Big Ten PPWS rolls. Here's what I said then:

[Lawson is] averaging but eight points a game but the fact that he's doing it on 63.0 percent shooting (not a typo) vaults him to the top of this week's spreadsheet. Wonk welcomes the anomaly: a who-dat at the top of the list is often the cost of doing business when you measure performance via efficiency instead of using good old absolute numbers. We're all adults here. The numbers tell adults that Lawson's had an incredible year shooting the rock and that, in all likelihood, he might want to pull a muscle now while that FG percentage is still ostentatiously north of 60.

Just so: Suhr is averaging but nine points a game but the fact that he's made 11 of his 16 threes this season lands him atop the conference in terms of efficiency. Brent Lawson of 2005-06 Errek Suhr, Wonk salutes you! (And so does Terry Hutchens in this morning's Indianapolis Star.)

BONUS Beast o' Bloomington note! (No, that doesn't refer to Suhr.) Marco Killingsworth has a beautiful PPWS even though he's been Edvard Munch-level horrific (18-of-36) from the free throw line. If he merely made three out of every four from the line, his PPWS would be 1.43.

Now for the other side of the ledger....

Bottom 20 PPWS: through games of December 5 (8+ min. per game--no freshmen allowed)
1. Michael Jenkins, Northwestern (0.80)
2. Vince Scott, Northwestern (0.85)
3. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (0.85)
4. Alex Thompson, Iowa (0.86)
5. Ron Coleman, Michigan (0.89)
6. Dan Coleman, Minnesota (0.89)
7. Sean Kline, Indiana (0.90)
8. Dee Brown, Illinois (0.92)
9. Ray Nixon, Wisconsin (0.92)
10. Warren Carter, Illinois (0.92)
11. Michael Flowers, Wisconsin (0.95)
12. Jeff Horner, Iowa (0.95)
13. J'son Stamper, Minnesota (0.96)
14. Chris Hunter, Michigan (0.98)
15. Lewis Monroe, Indiana (0.98)
16. Geary Claxton, Penn State (0.98)
17. Mike Walker, Penn State (0.98)
18. Matt Kiefer, Purdue (0.99)
19. Doug Thomas, Iowa (0.99)
20. Travis Parker, Penn State (1.01)

That's right--I've enacted a no-freshmen policy on the Bottom 20 list. Call it blogger's prerogative: December of freshman year is just too soon for inclusion here. More importantly, it doesn't really aid our understanding of Big Ten hoops so very greatly to note that teams that are struggling offensively have freshmen that (it's true!) are struggling offensively. Maybe I'm getting soft--anyway, freshmen are verboten here until further notice.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....

Michigan State plays Boston College at Madison Square Garden in New York City tonight as part of the Jimmy V Classic (ESPN, 9 ET) and Tom Izzo has now officially called out his team: "This is the weakest team I've had as far as physically." Yesterday I suggested that Matt Trannon may be more important to this team than is commonly understood. Shannon Brown agrees with Wonk! "We need him," Brown said of Trannon. "He plays a big role in us just being a more aggressive team."...Drew Neitzel says he's "trying to get back to having fun playing the game."

Minnesota beat Arizona State 85-79 in overtime last night in Tempe. Playing without teammates Vincent Grier (out with an injured hand) and Moe Hargrow (still sidelined with a high ankle sprain), Adam Boone led all scorers with 28 points. Such is the reach of the excellent new Gopher Hoops blog that they actually had an intrepid blogger in attendance at the game. So I won't attempt to improve on the very well done recap at GH this morning, except to point out one sentence in particular for your attention: "Arizona State is not a very good team." Man, ain't that the truth. I saw about 20 minutes of this game and the Sun Devils performed at a level of ineptness that caused this blogger to repeatedly turn away from the screen in horror....Afterward Boone said this was an "important" win for his team....Despite reports of "a hostile crowd" on hand in Tempe, the intrepid correspondent from Gopher Hoops begs to differ: "I promise you there were no more than 5,000 people at this basketball game." (The box score is here but for some reason the good people at ASU aren't, as of this morning, giving it its own url address. Just click on the game story and follow the "box score" link.)

Illinois beat Arkansas-Little Rock 75-49 last night in Champaign. Freshman Jamar Smith was 6-of-8 on his threes and led all scorers with 23 points. ("I didn't realize how confident he was," Bruce Weber marveled afterward. "We go to North Carolina, and he's popping up and hitting shots.") Dee Brown recorded 10 assists but only six points on 2-of-8 shooting. In what is fast becoming a life meme for Weber's team, the Illini didn't shoot particularly well but beat the Trojans silly on the boards....In the latest post to his blog, oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper salutes Smith and says the coaching staff's decision to have the notably un-hefty freshman defend the ball has helped mask Smith's potential defensive shortcomings. (Box score.)

Indiana plays at Indiana State tonight. Sean Kline has an injured knee and is not expected to play.

Iowa plays at Northern Iowa tonight and no fewer than seven of the ten starters on the floor will be in-state products....Hawkeye guard Jeff Horner says he's not discouraged by his cold shooting so far this season: "All you can do is keep shooting and go find another way to beat people."...Iowa has not won a game in Cedar Falls since 1999.

Purdue plays Chicago State tonight in West Lafayette and for the second straight game, apparently, Carl Landry won't start. Matt Painter appears to be unhappy with Landry's frequent fouling. (Painter has also wondered aloud whether he should put assistant coach and former Purdue standout Cuonzo Martin into uniform.) Meanwhile, Chicago State and junior guard Royce Parran are getting the love after beating Illinois-Chicago (who in turn beat Georgia Tech at Georgia Tech).

Future Michigan Wolverine and current high school senior DeShawn Sims is looking like he'll be a good addition to Tommy Amaker's team.

Wisconsin big man and sometime point guard (!) Alando Tucker is adapting to life on the court with a protective mask, after injuring his nose last week at Wake Forest.

At this morning, Frank Burlison says this Saturday's game between Duke and Texas at the Meadowlands is this week's headliner. Blogger extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy begs to differ, much preferring one of tonight's games: Villanova at Bucknell.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Latest update from alert reader and die-hard Spartan fan Shawn
Yesterday I remarked on the surprisingly porous defense and mediocre defensive rebounding being displayed by Michigan State so far this season. Wonk's readers respond!

Hi there, Wonk,

As much as it pains me to admit, your analysis of State's defense and rebounding so far this year is right on the mark. I think Izzo will be able to turn it around by January but, until then, you are doing a great service in forcing State fans to confront the issue, showing us that we don't have to tremble and give up in the darkness. Truly, Wonk, these sub-par rebounding stats must be told.

But how will Izzo fix this? I think you're right that Matt Trannon will help a good deal, but despite his freakish productivity on the boards, he won't get enough minutes to correct the problem by himself (especially since Izzo wants to play him more at the wing this year). And Davis, as you noted, is actually doing a better job than last year on the boards. In my mind, the key is our wings--Brown and Ager aren't expected to be Charlie Bell on the glass, but right now they're not even at the level of Chris Hill. Those guys need to pick it up on the boards in a hurry for MSU to win the Big Ten this year.


Shawn M.

Thanks, Shawn! You're correct--the issue is a team issue (i.e., pretty much everyone but Davis) so the solution will have to be a team effort.

Egad! Praise for an Illinois player named "Smith"? It's been a while.
Hey Wonk,

Couple of questions/short essay prompts for you on this year's Illini:

(1) When will we know if it's safe to jump on the Jamar Smith bandwagon? As an Illinois fan, I have to admit that, after the last four years, I've never been so happy to see the name "Smith" on the back of an Illinois jersey. Unfortunately, it seems pretty much inevitable that his PPWS will fall from its now-lofty 1.481. Any thoughts on whether he might be for real?

(2) On the radio call for tonight's Illinois-UALR game, Jerry Hester attributed some of Dee Brown's problems at point guard to an MJ-like tendency to mistrust his teammates until they proved themselves "worthy" a la John Paxson. Hester brought it up after Smith drained his fourth three-pointer, pointing out that all Smith's baskets had come off of Brown's assists. I would love to believe this theory, but the Illinois offense has gone from buttery-smooth in '04-'05 to agonizingly clunky in the last few games. How much does Brown get the benefit of the doubt on this one?

Thanks for the thoughts, and keep up the great work on the blog!

Greg C.

Thanks, Greg. My thoughts:

(1) Oh Smith's for real, all right--but this Illini fan is selfish. I want said reality to last the whole season. Hope Smith's notably un-hefty physique (the one characteristic he shares in common with the previous wearer of the "Smith" jersey, by the way) doesn't leave him vulnerable to a fatigue-induced February swoon.

(2) Interesting theory! Given that Brown racked up 10 assists last night, here's hoping he's found the entire team "worthy" at this point.

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