Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Geek Day
Sorry for the lack of advance notice but today is the first in a series of occasional Geek Days here at Big Ten Wonk

Your intrepid blogger is a close and astute reader of the emails that roll into the mail room here at Wonk World HQ and thus is well aware that this blog's readers fall into two basic groups:

--Readers who ask if I've died if the week's PPWS list is a half-hour late
--Readers who wonder if I really know Bootsy Collins

I want to give both groups enough goodies to keep coming back. So think of this as a day set aside for shameless pandering to the first group, a day called "Geek Day" because, um, the first group is more geeky. (Sorry, first group, it's true.) And for any whiners out there in the second group: hey, every day is second-group day.

And so, in today's Geek Day news....

The West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC): first in stats
Not to out-Kyle Whelliston Kyle Whelliston or anything but this morning I wish to direct your attention toward our hoops brethren in D-II and send congratulations and a big Wonk salute to the WVIAC, the first conference in the nation, so far as I'm aware, to post tempo-free stats to its official men's basketball page. The stats are here and to readers of this blog they'll look quite familiar. (Wow, Fairmont State is the Iowa of the WVIAC, huh? Nice D!)

With these wacky newfangled stats leaching into the hoops soil in small but interesting ways (today the WVIAC, tomorrow the Big Ten!), I want to do some follow-up on the wacky newfangled stats primer I posted at the beginning of the season. This "intro to tempo-free stats" has frankly surprised and even somewhat disconcerted me with its ability to continually draw traffic away from my more contemporary musings on the news of the day.

Allow, then, three points which I would add as a new preface to the leather-bound personally-autographed Six-Week Anniversary Edition of "This is tempo-free stats"....

1. I didn't create any of this stuff. I'm delighted a few of you have found the primer to be a convenient sum-up of useful information. But I see verb phrases like "developed by" attached to my name from time to time and grow fretful. By starting said primer with the words "Tempo-free stats aren't new," I intended to underscore the fact that I'm late to this particular gig and so to give credit where, so far as I understand, it is due:

--To 1950s-era North Carolina coach Frank McGuire, who tracked his teams' performance in terms of efficiency and indeed used the term "points per possession" in print as far back as 1959.
--To hoops analyst Dean Oliver, who was all of 19 when, in 1988, he developed the basic method we still use to start with a box score and end up with the number of possessions in a game.
--To blogger extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy, who's refined Oliver's work and continually updates an absolutely indispensable listing of efficiency stats for every D-I team.

2. While playing with this stuff I didn't create, I made some choices. Like "tempo-free" instead of "possession-based" (I just thought the former worked better because it could take in rebound percentages as well as the per-possession stuff) and points per possession (PPP) instead of points per 100 possessions (if we can see the meaningful difference between a 3.00 ERA and a 4.00, we can, I thought, distinguish a 0.90 PPP from a 1.20). But none of this is set in stone, thank goodness, and I encourage everyone to be their own creator and to make the choices that work best for them.

3. Just because I'm occasionally uninterested in free throws doesn't mean you have to be. I'm of the personal opinion that Oliver's "Four Factors" (shooting, rebounding, turnovers, free throws) should be understood more in the literal algebraic sense of the term (there are four factors in the equation to determine number of possessions) than in a "keys to the game" kind of way. Free throws are, of course, a source of points just as the District of Columbia is a source of presidential votes in the Electoral College. But I note that last year Penn State was the best team in the Big Ten at limiting opponents' free throw attempts and Michigan State was the worst and conclude that, extremes in either direction notwithstanding, other areas of discussion may prove more rewarding--just as a reporter on the campaign trail might conclude that swing states with 25 electoral votes might be more enlightening subjects of study than DC with its three votes.

OK, second group. It's safe to come out now....

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

Illinois coach Bruce Weber says stats, schmats: Dee Brown is the straw that stirs the Illini drink. "The biggest thing is, he's carried that torch of how hard you have to play. The effort, the focus, all the things he's saying in the hotel, in the locker room. If Dee's not there, we're missing all that. He's so key to us, there's no doubt." Weber also thinks this year's team might have a leg up on last year's in at least one category. "In a way, we might be better defensively than last year because (Brian) Randle can be a stopper and Rich (McBride) has been solid. And the post guys are a year older and have a little more size."...Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper says the 10-0 start's made him a believer: "Viewing this team as a Final Four candidate is not such a silly notion."

Indiana fans will want to head over to the Indianapolis Star this morning, where indefatigable Hoosier beat writer Terry Hutchens has posted the latest update to his excellent "Ask the Expert" Q&A feature.

Wisconsin guard Michael Flowers is looking good of late. (I refuse to make any easy puns here.)

Tonight's games
Minnesota plays UAB in Minneapolis. Hope Coach Mike Anderson and the fast-paced Blazers arrived safely--Twin Cities-based Wonk can personally attest that we're in the process of getting half-a-foot of snow as this post is being completed....Gopher freshman Jamal Abu-Shamala wasn't even offered a D-I scholarship out of high school--now he's playing big minutes and knocking down threes. "It's been great. I'm loving it," says the now-on-scholarship Shamala....Readers will of course find an excellent preview of tonight's game at Gopher Hoops this morning.

Northwestern plays Illinois-Chicago in Evanston and Wildcat coach Bill Carmody says stats, schmats: Vedran Vukusic needs some help in the scoring department. "Vedran doesn't have any assists, but where's he going to throw the ball? Is he going to throw the ball to himself?"...Tonight's game serves as a Chicago version of the Braggin' Rights game, as it were. (WARNING: this link contains use of the term "step up." Reader discretion is advised. I'm pleased to announce the formation of the Stamp Out "Step Up" Vigilance Committee. The members of the SOSUVC will henceforth offer Big Ten Wonk readers the kind of ratings that concerned parents have come to expect in the upper-right hand corner of the screen with their TV shows.)

Ohio State plays Belmont in Columbus. At the risk of sounding like a hoops blogger looking desperately for some hoops (guilty), this could actually be an interesting match of styles (more precisely, style). In recent years the Bruins have been, for lack of a better term, the Ohio State of the Atlantic Sun conference, shooting lots of threes out of 1-4 offensive sets. (Did I ever mention I really get a lot of use out of my Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook?)

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The Belmont of the Big Ten
Yesterday your intrepid blogger happened to mention that Ohio State shot 32 threes against Norfolk State Monday night. Wonk's readers respond!


OK, OSU jacks a lot of threes. So what? So did all of Rick Pitino's teams. So do Billy Donovan's, and Bruce Weber's teams. Matter of fact, Illinois shot nothing but threes last year.

Rod D.

Rod, dude, you misread me! So what indeed! I forecast no doom, only that the shots will have to go in. Last year Illinois and Ohio State both shot roughly the same number of threes in proportion to their overall attempts in-conference. The men in orange sank about 41 percent of their threes and their offense looked like Illinois in 2005. The Buckeyes sank about 32 percent of their threes and their offense looked like Ohio State in 2005. It's all about the shots going in.

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