Big Ten Wonk
Monday, December 12, 2005
Of road and pseudo-road wins
As long as you had the foresight to avert your gaze and not glance toward Iowa, Penn State or Purdue, the Big Ten looked danged impressive this weekend, going 7-3 from Friday night through last night. Particularly noteworthy were four teams notching wins away from their home courts on Saturday....

Good shooting covers a lot of mistakes
Ohio State beat St. Joseph's 81-74 at the Palestra in Philadelphia. Playing just their fourth game, the Buckeyes hit their first seven threes and led by as many as 17 before hanging on for the seven-point win. Je'Kel Foster functioned as a veritable poster child for efficiency, needing only nine shots for the "24" half of a 24-10 dub-dub. See the briskly efficient recap at the Buckeye Sports Blitz blog. (Box score.)

Reasons to hop on the bandwagon. Ohio State is the best outside shooting team in the Big Ten right now and another week of reality-based perimeter shooting for Indiana will probably be enough to give the Buckeyes the honorific of best outside shooting Big Ten team period. Plus Thad Matta's scrappy pre-Odens are playing a level of interior FG defense surpassed only by profile-in-stingy Iowa.

Reasons to sit this bandwagon out (alert reader Rod D. take note!). Outstanding shooting is the only--and I mean only--thing that has propped up the Buckeye offense so far this year. Their offensive rebounding is weak and their turnovers have been extremely plentiful (including 21 in Philly Saturday). Not to mention they've only played four games--we know as little about Ohio State right now as we did about Illinois after the Wichita State game.

No, seriously....this is a Big East team?
Michigan beat South Florida 68-47 at the Sun Dome in Tampa. Defense carried the day for Tommy Amaker's team. The longer deeper Wolverines beat the hapless Bulls to a bloody pulp on the boards (40-28), forced the host team into 20 turnovers, and limited them to 3-of-14 shooting on their threes. (Box score.)

Reasons to finally believe. Two words: Graham Brown. This was his line Saturday: two points on 1-of-3 shooting, two assists, one turnover, 25 minutes--and 10 boards. He exists only to rebound and, assuming a night of reality-based board work for Ohio State's J.J. Sullinger tonight against Norfolk State, Brown will likely wake up tomorrow morning atop Wonk's list of the Big Ten's best rebounders.

Reasons to again disbelieve. Right now the Wolverine offense is a high-turnover, kinda-low offensive rebound production being carried by OK shooting (and overshadowed by outstanding defense). History suggests the "high-turnover" part of the equation is likely to continue--the shooting and defense will need to stay strong.

No, seriously....this is Kentucky?
Indiana beat Kentucky 79-53 in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers playing in Indy hardly qualifies as a true road game, granted, but still: beating the Wildcats by 26? Time travelers from, say, 30 years ago would have been utterly baffled by Kentucky's offense in this game (I'm not so sure I wasn't too): the Wildcats shot three after three after three--none of them going in (2-of 27 for the game). Fully 44 percent of their attempts were threes. At some point, even given the enticing 50 percent scoring bonus for the outside shot, don't you have to take it to the hole and see what happens? Apparently not. (Box score.)

Reason to think we'll see Indiana on this floor again in April. News flash: they beat Kentucky by 26.

Reasons to think we'll see Indiana in the stands watching a game on this floor in April. Well, there's the small matter of Indiana State, of course. But there's also the fact that Kentucky's really bad right now. Before the season even started Ken Pomeroy as much as told us they would be but, man, it's another thing entirely to actually see it happen, you know? I think the laudably cross-disciplinary die-hard Hoosier fan known as The Baseball Savant has put it best: "Mrs. Savant and I took in the game and, during the first four minutes, I told her that if Indiana doesn't win this game by at least 20 points then something is seriously wrong." Pretty much.

(Wonk's streak of consecutive posts without a duck-based pun continues!)
Illinois beat Oregon 89-59 in Portland. The 2005-version Dee Brown was resurrected, scoring 26 points and hitting 5-of-8 threes. Meanwhile the Illini D was shutting down the Ducks to the tune of 3-of-17 on threes and a defensive rebounding pct. of 80.0. (Box score.)

The Official Wonk Sister-in-Law attended the game in the Rose Garden in the company of the five-year-old Official Wonk Nephew and sent this EXCLUSIVE halftime report to Wonk World HQ via cell phone:

WONK: Hello?
OFFICIAL WONK SISTER-IN-LAW: John! I'm at the game! Illinois looks really...[cell signal dropped out]...Dee Brown is so...[cell signal dropped out]...Oregon doesn't seem like they...[cell signal dropped out]...Luke, honey, don't put that on your head...[cell signal dropped out]...I know you're hungry! I'm hungry too!...[cell signal dropped out]...Anyway, John, be sure and put all this in your blog, OK?
WONK: Hello?

Reasons to start ordering commemorative posters of this year's Illini. They're 10-0. They're doing it with defense, which tends to be a more loyal companion than that fickle mistress called outside shooting. And they haven't left the final TV timeout of any game without a chance to win since March 14, 2004. In fact, Illinois is 61-4 since January 25, 2004.

Reasons to dwell on last year's Illini--at length. Saying outside shooting is fickle is, of course, another way of saying that Illinois' outside shooting has been mediocre--and if not for freshman surprise Jamar Smith it would have been horrific. Indeed, the 10-0 conceals as much as it reveals, notably a one-point win over a Wichita State team that was thoroughly outclassed by Michigan State Saturday and a three-point win over a Xavier team that led Illinois most of the game. We also don't yet know what Bruce Weber's team will be able to show us in the area of post defense--but we'll find out next month.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated. They're current through December 11! They're tempo-free! They're highly misleading this early in the year! (But, all things being equal, a little less misleading with each passing week.) Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy.

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Friday!
Iowa State beat Iowa 72-60 in Ames. Hilton magic strikes again. (So where was it against Iona?) Horrific shooting (worse than Illinois shot against Georgetown last Thursday night) plus 20 turnovers equals a Horner-less Hawkeye loss, despite a career-high 14 points from Erek Hansen. Former Cyclone Adam Haluska led Iowa with 16 points but went just 4-of-13 from the field and 0-of-4 on his threes. Greg Brunner notched an 11-12 dub-dub. (Box score.)

The (non-road/pseudo-road win) weekend in Big Ten hoops--Saturday!
Wisconsin beat Marquette 77-63 in Madison. Before the season, I fretted that this year's notably tall Badgers might not be able to continue Bo Ryan's low-turnover ways. Now here we are a month later and the evidence so far suggests I needn't have fretted. Latest example: just nine TOs Saturday in a kinda-fast (71-possession) game. As for Kammron Taylor, yes, he led all scorers with 18--but it was a Bracey Wright kind of 18, one that required no fewer than 17 shots. Get over to Chris West's place, of course, for a nifty game recap. (Box score--prepare to scroll down.)

Pitt beat Penn State 91-54 in Pittsburgh. The first total melt-down, the kind we've come to expect from the Nittany Lions, has officially occurred. Now how will Ed DeChellis's team respond? (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Wichita State 83-64 at the Palace at Auburn Hills. Unconscious shooting (a 65.7 effective FG pct.) and 2005-like control of the offensive boards (40.0 offensive rebound pct.) propelled the Spartans to a surprisingly easy win over the Shockers. Another dub-dub for beastly Paul Davis? You bet--of the 20-11 variety. And Shannon Brown had 18 points and six (!) steals. (Box score.)

Minnesota beat UNLV 72-67 in Minneapolis. Vincent Grier made a surprise return and scored 19. Hindered with a still-recovering broken finger on his shooting hand, Grier eschewed jump shots in favor of driving and drawing fouls. You'd think the Rebels would have anticipated that and forced Grier to prove he could hit a shot. Apparently not. Get over to Gopher Hoops, of course, for a spanking good game recap. (Box score.)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--last night!
Loyola beat Purdue 80-65 in Chicago. Both teams attempted roughly the same number of threes but the Ramblers made seven and the Boilers made just two--thus the 15-point margin of victory for the home team at the Gentile Center (pronounced "gen-TEEL"--kudos to alert reader U. O'Sullivan). Indeed, Purdue is turning every team they play into the 2005 Fighting Illini: Boiler opponents are hitting 43 percent of their threes (ye gods). (Box score.)

The (extended) weekend in Big Ten hoops--tonight!
UNC-Wilmington plays Wisconsin in Madison and DeAaron Williams is starting to see more PT.

Norfolk State plays Ohio State in Columbus. The balanced Buckeyes boast of five players averaging double-figures in scoring.

BONUS all-Sparty edition of Wonk back!
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State-ly reader responses
On Friday your intrepid blogger fretted that Michigan State's poor defense and vanilla rebounding could spell Wake Forest-in-2005-style doom if not corrected post haste. Wonk's readers respond!


Foremost, love your site--it's a daily read.

How good is Michigan State? Well, it's a good question to ask, but don't you think all this talk of Michigan State being down, out of whack, and in trouble is a little much? Do other top-10 caliber teams get dissected this much? Perhaps but I guess I just don't hear it as much.

Frankly, had the Spartans never played Hawaii I don't even think the question would get asked. When judging MSU, I'm willing to wipe the Hawaii game off the slate. Bad situation, terrible game circumstances, etc. So outside of that contest the Spartans are 6-1 with the lone loss coming in triple over time against an incredibly talented offensive Gonzaga team. I say this puts the Spartans squarely into the top 8.

You've accurately pointed out the Spartans' top two weaknesses, defense and rebounding have been downright awful. I do believe you saw a glimpse of the defense we'll see come January. And that will be good enough to win the Big Ten in my opinion. Trannon just needs more time, and Gray needs more experience. In due time. One thing I do know about Michigan State is that they ALWAYS improve as the year goes on so I'm not too worried.

We could probably pose a similar question for Duke, UConn and Big Ten foes Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. Spartans will rely on their offense and hope the defense and rebounding are good enough. So far it seems to be the case.

Keep Wonking!

Jason K.

Thanks, Jason. And, yes, other top-10 teams get dissected--it's the blog mission statement! I fret about State because they're our (meaning the Big Ten's) best chance at having a beastly team this year. And yet their defense has been atrocious. Thus the worries. The easy solution, of course, is for Izzo's men to start playing D. Keep you posted.

Hi, Wonk,

I agree that Michigan State's rebounding and (especially) defense must improve this year for them to do more than Wake did last year, i.e. win a bunch of games and exit the tournament early. Hopefully the emergence of Gray and the return of Trannon will help in both respects, but the early returns are not encouraging. Both logged substantial minutes against BC and their defensive efficiency numbers did not improve. Since you've labeled the Spartans this years Wake, I'd like to nominate a team as this year's MSU: Illinois. In fact I'd go so far as to say you're lucky we don't sue you for patent infringement.

The Illini seem to be winning this year with a combination of stifling defense (which you had last year) and superior rebounding, which has been MSU's trademark since the late '90s. I haven't seen Illinois play much this season, but their win last night against Georgetown was a thing of beauty to this Spartan's eyes. The Illini offense was pedestrian, but that lock down D and dominance on the boards were well above par. In fact I would go so far as to say they were Spartanesque. Georgetown never had a chance.

What do you think MSU's problem on the boards/defense is this year, and do you think it can be fixed? As much as it pains me to say it, I think it must be just lack of want to, since they obviously aren't lacking in athleticism. Please tell me I won't have to watch that matador D for the rest of the year.

Mark J.

Thanks, Mark. But this Illinois fan can only wish that this year's Illini hit the defensive boards anywhere near as well as did last year's Spartans.

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