Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Presenting the All-Wonk Team (1.0)
Ah, December. That season of final exams and a severely reduced hoops schedule. Just three Big Ten teams in action the past two nights. Only one game on tap for tonight....

And so I'm driven to that hoariest of cliches, that last refuge for the idea-starved scribe, the All-(Something) Team. For those of you who moaned and wailed about Geek Day yesterday, here's your make-good! Something as patently superficial as an All-(Something) Team stands in roughly the same exclusionary yet alluring relation to geeks as prom or "outdoors."

First, a simple reminder: I like to morph my All-Wonk teams on the fly. Watch for a better 2.0 version in a month or two--better because it will have more games behind it.

And so, without further ado....

Daniel Horton, Michigan
The All-Wonk needs a point guard (last year's, arguably, had three) and this selection came down to a photo-finish between Horton and Drew Neitzel. (Yes, we see you, Jamar Butler. Nice numbers--we'll be keeping an eye on you.) In fact, I have a feeling that if we wait a couple weeks, it might be Neitzel getting the nod here. But as of this morning, Horton truly has been the best point guard in the Big Ten so far this year: he scores more (and, by a hair, more efficiently) than Neitzel, turns the ball over less, and dishes almost as many assists (speaking tempo-free here, naturally). Most importantly, he's a strong perimeter defender, an area that constitutes Neitzel's primary weakness. Last-minute update: I drafted this ode to a Wolverine not knowing that this very same Horton was about to become the subject of blogger extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy's maiden article for Ken's write up is behind a paid wall but I can tell you this much having read it: Horton is indeed shooting and taking care of the ball much better than in years past. And he improves the Wolverine D with his very presence.

Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State
The All-Wonk needs a 2-guard and this dude's hitting 56.7 percent on his threes. Next topic!...OK, a couple more thoughts....Will Foster's 3FG pct. stay that high? Of course not! Will we see Mo Ager in this slot 'ere long? Could be. But Foster's the pick right now. (Still, talk about apples and oranges: Foster's on a team that until this week had only played four games and that spreads the wealth on its perimeter shots. Ager, conversely, is on a team that's played nine games and that relies heavily on him for perimeter shooting. Result: up until the tip-off of last night's Ohio State-Belmont game, Ager had taken almost as many shots in the triple-OT Gonzaga game alone, 27, as Foster had all year, 39.)

Marco Killingsworth, Indiana
It's a mark of the esteem that I hold for Killingsworth that the beastly Hoosier is included here even though he's a 55 percent free throw shooter who leads the Big Ten in turnover percentage (8.3) by a comfortable margin. Not to mention Killingsworth's been uneven--which is saying something when you've only played seven games. But make no mistake: he belongs on the All-Wonk. What impressed this observer most about the Duke happening was not only the bottom line (34 and 10) but also the multitude of different ways in which he reached those numbers. He wasn't just posting up. He took defenders off the dribble. He sank a couple jumpers. He ran the floor and dunked. In other words, Killingsworth is (can be) more than just a low-block monster (when he shows up). His assist numbers, for example, are markedly superior to those of his fellow bigs on this elite unit. If the Killingsworth mania after the Duke game was premature, the backlash after the Indiana State game was even more so. He's real.

Courtney Sims, Michigan
Sims scores fewer points per game than Killingsworth (16.4 vs. 20.1) but in just about every other way he's superior statistically to the beast of Bloomington. Most notably, he's a better rebounder (19.1 vs. 17.8 reb. pct.) and more efficient in his scoring (1.36 vs. 1.30 PPWS--granted, Killingsworth is hurt in this comparison by his atrocious free throw shooting; even so, Sims, barely, has the better effective FG pct. of the two). Note, then, that this is not your 2004-05 Courtney Sims. There are in fact two things that are different about Sims this year: 1) he's rebounding much better; and 2) his teammates are getting him the ball in scoring position. Will these numbers stay this good? No. The Wolverines haven't faced much in the way of quality opposing frontcourts. But Sims has taken the opportunities he's been given by the schedule. BONUS scouting note to future opponents! Sims never dishes assists. Ever. I mean, like, never ever. Granted, big men in general aren't assist machines but Sims is a big man's big man. No, even better, you know that big man's big man? Sims is like that big man's big man's big man: three assists this year. So go ahead, double him. Nothing bad will happen.

Paul Davis, Michigan State
Davis is the Wonk POYSF--player of the year so far. I'm of the personal opinion that Davis and his beastly 26.4 defensive rebounding pct. (second in the conference only to Graham Brown's 28.3) are all that have stood between the Spartans and a total defensive collapse--which, granted, might not look all that different than what we've seen, given that State has the worst defense in the Big Ten. But getting back to Davis....There are three outstanding big men on the All-Wonk and Davis is the best of the three: the most efficient scorer (1.39 PPWS), the most prolific scorer (20.6), the best rebounder (19.8 reb. pct.), and the best caretaker of the ball (3.2 TO pct.). He's been quite simply the best player in the conference so far this year. Big Ten POYSF Paul Davis, Wonk salutes you!

Tough to leave off! But Wonk did! The following players are ready to pounce and land on Wonk 2.0 should any of the above stumble.

Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern
Granting certain readily apparent stylistic and visual dissimilarities, Vukusic looks poised to become this year's Carl Landry: a wonderful player on a struggling team.

Graham Brown, Michigan
The best rebounder in the Big Ten:

Reb. pct., through December 14 (more about this stat)
1. Graham Brown, Michigan (21.4)
2. Paul Davis, Michigan State (19.8)
3. Courtney Sims, Michigan (19.1)
4. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (18.9)
5. Milos Bogetic, Penn State (18.5)
6. Marco Killingsworth, Indiana (17.8)
7. Marquise Gray, Michigan State (17.5)
8. Shaun Pruitt, Illinois (17.4)
9. James Augustine, Illinois (16.8)
10. J'son Stamper, Minnesota (16.5)

J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State
I send the love this guy's way so often, I should be his agent.

BONUS rhetorical question! What about Illinois?
They're 10-0 and the highest ranked Big Ten team--so where are the men in orange in this discussion? Well, this Illini fan invites your suggestions--because your intrepid blogger honestly doesn't see who you're going to put in the above company. James Augustine has almost certainly been Illinois' best player to date and yet just as certainly has not had a first month equal to those enjoyed by messrs. Davis, Sims, and Killingsworth. Still, no shame to be had here. The Illini may not have a star at the moment but they've been the best Big Ten team thus far.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Illinois-Chicago beat Northwestern 71-62 in Evanston last night. One of my favorite movies is Bringing Up Baby, the 1938 screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. This classic includes the following line spoken by Grant to Hepburn: "It's not as if I don't like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet I'm strangely drawn to you. It's just that there haven't been any quiet moments." That's kind of what happened to the Wildcats last night. It's not as if they didn't shoot well because, after all, they hit 62.5 percent of their two-point attempts. It's just that there were no two-point attempts. Instead NU shot 23 threes and missed 19 of them. Ballgame (even though the Flames were almost as frigid from outside). Justin Bowen scored 20 points after halftime for UIC and after the game Wildcat coach Bill Carmody had some tart words for the man guarding Bowen, Vedran Vukusic. "I didn't think it was a good game for [Vukusic]. I didn't like his body language. He has to be the guy that picks everybody up. He can't let other people know when things aren't going perfectly for him." (Actual day-after headline: "Bowen dazzles, Vukusic doesn't." Ouch!) Show 'em the love, Kyle Whelliston! Illinois-Chicago now has wins in ACC (Georgia Tech) and Big Ten arenas this year--so watch out, Syracuse! The Flames pay a visit to the Carrier Dome next Wednesday. (Box score.)

Minnesota beat UAB 69-68 last night in Minneapolis. Blazer guard Marvett McDonald tied the game with a three with about ten seconds left--but then, for reasons still not entirely clear to yours truly, Demario Eddins went a-hacking (in a tie game, mind you) at newly-returned-from-injury Gopher guard Moe Hargrow. With 7.5 seconds showing on the clock, Hargrow made one of two free throws and when UAB's Squeaky Johnson missed a last-chance shot, the win went to Minnesota. Hargrow led the Gophers with 20 points. "Moe was unbelievable with how much time he was off and how much pain he was in," Dan Monson said after the game. Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse echoes the coach: Hargrow "had the look of a man among college kids" against UAB. Last night's contest marked the first time since the season opener against North Dakota State that Monson had Hargrow, Vincent Grier, and Adam Boone all on the floor--and astute Gopher observer Jeff Shelman says that "without any of the three, the Gophers probably would not have won the game."...In their customarily thorough and observant game recap over at Gopher Hoops this morning, the two Grants say they were impressed by Squeaky Johnson: "a poor man's Steve Nash." (Box score.)

Ohio State beat Belmont 85-75 in Columbus last night. In what is becoming a troubling habit, the Buckeyes let a 14-point lead disappear and actually trailed 48-47 early in the second half before putting the game away. (Chalk it up to the fatigue of playing three games in five days; so says the Buckeye Sports Blitz blog this morning.) Not a lot of defense in this one. There were 37 threes launched in Value City "College Hoops Equivalent of U.S. Cellular Field" Arena last night and 20 of them went in. Terence Dials had perhaps the worst game he's going to have this year: three points on 0-of-7 shooting with four turnovers and seven boards. Conduct unbecoming an undefeated team. The Buckeyes were absolutely beaten senseless on the defensive glass, giving the feisty Bruins no fewer than 14 offensive boards. (Ye gods.) (Box score.)...It was announced yesterday that the Buckeyes will play Cincinnati next year in the John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis. The game will mark the first time Ohio State's played the Bearcats since the 1962 NCAA tournament championship game.

Wisconsin plays Wisconsin-Milwaukee tonight in Madison. The Panthers are coached by Rob Jeter, who left the Badgers' coaching staff last spring to take the post in Milwaukee. Jeter served with Bo Ryan as an assistant for ten years and played for Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville. Under Jeter's watch, UWM has gone from the trapping and pressing up-tempo style we (and Alabama and Boston College) remember from last March to more of a Ryanesque swing thing.

Is Michigan back? Could be, says Jim Spadafore in this morning's Detroit News: "Bad times and bad luck appear to be over for the Michigan basketball program....Pride is back and slowly the fans might follow." Spadafore also terms Saturday's home game against UCLA "huge" and says (correctly) that a win would land the Wolverines in the top 25....The aforementioned astute Gopher observer Jeff Shelman, as Wonk readers well know, moonlights for, where this morning he says "this season might be different" for Tommy Amaker's team. And at this morning, Frank Burlison says Michigan (along with Indiana, among others) has been one of the season's most pleasant surprises. Wow: Pomeroy, Spadafore, Shelman, Burlison--plus (and this is the big one) your intrepid blogger put two Wolverines on the All-Wonk Team! Is this all just a smidge too much love for a team that beat Boston U. by five? Dunno. Tune in Saturday.

Iowa received a verbal commitment yesterday from high school baller Malik Perry, a small forward out of Philadelphia. The 6-5, 225-pound Perry will join Justin Johnson, Cyrus Tate, and Jamie Vanderbeken in next season's class of new arrivals to the Hawkeye program.

Keen-eyed Michigan State observer Dave Dye has an interesting thought this morning: Tom Izzo praises his team when fans and media are criticizing them--and criticizes his team when fans and media are praising them. Inveterate iconoclast Tom Izzo, Wonk salutes you!...More from the will-Drew Naymick-redshirt beat here and here. (Let's not get all Mario Cuomo about this--it ain't the Kyoto protocols. I say fish or cut bait!)

Former Illinois guard Deron Williams was cited by Park City, Utah, police this week for giving a false name to officers investigating a bar fight in the mountain resort town.

"A date to remember"?
Pretty much the instant I hit "publish" yesterday, all blogospheric heck broke loose here at Wonk World HQ. To recap....

In yesterday's Geek Day post, I saluted the farsighted innovators at D-II's West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC) for becoming the first conference in the nation to post tempo-free stats on their official men's basketball page.

First in the nation. Pretty laudatory, no? Anyway, I thought so.

Man, was I wrong! Within minutes the usually irenic and understated Ken Pomeroy had gone all Dick Vitale on my tepid little "first-in-nation" claim:

You may have already read over at Big Ten Wonk about the WVIAC calculating various tempo-free stats for the teams in its conference. Wonk indicates that the WVIAC is the first conference to take such a step. I’ll go one further and offer that the WVIAC is the first basketball organization at any level to produce these stats as official and distribute them to the world.

It may be an insignificant development to you, since you don’t really care that West Liberty’s defense is deceptively good. But at some point, somebody in a D1 conference’s office will be thinking about doing this. And their boss won’t laugh as hard at this idea because hey, somebody else is already doing it and the coaches and media in that conference actually find it useful. I don’t know when that will happen, but when it does, 12-14-2005 will be a date to remember [emphases added].

OK, so maybe it was a bigger deal than I said. Ken would know.

Speaking of Ken, he also announced yesterday that he is now an contributor--and he promptly contributed! Specifically, an excellent piece (available to ESPN Insider subscribers) on the newly-efficient Daniel Horton.

So Ken's at ESPN. I'm stunned, honestly. Stunned that it took this long for a content provider to act in accordance with what this blogger said eight months ago: Ken is the best college basketball writer in the country, period. The larger world of paid subscribers is about to find that out.

Which is all well and good but let's keep the focus on me, shall we? The way I figure, my April proclamation on Ken leaves me ideally positioned for Jon Landau-to-Pomeroy's-Springsteen-brand points for prescience. Sweet!

Nor was the day over just yet. Afternoon came around and Ken and your intrepid blogger landed very nice mentions in Grant Wahl's Mailbag at

One of the great results of the blogging craze is that college basketball (a sport that generally has a smarter following than, say, the NFL) has attracted some extremely sharp minds who look at statistics in enlightened ways. Namely, they focus on tempo-free stats, which give you a much more accurate view of efficiency that isn't connected merely to how many possessions a team has or how many shots an individual player gets in a game.

There's more, including a description of Wahl showing Ken's stat page to Gonzaga Director of Basketball Operations Jerry Krause. ("When I showed Krause the stats Pomeroy keeps on his website he was hooked instantly.") Between Wahl's piece and Ken's analysis on Horton, there was more discussion and actual use of tempo-free stats in mainstream venues yesterday alone than (top this, Pomeroy!) IN THE REST OF RECORDED HISTORY COMBINED!

A date to remember, indeed.

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

Mommy, where do POTs come from?


You recently stated that offensive rebounds are hard to come by when you shoot a high proportion of threes. I also see that you do a very good job of backing that up with numbers in your assessment of POTs (perimeter-oriented teams).

However, I am wondering if you may have your causes and effects a bit discombobulated? Not to defy your intrepid blogger's undoubtedly sound logic, but this seems a likely possibility. Often times an offensive rebound will be finished as a put-back or a quick pass and a lay-up, thus lowering a team's 3FGA/FGA.

Therefore, it's not that shooting more threes will cause you to become a poorer offensive rebounding team, it's that becoming a better offensive rebounding team will cause you to shoot fewer threes.


By the way, your site is magnificent. I only recently discovered its joys, and presume I shall be making daily visits until mid-spring. No longer must I navigate the advertising quagmires of ESPN, Sportsline, CNN/SI, etc. to fulfill my Big Ten hoops fix. You have brought them all to me! I am very thankful; keep up the good work!

Alex H.
Madison, WI

Egad! A correlation-vs.-causation debate!

At last, style-sensitive hoops critique (hereafter SSHC) has produced its first weighty question for our research agenda--woo-hoo! This heralds the arrival of a fully-developed disciplinary praxis! A methodological consensus! (Perhaps even, dare I utter it, an episteme?) Anyway, it calls for some serious chin-pulling. I envision symposia! Colloquia! A new Journal of Tempo-Free Stats with monographs like "'Keady's Got Back': Offensive Rebounding at Purdue, 1983-2005--A Pomeroyean Approach"....

Excellent email, Alex. In fact, I think I've found the year's first nominee for inclusion in April's "five best emails of the year" countdown. Now, about your query....

Certainly if I haul down an offensive board directly under the tin, I'm not going to dribble out to the three-point line to redress my team's imbalanced 3FGA/FGA number. And my spidey sense tells me (though it'd be interesting to augment said sense with some numbers) that offensive boards do indeed seem to come in bunches of twos and threes on tips and missed layups. So to a certain extent I think you make a very good point.

Yeah--but then there's Ohio State. Their offensive sets are consciously designed, a priori, not to get offensive rebounds. As I've noted before, when Terence Dials is in the game, Thad Matta puts the other four players outside the three-point line when the Buckeyes have the ball. You're simply not going to get many offensive boards with this distribution of personnel--but you will likely shoot a lot of threes. (And bear in mind I'm not tut-tutting any lack of offensive rebounds and in fact I have no problem here so long as it puts points on the board. Stylistic pluralism reigns supreme in these here parts, with success being the only criterion.)

Lastly, just to close out this little reductio ad absurdum, there's Northwestern, a wicked confluence of system and personnel where anemic offensive rebounding's concerned. In addition to the familiar aspects of a Princeton-inflected system (which is to say spacing, passing angles, and back cuts), a less commonly noted feature is the premium this approach tends to place on preventing the other team from getting out in transition. This means pulling offensive players out of rebounding position and stationing them out top, so as to thwart any nascent fast breaks. Thus fewer offensive boards.

In other words, I think you're right, Alex: POTs don't suffer on the offensive glass because they shoot a lot of threes. More precisely, POTs suffer on the offensive boards because they're set up to get in position to shoot a lot of threes.

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