Reprinted without commentThe following comes from a Christmas Day piece penned by columnist Todd Schulz of the Lansing State Journal:By this point in a typical Michigan State basketball season, there's usually plenty of danger, real or perceived, to shout about.By this point, enemies have been spotted on the horizon or spilling over the gates of the Spartans' stronghold.By this point, MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo is usually in full crisis-management mode, convinced his carefully constructed kingdom is collapsing around him....By comparison, this season's MSU squad can stand on the ramparts, scan the skies and see many more possibilities than problems....There is, of course, a small blip on Izzo's radar. At last check, the Spartans ranked last in the Big Ten - yes, last - in scoring defense, surrendering almost 75 points per game.
In seasons past, this stat would have set off sirens at MSU, where defense is a pillar of the program.
Now that he's issued the appropriate stern warnings, Izzo is trying not to panic. He knows the number is inflated by overtime games and MSU's up-tempo style of play. And he knows his team can improve, especially with increased practice time during the holiday break.
For a change, Izzo has the luxury of focusing on possibilities instead of problems. That's the best Christmas present he--and MSU fans--could hope for this year.OK, this is a test. I want to see how closely you've been reading your Wonk. Send me your response to this piece. How Socratic! Or lazy, one of the two....In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated. They're current through December 27! They're tempo-free! They reflect wildly varying levels of opposition! Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy. In other news, there's officially been some hoops played since my last post....The holiday in hoops--last Wednesday!Illinois beat Missouri 82-50 at the Savvis Center in St. Louis. The Illini played Iowa-level D, holding the Tigers to an effective FG pct. of just 37.5 and only 50 points in a 71-possession game. Dee Brown led Illinois with 17 points (hitting 4-of-7 threes) and seven assists. (Box score.)Michigan State beat Wisconsin-Green Bay 98-69 in Green Bay. This was the most dominant offensive performance achieved by the Spartans so far this year: 98 points in a game with just 72 possessions. Shannon Brown (26 points), Mo Ager (25) and Paul Davis (25) scored 76 points between them--and needed only 39 FGAs to do so. (Brown even added eight assists.) State was actually fairly generous in giving the ball away (16 TOs) but it mattered not one whit because just about anything they threw up went in and, in the rare instance of a miss, they pounded the offensive glass (40.9 oreb pct.). (Box score.)Minnesota beat Grambling 88-64 in Minneapolis. This is what Vincent Grier does: scores 25 points thanks in large part to 13 trips to the line. Moe Hargrow sat this one out due to "a violation of team policy." Two spanking good recaps of this one to choose from: one here over at Gopher Hoops and another one here courtesy of Golden Gopher Hoops. Make haste! (Box score.)The holiday in hoops--last Thursday! Iowa beat Robert Morris 73-51 in Iowa City. Defense again got it done for the Hawkeyes, as they held their opponent to an effective FG pct. of under 40 (in this instance 33.9) for the sixth time in 12 games. Indeed, the field goal D that Steve Alford's men are inflicting on opposing teams is becoming borderline ridiculous. Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ledger, Adam Haluska led the home team with 18 points and hit 4-of-7 threes. And Greg Brunner got his 15-10 dub-dub in just 28 minutes and then promptly took a seat on the bench--who says coaches aren't looking at the stats during the game? (Box score.) Michigan beat Miami of Ohio 87-80 in Ann Arbor. What a weird game. On the one hand, this is the most efficient 40 minutes of offense that any Big Ten team has played in any game this year: 87 points in a really slow game (57 possessions) nets out to 1.52 points per possession. Wow. (For comparison's sake, Wake Forest led all "major"-conference teams last year--even Illinois--with 1.20 points per possession in-conference.) The Wolverines turned the ball over just six times and shot better than any Big Ten team has shot this year (a 75.0 effective FG pct.)....Only problem being, of course, that the mere seven-point margin of victory means Tommy Amaker's team also gave the RedHawks an astounding 1.40 PPP. Granted, the final score was misleading--Michigan led by 15 late and Miami made things a little more interesting with five threes in the final four minutes. Still, considering Michigan's been getting it done with D thus far this season (UCLA beat the Wolverines scoring just 0.99 PPP), this could be an ominous development--or just weird low-attendance holiday nuttiness. Stay tuned. (Box score.) BONUS RedHawks note! "RedHawks." Not a typo! In fact, Miami is reportedly canvassing well-to-do alumni to establish an endowment fund for a space.The holiday in hoops--last Friday!Indiana beat Butler 73-55 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Marco Killingsworth and Robert Vaden contributed some interesting stats, namely: a combined 49 points (including a combined 11-of-12 from the line (!)) and 10 turnovers. D.J. White played just 11 minutes. In a slow game (59 possessions), the Bulldogs still managed to shoot 26 threes--but made only five. (Box score.)Minnesota beat South Dakota State 80-61 in Minneapolis. Adam Boone recorded 12 (count 'em, 12) assists. The Jackrabbits turned the ball over 24 times. Vincent Grier sat this one out due to "a violation of team policy." Once again, two dang handy recaps of this one to choose from: one here over at Gopher Hoops and another one here courtesy of Golden Gopher Hoops. (Box score.)Ohio State beat Tennessee State 74-65 in Columbus. I've been waggling a finger at the Buckeyes of late, saying their hot shooting can't last forever. Sure enough, it ended Friday night (TSU actually shot better than the home team) but it didn't matter: OSU shot 25 free throws and the Tigers attempted just six. Ballgame. (Box score.)Northwestern beat Division III DePauw 69-36 in Evanston. Nothing to be said, except: why was this scheduled? (Box score.)The holiday in hoops--tonight!Michigan plays Coppin State in Ann Arbor. Wolverine officials plan to show the Alamo Bowl (Michigan vs. Nebraska) on Crisler Arena's big screens immediately following the game. Michigan State plays Tennessee Tech in East Lansing. Spartan point guard Drew Neitzel says he thinks he needs to work on his D. "I'm pretty disappointed in the way I've been playing defense lately....That's my main emphasis right now, even more than running the team."Penn State plays IPFW (fast becoming the New Jersey Generals of the Big Ten) in State College. Nittany Lion coach Ed DeChellis says his young team is working hard to get ready for Big Ten play: "The next 6-7 days are about us trying to show improvement."Illinois plays Southeast Missouri State in Champaign. Backup Illini point guard Chester Frazier is expected to return to action after missing the last three weeks with a torn left quad. As regards the starter at that position, Bruce Weber has proclaimed himself satisfied with the play of Dee Brown: "Dee has settled into becoming a solid point guard. He's not forcing things like he sometimes did early." Ohio State plays Gardner-Webb in Columbus. Get your nifty game preview here, courtesy of the Buckeye Sports Blitz blog.Purdue plays Tennessee-Martin in West Lafayette. Boiler big man Gary Ware is getting more minutes in Carl Landry's absence and he says he's ready for the challenge! WARNING. The Stamp Out "Step Up" Vigilance Committee (SOSUVC) has reviewed this link and can certify only the first ten paragraphs as "step up"-free. After that, reader discretion is advised.Wisconsin plays Louisiana Tech in Madison. Bo Ryan says he thinks his team's been "solid" on the boards. "But you can always get better."Tempo-free stats world domination update (hereafter TFSWDU)Take a bow, West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference! Your first-in-the-nation decision to post tempo-free stats to your official men's basketball page has presaged a notable upswing in TFS talk. Over the holidays Luke Winn at SI.com used these wacky newfangled stats to see if he could divine who's going to be heard from in March. Then just yesterday, Rob Schultz at the (Madison) Capital Times noted that Bo Ryan's been using points-per-possession for years. "That tells more than any other statistic if you've been successful or not," says Ryan of PPP. Schultz then took Ryan at his word and looked at the Badgers' season thus far from a PPP perspective. Good stuff!
Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! BONUS pre-holiday backfill! Greg Oden, Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose--these oft-mentioned high school ballers were all in action in Indy a couple weeks back. Wonk's readers respond!Wonk, Your roving reporter and his sidekick--son Nathan, 11--pulled themselves off the sports couch and hauled their rears to a local showing of some incredible Midwestern High school (and future Big Ten) talent at the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis on December 17. Nathan and I wore our Illini orange and were awestruck at the amount of orange gracing the fieldhouse at suburban Southport, Indiana. We saw the final two (and most anticipated) games of the classic that Saturday night.
The first game pitted Eric Gordon’s North Central High School (Indy) vs. his friend Derrick Rose’s Chicago Simeon team. Illinois has Gordon and wants his friend Rose. Rose tried to make a statement early, showing off his blazing speed with the ball. Though he made some superb passes for easy baskets, when he went one-on-one he was called for traveling and mishandled the ball numerous times in the first half. Though his team did well, he seemed listless and tame in the second half. Still, he’ll make a great point guard with his passing skills.
Gordon, on the other hand, was a revelation. After starting slow—allowing his team to get in gear—he dominated the second half. At a key point in that half North Central switched to a zone, which allowed Gordon to pick off two passes in a row, dunking both of them at then other end. The second one, especially, while flying over a Simeon guard under the rim, shot the Illini faithful to their feet, roaring and clapping like we were in Champaign. Look forward to great times with Gordon, Illini fans! He can score inside and outside, he can pass, he can play great defense, he can dribble and drive, he can jump and rebound!
The second game saw future Illini Brian Carlwell’s Proviso East vs. the cream of Indiana basketball, Lawrence North with Greg Oden and Mike Conley, who both go next year to Ohio State. Before the game, the papers quoted Carlwell saying he would prove he was better than Oden—the kind of bragging Bruce Weber will never allow him to do next year. And here’s why: Oden—who confessed to reading what Carlwell said—completely dominated him, trash talking him under his breath. Oden seemed possessed while hustling down the court, getting position on Carlwell, outrebounding and outscoring him. Carlwell was easily flustered and got too mad at his teammates, though he has the skills. If we can’t get Oden, we Illini will take him!
Conley also had some good moves to the basket. At one point, Oden hurt his knee and limped to the bench. Hearts stopped. Somewhere, Thad Matta was having a seizure, we Illini joked from the sidelines. But we were just jealous. Oden went back in the game, and Ohio State will do VERY well for the year or two that Oden is a Buckeye.
Bonus: we sat near Bruce Weber and my son and I got his autograph. I wished his leg well and he laughed when I said, “Wouldn’t it be great to have both Gordon and Rose?”
Your Unsolicited Reporter,
Well-scouted, David. Thanks!