Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, December 29, 2005
We have our winners in the do-Wonk's-blog-for-him contest!
Yesterday I fairly pulled a George Costanza (see the episode where he avoids a work assignment by asking his protege to give him a book report on risk management) and asked the faithful readers to come back here today with a response to a Todd Schulz column in the Lansing State Journal. In said column Schulz opined that Michigan State's ugly defensive numbers are nothing to fret about because they're "inflated by overtime games and MSU's up-tempo style of play."

Wonk's readers respond!


As thousands (hundreds? dozens? three?) of your readers will note, Michigan State's league-worst scoring defense (as expressed in points allowed per game) should not be worrisome. What should be troubling to Izzo is that his team is in the bottom half of the league in point differential per possession:

Illinois, 0.28
Indiana, 0.25
Ohio State, 0.21
Wisconsin, 0.19
Michigan, 0.18
Iowa, 0.17
Minnesota, 0.12
Michigan State, 0.12
Penn State, 0.10
Northwestern, 0.04
Purdue, -0.02

Jeff I.

Thanks, Jeff. So much for the short-answer portion of the test. Now for the essay....


If your post on Wednesday were a 10-point essay question, I believe a 10-point answer would be:

In claiming that Michigan State has more possibilities than problems heading into the Big Ten season, Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz briefly hints at the Spartans' true problem, defense--but then sweeps it under the rug.

It is in fact clear that, unlike in years past, defense truly is the problem for the Spartans. While Schulz is correct to point out that Michigan State is last in the Big Ten in defense at 75 points allowed per game, he claims that this number is inflated due to tempo and the overtime games that they have played.

However, despite these overtime contests, Izzo's squad has played at a pace of only 69.4 possessions per game, which ranks fifth, right in the middle, of the Big Ten. And according to Ken Pomeroy, Michigan State ranks 189th in the country in possessions per game, not exactly the speedsters Schulz claims they are.

Another point that Schulz tries to make is that with the holiday break Michigan State will have plenty of practice time to correct their defensive inadequacies. But the Spartans have underperformed in almost every aspect of the defensive game. They don't force turnovers (dead last in the Big Ten and a ghastly 319th in the nation). Nor do they defend the three-point shot (ninth in the conference) or the two-point shot (eighth). In their defense, no pun intended, their rebounding has been passable: a 70.2 defensive rebounding percentage that ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

So if Izzo can just teach his team to create turnovers, defend on the interior, and defend the three-point shot--all in a week and a half--the Spartans' defense will be just fine heading into conference play.

Grant Peterson
Gopher Hoops

Ten points, Grant! But we're just getting started. Tune in tomorrow, alert readers, when longtime Wonk-backer and die-hard Sparty Shawn M. will give his customarily excellent everything's-fine rebuttal.

And then next week I'll give myself the last word--because it's my blog. So there.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Teams schedule their softest games in between Christmas and New Year's. Last night 11 top-25 teams were in action. They went 11-0 and won by an average of 21 points. The Big Ten was no exception to this trend....

Michigan beat Coppin State 81-53 last night in Ann Arbor. Dion Harris went 5-of-7 on his threes and led the Wolverines in both FGAs (12) and points (21). Daniel Horton notched the rare points-assists dub-dub with 11 and 10, respectively--and, with no fewer than six turnovers, Horton was just four TOs short of a tri-dub, as it were. Still, Tommy Amaker was pleased with how his team passed the rock: "I was really happy [with] the way we shared the ball." Brent Petway did not play and is expected to make his first appearance of the season Tuesday at Indiana. Petway was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Tennessee Tech 80-63 in East Lansing last night. The Spartans were held to just 28 first-half points and led by only three at the break. Mo Ager made 11 trips to the line and led the Spartans with 23 points. Matt Trannon sat out the game with a sprained ankle suffered in practice on Tuesday. Tom Izzo says this 10-game win streak is nice and all but he's worried about State playing four of its first six conference games on the road: "I know there's a train wreck coming. My job is to make sure we're ready for it. It is a brutal, brutal schedule." Not that Izzo's looking past MSU's last non-conference game, against Coppin State on Saturday: "I'm not looking ahead to those [conference] games, but I'm coaching for those games." (Box score.)

Penn State beat IPFW last night in State College. This was a tight game until the final five minutes when a 14-3 run sealed the victory for the Nittany Lions, who gave the Mastodons 19 turnovers in a game that wasn't especially fast (65 possessions). Travis Parker led PSU with a 17-10 dub-dub. Penn State is now 7-0 against teams outside the "major" conferences--and 0-3 against "power"-conference foes. (Box score.)

Illinois beat Southeast Missouri State 89-64 in Champaign last night. After falling behind 20-5, the Redhawks pulled within three midway through the first half and trailed by just nine at the half. But a 13-2 Illini run early in the second half put the game out of reach. Bruce Weber's team put up some notably gaudy rebounding numbers: a 47.1 offensive rebound pct. and an 84.2 on the defensive end. Dee Brown took a lot of shots (17) and led Illinois with 16 points. He had nothing on the Redhawks' Roy Booker, who did a pretty fair imitation of Adam Morrison: jacking up a ton of shots (20) and scoring plenty o' points (26). Backup point guard Chester Frazier returned to action for Weber and recorded five assists in only 13 minutes. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper says the Illinois bench enjoyed "one of its best games of the season." Warren Carter scored a career-high 14 points and Jamar ("Shooting is my job") Smith hit all four of his threes. Smith, says Tupper in the latest posting to his blog, "has become one of those players who shoots the ball and you’re practically stunned when it doesn’t go in." Weber sums up his team thusly: "I've told the guys, we're a good team. We don't have great players like we did last year. But if we play hard and play defense and play together, we can be a great team." (Box score.)

Ohio State beat Gardner-Webb 87-58 last night in Columbus. The Buckeyes were actually outrebounded in this game but turned the ball over just five times in a 71-possession game while holding the Bulldogs to an effective FG pct. of just 39.3. Terence Dials at last got some touches and responded like a man possessed: 23 points and nine boards in only 22 minutes. See the spanking good recaps to be had courtesy of the diligent bloggers at Buckeye Commentary (where this morning Wonk's been made into an adjective--cool!) and at Buckeye Sports Blitz. (Box score.)

Purdue beat Tennessee-Martin 62-54 in West Lafayette last night. The Boilers gave away 20 turnovers in a 68-possession game and made just three of 15 threes--and won, thanks in part to 1-of-13 shooting outside the arc by the Skyhawks. In a performance termed "brilliant" by at least one observer, Matt Kiefer recorded a 14-11 dub-dub for the home team. (BONUS Noam Chomsky note! I'm fairly confident this marks the first application of the adjective "brilliant" to this particular noun.) Skyhawks coach Brett Campbell offered the victors some highly qualified love after the game: "Purdue isn't the Big Ten's most talented team, but coach Painter has them playing the right way." (Box score.)

Wisconsin beat Louisiana Tech 78-52 last night in Madison. Brian Butch led four Badgers in double-figures and recorded an 18-10 dub-dub. Ray Nixon did his best Je'Kel Foster imitation and hit 4-of-5 threes. Tech's 6-8 all-around stud Paul Millsap, who came into the game averaging a double-double, was held largely in check, a result attributed by onlookers to the fact that Wisconsin's really tall. (Well, duh.) The Bulldogs had travel woes and didn't arrive in Madison until six hours before tip-off. (Box score.)

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

When you know what Wonk means, please overlook silly little things like accuracy

IPFW--"fast becoming the New Jersey Generals of the Big Ten"

Why? Is Donald Trump purchasing the school? Or maybe Herschel Walker is coming back to use his final year of eligibility playing hoops for IPFW?

Or perhaps, just maybe, you meant the Washington Generals?

Seriously though, just found your site and am enjoying it immensely,


D'oh! Onerous deadline pressures, editors' fault, not mine, etc., etc.

No, really, good catch. Thanks.

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