Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Call them "Iniana." Where's the D?
We've officially reached the point where it's OK to fret about previously worry-free Indiana. That point came for this blogger with about 12 minutes left in last night's surprisingly easy 87-73 dissection of the Hoosiers at the hands of Michigan State in East Lansing.

At that point I watched in something approaching open-mouthed disbelief as, with IU set in its half-court D and the shot clock winding down, Drew Neitzel (Drew Neitzel!) dribbled unmolested to the hole and laid the ball in. Now, Neitzel is a stellar offensive talent, one I've praised at some length. But he is not, to say the least, renowned and feared throughout the conference as a finisher. Yet there he was, waltzing happily to the basket for the gift deuce.

That's bad enough. What's worse is what followed: nothing. What should happen after Neitzel goes through your half-court D like a bride going down the aisle? Throw a stick at the top of the Big Ten's defensive rankings and you'll see teams where there would've been an immediate time out, benchings, and likely some clipboard damage.

Which would be eminently appropriate when your offense plays as well as Indiana's did last night (61.3 effective FG pct., only 12 turnovers) and yet you still lose by 14. (Incredible.) The Hoosier D gave the Spartans 1.31 points per possession. How bad is that? Worse than any other defense that's come to the Breslin Center this season--worse than IPFW (1.23), Georgia Tech (1.20), Cleveland State (1.07), Florida International (1.21), Tennessee Tech (1.09), or Coppin State (1.29).

Even without D.J. White, the Hoosiers still have a lethally efficient offense--they proved as much last night (1.10 points per possession). But make no mistake: if this team doesn't play D, they're doomed. Their offense is good but not that good. With their 1-4 sets they'll likely continue to struggle on the offensive glass (just four offensive boards last night) and thus be wholly at the mercy of Marco Killingsworth's quite understandable fatigue and the threes that can't always fall.

As for the Spartans, they got their groove back for a night. Kudos to Mo Ager (28 points on 9-of-13 shooting) and Paul Davis (23-10 dub-dub in less than 30 minutes). They'll need to keep up that level of production this Sunday at Ohio State. The Buckeyes, like Indiana, feature multiple proficient three-point shooters in well-spaced 1-4 sets with Terence Dials down low. It should all look very familiar to Tom Izzo's men. (Box score.)

At this morning, Andy Katz says Michigan State "could easily be 1-3 after Sunday's road game at Ohio State--and still win the league."...With under eight minutes to play, a hard foul by Killingsworth on Davis led the two young men to engage in what appeared to be some lively conversation concerning movies, music, and the influence of the party press in the presidential election of 1840. State then proceeded to put the game away with a 10-0 run. Cause-and-effect or post hoc ergo propter hoc? You make the call!...Asked if this had been one of them thar statement games, Mo Ager didn't hesitate: "Definitely. Indiana's a great team. We beat them pretty good. That was a good statement."...Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says the home crowd "helped scare off Indiana" and "booed Hoosier big man Marco Killingsworth each time he touched the ball." Killingsworth should seriously consider bringing the Izzone along with him to every game: he scored 27 points on 13-of-22 shooting....The Indiana assistant tasked with defense, Donnie Marsh, was not a happy man after the game: "It looked like everyone was standing around waiting for someone else to make a play." More from head man Mike Davis: "I thought we fought hard the first half, but they made the game too hard for us in the second half."...It says here Michigan State's defense "showed some mettle." If "mettle" means "allowing the highest effective FG pct. you've allowed any opponent this year," by gar State had it!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Wonk's elderly readers may recall a bygone era known as "Monday," when your intrepid blogger opened his post with the following headline:

First-place Badgers--get used to sound of that.

How true! With Indiana's loss and another rather more surprising result discussed below, Wisconsin will now have to lose at least two games to be knocked out of first. And, given their schedule, they may not lose two games for a while.

Penn State beat Northwestern 65-61 last night in Evanston. Edvard Munch-level horrific outside shooting, which has been the Wildcats' nemesis all season, again inflicted pain on NU fans, as the home team went just 8-of-27 on their threes. The Nittany Lions now have a leg up on such putatively scary beasts as Illinois, Michigan State, and Iowa: they have a road win. Geary Claxton notched what is arguably history's ugliest dub-dub: a 15-10 on 15 FGAs. As for the Wildcats, no offense to PSU but this is indeed "one of the most disheartening losses in coach Bill Carmody’s tenure." How so? The fact that going into last night Penn State hadn't won a Big Ten road game since March 1, 2001 (not a typo) might have something to do with it. "I didn't see any spark tonight," Carmody said afterward. BONUS idle speculation! How bad must Minnesota feel right now? Think about it: you lost at home to a team that lost at home to Penn State? Ye gods. (Box score.)

Ohio State beat Purdue 80-64 in West Lafayette last night. Led by 17 points from J.J. Sullinger, the Buckeyes hit 11-of-22 threes--and for that Boiler coach Matt Painter blamed his team's defense: "You can't let guys who can shoot the basketball get comfortable and get their heads up. Those guys were having their way tonight. We didn't disrupt anything that they were doing." Purdue's Matt Kiefer posted a Claxtonesque kinda ugly dub-dub: 15-13 on 15 FGAs. For more see the nifty game recap over at the Buckeye Sports Blitz blog. (Box score.)

BONUS sprawling and contentious edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

The readers have spoken!
And it's a mess! Yesterday I posted an email from alert reader and die-hard Spartan fan Kyle J., who bemoaned the Big Ten's unbalanced schedule, one that spares Wisconsin from playing at Illinois or Indiana this season. The remedy for what ails him, at least according to Kyle, is to add a 12th member and split this thing up into two divisions for true round-robin play.

At that point I asked the readers for their thoughts. Wonk's readers respond!

Should we add a 12th team? No way!
No, no, NO! The Big Ten should certainly NOT add a 12th team to its roster. In fact, if you were to ask me (which you certainly have not), I'd say the two biggest mistakes the Big Ten Conference has made in the past decade and a half were 1) adding Penn State to the conference and 2) the Big Ten Tournament.

Adding Penn State and the Big Ten Tournament eliminated any chance of playing a true double-round robin conference schedule. This leads, invariably, to the computerized scheduling differential that results in Sparty playing a much less favorable conference schedule than Wisconsin, for example.

I have never understood the appeal of Big XII (or, more recently, Big East)-esque mega-conferences. How do you get a sense of who the best teams truly are in the conference when you don't play everyone home and away?

I'm not sure what the best option is anymore, since I don't think the conference can add games to the schedule (or can they?), but mandating that member schools drop two non-conference games for extra league games would certainly help. This would reduce to two the number of teams that each school only plays once, and goes a long ways towards eliminating potential scheduling disparities. It would also ratchet up each school's RPI since they would no longer be playing two games against the University of Little Debbie and Hostess College.

Dustin G.
Goshen, IN

Down-in-spirit Kyle in Lansing is perhaps my inverse, an Up-in-spirit-Badger in Minneapolis, especially after watching the Badgers survive a scare in the sound-box that passes for a Big Ten arena called Williams Arena. (Actually, it's a great place to watch a game.)

That said, in response to the unfairness of the Big Ten schedule, I think the only solution is going to a 20-game, round robin. A 12th team would result in a balanced schedule but how do you determine the divisions? No matter how you slice it, the divisions will almost certainly have too many good teams in one, and not enough in the other as teams go through cycles of decline and success--Indiana and Northwestern are the only teams that have been pretty consistent over the last 30 years. Plus, as Sparty mentioned, there isn't a team that would join the Big Ten. The only logical choice is Notre Dame, but they're not going to throw away an annual $20 million payoff from the BCS (now that they appear to be good at football) to play in a more geographical sensical basketball conference.

Personally, I'd much rather see the Badgers play at Indiana and at Illinois than see them play Coastal Carolina and Pepperdine at home. Sure, they'd have a tougher schedule (and lose more games), but they'd be better prepared for the NCAA Tournament. And winning the Big Ten would be a major accomplishment. At least go to an 18-game schedule, which would result in fewer inequities. Or get rid of Penn State--they should have never been asked to join the Big Ten in the first place....Just kidding--I would miss Joe Pa and his too-short pants in the fall too much.

Plus the Badgers play them twice this year.

Badger in Gopherdom,
Joe S.

Ditto ditto!
I sympathize with Lansing's Kyle J., who decries the schedule omissions that taint the current regular season champ. But adding a 12th team and splitting into two divisions is no better. The SEC and Big XII demonstrate this devalues regular season play even further.

I see two solutions. The first is simply to restrict the conference tournament to the top six teams. To compensate for schedule anomalies, no one gets a bye. Model it after the medal rounds for hoops and hockey in the Olympics. This is, of course, unrealistic; Jim Delany will never cut anyone out of the tournament.

The other solution is for those of us who deplore the current arrangement to exercise our economic vote. Simply stop going to and watching the Big Ten tournament. A sparse United Center or Conseco Field House crowd and abysmal ratings will send a swift message to Mr. Delany to bring back the old days.

I'm also skeptical of Kyle's assertion that a longer schedule hurts our teams in Big Dance seeding. Currently, a loss early in the conference tourney is damaging; certainly no less so than if it occurred in a late-regular season game. And the conference tournament rewards laggards with a second wind (e.g., 1999's 3-13 Illinois team that ended up in the finals) and requires the top teams to psych themselves up to re-justify their standing.

Kind regards,
Bill P.
Ottawa, Ontario

Should we add Notre Dame? Sure! Will they ever join? Of course not!
Down-in-spirit Kyle is absolutely correct--it is folly to award a regular-season conference championship without each team playing two games against the rest of the league.

If I had the exclusive choice of one school to add to the conference, the logical choice is Notre Dame for geographic proximity, academic excellence and competitive athletics. Hell, their football team plays three or four games against the Big Ten every season anyway (2-2 this season, by the way). ND's status as a small, private school would give Northwestern a sister school. More than half the schools could bus to their games at South Bend. The fit would be natural and raise the profile of the conference even higher. Honestly, who would care if Pitt or Missouri joined the conference? But ND would make an even bigger splash than Penn State did.

But since we'll have eleven teams for the foreseeable future because ND will never join a conference in football, I think a round-robin is in order for us. Yes, teams will beat up on each other more than they do presently but hopefully the selection committee would take that into consideration. But until situations like MSU having to go to Bloomington while Wisconsin skates are resolved, the regular season conference championship is not as meaningful, which is disappointing. Athletic Directors might have to lose High Point or Chicago State from the schedule, but a couple of conference games could be played before Christmas and pique interest earlier.

Matt May

Should we add West Virginia? You bet!
As for a 12th member that has the programs to fit in the Big Ten and is a geographical fit as well, I would say it comes down to two, Mizzou and West Virginia. I don't think Mizzou would leave the Big XII, as they have the rivalries with KU in a whole host of sports.

That leaves WVU. I think they would be a good fit, geographically, it borders both Ohio and Pennsylvania, it gives Penn St. a border rivalry, gets more Big Ten exposure on the east coast (not sure how much, but that's another matter) and WVU may be easy to pry out of the Big East. I am sure their athletic department would rather have Michigan, Penn St. and Ohio St coming in for football games, rather than South Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville. WVU may not want to give up their almost guaranteed spot in the BCS, but I would think in the long term, the athletic program would be better off in the Big Ten.

U. O'Sullivan

As a Penn State alum, I've argued for years that the 12th team should be West Virginia:

- Close proximity to eastern half of conference. Very close to both PSU and OSU, and would not further expand the geographic boundaries of the conference (as opposed to adding, say, Missouri).
- Competitive, with Elite Eight hoops and BCS Bowl winner.

- IS a public land-grant university like most Big Ten schools
- Departure would not significantly disrupt WVU's current conference

The only other team that can match most these criteria would be Notre Dame, but they have some compelling arguments AGAINST joining the Big Ten.

Mark H.
Middletown, PA

Should we add...Syracuse? (That's right, I said Syracuse.) Heck, why not!
Since my e-mail prompted the question, I'll give a response. The most logical 12th team from a geographic/rivalry stand point would, of course, be Notre Dame. But that institution's arrogance and TV contract preclude that possibility. To me, the only other logical choice would be Syracuse, for the following reasons:

1) Competitive football and men's basketball programs.
2) Make some sense geographically now that Penn State is in the conference.
3) Meets the academic standards of the Big Ten, which has the highest level of academic rigor among the BCS conferences. All 11 current conference members are also members of the Association of American Universities (we're the only conference that can make that claim), which represents major research universities. Syracuse is also a member of the association.

I have no idea if there's any chance Syracuse would consider this, given that they rejected ACC membership. But I would think it makes sense from a football perspective, at least, since the best Big East football programs (Miami, Virginia Tech, and BC) all left for the ACC.

Kyle J.


Well tussled, readers! Wonk salutes you!

<< Home

wonk back!
email me

a very special wonk
the blog's final days

me, simmons, and 150 million other american males
the four dullest topics for a hoops blog
drama, magnitude, and finality
2007 "power"-conference velocity report
special report: in tedium's path
stop DAD: defensive attention deficit
consistency, threes, and stereotypes
they shoot free throws, don't they?
every rebound needs an adjective
fouls: call fewer or allow more
was norman dale wrong?
what's PPWS?
POT: perimeter-oriented team
symphony of altruists
mammalian theory of extreme home-court advantage
law of november weight change
scoring and preventing points: how to

tempo-free aerials
(conf. games only)
big east
big ten
big XII

geek chorus
intro to tempo-free stats
2007 big ten team tempo-free stats
2006 big ten team tempo-free stats
2005 big ten team tempo-free stats
state of the stats, april '06

canonical bloggers
yoni cohen
ken pomeroy
kyle whelliston
ryan kobliska
chris west
brian cook

November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
August 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
August 2006
September 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
October 2007