Big Ten Wonk
Monday, January 09, 2006
First-place Badgers--get used to the sound of that.
Wisconsin beat Michigan State 82-63 in Madison yesterday. Perhaps even more surprising than the margin of victory was the pace of the game. Where Illinois beat the Spartans last Thursday night by slowing things down to a crawl (57 possessions), the historically deliberate Badgers played MSU straight up and beat them soundly in a 71-possession game. In what is fast becoming a disturbing trend for State fans, the opposing team's primary outside threat went berserk: Kammron Taylor hit 5-of-8 threes and scored 27 points. This was the second consecutive game where the Spartans allowed their opponent to hit 10-of-21 threes. Shannon Brown scored 31 points on 23 FGAs for State but Paul Davis and Mo Ager were a combined 6-for-25 and added just 13 total points. Schedule, schmedule--Michigan State would have lost to any of six Big Ten teams the way they played yesterday. Tom Izzo's take? "I think you've got to give credit to Illinois and Wisconsin. I think they played some good defense. But our two stars are not playing very well. It's no big secret. In fact, they're playing awful." (Box score.)

So here's Wisconsin, sitting pretty at 2-0. Yes, Indiana and Northwestern are 2-0 as well. But they don't have the Badgers' sweet schedule. Here are Wisconsin's next 12 games (not counting a North Dakota State game thrown in for odd measure):

at Minnesota
vs. Northwestern
at Ohio State
vs. Penn State
at Michigan
vs. Illinois
at Purdue
vs. Indiana
at Penn State
vs. Ohio State
at Northwestern
vs. Minnesota

While not likely, to be sure, it's not inconceivable that UW could run that table. For a team that's lost just one home game in-conference under Bo Ryan, the toughest game on that slate might be next Wednesday's trip to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are a very good team but Value City Arena isn't exactly Cameron Indoor.

True, the Badgers end the year with visits to East Lansing and Iowa City. But they don't play in Champaign or Bloomington this year. They would appear to be lucky and good. Big Ten front-runners Wisconsin, Wonk salutes you!

Columnist Todd Schulz of the Lansing State Journal wants to know: "Does [Paul Davis] ever plan to post up again? Or, will he continue to float around the perimeter as if the lane is lined with land mines?"...Izzo wonders if Davis and Mo Ager are too preoccupied with their NBA prospects--former Spartan and current Milwaukee Buck Charlie Bell spoke with Ager about that possibility after the game.

Bold historiographical innovator Michael Hunt, Wonk salutes you! The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist says yesterday felt like just another Wisconsin home game: a "19-point victory against an outfit such as Michigan State, while not exactly an everyday event, has become part of the expected Wisconsin basketball experience....The Badgers have been there, done that, again and again and again." Funny. I seem to remember a series of close UW wins--precisely what's made this rivalry so agonizing for State fans. Say, seven wins by an average of between five and six points. Oh, well. Must be me. (And Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates: "This just doesn't happen.")

Unbowed congenital optimist Jim Spadafore, Wonk salutes you! Michigan State is "still the favorite to win the Big Ten," says Spadafore in this morning's Detroit News. After all, Spadafore notes, visiting teams never win in Assembly Hall or the Kohl Center. True, but by Spadafore's lights anything that occurred in State's first two Big Ten games should have thus been labeled as meaningless in advance. Unique line of thinking, that. (Closer (much) to the mark is Spadafore's News colleague Dave Dye: "The bad start...isn't shocking because of who and where they've played, but the way it has happened is surprising.")

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated. Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy. SPECIAL note to Ohio State fans! Don't crow too loudly about that sexy league-leading Illinois-in-2005-like 1.18 points per possession, a number that reflects what hoops analysts wearing white lab coats refer to as "the Penn State effect." Take out just that one game and the Buckeyes' number drops to (a still very nice) 1.15. BONUS look-ahead! In a week or two we here at Wonk World HQ will make the jump to in-conference team stats. Mmmm, in-conference: tempo-free numbers compiled against very similar opponents. (In the admirably symmetrical Pac 10, where every team plays every other team home and away, these would be well nigh the Archimedean ideal. Go to it, yet-to-emerge Pac 10 Wonk!)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Saturday!
Iowa beat Illinois 63-48 in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes limited the Illini to one of the most anemic offensive outings of any Big Ten team in any game so far this year: 0.70 points per possession. (Ironically, one of the only instances of an offense performing at an even lower level comes to us from...Iowa. They scored just 0.65 points per possession against NC State--and won.) Great D by the Hawkeyes or bad offense by the Illini? Both! (Duh.) Iowa would have given anyone a tough time Saturday. And, the way they were shooting, Illinois would have struggled to score against a fair to middling high school JV squad. Think of the difference between last year's Illini and this year's edition as being this simple (which it's not but humor me): Bruce Weber lost Luther Head and gained Brian Randle. I've been musing of late of the tremendous advantage that accrues to any team when their best player on offense is also very good on defense--or vice versa. Last year Head was the Illini's best defender. He's not as good on D as Randle (mostly because he's four inches shorter) but add in Head's NBA-level offense and you have a tenacious defender who also (again, duh) demanded the constant attention of opposing defenses. This year's Illini, by contrast, are learning what life is like when the other team does not have to defend all five players. (Box score.)

Indiana beat Ohio State 81-79 in Bloomington. A screening Marshall Strickland was run over by defender Terence Dials in the game's closing seconds and hit a pair of free throws for the win. (See the notably honked-off recap from the Buckeye Sports Blitz blog for more.) This was a fun second half to watch. That's usually a euphemism for "not a lot of D" and that is certainly the case here: the Hoosiers scored 49 second half points on 34 possessions for a notably gaudy 1.44 points per possession after the intermission. IU trailed by 17 in the first half before getting hot from outside. Marco Killingsworth led the Hoosiers with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Purdue 68-65 in Ann Arbor. This cannot bode well for Tommy Amaker's team: the Boilers come to Ann Arbor without 80 percent of their projected starting lineup (Crump suspended; Landry, Teague, and Minnoy out with bum knees), cough up 20 turnovers, and lose by just three? Ye gods. (Box score.)

Northwestern beat Minnesota 57-49 in Minneapolis. The Wildcats used a 1-3-1 zone and the Gophers were baffled almost literally from the opening possession. Vedran Vukusic scored 17 points and hit 3-of-5 threes, which is expected. What's not expected, however, is for NU freshman Craig Moore to score 15 on 5-of-7 shooting from outside the arc. See the spanking good recap from the Golden Gopher Hoops blog for more. So who needs offensive rebounding? The Wildcats recorded one (1) offensive board in this game, giving the Gophers a notably gaudy defensive rebound pct. of 95.8. (Box score.)

You've heard of the SI jinx
Is there a Frank Burlison jinx? Apparently.

Wonk back!
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Boiler roster depleted--but not Boiler spirits!
Hi, Wonk,

Attended the Purdue-Michigan tilt at Crisler. The injury/suspension situation in West Lafayette drew immediate comparisons to last year's Michigan squad. Given Michigan's size, talent, and the fact that they were coming off a tough loss in Bloomington, I was hoping for a merely respectable showing for 25 or 30 minutes before the inevitable rout commenced. Purdue dressed ten and I was fully prepared to say to the assorted maize-and-blue supporters: "My team is on the floor."

Instead, Purdue came out and played about as well as they could have without Minnoy, Landry and Teague. Unlike the last time I had a chance to watch them, the motion offense was run in a much crisper and more fluid fashion, and it was run for 40 minutes. Nobody looked tired, nobody looked out of step (with the possible exception of Bryant Dillon, who is reluctant to jack an open shot from 15-18 feet). Marcus White will be a great addition once he gets over the tentativeness around the rim (maybe a lingering effect of the injury).

Painter made a definitive statement to Korey Spates by leaving him on the bench against Northwestern. He played very well and excusing a couple of ill-advised shots had a great floor game. Painter obviously needs Spates on the floor but was willing to send a message rather than cut corners to try and make a point but also win a game. That is important for those of us who want things done "the right way" (channeling Larry Brown, come in Larry Brown). Painter was also Keady-like in his demonstrations to the refs and to his own players, breaking a clipboard in half at one point during a time out.

I, for one, am encouraged. Once Painter gets some solid big men (Kiefer had a nice game, yes, but he is hot and cold as we all know), we will be in good shape. It may take two or three years, but it's worth the wait. It looked hopeless before the tip, but the Boilers damn near pulled out the win as 17.5 point dogs.

Also, Graham Brown is a beast. Michigan's front line would be in a heap of trouble without him.

Matt May

Thanks, Matt!

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