Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Hoosiers grab sole possession of first place...until tonight
Indiana beat Michigan 70-63 in Bloomington last night. This game was tied at 24 at halftime and where the admirably positive and laudably glass-half-full announcers working the game for ESPN Full Court saw "defensive intensity" and "effort," I, for one, saw "unforced turnovers," "no offensive execution whatsoever," and "Edvard Munch-level horrific shooting." You make the call....

More mighty than his stats would indicate
Who knows but that the Wolverines would have struggled in any case but I will say this: taking Lester Abram off the court (he missed the game due to a sprained toe) reduces Tommy Amaker's scoring options to Courtney Sims, Daniel Horton, and Dion Harris. Sims (five points and one board in 19 minutes last night) and Harris (19 points on 16 FGAs) each have a habit of disappearing for long stretches--a habit Horton would, at times, be well advised to emulate (20 points on 17 FGAs). Facing an opponent whose tallest player was, for most of the night, 6-8, the Wolverines showed zero interest in getting the ball inside to the 6-11 Sims (who himself showed little inclination to demand the ball).

Just what is a "front line," anyway?
The talk of Marco Killingsworth, D.J. White, and Robert Vaden comprising the Big Ten's "best front line" is true enough (all three will likely earn some form of All-Big Ten recognition, whether honorable mention or better) but also somewhat misleading. The minutes that these three play together are very few (about ten last night by my count) and may continue to be, even after White "gets his wind back." I think Mike Davis simply prefers the speed and spacing of the 1-4 sets. He should--they work. I wouldn't be surprised, then, to see White playing Paul Davis-style surprisingly scanty minutes this season (say, mid-20s).

BONUS scouting note for future IU opponents!
Here's what you'll see. Dribble left, then come back right with the left hand. Last night, at least, Killingsworth executed this move time and time again with the diligent faithfulness of a high-school baller who'd just been taught his first post move. So here's what you do. Wait until he starts his move (because the big guy makes smart choices on his passes when the double-team comes right away). Then bring the double in behind him as he goes left and sit on his right shoulder. (Granted, the Hoosiers make this tough by spacing the other four players practically out to half-court.)

BONUS scouting note for future Wolverine opponents!
Give the ball to whoever's guarded by freshman Jevohn Shepherd. Wonk doesn't care what that player's PPWS says, if they're injured, or if they're an elderly alum in the front row. If Shepherd's on him, give him the ball. This afternoon in Ann Arbor, a Michigan assistant will draw Shepherd aside and patiently go over the tape of Roderick Wilmont's consecutive threes at roughly the nine minute mark of the second half. Guarding the free throw line on consecutive possessions when the ball is going from the post to the arc is a novel defensive strategy, to say the least. (Let it be said, however, that the free throw line was indeed held scoreless.)

Less mighty than his stats would indicate
By the way, that thud you just heard was Courtney Sims officially falling off the All-Wonk Team. (The guy's a one-man assault on the very concept of stats: he looks good on paper because he stockpiles inordinately beautiful numbers against inferior opponents.) I'll work up a 2.0 All-Wonk 'ere long here--let me know who you think should replace Sims. Remember: need not be a big--we're looking for the five best players. All are welcome.

Lobbying for a rule change
You should get credit for a double-double when you score eight points and haul in 21 rebounds, as did Michigan's Graham Brown last night. In fact, Brown should be allowed the option of converting two of his boards into points and getting a 10-19 dub-dub. Just a thought. (Actually, if blocked shots--meaning your own attempts being blocked--were a category, Brown was close to the fabled tri-dub.)

Etc. Vaden led the Hoosiers with 17 points, all of them after halftime: "In the second half, I just decided to attack the basket more."...Hoosier guard A.J. Ratliff suffered a sprained ankle and will likely sit out the next few games....Newly-eligible Wolverine big man Brent Petway saw his first action of the season last night: three fouls, two points and one board in eight minutes....Michigan was simply unstoppable on the offensive boards, rebounding fully half of their misses, but it mattered not one whit because they gave away 22 turnovers: "We really did a horrendous job of taking care of the basketball," Amaker said....The Wolverines have now lost nine straight to Indiana. (Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Northwestern plays Purdue in Evanston tonight and half the starters will be freshmen. Other Big Ten coaches say nice things about Boiler coach Matt Painter here.

Illinois plays Michigan State tomorrow night in Champaign (ESPN2, 9 ET). Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper throws some love Tom Izzo's way: "He’s honest, he’s sincere, he’s wonderful for the league and his teams always play hard. If you beat Michigan State, you’ve done something significant." For his part Izzo says he's glad Matt Trannon is healthy and ready to go tomorrow night: "What we were missing with Trannon out was that our defense wasn't as good."...Bruce Weber says his team will try to limit the Spartans' transition points tomorrow night and instead "make them play half-court." Weber also says he wishes he had more time to prepare for State: "I don’t really love playing Michigan State this early, but I sure am happy it’s at home."...The Illini have received a verbal commitment from seven-foot high school baller Mike Tisdale of Riverton, IL. Tisdale joins a 2007 recruiting class that already includes Eric Gordon of Indianapolis and Bill Cole of Peoria. Fellow lanky product of Sangamon County Mike Tisdale, Wonk salutes you!

Minnesota coach Dan Monson says he's not bothered by increasingly prevalent talk that as many as seven (implicitly non-Minnesota) Big Ten teams can make the tournament: "When you listen to people talk, Minnesota isn't mentioned. We're not in that level yet and I think it's probably rightfully so." Coach Monson may not mind but blogger Bob Wothe over at Golden Gopher Hoops isn't quite so sanguine: he thinks the Gophers might be the Rodney Dangerfield of the Big Ten--make haste!

Get your Big Ten previews here
From Susan Harman of the Iowa City Press-Citizen (link), Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal (link), and Jesse Osborne of the Wisconsin State Journal (link).

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

Egad! Readers going through Wonk's archives? Is this allowed?
Hello, Wonk,

As I wait expectantly for your state of the team addresses, I took the time to check out some of your past comments.

On Friday, Nov. 12, 2004, when describing your preseason all-head case team, you wrote:

Echoing, if perhaps not equaling, their trip to the Final Four the year after the NBA-focused Kirk Haston left, Indiana will improve markedly the first year that the NBA-focused Bracey Wright is gone, whenever that may be, as the chemistry improves and the offense branches out from its single-dimension feed-Wright focus.

While it’s early in the season, that looks like a prediction that you should keep tabs on for an eventual (or current) pat on the back, at least if Indiana continues to play at the same level of offensive efficiency against Big Ten defenses.

Ryan M.

Hey, offensive efficiency schmoffensive efficiency--IU recorded a meager 1.01 points per possession last night and got the W. Aye, that's the stat--that number under the "W" column in the standings.

Thanks for the archive dive, Ryan!

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