Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Hoosiers a legit Big Ten contender: they can win ugly
In beating Illinois 62-60 in Bloomington last night, Indiana rode a big second half from Marco Killingsworth (who notched a 23-12 dub-dub) and an overall heroic performance by Roderick Wilmont (17 points and nine boards in just 27 minutes). The game appeared to have been put away with a little more than eight minutes to go and IU leading 55-40. But the Illini made things interesting with a 14-1 run, before falling just short.

Rebounding and free throws made the difference for the home team. The Hoosiers' 77.1 defensive rebound pct. attests to the fact that Illinois was given very few second shots. And the Illini making just eight of 16 free throws in a two-point loss should give Bruce Weber all the ammo he needs to stress the importance of this season-long weakness to his team. (UPDATE! Weber agrees! "The free throws really cost us. That and the rebounds.")

These particular rosters pose mismatches at both ends of the floor. Bigs like James Augustine and Shaun Pruitt had to get out way above the three-point line and guard the likes of Wilmont (not very successfully) and Robert Vaden (successfully). Particularly notable in this vein was the spectacle of Ben Allen draining two threes in the first half. Like Wisconsin's Mike Wilkinson guarding the Illini's Jack Ingram in Madison last year, Pruitt simply could not comprehend that this big man he was supposed to be checking was more of a threat outside than in. Six points quickly resulted from said incomprehension.

As for the Illini's three-point shooting, it was awful (2-of-14; Dee Brown is now 3-of-22 from the field and 2-of-16 on his threes in two Big Ten road games). But they missed a lot of twos, as well--20 in fact (23-of-43). Finishing around the basket was an issue. Still, Illinois recognized the mismatches they had going in their favor against an undersized opponent and fed their bigs, resulting in a notable 22 combined FGAs for Pruitt and Brian Randle. They responded with 17 and 15 points, respectively. Illini fans hope this heralds a new era of offensive production from non-Augustine and non-Brown types. (Box score.)

Just how important is Augustine?
Following the lead of the good people at 82 Games and canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska, I decided to chart the possessions in this game. Doing so lent a little support to a notion I already entertained: Illinois' fortunes rise and fall according to whether or not Augustine is on the floor. Specifically, the Illini D is a much different animal with Augustine than without him (or was last night):

Augustine on the floor:
54 offensive possessions--0.91 points per possession (PPP)
51 defensive possessions--0.88 opp. PPP

Augustine off the floor:
13 offensive possessions--0.85 PPP
15 defensive possessions--1.13 opp. PPP

With Augustine in the game, Illinois gave Indiana just 0.88 points per possession. With him on the bench the Hoosiers scored 1.13 PPP.

BONUS backfill on the double-or-no-double discussion on Killingsworth!
There was a surprise ambush double-team here and there, to be sure, but for the most part Illinois played Killingsworth straight up, as did Michigan State last week. In response, Killingsworth scored a lot of points (23) as he did against the Spartans (27). But the Hoosiers as a whole shot far less accurately than their norm: last night represented their worst shooting of the year (48.0 effective FG pct.). When Tom Izzo and Bruce Weber agree, the discussion in question may be drawing to a close. The book says: let the big dog eat as much as he can before he fatigues and give him his 25--but stay clamped on the three-point shooters.

Indiana fans stormed the court after the game--and the Illini players were surprised. "They're a top-10 team winning at home," James Augustine commented afterward. "Our fans don't storm the court after every win." For his part, Weber drew a didactic lesson for his team: "By their reaction [IU fans storming the court], it means a lot to beat us. It means we're going to have to step it up another level."

Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says the Hoosiers are back, baybee! "After two lean years, it finally appears the IU program has turned a corner." After recording just one rebound against Michigan State, Marco Killingsworth was pleased with his 12-board effort: Coach has been pushing me and pushing me the last week trying to emphasize rebounding the basketball."

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch hates to speak in terms of moral victories for a team that's lost four games in two years. But: "They're still 16-2, and are coming along now, with Augustine and Randle and the fight. And where on earth did Pruitt come from?" (Even die-hard Badger fan Chris West was impressed with Pruitt--it's a phenomeshaun!) Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper, conversely, sees the glass as half-empty: "The sad truth is that Illinois missed a great chance to make up ground in the Big Ten title hunt by losing a game they led 19-10, by again shooting free throws at an alarming rate (8 of 16) and by getting just 10 points and 3-of-16 shooting from its starting guards."

Brian Randle says his team's second-half comeback hints of good things to come: "It gives us incentive to push forward." Weber says his team needs to get it done outside (the Illinois) Assembly Hall: "We're going to have to find a way to win road games." Dee Brown says succinctly: "We’ve just got to rebound." Shaun Pruitt says the key to playing against Killingsworth is to attack: "He's a scorer, so he doesn't like to foul because he wants to stay in the game. So I just took it to him."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State plays Wisconsin tonight in Columbus (ESPN2, 8:30 ET). It's only January but let's be honest: Badger fans notwithstanding, the entire Big Ten will be rooting for the Buckeyes tonight. If the young Badgers can pull off the road win they will be surprisingly tough to catch in the Big Ten race. Not that winning at home will be easy for Thad Matta's team. Even if OSU's past performance had led us to believe they'll try to feed the post tonight (which it hasn't), Wisconsin in theory has the length and the fouls to defend and ultimately wear down Terence Dials. The Buckeyes better be hitting their shots. Links: Start with this briskly efficient game preview, courtesy of the Buckeye Sports Blitz blog. As for MSM goodies: Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press throws some love the Badgers' way here. Salute to the Badger bench here. Player-by-player look at Brian Butch's teammates on the 2003 McDonald's All-American team here. Profile and notably large head shot of Badger freshman Mickey Perry here.

Iowa plays Minnesota in Iowa City tonight and the Hawks are saying all the right not-looking-past-them things: "They’re dangerous. They’re just a dangerous team,’’ says Jeff Horner. “They have so many athletes, and Grier is capable of going off for 30 points at any time." Gopher coach Dan Monson, conversely, isn't so certain Horner should be so worried: "We're a team right now searching to find our team." More from the coach: "Last year we won all those games because we knew no matter what, we were going to go down to the other end and get a stop. That might not be our identity this year, but what is our identity going to be?" Monson also says Iowa's D reminds him of last year's Gophers: "[Their] defense [is] a little bit like ours was last year in that they're a lot more aggressive on the ball, because they have Hansen underneath."...Excellent game preview here, from the good Grants at the Gopher Hoops blog. But wait! There's more! Spanking good game preview and dissection of the Gophers here, courtesy of canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska. (The indefatigable Ryan even gave an interview to the Golden Gopher Hoops blog--make haste!) Inevitable Gopher-based bad pun headline here.

Michigan plays Northwestern tonight in Ann Arbor and Tommy Amaker says his big men need to take better care of the ball: "With Courtney (Sims) leading our team in turnovers (41), that's not a great stat for our center. So, we need to eliminate our post players from turning the basketball over. That's hurting us." BONUS Michigan-Illinois backfill! See the discerning post-mortem chipped in by Joey at Schembechler Hall.

Penn State plays Purdue in State College tonight. The Boilers want to get the monkey off their back. What monkey, you ask? "As the Purdue basketball team prepares for tonight's Big Ten Conference game at Penn State, it is keenly aware of 23 months of failure away from Mackey Arena." Purdue's lost 16 straight outside West Lafayette. As for the Nittany Lions, Ed DeChellis says his team will be looking to play a complete game after a close loss at home to Iowa: "We let one slip away on Saturday, so this kind of puts added emphasis on this one."

Profile of Michigan State power forward and two-sport wonder Matt Trannon here.

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Latest update from alert reader and die-hard Hoosier fan Nate

Illinois made a great comeback (or choke-job by IU...a number of bad shots and TOs). IU was lucky to hold on for the victory. (How did Augustine's shot not go down?) Great game to watch; a game IU had to have.

A few notes: Plaudits to Bruce Weber for two things. Illinois never gave up (a sign of a well-coached team) and came from 15 down to a last-second "shot." The Big Ten is going to have to deal with UI (and Mr. Weber) for a long time. Secondly, Weber trusted his seniors, namely Dee Brown to play with four fouls (and, to a lesser extent, Augustine). The Illini don't make their comeback without Dee on the floor. How IU wasn't able to take advantage of this foul trouble is beyond me. Brown couldn't hit the broad side of the barn--but managed 11 assists and five boards. Very impressive. Robert Vaden, on the other hand, seemed to get frustrated because he couldn't hit his shots either--and managed five TOs (with six boards and four assists--remember: just a sophomore).

Did somebody get the number of the truck that hit Mr. Frazier in the second half? And, yes, that was a legal screen.

One final note. Roderick Wilmont is my favorite player on the IU team. He likes coming off the bench, he plays hard all the time (maybe too hard defensively), actively goes after rebounds (nine tonight), and has limited his questionable shot selection. Plus he had the best play for the Hoosiers, blocking McBride's three and then hustling and beating UI down the court for the lay-up. This started IU's run early in the second half. No more Bracey-lite comments from me.

Nate D.

Comprehensively summed, Nate. Thanks!

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