Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
How good is Indiana?
Iowa plays Indiana tonight in Iowa City (ESPN, 9 ET) and, sorry Hawkeyes, I'll be tuning in first and foremost to see if we can learn more about the Hoosiers. IU is 4-0 at home in conference play and 0-1 on the road--and their average margin of victory in those four wins has been six points. How good are they, really?

As regards the Indiana offense, I think the verdict is in: they're good. Their accuracy from beyond the arc is outstanding. Marshall Strickland (50.8 3FG pct.) and Robert Vaden (47.9) have rather quietly supplanted Je'Kel Foster of Ohio State (47.1) as the league's best outside shooters not named Jamar Smith (51.8) among players averaging more than 15 minutes a game. (Indeed, Strickland, as alert reader Patrick H. rather gleefully notes, has excelled from long-range in spite of my skepticism in November that going from point guard to the 2 would truly cure all shooting ills for the Hoosier guard. That is pretty much precisely what's happened. Duly noted, Patrick!) And IU has a certain Player of the Week down on the blocks scoring points and creating space for those shooters. (Granted, this particular Player of the Week also turns the ball over from time to time.) Yes, the offense is good. Subject to an occasional funk, certainly (see the beginning of the Illinois game and the first half of the Purdue game), but good.

What about the D? Yesterday I noted that in each of their past two games the Hoosiers have allowed relatively unheralded post players (Shaun Pruitt of Illinois and Marcus White of Purdue) to record career-high scoring totals. Alert reader Michael P. asks:

Just curious but with IU's ability to hit three pointers, does it play into IU's hands to let opposing teams score inside so often?

You cite the two players who had career days against Killingsworth, but he still outscored the player in each outing and IU's wing players won the game with their ability to trade threes for twos.

This may be too simplistic, but it appears to the naked eye that IU plays very good defense on the perimeter and Killingsworth will usually be a scoring machine. So the strategy, if it is that, appears sound.

Your naked eye is correct, Michael! IU's perimeter D is indeed their strength: Indiana's Big Ten opponents have hit just 28.9 percent of their threes, giving IU the third-best 3 FG pct. defense in the conference.

On the other hand, as I noted yesterday, Indiana's Big Ten opponents don't shoot many threes. They pound it inside against IU more assiduously than they do against any other team except Ohio State. And the Hoosiers' 2FG pct. defense (51.5) is eighth in the Big Ten. Result? IU ranks sixth in opponents' effective FG pct. Not great. Not terrible. Still early. Keep an eye on it.

Speaking of numbers to keep your eye on, IU's defensive rebounding is looking a little thin (ninth in the conference). Again, that's based on just five games--but thus far it's been the Hoosiers' main defensive liability (as it was, even more so, last year).

As for tonight's opponent: Iowa, of course, has been struggling on offense this season. And having Jeff Horner play with a knee brace hasn't exactly helped speed up a team that wasn't widely known as blazing fast to start with. So maybe Indiana's defensive numbers will get some help this evening. We'll see.

Steve Alford is said to be "philosophically opposed" to double-teams, so Marco Killingsworth will likely be played straight-up by the Hawkeyes tonight. "We have to do a good job from the standpoint of team defense," Alford says. "Continue to run different people at him as far as who guards him, whether it be Erek (Hansen), Bru (Greg Brunner), Doug (Thomas), or Seth (Gorney)." Alford also says the Hawks have put Saturday's mauling at Michigan State behind them: "We met at 5:30 (Sunday afternoon). And at 5:40 we no longer talked about the last game." The 30-point loss represents Iowa's worst defeat in more than ten years....Profile of struggling Hoosier guard A.J. Ratliff here. Blessedly absent from these links! Any furtive discussion of or speculation about Alford coming back to IU. Hallelujah.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated! They're tempo-free! They're current through January 23! They're now restricted to conference games only! (So they're highly misleading this early in the conference season!) I think the Big Ten schedule, though unbalanced, gives us the best measuring stick we have. Look at last year's numbers in-conference: Illinois had the best efficiency margin; they went to the national championship game. Michigan State had the second-best; they went to the Final Four. Wisconsin had the third-best; they went to the Elite Eight. (Jeez, why bother to play the games? Oh, right, West Virginia--a negative efficiency margin in Big East play last season; and yet they came within one free throw of the Final Four. Wow.) Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy.

Jinkies! Player stats have been updated, too! (That's what happens when no one plays for two days. I can catch up.) One glimpse:

Scoring efficiency: PPWS (15+ min. per game--complete list)
1. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.42)
2. Jamar Smith, Illinois (1.38)
3. Lester Abram, Michigan (1.36)
4. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (1.34)
5. Paul Davis, Michigan State (1.32)

In today's less statistical venues....
Purdue guard Korey Spates has been dismissed from the team for (unspecified) conduct deemed detrimental to the squad. This brings a logical and seemingly foreordained conclusion to a process that has spanned four months. On September 25, juco transfer Tarrance Crump had a late night in which he allegedly managed to combine all of the following: alcohol, an SUV, a pedestrian, a brief bit of fleeing, and an unscheduled discussion with a representative of the West Lafayette law enforcement community. He was suspended for the season. Then David Teague was lost for the year due to a knee injury. Then Carl Landry decided to redshirt to rehabilitate the knee he injured last season. Then Nate Minnoy was lost for the year due to a knee injury. And, now, Spates. In the space of 120 days, Matt Painter has lost his entire projected starting five. Michigan in 2005 has nothing on Purdue 2006.

Wisconsin freshman Marcus Landry has been ruled academically ineligible and will not play the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Greg Stiemsma returned to practice yesterday, after taking a leave of absence for unspecified medical reasons. It's unclear whether Stiemsma will play tomorrow night against Penn State....Bo Ryan attributes Saturday's loss to North Dakota State to bad shooting and not to bad shots. After reviewing the game tape, Ryan says he saw his Badgers take only five bad shots. (Meaning they missed 51 good ones. Ye gods.) Just how surprising was Saturday's loss? At cbs.sportsline, Gregg Doyel has this to say: "A year ago, North Dakota State was in Division II. Three years before that, it was a junior high."

Michigan wing Lester Abram didn't practice yesterday after injuring his ankle in the Wolverines' victory over Minnesota Saturday night. The conventional wisdom says it's "doubtful" that he'll play in tomorrow night's game against Michigan State in Ann Arbor....Speaking of the Spartans, Tom Izzo uses the word "respect" about the same way Virgil Solozzo did. Referring to the Wolverines, Izzo says: "I respect their program, I respect their coach, I respect their players and recruited some of them, and yet I want to beat their brains in."

Inevitable (Minnesota Golden) Gopher-based bad pun headline here.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber says Marcus Arnold is fine and didn't play Saturday against Northwestern only because the match ups weren't favorable. "I feel bad for Marcus because there is no one who has had a better attitude," Weber says. "He'll get back into the rotation Wednesday night" against Minnesota....Latest recruiting buzz on high school ballers Leon Freeman and Patrick Beverley here.

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Munch-ing on Bacon
From time to time, your intrepid blogger has been known to deploy the following adjective: "Edvard Munch-level horrific." So when Wisconsin put on a display of shooting against North Dakota State that could only be described as, um, Edvard Munch-level horrific, the alert readers, by Godfrey, expected to see the words "Edvard Munch-level horrific"....

My dear Wonk,

This morning I opened up your page for my daily Wonking, expecting to read something or other relating "Badger eFG pct." and "Edvard Munch." While there was indeed mention of horrific yelping, The Scream was nowhere to be found.

Have masked men infiltrated the Wonk World Headquarters and stolen your verbiage to go along with their more tangible loot?

Or did this level of horrific-ness, hitherto unseen by Big Ten eyes, go above and beyond (or is it below and within?) Edvard Munch-level proportions? Is a new standard for Badger level horrific-osity in the works? Might I suggest Francis Bacon?

Horrifically yours,

Alex H.
Madison, WI

You're not alone, Alex! Indispensable Raymond Carver-esque hoops blogger Chris West also thought I'd call upon the redoubtable Mr. Munch to most suitably limn the Badgers' struggles from the field.

But no! I refuse to be painted into a "Say it!" corner by my own contrived hooks! In fact, I regard that prospect with Edvard Munch-level horror. (D'oh!)

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