Big Ten Wonk
Monday, January 30, 2006
Wonk's streak of consecutive posts without a Gopher-based bad pun headline continues!
Minnesota beat Indiana 61-42 in Minneapolis yesterday. This game was lost in the first half and it was the IU offense that failed to show up. (Not that the Hoosier D didn't have its moments of ignominy. The words "Adam Boone" and "blow-by for the layup" can now be used together for the first time in recorded history, courtesy of Earl Calloway and four non-helping teammates.)

The game was tied at 7 with a little more than 16 minutes left in the first half. Over the next 23 offensive possessions, Indiana recorded the following numbers:

--Scores on only three of 23 possessions
--Nine points
--0.39 points per possession (0.71 for the game)
--1-for-11 shooting on threes
--Six turnovers

During that same span, the Gophers were merely normal on offense: 24 points on 23 possessions. (But normal is outstanding for the Minnesota offense.) Result: a 34-16 halftime lead for the home team.

Yes, Marco Killingsworth sat for a good part of this time after picking up his second foul with about 12 minutes left in the first half. But it made little difference whether he was on the floor or not. For the first eight minutes, the Gophers showed a lot of 2-3 zone that seemed to baffle or at least immobilize the Hoosiers. On the ensuing possession after Killingsworth left the game, Minnesota immediately switched to a man-to-man--and IU fared no better.

Kudos to Minnesota coach Dan Monson for shaking things up and starting Jamal Abu-Shamala (true freshman and former walk-on) and Zach Puchtel (current walk-on and Harvard transfer). The Gophers appeared almost visibly energized when Abu-Shamala hit a couple early outside shots. ("What's this? We're allowed to score out here?")

As for Indiana, the mantra here at Wonk World HQ remains the same: the D (mediocre) and the offensive rebounding (bad) are more and more looking like givens. So it comes down to making shots. Devoting nearly 41 percent of their FGAs to threes in conference play, the Hoosiers are most certainly a POT. (Only Northwestern devotes more of their attempts to threes.) When the threes are falling, a POT can look unbeatable. But when they're not, a POT looks, well, like Indiana looked yesterday. (Box score.)

Mike Davis says even if his Hoosiers had been hitting their shots (which they weren't), shooting alone isn't enough on the road: "We just hope we go out and make shots (on the road), and you can't go on the road hoping you're going to make shots. You have to go defensively and make plays." Davis also praised a player he didn't know: "I have no idea who No. 32 is. We had him in our scouting report, but here’s a guy who fought Marco for every position. There’s no one who we’ve played this year that’s guarded Marco like that." (No. 32 is Zach Puchtel.)... Dan Monson says he wasn't benching starters or sending a message--he was starting Puchtel and Abu-Shamala, plain and simple: "This could not be a token switch. It had to be that I believe in this. I wanted to get those kids in the flow." Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse wonders aloud if Minnesota's start in Big Ten play might not have been better had J'son Stamper not been sidelined with an injury. St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers says: "Clearly this whole recruiting thing is overrated. Monson started two walk-ons against Indiana — Puchtel and Abu-Shamala — and suddenly his team looked good."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated! Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy. BONUS points if you can name the best three-point shooting team in the Big Ten (in conference play) without looking.

Yet another undefeated day for the home teams--Saturday!
Michigan beat Wisconsin 85-76 in Ann Arbor. Look at the Wolverines: beating ranked opponents two games in a row and now in a tie for first along with Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Who'd a thunk it? Tommy Amaker's men are getting it done with offense. They hit the offensive glass like uncaged monsters (42.9 offensive rebound pct. Saturday) and they really like to shoot--and make--free throws. Dion Harris led Michigan with 23 points on 5-of-9 shooting from outside the arc. But the real news was that Courtney Sims showed up in the scoring column: 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. As for the Badgers, their offense was fine (Kammron Taylor led all scorers with 29--UW won't lose many games where they score 1.11 points per possession). They just couldn't stop the Wolverines (1.25 PPP). (Box score.) Can Michigan take this act on the road? Yes and no. Yes: this shaken Illini fan saw the Wolverines post a PPP north of 1.40 in the second half of their game in Champaign. No: no one's doing anything on the road this season. Must have been an email from the Big Ten office.

Iowa beat Ohio State 67-62 in Iowa City. What happens when a team that doesn't do offensive rebounds plays on the road against a very good defensive rebounding team? You get four (count 'em, four) offensive boards for the Buckeyes. That's it. It's amazing they only lost by five. The Hawkeyes are not a very good shooting team (3-of-13 on their threes and 43.7 effective FG pct. on this night, vs. 9-of-24 and 46.7 for OSU), otherwise this one wouldn't have been close. In the game's first three minutes, Terence Dials looked like he was going to have his way offensively with Erek Hansen, thus negating Iowa's primary strength: interior D. Didn't happen--though Dials did record a respectable 16 points. Instead, the Buckeyes fired away from long range. They did OK (36.6 3FG pct.) but if you're going to get only four offensive boards out of 38 chances, you'd better be north of 40 on your threes if you want to win. Adam Haluska had 18 points and Greg Brunner 17 for the Hawks. Ron Lewis led the Buckeyes with 19. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Penn State 69-60 in East Lansing. Paul Davis missed this game after getting an Idong Ibok elbow to the head in practice the previous day. And State without Davis was not pretty. The home team was beaten on the boards on both ends of the floor and the Nittany Lions led in the Breslin Center with five minutes to play (you're reading that right) 58-57. But the Spartans closed the game on a 12-2 run for the win. Shannon Brown scored 29 points--23 after intermission--to lead MSU. Drew Neitzel added 19 points and hit 5-of-8 threes. Mo Ager tried to shoot over the Penn State zone with a notable lack of success, recording a 2-of-13 on his threes. Geary Claxton had a nice line for the visitors: 19 points and 13 boards. (Box score.)

Illinois beat Purdue 76-58 in Champaign. For the second game in a row, Bruce Weber reacted to a slow start by his team by going small and putting Brian Randle at the 4 alongside three guards. It worked. The Illini beat the Boilers in every facet of the game--rebounding, turnovers, effective FG pct.--everything. Except threes. Purdue hit a notably good 7-of-16 while Illinois recorded a 6-of-20. Don't blame Rich McBride or Jamar Smith. They both went 3-of-6 and McBride led the Illini with 19 points. (Meaning his teammates went 3-of-14 outside the arc. Ye gods.) Even on an off shooting day, however, Dee Brown made plays, to the tune of nine assists. Defining "balanced scoring" down: no Boilermaker scored more than 11 points. (Box score.)

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

Tune in tomorrow for a continuation of Friday's spirited discussion on foul calls and the home vs. road differentials therein. I was overwhelmed with high-quality responses over the weekend--it merits its own post.

BONUS apology! I didn't know much when I started this little Wonk thing 15 months ago but one thing I knew for certain was that every email from every reader would receive a response. Even if just to say "thanks" to the fans and "auto-reply: mail box full" to the critics.

Alas, changes in the readership's demographics (i.e., there is now a readership) means that stopped happening sometime in December. So here's a lame blanket thank-you: zounds! The emails are for the most part unbelievably good. I'm flattered that you take the time to a) read, and b) wonk back. Thanks. Keep 'em coming.

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