Big Ten Wonk
Monday, February 20, 2006
11 thoughts
1. Iowa lost Saturday to Minnesota in Minneapolis and everyone was quick to assert that the speculation surrounding Steve Alford and the Indiana job had nothing at all to do with the outcome. This particular quick assertion was exactly right: Saturday's outcome blends in seamlessly with both the Gophers' recent play at home and the Hawkeyes' recent play on the road against teams whose coaches are not resigning. So why bring it up at all?

2. Illinois played like a team with absolutely no confidence in its outside shooting yesterday. They won anyway, of course, because they were at home and their opponent, Indiana, is also struggling from outside. But can they win in Ann Arbor tomorrow night without hitting some threes?

3. Ohio State's defense is underrated. In particular, their FG defense is only a few percentage points behind that posted by the much more heralded Iowa defense. And the Buckeyes' perimeter defense is outstanding. (Remember: you should never look at straight FG percentages (as opposed to effective FG percentages) on offense or on defense. Ohio State's case furnishes an excellent cautionary tale. Opponents never shoot threes against the Buckeyes so OSU's straight FG pct. defense is inflated accordingly.)

4. Wisconsin can hang with the leaders atop the conference with wins this week at Northwestern and at home against Minnesota. But the Badgers end the year on the road at Iowa and at Michigan State. The game UW will come to regret, as fiercely as Illinois already regrets the Penn State game, will be the loss at Purdue.

5. Michigan State's game at Indiana Sunday is huge (assuming, of course, the Spartans hold serve at home Wednesday against Ohio State). The Hoosiers will (should) play a lot of zone. State doesn't shoot threes real well but should get some excellent chances on the offensive glass. (Update: The Lansing State Journal is reporting this morning that Matt Trannon suffered a broken jaw in Saturday's win against Michigan and will be out "indefinitely.")

6. Michigan is 4-0 in Big Ten games where they've held their opponent to less than one point per possession. In games where they've allowed more than a point per possession, conversely, the Wolverines are 3-6. And therein lies the problem--that there are no fewer than nine instances of the latter.

7. Indiana can still make the tournament. But they have to win out: at home against Penn State and Michigan State and on the road at Purdue and Michigan. The Hoosiers should think of their "tournament" as starting today: win or stay home.

8. Penn State took a huge step toward the NIT with their road win at Purdue Saturday. They now need to win just one of their last three games: at home against Northwestern or on the road at Indiana or Iowa. (Failing that, win a game at the Big Ten tournament.)

9. Minnesota wins this week's Texas Longhorn Bipolar Award. Spotting previously struggling Michigan a 35-6 lead on Wednesday, the Gophers then beat previously alone-in-first-place Iowa by double-digits Saturday.

10. Northwestern, at 12-12, can still make the NIT. Three of their last four are at home.

11. Purdue is taking much better care of the ball. Despite their league-worst turnover percentage for the year, in their last four games the Boilers have turned it over on fewer than one in five possessions.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated! Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy.

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--yesterday!
Illinois beat Indiana 70-58 in Champaign. This is about as bad as the Illini have played this year in terms of turning the ball over (18 TOs in a 68-possession game) and outside shooting (3-of-17 on their threes). (Ye gods. Was this really one of Illinois' "best all-around efforts of the season"? If so, I don't want to see one of its worst efforts.) And yet they still won by 12. Brian Randle contributed the highlight of the afternoon with what one observer termed a "vicious" dunk and three-point play. "Brian is special at times," says Bruce Weber. "He doesn't realize how good he is." The Illini got 51 of their 70 points from their bigs, as James Augustine led the way with an 18-10 dub-dub. "We're doing a much better job the last couple games getting some inside touches," Weber says. "Now if we mix in some good three-point shooting down the stretch run maybe we can get involved in the race." Mike Davis says he saw some good things from his Hoosiers: "Illinois definitely had control of the basketball game, but I thought our guys really fought hard and tried their best." (Weber's assessment of the Hoosiers: "If they don't hit threes, they can't get Killingsworth easy looks. There's no doubt they're a different team than the one you saw in December and January.") Mysteriously absent in this game was Jamar Smith, who became the third Illini player this year (joining Chester Frazier and Warren Carter) to be benched by Weber because he "didn't take care of business." Illinois now faces three road games in its last four games--perhaps the toughest remaining schedule of any of the top five teams. "Me and James (Augustine) have been through this before as sophomores," says Dee Brown. "You just have to play with a different mentality." (Box score.)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Saturday!
Michigan State beat Michigan 90-71 in East Lansing. The Spartan team we all thought we would see this year was on display Saturday. Shannon Brown (26 points), Mo Ager (19), and Paul Davis (18-12 dub-dub) make things difficult for opposing defenses, to say the least, when they're all on their game in the same game. (Not to mention Drew Neitzel, who notched the rare points-assists dub-dub with a 13-12.) Daniel Horton led the Wolverines with 19 points on 17 shots in a game which marked the return of both Dion Harris (previously out with an injured ankle) and Jerret Smith (previously out with mono). Nevertheless, the roster depletion continued for UM, as Chris Hunter injured his knee just two minutes into the game and did not return. Meanwhile authorities continue to investigate a pregame incident (caught on video) in which Wolverine reserve Amadou Ba shoved a Michigan State student to the floor. (Box score.)

Minnesota beat Iowa 74-61 in Minneapolis. Either this is a different Hawkeye team when Erek Hansen gets in foul trouble or it's just a different team on the road. Or both. Either way, Hansen sat for 25 minutes in this game and a Hansen-less paint changes things for Iowa on D. Specifically, the Gophers went straight at Greg Brunner, a player who excels at getting the most out of his size and abilities on offense (17 points Saturday) but who on defense is, in the final analysis, pretty short and pretty slow. Minnesota got 20 points combined from Zach Puchtel and Spencer Tollackson--about 16 more than what Dan Monson's used to. Vincent Grier led the Gophers with 18 points on 10 shots. (Box score.)

Ohio State beat Northwestern 61-52 in Columbus. The Buckeyes shot 23 threes and made just three--Michigan and Illinois fans want to know why they didn't get to face this Ohio State team. J.J. Sullinger led the Buckeyes with 16 points. Terence Dials notched the rare ascending-numbers dub-dub with a 14-15. Jamar Butler had what qualifies for him as a really bad game: three assists, four turnovers and 2-of-10 shooting. Mohamed Hachad continued to be surprisingly prolific for the Wildcats, scoring 19 points. BONUS note for all analysts of notable free throw disparities! Ohio State shot 30 free throws in this game. Northwestern shot two. (Box score.)

Penn State beat Purdue 69-61 in West Lafayette. The Boilers tried and failed to shoot over the Nittany Lion zone, bricking 22 of 28 threes. (Chris Lutz alone went 1-of-8 from outside the arc.) It cost them the game. Travis Parker made four three-pointers and led the Nittany Lions with 21 points. Dub-dubs recorded by Jamelle Cornley (11-13) and Matt Kiefer (17-10). (Box score.)

BONUS Presidents Day edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Today's email comes to us from June 26, 1857
Longtime readers of this blog know that I harangue readers once a year with an unsolicited homily on the greatness of our greatest president. It's my blog. Consider yourself duly warned.

Summer, 1857: the Dred Scott decision has just been handed down and northern Democrats--led by U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois--are steadfastly maintaining that the language of the Declaration of Independence was never intended to be taken at face value, that it was merely a declaration of political separation applicable only to (white) British subjects alive at that time. That summer a lawyer gave a speech in Springfield, Illinois:

I understand you are preparing to celebrate the "Fourth," tomorrow week. What for? The doings of that day had no reference to the present; and quite half of you are not even descendants of those who were referred to at that day. But I suppose you will celebrate; and will even go so far as to read the Declaration. Suppose after you read it once in the old fashioned way, you read it once more with Judge Douglas' version. It will then run thus: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all British subjects who were on this continent eighty-one years ago were created equal to all British subjects born and then residing in Great Britain."

And now I appeal to all--to Democrats as well as others--are you really willing that the Declaration shall be thus frittered away?--thus left no more at most, than an interesting memorial of the dead past? Thus shorn of its vitality and practical value; and left without the germ or even the suggestion of the individual rights of man in it?

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