Big Ten Wonk
Monday, February 27, 2006
11 thoughts
1. Ohio State can either pin their tournament hopes on a Providence-in-'87-like run of incredible three-point shooting--or they can win ugly. They've proven they can do both. Relating to the latter, their field goal defense has been even better than Iowa's in Big Ten play and it allows them to win even when their threes aren't falling, as seen Saturday at home against Michigan. The only thing preventing the Buckeye defense from going from good to very good (and thus preventing the Buckeyes from going from very good to great) is their defensive rebounding, or lack thereof.

2. Illinois fans, like this one, started the year asking if Rich McBride could keep opposing defenses honest by taking some of the three-point load off of Dee Brown. Illini fans are now ending the year by asking if Brown can keep opposing defenses honest by taking some of the three-point load off of McBride.

3. Iowa is now done with road games and, likely, happy that they are. Their defense allowed less than one point per possession in just two Big Ten road games this year: at Northwestern (loss) and at Indiana (win).

4. Wisconsin's offense is, the hiccup at Northwestern notwithstanding, better than its defense of late. If UW can somehow put it all together in the same game, they may just steal a win during the toughest remaining schedule in the Big Ten: at Michigan State and at Iowa.

5. Michigan is bipolar. Over their last seven games (in which the Wolverines have gone 2-5) no game's been decided by fewer than eight points. Win or lose, it's not going to be very close.

6. Michigan State has had four years to inculcate the Izzo ethic in Paul Davis and he's still getting benched.

7. Indiana, as noted here last week, can still make the tournament. But they need to win a Big Ten road game. The last time they did that was February 20, 2005. At Michigan.

8. Penn State has had the best offense in the Big Ten over the past two weeks, scoring 1.12 points per possession.

9. Minnesota can't make the tournament without winning the Big Ten tournament. True, two more wins (by no means a foregone conclusion, with a home game against Illinois and a road game at Northwestern) would push them to 7-9, same as tournament-worthy Iowa last year. But last year's Hawkeyes had a 12-1 non-conference record (the only loss coming to eventual national champion North Carolina) and then beat Final Four-bound Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament.

10. Northwestern is the best two-point shooting team in the conference. The Wildcats also shoot (way) fewer twos than any other Big Ten team, instead devoting more than 46 percent of their attempts to threes in conference play.

11. Purdue is going to finish the year in last place but transport this same team to last year and (from the damning with faint praise department) you'd be looking at perhaps an eighth-place finish--about equal to last year's Northwestern squad, better than last year's Michigan or Penn State teams. Keep an eye on Matt Painter.

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!
Indiana beat Michigan State 78-71 in Bloomington. The Hoosiers finished the game on an 11-2 run over the last 3:32 after Errek Suhr set the screen that fouled Paul Davis out of the game. Suhr fell (flopped?) when Davis tried to go over the top of the screen: "I felt the contact, so I went down," Suhr explained afterward. "We didn't execute as well in the last three minutes," said Tom Izzo, who'd actually benched Davis in favor of Idong Ibok to start the second half. "I wanted to make a point to Paul that he has to take the ball to the basket instead of shooting those fade shots." After averaging just 10.9 points over his first seven Big Ten road games, Mo Ager went berserk for State and dropped 30 on the Hoosiers. "I think that was a great sign," Izzo said of Ager's play. Izzo also indicated he, for one, misses Matt Trannon (out indefinitely with a broken jaw). "These were the two worst teams we could play without Matt," Izzo said of playing Indiana and Ohio State without his starting power forward. "We won't see a lot of small lineups the last two games (against Wisconsin and Illinois)."...Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says that when it comes to this year's edition of the Spartans, "there's a significant gap between what we want to believe and what we see."...Robert Vaden again repeated his current expectation: to transfer after the season is over. "My coach is leaving and that wasn't the only reason, but that was a very big reason why I came here,'' Vaden said after yesterday's game. "I don't think it would be best for me to stay here. I think it would be best for me to weigh my options and look elsewhere." Vaden led the Hoosiers yesterday with 21 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting....This was the final home game for IU and after the game Indiana's seniors and outgoing coach Mike Davis addressed the crowd. Davis was given a warm reception, one that Gregg Doyel questions this morning at cbs.sportsline: "If Indiana fans will sleep easier by pretending for one day that they appreciate and even like the coach they ran out of town, so be it." (Box score.)

Wisconsin beat Minnesota 80-74 in Madison. The Badgers scored on nine of their last ten possessions and for the game the Gophers gave up 1.20 points per possession, their second-worst defensive performance of the year. (Illinois scored 1.23 PPP against Minnesota.) "When we missed shots, we didn't get stops," said Dan Monson afterward, "and you cannot go on the road and try to outscore people." After being limited against Northwestern by an ankle he sprained in practice last Monday, Alando Tucker led the Badgers with 22 points on 16 shots. "Yeah, he did look better," Bo Ryan said of Tucker. "We needed him." Joe Krabbenhoft notched his first ever dub-dub with a minimally qualified 10-10 in 22 minutes. The Badgers shot 36 free throws; both Adam Boone and J'son Stamper fouled out for the Gophers. What can tempo-free stats do for you? They can keep you from saying that Minnesota entered yesterday's game "leading the Big Ten in offensive rebounding." This is like saying Penn State "led" the Big Ten in offensive rebounding last season. The Gophers, as did the Nittany Lions last year, miss many more shots than do other Big Ten teams--thus there are a lot more offensive boards to be had. The truth is that Minnesota has rebounded about 33 percent of its misses in conference play. A respectable mark, to be sure, yet one that has been bettered by three other teams. (Box score.)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Saturday!
Illinois beat Iowa 71-59 in Champaign. The Illini shot OK (which for them is great), pounded the offensive glass (44.8 offensive rebound pct.), and took care of the ball (just eight turnovers in a 60-possession game). The result was their best offensive showing (1.18 points per possession) in weeks. Rich McBride made 4-of-5 threes and led Illinois with 15 points. Playing his last game in Assembly Hall, Dee Brown couldn't hit a shot to save his life (2-of-12 from the floor) but still finished with nine assists and just one turnover. For the Hawkeyes on offense Greg Brunner was huge (27 points helped along by five offensive boards) but his teammates were almost all tiny. Particularly microscopic was Adam Haluska (three points on six shots). For more see the definitive game recap from canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska. (Box score.)

Ohio State beat Michigan 64-54 in Columbus. The Buckeyes were unusually cold from outside (4-for-18) but it didn't matter, as the home team shot 13 more free throws and the visitors were in any event busily donating 18 turnovers. Terence Dials continued his strong late-season play and led OSU with a 22-11 dub-dub. Coming off his 39-point performance against Illinois in Ann Arbor last Tuesday, Daniel Horton went just 4-of-16 from the field and coughed up six turnovers. And kudos to Courtney Sims for recording what will henceforth be known as the Joe Krabbenhoft 10-10 dub-dub. (Box score.)

Penn State beat Northwestern 68-55 in State College. The Nittany Lions shot 26 free throws. The Wildcats shot three. Though it was done in a losing cause, Evan Seacat drained six threes as he led all scorers with 18 points. And Mike Walker jeopardized a season's worth of pretty assist-turnover numbers with a highly uncharacteristic five TOs in just 18 minutes. (Box score.)

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The Hitchcock-Bob Knight convergence--revisited
The second episode of "Knight School" aired on ESPN last night and once again would-be Texas Tech walk-ons were seen reading and discussing their assigned text, Kipling's "If." Last week I asked the following pert question related to said poem:

What Hitchcock classic uses a snippet (visually!) from this cherished warhorse of high school lit classes? (Obligatory old geezer rant: Not that they still read Kipling in high school. In my day, we read things! Nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. "Gimme five bees for a quarter," you'd say. Etc., etc.)

Kudos to alert reader Peter C. who replied with admirable Strunk & Whitean brevity:

Strangers on a Train, of course...

Well, done Peter!

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