Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
BONUS "What the hell happened?!" edition!
I realize I'm late to this particular gig but an event as stunning as Penn State's 66-65 win over Illinois in Champaign last Saturday night can't pass by without comment--even if the comments are five days late. So indulge this Illini fan's play-by-play-enabled etiology and allow me just three admittedly tardy points....

1. Illinois lost this game because of a total collapse on defense in the second half. That they allowed 41 points after halftime would seem to say enough. The magnitude of their ineptness, however, is even worse--much worse--for this was a very slow game. At the rate they gave up points in the second half (1.58 points per possession) the Illini would have allowed an opponent to score 102 points in a Big Ten game of average pace (64.7 possessions). Illinois was weak in precisely those areas where they've been strong up to now: defensive rebounding and taking care of the ball. They were miraculously bad at both after halftime Saturday night and it cost them their home winning streak. To the extent that the game was lost on Illinois' defensive glass, some credit must go to Penn State--they are a very good offensive rebounding team. But to the extent that the game was lost when the Illini gave up the ball, the fault adheres to the home team. Penn State's non-Purdue opponents have shown precisely zero propensity for giving the ball away. Until now.

2. Illinois would have lost this game with or without foul trouble. Let's be clear about the totality of this debacle: yes, James Augustine was in foul trouble; yes, the Nittany Lions went on a 13-2 run after Augustine left the game with his fourth foul. But my fellow Illini fans should cherish no compensatory myths where this game is concerned: Augustine, on this aberrant night, was part of the problem, to the tune of three second-half turnovers and zero second half defensive rebounds. Heck, if he'd stayed in the game Penn State's run might have been 30-2.

3. Penn State really is better than they used to be--in part. The Nittany Lions are getting much love right now. They should. They won at Illinois. So let us render unto them the high compliment of informed praise: Penn State is a much improved team on offense over last year. As stated above, they're a very good offensive rebounding team (led in this department by Geary Claxton). Moreover, they are light years beyond where they were last year in the essential but little noticed activity known as holding on to the ball. (We see you and your good numbers, Mike Walker.) But before we go and compare Penn State 2006 to Minnesota 2005, let us also note that this is an atrocious defensive team--one of the worst in "major"-conference basketball. (Among members of the "big six" conferences, only Baylor comes in below the Nittany Lions on Ken Pomeroy's rankings of defensive efficiency.) It's true this team's main defensive liability is their lack of size--these players certainly don't lack for effort and that hints at good things to come. Nevertheless, it's instructive that in the present their big win came on a night not when they stopped the other team (they didn't: Illinois scored a robust 1.14 points per possession on the evening) but rather on a night when the other team couldn't stop them. (Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated! They're tempo-free! They're derived from conference play only and free from distortion caused by wildly differing December schedules! Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy.

In other housekeeping news (oxymoron?), my "Do Wonk's Blog for Him Contest" was officially torpedoed by the outlandish end-of-the-world events in Champaign. I returned from my weekend getaway to find my In box spilling over with variations on the following (quoted in all its Strunk & Whitean entirety):

I am blaming the Penn. St. loss on you for going on vacation.

Joe J.

Yes, many, many emails and yet not a lot of game recaps. Alas....

While Wonk was frolicking--Saturday!
Iowa obliterated Michigan 94-66 in Iowa City. In my last pre-hiatus post, I was seen holding forth sagely to the effect that the Hawkeyes' first place days were numbered. What I failed to intuit, however, was that Iowa was about to explode with what canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska has aptly termed some seriously "absurd" shooting.

How absurd? Try this:

Best FG shooting (effective FG pct.) by or against a Big Ten team, 2005-06
1. Iowa vs. Michigan (78.6)
2. Michigan vs. Miami of Ohio (75.0)
3. Indiana vs. Florida A&M (74.6)
4. Michigan State vs. Wisconsin-Green Bay (73.3)
5. Michigan vs. Northwestern (72.8)
6. Ohio State vs. Penn State (72.8)
7. Indiana vs. Western Illinois (71.0)
8. Florida State vs. Purdue (70.7)

Shoot like that and nothing else matters. Not hard screens, bloody noses, 18 turnovers--nothing. (Box score.)

Connecticut beat Indiana 88-80 in Bloomington. Even on paper, even at home, this was not a promising match up for the Hoosiers. Indeed, an eight-point margin of defeat may actually speak well of a team that has struggled mightily to defend on the interior and was facing arguably the most formidable interior in the country. The Huskies devoted 45 of their 59 shots to two-pointers and 27 of them went in. Add in the 13 offensive boards and you have a vintage UConn win. They don't care if you don't turn the ball over (which IU didn't). They don't need you to. They beat you to a pulp straight up. (Box score.)

Purdue beat Wisconsin 70-62 in West Lafayette. Surely a troubling result for Badger fans--more troubling than losing at home to Illinois. (Well, until Illinois went and did what they did, anyway.) Yes, Stiemsma and Landry (Marcus) are missed. But are they really missed any more than the Boilers miss Landry (Carl), Crump, Spates, Teague, and Minnoy? (Box score.)

The following recap was contributed by alert reader Shawn M.:

Michigan State beat Northwestern 77-66 Saturday night in Evanston. Vedran Vukusic was outstanding again for the Wildcats, going 7-12 from the field for a hard-fought 23 points. State’s big three, however, all played how they needed to for this team to win, with Mo Ager, Shannon Brown, and Paul Davis going for 21, 22, and 16, respectively. (Box score.) Rebounding also picked back up for State, who pounded the ‘Cats on the boards by a vintage-Izzo-like margin of 40-24. The two teams became involved in the Most Boring Altercation Ever late in the first half, when there was a little bit of extra-curricular chest-bumping and ball-swatting followed by an unbelievably long cooling-off period, during which the crowd went from confused to angry, and then back to kind of a mix of tired and confused. BONUS "first trip to Welsh-Ryan Arena" thoughts! 1) It’s unlike any other Big Ten arena! 2) Northwestern fans are friendly! 3) Kudos to the 9-year-old kid at halftime who made seven increasingly difficult shots in under a minute, sending the previously bored crowd into a brief frenzy by banking the last shot at the buzzer. For a moment, Wildcat and Spartan fans united with one voice, and the kid won a LaSalle Bank blanket.

Ohio State beat Minnesota 67-53 in Columbus. Je'Kel Foster led the Buckeyes with 25 points on 7-of-8 three-point shooting. See the spanking good game recap at the Buckeye Sports Blitz blog. (Box score.)

And now...back to the present tense!
Wisconsin plays Indiana tonight in Madison (ESPN, 7 ET). Hoosier coach Mike Davis says he's going to start Earl Calloway tonight....Alando Tucker says the Badgers will be ready for Marco Killingsworth: "We can't let guys come in and push us around."...In this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mark Stewart points out that Tucker and Kammron Taylor alone have accounted for about 55 percent of UW's scoring in conference play. And that might not be an unalloyed good.

Northwestern plays Iowa in Evanston tonight. Wildcat coach Bill Carmody says his team isn't intimidated by the first-place Hawkeyes: "I know our guys think they can beat Iowa, especially here." Carmody also has high praise for Vedran Vukusic: I don't think he has any real weaknesses. His biggest weakness is that he likes to share things. He believes in democracy."

Michigan State plays Purdue tonight in East Lansing. Marcus Green, freshman guard for the Boilers and a product of Chicago East Leyden, says he's ready to face fellow Chicago-area baller and former rival Shannon Brown. Meanwhile State coach Tom Izzo says he wants to see his best players on the floor and not on the bench: "We have to defend without fouling." Izzo's been making changes in the Spartans' practice routine to emphasize the point: "If there is a foul, we stop and say something now (in practice)." (Izzo also says the Big Ten's so-called "bottom four" teams are "getting better faster" than the top seven.)

Penn State plays Minnesota in State College tonight. Nittany Lion coach Ed DeChellis says he won't let his team suffer a hangover after its huge win at Illinois Saturday: "Illinois didn't beat us Saturday night. I don't want Illinois to beat us Wednesday night." Gopher coach Dan Monson sees similarities between last year's Minnesota team and this year's Penn State squad: "They're kind of like we were last year a little bit; they're the kind of team you don't want to play no matter where you are in the Big Ten."...Profile of Gopher freshman Jamal Abu-Shamala here.

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

A slow painful Seth?
Hi, Wonk,

Hope you were enjoying brunch at the Cliff House while I shoveled wet snow off the sidewalk this weekend. I didn't even have an IU victory to cheer me up! As I sorted through the UConn aftermath I ran across a pre-game Seth Davis ( column entitled "Hoosier-sized upset."

Seth liked the Hoosiers' chances at home against the Huskies. In particular, he noted that UConn "is not an efficient offensive team," and proves this by noting their paltry 4.6 threes per game and low three point percentage. He sternly warns that "if UConn tries to win this thing by outscoring them, it will play right into the Hoosier's hands."

But Seth didn't bother to check the relative importance of threes to the UConn offense. According to Pomeroy, they rank 328th nationally in three-point shooting ratio. So their 3FG pct. is an unimportant indicator of their efficiency.

Pomeroy actually ranks the Huskies about 10th in the nation in offensive efficiency. The game demonstrated why: UConn went 5-14 on their threes (2-10 when the shooter wasn't Rudy Gay), but shot 60 percent from inside. For long stretches of the game, UConn scored on basically every possession in which they didn't actually throw the ball away.

The final score might look deceptively close, but the Huskies had an insurmountable 17-point lead at the 3:18 mark. They'd averaged 2.4 points per minute to that point in the game, despite 14 turnovers.

Wow. Let's show the replay on that again: "If UConn tries to win this thing by outscoring them, it will play right into the Hoosier's hands." Would-be statistician Seth Davis, this Wonk reader salutes you!

Ashton S.

Well detected and detonated, Ashton. Thanks!

<< Home

wonk back!
email me

a very special wonk
the blog's final days

me, simmons, and 150 million other american males
the four dullest topics for a hoops blog
drama, magnitude, and finality
2007 "power"-conference velocity report
special report: in tedium's path
stop DAD: defensive attention deficit
consistency, threes, and stereotypes
they shoot free throws, don't they?
every rebound needs an adjective
fouls: call fewer or allow more
was norman dale wrong?
what's PPWS?
POT: perimeter-oriented team
symphony of altruists
mammalian theory of extreme home-court advantage
law of november weight change
scoring and preventing points: how to

tempo-free aerials
(conf. games only)
big east
big ten
big XII

geek chorus
intro to tempo-free stats
2007 big ten team tempo-free stats
2006 big ten team tempo-free stats
2005 big ten team tempo-free stats
state of the stats, april '06

canonical bloggers
yoni cohen
ken pomeroy
kyle whelliston
ryan kobliska
chris west
brian cook

November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
August 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
August 2006
September 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
October 2007