Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Love for the leaders
This Valentine's Day I'm showering the tempo-free love on the Big Ten's best players. (Also, on a notably more geeky note, research has begun in earnest for the All-Wonk Team (2.0), to be announced March 8.)

So without further ado, meet the players worthy of your love--and mine....

Scoring efficiency: PPWS (more about this stat)
All games, through February 13
1. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.48)
2. Jamar Smith, Illinois (1.37)
3. Jamar Butler, Ohio State (1.32)
4. Courtney Sims, Michigan (1.31)
5. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (1.31)
6. Paul Davis, Michigan State (1.30)
7. Ron Lewis, Ohio State (1.28)
8. Graham Brown, Michigan (1.27)
9. James Augustine, Illinois (1.26)
10. Shannon Brown, Michigan State (1.25)

How lethal is Foster in his scoring? Bear in mind Salim Stoudamire's best-in-nation PPWS last season was 1.38. (Also note: Lester Abram has a 1.37 PPWS but he's injured so I left him off.)

Rebound pct. (more about this stat)
All games, through February 13
1. Graham Brown, Michigan (19.5)
2. Paul Davis, Michigan State (18.4)
3. Greg Brunner, Iowa (17.5)
4. Courtney Sims, Michigan (17.1)
5. Marco Killingsworth, Indiana (17.1)
6. Matt Kiefer, Purdue (16.7)
7. James Augustine, Illinois (16.3)
8. Shaun Pruitt, Illinois (16.2)
9. Terence Dials, Ohio State (15.4)
10. Doug Thomas, Iowa (15.4)

BONUS who's-not-here note! What the heck happened to Matt Trannon? Last year he, Davis, and Augustine were the only players in the Big Ten with rebound percentages north of 17. This year Trannon's rebounding (11.8 reb. pct.) has fallen off a cliff. As Fred Willard would say: wha' happen?

Defensive rebound pct. (more about this stat)
All games, through February 13
1. Paul Davis, Michigan State (24.3)
2. Graham Brown, Michigan (24.2)
3. Marco Killingsworth, Indiana (23.3)
4. Greg Brunner, Iowa (23.0)
5. James Augustine, Illinois (21.8)
6. Doug Thomas, Iowa (21.3)
7. Matt Kiefer, Purdue (21.2)
8. Courtney Sims, Michigan (21.0)
9. Terence Dials, Ohio State (20.3)
10. Brian Butch, Wisconsin (20.2)

Iowa's in a nice spot. When Erek Hansen is in the game they get shot-blocking and general wreaking of havoc. And when Hansen's replaced with Doug Thomas, the Hawkeyes, between Thomas and Greg Brunner, get just about every rebound in sight on their defensive end of the floor.

Offensive rebound pct. (more about this stat)
All games, through February 13
1. J'son Stamper, Minnesota (14.2)
2. Graham Brown, Michigan (14.2)
3. Shaun Pruitt, Illinois (13.0)
4. Courtney Sims, Michigan (12.9)
5. Brian Randle, Illinois (12.5)
6. Matt Kiefer, Purdue (11.8)
7. Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota (11.7)
8. Paul Davis, Michigan State (11.6)
9. Geary Claxton, Penn State (11.5)
10. Greg Brunner, Iowa (11.4)

Stamper and Claxton are 6-6 and 6-5 respectively, each furnishing some offensive help that their not-very-good-shooting teams badly need.

Assist pct. (more about this stat)
All games, through February 13
1. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (10.3)
2. Daniel Horton, Michigan (10.3)
3. Jeff Horner, Iowa (10.1)
4. Dee Brown, Illinois (9.9)
5. Ben Luber, Penn State (9.1)
6. Jamar Butler, Ohio State (9.0)
7. Mike Walker, Penn State (9.0)
8. Tim Doyle, Northwestern (9.0)
9. Adam Boone, Minnesota (8.1)
10. Travis Walton, Michigan State (8.0)

In straight assist-per-game terms, Horner has a healthy lead over the rest of the Big Ten because he never ever comes out of the game--and because, as seen here, he really is creating a ton of assists.

NOTE! The love stops here!
Turnover pct. (more about this stat)
All games, through February 13 (from worst to best)
1. Marco Killingsworth, Indiana (8.3)
2. Courtney Sims, Michigan (7.2)
3. Mohamed Hachad, Northwestern (6.7)
4. Tony Freeman, Iowa (6.4)
5. Daniel Horton, Michigan (6.3)
6. Robert Vaden, Indiana (6.2)
7. Chris Hunter, Michigan (5.9)
8. Marcus Green, Purdue (5.8)
9. Moe Hargrow, Minnesota (5.5)
10. Ron Lewis, Ohio State (5.4)

Killingsworth and Sims at least have the stats equivalent of a note from their parents. They each get a ton of touches in the paint (Killingsworth especially), which is a recipe for turnovers. But Mohamed Hachad?

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The drama pot is officially boiling over at Indiana. As oracular Hoosier observer Terry Hutchens puts it: "Every time Mike Davis opens his mouth these days, his future as the Indiana University basketball coach appears more bleak."

The latest mouth-opening went like this:

"I just think Indiana needs to have one of their own," Davis said Monday during the Big Ten coaches teleconference. "They need to have someone that has played here, so they can embrace him. And they need that. I'm not upset about it, I'm not disappointed, I just think they need that."

Which leads Louisville Journal-Courier columnist Rick Bozich to remark:

Mike Davis has reviewed the videotapes and uncovered the reasons the Indiana University men's basketball team could not score against Minnesota, could not defend against Wisconsin, and could not win the games it needed to win to remain a fearsome force in the Big Ten Conference.

IU fans are the reason.

Casting an eye from an adjacent Assembly Hall, oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper offers the following: "It means there's a 99.9 percent certainty the Hoosiers will soon be looking for a new head coach."

In non-operatic news: there's a game tonight
Iowa plays Michigan State tonight in Iowa City (ESPN, 9 ET). The Hawkeyes say, yes, they remember losing by 30 in East Lansing on January 21. Erek Hansen: "Our whole team feels like that wasn't even us when we were up there. We played so horrible. We didn't do anything we planned on doing. We're ready for them to come back here and show them our real game." Greg Brunner: "When you get beat that bad you never put it out of your mind."...Tom Izzo says not so fast: it's his team that will have the "big chip" on its shoulder, after losing at Minnesota Saturday. "We took a slap in the face." Shannon Brown agrees: "We're gonna regroup, and we're gonna be ready to play this game."... BONUS phantom email note! In yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune, venerable columnist Sid Hartman reported that Izzo sent Dan Monson this congratulatory email after Saturday's win: "I'm happy for you but you cost us the Big Ten title. I studied the tape of the game and concluded that we played a lot better than I thought. Your guys were the reason we didn't play well." Izzo said yesterday he was unaware of Hartman's column and that he had indeed called Monson but had not sent an email. Sagacious Spartan observer and intrepid MSM blogger Steve Grinczel sets the record straight here.

BONUS from-freshman-to-famous edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Why was Assembly Hall so quiet in Bloomington Saturday?

I was at the Iowa game. Leading up to the game I had heard about the "Black Out" and thought it was about the dumbest idea I'd ever heard. But I didn't see anyone wearing black at the game on Saturday. I looked around for a few minutes at halftime and saw a group of three Iowa fans wearing black, that was it.

Also, I was embarrassed to be in the student section in the first half. Hardly anyone cheered, not at tip-off, not when it was tied early, not to try to pick the team up. Some home court advantage. [IU football] Coach Hep even called out the students at halftime when he announced the 2006 football schedule, to no avail. The students were equally disappointing throughout the rest of the game. I guess I was blinded by my passion and didn't realize so many other fans only like the team in fair weather.

Tim C.
IU freshman

Thanks for the report, Tim! Maybe the early tip contributed to the odd quiet, an atmosphere which was both palpable and puzzling to those of us tuning in.

Iowa, point differentials, and March prospects
Yesterday I noted that Iowa, at 8-3 in the Big Ten, has outscored their opponents over 11 games by a total of only 34 points. Wonk's readers respond!

Mr. Wonk,

Can you explain to me how a 34-point spread is that strange in a team that’s 8-3 in the Big Ten? Assuming wins and losses tend to cancel each other out (a la the 30 point loss to Michigan St. and the 28 point win over Michigan), the remaining 5 games would average out to a 6.8 point margin. While that’s not that huge of a margin, it doesn’t seem to indicate that they’re playing that many close games, either.

So Iowa’s not a team that blows other teams out of the water (normally). Is that reason for everyone to be taking the position that there’s no way they can win the Big Ten?


Michael P.

You misread me, Michael! "No way they can win the Big Ten"? I said pretty much the exact opposite yesterday: "The Hawks stand a fair chance of finishing with at least a share of the Big Ten title, as they play three of their last five at home."

No, my only point was that it's good to win close games--but a better predictor of success in March seems to be the ability to win big. Let's borrow from the current efficiency margin table, shall we?...

Efficiency margin: points per possession (PPP) minus opponent PPP (more about these stats)
Conference games only, thru February 12
1. Ohio State (+0.15)
2. Wisconsin (+0.11)
3. Illinois (+0.08)
4. Michigan State (+0.07)
5. Iowa (+0.05)
6. Michigan (-0.01)
7. Indiana (-0.05)
8. Minnesota (-0.06)
9. Northwestern (-0.07)
10. Purdue (-0.10)
11. Penn State (-0.14)

Think of efficiency margin as merely the tempo-free version of point differential (which is good because that's precisely what it is). Now, I've only been doing this for a year, granted, but here's what I know from 2005....

Illinois had an efficiency margin in Big Ten play of +0.24. They went to the national championship game. Michigan State had an efficiency margin of +0.18. They went to the Final Four. Iowa had an efficiency margin of +0.02. They lost in the first round.

Are there exceptions? Of course! Heck, West Virginia came within a free throw of the Final Four last year even though they had a negative efficiency margin (!) in Big East play.

Still, efficiency margins in conference play do seem to track pretty well with potential for success in the tournament. Again, look at last year. The four "power"-conference teams with the best in-conference efficiency margins? Illinois, Louisville, North Carolina, and Michigan State.

True story.

Michigan, injuries, and perimeter D
One of this humble little blog's more illustrious readers is Jon Chait of The New Republic, the sagacious political pundit and, as it happens, die-hard Michigan fan. Jon took issue with the part of yesterday's post where I said the Wolverine defense has "collapsed."

I continue to enjoy your blog but your take on Michigan seems wrong bordering on bizarre to me. I don’t have all the numbers in front of me, but my casual observation was that Michigan with a healthy roster was an okay perimeter defense at the beginning of the year.

Indeed they were, Jon! I didn't mean to give the impression that the Wolverines' current struggles are occurring irrespective of the injuries to Lester Abram, Dion Harris, and Jerret Smith. Merely that UM would not get a lot of sympathy complaining of roster absences in West Lafayette, where the entire projected starting five is missing in action.

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