Meet the best offense in the Big Ten Ohio State beat Michigan 94-85 last night in Ann Arbor thanks to a spectacular shooting display by the Buckeyes: 15-of-24 threes and a 73.7 effective FG percentage. (Find a reason to bench Matt Sylvester before tip-off and the visitors would have been 15-of-20 outside the arc. Incredible.) Shooting like that inflicts the unkindest cut on a long team like the Wolverines: it mattered not one whit that OSU was absolutely pummeled on the boards. Michigan posted an 84.6 defensive rebounding pct. and a 45.5 on the offensive glass. Fine, take the boards, the Buckeyes said, in effect. For in plain fact there were no boards to be had on Ohio State's side of the floor.OSU had five players in double-figures, led by Jamar Butler with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting (with five assists and one turnover--sweet line). Je'Kel Foster shot six threes and made five. The oft-maligned Ivan Harris was 3-of-5 outside the arc. You get the idea. Plus the Buckeyes turned the ball over just eight times. Stellar shooting plus no turnovers: you win. (Illinois proved as much 37 times last year.) Thad Matta has a very good offense on his hands and one has to wonder if he ever looks back to last year and thinks to himself he should have benched frequent clangers Tony Stockman and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham in November instead of February. Shooting really does solve every problem--here's proof. Ohio State's offensive rebounding and turnovers are basically the same thus far in conference play as they were last year. (Their offensive rebounding is actually a little better this year; their TO numbers are a little worse.) But this year's 57.8 eFG pct. (vs. last year's 50.1) means that Matta's men are scoring 1.13 points per possession (tops in the Big Ten) instead of 1.00 (sixth last season). Ohio State's offense is performing at a level roughly equal to that of last year's Michigan State team. Which, as we know, was a Final Four level. (But, of course, OSU's D isn't as good as MSU's was last year. Duly noted.) As for Michigan, Courtney Sims feasted for the first 30 minutes (26-12 dub-dub) on a foul-blighted Terence Dials but by the end of the evening the Wolverines were laboring under some severe roster depletions. Lester Abram (ankle) and Jerret Smith (mono) were pregame scratches. Brent Petway departed with 12 minutes left with a rib injury. And Dion Harris gimped off the court with eight minutes to go with a sprained ankle. There goes half your top eight right there.Still, two of the above four were available all game long in Iowa City the other day with no great difference in outcome. Indeed, UM has now allowed two of the best shooting performances we've seen from any Big Ten team all season long--in back-to-back games. It's fair to ask how much of this is bad luck and how much is bad defense. I think it's almost exactly equal measures of both. Ohio State has played worse defenses than Michigan's and not shot as well as they did last night. That much is luck. Still, the Wolverines do indeed have some defensive liabilities. Screens, to pick one mundane example, seem to work about 50 percent better against Michigan than what is normal, particularly against non-Graham Brown Wolverines. Much of the first-half damage from long range was done on simple ball screens. Daniel Horton (who got the rare points-assists dub-dub last night with a 15-10), Dion Harris, Chris Hunter--all struggled with screens. (Horton was also too eager to sag on the weak side last night and was burned on a nice skip pass to Foster from Sylvester.)Michigan is still going to make the tournament and four weeks from now they'll be garnering the standard accolades (long, athletic, dangerous, etc.). But in truth they're allowing points at a rate (1.08 points per possession in Big Ten play) that will make any multi-game tournament run unlikely to the point of miracle-working. Still, need it be said, they've come a long way in one year. (Box score.)A couple linksWas last night's tempo truly "faster than the Wolverines have played in any Big Ten game this season"? Close, but not really. Last night: 70 possessions. Saturday against Iowa: 71. Season-opener at Indiana: 70...."We have to do a better job defending," says Daniel Horton. "We haven't defended for three games. We haven't been tough enough lately."In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Weekend look-ahead--tomorrow!
Iowa at Indiana (ESPN, Noon ET)Michigan at PurdueWisconsin at Penn StateMichigan State at MinnesotaIPFW at Northwestern
Illinois at Ohio State (CBS, 1 ET)Indiana is winless on the road in the Big Ten and Hoosier fans are miffed.... "One-hundred percent of our callers (Thursday) wanted (coach) Mike Davis to be fired,'' said John Michael, host of "The Drive" on [Indianapolis station] WNDE-1260 AM. "You know that a lot of those people are making a snap judgment after a bad loss, but no one is happy about the way this team is playing."Northwestern's big win over Iowa Wednesday night has the Wildcats pondering the possibility of postseason play.Illinois big man James Augustine talks about foul trouble (as in trying to stay out of it) here.Penn State basketball is best explained as a pendulum--so says Jeff Rice in this morning's Centre Daily Times.In his weekly college hoops notebook for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, indefatigable savant Jeff Shelman salutes Josh Hinz. Who's Josh Hinz?Last weekend, Josh Hinz put together an amazing performance for Division III Beloit College. Against Grinnell--a team that chucks up three-pointers for the entire game--Hinz tied the D-III single-game record for rebounds with 36. He also scored 50 points. That's a pretty good game.Pretty good indeed.Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! The return of SIWs! A couple weeks ago I posted an email from alert reader Ross B., who outlined the concept of Schedule Independent Wins (SIWs) as follows....Count me among those who miss the full double round-robin Big Ten schedule.In 1929, a German mathematician by the name of Ernst Zermelo faced a similar problem when he sought to produce standings for a round-robin chess tournament that was not completed. Zermelo's idea was to assign a numeric rating to each player wherein the probability that Player A might beat Player B is a function of their ratings (and, as later mathematicians modified his system, a "home court advantage" parameter). The ratings are assigned such that for each player, the sum of the probabilities for each game played equals the number of matches actually won by the player. These ratings summarize both wins and schedule strength as a single number. The higher your rating, the better you've played.If we calculate this Zermelo rating for each team, we can simulate a 20-game Big Ten schedule by adding up the probability of winning home and away vs. each opponent. This number, which we'll call Schedule Independent Wins, reflects the number of games a team would expect to win over a full 20-game schedule if it continues to play at its current level. Schedule Independent Wins are to traditional standings what tempo-free stats are to traditional statistics.Got it? Good. Here are the latest numbers from Ross, including last night's Ohio State-Michigan game....Schedule Independent Wins, through Thursday1. Michigan State (11.8)2. Iowa (10.8)3. Ohio State (10.7)4. Illinois (10.6)5. Michigan (9.6)6. Indiana (8.9)7. Wisconsin (8.7)8. Northwestern (5.8)9. Penn State (4.8)10. Minnesota (3.5)11. Purdue (2.8)Conclusions? Michigan State is spotting Iowa nearly a full game in the schedule, but still remains a slight favorite. Illinois is also running into a bit of a headwind. Otherwise, the schedule looks fairly even for the other contenders.Ross B.IndianapolisThanks, Ross!