Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Related story: FEMA not "significantly reacting to Katrina in terms of faster response"
From today's Lansing State Journal, referring to Saturday's pre-game incident between Michigan reserve Amadou Ba and a Michigan State fan on the floor of the Breslin Center: "MSU spokesman Terry Denbow said the university was not significantly reacting to the incident in terms of increased security."

To summarize: State's own fans are walking onto the court during shoot-arounds and fans of visiting teams are breezing past security before the gates even open. Yet there's no need for increased security.

Strictly speaking, that's likely correct. There may be no need for increased security at the Breslin Center.

But there is incontrovertibly a need for better security at the Breslin Center.

Ohio State likes playing in the state of Michigan
Ohio State beat Michigan State 79-68 in East Lansing last night. Playing their first game without Matt Trannon (broken jaw), the Spartans matched the Buckeyes in personnel for most of the game and went with four guards/wings (Drew Neitzel, Travis Walton, Mo Ager, and Shannon Brown) along with one big (Paul Davis).

And guess who won the contest to see who could play that style best? Rebounds, turnovers, and two-point shots were even. This game was won by OSU with threes. They shot six more than the Spartans and they made six more. It wasn't necessarily an outstanding shooting performance by the Buckeyes (11-of-24 on their threes--they've bettered that three times in conference play) but it was enough.

Here's just how odd a night this was: Ohio State sees fewer threes shot against them (in conference play) than does any other team. (As of this morning, only 29.6 percent of OSU opponents' attempts have been threes.) With good reason: teams are busy trying to pick on Matt Sylvester down low (or to pick up some fouls on Terence Dials). Last night, however, the matchup problem was on the Spartans' side of the court. Sylvester and Ron Lewis were posting up Walton.

Dials led the Buckeyes with a 19-10 dub-dub while Davis had a quiet night for State: 14 points and five boards in 34 minutes unblighted by foul trouble. Je'Kel Foster and Jamar Butler each drained three threes for OSU, while Sylvester and Lewis each made two. (Box score.)

This win leaves the rest of the conference effectively chasing Ohio State, who now has merely to win out on its home floor against Michigan and Purdue and take care of business on a visit to Northwestern to win a Big Ten title--most likely outright.

BONUS geographical note! Counting their win in Ann Arbor two weeks ago, the Buckeyes have now outscored their state of Michigan-based Big Ten opponents 174-153 on said opponents' own floors. Who knows? With any luck, OSU may get to play the first weekend of the tournament in Auburn Hills.

"We didn't rebound at all in the second half," Tom Izzo said afterward, "and I thought that was the difference....I don't think that was fatigue, we just didn't go after it like we could and should have. But you know we had a midget lineup in there, and we really needed Paul to dominate the boards....I thought we wore down a little bit." Thad Matta says the Spartans missed Trannon: "That's a tremendous blow for them. He had 14 (points) and 11 (rebounds) on us." Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz agrees with Matta: "What started three years ago as novelty--a football player helping out on the hardwood--has evolved into necessity."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana beat Penn State 69-65 last night in Bloomington, a game in which no fewer than 57 threes were attempted. Marshall Strickland shot 11 of them by himself, made seven, and led the Hoosiers with 22 points. "This feels like we got a little monkey off our back," Strickland said of IU's first win in six games. Geary Claxton had 19 points for the Nittany Lions. BONUS Hoosier-watching note! The IU home crowd, though they gave Mike Davis a nice round of applause before the game, was still very much in that morbid state of mind where bad things are expected. And when Milos Bogetic, of all people, hit a three for Penn State, the groan from the crowd was such that I thought they might go Jonestown at any moment. (Box score.)

Minnesota beat Purdue 62-50 in Minneapolis last night. The Boilers had done better of late holding on to the ball but that came to an end last night, as Matt Painter's team coughed the ball up 19 times in a slow (60-possession) game. "We obviously have to take care of the basketball," Painter said afterward. Spencer Tollackson led the Gophers with 12 points. No, not a misprint: the leading scorer had 12 points and the leading scorer was Spencer Tollackson. Marcus White's 12 points was also enough to lead the Boilers. For his part Dan Monson sounds pleased but not satisfied: "I think we're becoming a good team, but good doesn't mean great." (Box score.)

Northwestern plays Wisconsin tonight in Evanston (ESPN2, 9 ET). The Badgers say they're rested and refreshed after a weekend without a game. Profile of enigmatic and (it says here) misunderstood UW big Jason Chappell here.

BONUS backfill! (On a day when no card stunts were pulled--that I know of)
Daniel Horton (oops, I mean) Michigan beat Illinois 72-64 Tuesday night in Ann Arbor. Horton was both beastly and balanced, scoring 39 points thusly: 16 on two-pointers, 15 on three-pointers, and 8-for-8 shooting at the line. "A brilliant, brilliant performance," said Tommy Amaker. "Daniel has a way to will shots in and will us to victory." On an ordinary day James Augustine might have received attention and praise for his 23-14 dub-dub. But this was no ordinary day: Horton scored 54 percent of his team's points and put them beyond the reach of bubble talk. Said Horton: "I have to get my teammates a lot of credit because they found me when I was open." Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper sums the evening well: Horton "was fantastic. He hit some outrageous shots. But he also hit some wide open shots and Illinois’ defense was sadly lacking on those occasions." Chicago Tribune columnist Skip Myslenski says "Illinois, like the Red Cross, did its best to restore Michigan to health." The Illini received zero points from the bench--perhaps not surprising inasmuch as the reserves attempted only five shots. The crux of the matter for Bruce Weber is simple: when his team defends, they have a chance. When they don't, it's almost impossible for them to win (even at home against Penn State). Michigan has now scored 1.11 points per possession in both games against Illinois this season. (Box score.)

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A Spartan existence

Just made it back to metro Detroit from East Lansing. Tough game, but indeed the better team won. It is strange to look at the stats, especially the rebounding, which seemed far less even than it actually was. Sparty only minus one on the night? Alas, the statistician doesn't lie. As my former professor Cass Sunstein was wont to point out, the availability heuristic will deceive you more often than not.

The most memorable plays of this game came late, with State down six, playing good D for 30 seconds, only to have OSU grab an offensive rebound and kill whatever momentum was built up.

You've said it many times, State's rebounding is merely good enough--and that isn't enough in a year when their outside shooting is down. Defensively the team is alright, but once again "alright" won't bring home a Big Ten crown. Not to point fingers but Neitzel looked Edvard Munch horrific on D. Butler had his way with Neitzel and that made for easy looks for either Dials (first half) or Foster (second). 2005-06 Big Ten Champion Ohio State Buckeyes, Spartan Dave salutes your poise under pressure! You've earned this championship.

Not much of note at the Breslin this Wednesday evening. Crowd was pumped at the end of the first half but when Bucky stormed back on threes in the second half, Sparty had little to be excited about. Maybe because Paul Davis was rather non-existent down low and the likes of Ager and Brown had already begun to grow cold. C'est la vie. Here's looking forward to playing a team that is not from the Big Ten; God willing they won't realize they need to get back on the fast break.

Dave N.

Thanks for the report, Dave!

The Izzone "GO BLUE" almost-caper--the aftermath
That was quite the interview you got. I was at the game this weekend and they had the cards up and down so fast I don't think a lot of people noticed. Although I did say to the person next to me, "Does that say Go Blue?"

I knew the nerdy Maize Ragers were good for something!

Nikki J.

Good for something, indeed! Allow me to add a kudo here: I thought the writing on the fake "GO STATE" card was sublime. Mimicking Big Ten corporatese is no easy task but your Maize Ragers were up to the task, to wit: "The Big Ten Conference and its eleven member schools have worked together to create a series of promotions," etc. It must have been hard for guys this creative to write that dull.


That is the funniest thing I've seen in ages. Tell the student that, the next time he's short of funding, he should contact some alumni for some help. I definitely would have contributed.

Matt W.
Ann Arbor

Benevolence duly noted, Matt. Thanks!


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