Big Ten Wonk
Friday, March 10, 2006
According to form...almost
Yesterday's results at the Big Ten Tournament in Indy leave us with the following games for today and tonight:

(1) Ohio State vs. (8) Penn State (ESPN, noon ET)
The undersized Nittany Lions will play zone and, as crazy as that sounds when going against the best three-point shooting team in the Big Ten, I think that's the only possible course of action for Ed DeChellis's team. Their chances are better against Je'Kel Foster and Jamar Butler 20 feet out than they are against Terence Dials six feet out. The Buckeyes beat PSU twice this year and the win in Columbus was simply a 104-69 mauling. The game in State College, however, was more interesting. Penn State hung around for a half in that one and limited Dials to eight points. The Nittany Lions' best shot at making today's game respectable is to again limit Dials' touches--but without putting Ohio State on the free throw line 28 times as they did in State College (though some of that was end-of-game fouling).

(4) Wisconsin vs. (5) Indiana (ESPN, 2:30pm ET)

This could be a game where, at last, Alando Tucker gets some help in the scoring column. The Hoosiers' interior D can charitably be termed diffident--time for the long but strangely laconic Badger front line to rouse themselves and take it strong to the hole. (Besides, IU's perimeter D is surprisingly good for a team whose coach is resigning. Best for UW to try their luck inside.) That being said, the Badgers' own defense hasn't exactly been formidable of late. And Marco Killingsworth (remember him?) had a nice line in Ann Arbor on Saturday--if you take away the six turnovers. In short: this game should see fewer threes than the first game of the day.

(2) Iowa vs. (10) Minnesota (ESPN Plus, 6:40pm ET)

I'm sorry. I can't write about this game. Picturing the Gopher offense (which won a game yesterday scoring all of 0.81 points per possession) going up against the Hawkeye D? Ye gods. (How in the world did Minnesota take Iowa to three OTs in Iowa City? A game the Gophers would have won, by the way, if Jonathan Williams (the pre-Zach Puchtel Zach Puchtel) or Moe Hargrow could have made a free throw.)...True, the match up between the Iowa offense and the Minnesota D doesn't promise to be much more aesthetically pleasing.

(3) Illinois vs. (6) Michigan State (ESPN Plus, 9:10pm ET)

These teams just played six days ago in East Lansing and the Illini won by seven on the strength of their outside shooting. The means were surprising (and maybe the venue was, as well) but the result actually matched the numbers pretty well: both offenses are good but not great. Illinois' defense, on the other hand, is good, while State's is a hair below average. The Spartans can transcend those tendencies tonight with the help of something uncharacteristic: Illini turnovers, say, or Mo Ager flashing back to Maui and catching fire from outside. (Truth be told, neither team may have a lot to play for in this one. The selection committee is unlikely to wax punitive in the event of a close loss by either team. This is a semifinal match up occurring in the quarters--"one of the best conference tournament games in the country," according to Tom Izzo.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Penn State beat Northwestern 60-42 yesterday. The Nittany Lion zone forced NU into shooting 31 threes, only seven of which went in. Evan Seacat took more shots (ten) than Vedran Vukusic (nine), who, by the way, wasn't pleased with his own performance: "I played the worst game of my life at the worst time." Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch says: "There was something eerie about this game, in a two-thirds empty stadium while the streets outside were buzzing with the thrill of college basketball nuts in town to see their teams in later games. Northwestern doesn't even seem to be part of this tournament, this league, this sport." The 14-15 'Cats may not get an invite to the NIT, even with the new rules that allow under-.500 exceptions....Geary Claxton led PSU with 17 points. Ed DeChellis was pleased with his team's D: "I thought defensively, we were very, very good this afternoon." Jamelle Cornley says: bring on Ohio State. (Box score.)

Ohio State coach Thad Matta says that no matter what happens over the next 48 hours, "whenever you get back home, it’s like, ‘Boy, I can’t wait until 6 Sunday night.'"...The NCAA will announce its decision today on disciplinary actions related to Jim O'Brien-era hinky doings at Ohio State. A "person familiar with the situation" is reported as saying there will be no postseason ban for the Buckeyes.

Minnesota beat Michigan 59-55 yesterday. Lester Abram (who did indeed play 13 minutes) or no Lester Abram, this might cost them a bid: the Wolverines turned the ball over 21 times (Daniel Horton and, more surprisingly, Dion Harris each had five TOs) and made just four of 22 threes. Abram says UM got away from playing as a team: "It was like people were trying to take it upon themselves to bring us back." For his part, canonical blogger and die-hard Michigan fan Brian Cook--apparently a fussy Felix Unger-ish stickler for proper internet usage (who knew?)--has cast his vote for a new coach with a better lid. Looking in from the outside, oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper agrees with Brian: "If Tommy Amaker is a good coach you can kiss my whistle." And at cbs.sportsline this morning, Dennis Dodd wonders aloud just what's so great about this Duke coaching tree that's given us Amaker and Quin Snyder....Moe Hargrow led the Gophers with 15 points, a number Zach Puchtel matched--in rebounds. ("Just toughness," the undersized Puchtel said afterward.) After getting fairly well lit up by Horton in the previous two games against Michigan, Dan Monson made a change and put Vincent Grier on the UM point guard. "We just couldn't play Horton the same way we did the first two times," Monson said. "I wanted to do whatever it took to win this basketball game, and that's what it was," added Grier. Obligatory gopher-based bad pun headline here--this pushes the count to over 100 for the year. (Box score.)

Iowa coach Steve Alford's hometown of New Castle, Indiana, is abuzz with speculation that the local boy may be coming home to take the coaching job at Indiana.

Michigan State beat Purdue 70-58 last night. Mo Ager led the Spartans with 20 points while Goran Suton added a career-high 12. Gary Ware scored 20 for the Boilers. Purdue freshman Nate Minnoy saw his first action since suffering a knee injury in January and played 12 minutes. And Matt Trannon returned for the Spartans and played 19 minutes with a protective mask (earning a salute from Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz). Paul Davis said he was happy to have Trannon back: "Knowing there's a guy there who's going to do the dirty work definitely helps my game." Afterward Tom Izzo had high praise for his counterpart: "Matt Painter did a hell of a job. He is a good protégé. When you've got Gene Keady and Bruce Weber in your blood... he just did a hell of a job." Painter, in turn, gave credit to his players for their performance: "I thought our guys gave a really great effort."...Today's Awfully Anguished Award for Assiduously Awkward Alliteration goes to the anonymous headline editor at the Detroit Free Press who came up with this one: "Ager, energy, pacify pesky Purdue."...Shannon Brown says: bring on Illinois. Izzo adds: "They've had our number lately, and we've got to find a way to get that corrected." (Box score.)

Illinois coach Bruce Weber says, even though tonight's winner will be faced with a brutal 14-hour turnaround going into Saturday's semifinal, he's not going to worry about changing his substitution pattern: "If you sub too much and don't advance, then they sit there for a whole week." Besides, when Weber takes Dee Brown out of the game "he gets mad at me."...What's this? Shannon Brown and Dee Brown were high school teammates? Who knew? Why wasn't I told?...What can tempo-free stats do for you? Here's a table purporting to compare and contrast this year's Illinois team with last year's edition. The table lists 12 statistical measures of performance, ten of which can't be compared directly due to the differing tempos of the two teams. Ignore everything except the 3FG percentage and opponent 3FG pct.

Wisconsin assistant Gary Close says playing Indiana right now (in Indy no less) is "real dangerous."...Profile of Badger guard Michael Flowers here....Profile of Hoosier guard Marshall Strickland here.

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About that All-Wonk Team....

I can't agree more with your selection of Jamar Butler to the All-Wonk team. I was a little surprised you chose him as your POY, but your case is convincing. The kid has ice-water in his veins. Him finding his scoring touch (he averaged 32 a game as a senior in HS) was just the thing Ohio State needed to go from "solid" to "pretty darn good." I was saying in the middle of this season that he is the main reason we won't struggle too much next season, despite the loss of four starters. Add in Lewis and Harris being seniors, a vastly improved junior-year Terwilliger providing depth in the post, and of course the Thad Five, and things look bright in Columbus.

As for your choice of Thad Matta as Coach of the Year, however, I have to strongly disagree. He sucks. No other team ANYWHERE should EVER consider him to fill a coaching vacancy at their school. Ever. Just let the man play out his career in a low-pressure job at a football school.


Keep up the good work,
Brian G.

Your impartiality does you credit, Brian. Ever considered a career as an Illinois supreme court justice?

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