Big Ten Wonk
Friday, March 03, 2006
Latest in a series: how good is Michigan State?
Good enough to beat Wisconsin 74-65 in East Lansing last night, even without Matt Trannon. Paul Davis picked up two fouls before the first TV timeout but it didn't matter. He led the Spartans with 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Alando Tucker scored 23 on 16 shots for the Badgers. Kammron Taylor, picking a really bad time to do a reenactment of the North Dakota State game, went 4-of-18 from the floor. Turnovers were even and Wisconsin actually had a slight edge on the boards--the visitors just couldn't get the ball in the basket (4-of-18 on their threes).

The Spartans, I trust, will be favored in tomorrow's game against Illinois at the Breslin Center, with or without Trannon (who is out with a broken jaw suffered in the Michigan game two weeks ago--he's expected back for the Big Ten tournament and may even play tomorrow). Let's go best-case here and say the Spartans win tomorrow. That would leave them 21-9 overall and 9-7 in conference heading into the Big Ten tournament. How far can they go in March?

However far it is, State will indeed need Trannon along for the ride. For a guy borrowed annually from the football team who averages less than five points a game, he is, in fact, important--every bit as important as Tom Izzo's been saying he is. The (in-conference) numbers with and without Trannon speak of a defensive collapse without him:

MSU defense with Trannon: 0.99 opponent points per possession
MSU defense without Trannon: 1.13 opponent points per possession

Granted, the "without Trannon" sample size is pretty small--just three games. (I've counted the Michigan game in East Lansing as "with Trannon," since his injury occurred with about five minutes left to play.) And, coincidentally enough, one of the teams the Spartans played without Trannon, Ohio State, just happens to have the best offense in the league--that alone will skew your numbers. Still, even with these caveats, what has MSU's D looked like without Trannon?

Opponents are shooting a little better when they don't have to play against Trannon. And they're doing a little better on their own offensive glass in Trannon's absence. But the real difference is in turnovers. Even with Trannon on the floor, mind you, opponents don't turn the ball over very often against Michigan State (19.8 turnovers per 100 possessions). But without Trannon in the game, opponents almost never turn the ball over against Michigan State (14.2 TOs per 100).

Not that Trannon is a particularly fearsome guy when it comes to steals (though he does indeed lead the Spartans' starters in steals per possession). But he appears to have a direct influence on how his entire team plays on D: much more aggressively, much less passively.

Keep in mind the Spartan defense even with Trannon isn't exactly spectacular. But without him it's truly worrisome.

Handy forecasting tip for Michigan State in March!
Ignore the Spartans' performance in the Big Ten tournament. Entirely. I don't care if they lose to Purdue by 50, ignore it. Last year State lost to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals and everyone wailed and moaned about how the mighty had fallen. ("A legacy of championship failure," proclaimed one Detroit columnist after the Hawkeyes' win.) The Spartans then went on to the Final Four.

Same deal, pretty much, in 2001: a loss in the quarterfinals to Penn State, followed by a trip to the Final Four. (In other words, the Spartans haven't gone to the Final Four without losing in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament since their run to the national championship in 2000.) Ignore whatever Michigan State does next week.

MSU-Wisconsin links
Tom Izzo heaped praise on his "big three" of Davis, Mo Ager, and Shannon Brown: "When the Big Three play well, that's a lot better than a Big Two or a Big One on some teams." Ager scored 12 points in the final five minutes after sitting much of the second half with foul trouble: "I told coach I had to make up for the time I missed." "That's the ballgame right in there," Bo Ryan said of that stretch....Izzo says that while he of course doesn't want to risk further injury to Matt Trannon's jaw, "we're trying to push the envelope a little bit" with the power forward's recovery time....Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz wins this morning's Bold Topical Iconoclast Award for devoting his day-after piece to...Goran Suton? (Next column: Jason Aerts!)...Kammron Taylor blamed himself for his 4-of-18 effort: "I was trying to force the issue too much." Alando Tucker had praise for the opponent: "Paul Davis was tough. He was a force the whole game." (Box score.)

All-Wonk Team (2.0)--the official ballot

I'll be selecting my All-Wonk Team next week and the five players I pick will come from the list below. Keeping in mind that, as with any good search, I've endeavored to be as generous as possible with this first cut, here are the candidates. (Listed alphabetically both by and within their school.)

James Augustine
Dee Brown

Rich McBride

Marco Killingsworth
Marshall Strickland
Robert Vaden

Greg Brunner
Adam Haluska
Erek Hansen
Jeff Horner

Graham Brown

Dion Harris
Daniel Horton
Courtney Sims

Michigan State
Maurice Ager
Shannon Brown
Paul Davis
Drew Neitzel

Adam Boone
Vincent Grier

Maurice Hargrow
J’son Stamper

Mohamed Hachad
Vedran Vukusic

Ohio State
Jamar Butler
Terence Dials
Je’Kel Foster

Ron Lewis
J.J. Sullinger

Penn State
Geary Claxton
Jamelle Cornley
Travis Parker

Bryant Dillon

Matt Kiefer
Chris Lutz

Brian Butch
Kammron Taylor
Alando Tucker

Even being generous and inclusive, it's still a surprisingly small group--just 38 players. And 33 of them won't make the final cut.
Tune in next week!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
As Ken Pomeroy points out this morning, UAB's win last night over Memphis is potentially good news for the Big Ten. The Tigers' hold on a 1-seed suddenly looks less secure--and that could open the door for Ohio State (more likely, I think) or Illinois (less likely), should either win every game from now until Big Ten tournament Sunday. (I say "until" instead of "through" because the Big Ten tournament championship game, unless of course it involves a team that won't otherwise get a bid, seems to have little impact on the NCAA tournament and its seeds. Although, granted, Kentucky did get dinged with their 2-seed last year after getting pummeled by Florida in the SEC tournament's Sunday championship game. We'll see.)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--tomorrow!
Michigan State plays Illinois in East Lansing (CBS, noon ET). It's senior day for Paul Davis, Mo Ager, and Matt Trannon...."The big thing we're playing for is the seeding,'' Bruce Weber says. "Ohio State will probably be the highest seed in the Big Ten. They'll probably get the spot in Dayton. Then you have another one in Michigan, so who's going to be next up?"...Whoever's the 3-seed in next week's Big Ten tournament (likely Illinois) will face a brutal turnaround, playing the last game of the day Friday and (assuming they win) the first semifinal game Saturday. The 1-vs.-4 and 2-vs.-3 semifinal games have been flipped this year at CBS's request. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper gets out front on this here.

Michigan plays Indiana in Ann Arbor. It's senior day for Daniel Horton, Lester Abram, Graham Brown, and Chris Hunter.

Iowa plays Wisconsin in Iowa City. It's senior day for Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner, Erek Hansen, and Doug Thomas. Fond farewells to Brunner and Horner here and here.

Northwestern plays Minnesota in Evanston. It's senior day for Vedran Vukusic, Mohamed Hachad, and Evan Seacat.

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Sunday!
Ohio State plays Purdue in Columbus. A win gives the Buckeyes an outright Big Ten title. Oh, and it's senior day for Terence Dials, Je'Kel Foster, J.J. Sullinger, and Matt Sylvester.

COMING Monday!
Ah, 'tis the season: Wonking seven days a week, March 6 - April 7. And watch for the All-Wonk Team (2.0), to be announced Wednesday, March 8.

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

What was I talking about?
A section of yesterday's post netted some confused emails from folks who (for reasons of browser software, usually) followed a link I posted but didn't see what I saw. First what I said:

A new level of Edvard Munch-level horror! And revulsion! Will no one with working optic nerves get this ad (refresh until you see it) off the Quad City Times' recaps of Hawkeye games? Please? (Maybe it can be like Mickey Kaus's idea for a reverse record store, wherein customers can pay 15 bucks for, say, Paul McCartney not to record a new CD this year. Maybe our money can go to this business so long as they agree not to run this ad. I'll get the ball rolling with a check for 10 bucks. Who's with me?)

As I said, some of you apparently had technical difficulties in seeing the page. Here's a link directly to the ad. And here's what you will look like.

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