Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Presenting the All-Wonk Team (2.0)
In ascending order:

Greg Brunner, Iowa
Despite what you've heard, Greg Brunner is not the best rebounder in the Big Ten. While the hard-working Hawkeye rebounds a very strong 17 percent of all missed shots when he's in the game, Graham Brown hauls in more than 19 percent. Still, I find myself giving Brunner the nod for this fifth spot just barely (and I do mean barely) over Je'Kel Foster. You know what you're going to get with Brunner: 1) defensive rebounds; 2) fouls called on the opponent in abundance; and 3) trips to the line. Game in, game out. Brunner is a triumph of will over physics: a slow short pudgy guy (albeit less pudgy than a year ago) who, after four years of patient and dogged effort, has very nice footwork on the low block. Defense is not his strong suit but Erek Hansen's got his back. Plus he's tenacious--Brunner is the rock upon which Iowa has built its most successful season in years. If Steve Alford does get the Indiana job, he should give the signing bonus to Brunner.

Terence Dials, Ohio State
Dials was named the Big Ten POY by both the writers and the coaches yesterday--and why not? He's the leading scorer on the first-place team. And--for the writers, the coaches, and, yes, me--that is indeed the key noun: scorer. It's what Dials does; there's nothing else to talk about. He's an adequate but not tremendous rebounder (eighth-best in the conference). He never dishes assists. (Even by the forgiving standards of the big men, Dials' 1.3 assists per 100 possessions is anemic.) And he's not going to block any shots. (Think of it this way: Courtney Sims is exactly twice as likely to block a shot on a given possession as Dials. And Erek Hansen, in turn, is more than twice as likely to block a shot as Sims.) No, it's all about the scoring. Dials triggers in opposing fans what I call the "oh crap" moment. When Dials gets the ball in the paint against your team, you sigh and say "oh, crap," or its equivalent. (And, granted, part of that is a tribute to the Buckeyes as a team. Opponents are reluctant to give help on Dials due to Ohio State's outside shooting.) He simply gets the job done on the low block--and takes pretty good care of the ball while he's at it. A vanishing breed, that.

Alando Tucker, Wisconsin
Any observer of Big Ten basketball who names Tucker as first-team All-Big Ten should be required to give an explanation, for Tucker's statistics are truly weak--weaker than is commonly realized, in fact. (Actually, not his stats, plural. Just one stat: missed shots. Tucker's PPWS is 0.98.) OK, fair enough. Here's my explanation. I think Tucker's Mount Kilimanjaro of missed shots this year accurately describes the truth of the matter: he is all alone. That's nothing against the other Badgers, who in fact do an outstanding job taking care of the ball and can, on occasion, play some solid defense. But scoring is another matter. And it's not just that there's no one else to score--though that's accurate enough. (Kammron Taylor can get hot from outside on occasion but that's not going to get it done night in and night out.) There's not even anyone on this team to feed the ball to Tucker. Wisconsin's most prolific assist man, in tempo-free terms, is 6-10 Jason Chappell. (No, I'm not kidding.) So I say: darn right Tucker's stats are ugly! Let's put you in this lineup and see where your PPWS nets out. No other Big Ten player could have more justification for occasional bouts of fatigue or even self-pity. And yet I've never seen Tucker coast or shoot so much as a cross look at any of his teammates. (Unlike Dials, who pouts showily, on occasion, when not fed the ball.) If there's such a thing as a captain of the All-Wonk Team, it is Tucker. (BONUS all-alone note! Seeing Tucker's stats for this year makes me muse anew how incredible the year Carl Landry had last year was. Landry was every bit as alone as Tucker--if not more so--and yet he was a model of scoring efficiency. Just unbelievable.)

Paul Davis, Michigan State
Yeah, yeah, I know. In that Sports Illustrated poll, the players of the Big Ten named Davis "most overrated." (Hey, they also said Jeff Horner (shooting 34.5 percent on his threes) is the best shooter in the conference. 'Nuff said.) The players are entitled to their opinions; I'm entitled to mine: if anything Davis is underrated. He combines offensive efficiency with sheer volume on a level that no other Big Ten player even approaches. (Link here and scroll down to "At least 24% of possessions used.") He was the second-best rebounder among Big Ten players this season (behind only Graham Brown) and was number one last season. His team has failed to meet its expectations thus far this season, it's true. But, with the exception of some notable hiccups, Davis has delivered on his end of the deal--and then some. My pet theory is that if Davis had the facial expression and on-floor personality of, say, Zach Puchtel, he would have made first-team with the writers and coaches. Update: I'm bravely standing by my choice here even though (gulp) Seth Davis agrees with me. (Wow. "Seth Davis agrees with me." Five words I never thought I'd say. If you ever have trouble telling us apart, I'm the one who spells "Terence" correctly.)

Jamar Butler, Ohio State (Wonk POY)
Far and away the easiest question for me to answer as part of this little exercise was: who's the best point guard in the league? Dee Brown, Daniel Horton, and Drew Neitzel all have their strong points. But Butler, at least this year, had no weak points. He was stellar across the board: shooting 44 percent on his threes, dishing more than eight assists every 100 possessions (and even that number is slightly deflated by the Buckeyes' Illinois-in-2005-like ability to spread assists around), never turning the ball over, and playing consistently tough D. None of the others named above can say as much. Only a sophomore, Butler runs his veteran team like a fifth-year senior. (He already has that Deron Williams calm that should be mandatory for point guards. I can't recall a single instance this season where I saw him out of control.) I was already mulling whether or not to make Butler my POY recently when I noticed that the young Buckeye has the highest offensive rating of any Big Ten starter. (Offensive rating being, in effect, the equivalent of a team's points per possession, only for individual players.) Granted, a good deal of Butler's efficiency comes from facing defenses preoccupied with the likes of Terence Dials and Je'Kel Foster. Nevertheless, Butler has made his very good team even better. Next year, with the arrival of Greg Oden and the rest of the "Thad Five," Butler will probably have to shoulder more of the load on offense, at least initially. If so his numbers will dip in terms of efficiency. Just the same, fans of ten other teams should be concerned: next year's Ohio State team may spend all of a game-and-a-half in the awkward youthful stage with Butler running the point.

Tough to leave off....
Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State
Foster has more assists (5.7) per 100 possessions than just about any non-point guard starter in the league, creates more steals (4.4) per 100 possessions than any other player discussed here, and hits 44.7 percent of his threes. I guess for me, picking Greg Brunner over Foster was like picking a solid low-growth mutual fund over a flashy tech stock.

James Augustine, Illinois
Augustine, of course, rebounds (about) as well as anyone in the league not named Graham Brown or Paul Davis. He's been a model of scoring efficiency for two years running now. He creates more steals than any other big man in the conference. He dishes more assists than any big man besides Marco Killingsworth. And he takes care of the ball. Leaving him off was very tough to do--I took a long, long look at Augustine over Dials.

Shannon Brown, Michigan State
Think of Shannon Brown this way: Mo Ager's toughest competition for All-Big Ten consideration comes from his own teammate. Brown shoots more accurately, scores more efficiently, dishes more assists, loses fewer turnovers, creates more steals, and hauls in more rebounds than Ager (speaking in tempo-free terms, of course). Brown can play--and we might not see him in East Lansing next year.

Dee Brown, Illinois
Dee Brown was my POY last year, deservedly so. (Fearless iconoclast Gregg Doyel, for his part, has Brown as this year's Big Ten POY.) More recently, of course, Brown's missed a ton of shots. Even so, this Illinois fan has a higher accolade for Brown than a silly little All-Wonk team: the truth. There is no other player in college basketball that I'd rather have running my team over the next three weeks than Dee Brown. Give me Brown and Alando Tucker and I'll win some games. (And miss some shots!)

Coach of the Year
Matta. Hoosiers, hire him if you can.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The All-Big Ten teams were announced yesterday and Terence Dials was named POY by both the coaches and the writers. Since the inclusion of Bracey Wright on last year's team as selected by the writers, I tend to give more credence to the coaches' selections, to wit:

James Augustine
Dee Brown
Greg Brunner
Terence Dials
Alando Tucker

The writers also had Brown, Brunner, Dials, and Tucker, but told Augustine about the nice consolation prizes backstage and brought on Daniel Horton in his place. (Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper terms Augustine's selection by the coaches "a mild surprise.")

Erek Hansen was named Defensive POY by the coaches, who also selected their first-ever All-Defensive team, one apparently culled largely from the steals leader board:

Shannon Brown
Je'Kel Foster
Mohamed Hachad
Erek Hansen
Brian Randle

In today's less All-Big Ten-ish venues....
From Michael Pointer's interview of Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany in this morning's Indianapolis Star:

Q: Is there any thought of going to a 20-game conference schedule (which would be a full round robin) instead of the current 16?
A: No.
Q: Why? Is the tournament just doing so well financially you've got to keep it?
A: It's financial a little bit, but I also think it's a great marketing tool. People enjoy coming under one roof. I think that's what the tournament is for. Football isn't like that. You can't do it in opposition to the coaches (who generally are against playing 20 conference games). I think they're leaning toward 18 myself.

Former Iowa star Pierre Pierce is currently serving a two-year sentence at the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility in Iowa. With good behavior he will be eligible for release in October. Pierce isn't granting interviews but the Chicago Sun-Times has forged ahead anyway with a very thorough look back at the multi-year multi-incident saga that was Pierre Pierce at Iowa....Iowa City Press-Citizen columnist Pat Harty salutes Erek Hansen and Doug Thomas here.

Isiah Thomas says he's not interested in the coaching vacancy at Indiana. Thomas made his statement after he was reportedly seen in Bloomington yesterday.

Purdue is no longer hitting threes like they were earlier in the season: Chris Lutz, Marcus Green, and Chris Hartley are a combined 4-of-40 on their threes over the past four games....Marcus White's left knee is bothering him but he vows to play through the pain tomorrow evening against Michigan State.

Minnesota coach Dan Monson says he's not worried about facing a Michigan team tomorrow that beat the Gophers handily twice this year: "What we need to worry about is getting ourselves better. We've lost three games by a total of [16] points. That's a lot of minutes for six or seven more plays to make. We need to concentrate on those six or seven plays."

Is Penn State in danger of being left out of the revamped NIT? They might be, if regular-season champions like Lipscomb, Georgia Southern, and Manhattan keep losing in their conference tournaments.

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More EMphasis on the EM?

I love your site. Keep up the good work.

You might talk a little bit about how the efficiency margin parallels the final standings. It validates the usefulness of your stats.

Joe C.

Actually, I find efficiency margin more interesting when it doesn't parrot the standings. Last year, for example, the EM was saying Minnesota (with an EM of 0.00) should have felt very fortunate to have gone 10-6 in-conference. This year the EM suggests, among other things, that Iowa may be closer to Wisconsin than to Illinois and that Indiana may be little or no threat in March, despite their recent wins.

Additional note: last year Michigan State had a beautiful EM but no one noticed or cared because they lost to Iowa in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. This year, one potential Michigan State would appear to be Kansas. Of course, would-be Michigan States still need help from the brackets--anyone in the neighborhood of Connecticut is unlikely to live long enough to be hailed as a surprise. Still, keep an eye on the Jayhawks.

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