Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Sitting at the dork table
Kudos to oracular Nittany Lion observer David Jones for coining the definitive term for today's festivities in Indy: for the first time in the conference tournament's history, Michigan State has indeed been "forced to sit at the dork table in the Big Ten cafeteria." The Spartans are playing on Thursday.

And so in keeping with the dork theme, I thought I'd take some numbers for offense and defense from the conference season and throw them at this neutral-court environment, just to see what kind of scores would be predicted. (In other words, to predict how many points Team A will score, I've split the difference between Team A's points per possession and Team B's points allowed per possession--and then done the same for Team B vs. Team A. Lastly I've split the difference between each team's average number of possessions per game to guess at the pace.) I call this method my patented lazy dork methodology.

Here's what's on tap for today and this evening....

(8) Penn State vs. (9) Northwestern (ESPN2, noon ET)
Lazy dork predicts: Northwestern 64, Penn State 63
Lazy dork predicts a Northwestern win in a slow close game. I'll buy the slow part but I'm not so sure about the rest. The Nittany Lions are 2-0 against the Wildcats this season, winning by four in Evanston in January and by 13 in State College a couple weeks ago. Penn State's main weakness is their defense and the best way to exploit that weakness is to maximize the number of possessions and attack the inside, where the Nittany Lions are vertically challenged. The Wildcats, conversely, are built to minimize the number of possessions and shoot a lot of threes. And when NU faces a zone like Penn State's, the steady stream of threes becomes a torrent: 31 of Northwestern's 45 FGAs in State College were threes. So it will come down to whether or not the 'Cats are on from outside. The winner plays Ohio State.

BONUS Penn State fun fact! The Nittany Lions' opponents in conference games this season shot more threes (430) than twos (427).

(7) Michigan vs. (10) Minnesota (ESPN2, 2:30pm ET)
Lazy dork predicts: Michigan 67, Minnesota 65

Again, this might not be as close as lazy dork would have us believe. The Wolverines have beaten the Gophers handily twice this year and Minnesota doesn't appear well suited to seize the opportunities that Michigan's leaky defense can present. The Gophers' best shot in this one may be to pressure the turnover-prone Wolverines. The winner plays Iowa.

(6) Michigan State vs. (11) Purdue (ESPN2, 6pm ET)
Lazy dork predicts: Michigan State 69, Purdue 64
Shouldn't be that close, not after halftime anyway.

BONUS fascinating dork table factoid!
Over at Ken Pomeroy's blog this morning, his alert readers have applied Bill James' log5 method to Ken's own Pythagorean winning percentages for various D-I teams--which, I now realize, is by far the geekiest sequence of words I've ever typed. Anyway, the result is a set of probabilities for each Big Ten team at every stage of this weekend's tournament in Indy.

And the good news for Michigan State is that they're at least the cool jock at the dork table: there's about a five percent probability of State winning four games in four days. Which might sound kind of low until you consider that Michigan's chances net out to about three percent and that every other team playing today and this evening faces a less than one percent probability of winning four games in four days. Take heart, Spartans! You stand the best chance of going to prom of any of the dorks.

Note. To win four conference tournament games in four days is every bit as rare as you'd expect. It's only happened nine times in the history of Division I.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Northwestern coach Bill Carmody echoes this blogger's assessment of what we're likely to see in today's game between the Wildcats and Penn State: "At the end of the day, when a team’s playing zone, you’re taking 20 (3-pointers) and you have to make some of them." Profile of Wildcat Mohamed Hachad here....Penn State coach Ed DeChellis says of the Wildcats: "Defensively, they just play differently than anybody else. They try to keep the ball away from the basket as much as they can."

Michigan coach Tommy Amaker says Courtney Sims "needs to be a little more aggressive." Amaker also says he'd like to see Dion Harris break out of his shooting slump: "We're trying to see if we can get things back in sync and clicking in the right cycle for him."...Profile of Minnesota senior Adam Boone here.

Michigan State forward Matt Trannon has been cleared by doctors and may see limited minutes this evening against Purdue. Trannon missed the Spartans' last four games after suffering a broken jaw against Michigan. (Yes, he'll have to wear that creepy mask that ESPN's Erin Andrews held up during the Wisconsin game--the one that has led Trannon to be dubbed "Trannibal Lecter.")...Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz gives Tom Izzo credit for taking it easy with his tired team....Shannon Brown still maintains he will return to East Lansing for his senior season....Profile of Delco Rowley here....Boiler coach Matt Painter doesn't sound thrilled about his team's draw: "Maybe we would have liked to have played somebody else but this is what we have and we're going to get ready for them." Matt Kiefer is a senior and yet he's never won a Big Ten tournament game.

Iowa is hoping for its best NCAA tournament seed in a very long while. The Hawkeyes haven't been seeded higher than a 4 since 1987....Profile of associate head coach Craig Neal here.

Asked about Wisconsin, bracketologist Joe Lunardi had this to say: "It sure would be nice, if I'm a member of the committee, to see them do something away from home."

Indefatigable hoops savant Jeff Shelman poses five pert questions this morning regarding the Big Ten tournament--make haste!

It's a hoops republic! (Vox hoopuli!)
God bless the state of Indiana, long may she reign. Only in the Hoosier state could you conduct an opinion poll with a random sample of phone bill-paying citizens on the question of who should be the next basketball coach at the big state university (in this case Indiana) and actually get meaningful responses. (Results: he shouldn't be Bob Knight and he doesn't necessarily have to have IU ties--but Steve Alford still appears to be the people's choice. For his part, oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper thinks IU is Alford's choice: "He wants the Indiana job so bad it hurts.") I love that about Hoosiers--they do hoops like SEC states do football: with total abandon....Meanwhile, Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says: forget the poll! Just hire Thad Matta. (Oh, and Bob? It's Dan Monson.)...Nifty tables here, courtesy of oracular Hoosier observer Terry Hutchens, on the perennial debate concerning the value of conference tournaments. (More.)

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

Latest update from alert reader and die-hard Spartan fan Kyle

I was one of what was probably a significant number of MSU fans to complain to you earlier in the year about MSU's conference schedule. As much as I deplore the 16-game schedule, I think it's actually better than an 18-game schedule from a fairness standpoint.

With an 18-game schedule, each team plays two other teams once. With a 16-game schedule, each team players four other teams once. If you miss games against two teams, the odds are significant they could both be really good teams or both be really bad teams. With four teams, things will tend to even out. You're probably going to miss two bad teams and two good teams or, at worst, three of one and one of the other.

I think MSU's schedule was just a complete fluke this year--the four teams they played once being the four worst teams in the league. I think the schedule-neutral expected wins you posted bear my theory out. MSU really got hosed, but for everyone else things more or less evened out. I think one team getting hosed like that won't happen very frequently going forward.

My vote is to do away with the conference tournament and go to a full round robin. Since that's not going to happen, I'd rather stick to the 16-game schedule than go to an 18-game schedule.

Keep up the good work.

Kyle J.

Kyle, I tend to agree with you: the status quo, sucky though it may be, is preferable to either a) an RPI-deflating 20-game round-robin, or b) an 18-game slate that would arguably magnify the prominence of whom you don't play. Granted, Rick Majerus is exactly right: the current 16-game schedule is analogous to having golfers play different courses entirely. But we all acknowledge and accept that. If the regular season conference champion were, as in olden times, the only team that went to the NCAA tournament, then, of course, you'd have a problem. But as it is, "regular season champion" is simply a nice honorific for one of several teams on their way to the dance.


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