Big Ten Wonk
Monday, November 13, 2006
Evolution as revolution at Ohio State
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the hitherto perimeter-oriented young men from Columbus, OH, proud members of the Big Ten since 1912....

Last year
26-6 overall, 12-4 in conference. Lost in second round of NCAA tournament to Georgetown, 70-52.

Ron Lewis (11.2 PPG, 1.18 PPWS, 7.5 reb. pct., 3.4 assists per 100 possessions, 4.6 TOs per 100 possessions)
Jamar Butler (10.1 PPG, 1.20 PPWS, 5.8 reb. pct., 8.5 a/100 poss., 3.4 TO/100 poss.)
Ivan Harris (3.6 PPG)
Matt Terwilliger (2.3 PPG)

Greg Oden (7-1 C, Indianapolis)
Daequan Cook (6-5 G, Dayton, OH)
Mike Conley, Jr. (6-1 G, Indianapolis)
David Lighty (6-5 G, Cleveland)
Othello Hunter (6-9 F, Winston-Salem, NC)

Terence Dials (15.3 PPG, 1.16 PPWS, 15.6 reb. pct., 1.2 a/100 poss., 3.9 TO/100 poss.)
Je'Kel Foster (12.2 PPG, 1.21 PPWS, 7.6 reb. pct., 5.6 a/100 poss., 3.5 TO/100 poss.)
J.J. Sullinger (10.1 PPG, 1.20 PPWS, 14.3 reb. pct., 3.1 a/100 poss., 3.0 TO/100 poss.)
Matt Sylvester (7.4 PPG, 0.97 PPWS, 6.5 reb. pct., 6.9 a/100 poss., 3.8 TO/100 poss.)

Official motto for 2006-07
"Lobbying earnestly to revise the NBA's minimum draft age to 22."

What we think we know in November (read the warning label)
Right now--mid-November--is the moment in the college hoops calendar when the overrating of individual talent at the expense of team performance is at its most egregious. And yet we do it every year, over and over: the preseason favorites look invincible. Their McDonald's All-American players are profiled ad nauseum. The favorites are unbeatable, on another level.

March is the opposite, of course. Win-or-go-home games played on neutral courts have a way of reminding us that this putative "different level" is much more a labor-saving device for our own individual attention spans than a true reflection of external reality.

And so in that spirit I want to say that I just don't believe Greg Oden's going to be as good as everyone's saying he's going to be.

I think he's going to be better. Much better.

Punctuated equilibrium and college hoops
Just eight short months ago, I wrote the following about a Big Ten player:

Over the past decade as the NBA has increasingly and now completely cornered the market on carbon-based life forms who are 6-10 or taller and can walk and chew gum at the same time, we have seen more of [this player's] ilk. He is a "dominant" big man (especially on offense) though in fact he is but 6-9. (Back in the day he would have been a solid power forward.)

I was talking about Terence Dials, conveniently enough. Oden, playing the same position for the same team as Dials, represents the sudden and abrupt reversal of this dynamic. Future hoops paleontologists, poring over box scores like so many fossilized remains, will wonder at the quantum leap captured by this little bit of deduction:

--Terence Dials was Big Ten Player of the Year in 2006.
--Greg Oden is four inches taller than Dials, equally strong, more athletic, and as quick if not quicker.
--Conclusion: Eep.

And that's speaking only of offense. There will be no DAD in this look at Oden--let's do the same for defense....

--In each of the past two seasons, the best defense in the Big Ten has been led by a dominant defensive presence in the post.
--Those two exceptional defenders were Jeff Hagen of Minnesota and Erek Hansen of Iowa.
--Greg Oden is not Jeff Hagen or Erek Hansen. He's Greg Oden.
--Conclusion: Eep.

And now for the really scary part, as least as far as ten other Big Ten teams are concerned. Thad Matta's Ohio State teams already, pre-Oden, play outstanding perimeter defense--and that was with no shot-blocking in the post backing them up. (Matta says on his team "all five guys are going to guard the ball." All coaches talk like that. Matta's teams--with recruits he inherited--have for the most part played like it.) If the overlap between new arrivals buying into the Matta system and Oden's post-injury but pre-draft time is at all considerable, we may just see the best defense we've seen in the Big Ten since Michigan State in 2000.

In point of fact the NBA's predilection for skimming off the cream of the high school crop in any given year was not an unalloyed negative where college hoops is concerned. For every LeBron James we didn't get to see play in college, there were three or four Kwame Browns we, thankfully, didn't have to see. Still, the almost total disappearance of the dominant big man (over the past 15 years it can be said of college rosters that height has existed in imperfect but trusty inverse relation to athleticism) has wrought a slow change on the game.

But slow change can at times be overturned by something much more sudden. And, if the performance lives up to the promise in this instance, you'd need Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge to explain something as abrupt and seismic as the arrival of Greg Oden.

Meet this blog's POY from last season
I chose Jamar Butler as my POY last year because of his across-the-board excellence:

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.

More love for Butler here.

Foul me before I drive again
Ron Lewis gets to the line better than any other player in the Big Ten and is a pretty good (not great) FT shooter once he gets there (78.1 percent). His shot selection last season was at times questionable (more than half his shots were attempted threes, yet he only made 33.9 percent of them) but this didn't matter much when he was the fourth option on the best offense in the Big Ten. It may not matter much this year either.

So does that mean Tony Stockman was "The In-Door Icemaker"?
Butler calls Ivan Harris "the microwave" in honor of the senior's ability to come off the bench and hit threes.

Depth in the post?
Matt Terwilliger takes prodigiously good care of the ball--even for one who never gets touches--but his rebounding and scoring are less noteworthy.

And the new breed....
Daequan Cook obviously has a green light from Matta. Here it is, November 13 of the young man's freshman season, and he's already launched 36 shots from the field in three games.

As early as it is, Mike Conley, Jr., already gives indications of being one of those freshmen that doesn't play like a freshman. See: 25 assists in three games.

David Lighty had some off-court offseason hijinks.

Othello Hunter is a juco transfer praised by Matta for his drive and athleticism.

"No acts of 'charity,' OK, coach?"
Matta has a new contract. Hope the OSU lawyers learned their lesson.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Games! Actual games!

The weekend in Big Ten hoops: Friday!
Cornell beat Northwestern 64-61 in Evanston. While it's true just 15 of the Big Red's 43 shots were attempted from inside the arc, the visitors made no fewer than 11 of those 15 two-point shots. Ballgame. Give the Wildcats this much: they had balanced scoring, including 11 points from newly eligible Rice transfer Jason Okrzesik and 10 from true freshman and starter Kevin Coble. Tim Doyle recorded eight assists in 39+ minutes. (Box score.)

Ohio State beat VMI 107-69 in opening-round action in the BCA Classic in Columbus. Don't be fooled by the 107 points. In fact, the Buckeye offense was exactly as efficient--no more, no less--as in Big Ten play last year. (Which, by the way, was pretty dang efficient.) It's just that this was by far the fastest game played by a Big Ten team the past two seasons: 96 possessions. Mike Conley, Jr., recorded 10 assists in 26 minutes. Daequan Cook went just 2-of-7 outside the arc but 7-of-7 inside it to lead OSU with 22 points. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Central Connecticut State 60-40 in a slow game (59 possessions) in the John Thompson Challenge in Ann Arbor. Dion Harris hit five of eight threes and led the Wolverines with 19 points. Michigan won with ease in a game where they turned the ball over on almost 29 percent of their possessions. (Box score.)

Penn State beat Morehead State 63-46 in State College, which makes three "State"s in this sentence. Jamelle Cornley led the Nittany Lions in shots, rebounds (12), and points (17), as the Penn State offense struggled a bit (1.02 points per possession) in the absence of Geary Claxton (out with a broken finger). The Nittany Lions shot better on their threes (46.7 percent) than on their twos (41.9) in this game. Credit for the outside shooting goes to Mike Walker who made all three of his attempts from beyond the arc; his teammates, conversely, went 4-of-12. (Box score (pdf).)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops: Saturday!
Ohio State beat Loyola 87-75 in second-round action in the BCA Classic in Columbus. This was much more impressive than the Buckeyes' performance Friday night. The Ramblers return five starters from a 19-11 team and are favored to win the Horizon this year. Ron Lewis led OSU with 27 points and the Buckeyes displayed (highly) unusual strength on the offensive glass, recording 13 offensive boards in just 31 opportunities. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Davidson 78-68 in the John Thompson Challenge in Ann Arbor. Dion Harris made just two of seven threes but got it done from the line, going 11-of-12, and led the Wolverines in minutes, shots, assists (six), and points (23). Courtney Sims added 21 points for Michigan, while Brent Petway recorded 13 rebounds. (Box score.)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops: Sunday!
Ohio State beat Kent State 81-59 in the championship game of the BCA Classic in Columbus. The Buckeyes cruised to the victory despite the fact that Kent State pulled in 18 offensive boards on just 36 opportunities. Good shooting erases a lot of mistakes: OSU hit 13 of their 26 threes. Ron Lewis led Ohio State with 18 points. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Eastern Michigan 80-51 in the John Thompson Challenge in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines led this game by 30 at halftime and Tommy Amaker played his reserves extensively. Courtney Sims led Michigan with 17 points in 19 minutes. (Box score.)

Wisconsin beat Mercer 72-48 in Madison. Kammron Taylor made four of his five threes and scored 22 points. Alando Tucker missed all five of his threes and scored 21. (Box score (pdf).)

Michigan State beat The Citadel 73-41 in a very slow game (56 possessions) in East Lansing. Drew Neitzel led the Spartans with 17 points. (Box score.)

The extended weekend in Big Ten hoops: tonight!
Purdue opens its season against Northern Colorado in West Lafayette.

Illinois opens its season against Austin Peay in Champaign.

Minnesota opens its season against North Dakota State in Minneapolis.

Iowa opens its season against The Citadel in Iowa City.

Indiana opens its season against Lafayette as part of the Preseason NIT at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Penn State plays UNC-Greensboro in State College.

November 13, 2006: remember the date
My understanding is that ESPN's telecast of Preseason NIT games tonight will feature, however fleetingly, some tempo-free stats assembled just for the occasion by Ken Pomeroy.

That's big. It pains me to have Notre Dame fans email me and say they didn't realize their offense was that good or to have Michigan fans email me and say they didn't realize their defense was that bad. Something as simple as points per possession--for and against, spread far and wide by ESPN and its ilk--can put such bad old days quickly behind us. Seven months ago I voiced a desire for "baby steps" along these very lines. The first such, it appears, are about to be taken.


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Experimental theater in Evanston
On Friday I suggested that Northwestern coach Bill Carmody should take a cue from his university's world-renowned theater program and stage a little drama of his own.

The readers respond!

Appreciate the work and thought. I guess the thing we Wildcat fans will have to learn as we go on into the season is this: To what extent are we going to see the newcomers take the floor? These are the guys we really don't know much of anything about yet, the majority of the squad. If we have some talent there, and that combines with significant playing time and steep learning curves, the team in February may bear very little resemblance to the one that we're analyzing right now.

Put another way, I think this season is going to be experimental. Try this, look at that, adjust the other, substitute Y for X, etc. Some experiments are bound to blow up in your face, but then you need that in order to stumble across a "Eureka" moment.

Tom M.

Good luck with the experiment, Tom! (Wear safety goggles at all times.)

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