Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
New faces and fresh legs at Purdue
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the hitherto notably unlucky band of oft-injured and -suspended souls in West Lafayette, proud members of the Big Ten since its founding in 1896....

Last year
9-19 overall, 3-13 in conference.

Chris Lutz (9.2 PPG, 1.02 PPWS, 4.6 reb. pct., 3.3 assists per 100 possessions, 4.9 TOs per 100 possessions)
Marcus Green (5.5 PPG, 1.03 PPWS, 8.3 reb. pct., 2.7 a/100 poss., 5.7 TO/100 poss.)
Bobby Riddell (2.2 PPG)
Chris Hartley (1.8 PPG)

Carl Landry (6-7 F, sat out 2006 with knee injury, 18.2 PPG in 2005)
David Teague (6-5 G, sat out 2006 with knee injury, 14.0 PPG in 2005)
Tarrance Crump (6-1 G, missed 2006 season due to suspension for an off-court incident)
Gordon Watt (6-6 F, transfer from Boston College)
Chris Kramer (6-3 G, Huntington, IN)
Keaton Grant (6-4 G, Kissimmee, FL)
Johnathan Uchendu (6-11 F, Pulaski, AR)
Dan Vandervieren (6-10 F, Eden Prairie, MN)

Matt Kiefer (12.0 PPG, 1.02 PPWS, 16.2 reb. pct., 3.6 a/100 poss., 4.0 TO/100 poss.)
Nate Minnoy (10.2 PPG)
Marcus White (10.1 PPG)
Gary Ware (7.3 PPG)
Bryant Dillon (6.9 PPG)

Official motto for 2006-07
"Any use of the term 'knee injury' this season is prohibited."

What we think we know in November (read the warning label)
Purdue played its first regular season game Monday night and not one Boilermaker on the floor for the opening tip started even a single Big Ten game last season.

So what do we think we know in November? We don't know anything. But, to quote the immortal Lloyd Dobler, we know that we don't know....

Who are those guys?
The mystery begins with head coach Matt Painter. He's been on the sidelines at Purdue in one capacity or another for two years now and we still don't know what we'll see from his team this year.

Painter served one year as a coach-in-waiting during Gene Keady's farewell season in 2004-05. And then his nominal first year at the helm last season was washed out by a disastrous series of injuries and suspensions that removed Purdue's entire projected starting five from action before conference play began. An unrepentant Pharaoh could not have suffered more plagues upon his house than did Painter last year. (At one point last season I'm fairly certain I saw a cloud of locusts in Mackey Arena.)

But the Successories poster at the mall says adversity breeds inner strength and indeed the coach appears to have a sense of humor about his travails. When Purdue administrators gave Painter the equivalent of an act-of-God exemption, conferring upon the coach a one-year contract extension, he said, "I’ve got to be the only coach in America to go 9-19 and get an extension. I tell people if we win 11 this year, I’m going for two more years."

Looking to this year Painter says: "As long as we make improvement and stop turning the ball over, we should be fine." He's right--this is indeed the task at hand for the new guys. Last year Purdue's shooting and offensive rebounding were both average, even amidst the plague of locusts, but they coughed up the ball on very nearly one in every four possessions, the worst figure in the league.

On defense, this year's new-look Boilermakers appear to be numerous on the perimeter and thin in the post. My assumption until further notice: very few threes shot by opposing teams, who will instead be busy attacking the rim and trying to draw fouls on and/or wear out a certain big man down low....

DiMaggio in '41, Peyton Manning in '04, and Landry in '05--OK, maybe not that good. Still....
Carl Landry sat out last season recovering from a knee injury suffered in February 2005. He scored 18 points a game for Purdue that season but that's just the beginning of the story. After all, Bracey Wright scored 18 points a game for Indiana that year, too, and no one particularly reveres the Hoosier's performance that season.

But Landry achieved something special that year: outstanding scoring efficiency (1.30 PPWS) and sheer volume (18 a game) on a team with no other offensive threats. When Landry shot the ball that year it went in, despite the inconvenient little fact that opposing defenses paid no attention whatsoever to any other Purdue player. (For one thing, the Boilermakers hit less than 32 percent of their threes in-conference that year.) Other players have scored with equal efficiency--but they are often the second, third, or fourth offensive options on teams with multiple threats.

Or look at it another way: Wisconsin last year was no scoring juggernaut, to be sure, but primary scoring threat Alando Tucker still had a level of support on offense that primary scoring threat Landry did not have in 2005. And yet Tucker's scoring efficiency last year was pretty much the exact (horrific) opposite of Landry's. (Don't get me wrong: I (heart) Tucker--tune in tomorrow for more. Still, it illustrates just how striking Landry's year really was.)

As a fan of the game, my wish this season is for a non-Landry Boilermaker to emerge as a viable scoring threat. I would love to see what Landry can do with such support.

And as for non-scoring matters, the big guy (ha--wait until you see him next to Greg Oden) would appear to be good but not great on the boards and let's not talk about the rest. Assists, holding on to the ball, defense--that's for teammates, right?...

Intrigued by Teague
(At the risk of sounding repetitive....) David Teague sat out last season with a knee injury. I keep hearing that he's going to provide Painter with defense and perimeter shooting this year. I don't doubt the former but I do have to wonder about the latter. Teague was solid but not spectacular shooting threes his first two years in West Lafayette before recording a notably more underwhelming 31.5 3FG pct. in 2005. Moreover he's a career 71 percent free throw shooter--not the profile of a preternaturally gifted outside shooter. An over/under of 36 percent this season would seem about right. On the plus side, Teague is a tenacious defender and on offense he holds on to the ball with admirable possessive zeal.

Say Watt?
Boston College transfer Gordon Watt is either 6-6 or 6-7 depending on where you link. He started Purdue's first game and recorded 10 points and nine boards in just 19 minutes.

Get to the point
Tarrance Crump sat out last season after leaving the scene of an accident in which the car he was driving struck a pedestrian. He is billed as the "true" point guard but got off to a slow start in his first game the other night, recording just four points and zero assists in 20 minutes.

Rewriting the depth chart
Chris Kramer may qualify as the surprise of the season so far. The true freshman from Huntington, Indiana, has landed in the starting lineup and been praised by Painter for his ability to defend on the perimeter.

"Yay, new guys! I think...."
Chris Lutz says he's glad he'll have some help in the backcourt this year. (He has so much help he's lost his spot as a starter.)

Baffling statistical anomaly Marcus Green, Wonk salutes you!
In 2006, Marcus Green was an 87 percent free throw shooter and a 22 percent three-point shooter. Repeat: in 2006 Marcus Green was an 87 percent free throw shooter and a 22 percent three-point shooter. True, that FT percentage is based on just 31 attempts. Still, write this one in stone: Green's three-point shooting will improve dramatically this year. (There's an alternative?)

Keaton Grant gives Painter still another dose of athleticism and size (6-4, 200) on the perimeter.

Johnathan Uchendu's parents are notably iconoclastic spellers. Also he reportedly needs to gain weight. Dan Vandervieren's parents, conversely, eschewed the temptation to go with something more like "Daan" or "Daine." Also he reportedly needs to lose weight.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Butler beat Indiana 60-55 in a hideous whistle-filled foul-fest as part of the Preseason NIT at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis last night. Add in the fact that neither team shot well and you have a prodigiously homely contest on your hands, even in HD. The Hoosiers appeared to have this game under control, leading by 12 in the second half, but the Bulldogs closed with a 25-8 run and got the W. Scary part is: Indiana could have been much worse off in this game. Butler was overwhelmed on their defensive glass and hit just 7 of their 24 threes. (True, IU's perimeter shooting was even more futile: 3-of-14.) D.J. White led the Hoosiers in shots and points (22)....Kelvin Sampson said his team needs to play better from ahead: "After we had the 12-point lead, we had six possessions where we either turned it over or fouled them. We just didn't play smart." (Box score.)

EXCLUSIVE pro bono advice to all college basketball players! The refs are indeed out to make a point this November. So use it to your advantage! Most notably: all flops, particularly in the first ten minutes or so, will be called as charges. I mean, you can feel the refs inhaling to blow their whistles during those rare aberrant moments when the ball is in play and the clock is running. That "charge" that Errek Suhr took in front of the Indiana bench was teachably laughable. Suhr's feet still haven't stopped moving, yet in bizarro November he was "set" in the refs' eyes. Players, fling yourselves bodily at whoever has the ball. It will be a charge, rest assured.

Northwestern beat DePaul 49-39 last night in Evanston. In a game that pitted two of the slowest teams in "power"-conference basketball in 2006, fans in Welsh-Ryan Arena were exposed to potentially lethal levels of dullness in a 50-possession still-life. And horrified parents are reported to have shielded their children's eyes as both teams combined for 26 missed threes. Craig Moore "led" the Wildcats with 10 points: "Once I get one down, I can get going," Moore said without apparent irony. Tim Doyle recorded six assists, which, in a 50-possession game, is saying something. Bill Carmody said it was good to get the win after losing at home to Cornell: "''We were very disappointed the other night."...Congratulations to Wildcat freshman Kevin Coble, winner of last night's Waldo Fisher-Frank McGrath Award! (No, I'd never heard of it either. Were they a Tin Pan Alley songwriting team?)...Bad tea leaves for a POT: Northwestern has made just 26.8 percent of its threes in its first two games. (Box score.)

Michigan plays Wisconsin-Milwaukee tonight in Ann Arbor. Tommy Amaker says he wants his team to "scratch, claw and defend."

Illinois plays Jackson State in Champaign tonight. The Illini learned yesterday that they will be without Jamar Smith for four to six weeks. Smith suffered a high ankle sprain in Monday's win over Austin Peay. Also hurting: Brian Randle, listed as "week to week" now and nursing a strained groin. (Being from Peoria is bad luck!) Add in the fact that Rich McBride is suspended until next week as punishment for his September DUI arrest and Bruce Weber is faced with the prospect of playing the next three games without three of his starters. Tonight's likely starting five: Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham, Calvin Brock, Warren Carter, and Shaun Pruitt. ("We may have to play Chris Hicks," Weber says. Hicks is a walk-on. "We have to survive until Tuesday," when McBride returns.)...Jackson State guard Trey Johnson has taken 58 shots in his first two games this season and is averaging 34.5 points a game.

Wisconsin plays Wisconsin-Green Bay tonight in Madison. Alando Tucker says his shooting will come around. Tucker missed all five of his threes in Sunday's win over Mercer....Profile of Badger sophomore Joe Krabbenhoft here. Profile of Badger freshman Jason Bohannon here....Wisconsin graces the regionally-tailored cover of Sports Illustrated in the Midwest this week.

I hear the word "December" used more and more often in connection with the return of Ohio State catalyst of punctuated equilibrium Greg Oden.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says he's enjoying flying under the radar with a young team for a change. (He has a choice?) "When you're constantly picked to win it, I'm not sure it's as much fun for anybody," he says. "Just a once in a while dose of this is not bad. I don't want a steady diet of it. I hope this happens once every eight or nine years and that's all. But I'm going to try to enjoy having to make sure that every piece of the puzzle is in place."

Quick! Someone send Izzo a link to Big Ten Wonk! Izzo says he wants his team to be as good on the boards as in the "glory days" circa 2000. Yearning for rebounding as good as the old days assumes, of course, that the Spartans haven't been as good on the glass in recent years. In fact, the 2005 Michigan State team was better on the defensive glass in conference play (78.4 defensive reb. pct.) than the 2000 national championship team (76.3). But the 2000 team was the vastly superior defense, allowing just 0.89 points per possession. (As opposed to 0.95 in 2005. Also note: today's article quoting Izzo uses rebounding margin numbers to determine who's good at rebounding. Yes, the 2000 team had a phenomenal rebounding margin--in large part because they played such outstanding defense and forced so many misses. Then again, rebounding margin is also dependent on how many misses your team contributes--and most teams would rather make shots than get offensive boards. Lastly, rebounding margin is dependent on pace. In short, it's a mess and should never be used.)

That 2005 team endured varying levels of grief their entire careers in East Lansing and, in a way, they still do. I just don't get it.

No word yet on any references to PPWS....
Far and away the most interesting thing you'll read today: documents belonging to James Naismith recently found in a basement in Chesterfield, Missouri, shed new light on the origins of basketball.

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Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Penn State is growing as a team--um, literally
Yesterday I offered the following remarkably astute analysis: Penn State is short and that's bad for a basketball team. (You just can't get this level of insight anywhere else.)

The readers respond!


I appreciated your view of Penn State today. I think we may turn out to be as big a surprise this year as we were last year. We took a unique approach to the size problem. We had Brandon Hassell grow two inches to 6-11 and Joonas Suotamo grew an inch to 6-10.

Hassell played fairly good defense against UNC-Greensboro and PSU was able to stay in man for most of the game.

Gary D.

Thanks, Gary. I think you nailed it: minutes spent playing man-to-man will indicate defensive confidence on the part of Ed DeChellis, confidence hitherto in short supply.

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