Big Ten Wonk
Friday, November 03, 2006
The Sampson era begins at Indiana
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on a certain group of spiffily candy-striped youngsters from Bloomington, IN, proud members of the Big Ten since 1899.

Last year
19-12 overall, 9-7 in conference. Lost in second round of NCAA tournament to Gonzaga, 90-80.

D.J. White (played in only five games in 2005-06 due to two separate foot injuries)
Roderick Wilmont (9.2 PPG, 1.04 PPWS, 10.9 reb. pct., 1.7 assists per 100 possessions, 1.6 TOs per 100 possessions)
Earl Calloway (5.7 PPG, 1.11 PPWS, 7.3 reb. pct., 7.9 A/100 poss., 4.5 TO/100 poss.)
A.J. Ratliff (3.5 PPG, 0.89 PPWS, 6.8 reb. pct., 1.9 A/100 poss., 1.5 TO/100 poss.)
Errek Suhr (3.4 PPG)
Ben Allen (3.2 PPG)

Mike White (6-5 F, JC transfer)
Lance Stemler (6-8 F, JC transfer)
Joey Shaw (6-6 G, redshirt freshman)
Armon Bassett (6-1 G, Terre Haute, IN)
Xavier Keeling (6-6 F, Huntsville, AL)

Marco Killingsworth (17.1 PPG, 1.13 PPWS, 16.4 reb. pct., 4.1 A/100 poss., 8.4 TO/100 poss.)
Robert Vaden (13.5 PPG, 1.14 PPWS, 9.5 reb. pct., 6.2 A/100 poss., 5.8 TO/100 poss.)
Marshall Strickland (12.6 PPG, 1.32 PPWS, 6.1 reb. pct., 4.1 A/100 poss., 3.2 TO/100 poss.)
Lewis Monroe (3.4 PPG, 1.00 PPWS, 6.3 reb. pct., 6.8 A/100 poss., 3.5 TO/100 poss.)

Official motto for 2006-07
"Can Eric Gordon play a year early? Please?"

What we think we know in November (read the warning label)
Last year was, to say the least, tumultuous for Hoosier fans. The good news is IU made the NCAA tournament and won a game for the first time in three years. The bad news is that last December this looked like a team that was going to do a lot more damage in the tournament than winning just one game....

The Hoosiers barreled out of the gate last year shooting at a level that teams (and coaches) can usually only dream about. Through their first ten games (a stretch that included losses to Duke and Indiana State), IU posted an absolutely absurd 63.0 effective FG pct. (Comparison: last year NC State recorded the best in-conference shooting of any "power"-conference team with a 55.7 eFG pct.) Looking at that shooting last December I waggled a stern finger at the Hoosiers: this kind of unconscious accuracy is "unsustainable," I said in my best buzz-kill manner. Combine that with the leaky Indiana perimeter D, I said then, and, aye verily, there be trouble ahead!

Man, was I ever right--and wrong. The shooting did, of course, get an urgent email from ever-bothersome Mr. Reality:

Indiana shooting, 2005-06 (eFG pct.)
Before January 1: 63.0
After January 1: 49.9

But that Hoosier perimeter D I was fretting about in December turned out to be the primary strength of the team. Big Ten opponents shot just 31.9 percent on their threes and coughed up a notable number of turnovers to the likes of Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway. (Don't let anyone tell you the now-departed Robert Vaden "led" Indiana in steals last year. In tempo-free terms the most felonious Hoosier, by a healthy margin, was Calloway.) Opponents' missed threes and turnovers translated into an IU defense that was a hair stingier than the conference average. More bluntly: perimeter D (along with their own three-point shooting) got the Hoosiers to the dance--because everything else was average or worse.

And what does that have to do with this year? Plenty. IU was able to achieve (slightly) above-average D despite the fact that their interior defense was horrible. This year's interior D figures to be vastly improved, for two reasons: 1) the law of averages; and 2) D.J. White. While White only played in five games last year, that was enough for me to take a peek last January at the with- and without-White numbers. The peek confirmed what our eyes already tell us: with White on the floor the Hoosiers are much better at making opponents miss their shots.

Oh, and then there's this new coach. Some guy named Kelvin Sampson. Bit of a reputation for hard-nosed defense, even to the point of having "ugly" teams. IU could use a bit of ugly. (Though Oklahoma's defense last year was surprisingly soft-nosed--OK but certainly not great. Duly noted.) Sampson would appear to be precisely the tough disciplinarian (a virtual anti-Mike Davis) that some Indiana fans have been yearning for. Yes, this same style can lead at least some of his players decide they've "had enough of the shouting." Still, compared to his predecessor's predecessor, Sampson is a regular Fred Rogers.

Add it all up and I think this Indiana team has the potential to look a little like Minnesota in 2005. Which, granted, may not sound like an especially exciting prospect to Hoosier fans. But keep in mind the 2005 Gophers had one of the best defenses in the country. That year Minnesota forced both missed shots and turnovers thanks to aggressive perimeter defenders (remember Vincent Grier, Rico Tucker, and Aaron Robinson?) freed up to be aggressive by a big man patrolling the paint (Jeff Hagen).

On the other hand, I also think IU this year could look a little like Minnesota looked in 2005 on offense. And that's not good news. White, of course, bids fair to compete with Carl Landry of Purdue for the honor of being the most talented post scorer in the Big Ten whose initials aren't "G.O." Past White, however, there are questions on offense. The players the Hoosiers said goodbye to last year (Marshall Strickland, Lewis Monroe, Marco Killingsworth, and Vaden) hit 42 percent of their threes despite attracting the lion's share of opposing defenses' attention. This year's returnees, conversely, hit 36 percent of their threes last season despite being relatively overlooked by opposing defenses. (And the Edvard Munch-level horrific 50-something FT percentages of Wilmont and Ben Allen don't inspire a lot of confidence as to their true shooting capabilities.)

If Indiana does struggle to put the ball in the hole, watch the turnovers. Wisconsin last year put together the semblance of an offense, even though they couldn't throw the ball in the ocean from a rowboat, simply by refusing to turn the ball over. Such is one possible best-case for the IU offense.

Taking his inspiration from Alando Tucker
After all, Tucker entered last year as a guy with a history of foot problems--and he made it through the season unscathed. Hoosier fans hope D.J. White is as fortunate because the big man is as important to this team as Tucker is to his--if not more. White gives Indiana the promise of points in the paint, rebounding, and post defense. Subtract White and all of the above become matters of concern for Sampson. (True, White's rebounding numbers his freshman year were insistently awful, but last year's five-game cameo gave hints of night-into-day improvement here.)

Winner of the Surprisingly Good Hoosier Rebounder Award two years running!
Roderick Wilmont's obviously a warrior---you don't post a double-digit rebound percentage at 6-4 without having the kind of motor coaches crave. (And this particular warrior exhibits a borderline-freakish ability to hold on to the ball.) But his shot selection is innovative, to say the least. Other things being equal, a 58.3 percent FT shooter who's hitting just 32.5 percent on his threes probably shouldn't be launching more than half his attempts from outside the arc.

Badger comparisons continue....
Earl Calloway--like Kammron Taylor of Wisconsin--turns the ball over a little more often (4.5 per 100 possessions) than what you'd like from your point guard. However, also like Taylor, he is perhaps his coach's best hope for a three-point threat among the starters.

He of the 12 turnovers--the whole year....
Granted he was only on the floor a little more than a third of the time last year. Still: 12 turnovers for the entire season? (Killingsworth would cough up that many in a half last year!) Obsessive caretaker of the ball A.J. Ratliff, Wonk salutes you!

In non-turnover news: Ratliff had a virtually Jamar Smith-like freshman year (startling scoring efficiency from a who-dat tyro) before struggling mightily with injuries and his shot his sophomore season:

Worst 2FG percentages, 2006 (all games, 15+ min. per game, returning players only)
1. A.J. Ratliff, IN (32.5)
2. Kammron Taylor, WI (37.2)
3. Joe Krabbenhoft, WI (37.7)
4. Tony Freeman, IA (38.8)
5. Travis Walton, MSU (40.0)

This number is so implausibly aberrant--I checked it three times--that I'm conferring upon Ratliff the same retroactive exemption (he was injured) that I gave last year to Dion Harris of Michigan (his entire team was injured). The slate is herewith wiped clean. Go to it, A.J.

Ben Allen has apparently been told by Sampson to eat his Wheaties, knock off the threes, and get down on the low block where he belongs.

Mike White is a JC transfer from Lee College in Texas, where he made third-team All-American. Lance Stemler is longer, leaner, and played for Bradley in 2004-05. Stemler took 17 shots for the Braves that year, of which 12 were threes. And of those 12 attempted threes he made one. BONUS unsolicited advice for Coach Sampson! Do not play Stemler and Wilmont at the same time. It could cause a rupture in the space-time-shot-selection continuum.

Redshirt freshman Joey Shaw is reportedly a good perimeter shooter--and that could be a precious commodity this season in Bloomington. (Errek Suhr, of course, posted a gaudy 48.2 3FG pct. last year. What remains to be seen is whether the 5-8 Suhr will get the 13 minutes per game under Sampson that he got under Davis.)

Sampson on Armon Bassett: "I like Armon. Armon is pretty good with the ball in his hands. If this were a football team, Armon would definitely make the offensive team. But you can't call timeout and take one team out and put the other one in. You have to transition to defense."

Indefatigable Hoosier savant Terry Hutchens says Xavier Keeling "is a potential redshirt."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa guard Mike Henderson has a broken finger and will miss three to six weeks. The injury occurred during practice Tuesday. Henderson had surgery yesterday.

Michigan beat Division II Wayne State 85-51 in an exhibition game in Ann Arbor last night. Lester Abram led the Wolverines with 19 points, as the host team hit 12 of 20 threes. (That includes a 4-of-4 from outside the arc by hitherto who-dat freshman Reed Baker.) Tommy Amaker says he's "pleased" with how his veteran team played. (Box score.)

FLASH! Coach Unhappy with his Young Team in November! Talk about man bites dog! Ohio State coach Thad Matta says the Buckeyes' defense wasn't "as tough and as resilient" as it needed to be in Wednesday night's 80-57 win over Division II Findlay. (On the plus side, the box score has now been posted. Glad I didn't have to resort to invoking the Freedom of Information Act.)

Wisconsin opens exhibition play tonight in Madison against Division III UW-Stout. Senior-has-matured (SHM) profile of Kammron Taylor here.

Purdue opens exhibition play tonight in West Lafayette against Division II North Dakota.

Minnesota opens exhibition play tonight in Minneapolis against Bemidji State.

DAD-prevention picks up steam!
On Wednesday I exhorted readers to help me stamp out DAD (defensive attention deficit) and promised that bumper stickers and oven mitts were on the way. Well, here you go, courtesy of the Official Design Majordomo of this blog, Kyle Whelliston....

Thanks, Kyle!

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

People from Springfield also spell "chilli" correctly....
Yesterday I detoured from what was supposed to be a preview of Illinois long enough to remark that Rich McBride and yours truly share something in common with the late great jazz drummer Barrett Deems. All of the above hail from Springfield, Illinois.

The readers respond!

As a fellow Springfieldian, I'm forced to relate this story....

My mother, who knew Barrett Deems slightly, reports that when he was forced to take a physical for the draft in World War II, the examining physician--seeing Deems' palsy-like shakes (the product of great drumming and living, well, too close to the edge)--told him: "I wouldn't take you if Hitler was in Iowa!"

Love your work, keep it up!

Jack M.

Thanks, Jack!


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