Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Thank you, ESPN: for the game and for the math
Thank you for putting together this contrived made-for-TV ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It was worth it to see the outstanding North Carolina-Ohio State game last night, a contest won by the Heels 98-89.

Sure, "November" and "classic" are fundamentally irreconcilable terms in college hoops. Still, that was the best November game I've seen in a very long while. Not only was it a spectacular display of young talent, it was instructive. It taught us the following bit of hoops math:

(North Carolina - turnovers) > (Ohio State - Greg Oden)

In fact, last night proceeded almost exactly according to form, with one decisive exception. The Buckeyes, though pummeled on the boards and deficient in free throws, devoted 40 percent of their shots to threes, shot better from the field than North Carolina, and didn't turn the ball over. It's all Matta-ball, really.

Only thing: the Heels didn't turn the ball over either, giving Ohio State just 11 TOs in a 76-possession game. The book says that number should have been almost twice as high. (That same book says Mike Conley should have recorded three or so steals in 27 minutes. He had none.) Make no mistake: North Carolina minus turnovers is scary-good. They already make shots and they already attack the offensive glass. The only question is how many bites they get at the apple.

So if you're a fan of up-tempo offensive efficiency, it doesn't get any better than Carolina in the second half last night. For the record, here are the numbers from after the intermission: 38 possessions, 54 points, 1.42 points per possession. (And that was with eight missed free throws in the second half. Incredible.)

Tyler Hansbrough posted a 21-14 dub-dub for the Heels and the most impressive part of that performance by far is the 14. Though not as much of a monster on the boards as commonly believed, Hansbrough was unquestionably a monster on the boards last night. (Only quibble: he's got that Greg Brunner thing going on where he takes every offensive rebound as an open invitation to immediately fling himself like a missile into the nearest stationary defender. Then the crowd is outraged if no foul is called on the defense.) And Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor combined for eight assists and zero turnovers in 40 minutes--nice ratio, that.

That being said, the other team on the floor last night was pretty fair as well. Ron Lewis had a night for the ages, obviously: 30 points in notably efficient style (PPWS for the evening: 1.52). And in the first half the Buckeyes--sharing the ball, attacking relentlessly, hitting shots--looked so much like Illinois against Wake Forest in November 2004 it was eerie. (Look, I saw savory point-guard-level assists last night from Daequan Cook and David Lighty. David Lighty!) Only these Buckeyes are younger than that Illini team was, and they were doing it last night on the home court of one of the best five teams in the nation.

Mike Conley, in the first road game of his college career, imposed his offense's will upon Carolina in the first half with the unnervingly calm mastery of a Deron Williams. (And I mean Deron Williams now--Conley's so far ahead of where Williams was at a comparable point it's mind-bending.) Ohio State actually suffered on offense when Conley came out of the game with his second foul. He is young but he is already the best point guard in the Big Ten. Even more impressive, he's the best point guard on his own team.

So the question now becomes:

Ohio State + Greg Oden = ?

(Box score.)

BONUS ACC kudo! Thank the hoops gods that Ty Lawson landed in the capable velocity-loving hands of Roy Williams. If he were in the Big Ten (or for that matter in Durham or just about anywhere but Chapel Hill) we'd be hearing much blather from his coach right now about how the freshman has to learn to play at the right speed, stay under control, etc. Nonsense. Basketball's a simple game: get to the rim. Williams acknowledges that and thus has the following incredibly complex technical directive for his point guard: go. I loved that about Williams when he was at Kansas and I loved it last night.

On "averaging 100 possessions per game." Yeah, I heard it too. Twice last night before the under-12 timeout in the first half the non-Vitale ESPN talent covering the game said, with due insider gravitas, that Roy Williams had told them he wants North Carolina to average 100 possessions per game. Which would be rather remarkable in that the fastest team in the country last year, Campbell, averaged about 78 possessions per game.

Williams, of course, was speaking with hyperbole aforethought. The ESPN talent, apparently, didn't know that.

Coaches and writers liked the game too
I'm surprised at how surprised the commentariat is this morning at Ohio State's performance. (Glad I bought my Buckeye stock early.)

Andy Katz says that when Oden joins the fun, "the Buckeyes will join North Carolina, Florida, Kansas, UCLA and Pitt as one of the few favorites to win the national championship." Jeff Goodman says with Oden OSU has "a chance to be dominant and distance themselves from the pack."

Thad Matta enjoyed the game: "That to me is college basketball right there, that environment, the plays that were made, the blocked shots, the hustle, the tipped passes. That was exciting." Roy Williams agreed: "Even as a coach, you sit there and marvel at the level that kids are playing at offensively."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Congratulations to the ACC, the clear winner (8-3) in a Challenge where two of the Big Ten's three victories were two-point home wins....

ACC-Big Ten Challenge
Boston College beat Michigan State 65-58 last night in Boston. The Eagles deployed a 2-2-1 zone with notable success and led a strangely listless (or merely befuddled) Spartan team by 17 with seven minutes to go before Tom Izzo's men rallied to make it respectable. Jared Dudley needed only 13 shots from the field to score 30 points. And Dudley was indeed the difference in a game that was otherwise equal across the board: all players not named "Dudley" or "Goran Suton" (18 points) shot poorly and both teams turned the ball over....Izzo says he feels "bizarre, or strange, about the effort-related things we're not doing....We didn't get enough out of [Marquise Gray]." Izzo also had praise for Dudley and a thought for Raymar Morgan: "I think, someday Morgan could be in that mold a little bit but, tonight, the senior schooled the rookie." Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says last night the Spartans faced "the reality of a rebuilding season." (Box score.)

Tarrance Crump hit a runner in the lane with 1.2 seconds left as Purdue beat Virginia 61-59 in West Lafayette last night. Cavaliers coach Dave Leitao sounded disappointed that the game-winner came on a play he saw coming ahead of time: "Crump averages only one assist per game. I know when he comes off screens and he puts his head down, he's looking to score." Earlier in the evening Gordon Watt officially woke up Mackey Arena after a two-or-so-year slumber with a drive and dunk that was notably spectacular. Laudably aggressive dunkmeister Gordon Watt, Wonk salutes you!...Leitao said he knew the Boilers would be tough: "As I expected to happen, the Purdue team that I saw in Maui that plays their tail off on both ends of the floor played very hard tonight." Carl Landry led his team with 19 points. (Box score.)

Virginia Tech beat Iowa 69-65 last night in Blacksburg, a game in which Adam Haluska left the floor in the final minute with an apparent ankle injury--no word yet on his status. Eerily tracking, it would seem, the simultaneous game between Michigan State and Boston College, the Hawkeyes trailed by 16 inside of seven minutes but made things interesting at the end. An odd spate of late fouling from the Hokies certainly didn't hurt Iowa's cause. (This morning's Iowa City Press-Citizen puts it well: "Virginia Tech tried everything it could to hand Iowa a precious road victory in the final 10 minutes, but the Hawkeyes refused the offer.") Tech didn't shoot as well from the floor as the Hawks but it mattered not one whit as Steve Alford's men chipped in with 19 turnovers in a 65-possession game. Tony Freeman alone coughed up five Hokie gifts in 21 minutes. Before his apparent injury Haluska led Iowa in minutes (39), shots (17), and points (24). (Box score.)

Clemson beat Minnesota 90-68 in Minneapolis last night. This was actually a game for the first 15 minutes but over the final 25 the Gophers were on the short end of a 63-41 run by the Tigers. Minnesota's best shooting of the year by far was cancelled out entirely by the talismanic number 24: as in Gopher turnovers and, even more remarkable, Clemson offensive rebounds (out of 41 chances). Brandon Smith had four defensive rebounds for Minnesota--no other Gopher had more than two. "We did not play with the passion or energy we need to make ourselves the team we need to be," Dan Monson said afterward. Clemson coach Oliver Purnell was more diplomatic: "Our team strengths were their weaknesses. It wasn't a good matchup." Dan Coleman led the home squad with 18 points. (Box score.)

In addition to typing words, I can occasionally speak them....
I'll be talking hoops with Steve "The Homer" True on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio this evening around 6:20 ET. Tune in and listen to me wing it.

COMING tomorrow!
The first of this year's promised occasional pro bono wonking outside the Big Ten....

They're undefeated! They're a mid-major! Their home games are within walking distance of my house! (A key point in their favor.) So just how good is Butler really?

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

The fabulous Nate D. Tobacco Road tour continues!
Alert reader and die-hard Hoosier fan Nate D. is still in Carolina taking in games. Yesterday he filed his report on Indiana-Duke. Today it's Carolina-OSU....

Great game tonight--completely the opposite from from last night.

OSU shocked UNC a little in the first half with their style. I was amazed with Conley's ability to get into the lane and score or dish for an open three. And Cook is a freak of nature--his dunk in the first half silenced the crowd.

UNC came out in the second half with a 6-0 run and Matta took a timeout to regain order. But it was Carolina dictating the style of play. Each time the Buckeyes made a run, the Heels responded. Conley seemed to force the action a bit late in the game.

This OSU team will be crazy when Oden fits in. I'm glad Indiana plays them just once, early in the Big Ten season, because the Buckeyes have a chance to be special.

As far as the crowd, they seemed to be a bit more emotional than their brethren in Durham (reacting as if the officials missed every single call against them). Duke fans seemed a bit more level-headed (maybe not by much) and were more polite. All in all, I would recommend travel to either site for Big Ten fans following their teams.

Nate D., Indy (via Chapel Hill)

Thanks, Nate!

(Carolina has "brethren" in Durham? I think they might take issue with that.)

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