Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Wisconsin has a shot--if they can shoot
Today I at long last conclude my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the hitherto low-turnover, low-eFG pct. group of young men in Madison, proud members of the Big Ten since its founding in 1896....

Last year
19-12 overall, 9-7 in conference. Lost in first round of NCAA tournament to Arizona, 94-75. (Or did they? Maybe the Badgers really "advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament" and that whole Arizona game was just a Capricorn One-style moon landing hoax. Cool!)

Alando Tucker (18.9 PPG, 0.98 PPWS, 9.8 reb. pct., 3.1 assists per 100 possessions, 3.7 TOs per 100 possessions)
Kammron Taylor (14.2 PPG, 1.05 PPWS, 4.9 reb. pct., 4.1 a/100 poss., 4.6 TO/100 poss.)
Brian Butch (10.0 PPG, 1.12 PPWS, 14.1 reb. pct., 3.4 a/100 poss., 3.2 TO/100 poss.)
Michael Flowers (5.9 PPG, 1.12 PPWS, 7.6 reb. pct., 4.8 a/100 poss., 3.2 TO/100 poss.)
Jason Chappell (4.3 PPG, 1.02 PPWS, 12.4 reb. pct., 5.5 a/100 poss., 3.5 TO/100 poss.)
Joe Krabbenhoft (3.4 PPG, 0.91 PPWS, 14.7 reb. pct., 5.2 a/100 poss., 4.2 TO/100 poss.)
Kevin Gullikson (3.2 PPG)
Tanner Bronson (3 min. per game)

New (kinda)
Marcus Landry (6-7 F, sat out last 14 games in 2006 due to academic ineligibility)
Greg Stiemsma (6-11 C, sat out last 14 games in 2006 due to academic ineligibility)

Trevon Hughes (6-1 G, Queens, NY)
Jason Bohannon (6-2 G, Marion, IA)
Mickey Perry (6-2 G, redshirt freshman)
J.P. Gavinski (6-11 C, Wisconsin Dells, WI)
Brett Valentyn (6-4 G, Verona, WI)

Ray Nixon (6.2 PPG, 1.11 PPWS, 4.2 reb. pct., 3.8 a/100 poss., 1.6 TO/100 poss.)

Official motto for 2006-07
"Oh yeah? Well, Tanner Bronson could beat up Errek Suhr, pal."

What we think we know in November (read the warning label)
If such a thing is possible, I think Wisconsin is being simultaneously underrated and overrated this year.

Let's start with Adam Mertz of the Capital Times, for he is teachably optimistic:

With only Ray Nixon gone from last year's team...there are a wealth of options that all bring a little something different to the table, including Greg Stiemsma and Marcus Landry, who by all accounts have brought a new level of energy since returning from academic hiatus. Notably, several of these options appear capable of putting the ball in the hoop consistently on any given night.

Aye, there's the question: putting the ball in the hoop consistently. If the Badgers do that this year the lid is off the can as far as how high this team can go. They already defend. They already take care of the ball. In fact, give me a Wisconsin team that can shoot and I'll give you a team that's on the same level as North Carolina and, yes, Florida. Why not? Those teams both turn the ball over (Carolina particularly). Wisconsin doesn't. So in that sense I think the Badgers are underrated.

But I also think Wisconsin's being overrated in that it's so widely assumed that age alone will equate to improvement and, specifically, good shooting. It didn't work out that way last year for Iowa, to say the least. The Hawkeyes last year returned even more of their minutes and points from the previous season than do the Badgers this year. And Iowa's effective FG pct. "improved" all the way from 49.4 to 49.1--both figures, by the way, are a hair better than the 48.4 eFG pct. Wisconsin posted last year.

You can say, of course, that this Badger team will in fact be much deeper than last year's and so this Iowa-Wisconsin comparison's off-target. Maybe, but my point is in any case more general: shooting is everything and it is fickle. I don't know if Wisconsin will shoot well this year but then Bo Ryan doesn't know either. No one does.

So shooting's a question mark. But I think pretty much everything else on both sides of the ball is likely to adhere to a pretty well-established--and successful--Ryan script. And so I boldly predict: little or no change in offensive rebounding (mediocre by design) and continued excellence in holding on to the ball (a Madison specialty).

Another part of the Ryan script is his willingness to play at the pace that works best in that particular game. The Badgers still suffer from a misconception that they go slow; on the contrary, they actually play at a surprisingly fast pace. Here's a snippet from the industry-standard Blue Ribbon Yearbook:

Ryan said it wasn't a matter of changing the team's style, but rather taking advantage of opportunities. "Sometimes it's just about the number of possessions you have, or whether you're playing with the lead or playing from behind," he said.

"We've never held the ball. We've always tried to get the easiest basket you can get, and if it comes in transition, we'll go get it. But sometimes the way the tempo dictates the game, your number of possessions is higher. With me, it's always about the number of points per possession. We scored one point per possession last year pretty steady, and we were happy with that."

On defense the Badgers were good last year and can be even better this year. In particular, I think Wisconsin can do better on the defensive boards.

The Badgers' numbers on the defensive glass last year weren't bad, mind you. But for a team that was far and away the tallest in the league, doing just a little better than the conference average is puzzling. Especially in light of the fact that Wisconsin's FG defense last year was superb--even better than that of the much-lauded Iowa defense. Meaning if the Badgers had been merely as good as the more diminutive likes of Illinois or Michigan State on the defensive glass, they would have had the best defense in the Big Ten by a healthy margin--indeed, one of the best defenses in the nation. Just a few defensive boards away....

Vintage Ryan
"You're not always going to have your score on the left-hand side. Nobody does that. But we'll match the competitiveness year in and year out of anybody around. The fact that people have bought into that and made this the toughest ticket around, you think we're not proud of that? The players are proud of that. The people who have coached here are, too. That's a pretty good situation."

Every coach talks like that, sure. But when Ryan says it, it actually sounds accurate--it reflects what I see of the Badgers on the court.

The POY in November....Will he be POY in March?
This past Sunday the Indianapolis Star said that Alando Tucker has "offensive skills few can match." I was struck by that passage because it so succinctly captures the precise opposite of my read on Tucker.

Talent? Loaded with it: speed, quickness, and hops. Heart? Beyond question or debate. I especially admire his relentless tenacity and his unfailingly selfless demeanor on a team where, at least last season, he wasn't always getting a ton of offensive help from his teammates. Skills?...

Put it like this: If I'm choosing Big Ten players to be on my team, I take Tucker with my second pick (right after some guy whose name escapes me). But if you ask me why, my answer isn't going to cite any measurable skills. I won't say it's because of his shooting, or his ball handling, or his rebounding, or his passing, or his defense.

I'll say it's because he's Alando Tucker. He'll give me everything he has, lead my team, and make it better. He is the Mateen Cleaves of this generation of Big Ten players.

( likes Tucker, too.)

Baffling statistical anomaly Kammron Taylor, Wonk salutes you!
Kammron Taylor's a good three-point shooter (39.9 percent in '06) and his proficiency from the free throw line (82.9 percent last year) suggests his accurate perimeter shooting is no fluke and is indeed likely to continue. All well and good--but here's the odd part: in 2006 Taylor was an Edvard Munch-level horrific two-point shooter. Hitting an abysmal 37.2 percent of his two-pointers, Taylor ranked 71st out of the 72 Big Ten players who averaged at least 15 minutes per game. (Only the injury-wracked A.J. Ratliff of Indiana struggled more from inside the arc last season. Note also: Taylor last year actually shot better on his threes than on his twos.)

It gets curiouser, for it wasn't just Taylor who struggled from inside the arc in Madison last year. Here's a list of the Big Ten's 15 worst returning two-point shooters....

Worst 2FG percentages, 2006 (all games, 15+ min. per game)
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)
6. Rich McBride, IL (40.8)
7. Sterling Williams, NU (41.1)
8. Drew Neitzel, MSU (41.3)
9. Chris Lutz, PUR (42.0)
10. Ben Luber, PSU (42.3)
11. Dion Harris, MI (42.3)
12. Dan Coleman, MN (42.7)
13. Jamar Smith, IL (43.2)
14. Jason Chappell, WI (43.3)
15. Michael Flowers, WI (43.7)

(So does the swing offense do a disservice to Taylor by "inverting" him into the interior instead of just letting him float outside the arc? Just asking!)

Taylor appeared to fade badly down the stretch last year and has come back this season notably beefed up and pledging to stay strong.

Stats, schmats
No player in the Big Ten is done a greater disservice by numbers than is Brian Butch when it comes to rebounding. His seemingly mediocre six boards a game last season masks two crucial facts: he only played 60 percent of the available minutes and in the Badger scheme he is instructed to worry less about offensive boards and more about getting back on D. In fact, I rate Butch (19.3 defensive rebound pct.) the third best returning defensive rebounder in the Big Ten coming into this year, behind only Courtney Sims (20.1) and this guy....

Speaking of defensive boards
Joe Krabbenhoft is a monster on the defensive glass (20.0 defensive rebound pct. last year) and records a goodly number of assists--surprising for a monster! As noted above he had a disastrous year shooting the ball but then he was a freshman. And the best thing about freshmen came true for Krabbenhoft this year: he's a sophomore.

My streak of consecutive posts without a pun on Michael Flowers' name continues!
Michael Flowers has reportedly been working on his offensive repertoire but I think he was better to start with than is commonly realized. In effect, Flowers consumes minutes and emits rock-steady Wisconsin-style performance. Along with Butch, he was the most efficient scorer on the team last year and he takes very good care of the ball.

Look fast
Jason Chappell last season was an excellent example of that occasional phenomenon known as the ceremonial starter. He started 30 games last year but averaged five fewer minutes a game than non-starter Flowers. He is very much of that Krabbenhoftian species in that he too has a weirdly high number of assists for one so vertically distinguished.

Landry and Stiemsma return--how big a difference will they make?
We might think we've hardly seen either Marcus Landry or Greg Stiemsma but in actuality both of them appeared in no less than 16 games last year (before both were declared academically ineligible).

Ryan's clearly impressed by Landry, giving the true freshman 15 minutes per game last year. One note of warning regarding Landry, however. With five turnovers for every 100 possessions he played, Landry would appear to be the Badger most likely to give a gift to the opponent--more likely even than Taylor. And minimizing turnovers is critical for a team that (by chance) doesn't shoot very well and (by design) gets very few offensive boards.

Stiemsma requires only minutes on the floor to be recognized as an outstanding defensive rebounder--and if he's in the game at the same time as the equally proficient Krabbenhoft, Badger opponents should see very few offensive boards. (Ryan apparently has slotted Steimsma in the Zach Morley rebounding role: gobbling up defensive boards yet forbidden from even approaching the offensive glass. No other player in the Big Ten last year had as large a discrepancy between his defensive and offensive rebounding percentages as did Stiemsma. Back in the day, this was also Morley's shtick.)

Kevin Gullikson walked on last year as a freshman, impressed the coach, and is now on scholarship.

Meet the freshmen and their advance billings: Trevon Hughes is the point guard and Jason Bohannon is the shooter.

BONUS Badger outreach to Illinois fans!
Illinois fans, it's fair to say, aren't particularly warm and fuzzy about Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl. Neither, it appears, is Bo Ryan:

Ryan said that several people called to tell him that Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl had a stretch limousine waiting to pick him up after he attended the recent funeral for former UWM and UW-La Crosse basketball player Luke Homan. Pearl coached Homan when they were both at Milwaukee.

"That's how he was picked up at the funeral. You wouldn't believe the number of people who said, 'How in the heck could he have the audacity to make it a spectacle about himself?' " Ryan said incredulously.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Wisconsin beat Wisconsin-Green Bay 79-62 last night in Madison. Alando Tucker led the Badgers in shots and points (18). Michael Flowers added five assists for Wisconsin, who held the Phoenix to 38.1 percent two-point shooting. "I thought our guys moved really well and had good shot selection," Bo Ryan said after the game. For his part Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says "UW lacks proven shooting ability." There were 47 fouls called in this game--"The good thing about it is that you get a chance to rest, you get a little rest in between," said Kammron Taylor. Laudably glass-half-full young man Kammron Taylor, Wonk salutes you! (Box score (pdf).)

Illinois beat Jackson State 76-55 in Champaign last night. The Illini played this game without starters Rich McBride (serving a suspension for his September DUI arrest), Brian Randle (week to week with a strained groin), and Jamar Smith (out four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain). A "discombobulated" Illinois was down 18-4 early ("We were shocked," Bruce Weber said afterward) and turned the ball over 19 times in a 70-possession game but outscored the Tigers 42-21 in the second half for the win. Warren Carter led the Illini in shots, rebounds (15), and points (16). BONUS very sophisticated analysis! When you have two players (Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham) go the entire 40 minutes in a game this early, you have depth issues. Weber: "Warren had 37 minutes. I didn't know if he could play 25....Let's face it, we play these (early) games to grow up, to get experience, and some of our guys got a whole lot more experience than I ever dreamed of.....A couple of weeks ago, I was worried about getting them all playing time. They'd better be happy tonight." Illinois hosts Georgia Southern tomorrow night and Weber foresees similar minutes for his starters: "I don't know who else is going to go in." (Box score.)

Michigan beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee 66-59 in Ann Arbor last night. After a "dismal" first half which ended with the Wolverines trailing by two, Michigan outscored the Panthers by nine in the second half for the win. Courtney Sims led the Wolverines with a 26-10 dub-dub: "I know I have to be one of the main people," he said afterward. Brent Petway added 11 boards for Michigan. The Panthers went 9-for-19 on their threes but only 9-for-34 on their twos. The Wolverines were the opposite: 24-of-46 on their twos and 1-of-9 on their threes. Michigan dominated their own offensive glass, pulling down 17 offensive boards out of 35 chances. (Box score.)

Michigan State plays Texas tonight in Madison Square Garden in the semifinals of the loquaciously titled "2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches Vs. Cancer." "We're going to play a team that has maybe as much athleticism as any team we've played in a long, long time," says Tom Izzo. Raymar Morgan vs. Kevin Durant talk here.

Iowa has embarked on their five-game road trip that will begin with the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands and a game against Toledo tomorrow.

Minnesota coach Dan Monson says he likes the contrasting styles of his two point guards: 6-5 freshman Kevin Payton and 5-9 juco transfer Limar Wilson.

BONUS "What the hell happened?" coverage!
Oral Roberts beat Kansas 78-71 in Lawrence last night. A lot of things went wrong at once for the Jayhawks. They went just 11-of-21 at the line, posted an underwhelming 44.8 effective FG pct., and, just like in their first-round loss to Bradley last March, saw their opponent hit 11 threes. (ORU shot even better from outside than the Braves did, needing only 19 attempts to make 11.) Marchello Vealy, doing his best Marcellus Sommerville impression, made 7-of-8 threes and led Oral Roberts with 22 points. In the future the Jayhawks are going to want to do some Harding-on-Kerrigan style pregame sabotage of opposing players whose first names begin with the letters "Marc." (Box score.)

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