Big Ten Wonk
Friday, December 08, 2006
And North Dakota State's beaten them both....
Wisconsin vs. Marquette: Bradley Center, Milwaukee (ESPN, 2 ET Saturday)
Time once again for the contest I think of as the Chris West version of Festivus!

Marquette: sometimes they're more uneven than other times
Know how Kansas is on occasion referred to as "good Kansas" (beating Florida) and "bad Kansas" (losing to Oral Roberts and DePaul)? One could speak that way of Marquette (beating Duke) without too much of a stretch (being taken to OT at home by Idaho State, losing at home to North Dakota State)....

For instance: for a team that doesn't shoot a lot of threes, the Golden Eagles' shooting is notably volatile. Their degree of success from game to game in shooting the rock (in other words the standard deviation in their effective FG percentages) has been more erratic this season than that of any Big Ten team. (Only Northwestern comes close to being this inconsistent--but they devote more than 41 percent of their attempts to threes. Marquette's attempted threes account for just 32 percent of their shots.)

Jerel McNeal has struggled mightily with his shot (0.89 PPWS) and, with McNeal taking more shots than anyone else, Tom Crean's offense has caught the cold from this particular sneeze, as it were. Dominic James has fared better (1.09) and gets to the line more than any other starter but, unfortunately, shoots just 64 percent once he gets there.

On defense, though, things have been a little more orderly--meaning only there's been a more consistent level of performance. Because actually for opponents it's been chaos: teams playing the Golden Eagles have turned the ball over on fully 30 percent of their possessions. It's not that Marquette's D has thrived on steals alone. It's that steals have marked the difference between what would be a good defense anyway and one that's been really excellent.

McNeal records a check-that-again 7.5 steals for every 100 defensive possessions he plays. (Perspective: Mike Conley of Ohio State currently leads the Big Ten with 5.7 steals per 100 poss. But, incredibly, Crean actually realizes a net negative from having McNeal on the floor in terms of possessions. The sophomore guard coughs the ball up an astounding 7.7 times for every 100 offensive possessions he plays.) But even aside from their opponents' charity, Marquette's defense has been sound across the board--with the glaring exception of defending the three. Opponents have hit 39.8 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.

Wisconsin: the shooting update
In my preseason walk-around of the Badgers I said the essential question with this team will be its ability to make shots. So far they've been doing just fine, thank you (54.0 eFG pct.). Then again in early December it's hard to know just how much of that is improved marksmanship and how much is the defenses they've played.

Like Marquette, Wisconsin doesn't shoot many threes (Jason Bohannon notwithstanding). So the upswing in their shooting numbers is largely attributable to better results inside the arc thus far from Alando Tucker, who takes almost twice as many shots as any of his teammates. After having done a little of everything in his career in Madison, Tucker has settled into the role of designated scorer (no boards, no assists, but also, to Tucker's credit, no turnovers). It's a role in which he has performed quite capably, though he is still iffy at the line (66.7 percent this season).

Still, Tucker's had help. Kammron Taylor hasn't shot many threes but when he has they've gone in (48.3 3FG pct.). And the 2005-06 version of Joe Krabbenhoft (37.7 2FG pct.) was apparently hustled away over the summer and replaced with a similar-looking but much better-shooting cyborg (57.1 2FG pct.). Add to this the fact that, aside from Marcus Landry, the Badgers simply do not turn the ball over and you have a very good offense.

On D, Wisconsin enjoys the luxury of two monsters on the defensive glass: Brian Butch (best defensive rebounder in the Big Ten, albeit in somewhat scarce minutes) and Krabbenhoft (right behind Butch on the leader board). Indeed, Bo Ryan's team has been its usual stout self on defense this season--with the glaring exception of defending the three. Opponents have hit 38.4 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.

Wow, maybe there will be no missed threes in this game.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan beat Miami of Ohio 62-56 last night in Oxford, Ohio. Dion Harris hit 3-of-4 threes and led his team with 20 points as a foul-blighted Courtney Sims took just five shots in 23 minutes. (Still, Sims did better than Brent Petway, who fouled out in just 22 minutes.) At 55 possessions, this is the slowest game the Wolverines have played this season. Michigan never trailed in this game, though they did see an 18-point first-half lead dwindle to two early in the second half. (Box score.)

Minnesota beat South Dakota State 77-53 in Minneapolis last night. Dan Coleman scored 28 points on 20 attempts to go with five assists, two blocks, two steals, and no turnovers. Damian Johnson recorded four blocks in 21 minutes. (Box score (pdf).)

Iowa plays Iowa State tonight in Iowa City, which makes three "Iowa"s in this sentence (actually four). Has the in-state rivalry lost some luster due to the fact that the Cyclones are coming off a two-point loss to Drake and the Hawkeyes just lost a heartbreaker to Northern Iowa? ISU guard Mike Taylor prefers to think of it as both teams feeling "a sense of urgency."

Wonk back!
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Ode to Hinkle
Yesterday I filed my report after having attended the Butler-Ball State game. The readers respond!


Long before the Bulldogs became media darlings, Hinkle Fieldhouse was my basketball Mecca. I took my son there twice (5th and 8th grade) and introduced him to an arena that rivals the old Chicago Stadium in presence and character.

I also remember going to the Fieldhouse four hours early for a UWM-Butler women's game in 2000. I just sat about half-way up in seats and listened. I swear I could hear and see the ghosts of people who watched the likes of Robertson and Bird and others perform here.

Hinkle is Heaven. I'm glad you and your son can enjoy it regularly.

Dick M.

Thanks, Dick!

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