Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Winner of the Most Improved Team Award. So far.
Purdue stands at 9-2 this morning, their only losses coming to Georgia Tech and Butler. And they have wins over Oklahoma, DePaul, Virginia, and Missouri.

Not a bad resume for a team that went 9-19 last year. But then of course that's the point: this isn't the same team. Chris Lutz still starts and Marcus Green gets some minutes but otherwise there's essentially no overlap in personnel between the two teams.

Carl Landry has picked up precisely where he left off in 2005: the man is a monster of interior scoring efficiency (1.35 PPWS, a number that would be even higher if not for Landry's mediocre 70 percent FT shooting). He's fouled with astonishing frequency (he's actually attempted more free throws than field goals this season) but on those rare occasions when he goes un-hacked on his post move, the ball goes in.

On offense, then, the rest of the Boilermakers have two jobs: 1) don't turn the ball over, and 2) get the ball to Landry. Job 1 is vital and, indeed, the Boilers' scoring will rise or fall this year according to how well it's carried out. Because as it happens Landry turns the ball over a lot (six TOs per 100 possessions)--and will continue to. That might fairly be termed the cost of doing business for an undersized post player who scores 26 percent of his team's points by himself. But it does mean the other four players on the floor have to hold on to the ball at all times. So far the non-Landrys have done OK, but keep an eye on the TO percentages for starter Tarrance Crump (5.0) and reserve Keaton Grant (5.3).

Making an occasional three, of course, doesn't hurt either. Lutz has displayed a nice touch thus far (52.3 3FG pct.) but he's part of a rotating platoon (Crump, Grant, Green, and Chris Kramer) wherein each player is only on the floor about half the time. (Matt Painter's core threesome consists of Landry, David Teague, and Gordon Watt.)

On defense Purdue has benefited greatly from the generosity of their opponents, who've coughed the ball up on 26.5 percent of their possessions. In fact, Kramer recorded six steals all by himself in just 17 minutes the other night against Wagner, thus rocketing his tempo-free number for steals to an outrageous (and unsustainable) plateau: 8.3 per 100 possessions. Still, the underlying tendency appears to be genuine: Kramer is a threat to opposing teams' possessions.

One thing that's about to change. Purdue's opponents thus far have done exactly what Painter would wish, in that they've devoted almost 39 percent of their shots to attempted threes. Watch for that number to plummet in conference play, as less-kind opponents (Oden, Butch, White, Sims, Pruitt, Gray, et. al.) go right at the not-known-for-his-D Landry in an attempt to wear him down.

And yet, with depth on the perimeter, a healthy knee on Landry, and a highly-touted recruiting class on the books for next year, the overall outlook is undeniably bright in West Lafayette. Newly resurgent Boilermakers of Purdue, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana beat Western Michigan 77-69 in Bloomington last night. The Broncos led this game at the half but Earl Calloway scored 16 points after the intermission (going 8-of-9 from the line) to lead the Hoosiers. D.J. White posted a 16-12 dub-dub with five blocks. (
Box score.)

BONUS rebounding clarification! Last night the ESPN Plus announcers in Assembly Hall praised Indiana for "leading the Big Ten in offensive rebounding," noting that the Hoosiers, going into last night, averaged nearly 14 offensive boards a game.

Forgive me, but (insert throat-clearing noise here): Aaaaaiiiiieeeeee!

Why, at this late date, do announcers still talk like this? This cannot be a complex concept: a high number of offensive rebounds indicates a high number of missed shots. What's important, of course, is not the number of offensive rebounds but the ratio of offensive rebounds to misses....

Offensive rebound pct. (through games of Dec. 20)
1. Illinois (43.6)
2. Michigan State (41.4)
3. Wisconsin (40.2)
4. Michigan (40.1)
5. Indiana (39.9)
6. Penn State (38.8)
7. Ohio State (36.2)
8. Purdue (36.0)
9. Iowa (33.7)
10. Minnesota (29.8)
11. Northwestern (25.5)

Iowa beat Georgia State 101-59 last night in Iowa City. This was actually a game for the first seven minutes but from that point on the Hawkeyes outscored the visitors 87-44. Adam Haluska hit 6-of-11 threes and scored 36 points on 19 shots. Iowa, a poor offensive rebounding team, was a great offensive rebounding team last night, hauling down 17 offensive boards in 37 chances. Kurt Looby led the way with six offensive rebounds in just 14 minutes. (Box score.)

Northwestern beat UPR-Mayaguez 62-55 at the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico last night. The Wildcats saw a 13-point lead with six minutes to play shrink to a four-point lead with 1:33 left before a Sterling Williams steal helped seal the W. Kevin Coble led NU in shots (12) and points (16). UPR-Mayaguez is now 0-8. The 'Cats play Utah in the Shootout today. (Box score.)

Hoops tonight!
plays Idaho State in Champaign.

COMING tomorrow!
Copious advance coverage of Saturday's Ohio State-Florida game, including a Wonking-on-the-Other-325 look at the Gators. (Content to be certified as 100 percent free of cloying nudge-nudge references to the upcoming OSU-UF contest in that, um, other sport.)

Tell your SEC friends: y'all come!

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. (Yes, I know I said the same thing Tuesday--those of you who tuned in got to hear me do my best Brooks Bollinger impression. Uncanny, huh? Yeah, I got bumped.)

BONUS all-Illini edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

But just think of the upside!
Yesterday I said Illinois didn't look very good in beating Missouri 73-70 in St. Louis Tuesday night. The readers respond!

I want to commend you on a very nice website. I enjoy reading your stuff. But I think you're being a bit harsh on the Illini.

Even though they do have their injured players back healthy, they're still trying to get back up to game-speed (especially Randle) and the rotation is off because of the lack of playing time with each other. I agree with you that the inability to stop quick guards driving to the hoop is a problem but I certainly don't blame that on the interior defense. The Illini let a few easy drives happen in the game vs. Mizzou, but I don't think they were awful in that respect.

Overall, I think this Illini team has the potential to make some noise in the tournament. Just my two cents. Keep up the nice work.

Dave H.

Thanks, Dave! A point of clarification on "interior defense" and stopping drives. This is one of those cases where the box score can mislead: Missouri had a nice 2FG pct. the other night absent any true post presence (although Kalen Grimes did make one nice post move) because they drove to the paint relentlessly, especially in the first half. I use "interior defense" to mean how well all five players defend two-point shots--and their occasional antecedents, drives.

And it merits scrutiny because opponent 2FG pct. is the single most important indicator of overall defensive success, or lack thereof.

I was at the game and will offer a few more thoughts, if I may.

As you note, Illinois’ interior defense is very suspect.

I, too, wonder where Quin Snyder will land. It’s abundantly clear now that blaming all his problems on Norm Stewart nostalgia won’t cut it.

Jamar Smith does not appear to be fully back yet. While he hit some shots, he appeared very tentative and passed up open threes. At least twice he dribbled to just inside the three point line and launched a shot which missed. Weird. I also wonder if Brian Randle is fully up to speed yet.

The Illini faithful where I was sitting were very down on Rich McBride every time he entered the game.

There were a couple of Kansas alums sitting behind me. Their general consensus was that Bruce Weber can coach while his recruiting ability is somewhat suspect, whereas Bill Self can recruit while his coaching ability is somewhat suspect.

Anyway, the game was a lot of fun. I took my daughter, a junior in high school who is strongly leaning towards Illinois right now, and she bought an Illinois jersey with number 42 on it. Of course, Randle won’t be around by the time she gets there.

Keep up the good work!
Charles A.

Thanks for the on-site report, Charles! (Can your daughter stop drives into the paint? If so, have her call Weber.)

Your post on Illinois-Missouri was right on. But I still believe that Illinois' defense will improve because Smith and Randle still are not 100 percent out there with their leg speed.

Also, you are right again, old wise one, that Pruitt could have had 30 points or more if the Illinois guards would have tried to hit him with quicker passes.

You mentioned Quin Snyder. I told my Missouri friends he was a bad coach the first year he was there. How many Mike Andersons and Bruce Webers have been career assistants because of AD's going after some assistant coach with NO experience just because he's from...I cannot get myself to type the, a high-profile program.

Anderson can flat-out coach. And we all know about Coach Weber. Just give these guys a chance.

Jim M.

Thanks, Jim!


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