Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
A win's a win...right?
Six thoughts on last night's Illinois-Missouri game in St. Louis, a contest won by the Illini 73-70....

1. Man, was Quin Snyder a bad coach. Dealt similar talent, Mike Anderson put a team on the floor last night that played with unrelenting intensity and, for much of the night, intelligence. In retrospect it's amazing Snyder lasted as long as he did. He is the Frank Abagnale Jr. of coaching.

2. Here's what I said seven weeks ago about Illinois and their defense:

As for this year's defense, Illinois would appear to be in good shape. They have speed, length, a modicum of depth, and a former Gene Keady protégé yelling hoarse epithets at them daily. Barring injury, that should net out to another year of opponents scoring less than a point per possession.

Wrong. They've got great numbers thus far, of course (allowing opponents 0.86 points per possession), but that's purely a function of their schedule. (The three "power"-conference opponents that Illinois has played--Maryland, Arizona, and now Missouri--have scored a cumulative 1.10 PPP.) Problem is: this team is big without the benefits of being big (rebounding aside, of course--see below). The Tigers drove to the rim at will last night for the first 25 minutes. They should have stuck with it. Making threes was almost bad news for Missouri--it lured them away from what was working. Quick teams, it appears, will give the Illini trouble. (In Rick Majerus terms, they do not level off the dribble.) And the results come in the paint: having allowed three "power"-conference opponents to hit 53.6 percent of their two-point shots, the Illinois interior D is officially suspect. Very.

3. I like that left-handed swooping drive that Brian Randle does. But, aside from one nice block, Randle's defense simply isn't there yet. And Randle--the only Illinois player who's both long and quick--is the straw that stirs the D's drink, as it were.

4. Shaun Pruitt ain't Dwight Howard, goodness knows, but as it happened there was a mismatch to be had last night and Illinois too often chose not to exploit it, particularly late in the first half. Pruitt scored 19. He could have had 30 if the Illini offense had displayed the ability to recognize opportunities.

5. Size hurt Illinois on D but it sure helped on the offensive glass. In fact, it won the Illini the game (17 offensive boards in 39 chances) on a night when they were outshot by their opponent. Rebounding is the strength of this team.

6. Illinois gave away 14 turnovers in a 66-possession game last night, which is better than their average this year--but not as good as last year. So far this year Bruce Weber's team has turned the ball over on 23.1 percent of their possessions--a long way from last year's 18.2 TO pct. in-conference. And it's the starters that are the problem: Randle (5.8 TO pct.), Chester Frazier (5.2), Pruitt (4.7), Warren Carter (4.6)--pretty much everyone except Rich McBride.

Last night's game was tight throughout and, to say the least, hard-fought. And the Braggin' Rights ambience, with the evenly split capacity crowd, is always outstanding. So this was a fun game to watch. But as far as what happens now....

Bruce Weber's team has, with unimpeachable good reason, spent the bulk of its season to date saying: just wait until we have everybody back. Well, everybody's back now. And, with the notable exception of rebounding, it doesn't look good.

(Box score.)

Others have chosen not to fret about the future yet....
Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper is notably more upbeat ("a thriller") than I. "This was a sensational college basketball game." St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell agrees with Tupper: "wildly entertaining." And Bernie Miklasz, Burwell's fellow columnist at the Post Dispatch, salutes the first-year Mizzou coach: "Anderson coaches the style known as 40 Minutes of Hell, but what he needs now is 40 Minutes of Height."

Peoria Journal Star columnist Kirk Wessler agrees with my first thought, above:

For the past six years, "Braggin' Rights" has been a misnomer. Illinois turned this into the Quin Snyder Butt-Kickin' Rights Game, an annual coaching mismatch that reached its nadir in a 32-point wipeout last year. Snyder had won his series debut in '99, but for the next six years he managed his hairstyle and little else as the Mizzou program spiraled into an abyss of rules violations off the court and fundamental violations on it.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State beat Iowa State 75-56 last night in Columbus. The Cyclones slowed the pace (59 possessions), shot threes (26 of them), and made enough of them (10) to hang around peskily all the way to the under-8 timeout in the second half. At that point, however, three ISU turnovers in four possessions at long last brought forth the onset of reality. Daequan Cook led the Buckeyes with 21 points while Greg Oden had far and away his most mortal stat line to date: 18 points, nine boards, and just one block in 35 minutes. BONUS fun fact! No opponent has held Ohio State to under one point per possession so far this year. Their worst offensive outing (1.06 PPP) came against Cincinnati--and they won by 22. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Belmont 67-58 in East Lansing last night. Drew Neitzel led the Spartans with 20 points on 15 shots but coughed the ball up five times. (As did Goran Suton and he played 10 fewer minutes.) MSU's 17 turnovers translated into a surprisingly close contest. The Spartans played this game without Raymar Morgan (shin) and Maurice Joseph (foot), both of whom are expected back for the conference season. (Box score.)

Tennessee Tech beat Northwestern 66-65 at the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico. Kevin Coble led the Wildcats in shots (20) and points (23) but his three at the buzzer was off. The 'Cats have now played nine games and seven have been decided by five points or less. NU will play UPR-Mayaguez tonight. (Box score.)

Purdue beat Wagner 95-56 last night in West Lafayette, a game in which the Boilers had 53 points by halftime. Carl Landry was Carl Landry: 26 points in 22 minutes. (Box score.)

Hoops tonight!
Indiana plays Western Michigan in Bloomington.

Iowa plays Georgia State in Iowa City.

COMING Friday!
Copious advance coverage of Saturday's Ohio State-Florida game, including a Wonking-on-the-Other-325 look at the Gators. Tune in Friday!

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