Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Home cookin'-as-pity in Ann Arbor
(Yes, I'm posting again on item number 1 on my list of four dullest hoops topics. Hey, the way you alert readers treat it, this ain't so dull after all!)

The story so far....
--Last Wednesday Michigan plays Michigan State in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines gather in many more boards and cough up one fewer turnover than their visitors from East Lansing. But said visitors shoot much better from the floor (58.7 effective FG pct.) than does the home team (46.9 eFG pct.). Michigan wins anyway. Was it their 34-10 advantage in free throw attempts? Hmmm....

--Thursday I link to some articles on UM-MSU. Articles that say: Hmmm....

--Friday I post a Q&A in the form of separate emails from alert readers Nick D. and Terry B. If only someone had data on fouls called in Big Ten play, home vs. road, Nick mused aloud. Terry had that data and found that the home team is whistled for about three fewer fouls a game than the visitors.

And then came the weekend. More emails....

Alert reader Eric F. has refined the Terry B. approach. Eric says: forget about the bottom four! Tossing Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, and Penn State out of the mix yields data that, before this weekend's action, looked like this:

Top seven at-home avg foul differential: -4.94
Top seven at-home avg FTA differential: 8.32

Jinkies! So in Big Ten games not involving the Wildcats, Boilermakers, Gophers, or Nittany Lions, the home team can expect five fewer fouls and about eight more free throws. That's appreciable!

But wait a second. Isn't this all a bit conspiratorial? After all, maybe foul differentials and justice can coincide--and did, in the game between Michigan and Michigan State.

Let's hear from another alert reader!

I think the answer to this particular game is that the officials called a very tight game, which benefited Michigan greatly. The officials cracked down on hand-checking, shoving on rebounds or for post position, and bodying up on players running through screens. All those things that are technically fouls but usually aren’t called are staples of how MSU plays. UM, as everybody knows, is much softer than MSU and doesn’t have a lot of players who throw their bodies around. (The one who does, Graham Brown, was called for several ticky-tack away from the ball fouls, including one for looking at Paul Davis as Davis slipped.)

The officiating was not uneven in the sense of bad calls going in one direction. MSU had some bad calls, but so did UM. Horton was hacked on the wrists on a couple drives, Neitzel palmed the ball twice to free himself for an open layup, and Brown was whistled for the ridiculous aforementioned phantom foul on Davis. The officiating was even, but the decision to call it tight and even as opposed to loose and even benefited Michigan enormously.

Yes, I’m a Michigan fan, but I bet if you watched the game closely you’d see the same thing.

Jon Chait
The New Republic

Wow. Jon Chait. I've been a TNR reader since college and subscriber since, well, employment. Would Walter Lippmann or Herbert Croly have read my blog? Edmund Wilson? (Dare I think it? John Dewey?) You made my day, Jon!

Anyway, as to your email: excellent points. For the sake of discussion let's accept your premise for this particular instance. The general question then becomes: why does the even-handedness so uncannily benefit the home team so often? In other words, why is it we know in advance the UM-MSU game won't be called this way in East Lansing?

Or do we know that? Now comes alert reader, Ph.D., and erstwhile faculty member Matthew S., who decided it was time to put the "significant" back in significance! Matthew looked for home cookin' by parsing box scores from the last 67 games at the Breslin Center and the last 51 games at Crisler. The results will surprise you!

Wielding his alpha level and null hypothesis, Matthew found no statistically significant difference between the number of fouls called on the Spartans and the number whistled on the visitors in the last 67 games in the Breslin Center. Zoinks! No home cookin' in East Lansing? C'mon, Coach Izzo, get on those refs!

Ah, but in Crisler Arena--a different story! A statistically significant 2.6 foul per game advantage. J'accuse!

No, really, what in the name of Brian Ellerbee's going on here? How can Michigan have benefited from home cookin' when the plain fact is that for 49 of the last 51 home games they've been beyond horrific? Is there a sympathy factor at work here? Are Ed Hightower and Ted Hillary busily discussing The Theory of Moral Sentiments before each game?

And so the moral of the story so far is simple. Want home cookin'? Suck!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
COMING this weekend! The recurring festival known as the Do Wonk's Blog for Him Contest!

Your intrepid blogger and the Wonk Wife are escaping for a few days of non-slush-related existence in their prior stomping ground of northern California. Thursday's post will be the last until I return next Wednesday. And that's where you come in!

The Big Ten never escapes! There are games this weekend and I need recaps. You can fill that need!

You know the drill: link to the box score, say who won, drop a few "Ye gods," link to some beat writers, and, voila! It's a recap. Here's your chance to blog without having to do it every day: keep those recaps to 200 words or so and bring 'em on!

First place vs. first place
Wisconsin plays Illinois tonight in Madison (ESPN, 7 ET). Bo Ryan on Alando Tucker: "He is the heart and soul of our team as far as what he brings every day." Ryan has a winning record against every Big Ten team--except Illinois. Profile of Ray Nixon here....Bruce Weber: "It's not do or die with our season. But it is: Are we going to make that step forward, which I've been talking about, trying to challenge our guys?" Dee Brown: "Something has to change or we're going to continue to get blasted on the road....Yeah, it's must-win."

In today's less first place vs. first place venues....
Ohio State beat Florida A&M 95-53 in Columbus last night. (Box score.)

At 1-6 in the Big Ten can Minnesota still make the NCAA tournament? Sunday's win against Indiana has some observers saying yes.

Michigan State big man Paul Davis is still recovering from the elbow to the head he took from teammate Idong Ibok last Friday. Davis received ten stitches and missed Saturday's game against Penn State. He did not practice yesterday and his status for this Saturday's game at Northwestern is uncertain.

Michigan has received a verbal commitment from high school baller Kelvin Grady, a 5-10 point guard from East Grad Rapids, MI....As Elwood P. Dowd said: a little conflict in any discussion is good, shows everyone's participating, no one's being left out....It's a floor wax! "What Michigan has done so far shouldn't have surprised anyone." No, it's a dessert topping! "If you had told me in September that the best team on campus would be the basketball team, I would have punched you and called you Sparty." You make the call!

Iowa wing Adam Haluska is profiled here.

Purdue senior point guard Bryant Dillon is profiled here.

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

(It'd be easier if everyone played everyone.)

Count me among those who miss the full double round-robin Big Ten schedule.

In 1929, a German mathematician by the name of Ernst Zermelo faced a similar problem when he sought to produce standings for a round-robin chess tournament that was not completed. Zermelo's idea was to assign a numeric rating to each player wherein the probability that Player A might beat Player B is a function of their ratings (and, as later mathematicians modified his system, a "home court advantage" parameter).

The ratings are assigned such that for each player, the sum of the probabilities for each game played equals the number of matches actually won by the player. These ratings summarize both wins and schedule strength as a single number. The higher your rating, the better you've played.

If we calculate this Zermelo rating for each team, we can simulate a 20-game Big Ten schedule by adding up the probability of winning home and away vs. each opponent. This number, which we'll call Schedule Independent Wins, reflects the number of games a team would expect to win over a full 20-game schedule if it continues to play at its current level.

Schedule Independent Wins are to traditional standings what tempo-free stats are to traditional statistics.

Schedule Independent Wins, through Sunday:
1. Michigan St. (15.7)
2. Iowa (15.4)
3. Wisconsin (14.2)
4. Illinois (13.5)
5. Michigan (13.2)
6. Ohio St. (12.3)
7. Indiana (9.5)
8. Penn St. (7.9)
9. Northwestern (5.0)
10. Minnesota (2.3)
11. Purdue (1.1)

--Michigan State's schedule has cost them a full game in the standings versus the 5-2 teams. They are the real first place team at this point.

--Indiana is closer to Penn State than they are to the contenders.

--It's even worse for Purdue than the 1-7 record indicates. They've already played the "easy" games, and shouldn't expect to win again.

Ross B.

A reader from Indy saying "Indiana is closer to Penn State than they are to the contenders"? Ouch! (Though indeed Sunday's performance lends credence to your assertion.)

Keep those SIW updates coming, Ross! Thanks!
Monday, January 30, 2006
Wonk's streak of consecutive posts without a Gopher-based bad pun headline continues!
Minnesota beat Indiana 61-42 in Minneapolis yesterday. This game was lost in the first half and it was the IU offense that failed to show up. (Not that the Hoosier D didn't have its moments of ignominy. The words "Adam Boone" and "blow-by for the layup" can now be used together for the first time in recorded history, courtesy of Earl Calloway and four non-helping teammates.)

The game was tied at 7 with a little more than 16 minutes left in the first half. Over the next 23 offensive possessions, Indiana recorded the following numbers:

--Scores on only three of 23 possessions
--Nine points
--0.39 points per possession (0.71 for the game)
--1-for-11 shooting on threes
--Six turnovers

During that same span, the Gophers were merely normal on offense: 24 points on 23 possessions. (But normal is outstanding for the Minnesota offense.) Result: a 34-16 halftime lead for the home team.

Yes, Marco Killingsworth sat for a good part of this time after picking up his second foul with about 12 minutes left in the first half. But it made little difference whether he was on the floor or not. For the first eight minutes, the Gophers showed a lot of 2-3 zone that seemed to baffle or at least immobilize the Hoosiers. On the ensuing possession after Killingsworth left the game, Minnesota immediately switched to a man-to-man--and IU fared no better.

Kudos to Minnesota coach Dan Monson for shaking things up and starting Jamal Abu-Shamala (true freshman and former walk-on) and Zach Puchtel (current walk-on and Harvard transfer). The Gophers appeared almost visibly energized when Abu-Shamala hit a couple early outside shots. ("What's this? We're allowed to score out here?")

As for Indiana, the mantra here at Wonk World HQ remains the same: the D (mediocre) and the offensive rebounding (bad) are more and more looking like givens. So it comes down to making shots. Devoting nearly 41 percent of their FGAs to threes in conference play, the Hoosiers are most certainly a POT. (Only Northwestern devotes more of their attempts to threes.) When the threes are falling, a POT can look unbeatable. But when they're not, a POT looks, well, like Indiana looked yesterday. (Box score.)

Mike Davis says even if his Hoosiers had been hitting their shots (which they weren't), shooting alone isn't enough on the road: "We just hope we go out and make shots (on the road), and you can't go on the road hoping you're going to make shots. You have to go defensively and make plays." Davis also praised a player he didn't know: "I have no idea who No. 32 is. We had him in our scouting report, but here’s a guy who fought Marco for every position. There’s no one who we’ve played this year that’s guarded Marco like that." (No. 32 is Zach Puchtel.)... Dan Monson says he wasn't benching starters or sending a message--he was starting Puchtel and Abu-Shamala, plain and simple: "This could not be a token switch. It had to be that I believe in this. I wanted to get those kids in the flow." Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse wonders aloud if Minnesota's start in Big Ten play might not have been better had J'son Stamper not been sidelined with an injury. St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers says: "Clearly this whole recruiting thing is overrated. Monson started two walk-ons against Indiana — Puchtel and Abu-Shamala — and suddenly his team looked good."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated! Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy. BONUS points if you can name the best three-point shooting team in the Big Ten (in conference play) without looking.

Yet another undefeated day for the home teams--Saturday!
Michigan beat Wisconsin 85-76 in Ann Arbor. Look at the Wolverines: beating ranked opponents two games in a row and now in a tie for first along with Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Who'd a thunk it? Tommy Amaker's men are getting it done with offense. They hit the offensive glass like uncaged monsters (42.9 offensive rebound pct. Saturday) and they really like to shoot--and make--free throws. Dion Harris led Michigan with 23 points on 5-of-9 shooting from outside the arc. But the real news was that Courtney Sims showed up in the scoring column: 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. As for the Badgers, their offense was fine (Kammron Taylor led all scorers with 29--UW won't lose many games where they score 1.11 points per possession). They just couldn't stop the Wolverines (1.25 PPP). (Box score.) Can Michigan take this act on the road? Yes and no. Yes: this shaken Illini fan saw the Wolverines post a PPP north of 1.40 in the second half of their game in Champaign. No: no one's doing anything on the road this season. Must have been an email from the Big Ten office.

Iowa beat Ohio State 67-62 in Iowa City. What happens when a team that doesn't do offensive rebounds plays on the road against a very good defensive rebounding team? You get four (count 'em, four) offensive boards for the Buckeyes. That's it. It's amazing they only lost by five. The Hawkeyes are not a very good shooting team (3-of-13 on their threes and 43.7 effective FG pct. on this night, vs. 9-of-24 and 46.7 for OSU), otherwise this one wouldn't have been close. In the game's first three minutes, Terence Dials looked like he was going to have his way offensively with Erek Hansen, thus negating Iowa's primary strength: interior D. Didn't happen--though Dials did record a respectable 16 points. Instead, the Buckeyes fired away from long range. They did OK (36.6 3FG pct.) but if you're going to get only four offensive boards out of 38 chances, you'd better be north of 40 on your threes if you want to win. Adam Haluska had 18 points and Greg Brunner 17 for the Hawks. Ron Lewis led the Buckeyes with 19. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Penn State 69-60 in East Lansing. Paul Davis missed this game after getting an Idong Ibok elbow to the head in practice the previous day. And State without Davis was not pretty. The home team was beaten on the boards on both ends of the floor and the Nittany Lions led in the Breslin Center with five minutes to play (you're reading that right) 58-57. But the Spartans closed the game on a 12-2 run for the win. Shannon Brown scored 29 points--23 after intermission--to lead MSU. Drew Neitzel added 19 points and hit 5-of-8 threes. Mo Ager tried to shoot over the Penn State zone with a notable lack of success, recording a 2-of-13 on his threes. Geary Claxton had a nice line for the visitors: 19 points and 13 boards. (Box score.)

Illinois beat Purdue 76-58 in Champaign. For the second game in a row, Bruce Weber reacted to a slow start by his team by going small and putting Brian Randle at the 4 alongside three guards. It worked. The Illini beat the Boilers in every facet of the game--rebounding, turnovers, effective FG pct.--everything. Except threes. Purdue hit a notably good 7-of-16 while Illinois recorded a 6-of-20. Don't blame Rich McBride or Jamar Smith. They both went 3-of-6 and McBride led the Illini with 19 points. (Meaning his teammates went 3-of-14 outside the arc. Ye gods.) Even on an off shooting day, however, Dee Brown made plays, to the tune of nine assists. Defining "balanced scoring" down: no Boilermaker scored more than 11 points. (Box score.)

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

Tune in tomorrow for a continuation of Friday's spirited discussion on foul calls and the home vs. road differentials therein. I was overwhelmed with high-quality responses over the weekend--it merits its own post.

BONUS apology! I didn't know much when I started this little Wonk thing 15 months ago but one thing I knew for certain was that every email from every reader would receive a response. Even if just to say "thanks" to the fans and "auto-reply: mail box full" to the critics.

Alas, changes in the readership's demographics (i.e., there is now a readership) means that stopped happening sometime in December. So here's a lame blanket thank-you: zounds! The emails are for the most part unbelievably good. I'm flattered that you take the time to a) read, and b) wonk back. Thanks. Keep 'em coming.
Offensive efficiency: points per possession (PPP--more about this stat)
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Ohio State (1.11)
2. Michigan (1.09)
3. Wisconsin (1.04)
4. Michigan State (1.04)
5. Illinois (1.03)
6. Penn State (1.00)
7. Northwestern (0.98)
8. Indiana (0.97)
9. Iowa (0.97)
10. Purdue (0.94)
11. Minnesota (0.86)
Defensive efficiency: opponent points per possession (PPP--more about this stat)
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Illinois (0.91)
2. Wisconsin (0.92)
3. Iowa (0.94)
4. Minnesota (0.97)
5. Ohio State (0.98)
6. Michigan State (1.00)
7. Michigan (1.01)
8. Indiana (1.02)
9. Northwestern (1.04)
10. Purdue (1.06)
11. Penn State (1.14)
Efficiency margin: points per possession (PPP) minus opponent PPP (more about these stats)
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Ohio State (+0.13)
2. Illinois (+0.12)
3. Wisconsin (+0.12)
4. Michigan (+0.08)
5. Michigan State (+0.04)
6. Iowa (+0.03)
7. Indiana (-0.05)
8. Northwestern (-0.06)
9. Minnesota (-0.11)
10. Purdue (-0.12)
11. Penn State (-0.14)
Effective FG pct. (eFG pct.)
eFG pct. = (FGM + (0.5 x 3PM))/FGA

Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Ohio State (54.8)
2. Northwestern (53.5)
3. Michigan (53.2)
4. Penn State (52.1)
5. Michigan State (51.7)
6. Purdue (50.9)
7. Wisconsin (50.2)
8. Indiana (50.1)
9. Illinois (48.1)
10. Iowa (43.7)
11. Minnesota (41.8)

Opponent eFG pct.
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Illinois (43.0)
2. Wisconsin (45.0)
3. Iowa (46.7)
4. Ohio State (48.4)
5. Michigan State (48.9)
6. Minnesota (49.5)
7. Michigan (49.9)
8. Indiana (50.4)
9. Purdue (53.0)
10. Penn State (53.8)
11. Northwestern (54.0)
3FG pct.
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Purdue (40.2)
2. Ohio State (39.0)
3. Indiana (37.6)
4. Michigan (37.5)
5. Penn State (37.3)
6. Wisconsin (37.2)
7. Michigan State (35.6)
8. Northwestern (35.3)
9. Illinois (34.0)
10. Iowa (27.2)
11. Minnesota (26.8)

Opponent 3FG pct.
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Ohio State (27.2)
2. Indiana (28.6)
3. Illinois (31.1)
4. Wisconsin (33.3)
5. Penn State (34.7)
6. Minnesota (35.6)
7. Iowa (36.6)
8. Northwestern (37.0)
9. Michigan State (37.1)
10. Michigan (37.3)
11. Purdue (40.0)
2FG pct.
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Northwestern (53.9)
2. Ohio State (52.4)
3. Michigan (51.8)
4. Michigan State (50.8)
5. Penn State (50.0)
6. Wisconsin (47.1)
7. Illinois (46.3)
8. Purdue (46.3)
9. Indiana (45.8)
10. Iowa (45.3)
11. Minnesota (42.3)

Opponent 2FG pct.
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Illinois (41.5)
2. Iowa (41.7)
3. Wisconsin (42.3)
4. Michigan State (45.1)
5. Michigan (46.6)
6. Minnesota (47.4)
7. Purdue (48.9)
8. Ohio State (51.3)
9. Northwestern (53.0)
10. Indiana (53.5)
11. Penn State (55.4)
Turnover percentage
TOs/team possessions

Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Wisconsin (16.9)
2. Ohio State (17.3)
3. Illinois (17.9)
4. Michigan State (19.7)
5. Iowa (20.3)
6. Penn State (21.6)
7. Northwestern (21.8)
8. Indiana (22.1)
9. Minnesota (22.2)
10. Michigan (24.3)
11. Purdue (27.6)

Opponent turnover percentage
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Northwestern (24.4)
2. Minnesota (23.4)
3. Michigan (23.2)
4. Indiana (22.5)
5. Wisconsin (21.9)
6. Illinois (21.1)
7. Ohio State (20.6)
8. Michigan State (20.3)
9. Purdue (19.2)
10. Penn State (19.0)
11. Iowa (18.0)
Offensive rebound pct.
Oreb pct. = orebs/(orebs + opp. drebs)
(More about this stat)

Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Michigan (39.0)
2. Penn State (36.1)
3. Illinois (33.3)
4. Purdue (32.9)
5. Minnesota (31.7)
6. Wisconsin (31.5)
7. Iowa (31.1)
8. Indiana (29.9)
9. Ohio State (29.4)
10. Michigan State (29.4)
11. Northwestern (21.8)
Defensive rebound pct.
Dreb pct. = Drebs/(drebs + opp. orebs)
(More about this stat)

Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Iowa (74.4)
2. Illinois (71.4)
3. Wisconsin (70.8)
4. Purdue (69.3)
5. Ohio State (68.2)
6. Michigan State (68.0)
7. Penn State (67.8)
8. Minnesota (67.5)
9. Indiana (65.2)
10. Northwestern (63.7)
11. Michigan (63.6)
Possessions per 40 min.
Conference games only, thru January 29
1. Wisconsin (67.7)
2. Iowa (67.2)
3. Ohio State (66.9)
4. Indiana (66.0)
5. Michigan (65.7)
6. Penn State (64.7)
7. Purdue (64.6)
8. Minnesota (64.2)
9. Michigan State (63.8)
10. Illinois (63.8)
11. Northwestern (59.2)
Friday, January 27, 2006
Welcome to Geek Day II!
Yes, time once again to abandon for a day this blog's never-ending quest to balance words and stats and just cave in to the geek-based clamoring for numbers. For a day.

A taboo is broken!
Discussion will now ensue on item number 1 on my list of the four dullest topics for a hoops blog. My "clearly stated rationale"? The alert readers demand it!...

Hi, Wonk,

Obligatory opening about how much I enjoy your blog. But it's true--you are a daily read. Consider posting on weekends.

Bonus non-obligatory compliment on proper usage of philosophical terms! I'm a former Big Ten undergrad now doing a Ph.D. in philosophy on the west coast. Can't tell you how hard I laugh when you discuss the ontological futility of Penn State basketball.

I have a project for you or one of the other canonical bloggers (You all share data, right? Ah, the unfettered pursuit of truth!) Does anybody have numbers on fouls committed by the home team vs. fouls drawn by the home team in Big Ten games?

This question is prompted by the MSU at UM game! One of the disadvantages of the west coast lifestyle is that I don't get to see many Big Ten games. I really couldn't say if MSU got shafted (26 fouls) or if UM got away with larceny (13 fouls). But I've been hearing a lot of that from some old buddies.

So I did a quick check of Big Ten stats for the young conference season. In the first five conference games, MSU committed 17.2 fouls per game and drew 16.8 against five top 25 teams. UM committed 17.6 fouls per game and drew 15.4 against mixed company. It's early in the season, but my initial impression is: it was extremely unlikely that MSU would commit so many fouls. MSU hasn't been particularly foul-prone and UM hasn't been particularly good at drawing fouls. The data suggests that the game was in that respect an aberration. Some old buddies have been nonplussed by this rather modest answer.

But what we really need is data on fouls called on the home team and fouls called on the visitors. What is the supposed "home court advantage" in terms of fouls and free throw attempts? This is, after all, a sore spot for a lot of fans--it sure would be nice to start such discussions on a more rational basis.

Nick D.

Good news, Nick! The alert readers have risen to your occasion....


Yes, I realize that officiating is one of the four dullest hoops topics. And I think home cooking is just part of playing on the road in the Big Ten. Everyone plays the same number of home and away games, so it evens out in the end.

Sure, it's frustrating for this Indiana fan when the Hoosiers are on the road--just like it's frustrating for the opponent in Bloomington. However, after seeing the foul differential in the Indiana @ Iowa game and the MSU @ Michigan game, I decided some research was in order.

There have been 34 Big Ten games so far this season. I looked at each one and noted the number of fouls on the home team and the away team. Here are the results:

Total games = 34
Average fouls/game = 33.4
Average away fouls/game = 18.3
Average home fouls/game = 15.2
Average foul differential = 3.1

Visiting team has more fouls in 24 of 34 games.
Foul differential of eight or more in home team's favor in eight games.
Foul differential of eight or more in visiting team's favor in zero games.

Obviously those are some pretty telling numbers. I think the last two are particularly interesting. An eight-foul differential is obviously pretty darn big--it NEVER happens to the home team but it's happened to the road team a whopping 24 percent of the time.

So then I wracked my brain trying to think of an explanation for this difference that didn't involve biased officiating. I came up with one alternative explanation. Obviously, some foul differential is the result of the trailing team fouling late in the game, and since B10 home teams win at a remarkable clip this might account for the difference. Of course, there's a cause-and-effect problem there, because it could be that home teams win at a remarkable clip BECAUSE of the foul differential, so without having data about the fouls committed in the last three or four minutes of the game, I don't know how to test my hypothesis.

Terry B.

Well done, Terry! And as far as testing your hypothesis, two thoughts....

First, blogger extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy has looked at the data skew that comes from teams fouling late when they're behind (but not too far behind) and his numbers suggest the activity in question tacks on roughly four FTAs per game for the winning team. (Alert reader Matthew S., take note!) And, second, may I recommend that you call upon that cherished treasure trove of information for possession charters, play-by-play data?

A heartfelt look at officiating, human error, and our hard-wired reluctance to admit mistakes
I've been surprised at the relative lack of blogospheric notice given to an incident that took place in last Saturday's game between Houston and UAB. The incident in question concerns Cougar coach Tom Penders.

Here's a snip from the Houston Chronicle's write up on the game:

With 52.6 seconds to play in the first half, Penders rose to his feet, staggered and then crumpled to his hands and knees on the sideline. After a few moments, Penders went flat as medical personnel rushed to attend to him.

[Referee John] Hampton strolled by, paused and called a technical foul on Penders, apparently thinking the coach was reacting to a questionable intentional foul call on [Houston].

Even when Penders was taken off the court on a stretcher, Hampton refused to rescind the technical. UAB's Carldell Johnson made both free throws for a 48-44 lead.

"I didn't even realize they called a technical on me until I was told later," Penders said. "That's absurd, that's all I can say."

True, the C-USA issued a statement after the fact saying officials had "exercised poor judgment" in upholding the technical foul. ("Poor judgment." That's stating it rather mildly, no? Best blog headline: "IF HE'D DIED, THEY WOULD HAVE HAD TO EJECT HIM.")

But has there ever been a more eloquent demonstration of how tenaciously all of us will maintain that we're right, even when all the evidence (the man was taken off on a stretcher) says we're wrong?

BONUS analysis from the Official Wonk Dad! Referees weren't the only ones who exercised poor judgment Saturday! As the Official Wonk Dad (hi, Dad!) hastens to add: what about UAB coach Mike Anderson?

Think about it: you've just seen Penders carted off the floor on a stretcher. And now your player is shooting a two-shot technical because, um, the opposing coach has a bad heart and collapsed. (We know now that Penders recovered and indeed came back to coach the second half. But the people in the arena didn't know that at the time.) Is this really something you want to get points out of?

Why in the world wouldn't you tell your player: "I want both free throws to go about five feet. If you so much as come near the basket, you're done for the day."

Would have been the class move. Alas.

Tempo-free stats world domination update (TFSWDU)
The contagious diffusion of tempo-free stats continues!

Readers now have the luxury of blogs that track the tempo-free goods for the Big East (Tempo-Free Stats, via Cracked Sidewalks) and the ACC (Blue Devil Hoops). Indefatigable 0.475-wielding bloggers, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
A salute to the Big Ten, courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Bobbi Roquemore.

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--tomorrow!
Michigan plays Wisconsin in Ann Arbor. How big was the Wolverines' win Wednesday night over Michigan State? "Huge," says Jim Spadafore in this morning's Detroit News....How high will the Wolverines go in the rankings if they win? How quickly will the adulation balloon deflate if they lose at home? Tune in tomorrow!

Iowa plays Ohio State in Iowa City. Members of the Hawkeyes' 1955 and 1956 Final Four teams will be honored at the game.

Illinois plays Purdue in Champaign. Bruce Weber and Matt Painter go way back, starting a little more than 15 years ago when Weber recruited Painter to come play at Purdue.

Michigan State plays Penn State in East Lansing. Observant Spartan observer Dave Dye of the Detroit News joins in the Geek Day theme and says officiating is stacking the deck in favor of the home teams in Big Ten play: "It is unfortunate that road teams seem to be at such a disadvantage from the opening tip on many nights."...Tom Izzo may not go anywhere for a while, granted, but when he does: will he be succeeded by assistant Jim Boylen? Earnest speculation here.

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Sunday!
Minnesota plays Indiana in Minneapolis (CBS, 1 ET). He's a former Hoosier. He's also used in this blog as an adjective and a synonym for "inefficient." He's Bracey Wright. Recently summoned from the NBA Development League by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wright is now on the Wolves roster. This morning he answers "five questions" posed to him by the Indianapolis Star.

Wonk back!
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Wonk back! was moved upstairs today--scroll up!
But as long as you're down here anyway, allow me to offer a quick observation:

You, the alert readers, are an impressive group. In the span of 24 hours yesterday, I heard from: Terry B. (see above), whose anonymity I will honor but who has a very worthy footer on his email from a blue-chip firm; Nick D., the Ph.D. student in philosophy (see above); Matthew S., an honest to goodness Ph.D. and faculty member in business administration; and even an assistant district attorney from down SEC way. (If "Law & Order" has taught me anything, it's that all ADAs are extremely attractive women. Alert reader Jeff, you have a funny name for a woman!)

And that's just the readers who fess up to what they do. I'm sure the rest of you are ambassadors, U.S. Supreme Court justices, and free-lance donut testers, as well.

Alert and professionally accomplished readers, Wonk salutes you! I'm proud to know I'm crippling workday productivity in such lofty offices.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Seven, baby!
Savor the number. Seven Big Ten teams in the tournament. Barring injury or head case-induced collapse, it's going to happen.

Sure, the Big East will likely equal or even surpass that number. But will they be able to say they've put 63.6 percent of their teams into the tournament? I think not! (I'm busily printing my "63.6 percent" t-shirts as we speak.)

Why the conference pride? Because Michigan beat Michigan State 72-67 in Ann Arbor last night. In the process, the Wolverines lifted themselves up onto the same lofty yet increasingly crowded eminence where Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa, and the aforementioned Spartans already reside. It's a tough loss for State--one aided in no small measure by a 34-10 advantage in FTAs for the home team--but, frankly, it's good news for the Big Ten. (Michigan State's place in the pantheon nationally is beyond secure. The task at hand is to give them some more company from the Big Ten.)

A few days ago I offered the following:

The test for Michigan, as for any team, is this: they will have arrived when we know in advance how they expect to win. Look at Wisconsin. We say things like: "Wisconsin, as expected, played tough D and took care of the ball." The Wolverines will be "back" when we can finish this sentence in a non-pejorative fashion: "Michigan, as expected, (blank)."

We may now have a nominee for the blank. How about: "Michigan, as expected, got meaningful production from Daniel Horton at the free throw line." Last night Horton, who hits 90.6 percent of his freebies, scored 23 points on 8-of-8 shooting at the line, making him 18-for-18 over the last two games. Horton made the difference on a night when the Wolverines were without both Lester Abram (sprained ankle) and, in effect, Courtney Sims (17 minutes, four points, three boards).

(Horton also turns the ball over too much--and added another seven to his total last night. Duly noted.)

As for State, they were foul-blighted and as a result played a somewhat skittish second half. Paul Davis scored just ten points in 29 minutes. No Spartan had more than five boards (!) and indeed MSU allowed Michigan to post a notably robust 41.2 offensive rebound pct. on the evening. Free throws and boards, in that order, made the difference. ("They beat us on the free-throw line," Mo Ager said succinctly last night.) (Box score.)

The test of what this loss means to Michigan State will be simply how well Michigan defends its home court from here on out. Actually, it's to State's advantage that the Wolverines prove to be as good as they look like they might be. If no one else wins at Crisler, MSU still looks good--they still have that win at Ohio State.

The thing that's unfortunate for the Spartans--and for Iowa--is that they went to Madison and lost when the Badgers' roster was still stocked. Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio State, apparently, will each have a better shot at a W purely by happenstance. (Michigan doesn't play in Madison this season.)

Last night's game was a sellout and Horton noticed: "Hopefully, the fans will keep on coming out." Asked about the discrepancy in free throw attempts between the two teams, Izzo responded: "Let me figure out what words I can use: The officiating, I question. I really do, I question it. The 34-10 (foul shot) discrepancy really kind of hurt us." He hastened to add, however: "Don't read into it that I'm sitting here crying about the officiating....It's not what totally cost us the game."...Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski: "Did the Wolverines get some breaks? Sure. They got a favorable whistle from the referees, which helped put MSU in foul trouble. But hey, maybe that's the first step toward an actual home-court advantage at Crisler, something we haven't seen in years." Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg: "We learned that Michigan is legit NCAA tournament material and a threat for the Big Ten title. We didn't know that before. Even the U-M coaches, if they were honest, didn't know it." Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz: "The Wolverines were the more aggressive team. They outhustled the Spartans. They got to the foul line. They won the rebounding war. They deserved to win."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Wisconsin beat Penn State 72-43 last night in Madison, a game the Badgers already led 26-5 by the midway point of the first half
. Bo Ryan's team shot threes over the Nittany Lion zone all night long (no fewer than 34 3FGAs) and, while hitting 38.2 percent of your threes is merely "good," after Saturday's shooting debacle the Badgers must have felt like they were absolutely on fire. Alando Tucker recovered from his 2-for-18 outing and scored 17, hitting 4-of-7 threes. Geary Claxton matched Tucker with 17 points (on 8-of-12 shooting) but no other PSU player scored more than six points. The rebounding was even (and I mean exactly even: both teams had 12 offensive boards and 23 defensive rebounds) but Penn State gave away 18 turnovers and couldn't hit their shots over the (much) taller home team. "This isn't the team I've seen play the last three or four games," said Ed DeChellis afterward. "(Wisconsin) made some shots early but we were so passive in the zone, and weren't aggressive like we had been." Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates: "Anyone who thought UW wouldn't come out razor sharp hasn't been watching the Badgers since coach Bo Ryan took over five years ago." (Box score.)...Badger big man Greg Stiemsma is academically ineligible and will not play the rest of the season. In a statement released by the UW athletic department before last night's game, Stiemsma was quoted as follows: "I've been dealing with depression which caused me to take a leave of absence from the team and also affected my academic performance."

Illinois beat Minnesota 77-53 in Champaign last night. This was still a six-point contest with less than 13 minutes left in the game, when the Illini decided to go small and put Brian Randle at the 4. The result was a 25-7 Illinois run to close out the win. "(Minnesota) got a little impatient and took some tough shots and we broke their backs in transition," Bruce Weber said of his team's run at the end. Dee Brown likes the Assembly Hall: 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, 3-of-6 on his threes, five assists, one turnover. Meanwhile Jamar Smith launched eight threes in just 25 minutes and hit five of them (plus a free throw) to add 16 points. (Still, Smith's most impressive play was his half-court assist on a beautiful alley-oop to Randle, who had 10 points and eight boards in just 20 foul-blighted minutes. "When he plays like that, the sky's the limit," Brown said of Randle's night.) On the other side of the ledger, Adam Boone was notably quiet: four shots, no points, no assists, two turnovers, and one rebound in 29 minutes. "We came in here and did some good things, but slowly they got the upper hand on us," says J'son Stamper. In this morning's Minneapolis Star Tribune, indefatigable hoops savant Jeff Shelman is somewhat more succinct: "Another year, yet another blowout."...Warren Carter was benched for the game by Weber because he "failed to take care of things in a timely manner." The result was more PT last night for Calvin Brock....Weber was pleased with his team's performance: "Much better balance. Some transition, some inside, some outside. It really eases the pressure on Dee (Brown) when we play like that." Weber also points out that Illini seniors Brown and James Augustine have lost just one home game in their entire careers. ("There's something about the Hall," according to Randle.) Factoids like that make oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper wonder whether Illinois fans appreciate what they have: "With unprecedented success all around us, why is there a feeling that the grim reaper is lurking in the shadows, ready to end it all?" (Box score.) BONUS meme look-ahead! More PT for Chester Frazier at the point, allowing Brown to move over to the 2. This will be the talk. Weber will then fret hoarsely about the implications for the defense. Etc.

Northwestern beat Purdue 78-76 in OT last night in West Lafayette. Wildcat freshman Craig Moore hit a three with nine-tenths of a second left in regulation to force the overtime. Boiler big man Matt Kiefer says the home team should have won it in OT anyway: "Moore's shot may have had an (emotional) toll on us, but as far as the pace Northwestern plays, most everybody still had their legs." Both teams shot extremely well (posting effective FG percentages north of 60) in a game where 21 of the 45 threes were good. Vedran Vukusic led the 'Cats with 29 points; Kiefer, Bryant Dillon, and Marcus White each had 18 for the Boilers. (Kiefer also added 15 boards.) Turnovers (18) continued to be an issue for Matt Painter's team, but the aforementioned good shooting and a strong effort on the offensive glass gave them a shot to win this one. Still, it wasn't enough. Painter said the two teams' differing styles of play made a difference: "(Northwestern) looked a little more fresh. We're trying to pound the ball inside and they're looking for threes. It's a little bit different." (Box score.)

COMING tomorrow!
The second in a series of occasional Geek Day posts. Stats! Analysis of stats! Assessing the inexorable progress of tempo-free stats! Non-geeks are duly warned.

Wonk back!
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The staff in Wonk's Prescience Department told me I'd use this email
On Monday I said Michigan State's the best team in the Big Ten "right now." And so they were. Then. But even on Monday, one alert reader begged to differ....


I am a Michigan fan and may need to shut myself up come Thursday morning. But for now, I have a question for you. Yes, MSU has had some impressive wins over their last three, but shouldn't you note the stark dichotomy between the Home Spartans and the Road Spartans?

MSU has averaged 58 (!) points per game on the road thus far, and are averaging 0.86 ppp in those three road games, if my math is correct. Some might also say that MSU's defense has improved significantly. They did play very well against OSU, but gave up 1.10 ppp against Indiana. And as for Iowa, they have as much offense as I have dunks on a regulation basket in my lifetime (that would be none).

Has MSU really turned a corner? Or are their recent gaudy home wins over Indiana and Iowa an indication of a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on? Michigan's defensive efficiency numbers aren't too far off those of Wisconsin and OSU, and their offensive efficiency is also right up there with the best.

I want to say with every fiber of my being that MSU is just a bad road team this year. Thoughts?

Andrew P.

Last night the Spartans lost on the road, giving up 1.10 points per possession. Not a bad piece of advance analysis, Andrew.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
North Dakota State won at the Kohl Center. Can Penn State?
Well, no, probably not. (So forgive the provocative headline. Ha!)

The freaky solar-eclipse nature of Wisconsin's loss to North Dakota State on Saturday merits repeating: in many respects the Badgers actually played their normal game. (Or so it would appear on paper. No one seems to have actually seen this game. Could it have been a Capricorn One-style moon landing hoax? Just asking!) They had a (very) slight edge on the boards. Their opponent turned the ball over 24 times; they turned it over just ten times. So, even with a depleted roster, most everything was as it should have been.

Except for the shooting. By now you know about the Badgers' 16-of-72 effort. But look at the Bison: a 53.3 effective FG pct. Granted, that's nowhere near as stellar as UW's 25.0 was bad--but for a Wisconsin opponent that's very good. In games this season where they've held their opponent to an eFG of under 50 percent, the Badgers are 12-0. When the opponent posts an eFG pct. of 50 or better, Wisconsin is just 2-4.

But enough wallowing in Saturday. Let's look at tonight's game.

The good news for Badger fans is their shooting woes should end this evening: Penn State has the worst FG defense in the Big Ten.

Why? (Here's where years of training in advanced hoops analysis is simply indispensable. Don't try this at home.) Because they're so dang short! The tallest starter for the Nittany Lions is Jamelle Cornley at 6-6. Indeed, tonight will feature the tallest team in the Big Ten going up against the smallest. (Were he to switch uniforms tonight, Ray Nixon, Wisconsin's starting 2-guard, would be the tallest PSU starter by two inches.)

Not surprisingly, then, Ed DeChellis's team has the worst defense in the conference, primarily due to the fact that Big Ten opponents are hitting an astounding 57.5 percent of their two-point shots against PSU. DeChellis quite rightly tries to compensate for this by playing a good deal of zone (and thus Penn State opponents are actually attempting a surprising number of threes) but a zone can mask only so much vertical disinclination.

OK, point taken. The D is struggling. Now look at the good news. Yes! There's good news in State College! It's called the offense....

They're hitting their shots. Last year Penn State posted an 11th-place 44.2 effective FG pct. in conference play. This year after five games they're at 51.0. That number is guaranteed to dip as conference play continues, sure. But clearly the shooting has improved dramatically in Happy Valley, thanks in part to notably efficient scoring from freshman Jamelle Cornley (1.20 PPWS).

They're crashing the offensive boards. While Geary Claxton isn't exactly known as the second coming of Dennis Rodman, he does have a very nice 11.5 offensive rebound pct. for the year. Among Big Ten starters, only Courtney Sims, Matt Kiefer, Graham Brown, Paul Davis, Shaun Pruitt, and Greg Brunner have done better on the offensive glass.

They're distributing the ball. No other Big Ten team has a pair of assist machines like Ben Luber (9.4 assists per 100 possessions) and Mike Walker (9.3). And Walker, for one, does it without turning the ball over.

Can they do all of the above tonight? On the road? Against a team that to Nittany Lion eyes will look like a forest of redwoods? Probably not. Nevertheless: resurgent offensive producers of Penn State, Wonk salutes you!

Ed DeChellis says he too, like Wonk, has noticed a slight size discrepancy between his team and tonight's opponent: "They're very big, and we can't change that, so we've got to figure out what we need to do to try to play the other end of it. We'll try to bring our posts away from the basket, make them guard on the perimeter maybe a little bit more than they're used to."...Greg Stiemsma will not play tonight, due to undisclosed medical issues. His status for the rest of the season is reportedly "yet to be determined."...

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa beat Indiana 73-60 last night in Iowa City. Yesterday I said I was looking forward to learning more about what the Hoosiers look like outside Bloomington. Alas, there was little to be learned from this game. I didn't know that IU's best three-point shooter, Marshall Strickland, wasn't going to play (sore knee), or that as a consequence we'd be seeing so much Errek Suhr, or that Mike Davis was going to bench Marco Killingsworth for ten minutes in the second half. Adam Haluska notched a 20-10 dub-dub for the home team and Greg Brunner added 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Depending on how you look at it, this game was either won by Iowa or lost by Indiana on the interior on IU's side of the floor. Even without Strickland, the Hoosiers had their standard game on the perimeter (13 made threes, 41.9 3FG pct.), thanks largely to Robert Vaden, who played like a man possessed (8-of-12 from outside the arc). But Indiana had nothing going on inside and made just 9 of 29 two-pointers--credit Erek Hansen ("The best shot blocker in the league" according to Davis) and his six blocks. (Before this past weekend, Indiana hadn't hit less than 40 percent of their twos in any game. Now they've done it two games in a row. Keep an eye on this.) As for the Hawkeyes, they turned the ball over a bit, it's true, but when they managed to hold on to the rock they got the match ups they wanted on offense (the words "Erek Hansen" and "blow-by dunk" can now be used together for the first time in recorded history). Even if the Hoosiers had been fully staffed it might not have mattered on this night (D.J. White notwithstanding, naturally)....Canonical and no doubt happy blogger Ryan Kobliska already has his spanking good game recap posted....Iowa laid a 14-0 run on Indiana to start the second half and Steve Alford was happy: "The start of the second half in our last two games has been awful and that was a trend we had to reverse." Jeff Horner agreed: "It's about time we started a second half that was good." (Box score.)

Michigan plays Michigan State in Ann Arbor tonight. Tommy Amaker frets about Paul Davis, Mo Ager, and Shannon Brown here. Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says this rivalry, uh, isn't. It just isn't: "Let's face it, when MSU and U-M cross swords on the basketball court these days, there's precious little clang." Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says waiting for the Wolverines to "return" to glory is a little like waiting for Kobe Bryant to "return" to selflessness: "People keep waiting for the Wolverines to regain their natural place atop the state basketball pyramid. But who says that would be natural? The idea that Michigan historically dominates Michigan State in basketball is simply not true." Profiles in profusion! Today's theme at both ends of I-96 is apparently a Salute to the Biography Channel: profile of UM point guard Daniel Horton here. Another look at Horton, from an East Lansing perspective, here. Profile of Spartan point guard Drew Neitzel here. Profile of Wolverine dunkmeister Brent Petway here. Profile of two-sport Spartan wonder Matt Trannon here.

Illinois plays Minnesota in Champaign tonight. The Illini have won 13 straight against the Gophers. Dan Monson salutes Illinois for achieving success even after losing three starters from last year's team: "They have really made their identity and that's something our team is searching for." Bruce Weber says his team isn't looking past Minnesota: "Their whole team, they scare you. They have some experience, some talent and in a way they are a little like Michigan. You are always waiting for them to explode." At the same time, Weber thinks Illinois can improve: "We beat Georgetown, controlled that game from the start. They go beat Duke. It makes you say, 'Hey, do you want to be really good?' The kids have to decide that." Profile of Illini big man Warren Carter here....Inevitable Gopher-based bad pun headline here. (I'm going to have to start keeping a running tally of these.) Indefatigable hoops savant Jeff Shelman tosses around a little points-per-possession talk in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this morning as he assesses the Gophers' woes on offense here....Tonight's tipoff is at 8 Central time instead of the usual 7. Does the Big Ten really schedule games so that Illinois and Northwestern aren't in action at the same time? That's what it says here. Speaking of which....

Purdue plays Northwestern tonight in West Lafayette. Chicago native, Connecticut transfer, and one of two players on the same team named Marcus (Color): profile of Boiler big man Marcus White here. Meanwhile, TV coverage of Purdue games in Indianapolis is being scaled back. The Boilers draw only a little more than half as many viewers in Indy as does Indiana.

BONUS notably geeky edition of Wonk back!
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Reading other bloggers' mail--Wonk feels like Estelle Costanza!
Today's Wonk-back comes to us unwittingly from Matt, who actually emailed blogger extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy and not me.

Minor point. Matt has posed a good question and I trust neither he nor Ken will mind the ctrl-c'ing here:

Hi Ken,

I love that you have added tempo-free stats for every team. Just a quick question about that. How do you calculate individual possessions used?

And as a tie-in, how do you calculate the TO Rate? I was just curious because at Big Ten Wonk, Marco Killingsworth has by far the highest TO rate in the conference, while on your page he isn’t even the highest on IU. I assume it has something to do with the calculation of individual possessions--Wonk’s are just based on minutes played/team minutes played.

Thanks a ton, keep up the good work,

Ken then accurately notes that he uses the Dean Oliver formula for actual individual possessions used in his calculation of TO rate whereas I use the way simpler formula for individual possessions on the floor. The difference is this:

If you put Killingsworth on the floor for 100 possessions of IU running their normal offensive sets, you will see him turn the ball over 8.9 times. On the other hand, if you fed every player in the Big Ten the ball as often as the Hoosiers feed the ball to Killingsworth (which is to say relentlessly and methodically), you would see other players (we're looking at you Rico Tucker--oh, you too, Marcus White) turn the ball over way more often than does Killingsworth. (Actually, Tucker and White turn the ball over more often than Killingsworth purely on the basis of possessions on the floor--which is astounding.)

In short: my numbers for TOs per 100 possessions are purely descriptive and take the hoops world at (tempo-free) face value: regardless of playing time and given the predilections of the offenses as they indeed exist, who is turning the ball over the most? Ken's numbers are richly analytic and go beyond mere description (though of course they do that too) to pose provocative what-if questions: if every player in the country got the same number of touches, who would turn it over the most?

BONUS clarification of plaudits! In his post today, Ken suggests I said he was the "best writer ever." Nice try, Pomeroy! What I really said is that Ken Pomeroy is the "best college basketball writer" in the country (emphasis added). Come April, when this blog is safely mothballed, I'll be found hunkered down with the real best writer ever and not with my sheaf of printouts from (which, granted, I carry around 24/7 in a backpack emblazoned with Ken's picture).

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