Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Dear Hoosiers,
How you been?

Listen, about that coaching vacancy. I know you're getting lots of unsolicited advice but I've really been giving this some serious thought. I think I have an angle that will take care of this once and for all....

First off, let me admit that I, like every non-Hoosier Big Ten fan, used to be completely baffled by your evident obsession with hiring Steve Alford. After all, Alford, as has been pointed out time and time again, has had even less success in the Big Ten (50-60) than Mike Davis has had (53-41). (Gosh. Good thing Brian Ellerbee (26-38) didn't go to IU--you'd be hot after him!)

So, yeah, I used to be skeptical of this Alford mania. In fact, I'm pretty sure I even said something like:

Now ensues the talk about finding a new coach "with IU ties." Can I just ask one thing? How has this preoccupation arisen? Indiana enjoyed its greatest success with an Ohio State graduate as head coach. North Carolina enjoyed its greatest success with a Kansas graduate as head coach. UCLA enjoyed its greatest success with a Purdue graduate as head coach.

But that was then! Now I think I'm pretty clear on your criteria for this hire:

1) IU graduate.
2) Big-time name recognition.
3) Less success in the Big Ten than Mike Davis.

OK, I'll grant you: Alford fills the bill in each of the three criteria.

But you know what? I've appointed myself as a one-person search committee. And I've found someone who beats Alford in all three categories.

Allow me to introduce you to the next men's basketball coach at Indiana. Ladies and gentlemen: Subway Jared. He is the ideal candidate to take IU basketball to the next level. Here's why....

1) You say the new coach has to be an Indiana graduate? Jared Fogle, as he was then known, was an IU student in the spring of 1998 when he decided to slim down his 425-pound frame by restricting himself entirely to two Subway sandwiches a day. Heck, he's not just a Hoosier--he's a proven benefit to the local economy! (How many Subway franchises did little Mr. Steve "I won a National Championship" Alford create during his time at IU? Well, then!)

2) You say the new coach needs big-time name recognition? I guarantee you Jared's Q-score whomps the crimson and cream out of Alford's. Has Alford been parodied on "Saturday Night Live"? Has Alford made appearances with the USO at Guantanamo Bay? Has Alford landed a mention on "The Simpsons"? (Homer: "You mean that guy who used to be fat but now he's just ugly?") I think not!

3) You say the new coach must have had less success in the Big Ten than Mike Davis? OK, admittedly this may be a problem for Jared. Alford's winning percentage (50-60) is .455, while Jared's (0-0), I suppose, is .500, in a way. So, if you're going for sheer statistical ineptitude in Big Ten play, I suppose Alford's your man.

Still, think of the possibilities with Subway Jared roaming the sidelines at Assembly Hall! For one thing, he'd be a terrific role model for the young people--something you haven't always had in this particular position, to wit....

1997-era Indiana coach's response to a bad call: You (BLEEP) piece of (BLEEP)! I'm gonna take a (BLEEP) and ram the (BLEEP) (BLEEP) thing up your (BLEEP) until you (BLEEP) your (BLEEP) and cry to your (BLEEP) mother for a (BLEEP) (BLEEP)!

2007-era Indiana coach's response to a bad call: Gee, what you need is a Veggie Delite sub with under six grams of fat. It's a delightfully crunchy combination of garden fresh lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, olives and pickles and your choice of condiments served on freshly baked bread. It’s like a salad sandwich!

And that's just for starters. I also envision an ESPN reality show where Coach Jared conducts tryouts for currently overweight walk-ons (waddle-ons). Your program's visibility will skyrocket!

In conclusion, what Indiana needs now is a fresh start. Who better to give you that start than the beloved Hoosier who's seen in millions of homes daily encouraging us to "eat fresh"? I urge you to give some serious thought to this weighty matter (har!).

Blogospherically Yours,


In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Minnesota plays Illinois in Minneapolis tonight (ESPN, 9 ET). It's senior night for the Gophers--group profile of Vincent Grier, Adam Boone, J'son Stamper, Moe Hargrow, and Zach Puchtel here. Profile of Hargrow here....Bruce Weber says the Illini are playing to improve their seeding in the NCAA tournament. "If you can be a one, two or three seed, it gives you an advantage. There's a chance you might get to play a little closer to home and that first game is usually a little easier. There's a lot on the line." Problem is, his team's been inconsistent: "One game you think we made some progress, the next game we're awful."

Purdue plays Indiana tomorrow night in West Lafayette--and tickets are still available? Heresy!...Apparently not satisfied with my selection of Subway Jared as the next IU coach, the New York Post has wondered aloud if maybe Isiah Thomas might be a good candidate for the job.

Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp says even though Michigan coach Tommy Amaker "merits kudos," the Wolverines "won't close the basketball gap with Michigan State until the deep-pocketed Blue hairs upgrade facilities charitably categorized as pathetic."...Michigan doesn't play this week and Amaker says his team will use the down time to go back to basics: "Hopefully this is a week that will allow us the opportunity to work on fundamentals."...As for the Spartans, Tom Izzo says he still believes in his team: "This is a talented basketball team with good guys that has had a horrendous schedule and it's taken its toll."...Matt Trannon's broken jaw is reportedly doing better than expected and Izzo now says he hopes to have his power forward back in time for the Big Ten tournament....Yesterday cbs.sportsline's Gregg Doyel said Michigan State doesn't have the look of a team that's going to do any damage in March. Doyel's assessment has produced this spirited rejoinder from die-hard Spartan fan and intrepid blogger Jason Kent at Critical Fanatic--make haste!

Oracular Hoosier observer Terry Hutchens says Ohio State big man Terence Dials is the favorite to win Big Ten POY. Hutchens also volunteers his if-the-season-ended-today All-Big Ten team: Dials, Greg Brunner (more here), Alando Tucker, Mo Ager, and Dee Brown. (But the season doesn't end today! And so the All-Wonk Team (2.0) will be unveiled here next Wednesday, March 8.)

Tuesday--the day after the weekly Big Ten coaches' teleconference--is the time-honored day for a college hoops miscellany column. And no one does the genre better than oracular Nittany Lion observer David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Enjoy.

COMING Monday!
Ah, 'tis the season: Wonking seven days a week, March 6 - April 7.

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

In defense of Paul Davis--but not Izzo
You say the following:

"Michigan State has had four years to inculcate the Izzo ethic in Paul Davis and he's still getting

I think this is an unfair comment. If Izzo didn't like the shots Davis was taking, that's fine. But I don't think it's a matter of "ethic." Davis has shown nothing but strong work ethic and hustle all year--simultaneously becoming one of the two best rebounders in the conference and remaining an offensive force. Further, when Davis did start taking the ball toward the hoop, he had to score over double teams. Why? Because MSU consistently has to play lineups including Travis Walton, who is a fine back-up point guard but can't consistently hit a jumpshot.

This leads me to my next point: I will never take Izzo for granted (his bad years would have been good years during most of the Heathcoate era), but I have to lay a great deal of the blame for this season's failures on him. At this point, this team only has three and a half players who can score more than four points a game--the big three plus Neitzel about every other game. I don't understand why Izzo has just given up on Gray and Suton. In the old days, he played his younger big guys at least 10 minutes a game with a religious zeal (Granger, Ballenger, etc.). This hurt us early in the season, but by the end of the season those players became real contributors.

Izzo says he's played Walton so much in a four guard lineup because of match-up problems. In my opinion, this has played right into our opponents' hands. Why not create a match-up problem for them on the other end? Further, playing Ager, Brown, and Neitzel nearly the entire game has clearly hurt their ability to finish games strongly.

Clearly, the loss of Trannon hurt. But this program should be at a point that an injury to a walk-on shouldn't be the end of the world--especially this year, which wasn't exactly supposed to be a rebuilding year. I hesitate to think what this team will look like next year after Ager and Davis graduate and Brown more than likely goes to the NBA.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that you can't win in the Big Ten with three really good players and almost nothing else.

Still bleeding green,
Kyle J.


Maybe "ethic" is a loaded word. Davis has, on balance, had an outstanding year and if I'd said instead that he's failed to embody the Izzo "brand of ball," my word-choice would have been less otiose but my meaning would remain unchanged. My meaning was this: Indiana's interior D has been a points ATM for a parade of who-dat opposing bigs all year, from Gary Ware to Shaun Pruitt. With my own two eyes I saw Joe Krabbenhoft drive to the tin, score, and draw the foul against IU. Beat writers have taken to auto-texting the words "career-high" before a big man's name when said big man's team is about to play the Hoosiers. But NBA-bound Davis, anything but a who-dat, didn't capitalize in a game his team had to have.

Monday, February 27, 2006
11 thoughts
1. Ohio State can either pin their tournament hopes on a Providence-in-'87-like run of incredible three-point shooting--or they can win ugly. They've proven they can do both. Relating to the latter, their field goal defense has been even better than Iowa's in Big Ten play and it allows them to win even when their threes aren't falling, as seen Saturday at home against Michigan. The only thing preventing the Buckeye defense from going from good to very good (and thus preventing the Buckeyes from going from very good to great) is their defensive rebounding, or lack thereof.

2. Illinois fans, like this one, started the year asking if Rich McBride could keep opposing defenses honest by taking some of the three-point load off of Dee Brown. Illini fans are now ending the year by asking if Brown can keep opposing defenses honest by taking some of the three-point load off of McBride.

3. Iowa is now done with road games and, likely, happy that they are. Their defense allowed less than one point per possession in just two Big Ten road games this year: at Northwestern (loss) and at Indiana (win).

4. Wisconsin's offense is, the hiccup at Northwestern notwithstanding, better than its defense of late. If UW can somehow put it all together in the same game, they may just steal a win during the toughest remaining schedule in the Big Ten: at Michigan State and at Iowa.

5. Michigan is bipolar. Over their last seven games (in which the Wolverines have gone 2-5) no game's been decided by fewer than eight points. Win or lose, it's not going to be very close.

6. Michigan State has had four years to inculcate the Izzo ethic in Paul Davis and he's still getting benched.

7. Indiana, as noted here last week, can still make the tournament. But they need to win a Big Ten road game. The last time they did that was February 20, 2005. At Michigan.

8. Penn State has had the best offense in the Big Ten over the past two weeks, scoring 1.12 points per possession.

9. Minnesota can't make the tournament without winning the Big Ten tournament. True, two more wins (by no means a foregone conclusion, with a home game against Illinois and a road game at Northwestern) would push them to 7-9, same as tournament-worthy Iowa last year. But last year's Hawkeyes had a 12-1 non-conference record (the only loss coming to eventual national champion North Carolina) and then beat Final Four-bound Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament.

10. Northwestern is the best two-point shooting team in the conference. The Wildcats also shoot (way) fewer twos than any other Big Ten team, instead devoting more than 46 percent of their attempts to threes in conference play.

11. Purdue is going to finish the year in last place but transport this same team to last year and (from the damning with faint praise department) you'd be looking at perhaps an eighth-place finish--about equal to last year's Northwestern squad, better than last year's Michigan or Penn State teams. Keep an eye on Matt Painter.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated! Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy.

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--yesterday!
Indiana beat Michigan State 78-71 in Bloomington. The Hoosiers finished the game on an 11-2 run over the last 3:32 after Errek Suhr set the screen that fouled Paul Davis out of the game. Suhr fell (flopped?) when Davis tried to go over the top of the screen: "I felt the contact, so I went down," Suhr explained afterward. "We didn't execute as well in the last three minutes," said Tom Izzo, who'd actually benched Davis in favor of Idong Ibok to start the second half. "I wanted to make a point to Paul that he has to take the ball to the basket instead of shooting those fade shots." After averaging just 10.9 points over his first seven Big Ten road games, Mo Ager went berserk for State and dropped 30 on the Hoosiers. "I think that was a great sign," Izzo said of Ager's play. Izzo also indicated he, for one, misses Matt Trannon (out indefinitely with a broken jaw). "These were the two worst teams we could play without Matt," Izzo said of playing Indiana and Ohio State without his starting power forward. "We won't see a lot of small lineups the last two games (against Wisconsin and Illinois)."...Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says that when it comes to this year's edition of the Spartans, "there's a significant gap between what we want to believe and what we see."...Robert Vaden again repeated his current expectation: to transfer after the season is over. "My coach is leaving and that wasn't the only reason, but that was a very big reason why I came here,'' Vaden said after yesterday's game. "I don't think it would be best for me to stay here. I think it would be best for me to weigh my options and look elsewhere." Vaden led the Hoosiers yesterday with 21 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting....This was the final home game for IU and after the game Indiana's seniors and outgoing coach Mike Davis addressed the crowd. Davis was given a warm reception, one that Gregg Doyel questions this morning at cbs.sportsline: "If Indiana fans will sleep easier by pretending for one day that they appreciate and even like the coach they ran out of town, so be it." (Box score.)

Wisconsin beat Minnesota 80-74 in Madison. The Badgers scored on nine of their last ten possessions and for the game the Gophers gave up 1.20 points per possession, their second-worst defensive performance of the year. (Illinois scored 1.23 PPP against Minnesota.) "When we missed shots, we didn't get stops," said Dan Monson afterward, "and you cannot go on the road and try to outscore people." After being limited against Northwestern by an ankle he sprained in practice last Monday, Alando Tucker led the Badgers with 22 points on 16 shots. "Yeah, he did look better," Bo Ryan said of Tucker. "We needed him." Joe Krabbenhoft notched his first ever dub-dub with a minimally qualified 10-10 in 22 minutes. The Badgers shot 36 free throws; both Adam Boone and J'son Stamper fouled out for the Gophers. What can tempo-free stats do for you? They can keep you from saying that Minnesota entered yesterday's game "leading the Big Ten in offensive rebounding." This is like saying Penn State "led" the Big Ten in offensive rebounding last season. The Gophers, as did the Nittany Lions last year, miss many more shots than do other Big Ten teams--thus there are a lot more offensive boards to be had. The truth is that Minnesota has rebounded about 33 percent of its misses in conference play. A respectable mark, to be sure, yet one that has been bettered by three other teams. (Box score.)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Saturday!
Illinois beat Iowa 71-59 in Champaign. The Illini shot OK (which for them is great), pounded the offensive glass (44.8 offensive rebound pct.), and took care of the ball (just eight turnovers in a 60-possession game). The result was their best offensive showing (1.18 points per possession) in weeks. Rich McBride made 4-of-5 threes and led Illinois with 15 points. Playing his last game in Assembly Hall, Dee Brown couldn't hit a shot to save his life (2-of-12 from the floor) but still finished with nine assists and just one turnover. For the Hawkeyes on offense Greg Brunner was huge (27 points helped along by five offensive boards) but his teammates were almost all tiny. Particularly microscopic was Adam Haluska (three points on six shots). For more see the definitive game recap from canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska. (Box score.)

Ohio State beat Michigan 64-54 in Columbus. The Buckeyes were unusually cold from outside (4-for-18) but it didn't matter, as the home team shot 13 more free throws and the visitors were in any event busily donating 18 turnovers. Terence Dials continued his strong late-season play and led OSU with a 22-11 dub-dub. Coming off his 39-point performance against Illinois in Ann Arbor last Tuesday, Daniel Horton went just 4-of-16 from the field and coughed up six turnovers. And kudos to Courtney Sims for recording what will henceforth be known as the Joe Krabbenhoft 10-10 dub-dub. (Box score.)

Penn State beat Northwestern 68-55 in State College. The Nittany Lions shot 26 free throws. The Wildcats shot three. Though it was done in a losing cause, Evan Seacat drained six threes as he led all scorers with 18 points. And Mike Walker jeopardized a season's worth of pretty assist-turnover numbers with a highly uncharacteristic five TOs in just 18 minutes. (Box score.)

BONUS really tiny old-business edition Wonk back!
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The Hitchcock-Bob Knight convergence--revisited
The second episode of "Knight School" aired on ESPN last night and once again would-be Texas Tech walk-ons were seen reading and discussing their assigned text, Kipling's "If." Last week I asked the following pert question related to said poem:

What Hitchcock classic uses a snippet (visually!) from this cherished warhorse of high school lit classes? (Obligatory old geezer rant: Not that they still read Kipling in high school. In my day, we read things! Nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. "Gimme five bees for a quarter," you'd say. Etc., etc.)

Kudos to alert reader Peter C. who replied with admirable Strunk & Whitean brevity:

Strangers on a Train, of course...

Well, done Peter!
Offensive efficiency: points per possession (PPP--more about this stat)
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Ohio State (1.12)
2. Michigan (1.07)
3. Michigan State (1.06)
4. Wisconsin (1.06)
5. Penn State (1.04)
6. Illinois (1.04)
7. Iowa (1.00)
8. Indiana (0.99)
9. Northwestern (0.96)
10. Purdue (0.96)
11. Minnesota (0.95)
Defensive efficiency: opponent points per possession (PPP--more about this stat)
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Illinois (0.94)
2. Wisconsin (0.97)
3. Iowa (0.98)
4. Ohio State (0.98)
5. Minnesota (1.00)
6. Michigan State (1.02)
7. Indiana (1.03)
8. Northwestern (1.04)
9. Purdue (1.07)
10. Michigan (1.07)
11. Penn State (1.13)
Efficiency margin: points per possession (PPP) minus opponent PPP (more about these stats)
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Ohio State (+0.14)
2. Illinois (+0.10)
3. Wisconsin (+0.09)
4. Michigan State (+0.04)
5. Iowa (+0.02)
6. Michigan (0.00)
7. Indiana (-0.04)
8. Minnesota (-0.05)
9. Northwestern (-0.08)
10. Penn State (-0.09)
11. Purdue (-0.11)
Effective FG pct. (eFG pct.)
eFG pct. = (FGM + (0.5 x 3PM))/FGA

Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Ohio State (54.9)
2. Michigan (53.0)
3. Northwestern (52.5)
4. Michigan State (52.0)
5. Purdue (51.6)
6. Illinois (49.7)
7. Wisconsin (49.6)
8. Indiana (49.6)
9. Penn State (49.5)
10. Iowa (48.6)
11. Minnesota (45.4)

Opponent eFG pct.
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Illinois (46.1)
2. Wisconsin (46.1)
3. Ohio State (48.1)
4. Iowa (48.7)
5. Minnesota (50.2)
6. Michigan State (50.3)
7. Purdue (51.4)
8. Indiana (51.9)
9. Northwestern (52.9)
10. Michigan (53.4)
11. Penn State (56.6)
3FG pct.
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Ohio State (39.3)
2. Penn State (37.6)
3. Michigan (37.0)
4. Indiana (36.3)
5. Purdue (36.1)
6. Iowa (34.9)
7. Wisconsin (34.8)
8. Michigan State (34.8)
9. Northwestern (34.2)
10. Illinois (33.0)
11. Minnesota (29.6)

Opponent 3FG pct.
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Ohio State (28.5)
2. Indiana (32.4)
3. Illinois (33.6)
4. Wisconsin (34.2)
5. Northwestern (34.8)
6. Iowa (34.9)
7. Michigan State (36.4)
8. Minnesota (36.5)
9. Penn State (37.6)
10. Purdue (38.1)
11. Michigan (39.9)
2FG pct.
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Northwestern (53.4)
2. Ohio State (52.3)
3. Michigan State (51.9)
4. Michigan (51.7)
5. Purdue (50.4)
6. Illinois (49.9)
7. Wisconsin (48.1)
8. Iowa (46.8)
9. Minnesota (45.9)
10. Indiana (45.8)
11.Penn State (45.8)

Opponent 2FG pct.
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Illinois (43.7)
2. Wisconsin (43.9)
3. Iowa (46.5)
4. Michigan State (48.0)
5. Purdue (48.1)
6. Minnesota (48.1)
7. Michigan (50.3)
8. Ohio State (50.4)
9. Northwestern (53.3)
10. Indiana (53.5)
11. Penn State (56.9)
Turnover percentage
TOs/team possessions

Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Wisconsin (16.9)
2. Ohio State (16.9)
3. Illinois (18.8)
4. Penn State (19.1)
5. Michigan State (20.5)
6. Iowa (21.2)
7. Minnesota (21.3)
8. Indiana (21.5)
9. Northwestern (21.6)
10. Michigan (23.4)
11. Purdue (25.2)

Opponent turnover percentage
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Northwestern (23.3)
2. Minnesota (22.7)
3. Indiana (21.5)
4. Illinois (21.1)
5. Ohio State (20.8)
6. Penn State (20.6)
7. Michigan (19.8)
8. Purdue (19.6)
9. Iowa (19.5)
10. Michigan State (19.1)
11. Wisconsin (18.8)
Offensive rebound pct.
Oreb pct. = orebs/(orebs + opp. drebs)
(More about this stat)

Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Michigan (36.5)
2. Penn State (35.1)
3. Illinois (34.6)
4. Minnesota (33.4)
5. Michigan State (32.7)
6. Wisconsin (32.5)
7. Purdue (31.8)
8. Indiana (31.1)
9. Iowa (30.0)
10. Ohio State (29.4)
11. Northwestern (20.4)
Defensive rebound pct.
Dreb pct. = Drebs/(drebs + opp. orebs)
(More about this stat)

Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Illinois (72.8)
2. Iowa (72.1)
3. Michigan State (70.8)
4. Wisconsin (69.6)
5. Indiana (68.8)
6. Minnesota (68.7)
7. Michigan (67.2)
8. Ohio State (66.3)
9. Purdue (66.1)
10. Penn State (63.8)
11. Northwestern (63.7)
Possessions per 40 min.
Conference games only, thru February 26
1. Michigan (66.3)
2. Indiana (66.1)
3. Wisconsin (65.7)
4. Iowa (65.6)
5. Ohio State (65.5)
6. Michigan State (64.7)
7. Purdue (64.6)
8. Minnesota (63.4)
9. Penn State (62.7)
10. Illinois (62.7)
11. Northwestern (59.4)
Friday, February 24, 2006
Maybe Ohio State's last road game won't be so easy after all
Northwestern beat Wisconsin 62-51 in Evanston last night. The Wildcats already beat Iowa at Welsh-Ryan. Last night they took down the Badgers. The only remaining first-place opponent is the Buckeyes, who will come to town Wednesday.

NU is getting it done on both sides of the floor. On offense, Bill Carmody's team is, at long last, more than just Vedran Vukusic. Mohamed Hachad led all scorers last night with a career-high 25 points on 17 shots. Hachad is now averaging more than 17 a game over his last nine outings. There was nothing lucky about this win--Northwestern shot just 14 threes and made only four. They scored their points on drives and on the resulting trips to the line, as Hachad benefited from the spacing that the Princeton-inflected offense creates.

And on D the Wildcats continue to show opponents a look they don't see any other time all year--kind of like Temple used to be feared for doing. Game recaps often call the NU defense a 1-3-1 and at times it looks like one. (Actually, more often last night the Wildcats appeared to present a two-man front out top.) But I was very happy to hear last night's ESPN2 announcers tell the tale of Bruce Weber's assistant once calling Weber in the middle of the night and saying he (the assistant) had utterly failed in his assignment to scout the Wildcat defense--he couldn't even tell if they were playing man or zone.

I know how he feels: it's almost part of how NU slows down games, to make the opponent look and figure out what Northwestern is doing on that trip. For a time last night I thought the Badgers were going to evade this issue simply by giving the ball to Alando Tucker and letting him drive to the tin. He did so in the first half and it was successful. But Wisconsin scored just 23 points in the second half last night. Tucker seemed to be favoring his left foot much of the night--it may have been a factor as the game wore on.

So with two scorers instead of one and with what for lack of a better term I'm going to call a sugar zone defense, can the Wildcats beat Ohio State? (Yes, please, says the rest of the Big Ten.) Maybe. The Wildcats will likely have a tougher time driving on the perimeter-oriented Buckeyes than they did last night against the frontcourt-heavy Badgers. It will, of course, depend on if OSU is on from outside that night. Baffled Northwestern opponents customarily choose to launch threes (only Penn State opponents shoot more) and, as you may have heard, the Buckeyes are rather good at that. (Box score.)

Speaking of Tucker favoring his left foot: "Tucker missed much of the last three days of practice with what the UW athletic communications department said was a lower left leg injury and even (Bo) Ryan admitted that his go-to guy didn't look like himself." Kammron Taylor summed the evening up thusly: "I think in the first half, we did a pretty good job of attacking their zone and got them into foul trouble and got to the free throw line. In that second half, we didn't look to attack at all. I didn't do a good job of trying to attack that zone."...Bill Carmody said rebounding was the key: "We said before the game, 'If you don't get outrebounded, you can hang with these guys,' and they did." Carmody also had high praise for Tucker: "He's persistent. He doesn't get discouraged. He's a quick jumper to basket, a good shooter. I think he's the best low-post guy in the league. You have to keep the ball from him."

BONUS rebounding note! Actually, Northwestern was outrebounded by a very slight margin. (Ignore game recaps saying otherwise. Yes, NU gathered in one more rebound than did Wisconsin. That's because Wisconsin missed more shots than Northwestern did, including nine missed free throws.) Last night NU posted rebounding percentages of 24.1 (offensive) and 73.5 (defensive), meaning, of course, that the Badgers' numbers were 26.5 and 75.9, respectively. But when rebounding is essentially even as it was last night, that does indeed favor the Wildcats. Greatly.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The weekend in Big Ten hoops--tomorrow!
Illinois plays Iowa in Champaign (ESPN, 6 ET). It will be senior day at the Assembly Hall and in tribute to Dee Brown and James Augustine 17,000 headbands will be distributed, each emblazoned with the numbers 11 and 40. Together Brown and Augustine have been a part of 110 wins....Hawkeyes Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner, and Adam Haluska were in a movie theater Wednesday night keeping track of the Ohio State-Michigan State game via cell phone. The Buckeyes' win at the Breslin Center, where Iowa lost by 30, was bad news for the Hawkeyes (and the rest of the Big Ten) and the trio in the theater knew it right away. "We didn't watch much of the movie after that," Haluska said. Steve Alford says the Buckeyes' win makes no difference: "We just have to take care of what we have to do."...There is so much to wonder about here: the first sentence that appears to be about the wrong sport entirely (link now, before they fix it). The Edvard Munch-level horrific ad (refresh until you get the ad I'm talking about--you'll know it when you see it, believe me). Ponder and respond.

A very telling sign: Iowa players are being asked--and are answering!--whether or not they'll stay if Alford leaves for Indiana. Luke Winn weighs in on the matter at here.

Ohio State plays Michigan in Columbus.

Penn State plays Northwestern in State College. At cbs.sportsline this morning, the Nittany Lions make Gregg Doyel's list of five teams nationally that have had tough luck this year. (So does Purdue.)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Sunday!
Indiana plays Michigan State in Bloomington (CBS, noon ET). Outgoing Hoosier coach Mike Davis reportedly has a financial interest in choosing his words carefully: "Two clauses in his severance package, obtained through a public records request, state that Davis would lose $40,000 if he says anything negative about the university, and another $40,000 if he tries to lure players to follow him to his next job."...Spartan big man Delco Rowley, it seems, is a funny guy.

Wisconsin plays Minnesota in Madison.

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

Wisconsin fans are faithful emailers--but I haven't been as good about posting those emails. What with non-Wisconsin coaches resigning and non-Wisconsin fans infiltrating the cheering sections of other non-Wisconsin fans, non-Wisconsin things have been lively of late.

Time, at last, to give the Badgers their due (though their emails were sent before last night's game and are thus a little more exuberant than they otherwise might be)....

Badgers and arbitrage

Thank you for your continued efforts in bringing us the Big Ten raw and tempo-free stats. Looking at the various rankings in each statistical category, then looking more closely at the numbers themselves, I noticed this about the Badgers:

When manipulating the stats to determine margins in each statistical category you present here, Wisconsin is the only school in conference play which has statistically done everything better than their opponents. Illinois is also very close to doing so; their only very minor fault is in having opponents shoot just four tenths of a percent better than them from beyond the three-point arc. OSU also falls just short for based on a total rebounding stat* I (and probably others) am investigating. MSU and Iowa fall a tad short in two categories. Both turn the ball over at higher rates than their opponents. Iowa shoots just a hair worse than its opponents on two-point goals, MSU lags on three-point shooting percentage.

In any event, the point about Wisconsin is this: A team doesn't need to be dominant in any one facet of the game to succeed. It just needs to find a way to be a little bit better than the other guy at a lot of things. (Duh, right?) The Badgers lead the conference in only one statistical category: turnover rate. (This is becoming as sure a statistical bet as there is at the start of any Big Ten season). They have lost two key components of their rotation to suspension in the middle of the season and have only one returning starter from last season in a conference laden with experience. Yet, at the three-quarter pole they are tied for the conference lead in the loss column.

In many ways, the Badgers are like arbitrageurs: As long as they don't take any devastating losses in any one or two transactions, they'll eventually beat you by exploiting all the small (and big) advantages they can find everywhere else.

Fundamentals. Consistency. Maybe Bo Ryan is on to something.

Sandon K.

* In terms of rebounding, I have summed a team's offensive rebound and defensive rebound percentages and compared them to the baseline of 100. By definition, if a team is rebounding at 70% on its own end, it is allowing opponent to grab offensive rebounds 30% of the time. By extension, this also holds for percentages on the other end of the floor. The grand summation of both teams' rebound percentages in any game will equal exactly 200. At the scale of individual games, this stat has little meaning. But over many games it may provide something of value. Currently, Illinois leads the conference in this stat (conference games only) with a 107.4 score. Northwestern brings up the rear at 82(!) (as might be expected, given your earlier discussion of their perimeter orientation). OSU is second to last (96), which may or may not be so surprising considering their penchant to hoist it up from long range.

Good arbitrage, Sandon! Thanks! And your point about one total rebounding stat brings up a couple thoughts that I'm a little surprised to find I haven't offered before....

First, an analogue to the approach you outline would be, I suppose, simply to derive a total rebound percentage stat much like the offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. It would of course go like this:

Total rebound pct. = rebounds/(rebounds + opponent rebounds)

Nice thing there being, unlike many possession-based geegaws seen on this site, the numbers you need are readily available. So why don't I choose to do that? That brings me to my second point....

I guess I've come to think of "rebounding" as two completely separate things, much like "points" are thought of as two completely separate things in football: offense and defense. And a key point for me here is the fact that a significant minority of teams are bad at offensive rebounding by design. It's part of their defense to be bad at offensive rebounding: they would rather deny you the fast break than try to get an offensive board.

The best example of this nationally, as noted by Ken Pomeroy, may be Northern Iowa. In fact, the Panthers--very strong on the defensive boards, deliberately weak on the offensive--are a team that's led me to contemplate a post along the lines of: are offensive rebounds necessary? Seriously, just as a Gedankenexperiment: what would it look like if there were a team that never gave up a rebound-triggered fast break the entire season, that had all five players run to the defensive end the instant a shot was put up?

And, of course, the best example of deliberately bad offensive rebounding in the Big Ten is Northwestern. Granted, the Wildcats are a different breed of bad rebounding team--they're just bad at it on both ends of the floor (and even worse, I think, than they need to be on the offensive end).

Coach of the year?
I’m a Badger fan through and through so naturally my first choice is Bo Ryan. Losing three top reserves near the start of the Big Ten season, everyone had Wisconsin dead in the water. He’s been able to keep the wheels from falling off and refuses to let his players accept excuses. He expects to win.

My second pick is Ed DeChellis. Penn State, while not competing for the Big Ten crown, is also not sitting idly in the basement. They’ve exceeded my expectations more than any other team. They’ve won on the road with a young team. Here’s the most important thing: opposing fans no longer consider PSU a gimme. I say fans because teams should never consider a conference victory a foregone conclusion. This year when my Badgers went up to the Bryce Jordan Center, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. That’s why Ed should be coach of the year.

Phil C.

Phil, you've convinced me--I mean about choosing a Coach of the Year to begin with. Tell you what: as part of the festivities surrounding the announcement of the All-Wonk Team (2.0) on March 8, I'll name my first ever Big Ten Coach of the Year. See you then.

Alando Tucker, Morrissey, and exceptionally devoted fans: discuss
Hard to deny the talent in Madtown. Give the reigning Big Ten POW some love. At 6-5, and with defenses playing what I call the "Box Alando and One," he still puts up big digits. How many other guys get the quantity of double and triple teams and still score in the paint with his height? And if you track back to last year, he put up 25 against an NBA team (aka North Carolina). They had a decent team if you recall, with some talented big men.

Anyway, Points per Inch. There's a stat. (I bet he beats Dee Brown on this one.) You can't deny WI exists for much longer. Bo might have them in contention for the title (with an admittedly tough road ahead).

Zach M.

Zounds! Zach found my post entitled "I deny Wisconsin exists." I thought I deleted that one! Anyway, Zach, meet Adam....

I firmly believe that Alando Tucker is turning into the Vince Young of college basketball. Like Young, Alando literally carries his team to victory in big games. And like Young, who has an oft-criticized throwing motion, Alando’s shooting motion is dissected and criticized ad nauseum amongst Badger fans.

I never thought anything good could come out of the state of Illinois but Alando has proven me wrong. How did the Illini let this guy escape?

Adam L.

Alando as Vince Young? What say you, Burnt Orange Nation?

Nothing good comes out of Illinois? Nothing (huff, huff) good comes out of Illinois? Allow me to introduce you to:

Jane Addams, Gillian Anderson, Mary Astor, Saul Bellow, John Belushi, Jack Benny, Harry A. Blackmun, Lou Boudreau, Ray Bradbury, William Jennings Bryan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Gower Champion, John Chancellor, Raymond Chandler (hear, hear!), Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gary Coleman, Jimmy Connors, Billy Corgan, Cindy Crawford, John Cusack, Miles Davis, Walt Disney, John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser, Roger Ebert, Betty Ford, Harrison Ford, Bob Fosse, Dennis Franz, Betty Friedan, Jennie Garth (OK, that one's not so good), Benny Goodman, Red Grange, John Gunther, HAL 9000, Dorothy Hamill, Daryl Hannah, John M. Harlan, Ernest Hemingway, Hugh Hefner, Charlton Heston, Wild Bill Hickok, William Holden, Rock Hudson, Andre Iguodala, Burl Ives, James Jones, Quincy Jones, Ethel Kennedy, Walter Kerr, Alison Krauss, Archibald MacLeish, John Malkovich, David Mamet, Ann-Margret, Jenny McCarthy, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Bob Newhart, Reinhold Niebuhr, Kim Novak, Richard Pryor, Ronald Reagan, Robin Roberts, Carl Sandburg, Sam Shepard, William L. Shirer, Maria Shriver, Charlie Stratton, Preston Sturges (big hero), Gloria Swanson, Carl Van Doren, Raquel Welch, George Will, Robin Williams, Warren Zevon, and Florenz Ziegfield.

And me.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Related story: FEMA not "significantly reacting to Katrina in terms of faster response"
From today's Lansing State Journal, referring to Saturday's pre-game incident between Michigan reserve Amadou Ba and a Michigan State fan on the floor of the Breslin Center: "MSU spokesman Terry Denbow said the university was not significantly reacting to the incident in terms of increased security."

To summarize: State's own fans are walking onto the court during shoot-arounds and fans of visiting teams are breezing past security before the gates even open. Yet there's no need for increased security.

Strictly speaking, that's likely correct. There may be no need for increased security at the Breslin Center.

But there is incontrovertibly a need for better security at the Breslin Center.

Ohio State likes playing in the state of Michigan
Ohio State beat Michigan State 79-68 in East Lansing last night. Playing their first game without Matt Trannon (broken jaw), the Spartans matched the Buckeyes in personnel for most of the game and went with four guards/wings (Drew Neitzel, Travis Walton, Mo Ager, and Shannon Brown) along with one big (Paul Davis).

And guess who won the contest to see who could play that style best? Rebounds, turnovers, and two-point shots were even. This game was won by OSU with threes. They shot six more than the Spartans and they made six more. It wasn't necessarily an outstanding shooting performance by the Buckeyes (11-of-24 on their threes--they've bettered that three times in conference play) but it was enough.

Here's just how odd a night this was: Ohio State sees fewer threes shot against them (in conference play) than does any other team. (As of this morning, only 29.6 percent of OSU opponents' attempts have been threes.) With good reason: teams are busy trying to pick on Matt Sylvester down low (or to pick up some fouls on Terence Dials). Last night, however, the matchup problem was on the Spartans' side of the court. Sylvester and Ron Lewis were posting up Walton.

Dials led the Buckeyes with a 19-10 dub-dub while Davis had a quiet night for State: 14 points and five boards in 34 minutes unblighted by foul trouble. Je'Kel Foster and Jamar Butler each drained three threes for OSU, while Sylvester and Lewis each made two. (Box score.)

This win leaves the rest of the conference effectively chasing Ohio State, who now has merely to win out on its home floor against Michigan and Purdue and take care of business on a visit to Northwestern to win a Big Ten title--most likely outright.

BONUS geographical note! Counting their win in Ann Arbor two weeks ago, the Buckeyes have now outscored their state of Michigan-based Big Ten opponents 174-153 on said opponents' own floors. Who knows? With any luck, OSU may get to play the first weekend of the tournament in Auburn Hills.

"We didn't rebound at all in the second half," Tom Izzo said afterward, "and I thought that was the difference....I don't think that was fatigue, we just didn't go after it like we could and should have. But you know we had a midget lineup in there, and we really needed Paul to dominate the boards....I thought we wore down a little bit." Thad Matta says the Spartans missed Trannon: "That's a tremendous blow for them. He had 14 (points) and 11 (rebounds) on us." Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz agrees with Matta: "What started three years ago as novelty--a football player helping out on the hardwood--has evolved into necessity."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana beat Penn State 69-65 last night in Bloomington, a game in which no fewer than 57 threes were attempted. Marshall Strickland shot 11 of them by himself, made seven, and led the Hoosiers with 22 points. "This feels like we got a little monkey off our back," Strickland said of IU's first win in six games. Geary Claxton had 19 points for the Nittany Lions. BONUS Hoosier-watching note! The IU home crowd, though they gave Mike Davis a nice round of applause before the game, was still very much in that morbid state of mind where bad things are expected. And when Milos Bogetic, of all people, hit a three for Penn State, the groan from the crowd was such that I thought they might go Jonestown at any moment. (Box score.)

Minnesota beat Purdue 62-50 in Minneapolis last night. The Boilers had done better of late holding on to the ball but that came to an end last night, as Matt Painter's team coughed the ball up 19 times in a slow (60-possession) game. "We obviously have to take care of the basketball," Painter said afterward. Spencer Tollackson led the Gophers with 12 points. No, not a misprint: the leading scorer had 12 points and the leading scorer was Spencer Tollackson. Marcus White's 12 points was also enough to lead the Boilers. For his part Dan Monson sounds pleased but not satisfied: "I think we're becoming a good team, but good doesn't mean great." (Box score.)

Northwestern plays Wisconsin tonight in Evanston (ESPN2, 9 ET). The Badgers say they're rested and refreshed after a weekend without a game. Profile of enigmatic and (it says here) misunderstood UW big Jason Chappell here.

BONUS backfill! (On a day when no card stunts were pulled--that I know of)
Daniel Horton (oops, I mean) Michigan beat Illinois 72-64 Tuesday night in Ann Arbor. Horton was both beastly and balanced, scoring 39 points thusly: 16 on two-pointers, 15 on three-pointers, and 8-for-8 shooting at the line. "A brilliant, brilliant performance," said Tommy Amaker. "Daniel has a way to will shots in and will us to victory." On an ordinary day James Augustine might have received attention and praise for his 23-14 dub-dub. But this was no ordinary day: Horton scored 54 percent of his team's points and put them beyond the reach of bubble talk. Said Horton: "I have to get my teammates a lot of credit because they found me when I was open." Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper sums the evening well: Horton "was fantastic. He hit some outrageous shots. But he also hit some wide open shots and Illinois’ defense was sadly lacking on those occasions." Chicago Tribune columnist Skip Myslenski says "Illinois, like the Red Cross, did its best to restore Michigan to health." The Illini received zero points from the bench--perhaps not surprising inasmuch as the reserves attempted only five shots. The crux of the matter for Bruce Weber is simple: when his team defends, they have a chance. When they don't, it's almost impossible for them to win (even at home against Penn State). Michigan has now scored 1.11 points per possession in both games against Illinois this season. (Box score.)

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

A Spartan existence

Just made it back to metro Detroit from East Lansing. Tough game, but indeed the better team won. It is strange to look at the stats, especially the rebounding, which seemed far less even than it actually was. Sparty only minus one on the night? Alas, the statistician doesn't lie. As my former professor Cass Sunstein was wont to point out, the availability heuristic will deceive you more often than not.

The most memorable plays of this game came late, with State down six, playing good D for 30 seconds, only to have OSU grab an offensive rebound and kill whatever momentum was built up.

You've said it many times, State's rebounding is merely good enough--and that isn't enough in a year when their outside shooting is down. Defensively the team is alright, but once again "alright" won't bring home a Big Ten crown. Not to point fingers but Neitzel looked Edvard Munch horrific on D. Butler had his way with Neitzel and that made for easy looks for either Dials (first half) or Foster (second). 2005-06 Big Ten Champion Ohio State Buckeyes, Spartan Dave salutes your poise under pressure! You've earned this championship.

Not much of note at the Breslin this Wednesday evening. Crowd was pumped at the end of the first half but when Bucky stormed back on threes in the second half, Sparty had little to be excited about. Maybe because Paul Davis was rather non-existent down low and the likes of Ager and Brown had already begun to grow cold. C'est la vie. Here's looking forward to playing a team that is not from the Big Ten; God willing they won't realize they need to get back on the fast break.

Dave N.

Thanks for the report, Dave!

The Izzone "GO BLUE" almost-caper--the aftermath
That was quite the interview you got. I was at the game this weekend and they had the cards up and down so fast I don't think a lot of people noticed. Although I did say to the person next to me, "Does that say Go Blue?"

I knew the nerdy Maize Ragers were good for something!

Nikki J.

Good for something, indeed! Allow me to add a kudo here: I thought the writing on the fake "GO STATE" card was sublime. Mimicking Big Ten corporatese is no easy task but your Maize Ragers were up to the task, to wit: "The Big Ten Conference and its eleven member schools have worked together to create a series of promotions," etc. It must have been hard for guys this creative to write that dull.


That is the funniest thing I've seen in ages. Tell the student that, the next time he's short of funding, he should contact some alumni for some help. I definitely would have contributed.

Matt W.
Ann Arbor

Benevolence duly noted, Matt. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Did the Izzone spell out "GO BLUE" last Saturday?
By now you may have read accounts of how Michigan students posing as Big Ten representatives allegedly hoodwinked the Izzone student cheering section at Michigan State into displaying the message "GO BLUE" before Saturday's Michigan-Michigan State game in East Lansing. Earlier today I received the same email that the above-linked bloggers appear to have received. (To paraphrase a line from Singin' in the Rain, one of the plotters appears to have given an "exclusive" to every blogger in town.) So maybe I should have posted right away--not doing so cost me the proverbial scoop.

Instead, I asked more questions and at least obtained some further details that maybe you haven't read yet....

The altercation between a Michigan State student and Michigan reserve Amadou Ba may not have been the only excitement before tip-off at last Saturday's game between the Spartans and the Wolverines in East Lansing.

According to a source who wishes to remain anonymous, students from the University of Michigan posed as interns from the Big Ten Conference and were able to distribute over 600 cards to the Izzone student cheering section at the Breslin Center prior to the game. The source says students in the Izzone were told that holding the cards up during the National Anthem would spell "GO STATE." In actuality, the cards were, according to this source, printed to spell "GO BLUE."

It's an intriguing story--and one that raises some questions. For one thing, why was the "GO BLUE" (see picture) so hard to read? And how could Michigan students get an entire section of rabid Spartan fans to do such a thing (even if it was, in the end, done rather illegibly)?

In search of answers, your intrepid blogger interviewed the source for this story, a Michigan student who claims to have been in on the plot's planning and execution.

"No one stopped us"
Q. How long have you been working on this?

A. This was the culmination of a couple years of kicking around the idea--and a couple months of serious research and work.

Q. I'm curious: how exactly does one "pose" as a Big Ten Conference intern?

A. Basically our plan was to be as professional as possible and not arouse suspicion. We were able to acquire a few official Big Ten sweater vests, without which the plan probably wouldn't have been possible.

Q. Interns wear sweater vests? What do Jim Tressel's interns wear?

A. Actually, we'd put together far more "backstory" than we needed. We were Big Ten interns, working under so-and-so, the Big Ten had a big plan to do promotions at every member school, we had worked with so-and-so in the MSU Athletic Department. We figured that much could get an inquisitive usher or student off our back--but probably wouldn't hold up if a Big Ten or MSU official really looked into it. As it turned out, none of this was necessary.

Q. How'd you get in?

A. We entered through the access tunnel on the south end of the arena. We passed the TV truck and entered a door on the left. Went through one more room, passed another door, and we were into the lower concourse below the seats.

Q. Wasn't there any security personnel?

A. Yes, there were two guys in Breslin Center jackets at a desk, but no one stopped us.

Q. So this was well before game time?

A. It was around 1:15, over an hour before gates opened to the general public. A friend and I had done a "test run" at a women's game about a week earlier, so I knew exactly where to go once we were inside the tunnel and then the arena. Between our vests, professional-looking cards, and just a general look that we knew what we were doing and were supposed to be there, no one gave us a second look.

Q. OK, you're in. Then what?

A. The Izzone had a couple dozen students hanging around the bleachers when we arrived. My friends immediately started placing the cards on the seats while I went to talk to some of the Izzone leaders, briefly explaining what was supposed to happen. They were all really excited about the idea, offering to help us pass out the cards. One student suggested we should "go down and do this at Michigan, only have the cards say 'we suck' or something like that." It was quite a test to bite my lip and not burst out laughing when I heard that. It took probably 20 minutes to distribute all the cards.

Q. Did you make the cards yourselves?

A. Yeah. I spent most of Friday night arranging the white and green cards in order so that we could lay them down on the bleachers quickly.

Q. After you were done distributing the cards, what'd you do?

A. I finished up talking to the Izzone members and then we left.

Q. Wait a minute. What about the whole Amadou Ba incident? Did you see that happen?

A. I didn't know about that until later. It must have happened after we'd placed the cards and left. We were there well before the arena was open to the general public.

Q. Was either team on the floor for their shootaround while you were there?

A. Neither team was out there but a couple of the Michigan team managers were out on the court.

Q. You said you "left"--didn't you go to the game?

A. We were at the game. After we passed out the cards we went to change at a friend's house. Then we went back to Breslin as ticket-holders around 3:15. Those 45 minutes we spent sitting in our seats waiting for the National Anthem were ridiculously tense.

Q. The cards were in the seats that whole time?

A. That was our major concern, that once we had placed the cards and left the arena an Izzone member would talk to an MSU official about how cool the card stunt was and it would all come crashing down with a phone call or two. In retrospect I'm pretty surprised that this didn't happen.

Q. OK, the National Anthem plays and the Izzone holds up the cards. Why was the "GO BLUE" so hard to read?

A. I was a little disappointed with the actual outcome. We didn't have them hold the cards up long enough, which made it tough for people in the arena to figure out what they said before the students took them down again. Plus, you can tell in the pictures that a few people in the "U" moved around. And they completely mangled our "E."

Another factor was cost. It would have been nice if the cards had been bigger than 10 x 14 but this was very expensive for us as it was. We'd been calling people and telling them to make sure they watched the beginning of the game in case it was mentioned. Unfortunately, the previous game went long and, of course, the Amadou Ba incident overshadowed the card stunt anyway.

Further reading
Discussion of this almost-caper first surfaced as chat room badinage on Sunday. And, yes, there's an (Ivied) historical precedent. (Actually, there's a precedent to the precedent. Update! A precedent to the precedent to the precedent!)

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