Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Thank you, ESPN: for the game and for the math
Thank you for putting together this contrived made-for-TV ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It was worth it to see the outstanding North Carolina-Ohio State game last night, a contest won by the Heels 98-89.

Sure, "November" and "classic" are fundamentally irreconcilable terms in college hoops. Still, that was the best November game I've seen in a very long while. Not only was it a spectacular display of young talent, it was instructive. It taught us the following bit of hoops math:

(North Carolina - turnovers) > (Ohio State - Greg Oden)

In fact, last night proceeded almost exactly according to form, with one decisive exception. The Buckeyes, though pummeled on the boards and deficient in free throws, devoted 40 percent of their shots to threes, shot better from the field than North Carolina, and didn't turn the ball over. It's all Matta-ball, really.

Only thing: the Heels didn't turn the ball over either, giving Ohio State just 11 TOs in a 76-possession game. The book says that number should have been almost twice as high. (That same book says Mike Conley should have recorded three or so steals in 27 minutes. He had none.) Make no mistake: North Carolina minus turnovers is scary-good. They already make shots and they already attack the offensive glass. The only question is how many bites they get at the apple.

So if you're a fan of up-tempo offensive efficiency, it doesn't get any better than Carolina in the second half last night. For the record, here are the numbers from after the intermission: 38 possessions, 54 points, 1.42 points per possession. (And that was with eight missed free throws in the second half. Incredible.)

Tyler Hansbrough posted a 21-14 dub-dub for the Heels and the most impressive part of that performance by far is the 14. Though not as much of a monster on the boards as commonly believed, Hansbrough was unquestionably a monster on the boards last night. (Only quibble: he's got that Greg Brunner thing going on where he takes every offensive rebound as an open invitation to immediately fling himself like a missile into the nearest stationary defender. Then the crowd is outraged if no foul is called on the defense.) And Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor combined for eight assists and zero turnovers in 40 minutes--nice ratio, that.

That being said, the other team on the floor last night was pretty fair as well. Ron Lewis had a night for the ages, obviously: 30 points in notably efficient style (PPWS for the evening: 1.52). And in the first half the Buckeyes--sharing the ball, attacking relentlessly, hitting shots--looked so much like Illinois against Wake Forest in November 2004 it was eerie. (Look, I saw savory point-guard-level assists last night from Daequan Cook and David Lighty. David Lighty!) Only these Buckeyes are younger than that Illini team was, and they were doing it last night on the home court of one of the best five teams in the nation.

Mike Conley, in the first road game of his college career, imposed his offense's will upon Carolina in the first half with the unnervingly calm mastery of a Deron Williams. (And I mean Deron Williams now--Conley's so far ahead of where Williams was at a comparable point it's mind-bending.) Ohio State actually suffered on offense when Conley came out of the game with his second foul. He is young but he is already the best point guard in the Big Ten. Even more impressive, he's the best point guard on his own team.

So the question now becomes:

Ohio State + Greg Oden = ?

(Box score.)

BONUS ACC kudo! Thank the hoops gods that Ty Lawson landed in the capable velocity-loving hands of Roy Williams. If he were in the Big Ten (or for that matter in Durham or just about anywhere but Chapel Hill) we'd be hearing much blather from his coach right now about how the freshman has to learn to play at the right speed, stay under control, etc. Nonsense. Basketball's a simple game: get to the rim. Williams acknowledges that and thus has the following incredibly complex technical directive for his point guard: go. I loved that about Williams when he was at Kansas and I loved it last night.

On "averaging 100 possessions per game." Yeah, I heard it too. Twice last night before the under-12 timeout in the first half the non-Vitale ESPN talent covering the game said, with due insider gravitas, that Roy Williams had told them he wants North Carolina to average 100 possessions per game. Which would be rather remarkable in that the fastest team in the country last year, Campbell, averaged about 78 possessions per game.

Williams, of course, was speaking with hyperbole aforethought. The ESPN talent, apparently, didn't know that.

Coaches and writers liked the game too
I'm surprised at how surprised the commentariat is this morning at Ohio State's performance. (Glad I bought my Buckeye stock early.)

Andy Katz says that when Oden joins the fun, "the Buckeyes will join North Carolina, Florida, Kansas, UCLA and Pitt as one of the few favorites to win the national championship." Jeff Goodman says with Oden OSU has "a chance to be dominant and distance themselves from the pack."

Thad Matta enjoyed the game: "That to me is college basketball right there, that environment, the plays that were made, the blocked shots, the hustle, the tipped passes. That was exciting." Roy Williams agreed: "Even as a coach, you sit there and marvel at the level that kids are playing at offensively."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Congratulations to the ACC, the clear winner (8-3) in a Challenge where two of the Big Ten's three victories were two-point home wins....

ACC-Big Ten Challenge
Boston College beat Michigan State 65-58 last night in Boston. The Eagles deployed a 2-2-1 zone with notable success and led a strangely listless (or merely befuddled) Spartan team by 17 with seven minutes to go before Tom Izzo's men rallied to make it respectable. Jared Dudley needed only 13 shots from the field to score 30 points. And Dudley was indeed the difference in a game that was otherwise equal across the board: all players not named "Dudley" or "Goran Suton" (18 points) shot poorly and both teams turned the ball over....Izzo says he feels "bizarre, or strange, about the effort-related things we're not doing....We didn't get enough out of [Marquise Gray]." Izzo also had praise for Dudley and a thought for Raymar Morgan: "I think, someday Morgan could be in that mold a little bit but, tonight, the senior schooled the rookie." Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says last night the Spartans faced "the reality of a rebuilding season." (Box score.)

Tarrance Crump hit a runner in the lane with 1.2 seconds left as Purdue beat Virginia 61-59 in West Lafayette last night. Cavaliers coach Dave Leitao sounded disappointed that the game-winner came on a play he saw coming ahead of time: "Crump averages only one assist per game. I know when he comes off screens and he puts his head down, he's looking to score." Earlier in the evening Gordon Watt officially woke up Mackey Arena after a two-or-so-year slumber with a drive and dunk that was notably spectacular. Laudably aggressive dunkmeister Gordon Watt, Wonk salutes you!...Leitao said he knew the Boilers would be tough: "As I expected to happen, the Purdue team that I saw in Maui that plays their tail off on both ends of the floor played very hard tonight." Carl Landry led his team with 19 points. (Box score.)

Virginia Tech beat Iowa 69-65 last night in Blacksburg, a game in which Adam Haluska left the floor in the final minute with an apparent ankle injury--no word yet on his status. Eerily tracking, it would seem, the simultaneous game between Michigan State and Boston College, the Hawkeyes trailed by 16 inside of seven minutes but made things interesting at the end. An odd spate of late fouling from the Hokies certainly didn't hurt Iowa's cause. (This morning's Iowa City Press-Citizen puts it well: "Virginia Tech tried everything it could to hand Iowa a precious road victory in the final 10 minutes, but the Hawkeyes refused the offer.") Tech didn't shoot as well from the floor as the Hawks but it mattered not one whit as Steve Alford's men chipped in with 19 turnovers in a 65-possession game. Tony Freeman alone coughed up five Hokie gifts in 21 minutes. Before his apparent injury Haluska led Iowa in minutes (39), shots (17), and points (24). (Box score.)

Clemson beat Minnesota 90-68 in Minneapolis last night. This was actually a game for the first 15 minutes but over the final 25 the Gophers were on the short end of a 63-41 run by the Tigers. Minnesota's best shooting of the year by far was cancelled out entirely by the talismanic number 24: as in Gopher turnovers and, even more remarkable, Clemson offensive rebounds (out of 41 chances). Brandon Smith had four defensive rebounds for Minnesota--no other Gopher had more than two. "We did not play with the passion or energy we need to make ourselves the team we need to be," Dan Monson said afterward. Clemson coach Oliver Purnell was more diplomatic: "Our team strengths were their weaknesses. It wasn't a good matchup." Dan Coleman led the home squad with 18 points. (Box score.)

In addition to typing words, I can occasionally speak them....
I'll be talking hoops with Steve "The Homer" True on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio this evening around 6:20 ET. Tune in and listen to me wing it.

COMING tomorrow!
The first of this year's promised occasional pro bono wonking outside the Big Ten....

They're undefeated! They're a mid-major! Their home games are within walking distance of my house! (A key point in their favor.) So just how good is Butler really?

Wonk back!
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The fabulous Nate D. Tobacco Road tour continues!
Alert reader and die-hard Hoosier fan Nate D. is still in Carolina taking in games. Yesterday he filed his report on Indiana-Duke. Today it's Carolina-OSU....

Great game tonight--completely the opposite from from last night.

OSU shocked UNC a little in the first half with their style. I was amazed with Conley's ability to get into the lane and score or dish for an open three. And Cook is a freak of nature--his dunk in the first half silenced the crowd.

UNC came out in the second half with a 6-0 run and Matta took a timeout to regain order. But it was Carolina dictating the style of play. Each time the Buckeyes made a run, the Heels responded. Conley seemed to force the action a bit late in the game.

This OSU team will be crazy when Oden fits in. I'm glad Indiana plays them just once, early in the Big Ten season, because the Buckeyes have a chance to be special.

As far as the crowd, they seemed to be a bit more emotional than their brethren in Durham (reacting as if the officials missed every single call against them). Duke fans seemed a bit more level-headed (maybe not by much) and were more polite. All in all, I would recommend travel to either site for Big Ten fans following their teams.

Nate D., Indy (via Chapel Hill)

Thanks, Nate!

(Carolina has "brethren" in Durham? I think they might take issue with that.)
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Youth will be served tonight in Chapel Hill
Ohio State vs. North Carolina (ESPN, 9 ET)
If you had told me last March 13 that the national championship was about to be won by a preternaturally young team that had not won its conference's regular season title, I would have put money on North Carolina.

(Then I would have asked you if you had electricity where you live. If you had said yes, I would have asked if I could live with you. But that's another story entirely.)

Last year's Heels, though young, put together some glittering numbers in ACC play. They shot the ball extremely well--only three "power"-conference teams nationally shot better in-conference but, as it happened, two of those were nearby: NC State and Duke. And Roy Williams' men went after their rare misses with notable ferocity--only Connecticut and Boston College did better on the offensive glass in conference play. Those two facets offset a number that did not glitter: Carolina's youngsters turned the ball over on nearly 24 percent of their possessions in-conference. But when they held on to the ball, the Heels' offense was balanced (they shot threes rarely but well) and lethal.

This year they are expected to be even better. And so tonight's game in Chapel Hill between North Carolina and Ohio State is the marquee game of this year's ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the only matchup where both participants, in murky November, look like legitimate no-surprise Final Four contenders.

On paper it would appear that tonight's contest has been designed to satisfy fans of good offense, for each team's defensive question mark should be at the mercy of the opposing team's offensive strength. For the pre-Greg Oden Buckeyes, of course, the question is interior defense. The numbers there so far have been fine for Thad Matta's team but OSU has hardly, to say the least, faced the likes of Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright (a combined 61.8 2FG pct.).

On the other side, a Carolina D that's already allowed opponents to hit 39.4 percent of their threes this year is about to face the best three-point shooting team they've seen. Ohio State in the Matta era reliably devotes four in every ten shots to attempted threes--and thus far they've hit 42.3 percent of those attempts from beyond the arc. In Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, and Ivan Harris, the Buckeyes have multiple perimeter threats. In Daequan Cook they have a pure scorer. And in Mike Conley Jr. they have a player who may be even better than all of the above.

Both teams are young. So too, last year, was Florida.

Identical stats, opposite styles
Hansbrough and Reyshawn Terry have each hauled in 15.3 percent of the possible rebounds during their minutes on the floor so far this season. But they've done so in diametrically opposed fashions.

Terry is what might be termed a Chuck Taylor high-top traditionalist in his preferences: outstanding on the defensive glass (20.2 defensive reb. pct.) and merely average on the offensive boards (9.5 offensive). Hansbrough, on the other hand, is a true eccentric: slightly below-average for his height, surprisingly, on the defensive boards (15.6) but an absolute insatiable monster on the offensive glass (15.0).

Carolina O-fers: the only drinking game based on sound hoops research!
Thus far this season there have been zero instances of each of the following phenomena--so raise your glass tonight if:
--Hansbrough blocks a shot
--Bobby Frasor shoots a free throw
--Wes Miller attempts a two-point shot

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Heading into the last evening of play, the ACC leads this thing 4-2....

ACC-Big Ten Challenge
Maryland beat Illinois 72-66 last night in Champaign. With the exception of second-half feeds to Shaun Pruitt in the post, the Illini looked lost on offense all night. But then so did the Terps for the middle 20 minutes of the game--until freshman Greivis Vasquez took over and began to drive at will on the Illinois D, as Maryland outscored the Illini 29-18 over the final nine minutes. Both teams made five threes but the Terps needed 11 fewer attempts (nine vs. 20) to do so. Only heroic efforts on the offensive glass by the home team (21 offensive boards out of 46 possible) kept this one respectable, as the Illini suffered through their worst shooting of the year (38.4 effective FG pct.). Mike Jones led all scorers with 19 points. Pruitt (18-11) and Warren Carter (13-11) posted dub-dubs. (Box score.)

Duke beat Indiana 54-51 in Durham last night. It wasn't exactly a thing of beauty--two young teams playing 63 possessions with much more intensity than skill or savvy--but it was certainly a great contest down the stretch, as the Hoosiers erased an 11-point halftime deficit and came within 53-51 with two minutes left. Armon Bassett made just two of 10 two-pointers but went 4-of-5 on his threes to lead Indiana in shots and points (16), as Kelvin Sampson chose to play long stretches of this game with A.J. Ratliff, Earl Calloway, and Roderick Wilmont seated firmly next to him on the pine. (Well, Ben Allen sat a lot, too, but he fouled out in just 16 minutes. And Lance Stemler did not play due to a concussion suffered in practice over the weekend.) The Blue Devils executed a neat reversal of their strategy from last year's game against Indiana (where they guarded the perimeter and did not double down on Marco Killingsworth) and did an excellent job harassing D.J. White, limiting him to seven points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field. DeMarcus Nelson led all scorers with 19 points. Turnovers were even; IU beat Duke, slightly, on the boards and shot better from the field (42.3 vs. 38.6 effective FG pct.). But the Devils shot 29 free throws; the Hoosiers shot 15--and missed eight of those. (Box score.)

Wisconsin beat Florida State 81-66 last night in Madison. With one exception the Badgers just did everything a little better than the Seminoles. Shooting, rebounding, and holding on to the ball--they all favored Bo Ryan's team. (Though that last category says more about the visitors than it does about the home team. Wisconsin, uncharacteristically, gave away 18 turnovers in a 72-possession game.) But the exception was getting to the line--and there the Badgers were a lot better. Add a 29-to-12 advantage in FTAs to all of the above and what you got here is a 15-point win. FSU's Toney Douglas led all players in shots and points (24). Alando Tucker scored 22 for the Badgers in just 27 minutes. (Tucker spent some time in the locker room after getting a finger in his eye.) (Box score (pdf).)

Georgia Tech beat Penn State 77-73 in Atlanta last night. The ACC-Big Ten Challenge past is prologue! The Nittany Lions played the role of November 2005-vintage Georgia Tech while the Jackets themselves played November 2005-vintage Michigan State: a heavily favored home team that just couldn't shake a visiting team that refused to miss a shot. Indeed, when Penn State held on to the ball they were well nigh unstoppable, shooting better, by far, than in any other game this year (63.0 eFG pct.--Ben Luber, Mooch Jackson, and Danny Morrissey hit a combined 8-of-11 threes). Problem is they didn't hold on to the ball 20 times out of 66. (Another problem: they allowed Tech to shoot even better.) Jamelle Cornley, though notably less efficient than his teammates on the perimeter, led PSU with 20 points on 17 shots. Geary Claxton, continuing to recover from a broken bone in has hand, came off the bench and scored 12 points in 28 minutes. The Jackets played this game without highly-touted all-everything freshman Thaddeus Young, who was sidelined with patellar tendonitis. (Box score.)

Northwestern beat Miami 61-59 last night in Evanston. The Wildcats made 10 threes on 20 attempts and, as it happened, they needed every last one of them. Craig Moore shot 10 threes and made seven of them to lead the 'Cats with 24 points. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, displayed an interesting distribution of offensive efforts and results. Jack McClinton: 9-18 FGAs, 7-8 FTAs, 30 points. Rest of team: 12-38, 1-4, 29 points. Northwestern was beaten to a pulp on the boards but their best shooting of the year was enough for a two-point win at home. (Box score.)

Michigan State plays Boston College in Boston tonight (ESPN, 7 ET). Tom Izzo says BC is a "Jekyll-and-Hyde" team. The Eagles beat New Hampshire by 39 points but lost to Vermont by 14. After missing BC's first two outings, Sean Williams has returned to the team and blocked 19 shots (not a typo) in two games. "I've never seen a shot-blocker like Williams," Izzo says.

Virginia plays Purdue tonight in West Lafayette (ESPN2, 7:30 ET). Matt Painter says Carl Landry showed him some defense in Maui: "I thought he did the best job he's done defensively since he's been at Purdue." Starting freshman guard Chris Kramer, who strained a knee ligament in the Boilers' loss to Georgia Tech in Maui, is listed as doubtful for tonight's game. Profile of Keaton Grant here.

Iowa plays Virginia Tech in Blacksburg tonight (ESPNU, 8 ET). The Hawkeyes have allowed opponents to hit 42.3 percent of their threes and Steve Alford has noticed: "Our three-point field-goal percentage defense is atrocious right now." Alford also says Justin Johnson may take Tony Freeman's place as starting point guard tonight.

Clemson plays Minnesota tonight in Minneapolis (ESPN2, 9:30 ET). Coming off four consecutive losses (to Iowa State, Marist, Southern Illinois, and Montana), Dan Monson says the Gophers are struggling: "The Iowa State game really set us back." Meanwhile, with national hoops analysts speculating about Monson's future, Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi says he's standing behind his man: "My job is to be supportive of our basketball coach. That's what I'm going to do."

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A Hoosier amidst the Crazies
Alert reader and loyal Indiana fan Nate D. sends in this report from Cameron Indoor....

Great game tonight. Errek Suhr was huge for the Hoosiers in the second half. Although it doesn't show in the box score, he enabled the Hoosiers to get into a flow with the first few possessions after halftime. Hopefully, Wilmont and Ratliff will take their benchings as a wake-up call because they did nothing in the first half.

I was surprised that the two big men weren't more active as Josh McRoberts and D.J. White each had seven points. I am not sure if it was the defenses (Duke liked to double down and IU couldn't make them pay). Stemler's injury was a key to this game because he has been an option offensively this season. IU's putrid foul shooting ended up being one of the main reasons they lost tonight but, all in all, it was worth the trip down here.

One more thing, Duke fans are very polite and friendly. It was a great atmosphere in Cameron (all of 9,000 seats). The Crazies were great and the venue gets rocking when they want it to be. I hope the game tomorrow is as good.


Nate D.
Indy (via Durham, NC)

Thanks, Nate! I wasn't there but from my seat on the sofa Suhr was feast-or-famine last night. I loved his take-no-prisoners 'tude but he also had four huge turnovers, the most maddening of which was the wholly unnecessary 10-second call.

A Big Ten man in Big XII land
I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your work on the Big Ten. I've been an Illinois fan since HS in Edwardsville, Illinois, in the mid-1960s and used to watch the Big Ten game of the week with Bill Fleming. I was transferred to Omaha a couple years ago and have two more Husker football seasons to endure up here before I retire. The only things that've saved me are IlliniBoard, Gametracker, ESPN Full Court, and you.

I will say this: Ohio State could run the table if they beat Illinois on the road. I don't understand why so many stars are going there because there is only one ball. (Matta is doing something right.)

Keep up the good work. Loved the post about you and your little guy at Hinkle. Never been to a game there--another thing to do in 2009 when I move back to Illinois.

Jim M.

Thanks, Jim!
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Michigan: the defense rests
The announcer on the Michigan-NC State game last night said Tommy Amaker has termed his team "offense-sensitive," meaning if the Wolverines aren't hitting shots then their effort on defense suffers. Amaker has said this before, about college players "today" in general and about Daniel Horton last year in particular. It sounds like the stock lament of a cranky old guy. But Amaker isn't (that) old--and it sure looked true last night, as Michigan fell to the Wolfpack 74-67 in Raleigh.

Courtney Sims pulled away from the paint on defense is not a pretty sight, as he was beaten off the dribble repeatedly by the suddenly formidable-looking Ben McCauley. And Jerret Smith was back-cut mercilessly by the suddenly formidable-looking Bryan Nieman. NC State weaved and cut at will.

As if in support of their coach's "offense-sensitive" theory, the Wolverines' struggles on D (aside from some spectacular blocks by Brent Petway) tracked with eerie precision the futility of their offense. Last night Dion Harris launched three after errant three with the aggrieved adolescent repetition of someone trying to prove he's not a 32 percent shooter outside the arc, year-to-date stats be damned. Well, he's right: he's better than 32 percent. But even when he's on his game he's not deadly enough to be given 14 attempted threes in a 72-possession game.

Still, Harris at least went down with guns blazing, as it were. Where is Lester Abram?

(Box score.)

A couple links
Amaker's take: "It's obvious for us the two kids who didn't play well were Abram and (Courtney) Sims." Harris's: "I tried to stay aggressive, but I struggled out there."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Purdue big man Carl Landry says three games in three days in Maui convinced him that his surgically repaired knee really is fine.

Iowa guard Mike Henderson had the cast removed from his right hand yesterday and could be back in action as early as this weekend.

ACC-Big Ten Challenge
Maryland plays at Illinois tonight (ESPN, 7 ET). Chester Frazier's from Baltimore and Bruce Weber frets that his sophomore guard might try to do too much: "He's hyper as it is and it's a huge game for him to show what he's about and, hey, maybe they should have recruited him." (So how, exactly, did Frazier end up at Illinois? Read more here.) Frazier says he'll be fine....Referring to Dee Brown and James Augustine, Shaun Pruitt says he and his mates are "stepping out of Dee and James' shadow....This team is probably more confident because a lot of people doubt us."...Jamar Smith is "back" from his sprained ankle, having played 17 minutes in the Bradley game Saturday night, but that doesn't mean he's 100 percent. "I wouldn’t say he’s running around like a deer or a gazelle or anything,” Weber says. “He’ll play."...The injury update on Brian Randle: expected to return mid-December.... Weber on recruiting: he'll take NBA-level talent, thank you, even if they leave early. That's the talent that gets you to the Final Four: "George Mason was the exception."

Florida State plays tonight at Wisconsin (ESPN2, 7:30 ET). Bo Ryan on the Big Ten being 0-7 in the Challenge: "I watched the National League and the American League in the baseball All-Star Game go through some streaks where it seemed like the one league was never going to win another game and all of a sudden they make a strong run. So that's what we have to do in the Big Ten." Ryan, whose team lost a two-point game to Missouri State on Friday, also says he doesn't believe there's a "trend" behind mid-majors posting upsets. "This has always been going on. It's just, there's more lips moving now."...Profile of Alando Tucker here. Profile of Badger freshman guard Jason Bohannon here.

Penn State plays at Georgia Tech tonight (ESPNU, 8 ET). Profile of Nittany Lion big man Brandon Hassell here.

Indiana plays tonight at Duke (ESPN, 9 ET). Hoosier coach Kelvin Sampson says his team is still looking for its identity: "We need something that we can say, 'This is who we are. Every game this is what we're going to be.'" (Helpfully and wholly on a pro bono basis, I have suggested "defense" as an answer to that question.)...Profile of Blue Devil sophomore Josh McRoberts, the pride of Carmel, IN, here.

Miami plays at Northwestern tonight (ESPN2, 9:30 ET). The Hurricanes are 4-2 with losses to Buffalo and Cleveland State. This is the first meeting ever between 'Canes and 'Cats.

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"Give us hope"
Yesterday I said Ohio State will play in the (basketball) national championship game. The readers respond!

Hi, Wonk,

Being a Michigan State fan, I don't have nearly the animosity toward Ohio State that the diploma mill down the road does. But I have to admit that I would rather not see them win championships in both basketball and football in the same year.

Can you give hope to the rest of us? Talent-wise the Buckeyes seem to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league. To my eyes, the recent powers in the league (MSU, Illinois, Wisconsin) have some nice players, but their talent level is a little short of what it has been in recent years. And no one else in the league seems to have stepped up much.

In your opinion, does anyone else in the league come close to matching up with OSU?

Mark J.

No, not post-Oden-return, but here are two slim reeds of hope for fans of ten other teams:

1. As noted yesterday, the Buckeyes aren't terribly numerous.

2. When Greg Oden returns OSU will likely run a lot of 1-4 offensive sets, as they did with Terence Dials last year, wherein about 40 percent of the shots are attempted threes. Offenses that shoot that many threes are more volatile, for good and ill, than ones that devote, say, 35.6 percent of their attempts to threes (Big Ten average last year in-conference).
Monday, November 27, 2006
Ohio State will play in the national championship game (in basketball)
I guess for me the moment came when I was looking at the numbers for Mike Conley Jr., Ohio State's freshman guard. Sure, he hasn't shown an outside shot yet (1-of-7 on his threes)--but with uncommon non-freshman acuity he chooses his shots accordingly (only 18 percent of his shots have been threes) and thus is a paragon of scoring efficiency (1.26 PPWS). Plus he's registered a gaudy 13 assists per 100 possessions thus far. (Drew Neitzel led the Big Ten last year with about 10 assists per 100 poss.) And he records more than six steals per 100 possessions. Good grief, give Conley another few games and Jamar Butler, my Big Ten POY last year, may not even be the best point guard on his own team. So Thad Matta has multiple point-guard-level performers on hand.

Plus Ron Lewis (1.41 PPWS).

Plus Daequan Cook (1.33).

Mutliple highly efficient offensive threats.

And I thought: man, this team looks a lot like Illinois in 2005.

Uh, plus Greg Oden.

What you need to understand about Ohio State
OK, now the disclaimers. It's early and the young Buckeyes are yet to play a "power"-conference opponent or, for that matter, journey outside the friendly confines of Value City Arena. That's about to change in dramatic and abrupt fashion: Ohio State plays at North Carolina Wednesday night.

But even granting applicable adjectives like "young," "early," and "home games a-go-go," here is what can fairly be said about this team at the present time:

1. They present multiple offensive threats. See above.

2. They defend. When Ohio State posted a notably strong number for FG defense in Matta's first season in 2005, I was skeptical and thought it might have been mere chance. When they did it again last year (particularly on the perimeter), my skepticism vanished: tenacious FG defense can now be positively affirmed as a Matta genetic marker. (It's true opponents actually shot pretty well on the interior against the Buckeyes last year. My uncommonly enlightening insider's perspective on Big Ten hoops leads me to expect, however, that this will be less of an issue this year.)

3. Even without Oden, they're not as weak on the interior as commonly assumed. In Othello Hunter (18.4 rebound percentage) and Cook (16.8), the Buckeyes have two very solid performers on the glass--and Hunter blocks shots (4.5 every 100 possessions), as well. Sure, they'll improve dramatically on the interior when Oden arrives but the same could be said of Florida, Carolina, or any other team in the country.

Yes, questions remain. Most notably, scholarship players are not terribly numerous in Columbus. Will the Buckeyes be like Illinois in 2005 (key starters playing 80+ percent of the available minutes with no apparent ill effect) or will they be like Michigan State in 2006 (key starters playing 80+ percent of the available minutes with readily apparent ill effect)? We don't know.

But for now I'm standing by my headline. (Just not saying which year.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....

Much holiday hooping to catch up on....

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--Wednesday!
Purdue beat DePaul 81-73 in consolation-bracket action at the EA-Sports Maui Invitational. With both teams playing their third game in three days, defense was not exactly stifling on either side, as both the Boilers and the Blue Demons cleared the point-per-possession mark with ease. Carl Landry (22-10) and David Teague (14-11) posted dub-dubs for Purdue, while Tarrance Crump chipped in 20 with points. The Boilers led by as many as 24 in the first half and then saw that lead shrink to as little as six before holding on for the win. (Box score.)...Injury update: freshman starter Chris Kramer is listed as day-to-day with a sprained ligament in his right knee. Kramer missed both the DePaul and Oklahoma games in Maui.

Michigan beat Youngstown State 65-56 in Ann Arbor. Despite scoring just five points, Dion Harris led the Wolverines in minutes, shots (12), and assists (seven). Bold yet low-scoring statistical extremist Dion Harris, Wonk salutes you! Meanwhile, Courtney Sims scored 18 and Brent Petway added a 13-10 dub-dub for the home team in a game where, according to the notably erudite-sounding official Michigan recap, the Wolverines "maintained a subtle dominance throughout the contest." It seems the Michigan athletic department is hiring more Foucault-reading scribes freshly-minted from grad school. (Box score.)

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--the holiday itself!
Marist beat Minnesota 63-56 in the quarterfinals of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. The Gophers were without Spencer Tollackson, who missed the game due to stomach flu. Without the big guy in the paint, Minnesota was content to launch 31 threes, missing 22 of them. The Red Foxes led throughout in their first-ever game against a Big Ten team. Lawrence McKenzie led the Gophers in minutes, shots (19), points (17), assists (three), and turnovers (four). Bold statistical extremist Lawrence McKenzie, Wonk salutes you! (Box score (pdf).)

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--Friday!
Missouri State beat Wisconsin 66-64 at the South Padre Invitational in Texas. Disregard accounts of this game saying the Bears won thanks to torrid shooting, particularly in the first half. Missouri State may indeed have made some shots before halftime but for the game they shot no better (51.0 effective FG pct.) than did Delaware State (52.7 eFG pct.) when the latter team lost to the Badgers by eight in Madison last Tuesday. No, Wisconsin lost because: 1) they didn't shoot very well (41.1 eFG pct.) and, much more surprisingly, 2) they were beaten, slightly, on the boards. Alando Tucker led the Badgers in shots, rebounds (six), and points (26). (Box score.)

Illinois beat Miami of Ohio 51-49 in first-round action at the Chicago Invitational, played whimsically enough in Hoffman Estates at the spanking-new Sears Centre. The Illini trailed by as many as 16 in the first half and did not take their first lead of the game until they went ahead 48-47 with 1:20 remaining. The Redhawks slowed the game down (57 possessions) and got a big night from Nathan Peavy (22-11 dub-dub). But Illinois held Miami to just seven points over the final 14 minutes and got the win. Shaun Pruitt led the Illini with a 12-10 dub-dub. (Box score.)

Southern Illinois beat Minnesota 69-53 in consolation-bracket action at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. The Gophers coughed up the ball 22 times in a 67-possession game (Kevin Payton recorded five turnovers in just 11 minutes) and were beaten, slightly, on the boards by the Salukis. Spencer Tollackson returned from a bout with stomach flu but recorded just four points and three boards in 25 minutes. Brandon Smith led Minnesota in shots (10) and points (14). (Box score (pdf).)

Ohio State beat Youngstown State 91-57 in Columbus. Ivan Harris came off the bench to hit 3-of-5 threes and led the Buckeyes with 19 points. Mike Conley Jr. recorded five steals in just 23 minutes. (Box score.)

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--Saturday!
Arizona State beat Iowa 67-64 in Tempe. Despite having started the game in an 11-0 hole, the Hawkeyes led 60-48 with 5:38 to play. From that point on, however, Steve Alford watched as his team gave up five threes to four different Sun Devils. For the game ASU shot 62.5 percent on their threes. Adam Haluska led Iowa in shots (17) and points (24). (Box score.)

Illinois beat Bradley 75-71 in final-round action at the Chicago Invitational, played whimsically enough in Hoffman Estates at the spanking-new Sears Centre. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper succinctly sums up the game and the holiday weekend for Illinois: "a slow start, wobbly free-throw shooting, clamp-down defense, steady rally and a host of different heroes." The Illini trailed by as many as 11 but the return of Jamar Smith (who scored 14 points in 17 minutes a mere 12 days after suffering a high ankle sprain that was supposed to have sidelined him for the obligatory "four to six weeks") helped nudge Illinois to the win. Warren Carter led the Illini with 17 points while Chester Frazier recorded the exceedingly rare ascending numbers points-assists dub-dub: 10 points and 11 assists with just one turnover. (Box score.)

Wisconsin beat Auburn 77-63 at the South Padre Invitational in Texas. The Badgers led throughout and dominated on the offensive glass (16 boards in 35 chances) to give Bo Ryan his 500th career victory. Kammron Taylor led Wisconsin with 16 points. (Box score (pdf).)

Penn State beat St. Joseph's 65-61 in State College. The Nittany Lions trailed by eight with 1:20 remaining before Danny Morrissey scored eight straight points, three of which came on a banked-in three with 25 seconds left. Jamelle Cornley posted an 18-10 dub-dub and was a monster on the offensive glass, pulling down seven of his team's 14 boards on that end. Geary Claxton saw his first action since breaking a bone in his hand in an exhibition game on November 1 and recorded a key block in the game's final seconds. Phil Martelli didn't see it that way, thought perhaps a foul was in order, and got T'd up, thus furnishing the home team with the final margin of victory. (Box score (pdf).)

Michigan State beat Oakland 71-53 in East Lansing, a game which the Spartans led 40-13 at the half. Drew Neitzel led MSU in shots (15), points (21), assists (seven), and turnovers (five). Marquise Gray posted a 14-12 dub-dub in 26 minutes for the home team. (Box score.)

Northwestern beat North Florida 40-39 in Evanston. On the game's 51st and final possession, off a missed three by Craig Moore, Kevin Coble grabbed an offensive rebound and put the ball in with 3.2 seconds remaining for the game-winner. NU won't get many W's where they shoot 16 percent on their threes (4-of-25) or where their leading scorer records just eight points (Tim Doyle), but then the Ospreys made just 13 of 42 two-point shots. That helped. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Maryland-Baltimore County 66-54 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines owned the offensive glass (14 boards out of 30 chances) on an afternoon where they were cold from outside (4-of-20 on their threes). Courtney Sims posted an 18-12 dub-dub for the victors. (No word on whether subtle dominance was maintained for a second consecutive game.) Note: Michigan's outside shooting's been horrendous during their 7-0 start, hitting just 28.2 percent of their threes. (Box score.)

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--yesterday!
Montana beat Minnesota 72-65 in consolation-bracket action at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, capping an 0-3 trip to Disney World for the Gophers. The cumulative numbers from the three games are not pretty: nearly 41 percent of Minnesota's shots were threes, of which they made just 30.4 percent. While in Florida the Gophers scored just 0.86 points per possession against opponents from the MAAC, Missouri Valley, and Big Sky. "We came down here and found out a lot about ourselves," said Dan Monson. "Unfortunately, we don't like what we found out." Dan Coleman led Minnesota with 13 points. (Special kudos go out to Bryan Ellis of the Grizzlies for posting the Bold Statistical Extremist Line of the Year So Far: 10 points, 0 FGAs, 10 assists, seven turnovers, and four steals.) (Box score (pdf).)

Oh, yeah--there's this other gig this week....
Welcome to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge! Truly this is the Iowa Caucuses of hoops: too early, over-hyped, and patently artificial, yet a genuinely compelling competitive spectacle. Play opens tonight with Michigan taking on NC State in Raleigh (ESPN2, 7ET).

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Reduced-calorie edition
Back with bounteous hearty prose Monday. Have a good holiday.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Purdue beat Oklahoma 74-71 yesterday in consolation-bracket action at the EA-Sports Maui Invitational. In a game that was tight the whole way, Carl Landry scored 30 points on just 13 shots and hit 10-of-12 free throws. Sooners coach Jeff Capel was impressed: "Landry was a man out there today. He was by far the best player on the floor." Gordon Watt added 11 boards for the Boilers. (Box score.) The Boilers will play DePaul today at 2 ET (ESPN2).

Iowa State beat Minnesota 68-63 in Minneapolis last night. The Gophers led by 10 in the second half but Mike Taylor scored 25 of his 33 points after halftime to lead the Cyclones to the come-from-behind win. Confronted with long and aggressive perimeter defenders, Taylor hit upon a stratagem that coaches usually prohibit: simply bringing the ball up to the three-point line and launching a shot before the possession's first pass. On this night it worked. "There were plenty of times where guys had hands in his face," Lawrence McKenzie said of Taylor's performance. "Once he got in a zone it was hard to stop him." (Dan Monson wasn't so sure: "Defensively you have to dictate that guys don't get into a rhythm.") Spencer Tollackson recorded an admirable 24-13 dub-dub but appeared to fatigue down the stretch. McKenzie hit 4-of-6 threes but his teammates were 2-of-12 outside the arc. (Box score (pdf).)

Penn State beat Bucknell 63-60 in OT last night in State College. Mike Walker hit a three as the horn sounded to give the Nittany Lions the win. "I didn't know if there was 10 seconds left or if my shot didn't count," Walker said afterward. "You just hope to get it off in time." (Walker actually turned down a scholarship offer from Bucknell.) Penn State led by as many 13 in the second half but the Bison went on a 13-0 run to force the OT. The Lions attempted no fewer than 26 threes (and made nine) on only 39 overall FGAs. Ask me, I won't say no, how could I? Given the start in place of Walker, Danny Morrissey logged 42 minutes and led Penn State in shots and points (21). In a game where 46 fouls were whistled, two players from each team fouled out, including PSU's Brandon Hassell, who did so in just 22 minutes. (Box score (pdf).)...Injury note: freshman forward D.J. Jackson is expected to be out for "several weeks" with a stress fracture.

Northwestern beat Brown 64-40 in Evanston last night. Fact: Brown and Michigan State played a 51-possession game on November 8. Fact: Northwestern and DePaul played a 50-possession game last Tuesday. Conclusion: I thought there was a good chance that last night's contest between Northwestern and Brown might just attain that most extreme level of slowness and come in under 50 possessions, shattering the yawn barrier, as it were. Man, was I wrong! Instead the Wildcats and the Bears treated fans to no less than 58 possessions--it was a track meet! (Um, relatively speaking.) In a game where Bill Carmody's men, uncharacteristically, chose not to shoot threes, "playmaker" and "unconventional college basketball star" Tim Doyle led the 'Cats in minutes, shots, assists (eight), and points (17). Bold statistical extremist Tim Doyle, Wonk salutes you! And so does your coach--sort of: "He should play like that more often," Carmody said of Doyle. (Box score.) And if glacial slowness is your thing, it turns out that last night you needed to steer north of Chicago....

Wisconsin beat Delaware State 64-52 last night in Madison. Don't be fooled by the (kind of) normal point total: there were only 49 possessions in this game, making it the slowest game involving a Big Ten team since at least 2003-04. Alando Tucker stayed away from threes and had a good shooting night (10-of-16) to lead the Badgers with 25 points. Brian Butch added an 18-10 dub-dub for the home team. BONUS very sophisticated analysis! A dub-dub achieved in 27 minutes in a game with just 49 possessions is very good. ("Brian played a whale of a game," Bo Ryan said afterward.) Wisconsin also owned their offensive glass, pulling down 13 boards on 25 chances. On the down side, the Hornets shot far better than any other Badger opponent so far this season, giving Ryan some good need-for-improvement material to use with his players. "Anybody that's played knows what kind of game that was," Ryan said later. "The other team is hot, you're doing OK, shooting-wise....And if they're going to hit those (shots) for 40 minutes, you're on the right-hand (losing) side." (Box score (pdf).)

Michigan State beat Vermont 66-46 in East Lansing last night. Despite Drew Neitzel's best efforts (see below), the Spartans suffered through their poorest shooting of the year (41.9 effective FG pct.). Fortunately for the Breslin Center faithful the Catamounts were even worse from the field (34.8 eFG). Neitzel did his best Marchello Vealy imitation and had a night for the scrapbook, hitting 7-of-8 threes and leading MSU in minutes, shots, rebounds (eight--"I don't know what happened there," the "legit 5-11 3/4" Neitzel said afterward; "I don't know if I even got eight in a high school game"), and points (26). But Tom Izzo was focused on the rest of his team: "It's tough to win a game and not feel good about it, but I really don't." (Box score.)

Illinois beat Savannah State 81-34 last night in Champaign. Rich McBride returned from a four-game suspension stemming from his September DUI arrest and, playing like a man making up for lost time, came off the bench and shot 10 threes in 27 minutes (he made four). Chester Frazier led the Illini with 17 points in a game where nine Illinois players saw at least 11 minutes of action. The Tigers made three of 22 two-point shots. (Box score.)

Michigan plays Youngstown State tonight in Ann Arbor. Speaking of whom....

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Basketball? In Ann Arbor? They've started?
Hey, John,

I'm a U of M alum who's yet to see a minute of our team this year. Our starting five is comprised of fairly known commodities, but I'm concerned about our bench. We are on the cusp of most NCAA tourney projections, and given recent history, that is about right.

I read the box score from the Harvard game the other day--looked like a few frosh got at least some PT, with Ekpe Udoh turning in a particularly pretty decent line. If we're going to break this tourney drought, we're going to need some significant contribution from the reserves. That may be especially true of Udoh as, after Courtney Sims, we're pretty thin down low.

What's your assessment of our kids on the pine?

Jay L.
Chicago, IL

P.S. A one-loss USC, Florida or Arkansas should play 01/08. Otherwise, I'd love another shot.

Standard it's-early disclaimer applies, of course....

Udoh appears to have established nice shot-blocking chops already and now needs to show that he can hit the boards. (By the way, I know he's not a reserve but I have to mention that Brent Petway's been a monster on the glass so far this season--22.2 rebound percentage.)

And if your query is open to non-freshmen on the pine, then let's note that Jevohn Shepherd's been a menace to opposing offenses, recording a laudably felonious 5.7 steals for every 100 possessions, albeit in limited action.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Meet the first outliers
Way too early, of course. But interesting....

Wisconsin opponents are scoring just 0.70 points per possession. Then again, the Badgers have played the easiest schedule in the Big Ten thus far.

Ohio State, pre-Oden, is a force to be reckoned with, scoring 1.18 points per possession against a schedule that hasn't been murderers' row, perhaps, but has still been quite respectable (e.g., Loyola).

Minnesota opponents are shooting 18.6 percent on their threes.

Illinois has played one of the easier schedules of any Big Ten team thus far and their glittering numbers reflect that (45.9 3FG pct., just 0.74 opponent points per possession, etc.). But here's a number that's ugly: defensive rebounding. So far this year the Illini are getting only 67.4 percent of the possible rebounds on the defensive end. (Which in itself isn't bad, of course, but given the competition it is.) In this year's three-guard lineup, boards on the defensive glass may well be fewer than in the past. The FG defense will have to be strong.

Northwestern has taken Bill Carmody's one-act play to heart! The Wildcats have turned the ball over on just 14.9 percent of their possessions. Unfortunately they're hitting only 31.6 percent of their (numerous) threes.

Penn State is struggling with something they did quite respectably last year: outside shooting. The Nittany Lions are hitting just 27.1 percent of their threes.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Georgia Tech beat Purdue 79-61 last night in first-round action at the EA-Sports Maui Invitational. Hoary old conference stereotypes notwithstanding, it was the ACC team that owned the boards in this game (50.0 offensive rebound pct.; 72.1 defensive) and the Big Ten team that jacked up a ton of threes and missed them (4-of-24). Carl Landry led the Boilers with 14 points while David Teague did everything in his power to illustrate the validity of comments made in my Purdue preview by going 2-of-9 on his threes. Freshman Boiler Chris Kramer said Purdue's shooting woes were due to good D by the Yellow Jackets: "Their pressure defense sped us up a lot. And when they were closing out on shooters, their guys were 6-3 or 6-4. They are running at you when you're trying to get shots off. You hurry your shot, and our shots were off." For more, see the spanking good recap from long-suffering but now more hopeful Boiler fan Matt May. (Box score.)

Villanova beat Iowa 89-60 in the consolation game of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands last night. The Wildcats pounded their offensive glass (15 boards out of 29 possible) and hit threes virtually at will (14-of-27) to score 1.34 points per possession, the worst defensive performance by a Steve Alford team since at least 2003-04. Add in the fact that the Hawkeyes responded to Villanova's press by coughing the ball up 22 times in a 66-possession game and you have an honest to goodness blowout. Adam Haluska led Iowa in shots and points (18). Tyler Smith recorded the season's most dubious dub-dub thus far: 12 points and 10 turnovers. "We didn't play at our pace," Smith said afterward. Wow, 66 possessions is too fast? Is Iowa the new Northwestern? Stay tuned! (Box score.)

Ohio State beat San Francisco 82-60 in Columbus last night. Seldom has the West Virginia-in-2006 lesson been on more vivid display: despite posting, by far, their worst shooting of the year, the Buckeyes recorded their best offensive showing of the year, scoring 1.23 points per possession. How? By turning the ball over just six times in a 66-possession game. (OK, 19 offensive boards on 42 chances didn't hurt, either.)...Until Greg Oden hits the floor, it would appear that the following words can be put into auto-text: Daequan Cook came off the bench and led OSU in shots and points (20). Mike Conley Jr. missed a dub-dub by a hair, recording 12 points and nine assists....San Francisco coach Jessie Evans is impressed with these Buckeyes, even pre-Oden: "They seem to have a lot of fun together. They seem to enjoy their roles and know their roles…that compensates for their lack of experience." (Box score.)

Minnesota plays Iowa State tonight in Minneapolis. Spencer Tollackson is listed as day-to-day after appearing to injure his left ankle Friday night in the Gophers' win against Long Island....First-year Cyclone coach Greg McDermott has only eight eligible players on scholarship.

Penn State plays Bucknell in State College tonight. Ed DeChellis says the Bison "will be the best team we've played by far, so far"--troubling, in as much as the Nittany Lions are coming off an eight-point home loss to Stony Brook.

Northwestern plays Brown tonight in Evanston. The Bears are coached by former Wildcat assistant Craig Robinson.

Illinois plays Savannah State in Champaign tonight, a game that will mark Rich McBride's return to action after serving a four-game suspension for his September DUI arrest. But in light of the strong play to date of starting guards Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham, and Calvin Brock, Bruce Weber is doing his best Norman Dale and saying his team is on the floor, so to speak. "There's no way I would change the lineup," Weber says. "First of all, these guys have played really well. Rich hasn't played a game. Until things somehow go differently, these guys are the starters." For his part Frazier sounds happy to have McBride back: "Forty minutes hurts....This is going to make us a lot deeper."

Michigan State plays Vermont tonight in East Lansing. Tom Izzo's name has been mentioned for the opening as head coach of the Michigan State football team--and Izzo's not rejecting it entirely. If someone asked him if he would be interested, what would he say? "I would have to say no, but I'd probably deep down have to say yeah, I would." He also noted he'd had an opportunity to coach defensive backs at Cal State Fullerton 25 years ago. (Oracular Spartan observer Steve Grinczel sorts it all out here.)...Goran Suton needs to lose the "deer-in-the-headlights-look," according to Izzo, who also met with Matt Trannon yesterday to discuss whether or not the combination football-basketball player will join the basketball team this season. No decisions yet.

Wisconsin sophomore Marcus Landry says he feels like he's "starting over"--in a good way....Profile of redshirt freshman Mickey Perry here.

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