Big Ten Wonk
Friday, January 12, 2007
All-Wonk 1.0
No hack MC. No dance numbers. Just the winners.

In ascending order....

Drew Neitzel, Michigan State
Sure, I'd prefer a perimeter scorer who turns the ball over a little less and shoots a lot better on his twos. But the candidates who turn the ball over less either shoot even worse on their twos (Adam Haluska) or have a fractional assist-turnover ratio (Kammron Taylor). And the candidate who shoots way better on his twos (Danny Morrissey), turns the ball over even more. Drew Neitzel gets the nod: no other player combines this level of perimeter accuracy (40.6 3FG pct.), assists (about nine per 100 possessions), FT shooting (88.8 percent), and, not least, omnipresence (Neitzel leads the Big Ten in mileage, having been on the floor for 978 possessions this season). The Spartans' need for points is acute and Neitzel's scoring efficiency has increased significantly this season. Prolific and efficient scorer Drew Neitzel, Wonk salutes you!

BONUS also-ran note! I was mildly surprised that not one of the nominations I received from the alert readers included Morrissey's name, for the erstwhile (if TO-prone) Nittany Lion is, for the moment, the most efficient scorer in the Big Ten, sporting a 1.40 PPWS.

Greg Oden, Ohio State
We know about the shot-blocking and, yes, it's the best such in the conference, edging out Ekpe Udoh on a tempo-free basis. But what got Greg Oden into this esteemed group is the dramatic uptick in his rebounding. I guess the wrist really is getting better because, after a notably slow start on the boards, here's Oden all of the sudden breathing down Brian Butch's neck for the title of best defensive rebounder in the league. This officially classifies Oden as the defensive freak we all thought he'd be: great defensive rebounders don't necessarily block shots (cf. Butch, Marquise Gray, Joe Krabbenhoft, Geary Claxton) and great shot-blockers don't necessarily get defensive boards (Udoh, Kurt Looby). Oden gives Thad Matta the whole Great Defense starter kit in one player. (So does D.J. White, granted, for Kelvin Sampson. It's not White's fault that Oden is significantly better on both metrics--because Oden is significantly taller.) As for oh-fense, Oden may not be easy on the eyes yet but he does make about 60 percent of his twos (i.e., his shots) and doesn't turn the ball over.

Carl Landry, Purdue
I'm actually a little bummed because I thought Landry might get more help on offense this season. (Can you imagine the havoc that Carl Landry could wreak if he were teamed with even non-tippy-top-tier help like, say, Jamar Butler and Kammron Taylor? Ye gods.) Still, there's something riveting about watching an undersized post player on an under-powered offense do the things that Landry does. He is one of the three most efficient scorers in the Big Ten even though opposing defenses have no earthly reason to pay any attention to any of his teammates. And so if there were a Most Outstanding Offensive Player award (named in honor of the bubble boy), Landry would get the nod. Yes, he turns the ball over--if he didn't his offensive rating might be even better than a lowly fourth in the nation among high-possession-usage players. Yes, he adds little defensively--accuse me of DAD. (Sonny, I invented that term!)

Mike Conley, Ohio State
Point guard is arguably the most difficult position for a freshman to play and yet by the end of his first November Mike Conley was already the best point guard in the Big Ten by a healthy margin. Now here he is a grand old man of the game in January and he's still the best. True, his assists are coming back down to earth (in another game or so he might lose his lead in assists-per-100 possessions to Tim Doyle) but he's simultaneously shut off the valve on his turnovers to such an extreme (just three in Big Ten play) that he's verging on Michael Flowers territory where holding on to the ball's concerned. Blessed with both speed and quickness, Conley attacks more than any other Big Ten point yet chooses his spots with the finicky savvy of a guard that's played 60 college games and not 16. Still, if Conley were just an offensive machine Travis Walton could at least give the Buckeye's candidacy a run for its money. (Recommended Walton-for-All-Wonk positioning statement: great defense plus lots of assists and a 3FG pct. that at least starts with a "3" instead of a "1.") But as it happens the freshman from Indy is felonious on D, recording more than four steals for every 100 possessions he plays. Conley is the central nervous system for his team.

BONUS rash prediction! This will be the last All-Wonk in a while that does not include the words "Daequan Cook."

Alando Tucker, Wisconsin (POY so far)
I'm going to dispense with justification that's wholly unnecessary in the present tense and instead speculate recklessly (redundant) on the future:

Tucker holds the potential this season to create something of a perfect storm where player evaluation is concerned. I've already called him a Mateen Cleaves-level leader and once I've done that I've pretty much shot my bolt praise-wise where intangibles are concerned. But the syllogism pertaining to the tangibles currently aligns as follows:

--No other player in the Big Ten takes as large a share of his team's shots from the floor as Alando Tucker.

--Any team's fate is, of course, determined in large part by how well they and their opponents shoot. I'm of the opinion, however, that this dynamic is even more pronounced in Wisconsin's case. (To oversimplify egregiously: it's the only variable with this team. We know the Badgers will take care of the ball, hit the boards, and play D.)

--Since the spectacular display known as the Pitt game, Tucker's shooting has fallen off noticeably (0.96 PPWS over the past five games).

Of course, Tucker could turn right around and resume Pitt-level shooting. (Indeed, that's exactly what he did last year. While everyone bemoaned the mid-year loss of Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma, what went unnoticed was that Tucker's shooting--and thus his scoring efficiency--improved markedly as the season progressed.) But the larger point is this: how well Tucker shoots will have a larger impact on Wisconsin than will the shooting of any other player in the Big Ten on any other team. It bears watching, to say the very least.

And as for the relationship between the reputation sustained by Tucker--currently on the shortest of short lists for national POY candidates--and the numbers behind that reputation, a word....

There are instances where the reputation exceeds the numbers. When it happens because of the name on the front of the jersey, that's wrong. And when it happens because a player shoots too selfishly and too poorly, that too is wrong. But when it happens because the player in question is an intelligent and selfless leader who provides an outstanding model that we wish all college basketball players would follow, well, maybe the reputation has data that the numbers lack.

Just as long as the reputation-numbers disparity doesn't become too significant.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Will home team domination (11-2) continue?...

Hoops tomorrow!
Tennessee plays Ohio State in Columbus (CBS, 1 ET).

Wisconsin plays Northwestern in Evanston.

Indiana plays Penn State in State College.

Minnesota plays Iowa in Iowa City.

Michigan plays Purdue in West Lafayette.

Hoops Sunday!
Illinois plays Michigan State in East Lansing (CBS, 1:30 ET).

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

Tune in Tuesday!
Yesterday I wondered what, exactly, constitutes good shot selection and my Obama-like display of publicly quizzical humility in the face of such a Deep Question netted some outstanding emails. Let's reconvene after the holiday.

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