Big Ten Wonk
Monday, January 08, 2007
Befriending the winless
The rest of the week will be devoted to the conference's glitterati: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, All-Wonk teams, etc. So today I thought we'd find some nice things to say about the, um, loserati.

And, in fact, it's surprisingly easy to find good things to say about the Big Ten's 0-2 teams....

Michigan State (13-4, 0-2)
Yes, the young Spartans got pasted in Bloomington yesterday. (And announcers should not be surprised, as was the CBS crew yesterday, that this MSU team turns the ball over. They've done so all year and they will continue to do so. It says so here.) But, if you'll indulge me on a completely impressionistic point, I like the way this team carries itself. Marquise Gray and Goran Suton are works in progress offensively but they already take very good care of the defensive glass. Travis Walton is one of the best perimeter defenders in the conference and provides Tom Izzo with a solid non-Neitzel point guard on offense. And Drew Neitzel's shown he can score points efficiently even as his team's main threat. If Neitzel doesn't collapse in a heap from exhaustion (being on the floor 81 percent of the time as he is), the Spartans may yet do some damage.

Illinois (12-5, 0-2)
Hey, we knew coming into this year that the Illini would struggle to score. And struggle they have--ay carumba, have they struggled. Recently, however, a more insidious possibility had arisen: that Bruce Weber's men, in point of fact, aren't all that good on defense either. So if there's any hope to be gleaned from a team's worst home loss in 31 years (and that is one large "if") it is this: Saturday's debacle on offense against Ohio State coincided with the best defense Illinois has played this year. (It was as if the Illini sought to present to fans the precise 180-degree opposite of Notre Dame, 2006.) If Illinois can defend, they can win some games...assuming they don't continue to miss 44 of every 58 shots.

Northwestern (10-5, 0-2)
Our praise for the 'Cats comes to us, piquantly enough, from Natchitoches, Louisiana....


I am the play-by-play guy for Northwestern State (sorry about Iowa last year). Kyle Whelliston is visiting as part of a SWAC run and we got to talking about "your" Northwestern, who blasted the Demons earlier this year.

Kyle suggested I tell you that I think that Tim Doyle of NU is the best passer I have seen since I have been calling basketball. I watched Dee Brown and Deron Williams put on a clinic in passing in Las Vegas when they were number 1 in the nation and I have seen some other terrific guards as well. But Doyle is easily the best passer I can remember. He knows where everyone is on the floor and makes some of the most amazing no-look and behind the back passes. I was enthralled watching him play.

I actually joked with a friend of mine who was there covering the game that Doyle reminds me of one of those 60-year old guys that plays pickup at the Y. He comes out with knee braces and doesn’t look like he can run out of sight in a week, then proceeds to dominate play with his passing and ball skills. Just amazing!

Hope everything is going well in Big Ten land. I enjoy reading your blog--keep up the good work.


Patrick Netherton
Play-by-Play Announcer
Northwestern State University

Thanks, Patrick! Couldn't have said it better myself. (Though I've tried.) I would only add that Doyle is also a regular Lou Gehrig: he plays 86 percent of his team's minutes, more than any other player in the Big Ten.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Home team domination continues! Woo! Except for, um, teams based in the state of Illinois....

The weekend in hoops--Saturday!
Ohio State beat Illinois 62-44 in Champaign. See above: the Illini defense had perhaps its best game of the season, holding the Buckeyes to 62 points in a 68-possession game. Unfortunately the Illini offense made just 11-of-35 twos and 3-of-23 threes--the worst shooting by a Big Ten team in any game since the infamous brick-fest last year where Wisconsin lost to North Dakota State. Greg Oden scored just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting but pulled down 15 rebounds and recorded four blocks. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Northwestern 58-46 in Evanston. The Wildcats struggled mightily from the field and the Wolverines, rather oddly, took very good care of the ball. Taken together these two factors doomed NU. Seven Michigan players recorded between six and 11 points--Dion Harris (six points) posted eight assists and just one turnover. For Northwestern, Kevin Coble is finding life in the Big Ten harsh thus far: he's just 3-of-16 from the field in two conference games. (Box score.)

Wisconsin beat Minnesota 68-45 in Madison. After enjoying their best shooting of the year last Wednesday night against Purdue, the Gophers came back to earth with a thud, posting their worst shooting of the year against the Badgers. On the other hand, Wisconsin wasn't exactly on fire, either: Alando Tucker led the Badgers with 14 points on 17 shots. (Box score.)

Purdue beat Penn State 64-60 in West Lafayette. The Nittany Lions owned the boards and made 10-of-20 threes. But they struggled inside (making only 14-of-33 twos) and shot just seven free throws, while the Boilers shot 23. Carl Landry alone shot 15 and led Purdue with 24 points. David Teague made 5-of-9 threes and added 20 points. And Chris Kramer recorded six steals. For Penn State, Danny Morrissey made 6-of-7 threes and scored 21 points. Geary Claxton had a rough day shooting (4-of-12) but pulled down 14 boards. (Box score.)

The weekend in hoops--yesterday!
Indiana beat Michigan State 73-51 in Bloomington. I'm not sure I've ever seen a game where one team suffered from such evenly distributed turnovers (five Spartans recorded three) while the other team spread around the steals (four Hoosiers recorded at least two). That, and surprising strength on the boards displayed by IU, spelled the difference on a day when Indiana was actually outshot from the floor by Michigan State. D.J. White led the Hoosiers with 21 points on 12 shots. (Box score.)

COMING tomorrow!
Wonk-360 preview of the Game of the Year So Far: Ohio St. vs. Wisconsin. Everything you need to know about the Buckeyes and the Badgers, where they are now and how far they'll go in March. Tune in tomorrow!

Wonk back!
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Lobbying continues for the All-Wonk Team (1.0)!
I'll announce the year's first All-Wonk team sometime soon here. Meantime the ever-alert readers are making some strong cases. First we hear from die-hard Hoosier fan Devin. (Numbers stretching four places to the far side of the decimal point refer to Devin's own home-cooking in the stats kitchen--use the link he provides.)

Hey, Wonk. Here are my submissions for All-Wonk 1.0. I used my own stat-crunching, ran it through some tempo-free methods as best I could, and came up with some answers that surprised me.

Center: Greg Oden (OSU). A stat machine that's only going to get better. His per-game and per-possession averages are both the best in the conference already. He'll struggle with foul trouble in conference road games, but outside of that, he's looking really scary for Big Ten foes.

Power Forward: D.J. White (IU). Call me a homer, but the numbers back up D.J.'s inclusion over Carl Landry. Yes, I know D.J. plays center, but so does Landry. And D.J.'s per-possession average beats Landry's (.4990 to .4882) as well as his per game output (25.1 to 23.3). And while D.J. hasn't been great in the clutch offensively, if we're going with an All-Wonk team, I would give the ball to...

Small Forward: Alando Tucker (Wisconsin). This is one where you have to throw the stats out to some degree, because Tucker steps up his game in the prime-time games. He's a senior and he just hits amazing shots when his team needs it. He's got that thing called leadership and you're not going to always find it in the box score.

Scoring Guard: Geary Claxton (Penn State). The Nittany Lions may have taken a step back from last season but Claxton's still a stud. If they get to the postseason at all it'll be on his back. He's fourth overall in per-possession production, and third in per-game at 26.6, behind only Oden's 31.5 and the 27.9 of....

Point Guard: Mike Conley, Jr. (Ohio State). Conley's not only productive per game, but per possession as well, second in both categories to only Greg Oden. NBA teams are probably wondering how they can draft both next spring, just so they can keep the combo intact. Many are raving about the impressive 10-assist/zero-turnover performance against Indiana, but his defensive prowess in that game also impressed me.

Thanks again for raising the level of discourse in Big Ten basketball blogging.

Devin S.
Evanston, IL

Thanks, Devin!

Next up: long-time reader and die-hard Spartan fan Shawn....

Hi, Wonk,

This is kind of a curious season so far in All-Wonk terms. Either because there's a bigger gap between the highest-achieving players and everyone else this year or because we as fans just don't know all these new guys very well yet, I'd wager that the nominations you are receiving are much more repetitive than usual. By the end of the year, I'm not sure that will be the case--there are a lot of young guys (Marquise Gray comes to mind) who at this point have some issues to work out, but may put it all together as the conference season moves forward.

My list:

Alando Tucker, UW: Your comparisons to Mateen Cleaves are on target. I can't imagine how good Tucker would be if he could shoot.

Drew Neitzel, MSU: Conley and/or Butler from OSU will likely surpass Drew before the year's out but I think he deserves the call now: what we have here is a Final-Four caliber point guard who has successfully made the transition from fourth scoring option to first and who has improved his defense beyond the point MSU fans thought possible.

Carl Landry, PUR: Landry is the best scorer in the Big Ten and is having another impressive season so far.

Greg Oden, OSU: I badly wanted to play the hype-resistant contrarian and leave Oden off the list but it ultimately wasn't possible. He didn't make a field goal in the first half of yesterday's game against the Illini but he still impacted the game positively for his team on virtually every possession.

Brian Butch, UW: Butch is a big, efficient bruiser and I like the way he plays the game. His rebounding is very strong, his defense is strong, and he can stretch out the defense by hitting the occasional three.

Shawn M.

Thanks, Shawn! Keep those submissions coming, everyone! They're not all getting posted but I'm poring over them all--and you're making some excellent points.

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