Big Ten Wonk
Friday, January 26, 2007

BONUS Edward Tufte edition!
It's like this: I can only trot out the paragraphs and numbers and flail my arms around for so long, saying things like, "Wow, Penn State's defense is NBA-ready!" or "Gee, Minnesota's offense is historically unthreatening!"

At some point, words and lists of mere numbers fail.

So here:

(Conference games only, through January 24)

Call this a tempo-free aerial. I first saw one of these put together two years ago by canonical blogger emeritus Ryan Kobliska. I loved it--and when Sports Illustrated, armed with data provided by Ken Pomeroy, used the same kind of graphic for the print edition of their tournament preview last March, I assumed that by now we'd be seeing these handy items from time to time.

And indeed we will. I'll henceforth keep it updated and available with the rest of the tempo-free pots and pans in the sidebar.

Michigan State looks surprisingly Wisconsinian here. Of course they do: they've played six games so far without running into either of the two best teams in the conference. That's about to change--the Spartans play at Ohio State tomorrow night. (The impressive thing about the Buckeyes' upper-rightness in the aerial, conversely, is that it already includes, of course, their game in Madison.)

And as for Indiana allowing 1.01 points per possession, yes, it's true. Just keep in mind, though, that their offense has been phenomenal and they've been winning games with that level of D, to wit....

Indiana defense: opponent points per possession
Loss at Ohio State (1.23)
Win vs. Michigan State (0.80)
Win vs. Purdue (0.91)
Win at Penn State (1.12)
Win vs. Iowa (1.00)
Loss at Illinois (1.01)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
It's the game of the year!

2007: A Hoops Odyssey
Penn State plays Minnesota in Minneapolis tomorrow. That's right, you heard what I said. It's the game of the year. As seen above in graphic detail (har!), the Nittany Lions allow Big Ten opponents to score at a rate I haven't seen before. And the Gophers, well, they score points at a rate I haven't seen before either, if you get my drift. So I think this Minnesota offense facing this Penn State defense may just cause a rip in the hoops time-space continuum. In fact, I won't be at all surprised to see the following take place....

The Nittany Lions win the opening tip and on their first possession everything proceeds as normal. But then, at the exact instant that Dan Coleman rebounds a Geary Claxton miss and the Minnesota offense faces the Penn State defense for the first time, a mysterious black monolith materializes at center court.

The players stop. A hush falls over the crowd. Suddenly, Danny Morrissey--haltingly, yet almost instinctually--assumes a good defensive stance. Then, as Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra begins to swell, Jamal Abu-Shamala eschews a three and drives the ball decisively into the paint.

The music continues to build: Milos Bogetic swats a shot away! Bryce Webster and Limar Wilson run a sweet pick-and-pop! Ed DeChellis asks Hal to open the pod bay doors! Jim Molinari says the floor in Williams Arena is raised because the original court appears to have been "deliberately buried"! O, the rapture!...

And then the game ends inexplicably in an all-white room with a spaceship and some old guy eating. I'm just saying, I wouldn't be surprised.

Other, less metaphysical, games on tap for tomorrow
Michigan State plays Ohio State in Columbus (ESPN2, 9ET).

Michigan plays Indiana in Bloomington (ESPN, Noon ET).

Illinois plays Purdue in West Lafayette.

Hoops Sunday!
Wisconsin plays Iowa in Iowa City (CBS, 1ET). Speaking of which....

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

Upsets predicted in advance by the alert readers!
Hey, Wonk,

Iowa will knock off Wisconsin Sunday in Iowa City. Book it. Bet it. Count on it.

They are the Jekyll and Hyde of college basketball: Dr. Jekyll at Carver-Hawkeye and Mr. Hyde on the road. I've been to almost all of their home games and I can't believe I'm watching the same team that seems to wilt in unfriendly confines.

At home, they play with confidence and they seem to play through their weaknesses (complete lack of an inside presence, rebounding) by playing extremely tough perimeter defense and getting efficient guard play from Haluska, Smith and usually someone else, never the same guy (against Penn State is was--finally--Mike Henderson).

On the road, Haluska is streaky, Smith vanishes for the first 30 minutes then lights up the scoreboard in the second half, and they usually get NOTHING offensively from anyone else. And of course they get demolished inside.

One thing they do accomplish both at home and on the road is making their free throws. Against Wisconsin, they'll make just enough to win. And you can't tell me that Wisconsin won't come into Carver a tad overconfident.

Just give me credit when it happens! My ego could use it.

Michael M.

Michael, if this indeed comes to pass I will give you credit, rest assured.


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