Big Ten Wonk
Friday, January 19, 2007
BONUS reader-controlled Friday edition!
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Ve have vays of making you believe our tempo-free stats (insert sinister laugh here)....

What should I believe? My eyes or your tempo-free stats?

Your stats are interesting with regard to Indiana. My eyes are telling me that it's primarily the Hoosiers' defense and rebounding that are responsible for Indiana's better play this year. But the tempo free stats are saying that it's Indiana's efficient offense that is making the big positive impact.

Indiana ranks first in the main offensive efficiency categories and seventh in the primary defensive ones. But when I watch the Hoosiers, I don't see a smooth offensive machine overcoming its mediocre defense. What I see is a pressuring defense that forces turnovers which create easy scoring opportunities.

Curiously Indiana ranks only fourth in forcing opponents turnovers. That's not bad, but the way Indiana is scoring off its defense I would have expected them to rank much higher.

With only my eyes as evidence, and no stats to back it up, I would guess that Indiana is incredibly efficient in scoring points off turnovers. That's a stat you see in a televised game occasionally, but don't see it kept consistently. Do you have any idea on how the league's teams rank in this regard?

Please don't take it that I'm knocking your stats, because they're great. It's just that somehow they don't tell the story very well in regards to the Hoosiers.

Love your blog and keep up the good work. Thanks.

Rick H.
Fort Wayne, IN

Your eyes or my stats? Is this (snort) even a question? Why, my stats, of course!...

Keep in mind the stats are from conference games only. While the Hoosiers played the best D of any Big Ten team in November and December, their defensive numbers in Big Ten play are skewed right now by the fact that they've played a road game at Ohio State (where IU gave up 1.23 points per possession) and most other teams haven't. The numbers will eventually converge on what your eyes are telling you.

One more thing: ignore points-off-turnovers. Banish the stat from your sight now and forever more. If you're an ESPN "Insider" subscriber, you can read Ken Pomeroy's total destruction of the stat here. If not, here's a summary:

Most turnovers are not a result of steals. (Last season only about 48 percent of turnovers were classified as steals.) Most of the "TO"s you see in a box score are caused by traveling calls, offensive fouls, balls going out-of-bounds, etc.--all of which result in whistles, of course. And how an offense does against a set defense after a whistle is no more or less enlightening than how they do against a set defense after a made basket.

Close thy "big two," open thy "big three"!
All season long people have called the Big Ten a two-team race. However, I'm starting to think that Indiana has a claim to the top spot.

The lone conference loss was at Ohio State in a game the Hoosiers led with about eight minutes to play. IU has destroyed a couple of teams who they were supposed to be with in the middle of the conference (MSU and Purdue). The rest of the way the Hoosiers only play one team that is better than they are (Wisconsin) and that game is at Assembly Hall.

Nobody is really talking about this team but aren't they a legitimate contender for the conference title? In any case, I think the Hoosiers have more in common with the top two (Ohio State, Wisconsin) than the middle tier (MSU, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan). We'll know more in a week, after IU has finished trips to UConn and Illinois.

Matt G.

If by some off chance Indiana continues to play offense the way they have in their first five Big Ten games, they are most certainly a legitimate contender for the title--especially with their favorable schedule. True, IU's numbers have had the benefit of three home games and a road game at the not terribly daunting Bryce-Jordan Center in State College, PA. But the larger point I want to make here gets back to Rick H.'s fundamental eyes vs. stats dichotomy.

Our eyes tell us the Hoosiers have played pretty good offense in their conference games and that they've shot unusually well from outside. But the numbers tell a more extreme story: Indiana fans should be dancing in the streets because the five-game stretch of offense they've seen is exceptional. In fact, this is as good as it gets. We're talking about a level of offense that's as good if not even better than Illinois and Wake Forest in 2005 and clearly better than any Big Ten team last year.

How have they done it? In effect, IU has played like a POT: they've shot a lot of threes and made them--all the while holding on to the ball and hitting the offensive glass. Do those things and you are very, very tough to beat.

Do I think this level of offense will continue? Of course not. But it's already happened, it's in the books, it represents more than 30 percent of Indiana's conference season. Regardless of any potential decline in efficiency, then, the Hoosiers' overall performance on offense at the end of the year will almost certainly be better than what I expected.

Continued: Is guarding Jason Chappell really necessary?

The blog is outstanding. Terrific work.

With regard to your post about Purdue's defensive strategy, you point out that Wisconsin won the game because the Badgers went to the line 32 times, not because Chappell had an aberrational evening. That may be, but I might argue that the Badgers went to the line 32 times specifically BECAUSE of the Chappell strategy.

When Kam Taylor's outside shots weren't falling and with Purdue's defense preventing entry passes, the Wisconsin offense was forced to spread out and the three guys on the Badgers who can create (Tucker, Taylor and Flowers) had to put the ball on the floor and try to score off the drive. When they got into the lane, they were going up against much larger, slower-footed and packed-in Purdue big men, putting them in good position to draw fouls. It forced them into a few suicide drives, but was very effective at putting them on the line. Those three players went to the line 27 times out of Wisconsin's 32 overall trips.

The Chappell strategy did seem like a good one, but the Wisconsin victory was earned through an adjustment by that Wisconsin trio. And had a few more outside shots fallen (3-17 from beyond the arc!) it wouldn't have been as close.

It may seem counterintuitive that a packed-in defense resulted in more dribble drives, but it seemed the only way for Wisconsin to win the game last night. It might not work on the road, but at home, where the Badgers will probably get the benefit of a few calls, it was effective.

Mike W

I'm not so sure the Badgers need teams to leave Chappell alone in order to get to the line. In fact, Wisconsin's shot 30+ free throws six other times this season.

Still, I think you're right, Mike, about the Boilermakers' D being aberrational. And so I want to offer a quick note for other alert readers who emailed and said in effect: What's the big deal about what Purdue did? Opposing defenses always sag on Chappell.

Sagging is when you play off your man when he doesn't have the ball. The Boilers, conversely, played off Chappell whether he had the ball or not--as Matt Painter said correctly, Purdue was "just flat out leaving [him] open." That is not the norm but, as I said yesterday, I think it was a wise move. Aberrational yet sagacious tactician Matt Painter, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Nine other teams are rooting for the Illini this weekend....

Hoops tomorrow!
Wisconsin plays Illinois in Champaign (ESPN, 2ET).

Indiana plays Connecticut in Hartford (CBS, 3:45ET).

Iowa plays Ohio State in Columbus.

Purdue plays Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Northwestern plays Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Michigan State plays Penn State in State College, which makes three "State"s in this sentence. (No, four!)

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