Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Meet the Hoosiers
Indiana cracked both major polls this week and thus gave the Big Ten that proverbial "third team" everyone's been looking for. (Actually my numbers are telling me there are really five teams that have separated themselves from the rest of the conference--at least for the moment.) Time, then, for some pert questions. Who are these guys and how have they exceeded expectations?

These are the same Indiana players that you already knew. Lost in all the Mike Davis drama last season was the fact that the Hoosiers gave unmistakable hints of having a very good defense. Specifically, their perimeter D last year was outstanding, even amidst the turmoil. This year that perimeter D has gone from outstanding to unbelievable: conference opponents are making just 22.8 percent of their threes.

These are the same Indiana players that you already knew--only different. For instance: Roderick Wilmont was shooting a typically Wilmontesque 34.2 percent on his threes this season before January 13. Since then he's shooting 45.4 percent.

In fact, it can't be emphasized enough: right now Indiana is a team with a big defensive reputation but an even bigger offensive reality. IU's offense has been the best in the Big Ten so far this conference season by a wide margin. True, this has been fueled in part by precociously hot (and thus unlikely to continue) outside shooting. But even when the shooting cools off, Indiana will still be taking care of the ball. And their neighbors to the north in Indy, the Butler Bulldogs, have shown the nation what can be done when you hang on to the rock--even if your shots aren't falling. (So too, for that matter, has Wisconsin.)

One oddly incongruous point for Hoosier fans who insist on fretting about something. Indiana opponents may be hapless in their shooting beyond the arc but those same opponents are surprisingly successful when they work the ball inside and attempt twos. Only Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State have been more giving to opposing offenses on the interior. Keep an eye on it.

BONUS Roderick Wilmont note! I may be skeptical of Wilmont's chances to continue his hot outside shooting but there's little doubt that the tireless Hoosier senior is the best inch-for-inch rebounder in the Big Ten--better even than the more publicized and similarly undersized Geary Claxton. (And that's saying something.)

Wilmont will never have a good number for rebounds per game, of course, because he spends half of each contest floating on the perimeter on offense. But his defensive rebound percentage in fact puts the 6-4 Wilmont on the same level as Goran Suton and above not only Claxton but also Warren Carter, Carl Landry, Jason Chappell, and Gordon Watt. I've said it before: Wilmont has a motor any coach would love. That motor may propel him into questionable shots but it also brings in a ton of boards.

BONUS D.J. White note! Considering White's coach wants him to touch the ball on just about every trip down the floor, the young man from Alabama gives away astonishingly few turnovers: just three for every 100 offensive possessions he plays. (Many big-name bigs, by contrast, cough up the ball at least twice that often.) Trustworthy caretaker of the rock D.J. White, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana plays Illinois tonight in Champaign (ESPN, 7ET).

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