Showdown in MadtownOhio State vs. Wisconsin (ESPN, 9ET)Last week I asked if 2007 in the Big Ten might turn out to be like 2005: talk of the conference being "down," followed by a wondrous March. If such is to be, the game in Madison tonight showcases this year's versions of that year's Illinois and Michigan State teams. Although it is unclear which is which....Does Alando Tucker really "step up in the big games" or is that just media drivel?No, it's true! (He's the bizarro Courtney Sims!) Against the likes of Marquette (28 points) and Pitt (32), Tucker doesn't just shoot more, he actually scores more efficiently. In fact, the win against the Panthers constituted Tucker's highest one-game PPWS of the season: 1.35.(On the other hand, Tucker's coming off his worst outing of the year: 14 points on 6-of-17 shooting against Minnesota. Conclusion: Thad Matta should run out and grab some Gopher jerseys and replace "Oden" and "Cook" with "Coleman" and "Abu-Shamala.")Ohio State's offensive strength is their perimeter shooting, right?Not lately. After a hot start the Buckeyes enter tonight's game effectively hitting the same percentage of their threes (38.8) as the Badgers (38.3). (Ron Lewis has made just six of his last 32 threes. As it stands now, Ivan Harris or Jamar Butler may be a better option for taking that three.) But then again Ohio State's an excellent example of that paradox known as the perimeter-oriented team that shoots twos really well: better, in fact, relative to the Big Ten average, than it shoots threes. (Not to mention better than Wisconsin shoots twos.)Wisconsin's defensive strength is their ruggedly disciplined FG defense, right?Well, that's what they said last night on ESPN at halftime of Georgetown-Villanova (what, there was a football game?), but no, not really. Sure, the Badgers' FG defense is very good--but their defensive rebounding is even better. Brian Butch personally rebounds almost 27 percent of the opponent's misses while he's on the floor--a figure that puts him atop the Big Ten by a wide margin. And Joe Krabbenhoft (20.4 defensive reb. pct.) isn't too shabby, either. Still, keep an eye on this Greg Oden guy the Buckeyes have. (Maybe you've heard of him.) After a slow, albeit largely one-handed, start in the rebounding category, Oden is coming up fast and now sports a 21.9 defensive rebound percentage.So then foul trouble for Oden would be a huge blow to Ohio State?It's not something Matta wishes for, certainly. But don't shed too many tears for the Buckeyes when Oden sits. Othello Hunter is a better offensive rebounder than Oden (or anyone in the Big Ten for that matter), scores more efficiently (meaning Hunter does as well as Oden from the field but is better at the line), and blocks more shots in tempo-free terms than any Wisconsin player not named Greg Stiemsma. Wisconsin clearly lacks anyone that can compare to Mike Conley, right?Not so fast. Allow me to direct your attention to one Michael Flowers. No, Flowers is nowhere near Conley in terms of assists, but he turns the ball over less, shoots better from the outside, and records almost as many steals as the Buckeye freshman. (And that last factoid is the most amazing. Bo Ryan teams don't look for steals or blocks.)The college basketball world at large clearly lacks anyone that can compare to Daequan Cook, right?Right. At least I don't know of anyone who compares to Cook, for this guy fairly defines sui generis. Here's a player who's about as good on the defensive glass as a meat-eater like Krabbenhoft, yet he's a better three-point shooter than Kammron Taylor. And a better two-point shooter than anyone on the Wisconsin roster. On a team with Oden and Conley, Cook makes it an open question as to who is truly the most valuable Buckeye freshman. Ponder that. Jason Bohannon will not be a factor.Well, no, probably not. But I had to squeeze him in anyway just to note this: Bohannon won't get any appreciable minutes this year but his numbers indicate that Ryan has a good find here for next year and beyond. The freshman's already shown he can make the right pass and he takes care of the ball. (Bohannon will also be far and away the best free throw shooter in the game tonight.) Sum-up?The Badgers are the better team right now and they're playing at home. They're the favorite. To win, Ohio State will have to negate the strength of the home team....Wisconsin wins by getting more shots than their opponent. The Badgers don't turn the ball over, don't foul, and don't allow second shots. The Buckeyes figure to cancel out at least one of those factors tonight: they don't turn the ball over either. So it will come down to shooting but for Ohio State the table is slanted against them: Wisconsin is superior on the defensive glass. Matta's team will have to hit that first shot because there will not be many second shots.I will also be interested to see how far Matta extends his team in its half-court defense. It's the Buckeyes' nature--as well as the luxury afforded by Oden--to play aggressive trapping D. But is that truly the best play against a team, Taylor notwithstanding, that poses little threat from the outside and, Marcus Landry notwithstanding, doesn't turn the ball over?We'll see.In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... One bit of contrition to attend to....Department of CorrectionsYesterday I said Drew Neitzel ranks second to Tim Doyle in the Big Ten in terms of percent of minutes played. Incorrect. In fact, after this weekend's action it's the other way around:Pct. of minutes played1. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (86.3)2. Tim Doyle, Northwestern (85.8)3. Jamelle Cornley, Penn State (85.3)4. Adam Haluska, Iowa (83.5)5. Travis Walton, Michigan State (80.9)6. Chester Frazier, Illinois (80.4)7. Lawrence McKenzie, Minnesota (80.0)8. Tyler Smith, Iowa (79.0)9. Dan Coleman, Minnesota (77.4)10. Dion Harris, Michigan (77.1)Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! Lobbying continues (to continue) 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.... Sup Wonk,
My All-Wonk 1.0 is as follows:
Drew Neitzel, Michigan State - Steady leader for young Spartans. Has greatly improved from last year and leads the Big Ten in threes made. Big Ten's Most Improved Player, IMO.
Alando Tucker, Wisconsin - If this guy isn't on your All-Wonk team, then your submittal should not be considered valid.
Geary Claxton, Penn State - Call me biased, but if this guy was healthy all year, I say he leads the league in PPG and RPG. He has averaged 21 ppg and 8.8 rpg since he was able to turn his stump back into a shooting hand.
Carl Landry, Purdue - Big Ten Comeback Player of the Year. He has led Purdue all year with consistency and will continue to do so if he stays healthy.
Greg Oden, Ohio State - Too big of a game-breaker to be left off. Numbers aren't tremendously impressive, and I still don't think he has lived up to his hype yet, but I'm probably just bitchin' from envy.
Harrisburg, PAThanks, Eric! Keep those nominations coming, everyone.