Big Ten Wonk
Friday, February 09, 2007
BONUS glittery awards show edition!
Meet the SAB Awards, bestowed upon the Big Ten's most statistically aberrant behaviors in conference play. Here at the SABs, we prize eccentricity--be it superb or horrific. Our battle cry is simply: Deviate from the mean!

Winners receive a small statuette of Tanner Bronson--or maybe it actually is Tanner Bronson, I don't know. They're both about the same size.

On with the show!...

SAB Third Prize (2.30 standard deviations worse than the mean)--
The Michigan State Spartans: "Turnovers" (Tom Izzo, Producer; pretty much everyone except Maurice Joseph and Drew Naymick, Associate Producers)
Michigan State is simply hemorrhaging turnovers--and it's killing them. Their shooting is OK (actually, throw out their rare attempts at threes and their shooting is very good) and their offensive rebounding is excellent. But small matters like shooting and rebounding have been rendered close to moot by the fact that the Spartans give the ball away on fully 27 percent of their possessions. What's worse, MSU's caught in a vice on both sides of the turnover coin. Not only do they turn it over more than any other Big Ten team--their opponents turn it over less than do the opponents of any other team. If they could just play teams on even terms where scoring opportunities are concerned, Michigan State could be very good.

SAB Second Prize (2.31 standard deviations worse than the mean)--
The Northwestern Wildcats: "Defensive Rebounding" (Bill Carmody, Producer; Pete Carril, Executive Producer)
Northwestern's offensive rebounding is, of course, traditionally woeful. This is a stylistic choice on their part and, if nothing else, the past two seasons of West Virginia basketball have proven beyond question that you can perform at a very high level within this particular style. As it happens, however, the Wildcats' defensive rebounding is, at the moment, even worse than their work on the offensive glass. NU gets just 57 percent of their opponents' misses.

SAB Grand Prize: the single most statistically aberrant behavior of the year so far (2.34 standard deviations better than the mean)--
The Purdue Boilermakers: "Opponent Turnovers" (Matt Painter, Producer; Chris Kramer, Associate Producer)
Purdue's opponents are turning the ball over on an incredible 24 percent of their possessions. (Incredible but not unexcelled. Clemson's opponents are turning the ball over on 27 percent of their possessions in ACC play.) No offense against the Boilers but this particular Grand Prize figures to be the Haing S. Ngor of the SABs. Purdue just played notoriously TO-happy Michigan State (see above) on what was clearly the Spartans' worst of all possible days. A few more games against the trusty ball-treasuring likes of Ohio State (tomorrow) and Indiana (Wednesday), and that figure for opponent TOs should regress toward crushing normalcy. Until then: shine on, you crazy ball-hawk dreamers of West Lafayette!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Full slate of games on tap....

The weekend in hoops--tomorrow!
Iowa plays Wisconsin in Madison (ESPN, 2 ET). The Hawkeyes have, in sequence, ridden: 1) head-case opponents, 2) an abundance of free throws, and 3) really hot shooting to a nice three-game win streak--none of which figure to obtain tomorrow at the Kohl Center.

Purdue plays Ohio State in Columbus. The last time these teams met, Greg Oden made Carl Landry's life in the paint miserable enough that the hard-working Boilermaker actually attempted four threes.

Illinois plays Indiana in Bloomington (CBS, 1 ET). The Illini's shooting has been underwhelming, to say the least. But on the road against teams not named "Northwestern" it has been downright Edvard Munch-level horrific.

Penn State plays Northwestern in Evanston. There will be no missed shots in this game. None. Even balls saved from going out of bounds and flung blindly back into play will find their way into the basket. Read more.

Minnesota plays Michigan in Ann Arbor. Ominous. No credit comes from beating Minnesota on your home floor. And--granted it's a long shot, but--if you should somehow lose....

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Set your way-back dial for a month ago
I have to disagree with your January 5 post arguing that officials should call fewer fouls or allow players six fouls per game.

The Badgers are ranked second in pace-adjusted defense in the Big Ten and second in opponents' effective field goal percentage, yet they hardly ever foul. Wisconsin does this by playing good position defense. If you're going to argue that there are too many fouls called on teams playing good position defense, I think you should explain why the Badgers managed to beat Northwestern while committing only five fouls all game.

Jim S.

(Um, because Northwestern's really bad and never goes to the line against any opponent. Anyway....)

Jim, the day I posted that item I did a radio spot with Steve "The Homer" True on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio. And pretty much the second Homer brought this up, it occurred to me: hey, wait a minute--if you're a Wisconsin fan there's no problem here to be fixed. The Badgers don't get into foul trouble that much.

Still, I stand by my core premise: I would love to see every team's most talented player freed up to give his utmost effort on defense. What I invariably see instead is every team's most talented player being sheltered from any possible foul worries by guarding the opposing team's Jason Chappell.

Take Alando Tucker. Clearly he can play defense. (Witness his sweet--almost Marcus Landry-esque--block on Jamelle Cornley's would-be breakaway Wednesday night.) Tucker's quick, he's got hops, and, most importantly, he's a fearsome competitor.

But this legitimate national POY candidate will not make the All-Big Ten defensive team next month—nor should he. For better or worse, defense just isn't an area of primary responsibility in his job description. Nor is it in Adam Haluska's or Drew Neitzel's or Carl Landry's. College hoops operates according to a division of labor wherein defensive intensity is largely delegated to the offensively benign. Me, I'd like to see more cross-functional renaissance-man types.

BONUS exception that proves the rule! Granted, defense isn't always the exclusive possession of the offensively benign. See Corey Brewer, without question and sans any kind of anodyne "inch-for-inch" qualification the best defender I have seen this year.

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