Big Ten Wonk
Friday, February 16, 2007
Pick a winner
I know March is getting closer because the annual write ups on the "secrets to tourney success" are already popping up out of the ground. Alrighty then. Here's some of what I know....

Two years ago I thought maybe we were closing in on just such a secret. With these here newfangled stats that correct for tempo, you can look at scoring margin in a way that doesn't penalize the slow teams or give excess glamour to the fast ones. That is, instead of straight scoring margin, you look at efficiency margin: a team's points per possession minus their opponents' PPP. And efficiency margin, after all, is merely a measure of how well teams score points and prevent points. Good combination, that.

So in 2005, looking only at games played within teams' respective conferences (i.e., ignoring that spring-training equivalent doodling known as November and December), the top four "power"-conference teams in efficiency margin were:

2005: top four "power"-conference efficiency margins (conf. games only)

(In retrospect this listing of these four teams looks anodyne. At the time, however, Michigan State was being vilified as a lifeless collection of chronic underachievers for having just lost in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals to 7-seed Iowa. So it was that the Spartans, a team that went 13-3 in the Big Ten and had one of the best efficiency margins in the country, were given a 5-seed and had to go through 1-seed Duke and 2-seed Kentucky just to get to St. Louis.)

Wow, that was easy! Just look at in-conference efficiency margins and, bam! There's your Final Four. Cool!

Except it didn't work out that way in 2006....

2006: top four "power"-conference efficiency margins (conf. games only)

So, no, this stat is not an irrevocable decreer of fate. (Gee. In other news: the sun is bright, glue is sticky, and lovelorn astronauts on long drives wear diapers.) Still, it's something I take a very long look at. Sure, Kansas got knocked out in the first round (see my labored and tendentious rationalization of this impermissible event here) but Texas and Connecticut weren't exactly tournament disasters—unless you think losing in OT in a regional final, which they both did, constitutes disaster.

Simply put, a team that's proven across the breadth of its conference season that it can both score and prevent points is a team to watch. Not necessarily one to slot as a no-brainer for the Final Four, mind you. But definitely one to watch.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Purdue beat Indiana 81-68 last night in West Lafayette. By the end of this game the Hoosiers were minus two of their regulars (see below) and it showed, as the Boilermakers scored 47 points in the second half. David Teague made 6-of-8 threes and led Purdue with 32 points, while Carl Landry posted a 22-11 dub-dub. D.J. White had 20 points and eight boards for the Hoosiers. Indiana played without Lance Stemler, who is out with a sprained ankle. Then late in the second half, Earl Calloway suffered a shoulder injury when he ran into a screen set by Landry. After the game Kelvin Sampson said it's "highly doubtful" Calloway will be able to play in tomorrow's game against Michigan in Ann Arbor. (Box score.)

Iowa beat Northwestern 66-58 in Iowa City last night. Adam Haluska shot no fewer than 18 free throws and scored 29 points. And the Hawks needed those trips to the line because they were being uncharacteristically generous (and here Tyler Smith was practically a Gates Foundation unto himself) with their turnovers, coughing up the ball 16 times in a 64-possession game. (Yes, a track meet by Wildcat standards.) Tim Doyle scored 17 points on 13 shots for NU. (Box score.)

Illinois big man Brian Carlwell is doing better and may be released from the hospital as soon as today. Carlwell was a passenger in a car driven by teammate Jamar Smith in Champaign Monday night and suffered a severe concussion when Smith's vehicle veered off the road and struck a tree. Meanwhile oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper asks: Is there a cure to this season's curse? Yes! No Illinois players behind the wheel, ever. If we were in Venice this wouldn't be happening.

In addition to typing words, I can occasionally speak them....
I'll be talking hoops with Steve "The Homer" True on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio this afternoon around 3:20 ET. Tune in and listen to me wing it. (That means you, Mom and Dad.)

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

Those wacky Gators
On Wednesday I said Florida's amazing offense but merely "good" defense reminds me a little of how a defending NBA champion would play. The readers respond!


I've recently found your incredible blog, and really enjoy your writing and analysis.

One thing struck me from today's writing: "I've never before seen a college team act with quite the same maddeningly indolent-yet-knowing confidence of a defending NBA champion—we'll turn it on when the time comes, thanks—but I feel like maybe I'm seeing one now."

I would submit to you last year's Connecticut Huskies. They were laden with talent and fawned over by many media outlets. When watching them, I got the impression they felt they could show up and win, and if they actually found themselves facing adversity, they could flip the magical switch. Even in the tournament, I felt like they'd set their alarm for the Final Four. Obviously this was not the case and, when they really needed to get going, there was nothing there.

Still, that is an interesting analysis of Florida. I've seen many recent scores where they've won by 15-20 points, and Mr. Noah has a rather fiery attitude, so my initial reaction is that they wouldn't be quite so inclined. However, the thought that they are waiting to flip the switch is something to tuck away and observe in the coming weeks.

Thanks again for your great blog. You have a new faithful reader here in the heart of (snowed under) Big Ten territory.

James B.

Thanks, James!

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