Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The struggles of the Spartans
In East Lansing: Michigan vs. Michigan State (ESPN, 9 ET)
Three things to keep in mind about the current four-game Michigan State "collapse":

1. Two of the four games were against Ohio State.

2. Three of the four games were on the road.

3. The collapse has been on offense. While the defense has gone from excellent to fair, the offense has gone from excellent to pitiful:

Michigan State--points per possession in-conference
First six games (4-2): 1.09
Last four games (0-4): 0.84

On Friday I said the Spartans are "hemorrhaging turnovers" and indeed they are. But say this for Tom Izzo's team: their hemorrhaging is consistent. They were turning the ball over when they were 4-2 and they've been doing it at almost the exact same rate through their 0-4 run. (No, it doesn't mean the turnovers are irrelevant. It means they narrow the margin for error considerably--as seen vividly in the MSU's struggles on the road.)

What has changed is their shooting. It's been awful the last four games. The Spartans haven't burned up the nets from outside at any point in the Big Ten season but they did start conference play making a very high percentage of their twos. Not any more. Michigan is being touted as the deeper team in tonight's game but Michigan State, coming off a week's rest, might want to take a good look at any transition opportunities.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Longtime readers know I used to do links in this spot. But I kind of wandered away from them on a trial basis and then stayed away when I heard about it from precisely one reader--a beat writer, saying my links used to make his job easier.

To you, Mr. Beat Writer, I say: enjoy one day like the good old days!...

Michigan senior Lester Abram says this last chance for a win at the Breslin Center is "huge." Dion Harris agrees: "Knowing the situations both teams are in, we have to think win. We can't think of anything less." And Brent Petway says: "We've got that confidence, got that swagger as a team, that we can go in there and get it done." (The swagger and confidence were born of a two-point home win against Minnesota. Cherisher of small daily miracles Brent Petway, Wonk salutes you!) Still, Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg doesn't like the Wolverines' chances. ...Tom Izzo says the Spartans' 62-38 loss at Purdue was an "aberration." Of course it was. But aberrations are what get brought up when your team's fighting for a tournament slot.

BONUS plea for an adjective! Asked to name the "hallmark" of his team, Tommy Amaker, after some hesitation, replied: "rebounding." That pushy weenie known as "stats," never hesitant, says: offensive rebounding, maybe. Defensive rebounding, definitely not. Remember, coach: every rebound needs an adjective. (Apparently unconcerned with the coach's cavalier non-deployment of adjectives, Cory McCartney (at this morning) says that Amaker's rebuilt "a program that was in shambles, and he's done it the right way.")

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody on his team: "I think we have some decent guys but up and down the lineup, I don't think we can compare to a lot of teams in the conference. So you have to get some depth and have 10 good players instead of five or six good players."

Purdue plays Indiana tomorrow night in West Lafayette and the Boilermakers say they're looking forward to having Earl Calloway on their own court. During IU's 85-58 win in Bloomington on January 10, Calloway reportedly had words for Purdue coach Matt Painter after Calloway had drained a three. "(Calloway) was a little disrespectful, and we haven't forgotten," David Teague says....Carl Landry is 0-for-Hoosiers in his career....If by chance IU should lose tomorrow night, it is hoped that Kelvin Sampson will react better on the bus ride back than did Bob Knight in 1992 after a loss at Mackey Arena cost his team a share of the Big Ten title. Todd Leary, a guard on that Indiana team, recalls: "Coach Knight was as mad as I've ever seen him....All of a sudden he started whipping full cans of Coke and Sprite at us. Then came bananas, and cookies and cakes and all kinds of stuff. We were all ducked down in our seats because no one wanted to get hit by one of those cans."

Minnesota plays Wisconsin tomorrow night in Minneapolis and Gophers coach Jim Molinari says the return of Spencer Tollackson has helped his team's offense: "We hardly ever scored when (Tollackson) was gone. Then, all of sudden, against Iowa, we come out and score like crazy. Then we come out the other night (against Michigan) and score 42 points in the first half." Tollackson was sidelined for a month with a broken hand and Bo Ryan says the big man's return has helped his team "on both ends of the floor." Molinari's not so sure: "We haven't played very good defense since he came back." The numbers back up Molinari.

Iowa freshman Tyler Smith suffered a dislocated finger on his shooting hand in the Wisconsin game. X-rays were negative, however, and he'll likely play with a taped hand in tomorrow night's game in Iowa City against Northwestern. "Tyler is a special talent," Steve Alford says. "We need him out there for as many minutes as he can give us."

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