Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
All-Wonk 2.0
In ascending order....

Adam Haluska, Iowa
This was a very, very tough call: Haluska vs. Carl Landry for the fifth spot on the All-Wonk. In the end, it came down to the fact that Haluska plays a role almost as large as Landry's within his team's offense (he personally takes almost 28 percent of Iowa's shots) and yet is more efficient than Landry overall on offense. Yes, Landry's the more efficient scorer (sporting a sterling 1.29 PPWS) but he turns the ball over six times every 100 possessions. Haluska, on the other hand, coughs it up only half as often--and that's been crucial for an otherwise green Hawkeye team that has been surprisingly productive on offense, thanks to holding on to the ball and crashing the offensive glass. Lastly, Haluska has carried on the Greg Brunner tradition and provided vital production from the free throw line. The senior's free-throw proficiency (36.5 percent FTM/FGA) is second to none among regular conference starters under 6-7.

Mike Conley, Ohio State
No-brainer: I was very surprised Conley was left off the first team by the coaches. The numbers are, of course, beautiful (more assists per 100 possessions--12.7--than any Big Ten player I've seen in three seasons of doing this) but forget the numbers. Listen instead to the grudging admiration of die-hard Badger fan and canonical blogger Chris West:

As a Badger fan, I felt completely uncomfortable watching Conley with the ball in his hands on Ohio State’s final possession. Not since Mateen Cleaves have I been that upset just watching a guy contemplating what to do. You know Conley’s going to come up with a smart idea and make it work. It’s annoying to have to say this about a freshman, and even more annoying when he’s not even the most hyped freshman on his own team.

I could not and will not attempt to put it any better.

Drew Neitzel, Michigan State
Neitzel had a Dee Brown-in-2005 year: publicity, prominence, volume of shots, and stellar scoring efficiency all rolled into one. (OK, Brown was significantly more efficient in 2005. He was also playing alongside two future NBA regulars in that backcourt.) Indeed, the junior that Bill Simmons has said "looks like he's recovering from five months of chemo" combined efficiency and sheer numbers this season in a way that's unexcelled. Neitzel is a shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body--the Big Ten hasn't seen someone this well-equipped to hit the three and make the right pass since Illinois was blessed with three such beasts a couple years ago. If not for his teammates' turnovers, Michigan State would be having an even more surprising year and Neitzel would be getting even more national ink. Such would be deserved.

Alando Tucker, Wisconsin
Tucker is kind of Haluska writ a bit larger: he takes even more of his team's shots (29 percent) and yet never turns the ball over. He's no Carl Landry when it comes to scoring efficiency, of course, but it's his free-throw shooting (65.2 percent) that's hurting him there. (No small matter, granted.) On the floor he makes half his twos while absorbing the entirety of the opposing team's defensive attention (particularly now that Brian Butch is out). That's a tough gig but Tucker pulls it off with that curious form of tenacious grace that's become his signature. Late in the year teams have been giving Tucker--and Wisconsin--open looks at threes, choosing to take their chances with the Badgers on the perimeter instead of in the paint. Tucker has responded, hitting 41 percent of his threes in February and March. He is simply a mensch.

Greg Oden, Ohio State (POY)
No, he hasn't been Durantian and a lot of us thought he would be. But he has been the best player in the Big Ten this year. And that is enough. Oden's the best in the conference on the defensive boards, the best shot-blocker, and he makes 61 percent of his shots. With him, opposing offenses fear to enter the lane. With him, opposing defenses lose sight of Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, Daequan Cook, and Mike Conley (no slouches, they). With him, Ohio State has a shot at winning a national championship.

BONUS sixth man award!
Um, meaning another guy I want to salute, even though he happens to have been a starter....

Tim Doyle, Northwestern
It's not just that he's slow and can't jump. That's actually not all that uncommon in the college game. But on top of that Doyle is a really bad outside shooter. And yet he is still the player that opposing teams must account for. How is that possible? No player in recent memory has gotten more out of less than the Wildcat senior. Overachiever pushing 30 Tim Doyle, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The All-Big Ten teams were announced yesterday and Alando Tucker was named POY by both the coaches and the writers. The coaches' selections were as follows:

Adam Haluska
Drew Neitzel
Greg Oden
Carl Landry
Alando Tucker

The writers also had Haluska, Neitzel, Oden, and Tucker, but told Landry about the nice consolation prizes backstage and brought on Mike Conley in his place.

Oden was named Defensive POY by the coaches, who also selected a second-ever All-Defensive team:

Chester Frazier
Travis Walton
Greg Oden
Chris Kramer
Michael Flowers

BONUS note of puzzlement! Mike Conley not making this all-defensive team is inexplicable. He recorded 4.6 steals for every 100 defensive possessions he played, second in the conference only to Kramer's 4.8. It's not his fault he also happens to be a great point guard on offense and thus is not regarded as a defensive specialist.

In today's other less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa coach Steve Alford is at the center of a kerfuffle over a report in ESPN The Magazine. According to the Des Moines Register:
Iowa men’s basketball coach Steve Alford passed up a chance today to talk about his thoughts on a blurb in ESPN The Magazine that said he would be dismissed after the season.

It all started when the publication used a comment attributed to Andy Katz, an ESPN college basketball analyst, that said Alford would be out as coach and Creighton’s Dana Altman would likely replace him. later ran a correction on its Web site stating that the comment should have been attributed to analyst Doug Gottlieb.

“It wasn’t Andy, because I know Andy and I talked with him,” Alford said. “I don’t think I need to respond to anything Doug Gottlieb has got to say.”

Ohio State: Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch apparently had some good off-the-record chats because with nary a direct quote in sight he says the Buckeyes feel slighted by yesterday's All-Big Ten announcement. Slighted? Yup! That Oden wasn't POY, that he wasn't a unanimous first-team selection, and that Conley didn't make the coaches' first-team or the all-defensive team.

Wisconsin senior Alando Tucker: happy to be Big Ten POY.

Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson: praises Earl Calloway.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says his team is on the bubble. Marquise Gray says he's looking to improve.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber: looking for more offense.

Purdue is on the bubble; big man Carl Landry is happy to be All-Big Ten; freshman Johnathan Uchendu is eligible for the Big Ten tournament and beyond if there is a beyond.

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

We have a winnah!
Frustrated by the sheer number of correct answers to Monday's pop quiz, I resorted to the following "Wikipedia-proof" 1840 question yesterday:

The presidential election of 1840 is remembered as the "log cabin and hard cider" campaign due to a derisive comment made by Democrats about Whig nominee William Henry Harrison. In what newspaper did this comment first appear in December 1839?

Wikipedia-proof but, alas, not Google-proof. Kudos to the many alert readers who emailed with the correct answer: 'twas the Baltimore Republican that derided the future president. Congratulations to alert reader Chris S. for being the first to paste my text into a search window.

Next time: a question that's Wikipedia- and Google-proof! Just you wait....

Slow teams and the fans who love them
Yesterday I noted that the Big Ten was slower this year than last year. The readers respond!


I appreciate your in-depth analysis of Big Ten basketball (and college basketball, in general) but I have to take umbrage with your repeated assertions that "slow" basketball equals boring basketball.

Did you think that the second Ohio State-Wisconsin game was boring (58 possessions)? I realize that "fast" basketball doesn't necessarily mean bad defense, but besides North Carolina and Kansas how many of the ten fastest power-conference teams would be considered "good" defensive teams?

Personally, I think that watching a low-possession, defensive basketball game is much more exciting than watching a track meet without any defense (there's a league for this style - it's called the NBA). I guess that's my point - "boring" or "exciting" basketball is up to each individual fan. For whatever reason, the Big Ten plays at a slower pace than other major conferences - so what?

Ryan J.

In order:
1) I thought the second Ohio State-Wisconsin game was tense and exciting because it was well-played and because of what was on the line: the Big Ten championship. Well-played games between top teams are exciting no matter the pace.

2) The ten slowest "power"-conference teams in the nation allowed on average 1.02 points per possession this year. The ten fastest, um, 1.02. Granted, I don't think that means anything particularly weighty--merely that it's possible for Penn State to play very slow and have a terrible D, just as it's possible for Kansas to play very fast and have an outstanding D. Speed bears imperfectly on D, which was my intended point.

3) I'll take a track meet with defense. It would be called North Carolina vs. Kansas. I'd watch. Just one man's vote.

Hi, Wonk,

Excellent discussion today of the troubling slowness of our beloved conference. Too many Big Ten basketball fans, in an effort to defend their teams from the slings and arrows of outrageous ACC fans, have convinced themselves that this grinding style is primarily the result of superb defense. Much of this idea comes, no doubt, from our football-centric worldview, in which we're the tough guys scrapping for each yard in the snow while the other conferences resort to easy-outs like "speed," "talent," and "passing."

While there is more than a grain of truth in that idea--Big Ten basketball does value defense and toughness, and that should be admired on the whole--it's become more excuse than explanation this year, and we've watched our weekly games suffer. All conference teams this year, with the possible exception of OSU, intentionally kept their feet on the brakes throughout most of the conference season, whether to make up for crummy shooting (Illinois), prevent a thin team from running out of gas (MSU), or to punt until the last five minutes when the home crowd would take over the game (everybody else).

And now for the good news: I think we'll see a significant uptick next year. Michigan State will look to get running again with their hotshot freshman wings, as will the (presumably) Oden-less Buckeyes. This has been an interesting season and we may yet represent ourselves well in the tourney, but I'm looking forward to a reprieve from the grind.

Shawn M.

Thanks, Shawn! More:

Excellent reading on the pace of play. I think this is a nationwide problem in the college game. It is magnified in the blood and guts Big Ten. I keep hoping for another savant like Paul Westhead to bring back the Loyola Marymount style of the late 80’s and early 90’s. That was can’t miss TV viewing. They became a real good team playing that way and were not just a carnival side show.

The game (especially regular season) is becoming less and less enjoyable to watch because of the grind it out style that is so prevalent today. I think a big part of the problem is that the game has been allowed to get so much more physical (especially on-the-ball contact). The defenses are allowed to get away with a lot more than in the past and as a result more emphasis is placed on defense.

Robert S.

Thanks, Robert!

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