Big Ten Wonk
Friday, March 09, 2007
Bubble teams gone wild!
The bubble teams held serve and yesterday went according to form at the Big Ten tournament. The field is now down to the eight teams that had a .500 record or better in-conference....

(8) Michigan vs. (1) Ohio State (ESPN, noon ET)
UCLA has provided the (sassy new-look) Buckeyes with a handy template for how not to spend your second week in March when you're thought to be a mortal lock for a 1-seed. And a win here from the Wolverines would actually trigger some interesting discussion. But a win here will require much better offense than what was displayed by Michigan yesterday (see below). (And at least one observer thinks the Wolverines are "genetically incapable" of winning this game. We'll see.)

(5) Purdue vs. (4) Iowa (ESPN, 2:30 ET)
If the Hawkeyes can hold on to the ball they stand a good chance to win this game. Purdue opponents committed turnovers on no less than 24 percent of their possessions in-conference and that helped an otherwise average Boilermaker defense achieve above-average results. On offense, David Teague and Carl Landry put up nice numbers—they just don't get enough chances, due to too many turnovers and too few offensive boards. Adam Haluska and the Hawkeyes, on the other hand, have achieved better results on offense simply by taking care of the ball. They'll need to continue that today.

(7) Michigan State vs. (2) Wisconsin (ESPN Full Court, 6:40 ET)
Game of the day: two very good teams playing for the third time in 18 days, each with a weary familiarity of their opponent—like Game 5 of an NBA series. Bo Ryan knows the Spartans will pack the paint and invite his team to shoot threes. Tom Izzo knows Michael Flowers will run over, around, under, and through any screen by Drew Naymick or Goran Suton to stick to Drew Neitzel. Sit back and enjoy.

(6) Illinois vs. (3) Indiana (ESPN Full Court, 9 ET)
Last year the Illini sat patiently through six games of Big Ten tournament action waiting for their Friday nightcap as a 3-seed—and lost to 6-seed Michigan State. Bruce Weber's team will try to visit the same fate upon the Hoosiers. IU was the Big Ten's best three-point shooting team this year (not to mention the conference's best offense, period) and if Roderick Wilmont, A.J. Ratliff and Armon Bassett are hitting their threes, the offensively-challenged Illini will be hard-pressed to keep up. On the other hand, Illinois boasts the Big Ten's best 3FG percentage defense (appearances to the contrary yesterday notwithstanding). Watch the threes.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan beat Minnesota 49-40 yesterday. No, not (unusually) slow (60 possessions). Just Edvard Munch-level horrific offense all around. Brace yourself: 0.81 points per possession won this game—by nine! Ye gods. There were 92 shots attempted from the field in this contest and 65 of them missed. (At halftime Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany could be seen pleading George Bailey-style with fans pushing toward the exits: "Now, we can get through this thing. We just have to stick together!") Dion Harris led the Wolverines with 14 points on 10 shots. Spencer Tollackson scored 15 for the Gophers. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Northwestern 62-57 yesterday. Wow. The Spartans' shooting was so good in this game that each turnover cost them 1.6 points. And there were 17 such turnovers in a 56-possession game, otherwise this wouldn't have been close. Drew Neitzel hit 5-of-7 threes and scored 20 points. The Wildcats rallied from a 16-point deficit and had the ball down three with 12 seconds left but Jeremy Nash's pass to Craig Moore went astray and the game was lost. Kevin Coble and Moore were a combined 8-of-13 on their threes and scored 15 apiece. (Box score.)

Illinois beat Penn State 66-60 yesterday. If a player who's tournament-extinct by dinnertime Thursday night can still make the all-tournament team, Mike Walker is that player: 7-of-11 on his threes for 22 points. Meanwhile, Bruce Weber had Chester Frazier kidnapped before tip-off and replaced with Salim Stoudamire: "Frazier" hit 5-of-9 threes for 21 points. And Geary Claxton will want to burn the tape of this game, deposit the ashes in an urn, weld the urn shut, charter a plane, and drop the urn over the Pacific Ocean at its deepest point. (Box score.)

Earthquakes in other conferences
For the record, California beating UCLA 76-69 in OT last night at the Staples Center qualifies in my book as the single biggest upset of the year so far. Easily. Never mind that they led the Bruins in both of their previous games, the Bears were woeful during the Pac-10 season ("woeful" depicted visually here) and UCLA, you may have noticed, was correspondingly elite. Cal is a textbook POT, shooting more threes in-conference than anyone but Oregon and getting fewer offensive boards in-conference than anyone but transition-D-focused Washington State. And yet the Bruins, possibly the best defensive rebounding team in the country, gave the men from Berkeley 11 offensive rebounds out of 27 chances. That—and 14 missed UCLA free throws—was decisive.

I was interviewed by a site with "IQ" in its title—no wisecracks
Yesterday the good people at took a break from their "wisdom of crowds" bread and butter to sit down with me and talk about March and any alliterative yet non-trademarked words pertaining thereto. Read it all here.

In addition to typing words, I can occasionally speak them....
I'll be talking about the Big Ten tournament, the NCAA tournament, and anything else that comes up with Steve "The Homer" True on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio this afternoon around 3:20 ET. Tune in and listen to me wing it.

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

Say it loud! (I'm slow and I'm proud!)
Dear Wonk,

I'm always interested to see how people conflate slow pace with good defense. In fact, if you assume a slow team and a fast team earn and give up identical numbers of points per possession, then the slower team should be considered the better offensive team.

Why? There are two goals of an offensive possession:

(1) Score as many points as possible.

(2) Prevent a disadvantage when the ball goes back to the other team.

Fast and slow teams who score the same number of points per possession are accomplishing the first goal equally well, but the slow teams are accomplishing the second goal better than the fast teams for two reasons. For one, you're wearing out the other team more than you're wearing out your own team by playing patient offense (accepting the claim that defense is more work than offense), which gives you a long-term advantage at the defensive end based on something you're doing on offense.

Second, a slow team is less likely to be leaving its defense at a disadvantage at the start of the opponent's possession, since that disadvantage is almost always that you get beat down the floor, leading to quick buckets and thus a fast game pace.

So really we should think of slow pace as being a sign of good offense. Right?

Dave S.

Georgetown (59 possessions a game, 1.14 points per possession) supports your claim. Northwestern (57 possessions a game, 0.90 points per possession) does not. Inescapable conclusion: going slow aids your offense only if your campus is not within any U.S. state. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, bay-bee!

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