Can the Big Ten make some history? Hey, it already has....One of my highly coveted "For Those About to Wonk" oven mitts and a hearty (email) fist bump will go out to the first alert reader who answers the following correctly:The 2007 Big Ten regular season was truly unique for at least one surprisingly obvious reason. Indeed, it's possible that no other conference in the nation this season, "power" or otherwise, can make the claim that the Big Ten's 11 teams and 88 regular season games can make. What is this feature unique to the Big Ten in 2007?Tune in tomorrow for the answer!Ohio State and Wisconsin: two outstanding teams united by meh shootingMeantime, you're doubtless interested in whether the conference can make history in the more obvious March sense of the term.Yes, indeedy. Each of Ohio State's three losses came on the home courts of soon-to-be 1- or 2-seeds. And Wisconsin hasn't broken the huddle in the under-4 timeout of the second half in any game without a chance to win since, well, since they were sent home last March by Arizona.In one key respect, however, the Buckeyes and Badgers stand apart from the other highly-ranked teams nationally. As seen in the following list of major-conference types projected as 3-seeds and higher, our Big Ten teams don't shoot as well as the other Big Names....Effective FG percentage, 2007Conference games only1. Florida (56.9)2. Georgetown (56.9)3. Kansas (55.5)4. Texas A&M (54.0)5. UCLA (53.7)6. North Carolina (52.9)7. Ohio State (51.0)8. Wisconsin (49.8)True, the Big Ten as a whole plays stout defense (more on this in the coming days) and that will lower your shooting percentage. And, of course, Thad Matta and Bo Ryan themselves have the advantage of fielding teams that play excellent defense--defense so good it can offset a reasonably modest disadvantage in shooting accuracy.Still, in 2005 Illinois (to cite an obvious example) and Michigan State (an equally good if somewhat less apparent case) both played good defense in a conference filled with strong defenses--and posted really nice eFG percentages. By the same token, the list above isn't exactly lacking for defense itself (see particularly UCLA and Kansas).So Ohio State and Wisconsin may want to use the down time this week to get in some extra shooting at practice. A few more makes in March can help a team rewrite history.All things are relative--including this clarification. I've seen it said that I think Ohio State is overachieving. Not so. If you want overachievement, look no further than Virginia. If not for a loss at Wake Forest (!) this weekend, the Cavaliers would have won the ACC outright despite outscoring conference opponents by less than two points a game. No, the Buckeyes actually have pretty much the record I thought they'd have--I just expected it to be a little less suspenseful.
BONUS separated-at-birth note! I've referred to UCLA previously as "a Big Ten team without the snow." I'll take that a step further: the Bruins are eerily similar to Wisconsin. Both teams devote almost exactly one in every three shots to an attempted three; both forego opportunities on the offensive glass in order to prevent transition baskets; both dominate the defensive boards to a greater (Bruins) or lesser (Badgers) extent. Big Ten fans, when you see blue and gold, think red and white.In today's less Wonk-ish venues....Four months ago, everyone was saying Ohio State and Wisconsin were the teams to beat in the Big Ten.Everyone was right....1. Ohio State, 15-1 (27-3)2. Wisconsin, 13-3 (27-4)3. Indiana, 10-6 (20-9)4. Illinois, 9-7 (21-10)5. Purdue, 9-7 (20-10)6. Iowa, 9-7 (17-13)7. Michigan State, 8-8 (21-10)8. Michigan, 8-8 (20-11)9. Minnesota, 3-13 (9-21)10. Northwestern, 2-14 (13-17)11. Penn State, 2-14 (11-18)Of course, given the conference's imbalanced schedule and goofy tiebreakers, the seeds for the Big Ten tournament exist in imperfect relation to something as trivial as standings (all times Eastern)....Thursday(8) Michigan vs. (9) Minnesota (ESPN2, noon)(7) Michigan State vs. (10) Northwestern (ESPN2, 2:30pm)(6) Illinois vs. (11) Penn State (ESPN2, 5pm)Friday(1) Ohio State vs. Michigan-Minnesota winner (ESPN, noon)(4) Iowa vs. (5) Purdue (ESPN, 2:30pm)(2) Wisconsin vs. Michigan State-Northwestern winner (ESPN Plus, 6:40pm)(3) Indiana vs. Illinois-Penn State winner (ESPN Plus, 9pm)Saturday1-4 bracket semifinal (CBS, 1:40pm)2-3 bracket semifinal (CBS, 4pm)SundayChampionship game (CBS, 3:30pm)The tournament's at the United Center in Chicago this year. It won't be back until at least 2013. (Predicted headline: "On the bubble: Amaker's Wolverines facing annual 'must-win.'")
The grand hoops finale--Saturday!Home-court domination continued until the very end! Except, that is, for that most decrepit, underlit, and ill-starred of Big Ten home courts....Ohio State beat Michigan 65-61 in Ann Arbor. How apt. A team whose coach is more or less besieged (less by his superiors, more by everyone else) punts away a game for that most incorrigibly uncoachable of reasons: shooting. A missed dunk by Courtney Sims and a missed free throw by Dion Harris (front end of a 1-and-1) enabled the Buckeyes to erase a six-point deficit in the final four minutes. In fact, this just might have been OSU's most impressive win. With both a conference title and a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament already locked up, Thad Matta's team pulled out a road win on a day when their threes weren't falling. (Ask UCLA how easy it is to mail it in in this exact situation.) Greg Oden led the Buckeyes with 16 points on eight shots. Jerret Smith had two fewer turnovers than Ohio State as a team. (Box score.)Wisconsin beat Michigan State 52-50 in Madison, thanks to Kammron Taylor's game-winning three in the final five seconds. If there's such a thing as an ominous win, this was one such for the Badgers. The memo to future Wisconsin opponents reads like this: play zone (Indiana, Ohio State), play man (Michigan State), play whatever you want--but pack the paint against Bo Ryan's team and they struggle. The Spartans hunkered down in the lane with manifest clarity of purpose and invited Wisconsin to shoot wide open threes. The Badgers obliged and, actually, did OK: 7-of-20. But the offense as a whole struggled with this unfamiliar POT style, committing more turnovers and getting even fewer offensive boards than usual. (Against Michigan State this year, 52 percent of Wisconsin's shots have been threes. Against the rest of the Big Ten: 31 percent.) On the plus side: deprived of the services of Brian Butch, only the best defensive rebounder in the Big Ten, the Badgers held the best offensive rebounding team in the conference to just three offensive boards. It was decisive (well, that and Taylor's money three). Alando Tucker led all scorers with 26 points on 15 shots. Drew Neitzel scored 22 points but needed 17 shots to do it. (Box score.)Iowa beat Illinois 60-53 in Iowa City. Adam Haluska scored 21 points on 13 shots but the wild card in this game was Tony Freeman hitting 3-of-4 threes and scoring 13 (to go along with five assists and one turnover--nice line). Kurt Looby also made his presence felt, recording five blocks in 28 minutes. Shaun Pruitt scored 20 points on 13 shots for the Illini. (Box score.)Indiana beat Penn State 93-64 in Bloomington. No, not a fast game. Just a total defensive collapse: the Hoosiers needed a mere 61 possessions to get their points. Roderick Wilmont (21-11 dub-dub) may have been just 8-of-18 from the floor but his teammates went 24-of-39. (Box score.)Purdue beat Northwestern 73-50 in West Lafayette. And it wasn't that close. If not for the Boilers giving the ball away 17 times, this would have been a blowout of November-December hyphenated-opponent magnitude. David Teague made 6-of-10 threes and scored 23 points. (Box score.)COMING tomorrow!My annual state-of-the-velocity report! How fast (or not) did hoops transpire this season within the closed ecosystems of regular-season "power"-conference play? Tune in tomorrow! (Actually I could have posted this today if not for tonight's Nebraska-Oklahoma State game. Verily, I say to the Big XII what my better half said to me in the later stages of grad school: finish!)(Yes, I know the game was delayed due to bad weather on January 13. Save the email for a more fruitful occasion. Such as....)COMING Wednesday!All-Wonk (2.0). If you have nominations, now's the time.Wonk back!Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!