Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Does coming in "on a roll" really make a difference?
We're about to find out, courtesy of Oregon.

Here's a team, after all, that just won the Pac-10 tournament with an average victory margin of 20 points. (Fans of efficiency margin, take note: that's a +0.32. Not bad!) And it wasn't just precocious outside shooting, either—though, make no mistake, the threes were indeed falling for the Ducks this weekend at the Staples Center (52.3 3FG pct.). Still, after all those threes hit the bottom of the net, Oregon played defense on the other end, allowing just 0.88 points per possession. That's a vast improvement over their performance during the conference season, to say the very least.

(BONUS software note! My crack staff of software development engineers has perfected a hoops-savvy program called HoopCheck. When I typed the words "Oregon played defense," HoopCheck repeatedly highlighted the sentence with a green squiggly line. When I right-click I get the following "suggested changes":

"Oregon pleaded audibly with the other team to 'Hurry up and score so we can get the ball back.'"

"Oregon feigned five simultaneous injuries to avoid playing D."

"Oregon refused to cross the halfcourt line 'as a matter of principle.'")

Last year at this time a previously suspect-on-D team suddenly started playing defense and the result was a national championship. Will history repeat for the Ducks?

Of course not! But the more interesting question is simply: given their absolute perfection-incarnate conference-tournament send-off, how far can they go?

The three-point shooting will come back down to earth—this much we know. ("Earth" still being quite good, mind you. In Pac-10 play before the conference tournament, Oregon hit 38 percent of their threes.) And as for the D, assuming the Ducks get by Miami of Ohio in the first round, they'll receive a severe test of their defensive bona fides from the winner of Winthrop-Notre Dame. Don't be surprised if this highly-touted 3-seed "that can play with anyone in the country" reverts to defensive form. If so, they'll need every three they can hit.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State: all hail the beautiful (basketball) mind of Mike Conley.

Wisconsin: respectful of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, yet not above Old Testament-style woofing ("someone is going to feel our wrath").

Indiana: exhibiting total recall of their loss to Gonzaga in last year's tournament.

Michigan State: beyond respectful of Marquette and North Carolina (Izzo: "I know none of you are betting the house on us (to advance past this weekend) and I can't say that I'd bet my own house").

Purdue: expecting a "fast pace" from Arizona. They shouldn't. The Wildcats averaged just 67 possessions per 40 minutes in Pac-10 play. Sure, that's kind of fast in Big Ten terms, but it's not like the Boilers are playing Carolina. (Or Maryland, or Kansas, or Tennessee, or Virginia....All is revealed here.)

Illinois: hoping for some of that sweet 12-5 karma against Virginia Tech.

Michigan: "honored" to be part of the NIT. (Cue the incredulous second wave in three, two....)

Fellow midwesterners, also note that New Mexico is actually part of the U.S.
Today's "Stereotypes Are There for a Reason!" Award goes to columnist Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, for bravely exemplifying every hoary stereotype concerning the total ignorance of west coast geography displayed by midwesterners. Writing about Indiana's upcoming first-round game against Gonzaga, to be played in Sacramento, Kravitz coughed up this cartographic gem: "For Gonzaga, based in semi-nearby Spokane, Wash., this is something of a home game."

Bold geographical iconoclast Bob Kravitz, Wonk salutes you! At 821 miles, you define "semi-nearby" with admirable capaciousness! By your remarkable land-locked and blinkered accounting, other upcoming "home" games include the following local favorites coming to Chicago this weekend: Georgia Tech (717 miles) and Villanova (760). Pity UNLV and Kentucky, respectively, forced to in effect play road games in front of the notoriously rabid United Center faithful for the Wreck and 'Nova. O, the injustice!...

BONUS plea to citizens of Sacramento! This weekend when you see a guy with a press pass wandering around the parking lot outside Arco Arena in a plaid shirt and khaki shorts, asking in plaintive long vowels for directions for "a quick trip to Spokane and back during halftime," take pity upon him, please.

COMING this week!
The patented Wonk 360 technology goes to work! Each venue hosts, in effect, a couple four-team tournaments. And if there's a Big Ten team involved, Wonk 360 will break the four teams down, starting tomorrow with Lexington (Ohio State, Central Connecticut State, BYU, and Xavier) and Chicago (Wisconsin, TAMU-CC, UNLV, and Georgia Tech). Don't fill in those brackets without Wonk 360!

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

If Michigan State's so good, how come they were 8-8?
Love your site. My question is how is it that Michigan State (my alma mater) placed fairly well in offensive and defensive stats, yet lost as many games as they did?

Yes, the schedule stunk, but so what. Our offense seems far less effective than the stats suggest. And our TO's "seemed" much higher than the numbers. Is it I'm not looking at the numbers correctly, or am I missing the big picture?

Gregory H.

Why was the record so mediocre? Combination of tough schedule and bad luck, mostly the former: three games against current 1- and 2-seeds but only three against insistent win-givers Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State.

Also keep in mind that, while your Spartans' efficiency margin vs. W-L's may look skewed according to some other teams this year, there have been even larger instances of skew. Example: in 2005 Minnesota went 10-6 in-conference with an efficiency margin of 0.00.

Lastly, if you thought there were even more TOs than the numbers say, I weep for you. The Spartans' numbers for turnovers are historically ugly.


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