Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, March 29, 2007
If the moving van goes from Morgantown to Ann Arbor....
Michigan has reportedly zeroed in on West Virginia coach John Beilein.

First order of business: Beilein's Mountaineers will play Clemson in the NIT title game tonight in Madison Square Garden. But once that's over and done with we should know within a few dozen hours if the reports are accurate.

Canonical blogger Brian Cook, for one, rather hopes they are. He has nominated the following ballot for the next coaching staff at Crisler:

HEAD COACH: John Beilein
UNICORN: Unicorn

(Let the record show Unicorn has a five-dollar buyout at his current gig and has released the following statement: "I am the Unicorn of Mythical Lands. I'm happy here at Mythical Lands and my only focus right now is being the best Unicorn for Mythical Lands that I can be. My wife, Diane, and I and our children, Caitlin, Dylan, and Cody, have enjoyed our years here immensely and have no current plans to make any changes.")

Brian, of course, paddles comfortably through Pomeroyean waters. Would that it were so for all who write on the Michigan coaching search....

It's been excruciating this week to read accounts that apply the adjective "Princeton" directly and unquestioningly to the noun "Beilein's offense." About as excruciating, in fact, as reading opposing views pointing out that West Virginia averaged more points per game than UCLA or Georgetown.

Points per game? Points (huff, huff) per game? Have I been doing this for three seasons just to give my typing a workout, people?

Here's what you need to know:

Big East--points per possession
(2007, conference games only)
1. Georgetown (1.14)
2. Louisville (1.09)
3. Pitt (1.08)
4. West Virginia (1.08)

I'd say that ranks as one impressive piece of coaching. Beilein lost not only the famous-for-his-name Kevin Pittsnogle but also the Wonk-wowing Mike Gansey ("a veritable freak of offensive nature") from last year's team. This year? Uh, not a lot on hand. (Quick: name one West Virginia player.) And yet the Mountaineers beat UCLA and are up there with the second-weekend boys in terms of offense.

So when writers covering Michigan fret about whether or not Beilein's system will "work" in the Big Ten, I would ask them to remember one thing: Beilein has a system. Has there been one in Ann Arbor this millennium?

Oh, and as far as pace....

Big East--possessions per 40 minutes
(2007, conference games only)
1. Syracuse (70.5)
2. Notre Dame (69.1)
3. Providence (69.1)
4. Seton Hall (68.9)
5. Connecticut (67.6)
6. Marquette (67.6)
7. South Florida (65.7)
8. St. John's (65.2)
9. Villanova (65.2)
10. West Virginia (64.2)
11. Louisville (64.1)
12. Cincinnati (63.2)
13. DePaul (62.8)
14. Pitt (62.0)
15. Rutgers (60.9)
16. Georgetown (59.4)

Comfortably in the Big East mainstream. (Keep in mind the Big Ten chugged along this year at 61.5 possessions per 40.)

There are other measures, however, by which "mainstream" does not do descriptive justice to the Mountaineers. Namely:

1. They shoot more threes than twos (52 percent of their attempts in conference play)
2. Their rebounding (both with- and post-PittsGansey) is poor on both ends of the floor
3. Their defense
(both with- and post-PittsGansey) is average at best

Items 2 and 3 could conceivably give a Michigan fan pause. (Indeed, forget the "conceivably" and put this Wolverine on the record as pausing big time.) Still, mark me down, if Beilein's hired, as guessing that defensive rebounding will improve in lock step with an uptick in his average roster height, even as offensive rebounding stays low for system-based reasons. (Ah, height. You are to defense what skill is to offense.) And, in any event, I tend to see this in terms of what it would do for the conference.

I think it would provide a small but welcome jolt. Beilein is a Big East coach achieving SEC ends (we'll outscore you and worry about defense next year) through Missouri Valley means (X's and O's).

And this lumpy undifferentiated Big Ten porridge could use a dash of SEC tabasco. Badly.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State basketball: more storied than you think.

Square peg, round hole department. This is not the year to do a writes-itself on how important guard play is for Final Four teams. My diligent research has turned up the following: Greg Oden is seven feet tall. So is Roy Hibbert. Florida has flourished for two years now because Al Horford and Joakim Noah refuse to miss two-point shots. And UCLA has rolled through the tournament because they refuse to let opponents make two-point shots. No one thinks more highly of Mike Conley or Arron Afflalo than I. But this is not the year for this particular writes-itself. (This writes-itself, on the other hand, is more like it.)

Former Iowa coach Steve Alford reportedly contacted Hawkeye signees Jake Kelly and Jarryd Cole after taking the New Mexico job and tried to convince them to join him in Albuquerque.
If true: unseemly? You bet! NCAA infraction? Heck, no! National letters of intent are governed by the Collegiate Commissioners Association, not that feckless band of gumshoes down Indy way. Meanwhile, Alford, having already indicted Iowa on charges of being a football-first athletic program, is apparently doing everything in his power to make sure that every last pier and every last plank on every single bridge leading out of Iowa City is burned down to the finest ash.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber, on being yelled at by his boss, athletic director Ron Guenther, during the Illini's first-round come-from-ahead tournament loss to Virginia Tech: I like it! I like it! (OK, my paraphrase. Actual quote: "
I'd rather have someone like that than an accountant who doesn't know what's going on or what coaching or basketball is all about." Extended excerpt of the Q&A here.)

COMING tomorrow!
Your official Final Four preview. If Greg Oden promises to give Ron Lewis a dollar per occurrence, will Lewis pass the ball to the big guy on occasion? Tune in tomorrow!

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