Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Slow, slower, slowest
Presenting the 2007 "power"-conference velocity report
The news: Big Ten games were significantly slower this year than they were in 2006. In conference games in 2007, Big Ten teams averaged just 61.5 possessions per 40 minutes, down from 64.0 last season.

More: The Pac-10 is slowing before our eyes. Two years ago Pac-10 teams averaged better than 71 possessions per 40 minutes in conference play. This past season, by contrast, teams on the left coast averaged just 63.7 possessions.

But can we see this information presented in a handy visual manner? Yep! The Big East, Big XII, and SEC have been notably constant in their pace the past three seasons, so they're represented below with mere dots. The Big Ten, Pac-10, and ACC, on the other hand, have changed speeds over that same period, so I've charted those changes with some lines.....

Note how the Pac-10 has gone from being the fast-breaking D-lite league of our cherished stereotypes to a bruising Big Ten-in-'06-paced slugfest in the space of just two years.

The ten fastest "power"-conference teams
(Possessions per 40 minutes--conference games only)
1. North Carolina (74.4)
2. Colorado (72.6)
3. Maryland (72.1)
4. Wake Forest (71.7)
5. Kansas (71.0)
6. Missouri (71.0)
7. Tennessee (70.9)
8. Auburn (70.5)
9. Syracuse (70.5)
10. Virginia (69.4)

The ten slowest "power"-conference teams
(Possessions per 40 minutes--conference games only)
1. Northwestern (57.1)
2. Arizona State (58.2)
3. Georgetown (59.4)

4. Washington State (59.9)
5. Illinois (60.3)
6. Penn State (60.5)
7. Michigan State (60.8)
8. Rutgers (60.9)
9. Michigan (61.2)
10. Wisconsin (61.3)

My plea for change: Granted, slowness is a symptom and not the disease itself. Georgetown is really slow but, with perhaps the best offense in the nation at 1.14 points per possession, they can play in my conference any day.

It's just that, Hoya exceptions notwithstanding, this particular symptom more often than not coincides with the disease: really boring basketball. Indeed, unnecessarily boring basketball. The Big Ten has to divest itself of a mistaken belief in its cognitive DNA: that going faster means you're not playing defense. It's not true, it never has been true, and until a new coach or two comes into the league and proves it's not true (by playing a Roy Williams style and reaping the rewards in recruiting), we may be doomed to more 60-possession games.

Speaking of a new coach or two, what's needed here is some catalytic heterogeneity. The Big Ten is not only the slowest major conference, it's also the most homogeneous where pace is concerned. Every team this year clocked between 57 and 64 possessions, a smaller range than any other "power"-conference. The conference badly needs some outliers where speed is concerned.

Until that time, I vow here before you today: if the Big Ten ever drops below 60 possessions, I'm going to "Election of 1840 Wonk" full-time. It would be a more exciting subject.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State: freshman "rent-a-star" Greg Oden is reportedly running neck-and-neck with the "versatile" and "great" Alando Tucker of Wisconsin in Big Ten POY voting (and don't forget Mike Conley, either); former player and notable Illini-slayer Matt Sylvester is working as an extra in a Will Ferrell movie.

Indiana: big man D.J. White and guard Roderick Wilmont were named co-Most Outstanding Players at the team's awards banquet last night. (Also honored was coach Kelvin Sampson, winner of last night's Colonel Sanders Unchanging Wardrobe Award.)

Michigan State: coach Tom Izzo is making the appropriately wary-sounding noises about the Spartans' first-round opponent in the Big Ten tournament, Northwestern.

Illinois: coach Bruce Weber points out that players for other teams get arrested, too.

Purdue: guard Chris Lutz is eating right. (NOTICE to readers! I'm going to watch the sitemeter closely today. Anyone who actually clicks on this link will promptly receive the following email: "In heaven's name, why?")

Michigan: coach Tommy Amaker says he's focused on his team and not on speculation regarding his job security.

Minnesota: interim coach Jim Molinari says he'd like to be asked back next year.

Penn State: coach Ed DeChellis says his team is working on its defense, in preparation for its game against Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

COMING tomorrow!
All-Wonk (2.0). If you have nominations, now's the time.

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

We have a winnah!
Kudos to the many alert readers who emailed with the correct answer to yesterday's pop quiz:

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?

But while there was no shortage of readers who came up with the right answer, the one who got his email in first was alert reader-slash-blogger Adam J., who knew that this year there were no overtimes in Big Ten conference games. Given that there's only a 2.1 percent chance of playing 88 college basketball games with no overtimes (hat tip, Willie to my Hank), we could go another 50 years without seeing this happen again! Or it could happen again next year. Probability, you nutty kooky manimal, Wonk salutes you!

BONUS misunderestimating note! I was floored by the number of correct responses to what I thought would be a fairly tough question. It seems we'll have to toughen up the syllabus around here, starting with the following Wikipedia-proof 1840 question:

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?

All-Wonk lobbying--the alert readers want Haluska!
I'll announce the 2.0 All-Wonk tomorrow and I only threw the floor open for nominations yesterday. Turns out that was a stroke of genius: it's compressed what is usually a tedious Iowa/New Hampshire-length affair into more of a congressional special election type of thing....

Hi, John,

I love your blog! I think Adam Haluska should be at least getting some consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year. He has single handedly carried a basketball team that was picked to be ninth into the top four of the Big Ten.

Haluska didn't do as well in the non-conference games and the Hawks' record in November and December illustrates that. But in conference play he really stepped it up to lead the Big Ten in scoring, even when he was nearly the only offensive threat. To have to replace Jeff Horner and Greg Brunner, you would think that Iowa's offense would have really struggled, however, Haluska replaced their scoring and also produced intangibles.

Now, I know Alando Tucker is probably going to win the award, but he didn't have to carry his team the way Haluska has been asked to do all season. To end up 9-7 in this conference due mostly to the offensive play of one player is quite impressive.

Kevin F.

Thanks, Kevin! More:

I think that this year Adam Haluska is an obvious choice for first-team All-Big Ten, so I think he should be on your All-Wonk team as well. What I'm curious about is whether Alando Tucker will get Big Ten player of the year.

I'm admittedly a total homer, but I think Adam has to be included in the conversation because he managed to be the Big Ten's leading scorer on an inferior team. Also, I would like to mention the choice of Adam as Academic All-American of the Year. In an age where graduation rates are in the gutter, it's nice to see a talented player (Big Ten leading scorer is nothing to sneeze at) also get it done in the classroom.

Andrea R.

Thanks, all. Tune in tomorrow!

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