Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Wonk 360: Illinois in Columbus
A look at the teams competing against Illinois in Columbus this weekend to make it to San Jose and the Sweet 16. (Non-"power"-conference stats of course graciously provided (they have a choice?) by that indispensable two-headed K-Dub/KenPom beast.)

(12) Illinois Fighting Illini (23-11, 9-7 Big Ten, aerial view)
Feast your eyes: The Illini defense is a thing of beauty that makes opposing offenses downright ugly. Bruce Weber's team has, for the most part, been consistently strong on D from game to game because they excel across the board: in FG defense (both on the perimeter and inside), on the defensive glass, and even in extracting turnovers from the opponent. With Shaun Pruitt (no surprise) and Warren Carter (mild surprise), Weber is blessed with two of the top defensive rebounders in the Big Ten. And 6-8 Brian Randle is an excellent, if foul-prone, on-ball defender.

Look the other way: Speaking of downright ugly, Illinois couldn't make a shot with a ladder and an empty court this year. Northwestern and Minnesota both shot better from the field in Big Ten play than did the Illini. Rich McBride and Chester Frazier have been unable to supply any kind of consistent perimeter threat, and opposing teams have collapsed on Pruitt and Carter accordingly.

Etc. Weber says: thank goodness for Memphis! If not for the Tigers, the Illini would be the single worst FT shooting team in the entire field of 65.

(5) Virginia Tech Hokies (21-11, 10-6 ACC, aerial view)
Feast your eyes: The Hokies never give up the ball. In ACC play, Virginia Tech committed turnovers on only 16 percent of their possessions. This allowed a team that almost precisely defined (the ACC) "average" in terms of shooting from the field to score a robust 1.08 points per possession in-conference. Kudos to Zabian Dowdell, his team's most frequent shooter and a guy who scores 18 a game—and yet he takes prodigiously good care of the ball. (Nearest Big Ten analogue: Adam Haluska.) On D, Jamon Gordon records steals at a level equaled only by Jerel McNeal (Marquette), Mario West (Georgia Tech), and very few others nationally.

Look the other way: The not-terribly-large Hokies are weak on the boards at both ends of the floor.

Etc. A.D. Vassallo is Virginia Tech's top perimeter threat, hitting 44 percent of his threes.

(4) Southern Illinois Salukis (27-6, 15-3 Missouri Valley)
Feast your eyes: The Salukis limit you to one shot per possession, period. Though listed at a mere 6-7, Randal Falker is in fact one of the top defensive rebounders in the nation—not to mention one of the top shot-blockers in the country. (That's a pretty rare combination, actually, and Greg Oden's another example of this elusive species.) But keep in mind all of this assumes you even get a shot, for SIU's also very adept at getting opponents to turn the ball over. (Kudos there to Tony Young and Bryan Mullins.)

Look the other way: The Salukis choose to get back on D instead of going for offensive boards. And they turn the ball over quite often (on 22 percent of their possessions).

Etc. After suffering through a tough season shooting the rock in 2006, Jamaal Tatum is hitting 42 percent of his threes this year....Few players in the country go to the free throw line more than Falker. He's a mensch.

(13) Holy Cross Crusaders (25-8, 13-1 Patriot)
Feast your eyes: The Crusaders have benefited greatly from forcing turnovers on an astounding 26 percent of opponents' possessions. (It's like they get to play Michigan State every game!) Torey Thomas and Keith Simmons both record a very high number of steals. And Simmons is a very efficient scorer (1.23 PPWS).

Look the other way: But with the exception of Simmons, Holy Cross really struggles to get the ball in the basket. And, symmetrically enough, with the exception of Simmons pretty much everyone on this team is at-risk to commit a turnover at any time.

Etc. At 6-10, Tim Clifford is an outstanding shot-blocker. (And with a defensive rebound percentage as low as his, he had better be.)

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