Big Ten Wonk
Monday, December 13, 2004
Wonk's Preseason All-Head-Case Team: WATN?
Wonk has a major announcement upcoming with regard to his All-Wonk Team, however, today your intrepid blogger wants to look at his Preseason All-Head-Case Team to see how they're doing and specifically whether or not they still merit this prestigious honor. So without further ado, here are the five players selected a few weeks ago by the crack staff on Wonk's Head Case Desk....

Bracey Wright, Indiana. This is a propitious moment to examine Wright's head-case bona fides because he's coming off indisputably his best game of the year: 31 points in the Hoosiers' loss against Kentucky (see below). But then Wright has had big games before (39 points in last season's game against North Texas) only to return to tried and true head-case ways. So Wonk says Wright stays for now but let this be a warning: a few more games like this, young man, and you're going to lose your spot.

Pierre Pierce, Iowa. Before the season began Wonk referred to Pierce as the "human turnover." Well, not to put too fine a point on it, he still is, averaging 3.8 gifts for the opponent ("From Pierre, thought you could use this") per game. Add in a .486 percentage shooting from the line and you've got one strong head-case resume: Pierce stays.

Paul Davis, Michigan State. Editors refer to certain headlines as "slugs," ones that are always true and can be inserted any time there's space to fill. "Mideast peace process at a crossroads," "Jim Carrey over acts and isn't funny in latest release," and "Consistency is an ongoing issue for MSU's Davis"--these are all slugs. The last example is an actual headline from three days ago. Davis stays.

Nick Smith, Illinois. Let's cut to the chase: not only can Wonk say that Smith stays, your intrepid blogger is thinking seriously of naming a national award--the head-case equivalent of the Wooden--after Smith. (Although Wonk still likes the sound of the Crispin Glover Head-Case Award). Anyone who saw Saturday's game between the Illini and Oregon knows whereof I am about to speak....Three minutes left in a game that's been decided long ago, Smith is called for a foul that will not influence the outcome of the game one whit, and he promptly gets T'd up for flinging the ball down the court, thus indulging in and exhibiting to the world precisely the kind of team-damaging "petulant hissy fit" that Wonk alluded to in naming Smith to the preseason team in the first place. (Bruce Weber was at least able to find humor in it after the game, telling reporters, "There was somebody open and [Smith] was throwing it down the court for an outlet.") Smith will be a first-ballot inductee into the Head-Case Hall of Fame.

Daniel Horton, Michigan. Horton's injured and the easy thing would be to bump him off the team on that account. But you know what? At the risk of being monotonous: Horton stays. These "likely out four weeks" injuries have had a way of morphing into "really out for two weeks" lately. Horton could be back sooner than we think. His play thus far this year has been demonstrably uninspired. And he still attracts polite but unmistakably we-can't-figure-you-out think pieces like this one from Wolverine beat reporters. Daniel, we'll keep your spot for you until you get back. Then we'll talk.

PPWS is sweeping the nation!
Wonk has been playing with a stat for points per field goal attempt lately and seeing if it can be of any use. On Friday your intrepid blogger outlined his reasons for re-naming this stat points per weighted shot (PPWS): it is based on both FGA's and FTA's and in effect yields a figure that predicts how many points a player or team will score in a game. Just plug in the number of attempts from the field and the line and PPWS does the rest. Wonk woke up this morning, at least, preferring this stat to a more familiar points-per-shot figure (PPS--which actually seems to have incorporated in its player tracking) because it takes in all points scored and not just made field goals.

And your intrepid blogger can pledge to likely prefer this stat over the long haul to a points per possession stat for an even more important reason--it's easier to figure, requiring only three numbers: points, FGA's and FTA's. (In case you didn't notice, Wonk comes from the J.J. Gittes school of statistical analysis.) Besides, those seeking current points-per-possession data on Big Ten play need look no further than this outstanding post from yesterday on the Hawkeye Hoops blog. (The difference between a stat measuring points through the denominator of shot-attempts and one that does so through the denominator of possessions seems to Wonk to come down to the difference between measuring yards in football via plays from scrimmage on the one hand or drives/possessions on the other. Both are valid.)

Enough preliminaries. Latest PPWS numbers, including all games played to date:

1. Illinois (1.26)
2. Michigan State (1.23)
3. Ohio State (1.19)
4. Iowa (1.19)
5. Minnesota (1.15)
6. Wisconsin (1.11)
7. Penn State (1.09)
8. Michigan (1.03)
9. Northwestern (1.02)
10. Purdue (0.93)
11. Indiana (0.91)

What it means. Give Illinois a game with 55 FGA's and 20 FTA's and they'll score 80 points. Give the same number of shots to Indiana and they'll score 58.

Highest Individual PPWS
1. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.51)
2. Roger Powell, Illinois (1.46)
3. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.42)
4. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.42)
5. Jeff Horner, Iowa (1.41)
6. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (1.40)
7. Luther Head, Illinois (1.40)
8. Maurice Ager, Michigan State (1.36)
9. James Augustine, Illinois (1.36)
10. Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State (1.36)

Lowest Individual PPWS
1. David Teague, Purdue (0.68)
2. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.74)
3. Ron Coleman, Michigan (0.84)
4. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.85)
5. Davor Duvancic, Northwestern (0.88)
6. Dion Harris, Michigan (0.93)
7. Brian Butch, Wisconsin (0.93)
8. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (0.94)
9. Brandon McKnight, Purdue (0.95)
10. Robert Vaden, Indiana (0.95)

Give Dee Brown 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll score 22 points. Give David Teague the same number of shots and he'll score 10.

In yesterday's less Wonk-ish venues....
Illinois beat Oregon 83-66 at the United Center in Chicago Saturday afternoon. (Links here, here, and here. View from the Ducks' pond here.) This was the Illini's most impressive victory of the year precisely because they looked so mediocre in the process. As Wonk so sagaciously and modestly forecast, Illinois played this game with heavy legs, having endured four games in four different arenas in eight days. Oregon is young, yes, but they're also talented, very well-coached, and they played a smart and disciplined game. And they were never really in it and they lost by 17. The always quotable Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune says, "There hasn't been this much excitement for a game at the United Center since Michael Jordan was a Bull and the Bulls were an NBA team."

Meanwhile, sophomore forward Brian Randle says he wants to return by the second week in January. Randle injured his hand in practice in November after punching a wall in frustration. He is scheduled to have the pins removed December 23. Bruce Weber sounds less enthusiastic than Randle about the 6'7" Peoria native not redshirting but allows that the Illini might need Randle this year if other injuries occur.

Kentucky beat Indiana 73-58 Saturday at Freedom Hall in Louisville. (Links here and here.) Wonk All-Head Case first-teamer Bracey Wright, taking over for Marshall Strickland, played about half the game at point guard and put up 31 points and one assist. Um, meaning Wright brought the ball up and shot it, which, with where the Hoosiers are at right now, may be about the best "system" Mike Davis can put on the floor.

BONUS token Wonk moment of fair and balanced reporting: Wright played half the game at point and coughed up just one turnover to the Wildcats' pressure D.

Purdue beat Colorado State 69-68 Saturday in West Lafayette. (Links here and here.) Meanwhile, Gene Keady is anticipating adding Boilermaker tight end Charles Davis to the roster once Joe Tiller's men have played in the Sun Bowl on December 31. The 6'6" 265-pounder hasn't played competitive basketball since high school but Wonk saw him interviewed courtside during the Oklahoma game and he seems affable enough. (No sarcasm intended: Wonk is a firm believer in leadership stemming from attitude as much as from performance. In the case of the seemingly dour (except for Carl Landry) Boilermakers, maybe Davis will stir the tanks, in Apollo 13 parlance...although, I guess that was kind of what started the whole problem on board the spacecraft--never mind, bad metaphor.)

Michigan State beat Stanford 78-53 Saturday at the Palace in Auburn Hills. (Links here, here, here, and here.) Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News says the Spartans "should be a major Big Ten contender, and they are, although not in Illinois' class." Yo, Bob! Read up on your Big Ten Wonk archives! State doesn't need to be in the Illini's class--leaving aside whether they are or not--because the schedule gives them a head-start: Tom Izzo and his men don't go to Champaign this year. Verily, Wonk says to the Spartan faithful: take care of business on February 1 when Illinois comes to the Breslin Center and you will find such class distinctions archaic.

Michigan beat South Florida 71-62 in Ann Arbor Saturday. (Links here, here, and here.)

Pittsburgh beat Penn State 84-71 in State College Saturday. (Links here and here.) An impostor put on Aaron Johnson's Nittany Lion jersey and slipped past security onto the floor at the Bryce Jordan Center, apparently, because the box score shows "Johnson" with only two boards. Still, Penn State shot a surprisingly robust .479 (including 11-of-22 on their three's) against the vaunted Panther D. Who-dat PSU freshman Mike Walker drained four three's and the Nittany Lions became the first Pitt opponent to eclipse 70 points since Notre Dame did so on January 12.

BONUS proof of Wonk's rigorous and exacting adjectival use: The aforementioned who-dat, PSU freshman Mike Walker, is referred to as "Matt" in this write up from the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

Minnesota beat Central Michigan in Minneapolis Saturday. (Links here and here.)

Ohio State beat Portland State 78-54 in Columbus Saturday. (Link here.)

Marquette beat Wisconsin 63-54 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night. (Link here.) The Badgers were beat senseless on the boards, being outrebounded by the Golden Eagles to the tune of 44-28. The game also featured a big performance from Travis Diener (29 points) and a mid-court finger-pointing session between Bo Ryan and Tom Crean. Without having personally witnessed the altercation, Wonk presumptuously and without any evidence sides with Crean.

(Reports that Crean was accusing Ryan of having hit on his wife could not be confirmed.)

Question to Wonk's Badger readers: what's the deal with Brian Butch? He's a 6'11" McDonald's All-American, we were all told and sold on what a great addition he'd be, and here the guy is averaging 12 minutes and five points a game. (Not to mention bottoming out on Wonk's points per weighted shot (PPWS) stat: 62nd out of 68 players.) Is this freshman jitters? Is he clashing with Ryan? What's going on? Clue Wonk in.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Preparations for the Final Four are already underway in the host city of St. Louis.

More from the Rodney Dangerfield desk: See Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline refer to Purdue's Matt Kiefer as "Adam" here.

Iowa's Jeff Horner gets some too-long-delayed print love here. "Much of what Horner does isn't measurable by some fancy web site formula," says Susan Harman of the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Wow. Wonk's never been called fancy. I don't know quite what to say....

All you fans of Illinois' Jack Ingram who've been deluging Wonk with complaints that you just can't get enough Ingram coverage: get your Jack Ingram profile here. Meanwhile, coach Bruce Weber says the Illini can use the upcoming off week (i.e., finals week) to get in the gym and practice. Illinois does not play until this Sunday when it hosts Valparaiso, the fine school which the Wonk Mom attended her freshman year before transferring to Illinois. Wonk's Senior Wonk Mom Bureau Chief has learned on an EXCLUSIVE basis that Ms. Gasaway plans to arrive at the game wearing a Valpo sweatshirt and then, with precisely ten minutes remaining in the first half, switch to a U of I sweatshirt.

BONUS priceless school name coverage: In his tireless quest to bring you the latest Big Ten info, Wonk trolls some pretty out of the way spots and came across this snippet on the Illinois state elementary school girls basketball tournament. In Normal, IL, there is an elementary school called Epiphany. When written up in out-of-town papers the name becomes: Normal Epiphany. If any of Wonk's readers have struggling garage bands, your intrepid blogger thinks you could put your group on the road to cult status, hit single, stardom, charges of selling out, substance abuse, and "Behind the Music" with a name like Normal Epiphany.

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