Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Are point guards necessary?
As they did to open the season, Michigan State is again blowing away opponents with impressive scoring displays and so it is high time to revisit Wonk's Neitzel or no Neitzel hypothesis:

Michigan State's numbers on offense--definitely in efficiency terms and likely in absolute terms--will be down this year from last year, Neitzel or no Neitzel.

Three things to observe about this hoary old chestnut from those idyllic bygone days of November:

1) The Spartans' numbers this year on offense are, not to put too fine a point on it, brilliant, including and especially in efficiency terms. See Ken Pomeroy's points-per-possession-based adjusted figures here: as of this past Sunday morning he rates the State offense as number 2 in the nation, second only to Gonzaga, better than Carolina or Illinois. So the hypothesis is looking shaky there.

2) We are in the "no Neitzel" half of the equation. The guy's only a freshman and a very promising one at that but he was oversold in November. (No mark against Neitzel: unless he turned out to be the second coming of Isiah Thomas it would have been impossible to live up to the hype.) He averages but 12 minutes a game. Though he does manage to cram an impressive 2.9 assists into those scant minutes, his PPWS is abysmal.

3) Wonk's original motive impulse behind framing such a reckless and daring hypothesis holds true: the oft-declared dire need for a "true" point guard in East Lansing has obscured the fact that for the past season-and-a-half Tom Izzo has put teams on the floor that are veritable Platonic ideals of offensive efficiency. Is it systemic? Is it the personnel? Stay tuned!

BONUS Spartan link: Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says "this is Tom Izzo's best team since the 2001 Final Four squad."

COMING tomorrow....
A chat with Terry Hutchens. In addition to covering Indiana for the Indianapolis Star, Hutchens is the knowledgeable and indefatigable answer-man behind the Star's indispensable Ask the Expert column on the Hoosiers.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Wisconsin beat Ohio State 72-66 in Madison last night. Postgame analysis centers on the fact that Terence Dials played only 24 minutes due to foul trouble and that Wisconsin's Mike Wilkinson thrived in the resulting vacuum and finished with 29 points. All true enough. But the funny thing is: those points for Wilkinson would likely have been there even with Dials in the game. As Wonk has already noted this week, the book on Dials is that he will give way on D, precisely for fear of picking up a foul. Conclusion for Buckeye opponents: opportunities are there for points in the paint whether Dials is in the game or not. James Augustine, Greg Brunner, and now Wilkinson all had strong games against OSU. (Could this be the birth of a Dials or no Dials hypothesis? Hmmm....Badger links here and here. Buckeye links here and here. Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says Wisconsin succeeds when their post players get touches. And Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dale Hoffman boldly climbs out on a limb and says the Badgers are tough to beat at home.)

Michigan hosts Northwestern tonight. (Wolverine links here and here. Wildcat link here. Review of Michigan forward Brent Petway's rapping skills here. Gamely resisting the Brent Petway rap-mania, Detroit News columnist Rob Parker credits Tommy Amaker for leading his team back from the brink of an injury-plagued melt-down season.)

Minnesota hosts Purdue tonight. (Gopher links here and here. Boiler links here and here.) This marks the first road game in conference for the Boilermakers and thus the first "farewell to Gene Keady"-themed evening.

Illinois hosts Penn State tonight. The Nittany Lions will be without the services of sophomore guard Marlon Smith who has been admitted to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and is reported to be in serious condition with an illness that is not being disclosed. (Illini links here and here. Profile of the struggling Nick Smith here. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch says Illini fever has worked its way up from downstate via I-55 and I-57 and is now officially rampant in the Windy City.)

Detroit Free Press columnist Jemele Hill says Indiana fans shouldn't rush to judgment where Mike Davis and this year's Hoosiers are concerned. For his part indefatigable Indiana beat writer Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star has posted the latest installment of his excellent "Ask the Expert" column.

Andy Katz of says Iowa's game at home against Minnesota on Saturday is a must-win for the Hawkeyes. Steve Alford's team travels to Illinois next week and a loss in Iowa City this weekend could spell an 0-4 start in conference for Iowa. (Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News also puts the Hawkeyes under glass here.)

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

BONUS iambically consensual-and-contrary-Badger edition of Wonk-back!

I've been reading your blog quite a bit and enjoy it a lot. Despite my UW degree, I agree with you that they haven't proven that they're a top echelon team. The win tonight against OSU, while nothing to sneeze at, poses more questions than it answers.

More than anything, do you know how bad Tucker's injury is? I don't see them posing a threat to Michigan State or Illinois (even at home) with Tucker out.

Thanks for your time.

Brian H.

Brian, Wonk reads what you read: Tucker is "day-to-day" and this is not a reoccurrence of the same injury to the same right foot that kept him out all last year. This is instead the aftermath of landing on a teammate's foot in practice Sunday. Your intrepid blogger agrees with you: Tucker would sure come in handy Sunday against Michigan State.

Big Ten Wonk,

Wisconsin has won 50 percent of their conference road games the last two years. This year they are 1-1. In addition the Badgers won the Big Ten tournament last year, beating MSU and Illinois in the process. Those games were not played at the Kohl Center, if I recall correctly.

Furthermore, how many ranked teams played three true road games during the non-conference season, as the Badgers did this year?

How many games will they have to win on the road before you will acknowledge the Badgers as a decent road team?

David L.

Excellent question, David! Quite right, let's quantify this thing. Wisconsin has road games remaining at: Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Win five of those, lose no more than one at home, and this "persuadable skeptic" will be persuaded!

Bear in mind the threshold here: Wonk yearns for Big Ten teams that will silence the critics by playing on to the second weekend of the tournament come March. Wisconsin is good. Are they second-weekend good? This blogger is eager to be converted but not there yet.

Re: the last two years. Stanford went 14-4 on the road in conference the last two seasons. Is that a good predictive rule for how this year's team (7-7 overall) will do?

Re: success in last year's Big Ten tournament. Wisconsin didn't just "beat" Illinois. They destroyed them. But that Badger team also had a certain guy currently getting a nice paycheck from Mark Cuban. If Bo Ryan still had that certain guy, Wonk would not be sitting on the fence where this year's Badgers are concerned.

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