Big Ten Wonk
Monday, January 17, 2005
No surprises?
This weekend featured three wins by favored teams (Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan) and two exciting finishes in the pick-'em games....

Wisconsin beat Michigan State 62-59 yesterday in Madison and it's now official: call it magic. Call it luck. Call it pixie dust or anything you like. But on a day when the Badgers were, in effect, without the services of the mostly-hobbled Alando Tucker (eight points on 3-of-9 shooting), a day when Clayton Hanson was the most potent weapon for Bo Ryan, a day when Paul Davis played for much of the day like a man among boys for the Spartans, and a day when there was no great disparity in the home team's favor in either free throws or turnovers--on a day when all those forces collided, Wisconsin still didn't lose at home. Incredible.

As part of what will no doubt be a pioneering and much-discussed field study in cognitive dispersion, Wonk is writing this recap without having read the links that will be dished at the end of this write up. Certainly said links will peddle the following meme: "Michigan State, the best free throw shooting team in the country, couldn't make the free throws when it counted," etc. etc. And certainly there is truth in that. During the Badgers' 11-0 run that closed the game, Chris Hill and then Paul Davis each missed the front end of one-and-one's. For the game the Spartans were just 6-of-11 from the line.

But the funny thing is: State wasn't doing much better from the field. A team that came into the game shooting better than 50 percent went just .421 (including just 5-of-17 on their three's). Sure, .421 sounds respectable enough but having watched the game Wonk can attest to many open looks that didn't result in points for Tom Izzo's men. And if there was one scenario Wonk did not envision, it was the hitherto briskly efficient Spartans not hitting their shots.

Now Michigan State has a quick turnaround: they host Purdue tomorrow night.

BONUS thought: Matt Trannon. Is that guy a Tasmanian Devil or what? Eight boards in 19 minutes? Good grief.

(Wisconsin-Michigan State links. Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp wins this week's Panic Early and Often Award for saying that the Spartan senior class of Chris Hill, Alan Anderson, and Kelvin Torbert will "be forever branded a loser." (He tosses in Paul Davis for good measure, too.) Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says "this team still can't get it done when it truly counts." Additional Spartan links here, here, here, here and here. Meanwhile Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says Wisconsin has officially "taken up residence in [Michigan State]'s head." Additional Badger links here, here, here, and here.)

Indiana beat Purdue 75-73 in a double-overtime thriller in West Lafayette on Saturday afternoon. With nine-tenths of a second remaining in the first overtime, IU's Marshall Strickland went to the line for two shots with the score tied at 61. Having made the first free throw, Strickland tried to miss the second--but it went in and Mike Davis's head slumped to his chest. Sure enough, after a time-out, Purdue's Andrew Ford threw a length-of-the-court pass to Carl Landry, who laid the ball in after the horn sounded, but was fouled by A.J. Ratliff (a freshman--go figure) before time had expired: basket counts, a free-throw completes the three-point play and wins the game. Except Landry missed. Hoosiers go on to win in 2 OT's. "Nolan Richardson had his 40 minutes of hell," said Purdue coach Gene Keady afterward. "We're having a season of hell. Any way we can find a way to lose it, we find it." (Hoosier links here and here. Boiler links here and here.)

(There was another double-overtime thriller Saturday: in Baton Rouge LSU beat Ohio State 113-101. The Buckeyes shot .557 from the field on the road and made 18 three's--and lost. The Tigers beat OSU senseless on the boards, 43-23. Buckeye link here.)

Illinois beat Northwestern 78-66 Saturday afternoon in Evanston. (Bear in mind that 78 points in Welsh-Ryan Arena terms is the equivalent of about 105 points on a "normal" floor.) "The numbers that jump out at me," said NU coach Bill Carmody, "are 16 turnovers and (allowing Illinois) 16 offensive rebounds." Good call, Coach! Rebounds and turnovers (NU 16, Illini 8) won this game for the Illini. Though the box score shows only a 31-25 edge in boards for the orange jerseys, Illinois in fact owned the offensive glass, 16 to 6. They needed to: the Wildcats shot .571 from the floor, aided not only by .500 shooting on their three's but also by numerous too-easy first-half drives to the tin. The unexpected courtesy displayed by Bruce Weber's team in rolling out the red carpet for NU layups had this Illinois fan pleading with the screen for "someone to play some help D" and had the Wonk Wife imploring your intrepid blogger to "calm down, already." Luther Head played over his: 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting. On the Wildcat side of the ball, it's official: Mike Thompson (1-of-4) is still a work in progress and not the plug-and-play Duke-tinged savior Wildcat fans had hoped.

(Illinois-Northwestern links. Illini links here, here, and here. Wildcat link here. Many, many mentions of insults hurled at Illinois by the Northwestern student section during pregame warmups--the best account, as often happens, is in Mark Tupper's blog. Copley News Service columnist Mike Nadel says the abuse only shows that the number 1 Illini have "become targets for morons." On a more positive note Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander says the Illinois team tried to sneak out of its Doubletree Hotel in Skokie Friday night to go see the movie Coach Carter incognito--but word got out in the theater and when the movie ended the audience gave Bruce Weber and his players a standing O. Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey says Illinois "is the best team in the nation...[a] team that plays wicked defense and moves the ball so well on offense that open shots are a given, not a concept.")

(Yesterday morning Illini forward Roger Powell delivered a sermon entitled "Putting on the Full Armor of God" at the Mount Zion Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Joliet, IL.)

Despite shooting a season-low .345 from the field, Iowa beat Minnesota 66-60 Saturday afternoon in Iowa City. The Hawkeye starting five shot a combined 15-for-48. Proving once again that he's an avid (if clandestine) fan of this blog, Iowa coach Steve Alford echoed an earlier Wonk post along these same lines and openly questioned how much longer Erek Hansen can remain a starter: "We can't have our starting center playing 14 minutes and his biggest stat line is five fouls." Meanwhile, for all their struggles Saturday, the road loss for Minnesota proves, paradoxically, that the Gophers really are better than anyone expected. None of Dan Monson's recent matador-D teams could have come anywhere close to holding a top-25 team to just 66 points on the road. (All you really need in the way of links is the excellent recap (and accompanying day-afterglow) at Hawkeye Hoops. But Wonk will pass along mainstream Hawkeye links here, here, and here. Gopher link here.)

Michigan beat Penn State 66-62 in State College Saturday afternoon, proving that in many ways any hey!-look-at-Michigan! talk is premature at best. For one thing the Wolverines were beaten senseless on the boards, 40-29. And Tommy Amaker's team scored just 66 points on .407 shooting against a Nittany Lion defense that Ken Pomeroy rates as, by far, the worst in the Big Ten. (The other ten teams in the conference rate between 20th and 121st nationally in Pomeroy's defensive efficiency rankings--Penn State is 220th.) Conclusion: Michigan's going to have to improve to keep that lofty conference standing. (Wolverine links here and here. PSU link here. In other Penn State news: sophomore Marlon Smith will miss the rest of the year. He's been diagnosed with a partial blockage of an artery in his brain.)

EXCLUSIVE season-long TVRR coverage
As the final horn sounded in Madison yesterday afternoon and Wisconsin and Michigan State brought the weekend's conference action to a close, Big Ten fans from coast to coast turned as one from their CBS coverage and asked aloud: But what does this do to the TVRR?

The Ten-Venue Road Record (TVRR) consists of a team's record on the road in conference play, not counting games played at Penn State. For reasons outlined here Wonk hypothesizes that just about everyone will do equally well when they go to Happy Valley. But what about road games played elsewhere? Your intrepid blogger has a hunch that such games may make the difference between unfurling a banner and watching someone else do it. Playing a couple home games might make for a temporarily nice record in the official standings, sure. But Wonk will be keeping an eye on the TVRR as well.

Here's how the TVRR stacks up after this weekend's action:

Illinois (2-0)
Michigan (1-0)
Wisconsin (1-1)
Indiana (1-1)
Michigan State (0-1)
Iowa (0-1)
Minnesota (0-1)
Purdue (0-1)
Northwestern (0-2)
Ohio State (0-2)
Penn State (0-2)

Forget PPG. Remember PPWS.
There's no trick to putting up a nice number for points per game (PPG). Just shoot a lot. But who would get the most points from the same number of shots?

To answer that question we turn to the handy stat that not only measures scoring efficiency, it also captures more than just points from the field (unlike, say, points per shot or "PPS"). This stat takes in both FGA's and FTA's. It's points per weighted shot (PPWS), developed cannily by John Hollinger (The Basketball Prospectus) and renamed brazenly by Wonk.

Here are the latest Big Ten PPWS numbers, including yesterday's Michigan State-Wisconsin game.

Top 20 PPWS
1. Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State (1.46)
2. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.40)
3. James Augustine, Illinois (1.36)
4. Aaron Robinson, Minnesota (1.36)
5. Luther Head, Illinois (1.36)
6. Doug Thomas, Iowa (1.35)
7. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.33)
8. Brent Lawson, Minnesota (1.33)
9. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.33)
10. Carl Landry, Purdue (1.33)
11. Adam Haluska, Iowa (1.31)
12. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (1.31)
13. Roger Powell, Illinois (1.29)
14. Clayton Hanson, Wisconsin (1.29)
15. Paul Davis, Michigan State (1.27)
16. Jeff Horner, Iowa (1.27)
17. D.J. White, Indiana (1.27)
18. Vincent Grier, Minnesota (1.26)
19. Jeff Hagen, Minnesota (1.26)
20. Courtney Sims, Michigan (1.25)

Bottom 20 PPWS
1. Brandon McKnight, Purdue (0.82)
2. David Teague, Purdue (0.86)
3. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.86)
4. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.88)
5. Brian Butch, Wisconsin (0.94)
6. Robert Vaden, Indiana (0.95)
7. Dion Harris, Michigan (0.96)
8. Ben Luber, Penn State (0.97)
9. Xavier Price, Purdue (0.97)
10. Danny Morrissey, Penn State (0.97)
11. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (0.98)
12. Patrick Ewing, Jr., Indiana (0.99)
13. Tim Doyle, Northwestern (0.99)
14. Dan Coleman, Minnesota (1.00)
15. Mike Thompson, Northwestern (1.01)
16. Erek Hansen, Iowa (1.01)
17. Jack Ingram, Illinois (1.01)
18. Mike Henderson, Iowa (1.02)
19. Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota (1.02)
20. Mike Walker, Penn State (1.03)

What it means. Give Kelvin Torbert 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll likely score about 21 points. Give Brandon McKnight the same number of shots and he'll likely score about 12.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa-Illinois games are keenly anticipated and closely watched on the border between the two states. But the 0-2 start in conference put up by the Hawkeyes has reportedly taken some of the luster off the game in those parts.

The Des Moines Register is asking for your vote on which coach in the Big Ten or Big 12 has the best hair. Some very nice photos. Wonk encourages your participation. It's a hoops civic duty!

Profile of Illinois wing Luther Head here. More Illini-gazing here.

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

Alert readers remember only the parts Wonk was right about

Tremendous game. As a Badger fan, I'm obviously happy with the win today. And it's hard to criticize Bo Ryan as a coach. The swing offense, when they run it, is something teams just haven't figured out. But the Badger's abandoned it, or at least, seemed to rush some threes for a long, long stretch in the second half. Still, your prediction (or pseudo-prediction, since you didn't actually say the Badgers would win) was spot on:

"Reasons why the Badgers will win. They're inside the heads of this generation of Spartans. And Michigan State, with the possible exception of a little-noted third-place-game victory over George Mason in the BB&T Classic the first Sunday in December, has not had to gut out a tough victory yet this year. When a team doesn't just blow away at the sight of the Spartans (which the Badgers will not), there are still question marks as to the fortitude and particularly the floor leadership of Tom Izzo's team."

Emphasis added. Honestly, an 11-0 run to end the game? Missed one-and-one's by their floor leaders? Gutty effort by Wilkinson. Awesome.

Brian H.

Thanks, Brian! Wonk had other pseduo-predictions in that day's post that weren't so prescient. But why dwell on the past?


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