Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, January 06, 2005
There's no place like road
Home teams went just 2-3 on the opening night of Big Ten play. Illinois and Northwestern defended their home courts against Ohio State and Indiana. But Penn State, Purdue, and, most surprisingly, Iowa were not so fortunate, losing at home to Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Michigan, respectively....

Wonk only references old posts when he's right
This past Saturday and again yesterday your intrepid blogger wondered aloud what would become of the Iowa Hawkeyes, given their rebounding woes, on the first night when their three's weren't falling. These nights always come, albeit more often on the road in conference in January than at home in December against Western Carolina.

What Wonk didn't know was that such a night would come so soon--and at home, to boot. Last night in Iowa City Michigan beat Iowa 65-63. The Wolverines pounded the Hawkeyes on the glass 40-28 while Iowa was going just 4-of-16 on their three's (and three of those makes were recorded by Jeff Horner in the game's final five minutes).

Mind you, what troubled your intrepid blogger before last night wasn't so much the frequency of Iowa's three attempts (the Hawkeyes jack up fewer three's than Ohio State or Illinois, to name two) as much as their predominance and thus the lack of a (healthy) backup plan. The frontcourt is feisty but not really go-to in a half-court set. (Is it Wonk or is Greg Brunner's best "post move" to rebound his own miss?) The mighty Horner becomes much more human, it appears to Wonk, when he puts the ball on the floor. And Adam Haluska may be fast at an Iowa high-school track meet but he's not going to beat many Big Ten 2's or 3's to the tin.

That leaves, of course, Pierre Pierce doing what Pierre Pierce does: mad bull-rushes to the rim--arms flailing, legs akimbo, etc. It ain't pretty and, often, it ain't effective. (After posting some nice numbers recently things are returning to normal, it would seem, for Pierce. Last night's line: 15 points on 6-of-17 from the field.)

EXCLUSIVE Wonk note of puzzlement. Wonk got the memo in November and was told this was the year depth had returned to Iowa City. So where's the bench? Last night's minutes played: Haluska, 36; Horner, 38; Pierce, 39. (Brunner was in foul trouble and even he topped 30.) Your intrepid blogger's seen this movie before and it ends with a run-down team collapsing in the second half of the Big Ten season. Keep an eye on this.

BONUS how-did-they-win stat: Michigan coughed up 25 turnovers, a number that eclipsed not only their total for assists (15) but even for field goals (23).

Links. Last night game's marked Daniel Horton's return to action, a fact noted with a perhaps somewhat overheated Willis Reed analogy here. Tommy Amaker terms himself "surprised but grateful" for Horton's strong 13-point performance here. Due credit is given here to Michigan who-dat John Andrews for sinking four clutch free throws in the game's final minute. Meanwhile Steve Alford says he blames himself for not getting his team ready to play and thus for their resulting 14-point halftime deficit. Suggesting strongly that the Hawkeye coach is a big fan of this blog, Alford goes on to acknowledge his team's rebounding woes here. For his part Adam Haluska says the Iowa defense was "atrocious."

BONUS secret-play opportunity. With 1.6 seconds to play in the game and Iowa down by three, Pierce was fouled on his three attempt by Dion Harris. (Bad call by the officials: replays clearly showed a clean block. Nevertheless, to even attempt the block was inexcusable on Harris's part, calling to mind the 2002 Indiana-Duke regional semifinal and Dane Fife's similarly jaw-droppingly-dumb final-seconds foul on three-attempting Jay Williams.) Pierce goes to the line for three and promptly misses the first. Makes the second. Down by two, one foul shot remaining, 1.6 seconds left....

We all know an intentional miss is coming. Pierce gets the ball from the ref and goes through his normal free throw routine. Wonk shrieks at the screen: why are you bouncing the ball? You're trying to miss! Which moves your intrepid blogger to unveil Wonk's EXCLUSIVE Intentional FT Miss Secret Play! Wonk has long been amazed that a player at the free throw line trying to miss gives the opposing team the advantage of a traditional and easily anticipated release. Why not, by prearrangement, shoot the ball the instant it's delivered into your hand by the ref? This ain't football and the free throw shooter's not a place kicker: he doesn't have to wait for a hand-signal from the official. Once the player has the ball in his hands he can shoot any time he wants within the time limit. Shoot instantly! The four non-shooting teammates, knowing an insta-shot is coming, could flood the lane (so could the shooter, for that matter). Why is this not happening? Because on-court social conventions--absent any rule-book prohibitions, mind you--are often followed mindlessly to the detriment of a team's chances of winning.

BONUS Thomas Hardy-esque foreshadowing! Wonk espies another such category of mindless on-court conformity to custom but will wait to reveal his bold plan until a game supplies a teachably bone-headed and damaging counter-example.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Wisconsin beat Purdue in West Lafayette last night 77-68. (Badger links here and here. Boiler links here and here.) Zach Morley led the Badgers with 22 points, including 6-of-8 on his three's.

EXCLUSIVE Wonk software note. Wonk's crack staff of software development engineers have perfected a Big-Ten-hoops-savvy syntax checker called HoopCheck. As I typed the above paragraph it continually put a squiggly green line under the words "Zach Morley" and "6-of-8 on his three's." When your intrepid blogger right-clicks he gets, "Suggested changes: 'Zach Morley ball-faked jerkily and dribbled the ball off his foot'; 'Zach Morley flopped and got the call'; 'Zach Morley got yelled at by Bo Ryan and told to "get a damn haircut."'"

Northwestern beat Indiana 73-52 in Evanston last night. (Wildcat links here and here. Hoosier links here and here. Irate fulminations ("the lowest the Hoosiers' program has fallen in decades") from Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star here.) With Wildcat point guard T.J. Parker on the bench with the flu, 5'9" walk-on Michael Jenkins played 36 minutes and by the second half (Wonk is not making this up) had the Welsh-Ryan Arena crowd chanting his name.

EXCLUSIVE Wonk Michael Jenkins analysis. Jenkins apparently has been watching tapes of Sharif Chambliss because he's got the ugliest-yet-effective three-point shot Wonk's seen in a long while. Jenkins went 2-of-4 on his three's. The first make looked like it'd been shot by Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield--it had no rotation whatsoever. The second rimmed out and hit high on the backboard before falling.

Illinois beat Ohio State 84-65 in Champaign last night. (Illini links here, here, and here. Buckeye links here and here.) The Buckeyes led for much of the first half and trailed by just six at the half on 7-of-11 shooting from behind the arc. The Illini put the game away by outrebounding OSU 25-10 after the break. James Augustine tied a career high with 21 points for Illinois.

Michigan State beat Penn State in Happy Valley 84-58 last night. (Spartan links here, here, and here. PSU link here.) Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal likens the atmosphere in the sparsely-attended Bryce Jordan Center to that of a dental conference here.

Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News previews the national scene as we move into conference-season time here. Tony Mejia of cbs.sportsline does the same here and terms an unbeaten conference record for Illinois "pretty likely."

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RPI: use only as directed
On Tuesday Wonk posted a link forwarded by an alert reader in which Elton Alexander of the Cleveland Plain Dealer faulted Illinois for their pedestrian #7 in the RPI. Your intrepid blogger thought he'd actually disposed of the matter rather tidily by pointing out that two of the teams "ahead" of the Illini, Wake Forest and Oregon, were in fact defeated rather soundly by these selfsame Illinois fellows on the court, nominally the forum in which these things are decided with some degree of precision and finality. But Wonk's readers go Wonk one better!


I was discussing the RPI with some Kansas fans on a message board, and a few of them were boasting about KU's large lead in the RPI and their lofty SOS. I believe KU benefits from a schedule that lends itself to a high RPI.

KU plays a schedule of mostly good mid-major teams. Teams like Pacific, Nevada, UW-Milwaukee, and Vermont currently have and will most likely continue to have very respectable records this season. But their chances of beating KU in Allen Fieldhouse are not good. KU effectively has a schedule chock full of W's against teams with good records.

Compare this with Illinois, who has played bottom-feeders like Delaware State, Oakland, and Chicago State. (I'm not even counting Longwood and Northwestern State, who were part of a tournament.) Does playing inferior competition make Illinois worse than KU?

I wanted to find this out. I have a spreadsheet I wrote to calculate RPI. When I removed the Chicago State and Oakland games from the Illinois schedule, the Illini magically jumped into first place in the RPI. Imagine that! Likewise, if you add Oakland and Chicago State into KU's schedule, they drop to 7th. Funny how that works.

That is why I look at the RPI with a grain of salt when making direct comparisons. It's certainly useful when separating large groups of teams. But it's inadequate when trying to compare the #1 to the #7.

Drew S.

Thanks, Drew! All cites of RPI in this blog will henceforth be routed through you for the Drew review.

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