Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Michigan State and the rebound-as-weapon
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the track-team-fast board-crashing young men from East Lansing, proud members of the Big Ten since 1949....

Last year
26-7 overall, 13-3 in conference. Lost in national semifinal to North Carolina, 87-71.

Maurice Ager (14.1 PPG, 1.22 PPWS, 9.1 reb. pct., 4.0 assists per 100 possessions)
Paul Davis (12.3 PPG, 1.14 PPWS, 18.4 reb. pct., 3.4 a/100 poss.)
Shannon Brown (10.9 PPG, 1.11 PPWS, 7.7 reb. pct., 4.0 a/100 poss.)
Drew Neitzel (3.5 PPG, 0.94 PPWS, 2.7 reb. pct., 10.5 a/100 poss.)
Matt Trannon (2.3 PPG, 1.32 PPWS, 17.8 reb. pct., 1.9 a/100 poss.)
Delco Rowley (2.2 PPG, 1.05 PPWS, 14.5 reb. pct., 1.7 a/100 poss.)
Drew Naymick (1.5 PPG)

Marquise Gray (6-8 F, redshirt freshman)
Idong Ibok (6-11 C, redshirt freshman)
Goran Suton (6-10 C, redshirt freshman)
Travis Walton (6-2 G, Lima, OH)
Maurice Joseph (6-4 G, Montreal)

Alan Anderson (13.2 PPG, 1.33 PPWS, 12.9 reb. pct., 3.7 a/100 poss.)
Kelvin Torbert (9.5 PPG, 1.24 PPWS, 8.0 reb. pct. 3.9 a/100 poss.)
Chris Hill (8.8 PPG, 1.12 PPWS, 4.6 reb. pct., 10.4 a/100 poss.)
Tim Bograkos (1.5 PPG)

Official motto for 2005-06
"Advocating a rules change where even made shots can be rebounded."

What we think we know in November
Start here, with a couple of paragraphs from the Lansing State Journal's season-opener:

With redshirt freshmen Marquise Gray, Idong Ibok and Goran Suton available to join [Paul] Davis, Drew Naymick and Delco Rowley in the frontcourt, size is suddenly a surplus....

[That] should mean an end to the four-guard lineups that were so common last season, and a chance for Davis to move at times from center to power forward--or even small forward. MSU's biggest improvement could come in the rebounding department, and its offense will be infused with some NBA elements brought by first-year assistant Jim Boylen.

Improvement in rebounding? Improvement in rebounding?

Am I seeing things? Is it possible, even at this late date, that there are unenlightened souls at large in the world who don't realize and appreciate what Michigan State did on the boards last year?

Let's take a look....

How State uses rebounding like a surgical instrument
Rebounding's the only skill you use on both sides of the ball. A strong rebounder--even absent any other gaudy stat (we're looking at you, Matt Trannon)--helps your team tremendously on both offense and defense.

Tom Izzo's ridden that insight to four Final Fours.

Last year Michigan State had an outstanding offense, one fueled not only by excellent shooting (meaning, in part, a judicious avoidance of threes they couldn't hit) but also by stellar offensive rebounding.

And last year the Spartans also had a very strong defense, one attributable almost exclusively to their spectacular defensive rebounding.

In addition to being vital on both ends of the floor, rebounding's also less volatile than shooting. Illinois shot unbelievably well last season but even the Illini had their off nights (see Missouri; at home against Iowa; and, of course, in the national championship game). Conversely, a strong rebounding team should, in theory, be more consistent in their play. There is no such phrase as "a cold rebounding night."

BONUS urban legend analysis!
So which was better last year: State's work on the offensive glass or their defensive rebounding? It's an intriguing question, in part, because it speaks to a long-held assumption in Big Ten circles: that Izzo's success in rebounding is directly related to his up-tempo style--or, more precisely, to opponents' fear of said style.

Opponents don't want the Spartans to get out in transition, the theory says, and so when those opponents are on offense they put bodies out near half-court (instead of in rebounding position) in an attempt to slow down MSU. If such were the case we'd expect to see better numbers for the Spartans on the defensive glass than on their offensive boards.

And--zoinks!--it turns out it's true! At least it was last year. Michigan State's league-leading defensive rebounding in conference play was even better than their league-leading offensive rebounding. (WARNING--terms from your Stats 101 class approaching off the starboard bow....) State's defensive rebound percentage was fully two standard deviations above the mean; their offensive rebounding was "only" about 1.3 std. dev's above the mean.

Gosh, an urban legend that's true. Maybe Mr. Rogers really was a Navy SEAL!

Defense and its sources
Michigan State is being praised in some quarters as "a tough defensive team that loves to bump and grind." In fact, this appears to be close to the exact opposite of the case. The Spartans, at least last year, seem instead to have been a group of somewhat lax on-the-ball defenders whose overall defensive numbers were nevertheless quite good because (and only because) of historically outstanding defensive rebounding.

"Historically outstanding"? Yes. The 2005 Spartans did better on the defensive glass than even the 2000 national championship team. Repeat: last year's much-belittled and perpetually doubted (until late March) enigmas that supposedly couldn't "win the big one" were better defensive rebounders than those holiest of Spartan holies--Hutson, Peterson, Granger, Bell, Cleaves, Richardson, et. al.:

Defensive rebounding (all stats conference games only)
Michigan State, 2005: 78.4 dreb pct.
Michigan State, 2000: 76.3 dreb pct.

Even so, the 2000 team was the far superior defensive unit--as anyone who saw the two teams will readily attest and as the numbers make plain:

Field goal defense
Michigan State, 2005: 49.7 opponent eFG pct.
Michigan State, 2000: 43.2 opponent eFG pct.

Defensive efficiency
Michigan State, 2005: 0.95 opponent points per possession
Michigan State, 2000: 0.89 opponent points per possession

In sum: opponents actually shot pretty well against State last year (the Spartans ranked only seventh in the conference in opponent eFG pct.) but it mattered much less than it ordinarily would have because said opponents got so few opportunities for second shots.

Offense and its demands
Back when Michigan State was going to three consecutive Final Fours, there was a stereotype bandied about which said that all the Spartans did was rebound. It wasn't true then (did you know Morris Peterson was a 42.5 percent three-point shooter in 2000?) and, lest my praise of State's work on the boards be misunderstood, it wasn't true last year--at least not on offense.

State's offense (1.3 standard deviations above the Big Ten mean) was better than its defense (0.9) last year precisely because they did two things very, very well: shooting and offensive rebounding. With a team like Illinois in such close proximity last year it was hard to see as clearly as we should have that State's shooting, while not as good as the Illini's, was nevertheless superb: a 55.1 effective FG pct. thanks in large part to a league-best 58.0 2FG pct.

No, they weren't very good from outside (32.9 3FG pct.) but Izzo recognized this new challenge immediately (in 2004 State shot 43.4 on their threes in-conference) and adjusted accordingly.

BONUS 2005 vs. 2000 comparisons!
Having compared last year's Spartans to the 2000 national championship team on D, let's look at how the two teams measured up against each other on offense. As it happens, the two teams were equal in offensive efficency but they reached an identical destination via two different routes....

Offensive efficiency (all stats conference games only)
Michigan State, 2005: 1.13 points per possession
Michigan State, 2000: 1.13 points per possession

Effective FG pct.
Michigan State, 2005: 55.1
Michigan State, 2000: 53.4

TO pct.
Michigan State, 2005: 20.4
Michigan State, 2000: 22.6

Offensive rebounding
Michigan State, 2005: 40.5 oreb pct.
Michigan State, 2000: 43.5 oreb pct.

The 2005 team shot with more accuracy and held on to the ball better. The 2000 team made up the difference with superior offensive rebounding.

Earth to Paul Davis: being ranked No. 1 by The Sporting News is a good thing!
Look happy! (You know, like you say you are.) And by "happy" I mean: much, much less like George McFly....

Whether he chooses to wear a happy face or not this year, Paul Davis is the best rebounder in the Big Ten. Yet he slows down Izzo's pace not one bit. (True, Izzo helps this result along by being so stingy with the minutes.) In this he and James Augustine of Illinois (not to mention Matt Trannon) are alike: they are fast big men.

Nice combination, that.

Will there be any threes this year?
Mo Ager appears to be Izzo's best hope in November for a consistent outside threat. He shot 40.2 percent from behind the arc last year and gives Izzo precisely the kind of not-great but sneaky-good rebounder he's always seemed to have in his jet-quick wings. Ager is State's most efficient returning scorer.

The fastest Spartan--and that's saying something
Shannon Brown, a little like Ager, doesn't necessarily translate seamlessly onto the stat sheet and in this he's similar to a power hitter in baseball who gets pitched around. I still remember seeing Brown beat Wisconsin down the floor and drawing a foul last year--off a made free throw by the Badgers. That kind of speed is feared by Big Ten opponents and likely helps in no small way to explain State's incredible numbers on the defensive boards.

Welcome to year 2 of Wonk: guaranteed Neitzel-hypothesis-free!
Is Drew Neitzel poised for a breakout year? Maybe, but, if I'm right about State, he doesn't need to be. Neitzel can (and probably should) be to this team what Trent Dilfer was to the Baltimore Ravens in 2000: a low-risk QB on a team that doesn't need to take risks to win.

Neitzel's shooting was sub-par last year and he turned the ball over a lot. Not to mention Izzo pulled him from games on occasion last year in search of better D. But he's an assist machine and he's shown an ability virtually since day one to thrive at the pace set by the older players around him--no small feat for a freshman point guard in East Lansing.

Last year: tribute to Cleaves. This year: tribute to Spinal Tap.
Neitzel wore the Mateen Cleaves-benighted number 12 last year. Heading into this year, however, Izzo has intimated that said 12 is soon to be retired. So Neitzel's going to wear 11.

Hazy generalizations about new frontcourt guys
Izzo says Goran Suton is "a poor man's Erazem Lorbek" and Marquise Gray is "a more athletic Andre Hutson." I think Gray got the better end of that discursive deal from the coach.

Don't minimize Trannon's importance
Yes, he's still playing football and thus not with Izzo and the team yet. Still, I've been surprised to see Matt Trannon being glossed over in many Spartan previews. There were just three players in the Big Ten north of 17.0 in rebound percentage last year. Paul Davis and James Augustine each get their share of props--why not Trannon? Because he plays football? So what? (So did Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez and he took Cal to the Sweet 16 in 1997.)

The presumption seems to be that Izzo can take any big guy new to the active roster, whomp him upside the head with a crowbar from Flint, and turn him into a Big Ten-level glass-eater. And maybe he can. All I know is this: Trannon's a proven commodity on the boards, one that any other Big Ten team would dearly love to have.

Hazy generalizations about new backcourt guys
The talk is: Maurice Joseph is the shooter and Travis Walton is the defensive stopper. Now, I realize this will come as a shocking surprise but Izzo's openly questioned the toughness and fortitude of his freshmen! It's true! (Izzo growling like a drill sergeant about his allegedly unprecedentedly wimpy freshmen is a rite of fall.)

It ain't puffery if it's true
From the MSU media guide: every player recruited by Tom Izzo at Michigan State who's stayed for four years has appeared in a Final Four.

For his part Izzo is, of course, busy talking down his team (hey, it's the preseason): "I was talking to one of my assistants now, and I just said, 'Tim Bograkos would probably play 20 minutes a game on this team because we need backup depth at guard.'" This is how you know the program has truly arrived: when the coach makes outlandish Roy Williams-style statements in pointed praise of the scrappy mascot-type player.

Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press summed it up nicely the other day: "Half the time, Izzo is trying to sell his success. The other half, he is trying to manage expectations."

Due obeisance to stats legend paid here
Alert readers who are fans of oracular hoops analyst Dean Oliver are no doubt firing up their emails and getting ready to hit "send" about now....What's this? Wonk speaking of rebounding as one skill useful on both the offensive and defensive ends? Sacrilege! Did not Oliver hold that offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding are individually-wrapped distinct skills? Indeed he did--but your intrepid blogger, congenital optimist that he is, doesn't see a disagreement here.

Getting a defensive rebound (which almost always entails boxing out) is surely a different kinesiological animal than getting an offensive rebound (which usually entails either rebounding your own miss, running the floor on a break, or getting around someone). Still, I think Oliver filleted the verbiage with notable thinness here: it's common enough, surely, for us to verbally bundle congeries of distinct physical skills into one package of sport-defined result.

The act of hitting a golf ball, for instance, is a topic on which Ph.D. dissertations have (literally) been written. The feet have to be planted just so. Hip rotation. Wrist flex. Shoulder turn. Elbow position. If we could measure each of these statistically (and they have been) we might find Ernie Els is the best with his hips or Vijay Singh is best with his elbows, etc. But at the end of the day, of course, we say simply and accurately: Tiger Woods is a great golfer--because he's able to do all of the above well enough to achieve an unsurpassed result.

So it is with rebounding. We say Paul Davis or James Augustine or Matt Trannon or J'son Stamper is "a good rebounder" because they box out on the defensive end and they run the floor or get around someone on the offensive end. But the material point as it relates to State and Tom Izzo is this: those two distinct skills--offensive and defensive rebounding--are much more closely allied and much more likely to be acquired in tandem than, say, defensive rebounding and outside shooting. Thus Matt Trannon helps his team on both ends of the floor with his two distinct (yet so often coincident in the same player!) rebounding skills.

Let there be hoops
The season starts this evening at 6pm ET in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY, with Cornell playing St. Francis (PA) in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

It will end in 147 days at around 11pm ET when the final horn sounds at the end of the national championship game in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan State beat Lake Superior State 107-73 in an exhibition game in East Lansing last night. Tom Izzo credited guards Mo Ager, Shannon Brown and Drew Neitzel with "unbelievable" play--the trio combined for 16 assists and just three turnovers. Ager led the Spartans with 21 points. Brown posted 20 points in just 19 minutes and drained 4-of-5 three-pointers. (Recap, recap, and box score.)

Purdue big man Carl Landry was considering taking a redshirt this season if last February's knee injury prevented him from playing up to his standards. But 33 points in only 22 minutes in the Boilermakers' firs exhibition game on Sunday convinced Landry--and Matt Painter--that the knee is fine....Juco transfer and would be Boilermaker guard Tarrance Crump entered a plea of guilty to misdemeanor drunken driving and was sentenced to one year of probation. Crump, who has been suspended from the team for the season by Painter, struck Purdue freshman Robert Brunner with his SUV on September 25....See "Wonk back" (below) for EXCLUSIVE details on the continuing saga of Korey Spates, a freshman guard suspended "indefinitely" by Painter "for on-court issues."

Illinois big man Warren Carter underwent surgery yesterday to repair a broken nose suffered in practice Saturday. He will miss the Illini's exhibition game against Quincy tomorrow.

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

A Wonk EXCLUSIVE! Spategate blown wide open!
Purdue coach Matt Painter has suspended freshman guard Korey Spates indefinitely for undisclosed "on-court" actions. Wonk's readers abhor that kind of information vacuum and rush to fill the need....


Was in West Lafayette this weekend to watch the sport known as "football" at Ross-Ade Stadium. A relative of mine has the dope on Spates.

The reason for the suspension is that Spates was late for two consecutive practices. My relative played DII ball, often scrimmaged at Mackey in the summer, and is friendly with current players.

Sorry to get all Scooter Libby on you with the anonymous sourcing, however I will testify to this information to you in court and it will hold up. Now I must e-mail Russert, Miller and Cooper with the news that Spates actually was suspended for importing aluminum tubes from Niger.

Matt May Blog

Thanks, Matt!

<< Home

wonk back!
email me

a very special wonk
the blog's final days

me, simmons, and 150 million other american males
the four dullest topics for a hoops blog
drama, magnitude, and finality
2007 "power"-conference velocity report
special report: in tedium's path
stop DAD: defensive attention deficit
consistency, threes, and stereotypes
they shoot free throws, don't they?
every rebound needs an adjective
fouls: call fewer or allow more
was norman dale wrong?
what's PPWS?
POT: perimeter-oriented team
symphony of altruists
mammalian theory of extreme home-court advantage
law of november weight change
scoring and preventing points: how to

tempo-free aerials
(conf. games only)
big east
big ten
big XII

geek chorus
intro to tempo-free stats
2007 big ten team tempo-free stats
2006 big ten team tempo-free stats
2005 big ten team tempo-free stats
state of the stats, april '06

canonical bloggers
yoni cohen
ken pomeroy
kyle whelliston
ryan kobliska
chris west
brian cook

November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
August 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
August 2006
September 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
October 2007