Big Ten Wonk
Friday, December 30, 2005
COMING Tuesday!
Wonk's second annual Big Ten Season Tip-Off Double-Issue Spectacular. Festivities to include:

--Michigan State: can an offense this good be kept out of the Final Four by a defense this bad?
--State of the Team Addresses for all!

Tune in Tuesday!

Friday fives
Player stats have been updated. They're tempo-free! They're current through December 29! They're excerpted here!...

Scoring efficiency: PPWS (complete list)
1. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.73)
2. Errek Suhr, Indiana (1.68)
3. Jamar Smith, Illinois (1.58)
4. Jamal Abu-Shamala, Minnesota (1.53)
5. Jamar Butler, Ohio State (1.44)

The weird-name hegemony (intriguing J-names, plus "Errek") continues atop the PPWS list! And lurking just outside the top five....

6. Paul Davis, Michigan State (1.40)

"Paul." Aye, there's the problem. If Davis changes his name to something more like "J'malamar" his PPWS will skyrocket!

Rebounding pct. (complete list)
1. Paul Davis, Michigan State (19.1)
2. Graham Brown, Michigan (18.9)
3. Courtney Sims, Michigan (17.9)
4. Marquise Gray, Michigan State (17.9)
5. Milos Bogetic, Penn State (17.2)

My choice of Paul "J'malamar" Davis as POYSF (player of the year so far) is looking good.

Offensive rebounding (oreb pct.)
1. Courtney Sims, Michigan (15.0)
2. Marquise Gray, Michigan State (15.0)
3. J'son Stamper, Minnesota (14.6)
4. Warren Carter, Illinois (14.5)
5. Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota (14.0)

Courtney Sims leads the conference in offensive rebounding--on a team that ranks but seventh in the league in that stat.

Defensive rebounding (dreb pct.)
1. Graham Brown, Michigan (25.0)
2. Paul Davis, Michigan State (24.3)
3. Marco Killingsworth, Indiana (23.4)
4. Roderick Wilmont, Indiana (22.7)
5. Greg Brunner, Iowa (21.8)

Roderick Wilmont is listed at 6-4--is he not a beast?

Assists per 100 possessions (complete list)
1. Jeff Horner, Iowa (11.3)
2. Jerret Smith, Michigan (10.8)
3. Tim Doyle, Northwestern (10.4)
4. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (10.3)
5. Daniel Horton, Michigan (10.1)

Bit of an optical illusion: Jeff Horner's ascended to the top of the list by sitting out with an injured knee.

Turnovers per 100 possessions (from worst to best--complete list)
1. Marco Killingsworth, Indiana (8.6)
2. Rico Tucker, Minnesota (7.8)
3. Jerret Smith, Michigan (7.0)
4. Korey Spates, Purdue (6.5)
5. Tony Freeman, Iowa (6.5)

Three freshmen (go figure) plus Killingsworth and Tucker. Bit of an optical illusion: Tucker and Smith both barely make the 12 min. per game cutoff.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Purdue plays at Memphis tonight. "We're going to find out if we are ready for Memphis," says Boiler coach Matt Painter. "Our team defense really is improved, but when a team makes us play man-to-man, that is when some of our guys have really struggled on the perimeter." Painter says patience will be key for his young team: "We just have to continue to improve and address the differences of when you play on the road. You can't shoot the ball as quick. You have to have longer offensive possessions."

Iowa plays at St. Louis tonight. Hawkeye guard Jeff Horner is expected to return to action after sitting out three weeks with an injured knee. Iowa has lost its other two games on an opponent's home court (Northern Iowa and Iowa State) and Steve Alford says a win away from Iowa City would be nice heading into conference play: "This is not a make-or-break game, but it is a game that is very important to us. It would be nice to actually have some success (on the road) before we start the Big Ten on the road next week." The Billikens will play without senior guard Anthony Drejaj, sidelined by a foot injury suffered against Gonzaga last Thursday.

Illinois plays Tennessee-Martin in Champaign tonight. Bruce Weber says he expects his team will face more than man-to-man D: "I would think they would start in a zone and play a lot of zone."...James Augustine needs 11 boards to surpass Efrem Winters as the all-time leading Illini rebounder, a feat Augustine attributes to his agility....You know your program is popular when: Champaign authorities continue to investigate the selling of counterfeit tickets for Illinois home games. Here's a helpful tip for my fellow Illini fans: you may be looking at a fake ticket if, as happened in this instance (I am not making this up), the word "Illinois" is misspelled.

The last games of 2005--tomorrow's Big Ten hoops....
Ohio State plays LSU in Columbus. The Buckeyes hope to remain among the nation's ten unbeatens.

Wisconsin plays at Pitt. Columnist Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal says the Badgers are ready for this road test--and the conference season beyond. (And the game on January 21 against North Dakota State.)

Indiana plays at Ball State. The Cardinals expect a capacity crowd and a sartorially-coordinated student section--known in Muncie as the Nest--to aid their cause.

Michigan State plays Coppin State in East Lansing. State has received a verbal commitment from high school baller Kalin Lucas out of Orchard Lake, Michigan. The 6-0 Lucas is rated no. 23 nationally by and will join the 2007 recruiting class.

Penn State plays Mount St. Mary's in State College. BONUS Cort Basham note! The Nittany Lions haven't played a game on New Year's Eve in 53 years. Penn State lost to Western Kentucky 91-78 on December 31, 1952.

Michigan plays Chicago State in Ann Arbor. Here we are at the brink of 2006 and the Cougars have yet to play a home game.

Minnesota plays Oral Roberts in Minneapolis. Vincent Grier will likely play for the first time without any wrap on his previously injured left hand.

The first game of 2006--Sunday's Big Ten hoops....
Northwestern plays Northern Colorado in Evanston. The Bears are 0-14, a record which includes losses to Lipscomb, South Dakota State, Montana State, and Northern Arizona (twice).

Redick? Morrison? Other?...
Forget national POY. Canonical blogger Ken Pomeroy asks whether J.J. Redick is even the best player on his own team.

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

The do-Wonk's-blog-for-him contest continues!
On Wednesday your intrepid blogger asked the alert readers to make like Wonk and respond to this piece by Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz. In the column in question, Schulz said Michigan State's ugly defensive numbers are no cause for alarm because they're "inflated by overtime games and MSU's up-tempo style of play." Yesterday, however, various alert readers pointed out that in fact the Spartans' numbers are Edvard Munch-level horrific even on a per-possession basis.

Today long-time Wonk-backer and die-hard Sparty Shawn M. steps boldly into the fray....

Hi, Wonk,

'Tis true, of course, that Todd Schulz is off-base in some respects in the article you posted, specifically in that State's defensive numbers remain uncomfortably crummy even in statistical measures, such as your own, that eliminate factors such as overtime games and up-tempo style of play. Simply put, judging by the stats so far, the Spartan defense is not championship caliber.

So why is it, then, that there is a near-universal shrug emanating from Spartan nation (including yours truly) about this glaring deficiency? One could argue that it's because we're bewitched by the smooth and exciting offense, or that we think our past defensive performance guarantees positive future results, or that we just have too much faith in Izzo. All of these may be true to some extent, but none of them come close to hitting the mark full on.

The real reasons we're not that concerned, in my estimation, are as follows:

1) The defensive stats, both tempo-free and otherwise, for the last six games are markedly better than those of the first seven games, indicating substantial improvement. Over the first seven games, the team allowed 1.07 points per possession, which has been cut to a respectable 0.94 over the last six (which includes games against BC and Wichita State). Moreover, the big problem area is improving: opponents over this stretch have shot 32% from 3, as opposed to 38% in the first seven games. If these trends continue, the defense will be a pleasure to watch by February.

2) As the defensive numbers have improved, so too (predictably) have the rebounding and offensive efficiency numbers. Altogether, the numbers point to a team that is executing better as the season goes on: taking a glance at Pomeroy's rankings, he has MSU at #56 overall, but #16 over the last 5 games.

3) The team's personnel has a high level of defensive ability. Davis and Trannon are very effective down low, Brown and Ager are quick and regaining their focus, and Walton and Gray do nice defensive work in limited minutes. Overall, given the emergence of Trannon and addition of Walton and Gray, one could reasonably argue that the defensive skill level on this squad is nearly as good as last year's. Couple that with a much higher offensive ceiling, and things could get interesting.

4) The team has two losses, and for better or worse, no one (including myself) is taking either one seriously. The Hawaii game was a bizarre, cramptastic mulligan, while the Gonzaga game featured two teams playing their hearts out until a missed layup ended it in triple overtime. Beyond that, we have a bunch of solid wins, including neutral-site victories against two teams then ranked in the top ten.

So overall, it seems to me that there are some meaningful defensive problems here that are worth pointing out, but it is clear that these problems are being corrected. With the upward statistical trends, the better-than-average defensive personnel, and the emphasis that the program places on lockdown defense, I'm still miles away from worried on this one. Lord knows I'll never stoop so low as to agree with Todd Schulz, but if State's defense is still drawing the attention of the stat-oriented come February, I'll be shocked.

Shawn M.

Judiciously advocated, sir! As noted above, I'll add my two cents Tuesday.

Can a golden era really be now?
A while back alert reader and Illinois fan Brian M. wondered aloud whether this might not truly be the golden era of Illini basketball. I said oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper says: sheeyeah! Today long-time Wonk-backer and die-hard Illinois fan Jason H. wades boldly into the fray.


As one alert Illini fan noted a week or so ago, we may indeed by in the golden era of Illinois basketball. I'd argue that we can't consider it that without a national title, but it's a mere quibble. Weber's record at Illinois is certainly hard to argue with.

And there's a definite aura around the program now. Wednesday night, was I the only person watching who thought, "He'll hit it," when Dee was finding a little space to launch his three just before the half?

That stretch to open conference play in January 2004 seems so long ago.

What I wonder is if we're really appreciating what we're seeing now. They're now 50-2 since the start of last season. That's just mind boggling silly.

Jason H.

Thanks, Jason!

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