Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Chicken salad on rye, untoasted, and a cup of tea
How best to sum up the five games played since this blog's last post? Perhaps George Costanza, after changing his life completely by ordering the items in today's headline, put it best: "Up was down, black was white, good was bad, day was night."

Iowa tops Penn State--Illinois fans want Illini offense to play more like PSU's
The hoops weekend started with Iowa tipping it off at Penn State at 11am Saturday morning, Wonk Standard Time (WST). Now, while I am indeed nominally a Big Ten "wonk," I do indeed "have a life," meaning I don't necessarily set aside time to watch an Iowa-Penn State game--not live, anyway. So as I went about my busy Saturday activities I mused to myself as to the likely final score of this contest between the Big Ten's best defense and the league's seventh-best offense: Hawkeyes win by, say 62-41? Maybe even 55-38?....

Returning to Wonk World HQ around mid-afternoon, I promptly hopped online and pulled up the final score: Iowa 80, Penn State 76. What the? How is this--either half of this--possible? First, the Hawkeyes' 80 points were helped along by 11 threes: a not very good outside shooting team (31.9 3FG pct. on the year) did OK for a day (39.3). And, second, the Nittany Lions stayed in a relatively fast game (73 possessions) by holding on to the ball: with only nine turnovers, PSU posted a gaudy 12.3 TO pct.

The details are here, courtesy of canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska: "the Hawkeyes definitely lacked that 'this is the most crucial possession of the game' intensity that they showed all game against Illinois." (Based on his possession-by-possession tracking of Iowa during the Big Ten season, Ryan also wonders aloud if perhaps Mike Henderson's reputation as a defensive stopper is somewhat overblown.) There's analysis; and then there's Ryanalysis--make haste! (Box score.)

Brief interlude of normalcy....
Next up Saturday afternoon: Wisconsin beat Northwestern 68-52 in Madison. O, the joy of the familiar....Proficient FG defense from the Badgers (43.1 effective field goal pct. for the opponent). Anemic offensive rebounding from the Wildcats (22.9 oreb pct.). And a plethora of points (20) and attempts (15) from Alando Tucker. Peace is wonderful. (Box score.)

Back to our regularly scheduled anarchy
With Michigan coming to Champaign to take on Illinois, this Illini fan fully expected a slow ugly game. That's what we saw last year from these two teams and this year's Wolverines, even in their healthy state, have likewise shown a surprising willingness to go slow. And as for the Illini, their offense virtually personified the terms "slow" and "ugly" when last we saw them in action in Iowa City.

Let it be noted, however, that prior to Saturday the men in orange did have a sweet little streak going on D: no opponent this season had cracked the point-per-possession barrier against Bruce Weber's team. North Carolina (0.96) and Xavier (0.98) had come close, granted, but no team had been able to clear that 1.00 hurdle.

That is, no team until Michigan, who not only cleared said hurdle but did so with room to spare. Illinois won the game 79-74 but it was far and away their worst defensive effort of the season, giving the Wolverines 1.11 points per possession. I've been frankly too mortified to sit down with the recording of this game but doing so would doubtless uncover a PPP north of 1.30 for Michigan in their 46-point second half.

Only some sudden offensive production from Dee Brown and James Augustine saved the day for the home team. Brown hit 5-of-10 threes and 9-of-10 free throws for 26 points. The box score says the foul-blighted Augustine played 33 minutes (and posted 23 points and nine boards) but watching this game in real time this fretful Illinois fan could've sworn it was more like 23 minutes: when the big guy was on the bench the Illini suffered. (Box score.)

BONUS coverage-of-the-coverage note! Stu Durando of the St. Louis Post Dispatch is, to my knowledge, the only scribe whose game recap recognized and rightly highlighted the Illini's man-bites-dog struggles on D against the Wolverines. Perspicacious press pundit Stu Durando, Wonk salutes you!

EXCLUSIVE idle speculation! Does this undeniably impressive road performance herald the long-awaited "return" of Michigan?


Don't get me wrong: the Wolverines could indeed surprise this year. But they've played Illinois tough before (see last year) only to revert to form: inconsistency, playing down to the opponent, turnovers, and what can only be called a pervasive and recurring Courtney Sims-style lethargy. The test for Michigan, as for any team, is this: they will have arrived when we know in advance how they expect to win. Look at Wisconsin. We say things like: "Wisconsin, as expected, played tough D and took care of the ball." The Wolverines will be "back" when we can finish this sentence in a non-pejorative fashion: "Michigan, as expected, (blank)."

(I would also be more confident in Michigan's ability to repeat this performance if Lester Abram had been more involved than he was (scoring just five points in 22 minutes). Canonical blogger Brian at mgoblog wants to know: "Donde esta Lester Abram?" Buena pregunta, amigo.)

Matt Painter says: turnovers, schmurnovers--get the W
On to West Lafayette, where Purdue is hosting Minnesota and where we know we're going to see a ton of Boiler turnovers, right? After all, the Gophers lead the Big Ten in forcing turnovers--and Purdue leads the league in committing them. 'Nuff said, right?

Wrong! Final score: Purdue 72, Minnesota 55. The Boilers did indeed cough up the ball 17 times in a 67-possession game. Didn't matter one whit, however, because they were simultaneously enjoying their best night of shooting since November. And that is precisely the challenge for Dan Monson. Minnesota's defense, which last year was one of the finest in the nation, is only fair to middling this year--and if not for the turnovers they force opponents into donating, the Gopher D would be downright awful. Minnesota opponents are shooting 40.4 percent on their threes this year. Worse, in three Big Ten games, the Gophers have allowed their opponents to hit 47.9 percent from outside the arc. (Ye gods.) (Box score.)

Still, the strangest game was yet to come....

Where are all the points?
Michigan State beat Ohio State 62-59 in double overtime in Columbus Sunday. This was an odd game. It should have been an offensive explosion on both sides--or at least that's what I anticipated. State's struggles on D have been well documented and, as for the Buckeyes, your intrepid blogger was frankly skeptical as to their ability to play interior D against an opponent like the Spartans.

Instead, it was a defensive struggle throughout. To take one fairly random example: for long stretches in the second half there were no stoppages of play--no fouls, no passes going out of bounds. As a result, both teams looked gassed and were very static in their halfcourt sets--like a couple of NBA teams in April. During this time State went almost ten minutes without scoring a point. And won. The Spartans held the home team to just 0.81 points per possession, as OSU (37.9 effective FG pct.) couldn't throw the ball in the ocean from a rowboat. (The very sound of the ball hitting the rim in Value City Arena became a recurring auditory motif.)

This game's already been very well dissected by the blogosphere (see: Enlightened Spartan, Around the Oval, Buckeye Commentary, and Buckeye Sports Blitz). Given that I'm arriving late to this particular discursive gig, then, allow me to restrict myself to a few random quips:

--Terence Dials was visible in his displeasure at not getting the ball. Too moodily visible, in fact. For all the game analysts who want the big man on a given team to "demand the ball," here's your wish. But can you go too far the other way?

--Value City Arena was actually loud.

--Jamar Butler is woefully underrated.

(Box score.)

File this under "Ye gods"....
At halftime of the MSU-OSU broadcast, with the Spartans leading the Buckeyes 29-25, the following exchange took place in the studio between Greg Gumbel and Seth Davis....

GREG GUMBEL: Seth, what do we make of this game?
SETH DAVIS: Well, Michigan State's doing a terrific job on Ohio State's three-point shooters. But the Spartans have only four points off turnovers. They really depend on that, Greg, to generate their points.

This is beyond wrong. This is "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job"-level wrong. State ranks dead last in the Big Ten in the frequency with which their opponents commit turnovers. And yet the Spartans also have one of the best offenses in the Big Ten, not to mention the country. Last year? Same thing: great offense, very few opponent TOs. In short, Michigan State has proven beyond question they do not need turnovers from their opponents in order to generate points.

Bold epistemological innovator Seth Davis, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Team stats have been updated. Get on over to the sidebar and enjoy. BONUS look-ahead! Next week we here at Wonk World HQ will make the jump to in-conference team stats. Mmmm, in-conference: tempo-free numbers compiled against very similar opponents. (In the admirably symmetrical Pac 10, where every team plays every other team home and away, these would be well nigh the Archimedean ideal. Go to it, yet-to-emerge Pac 10 Wonk!)

Hoosiers, Illini, and double-teams
Indiana plays Illinois tonight in Bloomington (ESPN, 7 ET) and the question of the day is: will the Illini double-team Marco Killingsworth? Most teams have indeed done so, while Duke, famously, did not. Killingsworth scored 34 that night--but might the Blue Devils have made the correct call, after all? Despite his gaudy effective FG pct. (63.6), Killingsworth ranks dead last in the Big Ten in taking care of the ball, a habit that makes him notably less effective as an offensive weapon than Marshall Strickland and Robert Vaden. So why double a team's third option on offense?

True, this may be a blinding flash of the tautological: Killingsworth's turnovers doubtless come in large part from being the target of so many double-teams. Yet even against Duke's single-man coverage, Killingsworth coughed it up seven times. Moreover, the Hoosier big man has demonstrated that he's a proficient passer, adept at responding to the double-team by finding the open man wherever he may be on the arc. What do you do? It's a good question and I'll be interested to see Bruce Weber's answer.

For now the coach says he could go either way: "A key to any defense is disrupting the rhythm of the offense. We'd like to post trap (double-team Killingsworth when he catches the ball) but they make it difficult on you. Michigan State played them one-on-one and made sure they limited everybody else. That's a possibility." (For his part, Tom Izzo thinks he made the right call on how to guard the Hoosiers: "When you have four three-point shooters that are shooting 50 percent or better, it's hard to double down.")

Mike Davis says tonight's game is big--but not that big: "It's just the fourth game of the season. It's not a life or death game."...Lewis Monroe's status for tonight's game is in doubt. (Davis estimates a 60 percent chance of Monroe playing.) He underwent hemorrhoid surgery on January 9....Davis says he senses "just a little disappointment from our guys" in the wake of losing D.J. White, possibly for the season, due to an injured foot. Not that Davis doesn't share that disappointment: "We lost a lottery pick."...Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper frets about who's going to guard whom here.

In today's less Hoosier vs. Illini venues....
Wisconsin redshirt freshman DeAaron Williams left the team a few weeks ago. So where is he now? Back home in Peoria.

It's official: Matt Trannon is (duh) the starter at the 4 for Michigan State.

Michigan big man Courtney Sims says the Wolverines need to play with a sense of urgency: "We've had two opportunities that we should have won on the road. We were close but we lost."

Canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska gets an early jump on the Big Ten Freshman of the Year balloting and reviews the field here. His choice so far? Jamelle Cornley of Penn State.

Analysis of Purdue's putatively robust rebounding here. How robust is it, really, you ask? The numbers used in this particular article are rebounding margin and opponent rebounds per game. The first is inflated by Purdue's fast pace. The second is deflated by the fact that the Boilers' opponents are allowed to shoot so well. (The Boilers are third in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding and ninth in defensive rebounding.)

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

Badger fever--catch it!
Hey, Wonk,

Great blog. I actually found it off of the UW Badgers

I just want to say that while the Badgers have a favorable schedule but will probably falter at some point on the road, they are the team to beat. If not this year, look out next year! I'm a Badger fan through and through but I'm a UW-Platteville alum and have seen Bo work his magic before. You just wait; he doesn't even have this team (or any of the last four) up to his caliber yet!

This team has more athletic ability on the bench then some teams have in their starting lineup. And the twin towers (or, as the ESPN guys say, the polar bears) form one of the most intimidating forces in the Big Ten paint. Doe will start hitting his free throws and Bo will get these guys up to win another couple big road games. And then it is right to the Final Four! Even Dukie V. is giving the Badgers some love!

Bo's one of the best coaches there is and this year he has the talent. It may be young but he's a great teacher. I should know. I had him in P-ville.

Go Badgers!
Heather A.

Euphoria duly recorded, Heather. Thanks!

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