Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
North Dakota State won at the Kohl Center. Can Penn State?
Well, no, probably not. (So forgive the provocative headline. Ha!)

The freaky solar-eclipse nature of Wisconsin's loss to North Dakota State on Saturday merits repeating: in many respects the Badgers actually played their normal game. (Or so it would appear on paper. No one seems to have actually seen this game. Could it have been a Capricorn One-style moon landing hoax? Just asking!) They had a (very) slight edge on the boards. Their opponent turned the ball over 24 times; they turned it over just ten times. So, even with a depleted roster, most everything was as it should have been.

Except for the shooting. By now you know about the Badgers' 16-of-72 effort. But look at the Bison: a 53.3 effective FG pct. Granted, that's nowhere near as stellar as UW's 25.0 was bad--but for a Wisconsin opponent that's very good. In games this season where they've held their opponent to an eFG of under 50 percent, the Badgers are 12-0. When the opponent posts an eFG pct. of 50 or better, Wisconsin is just 2-4.

But enough wallowing in Saturday. Let's look at tonight's game.

The good news for Badger fans is their shooting woes should end this evening: Penn State has the worst FG defense in the Big Ten.

Why? (Here's where years of training in advanced hoops analysis is simply indispensable. Don't try this at home.) Because they're so dang short! The tallest starter for the Nittany Lions is Jamelle Cornley at 6-6. Indeed, tonight will feature the tallest team in the Big Ten going up against the smallest. (Were he to switch uniforms tonight, Ray Nixon, Wisconsin's starting 2-guard, would be the tallest PSU starter by two inches.)

Not surprisingly, then, Ed DeChellis's team has the worst defense in the conference, primarily due to the fact that Big Ten opponents are hitting an astounding 57.5 percent of their two-point shots against PSU. DeChellis quite rightly tries to compensate for this by playing a good deal of zone (and thus Penn State opponents are actually attempting a surprising number of threes) but a zone can mask only so much vertical disinclination.

OK, point taken. The D is struggling. Now look at the good news. Yes! There's good news in State College! It's called the offense....

They're hitting their shots. Last year Penn State posted an 11th-place 44.2 effective FG pct. in conference play. This year after five games they're at 51.0. That number is guaranteed to dip as conference play continues, sure. But clearly the shooting has improved dramatically in Happy Valley, thanks in part to notably efficient scoring from freshman Jamelle Cornley (1.20 PPWS).

They're crashing the offensive boards. While Geary Claxton isn't exactly known as the second coming of Dennis Rodman, he does have a very nice 11.5 offensive rebound pct. for the year. Among Big Ten starters, only Courtney Sims, Matt Kiefer, Graham Brown, Paul Davis, Shaun Pruitt, and Greg Brunner have done better on the offensive glass.

They're distributing the ball. No other Big Ten team has a pair of assist machines like Ben Luber (9.4 assists per 100 possessions) and Mike Walker (9.3). And Walker, for one, does it without turning the ball over.

Can they do all of the above tonight? On the road? Against a team that to Nittany Lion eyes will look like a forest of redwoods? Probably not. Nevertheless: resurgent offensive producers of Penn State, Wonk salutes you!

Ed DeChellis says he too, like Wonk, has noticed a slight size discrepancy between his team and tonight's opponent: "They're very big, and we can't change that, so we've got to figure out what we need to do to try to play the other end of it. We'll try to bring our posts away from the basket, make them guard on the perimeter maybe a little bit more than they're used to."...Greg Stiemsma will not play tonight, due to undisclosed medical issues. His status for the rest of the season is reportedly "yet to be determined."...

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa beat Indiana 73-60 last night in Iowa City. Yesterday I said I was looking forward to learning more about what the Hoosiers look like outside Bloomington. Alas, there was little to be learned from this game. I didn't know that IU's best three-point shooter, Marshall Strickland, wasn't going to play (sore knee), or that as a consequence we'd be seeing so much Errek Suhr, or that Mike Davis was going to bench Marco Killingsworth for ten minutes in the second half. Adam Haluska notched a 20-10 dub-dub for the home team and Greg Brunner added 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Depending on how you look at it, this game was either won by Iowa or lost by Indiana on the interior on IU's side of the floor. Even without Strickland, the Hoosiers had their standard game on the perimeter (13 made threes, 41.9 3FG pct.), thanks largely to Robert Vaden, who played like a man possessed (8-of-12 from outside the arc). But Indiana had nothing going on inside and made just 9 of 29 two-pointers--credit Erek Hansen ("The best shot blocker in the league" according to Davis) and his six blocks. (Before this past weekend, Indiana hadn't hit less than 40 percent of their twos in any game. Now they've done it two games in a row. Keep an eye on this.) As for the Hawkeyes, they turned the ball over a bit, it's true, but when they managed to hold on to the rock they got the match ups they wanted on offense (the words "Erek Hansen" and "blow-by dunk" can now be used together for the first time in recorded history). Even if the Hoosiers had been fully staffed it might not have mattered on this night (D.J. White notwithstanding, naturally)....Canonical and no doubt happy blogger Ryan Kobliska already has his spanking good game recap posted....Iowa laid a 14-0 run on Indiana to start the second half and Steve Alford was happy: "The start of the second half in our last two games has been awful and that was a trend we had to reverse." Jeff Horner agreed: "It's about time we started a second half that was good." (Box score.)

Michigan plays Michigan State in Ann Arbor tonight. Tommy Amaker frets about Paul Davis, Mo Ager, and Shannon Brown here. Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says this rivalry, uh, isn't. It just isn't: "Let's face it, when MSU and U-M cross swords on the basketball court these days, there's precious little clang." Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says waiting for the Wolverines to "return" to glory is a little like waiting for Kobe Bryant to "return" to selflessness: "People keep waiting for the Wolverines to regain their natural place atop the state basketball pyramid. But who says that would be natural? The idea that Michigan historically dominates Michigan State in basketball is simply not true." Profiles in profusion! Today's theme at both ends of I-96 is apparently a Salute to the Biography Channel: profile of UM point guard Daniel Horton here. Another look at Horton, from an East Lansing perspective, here. Profile of Spartan point guard Drew Neitzel here. Profile of Wolverine dunkmeister Brent Petway here. Profile of two-sport Spartan wonder Matt Trannon here.

Illinois plays Minnesota in Champaign tonight. The Illini have won 13 straight against the Gophers. Dan Monson salutes Illinois for achieving success even after losing three starters from last year's team: "They have really made their identity and that's something our team is searching for." Bruce Weber says his team isn't looking past Minnesota: "Their whole team, they scare you. They have some experience, some talent and in a way they are a little like Michigan. You are always waiting for them to explode." At the same time, Weber thinks Illinois can improve: "We beat Georgetown, controlled that game from the start. They go beat Duke. It makes you say, 'Hey, do you want to be really good?' The kids have to decide that." Profile of Illini big man Warren Carter here....Inevitable Gopher-based bad pun headline here. (I'm going to have to start keeping a running tally of these.) Indefatigable hoops savant Jeff Shelman tosses around a little points-per-possession talk in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this morning as he assesses the Gophers' woes on offense here....Tonight's tipoff is at 8 Central time instead of the usual 7. Does the Big Ten really schedule games so that Illinois and Northwestern aren't in action at the same time? That's what it says here. Speaking of which....

Purdue plays Northwestern tonight in West Lafayette. Chicago native, Connecticut transfer, and one of two players on the same team named Marcus (Color): profile of Boiler big man Marcus White here. Meanwhile, TV coverage of Purdue games in Indianapolis is being scaled back. The Boilers draw only a little more than half as many viewers in Indy as does Indiana.

BONUS notably geeky edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Reading other bloggers' mail--Wonk feels like Estelle Costanza!
Today's Wonk-back comes to us unwittingly from Matt, who actually emailed blogger extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy and not me.

Minor point. Matt has posed a good question and I trust neither he nor Ken will mind the ctrl-c'ing here:

Hi Ken,

I love that you have added tempo-free stats for every team. Just a quick question about that. How do you calculate individual possessions used?

And as a tie-in, how do you calculate the TO Rate? I was just curious because at Big Ten Wonk, Marco Killingsworth has by far the highest TO rate in the conference, while on your page he isn’t even the highest on IU. I assume it has something to do with the calculation of individual possessions--Wonk’s are just based on minutes played/team minutes played.

Thanks a ton, keep up the good work,

Ken then accurately notes that he uses the Dean Oliver formula for actual individual possessions used in his calculation of TO rate whereas I use the way simpler formula for individual possessions on the floor. The difference is this:

If you put Killingsworth on the floor for 100 possessions of IU running their normal offensive sets, you will see him turn the ball over 8.9 times. On the other hand, if you fed every player in the Big Ten the ball as often as the Hoosiers feed the ball to Killingsworth (which is to say relentlessly and methodically), you would see other players (we're looking at you Rico Tucker--oh, you too, Marcus White) turn the ball over way more often than does Killingsworth. (Actually, Tucker and White turn the ball over more often than Killingsworth purely on the basis of possessions on the floor--which is astounding.)

In short: my numbers for TOs per 100 possessions are purely descriptive and take the hoops world at (tempo-free) face value: regardless of playing time and given the predilections of the offenses as they indeed exist, who is turning the ball over the most? Ken's numbers are richly analytic and go beyond mere description (though of course they do that too) to pose provocative what-if questions: if every player in the country got the same number of touches, who would turn it over the most?

BONUS clarification of plaudits! In his post today, Ken suggests I said he was the "best writer ever." Nice try, Pomeroy! What I really said is that Ken Pomeroy is the "best college basketball writer" in the country (emphasis added). Come April, when this blog is safely mothballed, I'll be found hunkered down with the real best writer ever and not with my sheaf of printouts from (which, granted, I carry around 24/7 in a backpack emblazoned with Ken's picture).

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