Big Ten Wonk
Friday, February 24, 2006
Maybe Ohio State's last road game won't be so easy after all
Northwestern beat Wisconsin 62-51 in Evanston last night. The Wildcats already beat Iowa at Welsh-Ryan. Last night they took down the Badgers. The only remaining first-place opponent is the Buckeyes, who will come to town Wednesday.

NU is getting it done on both sides of the floor. On offense, Bill Carmody's team is, at long last, more than just Vedran Vukusic. Mohamed Hachad led all scorers last night with a career-high 25 points on 17 shots. Hachad is now averaging more than 17 a game over his last nine outings. There was nothing lucky about this win--Northwestern shot just 14 threes and made only four. They scored their points on drives and on the resulting trips to the line, as Hachad benefited from the spacing that the Princeton-inflected offense creates.

And on D the Wildcats continue to show opponents a look they don't see any other time all year--kind of like Temple used to be feared for doing. Game recaps often call the NU defense a 1-3-1 and at times it looks like one. (Actually, more often last night the Wildcats appeared to present a two-man front out top.) But I was very happy to hear last night's ESPN2 announcers tell the tale of Bruce Weber's assistant once calling Weber in the middle of the night and saying he (the assistant) had utterly failed in his assignment to scout the Wildcat defense--he couldn't even tell if they were playing man or zone.

I know how he feels: it's almost part of how NU slows down games, to make the opponent look and figure out what Northwestern is doing on that trip. For a time last night I thought the Badgers were going to evade this issue simply by giving the ball to Alando Tucker and letting him drive to the tin. He did so in the first half and it was successful. But Wisconsin scored just 23 points in the second half last night. Tucker seemed to be favoring his left foot much of the night--it may have been a factor as the game wore on.

So with two scorers instead of one and with what for lack of a better term I'm going to call a sugar zone defense, can the Wildcats beat Ohio State? (Yes, please, says the rest of the Big Ten.) Maybe. The Wildcats will likely have a tougher time driving on the perimeter-oriented Buckeyes than they did last night against the frontcourt-heavy Badgers. It will, of course, depend on if OSU is on from outside that night. Baffled Northwestern opponents customarily choose to launch threes (only Penn State opponents shoot more) and, as you may have heard, the Buckeyes are rather good at that. (Box score.)

Speaking of Tucker favoring his left foot: "Tucker missed much of the last three days of practice with what the UW athletic communications department said was a lower left leg injury and even (Bo) Ryan admitted that his go-to guy didn't look like himself." Kammron Taylor summed the evening up thusly: "I think in the first half, we did a pretty good job of attacking their zone and got them into foul trouble and got to the free throw line. In that second half, we didn't look to attack at all. I didn't do a good job of trying to attack that zone."...Bill Carmody said rebounding was the key: "We said before the game, 'If you don't get outrebounded, you can hang with these guys,' and they did." Carmody also had high praise for Tucker: "He's persistent. He doesn't get discouraged. He's a quick jumper to basket, a good shooter. I think he's the best low-post guy in the league. You have to keep the ball from him."

BONUS rebounding note! Actually, Northwestern was outrebounded by a very slight margin. (Ignore game recaps saying otherwise. Yes, NU gathered in one more rebound than did Wisconsin. That's because Wisconsin missed more shots than Northwestern did, including nine missed free throws.) Last night NU posted rebounding percentages of 24.1 (offensive) and 73.5 (defensive), meaning, of course, that the Badgers' numbers were 26.5 and 75.9, respectively. But when rebounding is essentially even as it was last night, that does indeed favor the Wildcats. Greatly.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The weekend in Big Ten hoops--tomorrow!
Illinois plays Iowa in Champaign (ESPN, 6 ET). It will be senior day at the Assembly Hall and in tribute to Dee Brown and James Augustine 17,000 headbands will be distributed, each emblazoned with the numbers 11 and 40. Together Brown and Augustine have been a part of 110 wins....Hawkeyes Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner, and Adam Haluska were in a movie theater Wednesday night keeping track of the Ohio State-Michigan State game via cell phone. The Buckeyes' win at the Breslin Center, where Iowa lost by 30, was bad news for the Hawkeyes (and the rest of the Big Ten) and the trio in the theater knew it right away. "We didn't watch much of the movie after that," Haluska said. Steve Alford says the Buckeyes' win makes no difference: "We just have to take care of what we have to do."...There is so much to wonder about here: the first sentence that appears to be about the wrong sport entirely (link now, before they fix it). The Edvard Munch-level horrific ad (refresh until you get the ad I'm talking about--you'll know it when you see it, believe me). Ponder and respond.

A very telling sign: Iowa players are being asked--and are answering!--whether or not they'll stay if Alford leaves for Indiana. Luke Winn weighs in on the matter at here.

Ohio State plays Michigan in Columbus.

Penn State plays Northwestern in State College. At cbs.sportsline this morning, the Nittany Lions make Gregg Doyel's list of five teams nationally that have had tough luck this year. (So does Purdue.)

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Sunday!
Indiana plays Michigan State in Bloomington (CBS, noon ET). Outgoing Hoosier coach Mike Davis reportedly has a financial interest in choosing his words carefully: "Two clauses in his severance package, obtained through a public records request, state that Davis would lose $40,000 if he says anything negative about the university, and another $40,000 if he tries to lure players to follow him to his next job."...Spartan big man Delco Rowley, it seems, is a funny guy.

Wisconsin plays Minnesota in Madison.

BONUS kinda-hefty all-Badger edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Wisconsin fans are faithful emailers--but I haven't been as good about posting those emails. What with non-Wisconsin coaches resigning and non-Wisconsin fans infiltrating the cheering sections of other non-Wisconsin fans, non-Wisconsin things have been lively of late.

Time, at last, to give the Badgers their due (though their emails were sent before last night's game and are thus a little more exuberant than they otherwise might be)....

Badgers and arbitrage

Thank you for your continued efforts in bringing us the Big Ten raw and tempo-free stats. Looking at the various rankings in each statistical category, then looking more closely at the numbers themselves, I noticed this about the Badgers:

When manipulating the stats to determine margins in each statistical category you present here, Wisconsin is the only school in conference play which has statistically done everything better than their opponents. Illinois is also very close to doing so; their only very minor fault is in having opponents shoot just four tenths of a percent better than them from beyond the three-point arc. OSU also falls just short for based on a total rebounding stat* I (and probably others) am investigating. MSU and Iowa fall a tad short in two categories. Both turn the ball over at higher rates than their opponents. Iowa shoots just a hair worse than its opponents on two-point goals, MSU lags on three-point shooting percentage.

In any event, the point about Wisconsin is this: A team doesn't need to be dominant in any one facet of the game to succeed. It just needs to find a way to be a little bit better than the other guy at a lot of things. (Duh, right?) The Badgers lead the conference in only one statistical category: turnover rate. (This is becoming as sure a statistical bet as there is at the start of any Big Ten season). They have lost two key components of their rotation to suspension in the middle of the season and have only one returning starter from last season in a conference laden with experience. Yet, at the three-quarter pole they are tied for the conference lead in the loss column.

In many ways, the Badgers are like arbitrageurs: As long as they don't take any devastating losses in any one or two transactions, they'll eventually beat you by exploiting all the small (and big) advantages they can find everywhere else.

Fundamentals. Consistency. Maybe Bo Ryan is on to something.

Sandon K.

* In terms of rebounding, I have summed a team's offensive rebound and defensive rebound percentages and compared them to the baseline of 100. By definition, if a team is rebounding at 70% on its own end, it is allowing opponent to grab offensive rebounds 30% of the time. By extension, this also holds for percentages on the other end of the floor. The grand summation of both teams' rebound percentages in any game will equal exactly 200. At the scale of individual games, this stat has little meaning. But over many games it may provide something of value. Currently, Illinois leads the conference in this stat (conference games only) with a 107.4 score. Northwestern brings up the rear at 82(!) (as might be expected, given your earlier discussion of their perimeter orientation). OSU is second to last (96), which may or may not be so surprising considering their penchant to hoist it up from long range.

Good arbitrage, Sandon! Thanks! And your point about one total rebounding stat brings up a couple thoughts that I'm a little surprised to find I haven't offered before....

First, an analogue to the approach you outline would be, I suppose, simply to derive a total rebound percentage stat much like the offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. It would of course go like this:

Total rebound pct. = rebounds/(rebounds + opponent rebounds)

Nice thing there being, unlike many possession-based geegaws seen on this site, the numbers you need are readily available. So why don't I choose to do that? That brings me to my second point....

I guess I've come to think of "rebounding" as two completely separate things, much like "points" are thought of as two completely separate things in football: offense and defense. And a key point for me here is the fact that a significant minority of teams are bad at offensive rebounding by design. It's part of their defense to be bad at offensive rebounding: they would rather deny you the fast break than try to get an offensive board.

The best example of this nationally, as noted by Ken Pomeroy, may be Northern Iowa. In fact, the Panthers--very strong on the defensive boards, deliberately weak on the offensive--are a team that's led me to contemplate a post along the lines of: are offensive rebounds necessary? Seriously, just as a Gedankenexperiment: what would it look like if there were a team that never gave up a rebound-triggered fast break the entire season, that had all five players run to the defensive end the instant a shot was put up?

And, of course, the best example of deliberately bad offensive rebounding in the Big Ten is Northwestern. Granted, the Wildcats are a different breed of bad rebounding team--they're just bad at it on both ends of the floor (and even worse, I think, than they need to be on the offensive end).

Coach of the year?
I’m a Badger fan through and through so naturally my first choice is Bo Ryan. Losing three top reserves near the start of the Big Ten season, everyone had Wisconsin dead in the water. He’s been able to keep the wheels from falling off and refuses to let his players accept excuses. He expects to win.

My second pick is Ed DeChellis. Penn State, while not competing for the Big Ten crown, is also not sitting idly in the basement. They’ve exceeded my expectations more than any other team. They’ve won on the road with a young team. Here’s the most important thing: opposing fans no longer consider PSU a gimme. I say fans because teams should never consider a conference victory a foregone conclusion. This year when my Badgers went up to the Bryce Jordan Center, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. That’s why Ed should be coach of the year.

Phil C.

Phil, you've convinced me--I mean about choosing a Coach of the Year to begin with. Tell you what: as part of the festivities surrounding the announcement of the All-Wonk Team (2.0) on March 8, I'll name my first ever Big Ten Coach of the Year. See you then.

Alando Tucker, Morrissey, and exceptionally devoted fans: discuss
Hard to deny the talent in Madtown. Give the reigning Big Ten POW some love. At 6-5, and with defenses playing what I call the "Box Alando and One," he still puts up big digits. How many other guys get the quantity of double and triple teams and still score in the paint with his height? And if you track back to last year, he put up 25 against an NBA team (aka North Carolina). They had a decent team if you recall, with some talented big men.

Anyway, Points per Inch. There's a stat. (I bet he beats Dee Brown on this one.) You can't deny WI exists for much longer. Bo might have them in contention for the title (with an admittedly tough road ahead).

Zach M.

Zounds! Zach found my post entitled "I deny Wisconsin exists." I thought I deleted that one! Anyway, Zach, meet Adam....

I firmly believe that Alando Tucker is turning into the Vince Young of college basketball. Like Young, Alando literally carries his team to victory in big games. And like Young, who has an oft-criticized throwing motion, Alando’s shooting motion is dissected and criticized ad nauseum amongst Badger fans.

I never thought anything good could come out of the state of Illinois but Alando has proven me wrong. How did the Illini let this guy escape?

Adam L.

Alando as Vince Young? What say you, Burnt Orange Nation?

Nothing good comes out of Illinois? Nothing (huff, huff) good comes out of Illinois? Allow me to introduce you to:

Jane Addams, Gillian Anderson, Mary Astor, Saul Bellow, John Belushi, Jack Benny, Harry A. Blackmun, Lou Boudreau, Ray Bradbury, William Jennings Bryan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Gower Champion, John Chancellor, Raymond Chandler (hear, hear!), Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gary Coleman, Jimmy Connors, Billy Corgan, Cindy Crawford, John Cusack, Miles Davis, Walt Disney, John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser, Roger Ebert, Betty Ford, Harrison Ford, Bob Fosse, Dennis Franz, Betty Friedan, Jennie Garth (OK, that one's not so good), Benny Goodman, Red Grange, John Gunther, HAL 9000, Dorothy Hamill, Daryl Hannah, John M. Harlan, Ernest Hemingway, Hugh Hefner, Charlton Heston, Wild Bill Hickok, William Holden, Rock Hudson, Andre Iguodala, Burl Ives, James Jones, Quincy Jones, Ethel Kennedy, Walter Kerr, Alison Krauss, Archibald MacLeish, John Malkovich, David Mamet, Ann-Margret, Jenny McCarthy, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Bob Newhart, Reinhold Niebuhr, Kim Novak, Richard Pryor, Ronald Reagan, Robin Roberts, Carl Sandburg, Sam Shepard, William L. Shirer, Maria Shriver, Charlie Stratton, Preston Sturges (big hero), Gloria Swanson, Carl Van Doren, Raquel Welch, George Will, Robin Williams, Warren Zevon, and Florenz Ziegfield.

And me.

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