Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, March 02, 2006
The Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State won at least a share of the Big Ten title last night with their 56-53 victory over Northwestern in Evanston. A win at home over Purdue Sunday will give the Buckeyes the title outright.

Off a key offensive rebound by Terence Dials, Ron Lewis sank a runner with 10 seconds left to put OSU on top 54-53. ("Our defense just let him go," Bill Carmody said afterward of the decisive play.) Lewis then sealed the win at the other end with an interception of a Sterling Williams pass (on a play where this Illinois fan, for one, was screaming at the TV for the Wildcats to take a timeout and set up a play).

It's instructive that the Wildcats shot better than OSU in this game--and lost. Turnovers by NU in the first half and offensive rebounds by the Buckeyes in the second doomed Northwestern (and Illinois, and Iowa, and Wisconsin). Dials led Ohio State with 18 points. Vedran Vukusic was held to just 13 points on 14 shots for the 'Cats.

About that non-timeout after the Lewis basket. Here's Carmody's take: "I call timeout seven out of 10 times. But I saw the transition going and Sterling, that’s his strength. It looked like he was going to be able to get to the hole, but it just didn’t happen. I should have called a timeout." Vukusic says this loss hurts: "It’s probably the toughest loss we’ve had all year."

Je'Kel Foster says the sight of Illinois fans in attendance at Welsh-Ryan Arena helped motivate his team: "We saw some orange jerseys in the stands, knowing they were being worn by Illini fans. Coach told us at halftime, 'If you win this game, you're going to tick off millions of fans, so go for it.'" My fellow central Illinois native Thad Matta said that? O, the humanity! Nevertheless....

Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes, Wonk salutes you! (And so does indefatigable hoops savant Jeff Shelman.) (Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana beat Purdue 70-59 last night in West Lafayette, giving the Hoosiers their first Big Ten road win in over a year. Hot shooting in the second half, to the tune of 6-of-8 on their threes, propelled IU to the win. Marshall Strickland led Indiana with 16 points. "This was a big, big victory for us,'' said Strickland. Robert Vaden notched the rare ascending numbers dub-dub with an 11-12. The Boilers were led by Gary Ware, who scored 16, but it wasn't enough on this senior night. "Crushed," said Matt Kiefer, when asked how it felt to lose his last home game to his arch-rival. "We probably should have worked the ball a little more. We needed to make them play defense on the road.... The coaches are always on us to get an offensive rebound, reverse the ball and make them play defense for another 35 seconds." (Box score.)

Iowa annihilated Penn State 65-38 in Iowa City last night. The Hawkeyes held the Nittany Lions to the worst offensive performance (0.62 points per possession) and worst shooting (29.4 effective FG pct.) of any Big Ten team in any conference game this year. Penn State made just 13 field goals in this game. This week's "But how did you like the play otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln?" Award goes to Ed DeChellis, who said: "I thought offensively we were just really bad tonight." (No! You think?) "I'm walking in here earlier today and you tell me that Iowa is going to score 65 points, I think we have a chance to win." Alas....Mike Henderson led the Hawkeyes with 16 points (though he also had five turnovers)....Penn State is now done until next week's Big Ten tournament. They posted a 6-10 mark in conference play, their best by far since the Sweet 16 team of 2001....A new level of Edvard Munch-level horror! And revulsion! Will no one with working optic nerves get this ad (refresh until you see it) off the Quad City Times' recaps of Hawkeye games? Please? (Maybe it can be like Mickey Kaus's idea for a reverse record store, wherein customers can pay 15 bucks for, say, Paul McCartney not to record a new CD this year. Maybe our money can go to this business so long as they agree not to run this ad. I'll get the ball rolling with a check for 10 bucks. Who's with me?) (Box score.)

Michigan State plays Wisconsin tonight in East Lansing (ESPN, 7 ET). By Joe Rexrode's reckoning in this morning's Lansing State Journal, the Spartans have been outscored 45-10 in the closing minutes of three recent losses (Minnesota, Ohio State, and Indiana). Tom Izzo says he thinks fatigue does indeed play a part in those numbers: "You know, you look at the mental part, and some of it is the fatigue factor."...Paul Davis says Izzo has been a great coach and great teacher of the game--even when he raises his voice: "I guess the biggest thing is don't listen to how he says something, but listen to what he says. He'll be the first to admit he doesn't always convey things the way he should, but he really is always right on what he says."...Bo Ryan says there's no magic formula for winning on the road: "You've got to take care of the ball, you've got to make shots and defensively you've got to take people out of their rhythm. It won't change. You practice, you work at it, and still you don't simulate exactly what it's going to be like."

BONUS hack theorizing!
Indefatigable Badger observer Mark Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has compiled numbers on how advantageous home-court advantage has been in the alleged "power" conferences this season. (I say alleged. We need to start adding the Missouri Valley to these lists, at least this season. Let's revisit this topic in 11 days, after we see how many bids the Valley gets respective to certain other "power" conferences.) Big Ten teams top the home-court-advantage list, winning at home 72 percent of the time. At the other extreme, Pac-10 teams win at home only 57 percent of the time. Remember this variance the next time there's a discussion of home-court advantage. Many of the usual explanations for why it's tough to win on the road--travel, unfamiliar surroundings, etc.--hold constant, of course, across conferences and even on up into the NBA (except when the Clippers play the Lakers).

True, Ken Pomeroy has looked into the numbers (duh) and concluded, persuasively, that these constants do indeed have the largest impact. (In other words, teams do poorly on the road, period. They even do poorly on the road in conferences--and such conferences of course comprise a large majority--where home crowds are customarily tepid and even sparse.) But on top of that mountain of preexisting systemic home-court advantage, it appears there is on occasion a couple flights of stairs of additional idiosyncratic advantage. There is home-court advantage (Pac-10 most years). And then there's extreme home-court advantage (Big Ten this year).

And so I offer up for discussion a mammalian theory of extreme home-court advantage (paging Robert Wright!) which holds that a few thousand years of natural selection have trained we mammals--both players and referees--not to like being in enclosed spaces where thousands of people are openly and vocally hostile towards us. So, in the most extreme instances (of which the Big Ten has more than its share), the visiting players do perform less effectively. And the refs do bend their calls. It's a self-reinforcing dynamic. (How Hegelian!)

Backfill! Stewart's piece cites that cherished warhorse of home-court-advantage discussions, parity, to wit: "the parity of the conference" is one reason for "the success of Big Ten home teams." Not so, say Pomeroy's numbers.

COMING Monday!
Ah, 'tis the season: Wonking seven days a week, March 6 - April 7. And watch for the All-Wonk Team (2.0), to be announced Wednesday, March 8.

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

Players speak their minds! That doesn't mean they're right, of course...
Hey, Wonk,

Jeff Horner is the best shooter in the Big Ten,
according to his peers?

Do basketball players know anything about basketball?

My choice for this year's best shooter would be among Je'Kel Foster, Marshall Strickland, and perhaps Robert Vaden. (Foster would get my nod). They all take a sufficient number of shots and play enough minutes to score a lot--and they all make a much higher percentage of threes than Horner.

This is truly a head scratcher.

Mark J.

Thanks, Mark! That caught my eye, too. It's interesting to note that Horner doesn't even crack the top 15 on the Big Ten's official listing of the most accurate three-point shooters.

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