Big Ten Wonk
Monday, November 27, 2006
Ohio State will play in the national championship game (in basketball)
I guess for me the moment came when I was looking at the numbers for Mike Conley Jr., Ohio State's freshman guard. Sure, he hasn't shown an outside shot yet (1-of-7 on his threes)--but with uncommon non-freshman acuity he chooses his shots accordingly (only 18 percent of his shots have been threes) and thus is a paragon of scoring efficiency (1.26 PPWS). Plus he's registered a gaudy 13 assists per 100 possessions thus far. (Drew Neitzel led the Big Ten last year with about 10 assists per 100 poss.) And he records more than six steals per 100 possessions. Good grief, give Conley another few games and Jamar Butler, my Big Ten POY last year, may not even be the best point guard on his own team. So Thad Matta has multiple point-guard-level performers on hand.

Plus Ron Lewis (1.41 PPWS).

Plus Daequan Cook (1.33).

Mutliple highly efficient offensive threats.

And I thought: man, this team looks a lot like Illinois in 2005.

Uh, plus Greg Oden.

What you need to understand about Ohio State
OK, now the disclaimers. It's early and the young Buckeyes are yet to play a "power"-conference opponent or, for that matter, journey outside the friendly confines of Value City Arena. That's about to change in dramatic and abrupt fashion: Ohio State plays at North Carolina Wednesday night.

But even granting applicable adjectives like "young," "early," and "home games a-go-go," here is what can fairly be said about this team at the present time:

1. They present multiple offensive threats. See above.

2. They defend. When Ohio State posted a notably strong number for FG defense in Matta's first season in 2005, I was skeptical and thought it might have been mere chance. When they did it again last year (particularly on the perimeter), my skepticism vanished: tenacious FG defense can now be positively affirmed as a Matta genetic marker. (It's true opponents actually shot pretty well on the interior against the Buckeyes last year. My uncommonly enlightening insider's perspective on Big Ten hoops leads me to expect, however, that this will be less of an issue this year.)

3. Even without Oden, they're not as weak on the interior as commonly assumed. In Othello Hunter (18.4 rebound percentage) and Cook (16.8), the Buckeyes have two very solid performers on the glass--and Hunter blocks shots (4.5 every 100 possessions), as well. Sure, they'll improve dramatically on the interior when Oden arrives but the same could be said of Florida, Carolina, or any other team in the country.

Yes, questions remain. Most notably, scholarship players are not terribly numerous in Columbus. Will the Buckeyes be like Illinois in 2005 (key starters playing 80+ percent of the available minutes with no apparent ill effect) or will they be like Michigan State in 2006 (key starters playing 80+ percent of the available minutes with readily apparent ill effect)? We don't know.

But for now I'm standing by my headline. (Just not saying which year.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....

Much holiday hooping to catch up on....

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--Wednesday!
Purdue beat DePaul 81-73 in consolation-bracket action at the EA-Sports Maui Invitational. With both teams playing their third game in three days, defense was not exactly stifling on either side, as both the Boilers and the Blue Demons cleared the point-per-possession mark with ease. Carl Landry (22-10) and David Teague (14-11) posted dub-dubs for Purdue, while Tarrance Crump chipped in 20 with points. The Boilers led by as many as 24 in the first half and then saw that lead shrink to as little as six before holding on for the win. (Box score.)...Injury update: freshman starter Chris Kramer is listed as day-to-day with a sprained ligament in his right knee. Kramer missed both the DePaul and Oklahoma games in Maui.

Michigan beat Youngstown State 65-56 in Ann Arbor. Despite scoring just five points, Dion Harris led the Wolverines in minutes, shots (12), and assists (seven). Bold yet low-scoring statistical extremist Dion Harris, Wonk salutes you! Meanwhile, Courtney Sims scored 18 and Brent Petway added a 13-10 dub-dub for the home team in a game where, according to the notably erudite-sounding official Michigan recap, the Wolverines "maintained a subtle dominance throughout the contest." It seems the Michigan athletic department is hiring more Foucault-reading scribes freshly-minted from grad school. (Box score.)

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--the holiday itself!
Marist beat Minnesota 63-56 in the quarterfinals of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. The Gophers were without Spencer Tollackson, who missed the game due to stomach flu. Without the big guy in the paint, Minnesota was content to launch 31 threes, missing 22 of them. The Red Foxes led throughout in their first-ever game against a Big Ten team. Lawrence McKenzie led the Gophers in minutes, shots (19), points (17), assists (three), and turnovers (four). Bold statistical extremist Lawrence McKenzie, Wonk salutes you! (Box score (pdf).)

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--Friday!
Missouri State beat Wisconsin 66-64 at the South Padre Invitational in Texas. Disregard accounts of this game saying the Bears won thanks to torrid shooting, particularly in the first half. Missouri State may indeed have made some shots before halftime but for the game they shot no better (51.0 effective FG pct.) than did Delaware State (52.7 eFG pct.) when the latter team lost to the Badgers by eight in Madison last Tuesday. No, Wisconsin lost because: 1) they didn't shoot very well (41.1 eFG pct.) and, much more surprisingly, 2) they were beaten, slightly, on the boards. Alando Tucker led the Badgers in shots, rebounds (six), and points (26). (Box score.)

Illinois beat Miami of Ohio 51-49 in first-round action at the Chicago Invitational, played whimsically enough in Hoffman Estates at the spanking-new Sears Centre. The Illini trailed by as many as 16 in the first half and did not take their first lead of the game until they went ahead 48-47 with 1:20 remaining. The Redhawks slowed the game down (57 possessions) and got a big night from Nathan Peavy (22-11 dub-dub). But Illinois held Miami to just seven points over the final 14 minutes and got the win. Shaun Pruitt led the Illini with a 12-10 dub-dub. (Box score.)

Southern Illinois beat Minnesota 69-53 in consolation-bracket action at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. The Gophers coughed up the ball 22 times in a 67-possession game (Kevin Payton recorded five turnovers in just 11 minutes) and were beaten, slightly, on the boards by the Salukis. Spencer Tollackson returned from a bout with stomach flu but recorded just four points and three boards in 25 minutes. Brandon Smith led Minnesota in shots (10) and points (14). (Box score (pdf).)

Ohio State beat Youngstown State 91-57 in Columbus. Ivan Harris came off the bench to hit 3-of-5 threes and led the Buckeyes with 19 points. Mike Conley Jr. recorded five steals in just 23 minutes. (Box score.)

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--Saturday!
Arizona State beat Iowa 67-64 in Tempe. Despite having started the game in an 11-0 hole, the Hawkeyes led 60-48 with 5:38 to play. From that point on, however, Steve Alford watched as his team gave up five threes to four different Sun Devils. For the game ASU shot 62.5 percent on their threes. Adam Haluska led Iowa in shots (17) and points (24). (Box score.)

Illinois beat Bradley 75-71 in final-round action at the Chicago Invitational, played whimsically enough in Hoffman Estates at the spanking-new Sears Centre. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper succinctly sums up the game and the holiday weekend for Illinois: "a slow start, wobbly free-throw shooting, clamp-down defense, steady rally and a host of different heroes." The Illini trailed by as many as 11 but the return of Jamar Smith (who scored 14 points in 17 minutes a mere 12 days after suffering a high ankle sprain that was supposed to have sidelined him for the obligatory "four to six weeks") helped nudge Illinois to the win. Warren Carter led the Illini with 17 points while Chester Frazier recorded the exceedingly rare ascending numbers points-assists dub-dub: 10 points and 11 assists with just one turnover. (Box score.)

Wisconsin beat Auburn 77-63 at the South Padre Invitational in Texas. The Badgers led throughout and dominated on the offensive glass (16 boards in 35 chances) to give Bo Ryan his 500th career victory. Kammron Taylor led Wisconsin with 16 points. (Box score (pdf).)

Penn State beat St. Joseph's 65-61 in State College. The Nittany Lions trailed by eight with 1:20 remaining before Danny Morrissey scored eight straight points, three of which came on a banked-in three with 25 seconds left. Jamelle Cornley posted an 18-10 dub-dub and was a monster on the offensive glass, pulling down seven of his team's 14 boards on that end. Geary Claxton saw his first action since breaking a bone in his hand in an exhibition game on November 1 and recorded a key block in the game's final seconds. Phil Martelli didn't see it that way, thought perhaps a foul was in order, and got T'd up, thus furnishing the home team with the final margin of victory. (Box score (pdf).)

Michigan State beat Oakland 71-53 in East Lansing, a game which the Spartans led 40-13 at the half. Drew Neitzel led MSU in shots (15), points (21), assists (seven), and turnovers (five). Marquise Gray posted a 14-12 dub-dub in 26 minutes for the home team. (Box score.)

Northwestern beat North Florida 40-39 in Evanston. On the game's 51st and final possession, off a missed three by Craig Moore, Kevin Coble grabbed an offensive rebound and put the ball in with 3.2 seconds remaining for the game-winner. NU won't get many W's where they shoot 16 percent on their threes (4-of-25) or where their leading scorer records just eight points (Tim Doyle), but then the Ospreys made just 13 of 42 two-point shots. That helped. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Maryland-Baltimore County 66-54 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines owned the offensive glass (14 boards out of 30 chances) on an afternoon where they were cold from outside (4-of-20 on their threes). Courtney Sims posted an 18-12 dub-dub for the victors. (No word on whether subtle dominance was maintained for a second consecutive game.) Note: Michigan's outside shooting's been horrendous during their 7-0 start, hitting just 28.2 percent of their threes. (Box score.)

The holiday in Big Ten hoops--yesterday!
Montana beat Minnesota 72-65 in consolation-bracket action at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, capping an 0-3 trip to Disney World for the Gophers. The cumulative numbers from the three games are not pretty: nearly 41 percent of Minnesota's shots were threes, of which they made just 30.4 percent. While in Florida the Gophers scored just 0.86 points per possession against opponents from the MAAC, Missouri Valley, and Big Sky. "We came down here and found out a lot about ourselves," said Dan Monson. "Unfortunately, we don't like what we found out." Dan Coleman led Minnesota with 13 points. (Special kudos go out to Bryan Ellis of the Grizzlies for posting the Bold Statistical Extremist Line of the Year So Far: 10 points, 0 FGAs, 10 assists, seven turnovers, and four steals.) (Box score (pdf).)

Oh, yeah--there's this other gig this week....
Welcome to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge! Truly this is the Iowa Caucuses of hoops: too early, over-hyped, and patently artificial, yet a genuinely compelling competitive spectacle. Play opens tonight with Michigan taking on NC State in Raleigh (ESPN2, 7ET).

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