Big Ten Wonk
Friday, November 10, 2006
Presenting Northwestern: a one-act mystery
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the erudite, urbane, and apparently rebounding-averse young men from Evanston, IL, proud members of the Big Ten since its founding in 1896....

Last year
14-15 overall, 6-10 in conference.

Tim Doyle (8.0 PPG, 1.14 PPWS, 8.7 reb. pct., 8.6 assists per 100 possessions, 5.0 TOs per 100 possessions)
Craig Moore (6.8 PPG, 1.11 PPWS, 4.6 reb. pct., 5.8 a/100 poss., 2.9 TO/100 poss.)
Sterling Williams (3.4 PPG, 0.89 PPWS, 7.7 reb. pct., 3.9 a/100 poss., 3.1 TO/100 poss.)
Vince Scott (3.0 PPG)

Kevin Coble (6-9 F, Phoenix)
Jason Okrzesik (6-1 G, transfer from Rice)
Jeff Ryan (6-7 F, Glenview IL)
Jeremy Nash (6-4 G, Chicago)
Nikola Baran (6-8 F, Zagreb, Croatia)
Ivan Peljusic (6-8 F, Zadar, Croatia)

Vedran Vukusic (19.0 PPG, 1.21 PPWS, 6.7 reb. pct., 3.1 a/100 poss., 3.4 TO/100 poss.)
Mohamed Hachad (11.8 PPG, 1.21 PPWS, 11.0 reb. pct., 3.9 a/100 poss., 6.5 TO/100 poss.)
Bernard Cote (4.2 PPG, 0.96 PP....Look, forget the stats--this is his girlfriend)
Evan Seacat (2.6 PPG)
Michael Jenkins (2.0 PPG)

Official motto for 2006-07
"Still undefeated in NCAA tournament play."

What we think we know in November (read the warning label)
Remember in March 2005 when Michigan State coach Tom Izzo used a large rubber mallet to smash the videotapes of his team's dispiriting loss to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals? The Spartans then went on to the Final Four and everyone talked about what an inspired piece of practice-facility dramaturgy Izzo had executed.

Well, if I were Bill Carmody, I would stage the following little set-piece in the practice gym this afternoon....

CARMODY: Gather round here, guys. I've got someone that wants to make your acquaintance. Fellahs, meet Team X!

TEAM X GUY (enters all in black, sporting a really cool mask with a giant X, just like Racer X): Hello.

PLAYERS: Uh, hi.

CARMODY: Guys, I've asked Team X here today to help me dispel some misconceptions about our own team. Now, the important thing for you to know about Team X is that they're a very good team from a different conference. Not great, maybe, but very good. I'm talking top-25, a 6-seed in the NCAA tournament, and a trip to the Sweet 16. You'd take that, wouldn't you?

PLAYERS: Yes, we would.

CARMODY: I thought so. Now then, let's compare our performance in-conference last year to Team X's performance in-conference last year. I think you'll find it quite illuminating. Ready, Team X?

TEAM X GUY: Yes, I am.

CARMODY: Alright. Now, let's start with defense. Team X, we take a lot of grief for our D here. Everyone says the only reason the scores are so low is because we play so slow. Well, the fact of the matter is last year we allowed 1.04 points per possession. How many did you give up?

TEAM X GUY: 1.03 points per possession.

PLAYERS: Murmur, murmur.

CARMODY: Really? You know, we allowed opponents to post a 52.3 effective FG pct. How about you?

TEAM X GUY: 52.9.

CARMODY: Our opponents turned the ball over to us on 23 percent of their possessions. Yours?

TEAM X GUY: 23.6.

PLAYERS: Murmur! Murmur!

CARMODY: OK, now the rebounding. Everyone always says we can't rebound. Well, maybe it's not our strong suit. Be that as it may, last year our defensive rebound percentage was 64.2. What was yours?

TEAM X GUY: 63.4.


CARMODY (turning to his players): Sixty-three-point-four, gentlemen. Sixty-three-point-four. Top-25, Sweet 16, and they're worse on the defensive glass than we are!


CARMODY: Alright, then. Let's talk about offense. We had a 52.1 effective FG pct. last year. What was yours, Team X?

TEAM X GUY: 52.7.

CARMODY: Yeah, but what about this: I can't tell you how often I hear that our offensive rebounding is just terrible. Some of the worst in the country, they say. Well, you know what? Maybe they're right. After all, our offensive rebound percentage last year was 22.0. That's pretty low, alright. But I'd sure be interested to know--what was yours?

TEAM X GUY: 21.8.


CARMODY (turning to his players): Twenty-one-point-eight, gentlemen. Twenty-one-point-eight. Top-25, Sweet 16, and they're worse on the offensive boards than we are!


CARMODY: Well, Team X, I have to tell you. I'm hearing that there are a lot of similarities between our teams. I mean our defenses are the same, our shooting's the same, and we're even a little better on the boards than you are! So how is it you get to the Sweet 16?

TEAM X GUY: You forgot to ask me about turnovers.

CARMODY: OK, what about turnovers? We gave the ball away on 21.5 percent of our possessions. You?

TEAM X GUY: 11.9.


CARMODY (turning to players): And there you have it, gentlemen. We're the same as or better than Team X in every statistical measure except turnovers. Holding on to the ball spells the difference between the Sweet 16 and going 6-10 in-conference. Thank you, Team X.

PLAYERS: Hey, wait a minute. He forgot to tell us which team he really is.

TEAM X GUY: I am...(moves to take off his mask)...FLORIDA!


TEAM X GUY: No, just kidding. Oh, man, you should have see some of your faces, though. It was priceless. I mean, as if, right? Like you're going to be Florida this year. That's rich, really. Just too much....

PLAYERS: So who are you, really?

TEAM X GUY: I'm West Virginia.

PLAYERS: Cool! We're going to be like you this year!

TEAM X GUY: Murmur, murmur.

Northwestern: a critique
Northwestern and West Virginia are both POTs--perimeter-oriented teams. The problem with the Wildcats' variety of the style is that they're paying the customarily heavy price for being a POT--they never get offensive boards and they never go to the line--without getting the key benefit: not turning the ball over. Northwestern turns the ball over at a rate that would be more in line with a team that methodically feeds the post than one that devotes 47 percent of its shots to threes.

The problem with saying you're going to be like West Virginia in 2006 where turnovers are concerned, however, is that saying this is only slightly less ridiculous than a baseball player saying he's going to be like Joe DiMaggio in 1941 where hitting is concerned. The Mountaineers last season were a teachably extreme case, one that furnishes insight but certainly not an exemplar. While WVU turned the ball over on only 11.9 percent of their possessions in Big East play, the average in-conference number here for "power"-conference offenses last season was 20.7 percent. West Virginia was operating several orders of magnitude beyond reality last year as far as turnovers. Still, improvement in holding on to the ball constitutes the critical need in Evanston this season.

On defense last year NU was better than on offense: only slightly below the conference average. The Wildcats didn't get many defensive boards, of course, and opponents shot fairly well against them. But Carmody's men did create turnovers in abundance. They've done so in Evanston now for two years running. They will want to continue that tradition.

BONUS warning to season ticket holders!
Tim Doyle on the 2007 team: "The style of game we play may be even more boring this year, taking the air out of the ball because we don't have a lot of great scorers....We’re going to be even more strict within the offense. The team has bought into the system more because we have less individual talent."

Speaking of Doyle....

"Tim Doyle. Meet the Tim Doyle." (Sung to the tune of "The Flintstones")
I like Tim Doyle. At the Big Ten's media day, he opened up this season's Wildcat media guide, flipped to the page with the team picture, and held it up for Indiana's Roderick Wilmont to see from a nearby table: "Hey, Wilmont! Does this team strike fear in you?" Refreshingly non-earnest and quite appropriately self-deprecating Big Ten player Tim Doyle, Wonk salutes you!

As for non-banquet-room matters, for all the talk of his "
Fred Flintstone body," Doyle is in fact a skilled player, one who records an astonishing number of assists for a small forward. Plus his shot selection is superb: his 2FG pct. is excellent and the scarce number of attempts he launches from outside the arc reflects that.

Main area for Doyle to work on: holding on to the ball.

"Because there are no fours...."
Craig Moore is a 35.5 percent three-point shooter--not bad, not good, just OK. Yet Moore is undeniably noteworthy: no player in the Big Ten last year came within a country mile of devoting as large a share of his FG attempts to threes as did the feisty Wildcat from Pennsylvania, who launched 152 attempts from outside the arc and just 19 from inside it. (That's 89 percent of his attempts.) Ordinarily I'd be interested in such a player's FT percentage, to see if he gives hints of being an intrinsically good shooter. But since Moore attempted just 13 free throws last year, your guess is as good as mine.

All-handle, no-shoot
Sterling Williams had a disastrous year last season shooting the ball but proved surprisingly trustworthy with that very same ball. Normal sophomore-year improvement in shooting could make Williams a key contributor. (Granted, his 62.0 FT percentage suggests he won't be the primary three-point threat anytime soon. Still, it's not unreasonable to expect improvement in his 41.1 2FG pct.)

Horace Greeley said: Go into the paint, young man
Vince Scott had a tough year last year. Attempted threes constituted almost 40 percent of his shots--despite the inconvenient fact that he was making less than 23 percent of his threes. And a 9.3 rebound percentage, even given NU's stylistic eccentricities, is way low for a player listed at 6-11.

Kevin Coble appears to be a skilled 6-9 freshman, having averaged 27 points a game and shot 87 percent from the line last year in HS ball in greater Phoenix.

Jason Okrzesik is a native of Oak Park and has transferred back home, sort of, from Rice.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan State beat Youngstown State 86-61 last night in East Lansing in second-round action in the loquaciously titled "2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches Vs. Cancer." "Dominance" does little descriptive justice to what the Spartans achieved on the offensive boards in this game, for Tom Izzo's men hauled in 15 offensive boards on only 24 misses. Also note: only 24 misses. MSU had a fun night shooting the ball, going 9-of-13 on their threes. This display of perimeter shooting was almost exclusively the work of two players: Drew Neitzel (5-of-8, led the Spartans with 17 points) and Maurice Joseph (4-of-4). Goran Suton added 12 boards in 27 minutes for Michigan State. The Spartans move on to the semifinals of this event, to be played Thursday night in Madison Square Garden. (Box score.)

Northwestern opens regular season play against Cornell tonight in Evanston.

Penn State opens regular season play tonight in State College against Morehead State.

Michigan opens regular season play tonight against Central Connecticut in Ann Arbor.

Ohio State opens regular season play tonight in Columbus against VMI.

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