Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, December 28, 2006
My streak of consecutive posts without a pun on Bob Knight's name continues!
Bob Knight will break Dean Smith's record for career wins tonight in Lubbock if Texas Tech can defeat UNLV.

Knight has always provided a welcome opportunity for sportswriters swinging for the fences who want to label someone, anyone, as "complex." (You and I might similarly value "complexity" far beyond its intrinsic worth if we spent as much time with 19-year-olds as do beat writers.) But is "the General" really so very complex?

I've never thought so. Being outstanding beyond question in your chosen profession (winning three national titles) while choosing to behave like a self-centered nine-year-old is surely not so very complex. Such may be the mark of a Fortune 500 CEO; it is hardly the stuff of Shakespeare.

Knight is one of the greatest college coaches in the history of the game. But I think it was within his grasp to be the greatest, had he not stood in his own way. His unchecked self-indulgent pyrotechnics sent an entire generation of blue-chip recruits to points east, west, north, and south--anywhere but Bloomington. (This was the one grain of truth in the otherwise fatuous refrain which held that Mike Davis "had no chance" as Knight's successor. By the time Davis struggled to land top in-state prospects, Hoosier fans were well into a years-long recruiting drought and in no mood to suffer such a continuation gladly.)

True, Knight's generous to a fault to his former players and to fellow coaches. He's witty. And he's a student of the game. By this time tomorrow he may be the winningest coach in D-I college basketball history.

But he could have been more, much more. That's not complex and it's definitely not tragic. It's just the way it happened.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Behold holiday hoops, past and (near) future....

Indiana beat IUPUI 86-57 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers dominated the offensive glass (15 offensive boards in 27 chances), shot better than they have since their first game of the year, and took care of the ball. Earl Calloway and Lance Stemler each scored 21 points for IU. (Box score.)

Purdue beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 79-61 in West Lafayette. Carl Landry was Carl Landry: 21 points on 11 shots and 15 FTAs in 21 minutes. Last year Ron Lewis of Ohio State led the Big Ten in free throw proficiency with a .450 FTM/FGA. Landry so far this year: .725 FTM/FGA. Wow. (Box score.)

UNLV beat Minnesota 62-58 in Las Vegas. The Gophers trailed by 10 with four minutes to play but rallied to make it interesting at the end. Minnesota actually outshot the Rebels by a wide margin but once again could not control their defensive glass. The 25-7 disparity in FTAs in favor of the home team didn't help either. Spencer Tollackson led the Gophers with 13 points on 13 shots. (Box score (pdf).)

Florida beat Ohio State 86-60 Saturday in Gainesville. I've said some nice things this season about the Buckeyes--nice things that were predicated, in part, on a key assumption: that Thad Matta would be able to get a level of defense out of talented players he recruited that is equal or superior to the defense he got out of less-talented players that he didn't recruit. Saturday's game legitimately calls this assumption into question. The game was tied at 40 early in the second half, at which point the Gators feasted on a trapping OSU defense that wasn't really trapping anyone--it was just creating open shots. And Florida hit them.

Should Matta have been trapping? Tough call. If I were tied with Florida on the road early in the second half I might be content to pack the paint and keep the ball in front of me. But say this for Matta: he danced with the girl that brung him. A one-handed Greg Oden's raison d'être is precisely to enable this kind of aggressiveness on the perimeter. (And in any case the concept was more defensible than the execution, which was above all else listless--something I'm not sure I've seen before in the Matta era.) The Gators, however, responded brilliantly, passing out of the traps and stopping for open 17-foot looks before entering Oden territory down low.

The good news for Ohio State is that, realistically, there's only one team in the Big Ten this season that has the talent on the floor to profit from watching this tape closely. The bad news for Ohio State is that that team is Wisconsin. (Box score.)

UCLA beat Michigan 92-55 in L.A. No one can begrudge the Wolverines losing on the road to the number 1 team in the nation, of course, but Tommy Amaker's team appeared to give up in this game. They went down cowering. And if there is any future Michigan opponent that sees this tape and then chooses not to double-team Courtney Sims, I cannot for the life of me understand why. (Box score.)

Wisconsin beat Pacific 83-47 in Madison. Kammron Taylor made 3-of-4 threes and led the Badgers with 17 points. (Box score.)...Mickey Perry has announced he's leaving Wisconsin and will transfer to another program.

Michigan State beat Wisconsin-Green Bay 76-64 in East Lansing. This was a two-point game with 13 minutes to play but the Spartans then went on a 17-7 run to secure the win. Goran Suton posted a 14-15 dub-dub, while Drew Neitzel led MSU in shots (17) and points (22). Travis Walton recorded eight assists and zero turnovers. This is the highest level of efficiency (1.12 points per possession) that any offense has achieved against Michigan State--better than Maryland (0.99) or Boston College (1.01). (Box score.)

Penn State beat Maine 75-42 in State College. Geary Claxton led the Nittany Lions with 21 points on 12 shots. (Box score.)

Iowa beat Texas-Southern 90-63. Tyler Smith led the Hawkeyes with 25 points on 15 shots. (Box score.)

Last night
Wisconsin beat Gardner-Webb 98-40 in Madison. Brian Butch made 3-of-3 threes and posted a 17-12 dub-dub in just 19 minutes. (Box score (pdf).)

Northwestern beat Loyola College (MD) 66-60 in Evanston, a game in which the Wildcats trailed by seven at the half. Vince Scott went 7-of-7 from the field and led the 'Cats with 16 points. (Box score.)

Hoops tonight!
Purdue plays Indiana State in Terre Haute.

Michigan plays Army in Ann Arbor.

COMING next week!
Start your 2007 with a special double-issue conference-season-kickoff blogtacular, featuring state-of-the-team addresses on each and every Big Ten team--even the bad ones! It's an annual tradition! (Or would be if I'd done one last year.)

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

Whither Michigan? Wither Michigan?
As a Michigan fan I think that our major flaws were exposed against UCLA. We’re slow and don’t have anyone who is comfortable driving to the basket.

A lot of Amaker’s critics say that his team has all kinds of talent but underperforms, but I tend to think that the talent level is overrated. Sims, Petway, Harris and Abram are pretty good players, but none of them shows any leadership or the ability to take over a game.

Anyway, I wondered if you think that the UCLA showed the real Michigan (meaning an NIT bid at best), or if I’m putting too much stock in one terrible performance.

Peter M.

I think there is no force on earth that can prevent yet another repeat of the bubble agony in Ann Arbor: the Wolverines will not be good enough to make the NCAA tournament with ease, nor will they be bad enough to miss it by a mile.


Who's a "passing big man"?
In last Friday's post I said Joakim Noah is a passing big man and that the Big Ten really doesn't have such a thing this year. The readers respond!

What about Goran Suton? MSU's big Euro (6-10, 245) had a 18.9 assist% (per before he dropped five more dimes in the UW-Green Bay game. Coach Izzo has praised him for his deft passing touch, and the numbers bear it out.


Joshua D.

I say: Suton's close. He records 5.9 assists for every 100 possessions he plays. (So too does another big man: Vince Scott of Northwestern). Again, the impressive thing about Noah is that he chips in better than eight assists per 100 possessions while also doing better on the boards (19.2 reb. pct.) than Suton (16.6). Noah's thus both more Euro and un-Euro than the Euro.

Thanks, Joshua.

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