In tedium's path: fear, trepidation, resignationMidwest hoops fans brace for another long season of long possessions
INDIANAPOLIS, January 30--The Slow Games Center at the National Big Ten Hoops Service has issued a Severe Dullness Warning, effective as of midnight last night and affecting portions of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.At 11:45pm last night an average Big Ten game containing less than 61 possessions was spotted seven miles east-southeast of State College, Pennsylvania, proceeding in a westerly direction toward State College, Columbus, and points west. The game has been classified as a Category 4 Dull Game, meaning the potential exists for severe and debilitating boredom, with substantial loss of enthusiasm. Fans are advised to bring alternative means of entertainment to a Category 4 game, up to and including iPods, cell phones, electronic games, a deck of cards, yarn, kazoos, a blank piece of paper to stare at, zip code directories, floss, or Al Gore.Still, if the reaction here in this otherwise Colts-crazed city is any indication, fans are prepared to ride out the worst. Evacuation advisories have gone largely unheeded and the locals who gather every morning to talk hoops at Café Patachou at 49th and Pennsylvania say they've seen worse. "Back in '05, I saw a Northwestern-Indiana game that I swear was tied at seven at halftime," says Charlie Stratton, a local county official and rabid hoops fan. "This won't be so bad."
The numbers, however, tell a different tale. The Category 4 game represents the most intense and severe case of dullness measured in an average Big Ten game since at least 2004-05, when records on pace became available. The average Big Ten conference game in both 2005 and 2006 contained about 64 possessions. Fans in the path of a Category 4 Dull Game are advised to seek shelter immediately in an interior closet or crawl space. Doing so will be more entertaining than watching the shot clock hit single-digits on every single trip down the floor.At least one hoops blogger has responded to what he sees as a need for peace of mind among fans. John Gasaway has announced he's offering "boredom insurance" at what he calls "competitive rates" on many Big Ten games.
The rates paid by policy holders are determined by the likelihood of excessive dullness in a given contest--the higher the likelihood, the higher the rate. Rates this season, Gasaway says, are running higher than at any time since the change from a 40-second shot clock to 35 seconds in 1993. In fact, Gasaway notes that Northwestern games this season aren't covered at all by any reputable underwriter. "Look, they're averaging 55 possessions a game. No one's going to carry that risk," Gasaway says.
Insured or not, hoops fans here in the Circle City say they're ready for the worst. "I'm going to a couple games this week," Stratton says. "And if they try to evacuate me 'for my own safety,' I ain't going. These are our teams." In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Michigan State plays Illinois tonight in Champaign (ESPN, 9ET). Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says Tom Izzo "would rather dye his hair maize and blue than coach a one-man show, but he has no choice: This is a transition year for the Spartans, and [Drew] Neitzel is the one who has saved it." Ay, carumba. Where to start.... Neitzel's having a great year (he's an All-Wonk honoree) and had an even greater game against Ohio State Saturday night. He's that rare player who can kill you on any given possession with either the right pass or a three, depending on what you give him. The Spartans wouldn't be as good as they are without Neitzel. But to term this year's team "a one-man show" is to miss still another great story that's happened in East Lansing so far this season: the defense and rebounding are back. Granted, the meat of their schedule is still to come, but to this point Michigan State's defense in conference play is significantly better than it was last year. And the Spartans rank first in the conference on both the offensive and defensive glass in Big Ten play. So when Neitzel has an off game, the Spartans can--and will--still compete, rest assured. If this is a "transition year" it's a transition back to the Izzo brand of hoops. Good transition, that.
Multi-man show Michigan State Spartans, Wonk salutes you!
Programming noteThe Wonk Wife and I are about to embark on our annual start-o'-February flee-the-slush trip to California. If you're strolling around Santa Barbara this weekend and want to talk Big Ten hoops, flag me down. Otherwise, c'est-la vie: no posting here Friday through Wednesday, Feb. 2-7. BONUS all-top-40 edition of Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!
Badger fans and devotees of yeasty 70s pop have already heard this....
Great blog once again this year. I just wanted to pass along to you the version of ABBA's "Fernando"--Wisconsin style: "Alando." Check it out. I think Bucky Fandom has reached a whole new level this year!
It's a good day to be a Badger!
Thanks, Heather. (The writes-itself Bo Ryan-ized version of "Bo Diddley" surely can't be far behind.)
BONUS Edward Tufte edition!
It's like this: I can only trot out the paragraphs and numbers and flail my arms around for so long, saying things like, "Wow, Penn State's defense is NBA-ready!" or "Gee, Minnesota's offense is historically unthreatening!"
At some point, words and lists of mere numbers fail.
(Conference games only, through January 24)
Call this a tempo-free aerial. I first saw one of these put together two years ago by canonical blogger emeritus Ryan Kobliska. I loved it--and when Sports Illustrated, armed with data provided by Ken Pomeroy, used the same kind of graphic for the print edition of their tournament preview last March, I assumed that by now we'd be seeing these handy items from time to time.
And indeed we will. I'll henceforth keep it updated and available with the rest of the tempo-free pots and pans in the sidebar.
Michigan State looks surprisingly Wisconsinian here. Of course they do: they've played six games so far without running into either of the two best teams in the conference. That's about to change--the Spartans play at Ohio State tomorrow night. (The impressive thing about the Buckeyes' upper-rightness in the aerial, conversely, is that it already includes, of course, their game in Madison.)
And as for Indiana allowing 1.01 points per possession, yes, it's true. Just keep in mind, though, that their offense has been phenomenal and they've been winning games with that level of D, to wit....
Indiana defense: opponent points per possession
Loss at Ohio State (1.23)
Win vs. Michigan State (0.80)
Win vs. Purdue (0.91)
Win at Penn State (1.12)
Win vs. Iowa (1.00)
Loss at Illinois (1.01)
In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
It's the game of the year!
2007: A Hoops Odyssey
Penn State plays Minnesota in Minneapolis tomorrow. That's right, you heard what I said. It's the game of the year. As seen above in graphic detail (har!), the Nittany Lions allow Big Ten opponents to score at a rate I haven't seen before. And the Gophers, well, they score points at a rate I haven't seen before either, if you get my drift. So I think this Minnesota offense facing this Penn State defense may just cause a rip in the hoops time-space continuum. In fact, I won't be at all surprised to see the following take place....
The Nittany Lions win the opening tip and on their first possession everything proceeds as normal. But then, at the exact instant that Dan Coleman rebounds a Geary Claxton miss and the Minnesota offense faces the Penn State defense for the first time, a mysterious black monolith materializes at center court.
The players stop. A hush falls over the crowd. Suddenly, Danny Morrissey--haltingly, yet almost instinctually--assumes a good defensive stance. Then, as Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra begins to swell, Jamal Abu-Shamala eschews a three and drives the ball decisively into the paint.
The music continues to build: Milos Bogetic swats a shot away! Bryce Webster and Limar Wilson run a sweet pick-and-pop! Ed DeChellis asks Hal to open the pod bay doors! Jim Molinari says the floor in Williams Arena is raised because the original court appears to have been "deliberately buried"! O, the rapture!...
And then the game ends inexplicably in an all-white room with a spaceship and some old guy eating. I'm just saying, I wouldn't be surprised.
Other, less metaphysical, games on tap for tomorrow
Michigan State plays Ohio State in Columbus (ESPN2, 9ET).
Michigan plays Indiana in Bloomington (ESPN, Noon ET).
Illinois plays Purdue in West Lafayette.
Wisconsin plays Iowa in Iowa City (CBS, 1ET). Speaking of which....
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!
Upsets predicted in advance by the alert readers!
Iowa will knock off Wisconsin Sunday in Iowa City. Book it. Bet it. Count on it.
They are the Jekyll and Hyde of college basketball: Dr. Jekyll at Carver-Hawkeye and Mr. Hyde on the road. I've been to almost all of their home games and I can't believe I'm watching the same team that seems to wilt in unfriendly confines.
At home, they play with confidence and they seem to play through their weaknesses (complete lack of an inside presence, rebounding) by playing extremely tough perimeter defense and getting efficient guard play from Haluska, Smith and usually someone else, never the same guy (against Penn State is was--finally--Mike Henderson).
On the road, Haluska is streaky, Smith vanishes for the first 30 minutes then lights up the scoreboard in the second half, and they usually get NOTHING offensively from anyone else. And of course they get demolished inside.
One thing they do accomplish both at home and on the road is making their free throws. Against Wisconsin, they'll make just enough to win. And you can't tell me that Wisconsin won't come into Carver a tad overconfident.
Just give me credit when it happens! My ego could use it.
Michael, if this indeed comes to pass I will give you credit, rest assured.