Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Strength vs. strength, home vs. road
Tonight in Bloomington: Wisconsin vs. Indiana
Ah, the Hoosiers at home. The atmosphere, the crowd, the precociously hot outside shooting....Right?

Au contraire! Indiana is actually hitting threes at a slightly higher rate on the road in Big Ten play than they are at Assembly Hall. (An anomaly that grimly intent hoops analysts in white lab coats refer to as the "having-played-at-Penn-State effect.") Yet their league-leading offense has been significantly better at home than it has been on the road. What gives?

It's all about the twos....The Hoosiers shoot fewer threes and are much more accurate on their twos at home. But will this pattern hold this evening against the taller Badgers and their superb interior defense?

Well, no, probably not. Wisconsin's interior D is a movable feast, every bit as good on the road as it has been in Madison. Indiana will need some of those threes to fall. The first three attempted by Roderick Wilmont tonight will be a good indicator. (Although Wilmont, goodness knows, doesn't exactly curl up in a ball just because he misses a few. For better or worse he keeps firing.)

Other equally hazardous pieces of conjecture:

1. I should predict here that turnovers won't be a factor. But....Even though both teams excel at holding on to the ball, the Badgers do turn the ball over a little more on the road. And IU does force a lot more TOs at home. Hmmm..... (Related: watch Michael Flowers. The Wisconsin junior is an oddity: a prolific creator of opponent turnovers, playing in a system that's always placed good defensive position over steals.)

2. Ignore pregame coverage talking about the "tough match up" posed by Alando Tucker. He does indeed pose a tough match up for the undersized Hoosiers--which is precisely why Indiana will swarm him whenever he gets the ball anywhere inside the arc. (Conversely, Kelvin Sampson has equipped his players with tiny signs reading "YES! SHOOT THAT!" to wave at Tucker whenever he's outside the arc.) The key will be how quickly and how well Tucker passes out of the double- and triple-teams and how quickly and how well IU rotates defensively.

3. Keep an eye on Indiana's defensive glass. If recent trends hold, the Badgers will miss their fair share of shots tonight. And if the Hoosiers can limit Bo Ryan's team to just one shot for the balance of the evening, they can make life tough for the visitors. This doesn't figure to be D.J. White's biggest scoring night but if he can haul in his share of boards on the defensive end, he will have done his job.

In addition to typing words, I can occasionally speak them....
I'll be talking Indiana-Wisconsin and anything else that comes up with Steve "The Homer" True on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio this evening around 6:20 ET. Tune in and listen to me wing it.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Illinois beat Michigan State 57-50 in Champaign last night. The Illini tried every way they knew to give this game away. As always, they shot poorly from the field (normal shooting tonight by Wisconsin will officially crown Illinois as the Big Ten's worst three-point shooting team in conference play) and missed no less than 15 free throws (Shaun Pruitt alone was 5-of-14 at the line). But the Spartans were not to be denied in their pursuit of a loss, shooting even worse than Bruce Weber's men from the field (Drew Neitzel went 2-of-12) and coughing the ball up 20 times in a 61-possession game. (MSU, for their part, is officially the most TO-prone Big Ten team in conference play.) For the Illini there was, however, one exception to the poor-shooting rule: Chester Frazier. Yes, Chester Frazier, the single least efficient scorer in the Big Ten last season, was 6-of-8 from the field and led all scorers with 17 points. (Box score.)

BONUS unprecedented note! I've watched D-I hoops since I was a wee lad but don't think I've ever seen an airball shot from six feet away--and I mean literally an airball: no rim, no glass, nada. But with 12:27 left in the first half last night Marcus Arnold shot an airball from a visually verifiable six feet. (The problem was quickly traced to Arnold's oddly elaborate and curiously antiquated John Merrick-era protective mask, which was found to be upside down.)

Non-Wisconsin-Indiana hoops tonight!
Ohio State plays Purdue in West Lafayette (ESPN2, 7ET). Greg Oden will attend a funeral this morning in Terre Haute, IN, for a childhood friend but is expected to play.

Iowa plays Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Minnesota plays Northwestern in Evanston.

Programming note
The 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 spontaneously contentious edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

The readers disagree! I side with the ones that like me!
Recently I've been noticing that the Big Ten, already the slowest-paced "power"-conference, is even slower this season than in recent years. But instead of trotting out still more numbers or charts, I made a considered decision to present this realization yesterday in a satirical and thus frivolous manner.

Some folks liked it....


Thank you for your blog! I am getting so sick of know-nothing fans who decry "poor shot selection" and the lack of "set plays" by my Buckeyes. As if passing the ball around aimlessly or detailed choreography will necessarily result in superior looks. These people want to return to the days of the two-hand set shot, apparently.

My philosophy is: a good shot is a good shot regardless of how you find it (or when in the shot clock it is found). Big Ten hoops is getting increasingly tedious and slow pace is the primary reason. I'd much prefer to watch a quick ACC game. (Of course, one reason most Big Ten coaches prefer the slow game is that they lack the athletes to play any other way.)

--Jeff H.

Some folks didn't....


I was surprised to read your piece on "Tedium's path."

For all of your insights and for all of you obvious love for the game, this particular perspective makes you sound like a great candidate to turn to the obvious answer: the NBA!

They average more possessions than most college fans could ever want. Most of us love the variety of college basketball, where for every talent-loaded Kansas, Florida, or North Carolina, there is a Pitt, Wisconsin, or Washington State. There is a means to winning that does not demand success in recruiting players on the "fast-track" to the NBA.

Some of us think that makes the college game a far more attractive choice. I'm confident that includes you, most of the time.

Thanks for all of your great work. But, on this one, I'm feeling like you've missed badly!

Steve T.

Hey, I'm all about variety. This blog is avowedly premised on "style-sensitive hoops critique." If Georgetown or Air Force or anyone else can win going slow, I salute them. Truly. Always have.

But this isn't variety:

Possessions per 40 min. (conf. games only)
1. Illinois (62.2)
2. Wisconsin (62.1)
3. Ohio State (61.8)
4. Indiana (61.6)
5. Michigan State (61.6)
6. Purdue (61.3)
7. Iowa (61.1)
8. Minnesota (61.1)
9. Penn State (61.1)
10. Michigan (60.7)
11. Northwestern (55.4)

In other words, every team in the conference plays at the exact same pace--except Northwestern, one of the slowest teams in the nation, which plays at an even more deliberate speed.

Give me the variety that alert reader Steve limns so eloquently. Please.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
In tedium's path: fear, trepidation, resignation
Midwest 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 note
The 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!

Heather A.

Thanks, Heather. (The writes-itself Bo Ryan-ized version of "Bo Diddley" surely can't be far behind.)
Monday, January 29, 2007
An inside look at Ohio State
It's too easy--and too common--to see a team lose and say, "Hey! That team's not as good as I thought!" So I try not to pile on that way. But when a team wins they're fair game. For instance....

Last year Indiana beat Northwestern at home and I said, "Hey! That Indiana team's not as good as I thought!" This year Illinois beat Missouri on a neutral court in St. Louis and I said, "Hey! That Illinois team's not as good as I thought!"

Which brings me to Saturday night's 66-64 win by Ohio State over Michigan State in Columbus. Guess what....

It's not that the Buckeyes aren't as good as I thought they'd be, per se. But after seven conference games we've seen enough to at least say this much:

Forget "He's worth 20 a game just on defense, baby." Fact is: Greg Oden hasn't had nearly the impact on Ohio State's interior defense that I, and everyone else, thought he would have.

The Buckeyes' conference opponents are shooting 44.9 percent on their twos. Sure, that's a respectable number for OSU--but it's built largely on hideous shooting nearly a month ago by Indiana and Illinois. Recent opponents are, for the most part, doing much better....

Ohio State: opponent 2FG pct.
at Wisconsin (50.0)
vs. Northwestern (37.5)
vs. Iowa (55.6)
at Northwestern (50.0)
vs. Michigan State (51.3)

The Iowa and (second) Northwestern numbers in particular would set off alarm bells for me if I were bedecked in scarlet and gray. And on Saturday night the Spartans were able to come almost all the way back from a 20-point halftime deficit because they made 12-of-16 twos in the last 20 minutes.

I had thought that Thad Matta's team could conceivably hold conference opponents to a 2FG pct. in the impressively low 40s--say, like Wisconsin (41.4 opponent 2FG pct.). Apparently I thought wrong.

Now, can teams overcome questionable interior D during the regular season? Of course! Last year Florida allowed SEC opponents to make 48.1 percent of their twos--and then held NCAA tournament foes to just 38.3 percent shooting inside the arc. (Said it before: defense won the national championship for the Gators.) But I guess that's my point. It's safer to expect a continuation of a team's personality than it is to wish fervently for sudden schizophrenia.

And Ohio State's defensive personality on the interior is surprisingly cordial to opponents.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Home team domination continues. Woo! Except in Iowa City....

The weekend in hoops--Saturday!
Ohio State beat Michigan State 66-64 in Columbus. The Buckeyes led by 20 at the half but allowed the Spartans to score 41 second-half points. Greg Oden made 11-of-14 free throws and led OSU with 19 points on 10 shots. Drew Neitzel made 4-of-12 threes and led MSU with 29 points on 20 shots. And Travis Walton played the more highly lauded Mike Conley to a virtually exact draw: both players recorded four points, five assists, and one turnover. (Box score.)

Indiana beat Michigan 76-61 in Bloomington. The Big Ten's best offense looked the part, ringing up 76 points in 63 possessions, thanks to 10-of-20 shooting outside the arc. D.J. White and Roderick Wilmont each scored 15 points for the Hoosiers. (Box score.)

Purdue beat Illinois 64-47 in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers scored 21 consecutive points in the first half and David Teague made 5-of-7 threes--one of which was banked in from 25+ feet with time winding down on the shot clock. Teague finished with 28 points, more than any two Illini players. Still, Purdue's offense was merely normal (1.05 points per possession). It was an anemic Illinois offense on the road that was once again decisive: Bruce Weber's team couldn't make shots from outside or inside. (Box score.)

Minnesota beat Penn State 65-60 in Minneapolis. In a clash between the conference's worst offense (the Gophers) and its worst defense (the Nittany Lions), the offense won. Minnesota scored more efficiently than they have in any other conference game: Lawrence McKenzie made 5-of-10 threes and led the way with 19 points. More surprising, however, were contributions from Jonathan Williams (a 13-14 dub-dub) and Kevin Payton (12 points on eight shots). Geary Claxton posted a 20-12 dub-dub for Penn State. (Box score (pdf).)

Hoops yesterday!
Wisconsin beat Iowa 57-46 in Iowa City. This was Alando Tucker's best game--i.e., even better than Pitt. Tucker needed only 14 shots from the field to score 27 points. Funny thing is, the rest of the Badgers, Brian Butch notwithstanding (14 points, including 3-of-6 on his threes), were not a lot of help offensively. No matter. If Tucker plays like this, Wisconsin is indeed as good as their ranking. Meantime Adam Haluska suffered through his worst game: 16 points on 3-of-18 shooting. (Box score.)

BONUS reason why I love Bill Raftery! I wasn't DVR'ing the game but I'm pretty sure I heard this from Raf amid the thunderous explosion in Carver-Hawkeye that followed Kurt Looby's second-half slam-dunk putback of yet another Haluska miss: "Loob job!"

Wonk back!

Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Predictions gone bad--the aftermath
On Friday alert reader Michael M. predicted that Iowa would upset Wisconsin this weekend. Even before yesterday's game, one alert reader responded!

Hey, any bozo with an internet connection can go around predicting upsets. I agree that my Badgers will have to show up and play at least a solid, if not spectacular, game on Sunday to win at Carver-Hawkeye.

But saying that an Iowa win is a foregone conclusion makes this guy sound like a simpleton. Give Mike M. his props if he correctly calls the upset, but please remind us all of what a knucklehead he is if the Badgers win. It’s only fair, Wonk.

Brian G.

Others, emailing after the fact, were more magnanimous. Um, a little bit more. Maybe. OK, not really....

As I watched the Badger-Hawkeye game I couldn't help but notice that the Big Ten's scoring leader was shut down completely by Badger defenders Flowers and Krabbenhoft. Going 3-of-18 from the field! Great call by Michael M. on the upset.

But I feel you need to address something Adam Haluska does constantly on the offensive end: diving. Haluska is positively Reggie Miller-esque: kicking out his legs, screaming when he shoots, flailing his body every time he goes into traffic. Had Haluska not been to the line 10 times (making 9 free throws), he would have been in single digits.

One the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Alando Tucker. He goes up strong when he shoots and most time he uses superior body control to avoid contact. Admittedly I am biased towards the Badgers, but I can't stand when players like Adam Haluska use cheap tricks to con the referees into sending him to the free throw line.

Jeff S.

Tucker also gets an occasional call, though, granted, he's usually admirably stoic when he doesn't get it. As for Haluska, he is squarely in line with an Alford-era Hawkeye tradition: Iowa, to say the least, makes a conscious effort to get to the line. I don't particularly care for it aesthetically but, hey, to each his own.
Friday, January 26, 2007

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.

So here:

(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.

Hoops Sunday!
Wisconsin plays Iowa in Iowa City (CBS, 1ET). Speaking of which....

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

Upsets predicted in advance by the alert readers!
Hey, Wonk,

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 M.

Michael, if this indeed comes to pass I will give you credit, rest assured.

Call it 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 so we will. They'll be here.

(Read more about tempo-free stats.)
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The strange consistency of the Michigan Wolverines
I've been doing this whimsical little blog thing for two seasons and the better part of a third now. And in that time there have really been only two Big Ten constants that have remained stoically impervious to the vagaries of scheduling, injury, graduation, and chance: Wisconsin has taken care of the ball and Michigan hasn't.

Those constants remained in force last night, as the Wolverines lost to the Badgers in Madison, 71-58. Tommy Amaker's team coughed the ball up 19 times in a 65-possession game, a performance that had would-be Michigan livebloggers tuning out early in disgust. In conference games this year the Wolverines are donating the ball graciously to their opponents on fully one in every four possessions.

Small sample size, you say? On the year as a whole, that TO figure drops only a couple microns, to just under 25 percent, against a schedule that included the likes of Central Connecticut State, Maryland-Baltimore County, and Wofford. Ye gods....

Courtney Sims is fairly the Big Ten's poster child for TOs, of course, and indeed he gave the ball away no fewer than seven times last night. But remember two additional items here: 1) Sims scores on those occasions, admittedly few and far between, when he doesn't turn the ball over; and 2) Ron Coleman and Ekpe Udoh notwithstanding, all Michigan players turn the ball over, not just Sims.

Giving the ball away on one in every four trips down the floor means quite simply you have to be excellent in every other facet of the game every time out: shooting, FG defense, defensive rebounding--everything. (It also means you should strive not to foul out in just 13 minutes of floor time, as did Brent Petway last night.) And while that can happen on occasion (the Wolverines beat Penn State by 20 while turning the ball over about that often), Michigan's not that consistent. No team is.

BONUS consistently schizophrenic note!
All teams tend to do better at home, naturally, but Michigan's she's-my-daughter-she's-my-sister body of work in this area is truly noteworthy, to wit:

Michigan offense: points per possession (in conference)
Home: 1.19
Away: 0.95

BONUS Bo Ryan kudo!
The indefatigable Badger coach isn't just a talented vaudevillian, he's a whip-smart tactician too! Given a group that's been unable as of yet to make threes against Big Ten opponents, Ryan apparently responded by instructing his charges--prepare for wisdom of elegant, indeed Taoist, simplicity--not to shoot threes. And it worked! Wisconsin launched just six of the things last night (they made three) and posted their best effective FG pct. of the conference season. Alando Tucker and Brian Butch each scored 16 points on combined 12-of-17 shooting from the field.

It's official: the Dick Bennett era is over
As of this morning Wisconsin is the fastest-paced team in Big Ten play. A bit like being the tallest midget in the circus, perhaps, but there you are.

(Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State beat Northwestern 59-50 in Evanston last night. The Buckeyes played about as poorly as Bill Carmody could have wished, giving the ball away 14 times in a 53-possession crawlfest and missing 16 of 22 threes. But they had Greg Oden. (Or, as I've termed him in my entry for the Greg Oden Nickname Contest, Greg "Punctuated Equilibrium" Oden. Oh, man, I've tagged that kid for life. I'm sure to win!) The freshman from Indy had a rather gaudy evening: 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 17 rebounds. BONUS very sophisticated analysis! Hauling down 17 boards in a game this slow is the equivalent of 20+ at normal speed. (Also, remember to take Ohio State's numbers for pace with a grain of salt in the near future: they've played Northwestern twice.) Ivan Harris led OSU with 18 points. Tim Doyle had a night of bold statistical extremism for the 'Cats: 15 points and six turnovers. (Box score.)

Iowa beat Penn State 79-63 last night in Iowa City. When you get 27 offensive rebounds (!) and lose by 16, as did the Nittany Lions last night, chances are your defense needs attention. True enough: great ghosts of Notre Dame in 2006, this Penn State D is bad. This was a really slow game (58 possessions) and yet the Hawkeyes--not exactly the 2005 Fighting Illini in terms of weapons--nearly rung up 80. Ye gods....Adam Haluska sank 4-of-7 threes and led Iowa with 24 points. Jamelle Cornley posted a 16-11 dub-dub for the Nits. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Minnesota 70-46 in East Lansing last night. I've decided to start the "(Your Team Goes Here) Buries Gophers" Headline Contest. It's easy! Simply play Minnesota, beat them silly, and use the painfully obvious writes-itself lame headline. Northwestern ("Wildcats Bury Gophers for Sixth Straight Time") and now Michigan State ("Spartans Bury Gophers") have already won. Your team could be next! BONUS pro bono advance typesetting for SID types at Penn State! Simply ctrl-c the following text for use after you whomp Minnesota Saturday: "Nittany Lions Bury Gophers." There. I just saved you four seconds out of your life. (Box score.)

BONUS knuckle-rapping! The Spartans turn the ball over even more frequently than do the above-flailed benevolent givers from Michigan. That hasn't mattered so far for MSU. But with games upcoming at Ohio State, at Illinois, and at home against the Buckeyes, it will start to matter now.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Of hype, reality, and really slow games....
In Champaign: Illinois 51, Indiana 43
1. Once in a great while the reality actually exceeds the hype. The first face-to-face meeting between Kelvin Sampson and Bruce Weber last night was one such case. Not the game itself, of course, which had the approximate entertainment value of a documentary on toenail clippers. No, I'm referring to the interaction, or lack thereof, before and after the game between the two coaches. For all the talk of these two not liking each other, it was clear to anyone with functioning optic nerves last night that these two really don't like each other. (Or, more precisely, Weber doesn't like Sampson.) For the first time in years, the hitherto drearily chummy fraternal order of Big Ten coaches has a real honest-to-goodness goll dern feud. Cool.

2. I thought maybe Indiana was due for a less productive night on offense--but not like this. Last night was a perfect storm of non-production: much slower than usual (51 possessions), with more missed shots and turnovers from the Hoosiers. (Don't be fooled by that benign-looking "12" in the TO column for IU. In a game this slow that's actually well above their season average for coughing up the ball.) And, make no mistake, this was bad Indiana offense more than it was good Illinois defense. The Illini have shown time and again this year that they are vulnerable to dribble penetration but the Hoosiers showed little if any inclination to take the ball to the rim. Sampson's team looked listless.

3. Don't forget the grueling travel time between Bloomington and Champaign. Last night Steve Lavin suggested rather adventurously that the lethargic showing by the Hoosiers may have been due to the ill effects of traveling to Hartford for their win Saturday over Connecticut. Travel fatigue? To Hartford and back? That's 850 miles each way with two days off between games. When Minnesota and Penn State play, conversely, the road team travels 975 miles. (Not to mention Pac-10 road games like, say, Washington vs. Arizona: 1625 miles.)

4. Shaun Pruitt should injure his knee before every game. Listed as questionable due to a sprained knee coming into the evening, Pruitt notched the rare ascending-numbers dub-dub (10-13) on a night when Illinois was without the services of Brian Randle, who is sidelined with an injured foot. (It doesn't look good for Randle. Words like "boot" and "plantar fasciitis" are recurring where he is the subject.)

(Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Canonical blogger Chris West is now back up and running, his struggles with the Blogger powers-that-be (his site was somehow flagged as a "spam blog") having been successfully resolved. Give thanks!

Michigan plays Wisconsin tonight in Madison. Wolverine dunkmeister Brent Petway says he and his mates are ready for the challenge: "Everyone says we can't get a win on the road, so (Madison) would be the best place to put that stigma to rest."...Profile of Badger big man Greg Stiemsma here....It says here that the Badgers are continuing "to hustle and play hard, which is best exhibited by their league-best average of 13 offensive rebounds per conference game." No, what's best exhibited in that number is two things: 1) Wisconsin is indeed good on the offensive glass (though not as good as Michigan or Michigan State) but, more importantly; 2) they're missing a lot of shots (only Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota miss more).

Ohio State plays Northwestern in Evanston tonight. Wildcat assistmeister Tim Doyle says the Buckeyes are "the most talented team in the league, by far."...Profile of OSU guard Jamar Butler here. Thad Matta says he has no plans to pull a Bruce Pearl and show up shirtless in the student cheering section at an Ohio State women's basketball game. Good. Let's nip this whole coaches-gone-wild thing in the bud.

Minnesota plays Michigan State tonight in East Lansing and Drew Neitzel says Tom Izzo's been in a good mood lately: "He's not jumping down people's throats every second." Meanwhile, Spartan freshman and Minnesota native Isaiah Dahlman is miffed that he won't play tonight due to an injured foot: "It bums me out big time that I can't play against Minnesota....I was really looking forward to showing people (in Minnesota) what I've done to improve." Gopher big man Spencer Tollackson has been out of action since breaking his hand against Wisconsin on January 6 and the editor for this piece chose the following headline: "Without Tollackson, U has lost its way." Maybe. Then again with Tollackson Minnesota was 7-8 and the head coach was, um, relocated. That's a "way" you might want to lose.

Penn State plays Iowa in Iowa City tonight. Ed DeChellis says he's stumped by his team's struggles on defense, most recently against Michigan State: "We played some zone. We played some man. We pressed. We did just about everything we had." Looking to tonight the Nittany Lion coach is fretting about Adam Haluska: "We're gonna have to play him and find him if we play zone....If we guard him man-to-man, he's a tough matchup, because he's 6-5, 6-6. He's pretty athletic, he shoots over guys, gets the ball to the rim."

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Meet the Hoosiers
Indiana cracked both major polls this week and thus gave the Big Ten that proverbial "third team" everyone's been looking for. (Actually my numbers are telling me there are really five teams that have separated themselves from the rest of the conference--at least for the moment.) Time, then, for some pert questions. Who are these guys and how have they exceeded expectations?

These are the same Indiana players that you already knew. Lost in all the Mike Davis drama last season was the fact that the Hoosiers gave unmistakable hints of having a very good defense. Specifically, their perimeter D last year was outstanding, even amidst the turmoil. This year that perimeter D has gone from outstanding to unbelievable: conference opponents are making just 22.8 percent of their threes.

These are the same Indiana players that you already knew--only different. For instance: Roderick Wilmont was shooting a typically Wilmontesque 34.2 percent on his threes this season before January 13. Since then he's shooting 45.4 percent.

In fact, it can't be emphasized enough: right now Indiana is a team with a big defensive reputation but an even bigger offensive reality. IU's offense has been the best in the Big Ten so far this conference season by a wide margin. True, this has been fueled in part by precociously hot (and thus unlikely to continue) outside shooting. But even when the shooting cools off, Indiana will still be taking care of the ball. And their neighbors to the north in Indy, the Butler Bulldogs, have shown the nation what can be done when you hang on to the rock--even if your shots aren't falling. (So too, for that matter, has Wisconsin.)

One oddly incongruous point for Hoosier fans who insist on fretting about something. Indiana opponents may be hapless in their shooting beyond the arc but those same opponents are surprisingly successful when they work the ball inside and attempt twos. Only Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State have been more giving to opposing offenses on the interior. Keep an eye on it.

BONUS Roderick Wilmont note! I may be skeptical of Wilmont's chances to continue his hot outside shooting but there's little doubt that the tireless Hoosier senior is the best inch-for-inch rebounder in the Big Ten--better even than the more publicized and similarly undersized Geary Claxton. (And that's saying something.)

Wilmont will never have a good number for rebounds per game, of course, because he spends half of each contest floating on the perimeter on offense. But his defensive rebound percentage in fact puts the 6-4 Wilmont on the same level as Goran Suton and above not only Claxton but also Warren Carter, Carl Landry, Jason Chappell, and Gordon Watt. I've said it before: Wilmont has a motor any coach would love. That motor may propel him into questionable shots but it also brings in a ton of boards.

BONUS D.J. White note! Considering White's coach wants him to touch the ball on just about every trip down the floor, the young man from Alabama gives away astonishingly few turnovers: just three for every 100 offensive possessions he plays. (Many big-name bigs, by contrast, cough up the ball at least twice that often.) Trustworthy caretaker of the rock D.J. White, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana plays Illinois tonight in Champaign (ESPN, 7ET).

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Monday, January 22, 2007
As it stands this morning....
Wisconsin is winning ugly--but winning. In conference games the Badgers are last in the Big Ten in three-point shooting by a country mile, having posted an Edvard Munch-level horrific 22.8 3FG percentage. Bo Ryan's team is going to see a lot of paint-packing from opposing D's for the foreseeable future.

Indiana is winning, period. And never mind Kelvin Sampson's reputation for tough D because these Hoosiers are doing it with offense--more specifically with threes. Saturday's win against Connecticut doesn't show up in our conference numbers, of course, but it's representative nonetheless. The Huskies actually fared quite well offensively (1.14 points per possession)--and dominated their offensive glass--but they simply couldn't keep up with Indiana's hot shooting.

Michigan looks beautiful on paper but no one's talking about them. No one should be talking. Yet. They looked awful losing on the road to Purdue and their only road win's been at Northwestern. But the Wolverines have it within their power to get people talking this week: they play at Wisconsin Wednesday night and at Indiana Saturday.

Penn State is on pace to set a new standard for defensive futility. The Nittany Lions are already last in the Big Ten by a wide margin in points allowed per possession. But here's the scary part: Penn State still has to play road games at Ohio State, at Wisconsin, and at Indiana. Ye gods....

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Before yesterday's NFC and AFC championship games in the heart of Big Ten country....

The weekend in hoops--Saturday!
Wisconsin beat Illinois 71-64 in Champaign. The Illini led this game 62-61 with a little more than two minutes remaining but the Badgers put the contest away with a 10-2 run. For the second consecutive game Wisconsin benefited from the scoring of a hitherto little-noticed player. Against Purdue it was Jason Chappell. Against Illinois it was Greg Stiemsma: 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Kammron Taylor made just 2-of-7 threes but went 8-of-8 at the line to lead the Badgers with 20 points. Shaun Pruitt posted a 19-14 dub-dub for the Illini. (Box score.)

Indiana beat Connecticut 77-73 in Hartford. The Hoosiers led by as many as 14 early in the first half but the Huskies reeled the visitors in by the under-4 timeout before halftime and it was close from there on out. Roderick Wilmont scored 23 points and made 5-of-8 threes, including one from NBA-range with 1:54 left in the game and IU down two. Threes won this game for the Hoosiers (they went 9-of-18) because UConn was meanwhile doing things to Kelvin Sampson's team on the boards that no team has done this year, to wit: 19 offensive boards for the Huskies in 35 chances. (Box score.)

Ohio State beat Iowa 82-63 in Columbus. This was closer for longer than the final might indicate--the Buckeyes led by just four with 11 minutes to play. But on a night when the home team's threes weren't falling (6-of-20), Greg Oden dominated, to the tune of a 29-10 dub-dub on 12-of-13 shooting. Mike Conley recorded 10 assists and three turnovers. Tyler Smith led the Hawkeyes with 21 not-especially efficient points on 19 shots. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Purdue 71-55 in Ann Arbor. Dion Harris made 5-of-7 threes and led the Wolverines with 21 points. David Teague and Carl Landry each scored 15 for the Boilermakers--Teague did so on the strength of six offensive boards. Indeed, Michigan was actually beaten to a pulp on their defensive glass in this game but it didn't matter because their shots were falling and the Boilers' weren't. (Box score.)

Northwestern beat Minnesota 55-40 in Minneapolis. Slow game or good D by the Wildcats? Both! In a game with only 52 possessions, the Gophers shot 19 threes over NU's zone and missed 16 of them. Vince Scott scored 15 for the visitors and Kevin Coble, who'd been sidelined for two games with a sprained ankle, returned to action and added 13 points. Lawrence McKenzie led Minnesota with 15 points on 16 shots. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Penn State 91-64 in State College. The Spartans got into the 90s despite the fact that this game was by no means fast, clocking in at just 63 possessions. Ridiculously good shooting will do that: MSU made 30 of 41 twos, led by combined 13-of-14 shooting by Goran Suton and Marquise Gray. Drew Neitzel led all scorers with 28 points. Jamelle Cornley posted 21 points on 16 shots for PSU. (Box score.)

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Friday, January 19, 2007
BONUS reader-controlled Friday edition!
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Ve have vays of making you believe our tempo-free stats (insert sinister laugh here)....

What should I believe? My eyes or your tempo-free stats?

Your stats are interesting with regard to Indiana. My eyes are telling me that it's primarily the Hoosiers' defense and rebounding that are responsible for Indiana's better play this year. But the tempo free stats are saying that it's Indiana's efficient offense that is making the big positive impact.

Indiana ranks first in the main offensive efficiency categories and seventh in the primary defensive ones. But when I watch the Hoosiers, I don't see a smooth offensive machine overcoming its mediocre defense. What I see is a pressuring defense that forces turnovers which create easy scoring opportunities.

Curiously Indiana ranks only fourth in forcing opponents turnovers. That's not bad, but the way Indiana is scoring off its defense I would have expected them to rank much higher.

With only my eyes as evidence, and no stats to back it up, I would guess that Indiana is incredibly efficient in scoring points off turnovers. That's a stat you see in a televised game occasionally, but don't see it kept consistently. Do you have any idea on how the league's teams rank in this regard?

Please don't take it that I'm knocking your stats, because they're great. It's just that somehow they don't tell the story very well in regards to the Hoosiers.

Love your blog and keep up the good work. Thanks.

Rick H.
Fort Wayne, IN

Your eyes or my stats? Is this (snort) even a question? Why, my stats, of course!...

Keep in mind the stats are from conference games only. While the Hoosiers played the best D of any Big Ten team in November and December, their defensive numbers in Big Ten play are skewed right now by the fact that they've played a road game at Ohio State (where IU gave up 1.23 points per possession) and most other teams haven't. The numbers will eventually converge on what your eyes are telling you.

One more thing: ignore points-off-turnovers. Banish the stat from your sight now and forever more. If you're an ESPN "Insider" subscriber, you can read Ken Pomeroy's total destruction of the stat here. If not, here's a summary:

Most turnovers are not a result of steals. (Last season only about 48 percent of turnovers were classified as steals.) Most of the "TO"s you see in a box score are caused by traveling calls, offensive fouls, balls going out-of-bounds, etc.--all of which result in whistles, of course. And how an offense does against a set defense after a whistle is no more or less enlightening than how they do against a set defense after a made basket.

Close thy "big two," open thy "big three"!
All season long people have called the Big Ten a two-team race. However, I'm starting to think that Indiana has a claim to the top spot.

The lone conference loss was at Ohio State in a game the Hoosiers led with about eight minutes to play. IU has destroyed a couple of teams who they were supposed to be with in the middle of the conference (MSU and Purdue). The rest of the way the Hoosiers only play one team that is better than they are (Wisconsin) and that game is at Assembly Hall.

Nobody is really talking about this team but aren't they a legitimate contender for the conference title? In any case, I think the Hoosiers have more in common with the top two (Ohio State, Wisconsin) than the middle tier (MSU, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan). We'll know more in a week, after IU has finished trips to UConn and Illinois.

Matt G.

If by some off chance Indiana continues to play offense the way they have in their first five Big Ten games, they are most certainly a legitimate contender for the title--especially with their favorable schedule. True, IU's numbers have had the benefit of three home games and a road game at the not terribly daunting Bryce-Jordan Center in State College, PA. But the larger point I want to make here gets back to Rick H.'s fundamental eyes vs. stats dichotomy.

Our eyes tell us the Hoosiers have played pretty good offense in their conference games and that they've shot unusually well from outside. But the numbers tell a more extreme story: Indiana fans should be dancing in the streets because the five-game stretch of offense they've seen is exceptional. In fact, this is as good as it gets. We're talking about a level of offense that's as good if not even better than Illinois and Wake Forest in 2005 and clearly better than any Big Ten team last year.

How have they done it? In effect, IU has played like a POT: they've shot a lot of threes and made them--all the while holding on to the ball and hitting the offensive glass. Do those things and you are very, very tough to beat.

Do I think this level of offense will continue? Of course not. But it's already happened, it's in the books, it represents more than 30 percent of Indiana's conference season. Regardless of any potential decline in efficiency, then, the Hoosiers' overall performance on offense at the end of the year will almost certainly be better than what I expected.

Continued: Is guarding Jason Chappell really necessary?

The blog is outstanding. Terrific work.

With regard to your post about Purdue's defensive strategy, you point out that Wisconsin won the game because the Badgers went to the line 32 times, not because Chappell had an aberrational evening. That may be, but I might argue that the Badgers went to the line 32 times specifically BECAUSE of the Chappell strategy.

When Kam Taylor's outside shots weren't falling and with Purdue's defense preventing entry passes, the Wisconsin offense was forced to spread out and the three guys on the Badgers who can create (Tucker, Taylor and Flowers) had to put the ball on the floor and try to score off the drive. When they got into the lane, they were going up against much larger, slower-footed and packed-in Purdue big men, putting them in good position to draw fouls. It forced them into a few suicide drives, but was very effective at putting them on the line. Those three players went to the line 27 times out of Wisconsin's 32 overall trips.

The Chappell strategy did seem like a good one, but the Wisconsin victory was earned through an adjustment by that Wisconsin trio. And had a few more outside shots fallen (3-17 from beyond the arc!) it wouldn't have been as close.

It may seem counterintuitive that a packed-in defense resulted in more dribble drives, but it seemed the only way for Wisconsin to win the game last night. It might not work on the road, but at home, where the Badgers will probably get the benefit of a few calls, it was effective.

Mike W

I'm not so sure the Badgers need teams to leave Chappell alone in order to get to the line. In fact, Wisconsin's shot 30+ free throws six other times this season.

Still, I think you're right, Mike, about the Boilermakers' D being aberrational. And so I want to offer a quick note for other alert readers who emailed and said in effect: What's the big deal about what Purdue did? Opposing defenses always sag on Chappell.

Sagging is when you play off your man when he doesn't have the ball. The Boilers, conversely, played off Chappell whether he had the ball or not--as Matt Painter said correctly, Purdue was "just flat out leaving [him] open." That is not the norm but, as I said yesterday, I think it was a wise move. Aberrational yet sagacious tactician Matt Painter, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Nine other teams are rooting for the Illini this weekend....

Hoops tomorrow!
Wisconsin plays Illinois in Champaign (ESPN, 2ET).

Indiana plays Connecticut in Hartford (CBS, 3:45ET).

Iowa plays Ohio State in Columbus.

Purdue plays Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Northwestern plays Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Michigan State plays Penn State in State College, which makes three "State"s in this sentence. (No, four!)
Thursday, January 18, 2007
A note on Chris West
Many readers of this blog may have noticed that canonical blogger and die-hard Wisconsin fan Chris West has been oddly silent this week. Turns out Chris's blog was somehow wrongly (to say the very least) flagged by the Blogger system as a "spam blog" and he is temporarily locked out of posting. O, the injustice! An excellent blog on the Badgers (and other nearby teams) struck down during this of all seasons--Blogger system, cure thyself!

Chris tells me he hopes to be back up and running soon. If for any reason he's not, however, I've extended an invitation for him to post here. This is no time for silence from a Wisconsin fan with the hoops chops of Chris West.

Is guarding Jason Chappell really necessary?
Wisconsin beat Purdue 69-64 in Madison last night and while watching this game I was by turns fascinated and miffed. Fascinated because a Big Ten coach was trying something decidedly different. Miffed because that "something different" was something I'd toyed with proposing in what I thought would be a wacky and innovative post. Instead my idea actually happened: Boilermaker coach Matt Painter told his players not to guard the Badgers' Jason Chappell.

Really, he did: "I felt we had to take a couple risks in our game plan for us to have a chance to beat Wisconsin on their home floor and one of the risks was not guarding a couple of people, just flat out leaving them open." Chappell responded by attempting six shots (he averages less than three), hitting 2-of-3 threes (he was 1-of-4 on the year coming in to last night), and scoring 13 points. So of course the storyline this morning is that Chappell "made Purdue pay" and indeed even Painter said that Chappell's threes were "a big changing point in the game."

Maybe. Then again remember Ken Pomeroy's dictum. Don't just listen to what a coach says; watch what he does. Did Chappell really make Purdue pay?

I don't think so. Wisconsin was shoved tactically out of their offensive routine and their shooting in this game was significantly worse than both their season average and their Big Ten average. If the game had been decided by points from the field, Purdue would have won 54-47. Moreover, packing the paint on D allowed the Boilers to do slightly better than their (not very good) average on the defensive glass while playing on the road against the number 2 (or 3) team in the nation. No, the deciding factor in last night's game was the Badgers getting to the line 32 times.

This was a smart move by Painter. It's not just that Chappell doesn't ordinarily score. The senior big man is in fact an inefficient scorer even when he does shoot (though, granted, he was certainly more efficient last night). If you're an opposing coach you want Chappell taking shots away from Wisconsin's big three of Alando Tucker, Kammron Taylor, and Brian Butch. If you told that opposing coach before the game that this "big three" would go a combined 10-of-34 from the field, he would take that, believe me. (Michael Flowers led the Badgers with 15 points on seven shots.)

Nevertheless, I predict that no other Wisconsin opponent will duplicate this tactic this season, mainly for reasons of custom and inertia.

But I think every other opponent will look at this tape very intently.

BONUS non-Chappell note! That block by Marcus Landry of big brother Carl Landry's shot early in the second half was of note for more than familial reasons. It typified the kind of spectacular rejection that the undersized younger brother has been making all season--the one where you think: he can't possibly get there, can he?

He can.

(Box score (pdf).)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State beat Northwestern 73-41 last night in Columbus. Mike Conley posted a rather gaudy line: 17 points, 2-of-2 threes, 10 assists, one turnover, and four steals. Greg Oden had as many blocks as points: five. This was the second game the Wildcats played without Kevin Coble, who is sidelined with a sprained ankle. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Penn State 77-57 in Ann Arbor last night. Faced with a Nittany Lion zone, the Wolverines rather uncharacteristically shot threes. And, rather uncharacteristically, the threes went in. Dion Harris, Lester Abram, and Ron Coleman each had 13 points for Michigan. Jamelle Cornley led Penn State with 15 points. (Box score.)

Illinois beat Minnesota 64-52 last night in Minneapolis. The Gophers played their second game without Spencer Tollackson (out for at least three weeks with a broken hand suffered in the Wisconsin game) and the Illini responded by shooting more twos than they have in any other Big Ten game. It worked. It would have worked better had the men in orange not turned the ball over on 16 of 64 possessions (Shaun Pruitt contributed five of those himself) but there you are. Warren Carter posted a nice line for Illinois: a 17-11 dub-dub to go along with five assists. Lawrence McKenzie led Minnesota with 17 points (on 14 shots), though he also committed six turnovers. (Box score (pdf).)

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Virginia Tech coverage: the worst exaggerations in the history of the planet by a factor of a billion
Longtime alert reader William L. is ever-vigilant against the knee-jerk use of phrases like "best week ever" and so you just knew that this week's praise for Virginia Tech would have him researching the archives and calling foul....

Several commentators have raised the issue that this has been Virginia Tech's best week or is it 8 days, or whatever, after having beaten both Duke and two different UNC's. Aside from the ridiculous penchant that journalists seem to have about describing things that are really no more than excellent or very good as "incredible" or "the best game ever," this might not have been VPI's best basketball week ever.

In 1973, Virginia Tech beat New Mexico 65-63, Fairfield 77-76, Alabama 74-73 and then Notre Dame 92-91 in overtime to win the National Invitational Tournament in New York on a thrilling last-second jumper on national television. Virginia Tech's NIT champions finished with a record of 22-5.

Before 1975, conferences were only given one berth in the tournament, and therefore the NIT could often have several top ten teams in it and several more ranked teams. In fact, during the Walton-Wicks-Alcindor UCLA dynasty years several teams such as Marquette, Army under Bobby Knight and yes, Virginia Tech's 1973 team chose to go to the NIT instead of the NCAA tournament.

By 1974, the NIT began to lose its appeal, as seen in Maryland's decision that year not to compete after its heartbreaking loss to NC State in the ACC finals. This precedent, combined with the demise of the UCLA dynasty and NCAA tournament expansion basically eroded the tournament to where it is now.

Accordingly, Virginia Tech can take pride in arguably having won the last NIT that really mattered and in what might truly have been their best basketball week ever.

William L.

Ably asserted, William! Also note that the Hokies' week, best-ever or not, is now over. They lost to Florida State in Tallahassee last night 82-73.

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