Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Call me Gene Kranz: show me the procedure
We all talk about "shot selection." But is there really a proven method for selecting the "right" shot?
In the wake of Ohio State's loss at Wisconsin Tuesday night I've seen it said that the Buckeyes' shot selection was not as selective as it could have been. Particularly during the first half of that game, it's said, OSU's non-Odens were jacking up threes too early in the shot clock. Fair assessment?

Maybe. There is certainly a long-standing Norman Dale-flavored presumption which holds that you should pass the ball X number of times before looking to shoot. And there are few things easier on the eyes, certainly, than a proficient offense passing the ball, probing the D, and then recognizing the best opportunity.

But what if this "best opportunity" presents itself with 28 left on the shot clock instead of 10?

Sometimes I wonder if the Norman Dale presumption is really just a stylistic preference masquerading as an iron law of basketball. I wonder--but I don't know. First I'd need answers to two questions, one ethical and one empirical.

The ethical question: Is it OK to take a three early in the clock if it meets all the other criteria for a "good" shot (you know, open look, ability "to step into your shot," shoulders square, etc.)?

The empirical question: What would the graph look like if we plotted 3FG pct. by number of seconds remaining on the shot clock? Would accuracy really steadily increase as shot-clock time remaining decreases? Or would something more random emerge?

Even sans answers, however, there's one hoary canard we can knock off the fence right now: that offenses should pass the ball around deep into the clock in order to "make the defense work."

Nonsense. If this were true every defense playing against Northwestern would collapse in a heap by the under-12 timeout in the second half. Deep teams don't try to fatigue opposing defenses by going down to under 5 on every shot clock. They run.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Home team domination continues (11-2). Woo!...

Indiana beat Purdue 85-58 last night in Bloomington, a result so lopsided that Boilermaker coach Matt Painter said he was glad the game was on ESPNU. Joey Shaw went to the line eight times in 18 minutes and led IU with 19 points, while D.J. White blocked five shots in 26 minutes. And A.J. Ratliff, in action for the Hoosiers for the first time since suffering a torn ligament in his left wrist a couple weeks ago against Ball State, added 16 points on 4-of-4 shooting outside the arc. For the Boilers, Carl Landry attempted just six shots and finished with 13 points. Still, Landry could have jacked up 16 or 60 and it wouldn't have mattered on this night--you're not going to win many games where your opponent scores 1.33 points per possession. (For the second consecutive game Purdue's opponent made 10-of-20 threes.) (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Northwestern 66-45 in East Lansing last night. The Wildcats suffered a total collapse on the defensive glass, allowing the Spartans to rebound 16 of their 23 misses. The result was a 52-possession blowout: slow and ugly, maybe, but thorough nonetheless. Drew Naymick led MSU in offensive boards, pulling down five in 24 minutes. Drew Neitzel made 3-of-6 threes and scored 18 points. Vince Scott nominally "led" Northwestern with 11 points but the most telling number on Scott's 33-minute line may be the "0" under defensive rebounds. BONUS fate-thou-art-capricious note! Last night Michigan State went 18-of-37 from the field and won by 21. On Sunday at Indiana, the Spartans went 18-of-37 from the field and lost by 22. (Box score.)

Illinois beat Iowa 74-70 last night in Champaign. The Illini led by 12 coming out of the under-4 timeout in the second half but the Hawkeyes made things interesting down the stretch by hitting their next six shots. Trent Meacham sank two free throws with 32 seconds remaining or this game could have gone to the visitors. Illinois shot the ball well (making 20-of-30 twos) while Iowa did just as well from outside (making 7-of-13 threes). Adam Haluska went to the line 13 times and scored 25 points for Iowa. But the Illinois front line of Warren Carter, Shaun Pruitt, and Brian Randle combined to make 20-of-24 shots, as each player scored 16 points. (Randle also added six assists--who is this guy?) Chester Frazier, suffering from an injured groin, did not play and Jamar Smith and Meacham both went 0-of-5 on their threes. But Rich McBride showed signs that he may at long last be leaving Rick Ankiel-land, hitting 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. (Box score.)

COMING tomorrow!
The unveiling of the All-Wonk Team (1.0). Remember: I like to morph my All-Wonk Teams on the fly--the fivesome we see tomorrow almost certainly won't be the same five that receives this august honor in eight weeks (the day before the Big Ten tournament) when the year's final All-Wonk is named. Hey, it's January. No blown gaskets if I get pointedly iconoclastic with a pick or two, capiche?

COMING next week!
The annual return of tempo-free stats based on conference play. Mmmm, in-conference: tempo-free numbers compiled against very similar opponents. In the admirably symmetrical Pac-10, where every team plays every other team home and away, these would be well nigh the Archimedean ideal. Go to it, yet-to-emerge Pac-10 Wonk!

I'm serious. I'll do it myself this year if no one else does. Pac-10 play gives us the ability to compare UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington State straight up, with no quibbles, waffles, or meddling SOS math.

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

Last call for All-Wonk nominations
Alert reader Alex slips his ballot in under the deadline....

Mike Conley. The kid is unreal and mature beyond his years. Hard picking him over Neitzel, especially given how Drew's recognized he needed to step up his scoring this year and has done so accordingly.

(Sidebar story about Conley: Last year, Conley and Oden's Lawrence North team took on Glenbrook North--led by Duke's John Scheyer--at Welsh-Ryan Arena. It was so packed you could hardly breathe. I had never seen it like that during four years of NU home games, not even when Illinois came in as #1 in 2005. As the game progressed, everybody oooh'd and ahhh'd as Oden threw down dunk after dunk. But my jaw dropped for a different reason. My friend and I were so impressed with Conley we didn't even know what to say. Before that game, I was under the impression that he was the "second guy" in the package deal for Oden. Couldn't have been more wrong.)

Geary Claxton. With him Penn State has a chance to make the NCAA tourney. Without him they're a laughing stock. Simple as that. You think the Nittany Lions would have ended Illinois home winning streak last year if they didn't have #5?

Alando Tucker. No explanation necessary.

Carl Landry. A real garbage man, a guy you can go to battle with every night. Most importantly, he's someone you know what you're going to get out of every night. Reminds me a lot of Roger Powell (one of my all-time favorites) without the range.

D.J. White. How do I omit Oden? Yes, he'll be a beast but he's not there yet. Sure a lot of it has to do with the wrist injury but Oden's just not the complete package yet. His footwork isn't as good as White's and when D.J. is healthy we've seen how good he is. He's got more range than Oden, is more versatile on offense, and is a very strong defensive presence.

Can't wait to see the actual list on Friday. Keep up the great work.

Alex F.

Thanks, Alex!

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