Big Ten Wonk
Friday, January 05, 2007
Fouls: either call fewer or allow more
(This post would seem to touch upon one of the four dullest topics for a hoops blog. My clearly stated rationale is this: our subject this morning is the game itself and not a game. And maybe that makes this even more dull....)

Yesterday I threw open the floor, blogospherically speaking, for nominations to this year's first All-Wonk team. And as the emails started to arrive and as I perused the names that appeared multiple times therein--names I myself had been entertaining for the high honor--I tried to ward off any incipient DAD in this exercise by asking myself whether or not each player is known for good defense. The answer, not counting the obvious special-case exception known as Greg Oden, was pretty much "no" across the board.

But I don't blame the players for that. The game in 2007--the latticework of rules on the book, instructions from the coaches, and calls from the officials--virtually requires that players behave as they do: they are defense-averse.

You would be too in a game where the defender is presumed guilty where there's any contact and where any two such whistles within a half gets you yanked out of the game. The way the game is officiated now, given the number of fouls allowed, constitutes a silent but near-total reversal of what every high school coach teaches. While moving your feet, staying in your hands-up defensive stance, and playing position defense is still the stated ideal, the fact of the matter is that a player doing precisely that is more likely than not to be called for a foul--particularly if he's doing it against the opposing team's leading scorer.

Players aren't dumb. They recognize this and act accordingly, on both sides of the ball. On defense they shy away from contact. On offense they initiate it.

Nor is this lost on the coaches. Thus the better teams, if they're lucky, have a "defensive specialist," meaning "one who is no threat whatsoever to score." This person actually plays the brand of defense the high school coaches have always preached. They can pick up a foul or two and no one gets too worried. But the scorers are too valuable to run this risk.

So of course the players nominated for all-conference honors aren't known for their defense. (Last year there was not one player who was on both the All-Big Ten team and the All-Big Ten Defensive team.) The indictment here, then, is leveled not so much against something as idiosyncratic and quantifiable as the number of whistles in a given game as against something more pervasive: the type of basketball that results from calling games this way, even when fouls aren't called.

I'd like to see a change. I'd like to see the games called in a way that encourages the most talented players to expend effort on defense. If a player is defending against dribble penetration and maintaining a good defensive stance, even though there's contact, I'd like to see a default assumption of "no-call" instead of the present default, "foul on the defense."

The alternative is to give the college game the sixth foul. If games continue to be called as they are now, five fouls aren't enough for 40 minutes of basketball played by athletes this large and this fast.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa beat Michigan State 62-60 last night in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes led by as many as 13 in the second half but almost saw this one slip away, as Drew Neitzel scored 17 points in the last 12 minutes. Steve Alford's team was roughed up on their defensive glass but turned the ball over just seven times--that won them the game on a night when the shooting from both teams was mediocre. Adam Haluska needed 15 shots to lead Iowa with 16 points. (Box score.)

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

Minnesota plays Wisconsin in Madison.

Michigan plays Northwestern in Evanston.

Penn State plays Purdue in West Lafayette.

Hoops Sunday!
Michigan State plays Indiana in Bloomington (CBS, 4:30 ET).

In addition to typing words, I can occasionally speak them....
I'll be talking hoops with Steve "The Homer" True on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio this afternoon around 3:20 ET. Tune in and listen to me wing it.

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

The lobbying for the All-Wonk 1.0 has begun!
Hi, Wonk. Love the blog -- it's become essential morning reading.

Here's my submission for the All-Wonk 1.0 team....

Alando Tucker, Wisconsin. Duh. The best player on (arguably) the Big Ten's best team.

Mike Conley, Jr., Ohio State. I always hesitate before putting a freshman on any all-conference team but Conley's assist-to-turnover ratio is just insane. And after watching him go through a 10-assist-zero-turnover game against Indiana the other night I can't argue with the fact that he's one of the best point guards in the conference...already. Scary.

Adam Haluska, Iowa. A bright spot in an otherwise murky season for Der Hawks.

Carl Landry, Purdue. Landry's third in scoring average, fifth in (non-tempo-free) rebounding, and tops in field goal percentage. He's also a major reason why Purdue has bounced back so ably from last year's injury-ridden disaster of a season.

Greg Oden, Ohio State. I hesitated again before putting him here. The stats don't necessarily back up his inclusion, but Oden is such a game-changing force even when he's not scoring 21 points like he did against Indiana. Plus he moves so well without the ball. He's really not the central focus of the OSU offense the way Musburger and Lavin seem to think he is, but his presence alone changes his team to the extent that he deserves to be on this list.


Goshen, IN

Thanks, Dustin! Keep those ballots coming, everyone. I'll announce my own version next week.

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