Big Ten Wonk
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.

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