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.

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