Big Ten Wonk
Friday, February 23, 2007
BONUS reader-directed Friday edition!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Lately, don't know why, I've been in a groove where I've been posting just one email per day. As a result, the quality missives from readers have been gathering in a big pile in the palatial conference room here at HQ.

So let's get to 'em!

Equal is not just faux sugar
On Wednesday I said this about Michigan State:

I can't repeat this often enough: this is the scariest 7-6 in-conference team around. Scary because they already play D, they already hit the boards (see last night), they even shoot pretty well. Their only weakness--and it's huge--is that they kill themselves with turnovers. If they can merely hold on to the ball, you're looking at a team that's the equal of Wisconsin and Ohio State. Repeat: equal.

The readers respond!

Huge Sparty fan here.

We are not the equal of OSU, no way. Greg Oden is the main difference. They can score in the paint, we cannot. We rely on Neitzel to play Superman--check out what happens when he has an off night.

Just sayin.

Bill B.

You sell your men short, Bill! MSU's defense is so good they're in games even if Neitzel's not wearing a cape that day. The problem here is turnovers....

To grasp how equal MSU would be if they'd stop coughing up the ball, you first must grasp just how Edvard Munch-level horrific their number of turnovers truly has been. Brace yourself:

Michigan State has given the ball away on 26 percent of their possessions in Big Ten play this season. That's the highest number of turnovers I've seen in three seasons of tracking this kind of thing in the Big Ten.

Better yet, let me phrase this in terms a Spartan fan will appreciate: that's more turnovers than Michigan's committed this year. More turnovers, even, than Michigan's historically undermanned 2005 team. (Ye gods.)

So I say it again and I mean it literally: if Tom Izzo's team cut down on the turnovers, they would be the equal of Ohio State and Wisconsin. The MSU defense is already equal to that of the Buckeyes and Badgers. Michigan State shoots a hair better from the floor than those two teams. And they do much better on the offensive glass. QED: normal number of turnovers, equal performance.

Believe it.

I've seen the TO and the damage done....
So, basically the only thing preventing one's effective FG percentage from turning directly into points per possession is one's turnover rate, correct? But a turnover rate of zero is pretty much impossible as is a 100 percent eFG. What I'm wondering is, then, what is the optimal expected PPP, eFG and turnover rate in the Big Ten and, if you've got the reach, the rest of the major conferences?

I think that info could be translated into some interesting rate stats that determine exactly how many points are being sapped by turnovers. Oh, and offensive rebounding probably should figure in, too, since those are low-turnover, high scoring percentage possessions often times.

Colin J.

As of this morning here are exactly how many points are being sapped away by each turnover committed by each Big Ten team:

Points per TO-less possession (conf. games only)
1. Michigan State (1.38)
2. Indiana (1.35)
3. Ohio State (1.35)
4. Wisconsin (1.33)
5. Michigan (1.32)
6. Iowa (1.31)
7. Purdue (1.28)
8. Penn State (1.27)
9. Minnesota (1.21)
10. Illinois (1.19)
11. Northwestern (1.09)

This, of course, is merely a measure of how well each team shoots, hits the offensive glass, and makes free throws in a frictionless TO-less universe. (In other words, what the world would be like if everyone played Stanford every game. Hi-yo!...Sorry. Little hoops geek humor there.)

Hopefully this shows why I talk about Michigan State's turnovers: it's not just that they commit the most. It's that each turnover hurts them more than it does any other Big Ten team. As opposed to, say, Illinois, another team that coughs up the ball from time to time. But the men in orange can't throw the ball in the ocean from a rowboat anyway so what's the big deal about a turnover?

And as far as "optimal expected" numbers, Illinois in 2005 had the best offense I've seen in the Big Ten in the three seasons I've been doing this. Their in-conference numbers looked like this....

Points per possession: 1.18
Effective FG percentage: 56.7
Turnover percentage: 15.6
Offensive rebound percentage: 34.8

Those numbers don't represent the outer limits of human capacity, of course, particularly not the offensive rebound percentage. But they do sum up to the best offense the conference has seen lo these three years. (For instance, both the shooting and the turnover percentage are significantly better than anything we're seeing this season.)

Oden vs. Landry (with a cameo by Butch)

Recently in a conversation with a Purdue fan on the internets, the following direct quotes emerged in regards to Oden and Landry....

Purdue Fan (2/15/2007 8:38:37 PM) Landry's better. It's not even really
close. Dear Trent - please read the Big Ten Wonk on efficiency ratings, he'll
tell you how pedestrian Oden is. Counting statistic averages are useless.
Do you know how many shots it takes for Landry to get his average? Very few.
God, I hate it when ESPN manipulates the world. He's not the best defender or
rebounder. He's not even the best rebounder on his team. I'd take Brian Butch in a heartbeat over Greg Oden right now.
Since he is using your website and theories as his main source of information I thought you maybe could chime in on who you think is better.


Trent T.

Indiana fan

"Landry"? Carl or Marcus? I'll assume the former....

Carl Landry is indeed a tad more efficient in his scoring but, then again, Greg Oden's been shooting free throws left-handed the whole year. If we assume that a healthy right paw would boost Oden's FT percentage from 63 up to something more like Landry's 71, then, voila, both gentlemen would have an excellent 1.29 PPWS. Call that a wash. On the other hand, Landry turns the ball over more. Result: at this moment both players have the exact same offensive rating (which is more or less the individual player equivalent of points per possession).

And as far as rebounding, it's no contest. Landry's never been much of a presence on the glass (though he does at least have the distinction of being the best rebounder on his team). I've never begrudged him that--he's usually the smallest man in the paint at any given moment. (P.S. Brian Butch is indeed even better on the boards than Oden.)

Also note: Oden's the only one of these three who blocks shots. Butch is the only one of these three who can make threes.

Suggested new Illinois logo: a graph with a dot in the upper-left
Among the four major conferences for which you provide "tempo-free aerials," I was quite interested to note that Illinois is the only team currently in the
bad offense/good defense quadrant. Not only that, the Illini are a full .06 points per possession away from the nearest border.

Might we crown Illinois as the ugliest-playing team in the nation right now?

Dave S.

Zounds! The drama-blessed Illini are sui generis! Who knew?

Keep in mind "ugly" here means not only that you struggle to score but also that your opponent does, too. So in that sense: Minnesota in 2005 was similarly ugly--both numerically and in-person. So too, perhaps, were Dick Bennett-era Washington State teams. (No, the Cougs this year aren't upper-left. They've got
an offense now, by gar! Tough loss at Oregon last night, though.)

Bloggingheads wishes they had my readership demographic, bay-bee!
I just wanted to tell you that I love your site. I discovered it last season and it never disappoints. You seem fair and impartial (I actually can't tell which team you root for) and the new graphs this season are fantastic. Keep up the good work.

Andrea R.

Thanks, Andrea! I am all those things. Plus modest.

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