Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Tough hard-nosed zone defense...not an oxymoron!
In Bloomington: Indiana 71, Wisconsin 66
Granted, non-Northwestern Big Ten types don't generally "do" zone defense. Still, if you were creating the hypothetical perfect team to play zone against, you'd create a team a lot like Wisconsin.

The Badgers:

--Give the bulk of their FGAs to a prolific slasher who creates points and havoc inside of 17 feet
--Thrive on getting to the free throw line
--Don't shoot threes well
--Generally don't attack the offensive glass, choosing instead to emphasize transition D

In other words, playing zone against such a team should, in theory, play to their weakness and deny them FTAs without incurring too much risk on your own defensive glass.

Kelvin Sampson apparently had the same thought and wheeled out a zone last night. And, for the most part, it worked: Indiana beat Wisconsin 71-66, handing the Badgers their first loss in-conference and ending their 17-game win streak. Playing zone nudged Wisconsin--a team that came into the game devoting just 28 percent of their shots in-conference to threes--into jacking up 20 shots from beyond the arc. They made just five--and every attempted three represented an Indiana victory, for the taller Badgers were meanwhile being treated to the best night of two-point shooting they've had thus far in the conference season. Alando Tucker led all scorers with 23 points.

In the first half the Hoosiers played zone on every made IU basket and whistle on their offensive end. (Indiana's offense thus helped their defense. Scores allowed them to go to the zone--a point missed by last night's announcers.) In the second half, whether to mess with Bo Ryan or just to spice things up, Sampson played man exclusively through the under-16 timeout. And then the rest of the way Indiana again played zone off of every score and whistle on their end.

So with the Hoosiers inviting Wisconsin to shoot threes, Kammron Taylor (a good three-point shooter on a bad three-point shooting team) shot nine of them and made four. His teammates, however, went 1-of-11 and that is pretty much what an opposing coach will expect and want with a zone against the Badgers: Taylor might make four or five threes but you'll take that.

On offense, the Hoosiers made 5-of-6 threes in the second half, four of which were drained personally by A.J. Ratliff, who led IU with 20 points in just 25 minutes. Wisconsin allowed IU very few offensive boards and the resulting level of offensive efficiency was a little below-average for Indiana--but well above-average for an offense playing against the Badgers.

BONUS Billy Packer kudo!
I'm no particular fan of Packer, goodness knows, but I couldn't help but think of the eerily Mr. Burns-like analyst in the opening moments last night. Say this for the man: he zeroes in on match ups like a deranged terrier. And Packer would have been standing on the table waving his arms over his head on this one....

To rest D.J. White as much as possible, Sampson had him guarding the tall yet benign Jason Chappell. Meaning that the undersized Hoosiers were defending Brian Butch with Lance Stemler. The Badgers' eyes quite rightly bulged out of their heads and Wisconsin promptly ran a two-man set to Butch's side of the floor. Alas, the entry pass went out-of-bounds and soon Indiana was hitting the shots that allowed them to play zone at the other end.

Kudos to a great near-play!
Deception, part of the very warp and woof of football, isn't deployed nearly enough in basketball for my tastes. But the Badgers almost pulled off a sweet piece of trickery late in the game. With a little less than four minutes to play, IU went on a 5-0 run to put the Hoosiers ahead 64-59. As Wisconsin brought the ball up the floor the crowd was going nuts, anticipating that the Badgers would take a timeout to break the momentum. Sure enough, Alando Tucker walked the ball over toward the Wisconsin bench, as if about to call a timeout. But at the last instant, with IU relaxed and in the mood to chest-bump any second now, Tucker pivoted and drove toward the top of the key, hitting a wide-open Michael Flowers for a spot-up three. Alas, Flowers missed the shot. Still, sweet thought.

(Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State beat Purdue 78-60 last night in West Lafayette. Though they hit their threes (8-of-18), the Buckeyes actually shot fewer treys than usual and instead feasted on the inside, hitting 22-of-39 twos. For instance: Mike Conley attempted just one three yet led all scorers with 18 points. Jamar Butler, conversely, hit 4-of-7 threes and added 16 points--and Daequan Cook chipped in with a 12-10 dub-dub. Meanwhile, Carl Landry had a fairly miserable night against Greg Oden: 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting. The Oden effect can perhaps best be appreciated this way: Landry attempted four threes. (Box score.)

Iowa beat Michigan 69-62 in Ann Arbor last night. The Wolverines led by as many as 14 in the first half but in the second half the Hawkeyes sprang a 20-1 run on the host team. Still, Iowa's frisky second half merely brought their offensive production up to normal--it was Michigan's anemic offense that blew the game. Mediocre shooting on the inside (20-of-47) and catastrophic shooting on the outside (1-of-8) doomed the Wolverines. Dion Harris scored one point on 0-of-11 shooting from the field. Courtney Sims scored 19 points before halftime and recorded a 29-11 dub-dub. Tyler Smith led the Hawks with 22 points on 18 shots, while Adam Haluska added a 17-10 dub-dub. (Box score.)

Minnesota beat Northwestern 62-55 last night in Evanston. What goes on here? Over the past two games the Gophers have shot better than any other Big Ten team. (Then again, the opposing defenses were supplied by Penn State and Northwestern.) In any event, Jamal Abu-Shamala made 5-of-8 threes and led all scorers with 19 points. Kevin Coble has a nice line for the 'Cats in a losing cause: 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-3 outside the arc. The Gophers and Wildcats thus conclude their odd season series, each team having won on the other's home court. (Box score.)

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 tomorrow through Wednesday, Feb. 2-7.

Speaking of which....

BONUS all-Santa Barbara edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Thanks much to the many alert readers who've proffered advice for my upcoming getaway. A sample....

Hi, Wonk,

I'm a big Wisconsin fan and love your site! Unrelated to basketball, though, if you get to Santa Barbara often, check out the Simpson House. It's one of the top rated bed and breakfast inns in the country. My wife and I were looking for something different than the resort hotels they have there and fell in love with this place. Also, there is a great spa/resort a short drive away in Ojai called The Ojai Valley Resort and Spa.

We live in NY and head out there often to recharge, so I highly recommend these places.


Jeff J.

Thanks, Jeff.

Dear BT Wonk,

I too am a die hard Illinois fan, and enjoy your blog immensely. As an expression of gratitude, here are two tips for your upcoming trip to Santa Barbara.

The best winery in Paso Robles that no one has heard of is Tablas Creek. If you're wine tasting, it’s worth a visit. Also for a nice dinner, I recommend Mattei’s in Los Olivos (make a reservation). Classy, great food and service, and lively bar.

Keep up the good work and enjoy your R&R with the Wonk Wife,

Jeremy K.
Los Angeles

Thanks, Jeremy. One more then out the door....

I love Santa Barbara. Enough so that we're talking about making it our next home.

Hope you have a great vacation. So, yes, that means I've read everything to that point and I graciously thank you again, even when Wisconsin does lose.

Christopher J.

Thanks again, everyone! (Additional thoughts? Bring it on--I'm here all day. Otherwise....)

See you next week.

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