Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Watch the turnovers
In East Lansing: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (ESPN, 7 ET)
The beauty of writing in advance on any Wisconsin game is that Bo Ryan's team is the hoops equivalent of a metronome: constant, dependable, and unvarying. For instance, I pointed out last week that the Badgers are the most consistent team in the Big Ten in terms of their shooting. So there you are, right? Wisconsin will come to East Lansing tonight and shoot pretty well (but not great), yes?

Maybe not. For you see there's also a team that has the most consistent FG defense in the Big Ten. And that team happens to be the Michigan State Spartans. Moreover, that defense isn't just consistent, it's also holding opponents to the worst shooting inflicted upon conference foes by any D. Nice combination, that.

Still, defense is where the consistency ends for Tom Izzo's young team. That is, they aren't likely to get beat by torrid shooting tonight but that alone won't get them a W against the number 1 team in the country. Here's what else they'll need to do:

1. Don't turn the ball over. Sounds obvious--so obvious it could be a vacuous TV analyst's pregame "key to the game," right? Well, in Michigan State's case mastering the obvious is essential: they turn the ball over more than any other Big Ten team. And it's the only thing holding their offense back. In fact, on possessions where there isn't a turnover, the Spartans have the best offense in the Big Ten. MSU scores 1.38 points per TO-less possession, thanks to pretty good shooting and very good offensive rebounding. So fans in the Breslin Center tonight should regard each Spartan turnover as the loss of about 1.4 points. And that adds up.

2. Don't foul. The Badgers' lone loss in-conference came to Indiana, a team that gave them only 17 free throws.

Think of tonight's game as the collision of four teams, really. There's the Michigan State offense and defense and then there's the Wisconsin offense and defense. Three of those "teams" lead us to believe we know what we'll get--the wild card is the Spartan offense. If they can hold on to the ball, Michigan State has a chance to win tonight.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Wisconsin is number 1 in this week's AP poll and Ohio State is 2. It is the first time in the history of the AP poll that Big Ten teams have held the top two spots. (The teams are flip-flopped in the coaches' poll.)

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is making the appropriate fearful noises in advance of tonight's game: "We don't have anyone who can cover [Alando Tucker], but neither does anyone else in the country....Put it this way. I think even though (OSU center Greg) Oden and (Texas forward Kevin) Durant are unbelievable players, as far as a game plan this kid is harder to stop than either of them."

BONUS archive dive! Actual headline: "Suton sits to strengthen MSU bench." Laudably glass-half-full headline editors of the Lansing State Journal, Wonk salutes you! In fact, I did a little digging through the archives and found that this brand of relentlessly chipper June Allyson optimism is no recent innovation, as seen in these past headlines from the LSJ....

October 15, 2003: "Steve Bartman interferes with foul ball to strengthen healthy loathing of officious nerds with good seats"

October 30, 1929: "Stock market crashes to strengthen small apple-selling entrepreneurs"

April 15, 1912: "Titanic rams iceberg to boost sales of lifeboats"

Michigan senior Lester Abram was arrested early Monday morning. Abram had been pulled over for speeding on I-96 when it was discovered that there was an outstanding warrant on him for failure to appear in court. At the time of his arrest, Abram had a suspended license and no proof of insurance.

Wonk back!
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It's about yesterday's post....
Wow, an especially essential column this Presidents Day! A couple of thoughts.

Kyle Whelliston in town with the Big Ten Wonk: I know I would have learned a thing or a dozen listening to you guys watch the BracketBuster.

Kyle's interaction with the bar guy was good stuff. I'll just point out that Indianapolis is the best place on the planet to have a high-probability random encounter with somebody who actually knows that Winthrop is a mid-major power and can be within three games of their actual record.

About the Chief. As a complete outsider on that debate, I can agree with you that it was probably time for the Chief to go. At the same time, I wonder at the NCAA's authority to apparently arbitrarily determine that the Chief was punishable while other mascots were not. And if they have that much power, why don't they move on more systemic problems, like the athletic facilities race, the spiraling student athletic department fees, or the effectively indentured semi-professional system we are burdened with? It's enough to make this Big Ten legacy/grad/employee wish that he rooted for Kyle's mid-majors.

On a lighter but not entirely unrelated note, when will the U of Illinois finally move into the 20th century and jettison that awful blue-orange color scheme? Will it take the threat of sanctions, or is voluntary change possible?

Ashton S.

In order:

1. My comments while watching the BracketBuster games ("wow," "man," etc.) were not especially illuminating. (Go figure.) For the real light source you need to go here.

2. The NCAA has always been sovereign. Tournaments, championships, indeed the games themselves, are NCAA events. And if we don't like it we can all just pull a U. of Chicago, take our marbles, and go to the library, proton accelerator, whatever.

3. What? Change colors? But then we Illini would have to change the song!...

We're loyal to you Illinois,
We're orange and blue, Illinois,
We'll back you to stand
Against the best in the land
For we know you have sand,

(No, I never understood the sand, either. Must have been a 20s thing like raccoon coats.)

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