Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Wonk 360: Michigan State in Winston-Salem
A look at the teams competing against Michigan State in Winston-Salem this weekend to make it to East Rutherford and the Sweet 16. (Non-"power"-conference stats of course graciously provided (they have a choice?) by that indispensable two-headed K-Dub/KenPom beast.)

(9) Michigan State Spartans (22-11, 8-8 Big Ten, aerial view)
Feast your eyes: This is the closest thing Tom Izzo has had to a 2000-level defense in East Lansing since, well, 2000. Opposing teams struggle to make baskets, both from inside (Big Ten opponents made just 45 percent of their twos) and out (conference foes connected on only 30 percent of their threes). And, thanks to Marquise Gray and Goran Suton, MSU holds teams to one-and-done on seven of every 10 misses. (When Gray, Suton, and Raymar Morgan are on the floor at the same time, opponents have little hope of seeing an offensive board.) What's more, the Spartans are equally beastly on the offensive glass.

Look the other way: The Spartans turned the ball over on 26 percent of their possessions in Big Ten play. That's the worst performance of any "power"-conference team in the nation during conference play this year.

Etc. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, Drew Neitzel had an outstanding year, hitting 41 percent of his threes while also recording almost eight assists for every 100 possessions he played.

(8) Marquette Golden Eagles (24-9, 10-6 Big East, aerial view)
Feast your eyes: The apple doesn't fall far from the Izzo tree—Tom Crean's men attack the offensive glass. (And, believe me, the way this team shoots they need to. Oops, topic for the next paragraph.) Ousmane Barro has tidied up after a lot of misses this year. Speaking of a lot of misses, Marquette plays excellent perimeter D. Big East opponents made just 31.5 percent of their threes this season and turned the ball over on 22 percent of their possessions. (Only problem there: Jerel McNeal, among the national leaders in steals, is injured and will not play this weekend.) And Dominic James is a prolific creator of assists.

Look the other way: James is also a prolific creator of misses, shooting just 26 percent on his (curiously frequent) attempted threes. And, for such a reputedly Izzo-Crean kind of group, Marquette is in fact surprisingly feeble on the defensive glass. The Golden Eagles hauled in just 63 percent of their opponents' misses in Big East play.

Etc. Why oh why doesn't Dan Fitzgerald shoot more? I ask because he displays a tendency that sets him apart from his teammates: his shots actually go in! (What a concept.)

(1) North Carolina Tar Heels (28-6, 11-5 ACC, aerial view)
Feast your eyes: The pop-up window on ESPN's "Tournament Challenge" bracket says of Carolina: "The issue may be defense." Wow. This has proven to be one tough misconception to kill. But, what the heck, I'll give 'er another go: this team's defense is every bit as good as its offense. In ACC play this season the single statistical category in which the Heels enjoyed the greatest success on either side of the ball was opponent 2FG percentage: conference foes made just 45 percent of their twos against Carolina. Oh, and the offense ain't bad, either. This group of players, the fastest-paced "power"-conference team in the country, comprises a ruthlessly efficient mechanism for making two-point shots. See for example precocious freshman Brandan Wright, who's made 66 percent of his twos (i.e., his shots—granted, it's a different story when he goes to the line).

Look the other way: The Heels are not a good perimeter shooting team. So they do without.

Etc. Token senior Reyshawn Terry is a beast on the defensive glass; Tyler Hansbrough is a master of getting fouled; Ty Lawson is more than just fast, he generates assists with near-Conley-esque frequency.

(16) Eastern Kentucky Colonels (21-11, 13-7 Ohio Valley)
Feast your eyes: EKU is a POT's POT: 45 percent of their shots this season have been threes. And while they've hit just 36 percent of those treys (respectable but not great), a weird yet recurring dynamic—previously alluded to in the blog—has asserted itself: this perimeter-oriented team (chiefly Julian Mascoll) shoots twos really well.

Look the other way: The Colonels' rebounding on both ends of the floor is anemic and opposing teams shoot quite well against them.

Etc. Eastern Kentucky has never won a tournament game. They're 0-6.

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