Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Bruce Weber said after the game that he doesn't expect many teams to be able to win at Mackey, and I have to concur with that assessment. Despite the loss, Purdue is a very tough team to beat. The Illini were very forunate they caught the Boilers on a bad shooting night. Sure, we can attribute much of that to Illinois' stingy defense (especially the consistently excellent 3 point defense that limited Purdue to 25% shooting from the perimeter). But it wasn't Illinois' defense that forced Purdue to shoot 56% from the line (this team was shooting 71.4% entering the game), and most of those FTs would have won the game for Purdue. Indeed, there were a lot of bounces that could have gone differently, and the result would have been different. Consider Hummel's long jumper that was ruled a 2 pointer (the video replay did not clarify matters), JaJuan Johnson's late "why didn't he just dunk it?" miss, his subsequent FT miss that sent it to overtime, his attempted save which might have gone off an Illini but the official ruled it went off Johnson, and did Johnson travel before he took the jumper on which he was fouled at the end of regulation? Give Illinois credit, they played well enough to win this game. But Purdue did as well. It's just that someone had to lose, and last night, it was the Boilers. Illinois will enjoy this win that few others will enjoy this season.
And henceforth I will no longer be bearish on the Illini's chances simply because of the "POT without the P" style that they employ. It works. The team in orange showed an uncanny ability to make this shot. It's often been said that the mid-range game is a lost art. Well, Bruce Weber has rediscovered that art.
Finally, I have a plea for both Mike Tisdale and JaJuan Johnson. Stay in school. All four years. If both players do, we will see some epic battles over the next two seasons, as these sophomores produce at a high level already and ooze potential. Tisdale displayed a great touch against one of the nation's finest defenses, and Johnson wasn't so bad himself, with 16 points on 11 shots, to go with 15 rebounds and 3 blocks. The Big Ten is a guard's league right now, but that might change in a couple years.
The Big Ten finishes off 2008 with four afternoon games, so you won't have to cancel your champagne plans to catch some hoops. Michigan State visits Minnesota at noon in a game that features two teams that have been head scratchers so far this season. Sure, Minnesota is undefeated and even boasts an impressive win against a great Louisville team on a neutral floor. But this team also nearly lost a road game against a mediocre Colorado State team. The Spartans entered the season with high hopes, but have been very inconsistent thus far in the season. The loss against UNC is forgivable, even if the margin wasn't, but to get killed on a neutral floor against Maryland was a surprise. The Texas win in Houston was a very good one, but MSU has been less than impressive in some of their wins over cupcakes. The biggest problem for the Spartans has been on defense, most notably the 3 point defense. On offense, the Spartans have been solid everywhere, except with respect to turnovers, which has been a story with MSU for the past 3 seasons now. That will be tested against a Minnesota team that thrives on forcing turnovers. Also, the Gophers are an elite shotblocking team, and that's not good news for the interior-oriented Spartans.
Northwestern visits Penn State in a game that will test the accuracy of the Pomeroy Ratings. As it stands now, the Wildcats stand at #26, and Penn State is at #73. If Northwestern pulls out the W on the road, I think everyone can agree that this team is for real. The key battle will be with turnovers. Penn State is one of the best in the country at taking care of the ball, turning it over on just 16.6% of their possessions. Wildcats force turnovers on at a 25.9 rate, so it will be interesting to see who wins that battle. The Nittany Lions are back into their "good offense, bad defense" mode this season, and again, it's a lack of height that limits them. The Wildcats are uncharacteristically tall this year, so Penn State will be challenged to control the paint.
Wisconsin visits Michigan at 2 pm tomorrow, in a matchup that could feature a lot of offense. The Badgers have been uncharacteristically mediocre on defense this year, as the outstanding 2 point defense that was present last season has melted away. John Beilein's team has been great on offense, and in fact, there's even some room to get a little better. Right now, they shoot 78.6% from the FT line, yet their 3P% is just 34.5%. And despite the fact they're an extreme POT, they still have the 16th-most efficient offense in the country. But the defense has been, in a word, lousy. They defend the 3, but allow opponents to grab 36% of the available offensive rebounds. Obviously containing Manny Harris will be a focal point for the Badgers tomorrow, because if he goes off, the Wolverines can play with anyone.
Finally, Iowa's hot shooting might be in for a rude awakening against Ohio State in Columbus. Ohio State, thanks largely to Dallas Lauderdale and B.J. Mullens, owns the paint, not only holding opponents to 42.4% shooting from inside the arc, but also discourage teams from even attempting three pointers. That's fine by the perimeter-focused Hawkeyes, provided they can make their three point attempts. Of course, that's also no walk in the park for Buckeye opponents. Iowa's slow pace might also favor Ohio State, as the Thad Matta will be working with a short bench with Lighty injured and Crater on his way out. Iowa will also need to find someone who can slow down Evan Turner, OSU's best scorer, rebounder, distributor, and on-ball defender. Outside of Manny Harris, no player is more important to his team.
So take the afternoon off, and wave goodbye to 2008 with some Big Ten hoops! (Those game times are ET, I forgot to mention, so don't miss the first half because you're in the midwest!)
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
So it's finally here. Conference play. And it's fortuitous that we should see the two most efficient teams square off in the opener tonight. Since we last bragged about the strength of the conference, the Big Ten has slipped, all the way down to #5 out of the 6 BCS conferences. Still, a lot of that is Indiana, who remains the worst BCS team in the country. Looking at the other 10 Big Ten teams, and every major conference has at least a couple of teams worse than all of the Indiana-less Big Ten. Will the Hoosiers deny the Big Ten a spot or two in the NCAA Tournament? It's plausible enough to consider.
And that leads us to our first major storyline to look out for this season - will Indiana win a Big Ten game? We predicted they would win two, and to tell you the truth, I thought that perhaps we were being a little hard on Crean's crop of new faces. Now that prediction looks optimistic. I don't think it's because IU has played especially poorly this season, but rather because the rest of the Big Ten has played really well. But 18 games is a lot, and the odds are better than even that Indiana will spring an upset somewhere along the way. They'll have a night where they just don't miss, and the other team does, and all the turnovers won't matter. The real battle will be for the fans, as I can't imagine there are many IU supporters who have ever gone through a season like this in their lifetimes. Hopefully they don't punish this team for just being young and inexperienced.
KJ over at Spartans Weblog has put together a nice tempo-free aerial of the non-conference numbers of all the Big Ten teams. The key point, as he mentions, is that everyone is playing a different schedule, so there's a big grain of salt that should go with these numbers. But I think we can try and pry a couple of conclusions out of this thing. The first thing that pops out, at least to me, is that we can expect some decent scoring this year. The number of strong defensive teams appears to be less than the number of strong offensive teams, and the only team that looks especially good (keep in mind, the aerial is not centered on 1.00 points per possession) on both sides of the ball right now is Illinois.
But don't get too carried away with this graph. I think the list of team-specific conclusions we can draw at this point are at the caveman-speak level ("Michigan offense good. Purdue defense good. Indiana offense bad.").
And that sort of highlights the fact that this season has a high potential to surprise. Indeed, although the Sans-Indiana Big Ten has an impressive "bottom" (the lowest Pomeroy Ranking is 73, belonging to Penn State), the "top" (Purdue, at #16) is not nearly as impressive (4 out of the 5 remaining BCS conferences have at least 2 teams higher than that). So if you were to sum up the Big Ten in one word, that word would be parity. If anything makes our predictions especially silly-looking at this point, it's that we projected 2 teams would have at least 15 conference wins. I don't feel too good about that projection right now. Thirteen wins might be enough to win the conference title this season. But beyond who wins the conference, there are a lot of other great storylines to look for. Will the Big Ten get 6 teams in the Dance? 7? Is 8 out of the question? Will Northwestern make the Tourney for the first time in school history? Can Illinois really win by being a POT, without the "perimeter" part? Can anyone challenge Manny Harris for Player of the Year (that Raymar Morgan character has looked pretty good, as has Robbie Hummel)?
It should be fun.
Speaking of fun, tune in for tonight's Purdue/Illinois opener. Defensively, both teams are very good, especially with respect to forcing turnovers. Purdue also locks down on the inside, and Illinois shuts you down on the perimeter. Both of these teams have also gotten off to strange starts on offense. Neither is a POT in the strict sense - Illinois attempts 3s only 27.1% of the time, and Purdue only 33.2% of the time. But everthing else about their games screams "POT." Purdue takes excellent care of the ball, and while Illinois does not (just so-so in that department), the reason they do not differs from say, the reason MSU does not. Illinois' roster is not full of big men with TO Rates in the 20s. No, it's the TO-prone guards, Chester Frazier, Demetri McCamey, and Jeff Jordan most notably, who are coughing up the ball. The big men have not been a liability (outside bench player Richard Semrau). Both teams also have pretty ho-hum offensive rebounding this season, which is also something you expect from a POT, and they both sport pretty awful free throw rates - which is expected of teams who hang out on the perimeter and don't draw contact.
But if they aren't shooting threes, then what's happening? Well, I have a pet theory, which I absolutely cannot prove without some game data. I think these teams are shooting a lot of mid-range jumpers. That would provide all the ancillary effects of a POT, but without the extra point you get with a long-range bomb. From watching the games, this makes some sense. E'Twaun Moore, for example, sure has been shooting a lot of those this season, and Illinois' All-Mike Frontcourt have been feasting on jump shots.
There are reasons to be pessimistic about this approach. It's not a stretch to say that the 15-18 foot jumper represents the worst shot in basketball. An offense that includes an abundance of those is likely not going to see sustained success. But maybe conference season will provide more clarity, and show us how these teams "really" intend to play this season, not just how they play against the likes of Directional Cupcake University.
Monday, December 29, 2008
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State had its worst defensive performance of the season, giving up 1.26 points per possession to the Mountaineers. What's most concerning about this game is how West Virginia scored, owning the paint (they shot 60% from 2 point range). Heading into Big Ten play, it's hard to figure out this Ohio State team. Are they the team that locked down Notre Dame in Indianapolis, or are they the team that got smoked on their home floor on Saturday? Box score.
The Buckeyes got some more bad news on Saturday, as freshman Anthony "Noopy" Crater is now asking for a transfer. This one is a bit of a head scratcher. Apparently Crater was unhappy with his playing time and the style of play the Buckeyes were employing (it was too slow). Now, maybe Crater's gripe about PT is legitimate (although the early returns on Crater's play would indicate otherwise), but his complaint about the Buckeyes' tempo doesn't make sense. OSU has averaged around 65 possessions every year under Matta's regime, and that's right where they are now. Now, maybe Thad made some promises about increased tempo, but frankly, we should all know better.
This is a big deal on a couple of fronts. For one, with David Lighty already out with an injury, this shortens Thad Matta's bench even more. Secondly, the Buckeyes are a team without a point guard, and Crater's departure probably ensures that will be the case all season. It's true, however, that does not doom this team to mediocrity. Indeed, Purdue lacked a point guard last year, and that turned out okay. But the Boilers also had two gifted wing players, E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel, who actually had assist and turnover rates of very good floor generals. In fact, in Big Ten play, these guys were as solid as any other point guard in the Big Ten. As it stands now, OSU will hope that Evan Turner and Simmons can fill a similar role this season.
Perhaps we should all stop wondering if Indiana has hit bottom, because every time we do, they seem to find new depths. The loss last night to Lipscomb (74-69, 66 possessions) has to be the toughest on the season so far. The Hoosiers were up by 21 late in the first half, only to allow the Bisons to charge back and turn it into a dogfight in the second half. Surprisingly, the problem in this one was not turnovers - the Hoosiers only had 13 of those (19.8 TO Rate - the first game with a sub-20.0 TO Rate against a Division 1 opponent this season). Offensively, the Hoosiers had one of their better days. No, the problem was Lipscomb's interior dominance. The Bison shot 58% from inside the arc, as IU's very small front line was no match for, well...the very small Bison. At 6-9, Adnan Hodzic represents the tallest player that saw action yesterday, and according to IU's roster, that's exactly the height of IU's Tom Pritchard. Throw in the fact that the Bison controlled the glass on both ends of the floor (IU had one more missed shot, but Lipscomb had 6 more defensive boards and 4 more offensive boards), and this game was a bona fide upset. Yep, IU got beat by an inferior team, and that's what is hardest to swallow about this loss. You can live with this team getting blown out by the likes of Notre Dame, and heck, even St. Joe's. But when there's a real opportunity to put one in the win column, and the team doesn't give their best effort - well, that's what kept Tom Crean up all last night. Not the way to hit Big Ten season. Devan Dumes led the Hoosiers with 18 points on 12 shots. Box score.
Michigan State took care of business against Oakland in Detroit on Saturday, winning 82-66 in a 65 possession game. So far this year, Michigan State has looked a lot more, styllistically, like Penn State - good offense and mediocre defense. The defense ranks 76th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is a bad sign for the Spartans. We've seen this good offense/bad defense trick before with MSU, most recently in 2005-06 and 2003-04, and they won only 21 and 18 games, respectively, in those seasons. To be fair, a big part of the problem has been free throw "defense," and that was again the case Saturday, as Oakland shot 15-17 from the line. But they were no match for the Spartans, who were led by the two-man show of Kalin Lucas and Goran Suton. Lucas had 15 points on 8 shots and 6 assists against 1 turnover. Suton led all scorers with 16 points on 9 shots to go with 9 rebounds. Box score.
More than once during the Iowa/Western Illinois game on Saturday, the commentators noted how Iowa's defense has been a strength all season. This really isn't true, Iowa's defense ranks a mere 68th in adjusted defensive efficiency. In fact, the team is much better offensively, it's just that they walk it up the court. Only one team in all of Division 1 players slower than the Hawkeyes, who average 58 possessions a game. This one was even slower than that at 55 possessions, but the defense actually had a better day than the offense, as Iowa prevailed 58-43. Jermain Davis led the Hawkeyes with 13 points and 8 rebounds. Box score.
Illinois phoned it in against Eastern Michigan, winning 62-53 in a 66 possession game. The Illini turned it over on 26% of their possessions, had abysmal offensive rebounding, and didn't make up for that with torrid shooting. But they did make their free throws (13-15) and pulled out a victory in their final non-conference game. In all likelihood, this was a team that was looking ahead to their next game (at Purdue, Tuesday), and just came out flat. Mike Tisdale led the Illini with 25 points on 18 shots, but the fact that he played a career-high 37 minutes was not a positive considering EMU made 56% of its two pointers (the Eagles had been making just 44% of their two point attempts entering the game). The interior defense will need to be better in conference play, as most Big Ten opponents won't cough up the ball on over 30% of their possessions. Box score.
Purdue was also flat last night, allowing Valporaiso to hang around before pulling away in the second half to win 59-45 in a 62 possession game. Purdue started out this season playing fast, like many of their Big Ten brethren, but have now fallen below the 70 possession/game line with some recent slow games. Sure, a couple of those were against slow teams (though not that slow. Valpo actually averages about 65 possessions a game, but this was even slower than that), but Davidson is a fast team, and that game was not. No, I think this is a case of a team slowing things down after some early season running. C'est la vie. Purdue's defense was present against Valpo, harassing the Crusaders into 17 turnovers, but the offense put forth a lackluster effort inside the arc. The Boilers actually shot 40% on a whopping 30 three point attempts (compared to 25 2 point attempts), but were only 32% from inside the arc. It didn't help that they were only 7-15 from the free throw line, either. E'Twaun Moore led the way with 14 points on 11 shots. Box score.
Minnesota finished its non-conference season with an undefeated record, smashing High Point 82-56 yesterday. High Point is one of the worst teams in all of Division 1, and Minnesota made them look the part, posting an eFG north of 60.0. Ralph Sampson III led the Gophers with 17 points on 10 shots to go with 6 boards and 3 assists. Box score.
Tonight, Michigan finishes off non-conference play against North Carolina Central University.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Demetri McCamey and Trent Meacham were magnificent, scoring 43 points on 23 shots, although they did combine for 8 turnovers. Chester Frazier continued to do everything but score, as he posted 6 rebounds, 8 assists, just 2 turnovers, and 3 steals while missing his lone FG attempt.
On the other end of the court, the story was Missouri's 2 for 18 shooting from downtown. The Tigers aren't a great outside shooting team, but they're not that bad. Give some credit to Illinois' defense, which has now limited opponents to the 7th lowest 3-point percentage in the nation.
As something of a sidenote, highly-rated transfer Alex Legion played only 6 minutes and went 0 for 3 from the field, looking totally lost in the process. The Illinois backcourt has been playing so well that Legion hasn't been needed, but eventually Bruce Weber will need the talented sophomore to figure it out. Box score.
In the other high profile game of the night, Wisconsin lost a tight one to #9 Texas, 74-69. As is becoming customary here at BTG, we have to ask - where's Wisconsin's defense? Texas posted an offensive efficiency of 112.1, which is actually higher than their adjusted season average. In other words, Texas fared better against Wisconsin's defense than you'd expect them to fare against a purely average defense - this was a bad performance.
Texas did it by grabbing nearly half of their misses as offensive rebounds, which is a bit strange as rebounding has been one of the rare strengths for this Wisconsin defense. Joe Krabbenhoft, the Badgers' best defensive rebounder, collected only one carom in 30 minutes, but he's not the only one to blame. In fact, the only Badger with more than 2 defensive rebounds was 6'2'' guard Jason Bohannon. This may have just been an anomoly, but it's interesting to note that Wisconsin has given up an OR% of at least 35% to each of the top 100 teams they have faced. The Badgers have really cleaned up the defensive glass against cupcakes; against good teams, not so much.
Offensively, Wisconsin was pretty good, hitting for an eFG% of 50% and taking excellent care of the basketball. This solid offense kept the Badgers in the game, but it wasn't enough to overcome the poor rebounding. The backcourt tandem of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon combined for 34 points on 17 shots. Box score.
All the other Big Ten games last night were surprisingly close victories over cupcakes:
- Northwestern beat Southern Methodist 66-55 with a balanced attack in which all 5 starters took 7 to 9 shots and scored 9 to 14 points. Box score.
- Minnesota tried out their shiny new top 25 ranking with an 80-71 victory over Southeastern Louisiana. This game was tight throughout the first half, but the Gophers stretched out the lead early in the second half and were never really threatened. It was Minnesota's interior defense that allowed the game to stay close, as Southeastern Louisiana shot 58% on twos and had a 34.5 OR%. The rebounding issue is nothing new for Minnesota, but the two-point FG defense was abnormal. Blake Hoffarber scored 15 points on just 7 shots and has earned a Christmas card from We Three Geeks of Orient Are (ok, ok, there's just two of us and we're from the midwest). Box score.
- Penn State ran out to a 16-point halftime lead and then withstood a late rally to defeat Sacred Heart, 73-65. This was a 3-point game with 51 seconds left, before Talor Battle got an "and one" on a driving layup to put the game out of reach. Penn State's problems last night were much like Minnesota's - they allowed Sacred Heart to shoot 57% on twos and grab 38.5% of their misses as offensive rebounds. Talor Battle continues to be, statistically, the most impressive guard in the conference - he posted 25 points on 13 shots. Box score.
The Big Ten now takes a holiday break until Saturday, which brings a big matchup between Ohio State and West Virginia. Conference play is only 6 days away, with a Purdue/Illinois tilt that looks a lot more interesting than it did 2 months ago. For now, we'll have to settle for college bowl games, Sam Adams Winter Lager, and 24 hours of A Christmas Story - life could certainly be worse.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Michigan posted one of its better defensive performances of the season, defeating Florida Gulf Coast 76-59 in a 72 possession game. FGC actually shot alright, but was harassed into 26 turnovers. DeShawn Sims was a monster, posting a perfect eyesight (20/20) dub-dub on 12 shots. He and Manny will be quite the handful in Big Ten play. Box score.
Purdue won a ho-hum game in ho-hum fashion, taking down the outmatched IPFW 70-55 in a 62 possession game. Just like most Purdue games, the opponent turned it over a lot, Purdue didn't. JaJuan Johnson scored a career-high 21 points on 14 shots, and also pitched in 9 boards and 3 blocks. Box score.
The freshman had a breakout game for Ohio State in their win over UNC-Asheville, 83-59 in a 69 possession game. William Buford and BJ Mullens combined for 35 points on 25 shots (and 15 rebounds). OSU also owned the paint, swatting 8 shots. The surprising thing was, only one of those blocks came from Dallas Lauderdale, who didn't start. Oh, and Evan Turner was great, but that's sort of boring news now. Box score.
Big games tonight - perhaps the biggest is Illinois vs. Missouri in St. Louis. Both teams are rated in the top 20 by Pomeroy, so they've been good so far this season. Also tonight Texas visits the Kohl Center, in Wisconsin's last chance to win a statement non-conference game.
Sacred Heart @ Penn State
SMU @ Northwestern
Southeastern Louisiana @ Minnesota
Monday, December 22, 2008
Purdue dominated Davidson on Saturday, winning 76-58 in a 65 possession game. Stephen Curry will want to burn the tape of this one. The Wooden Finalist was held to 13 points on 26 shots, and was also hounded into 6 turnovers. That Purdue could frustrate one of the best guards in the country into this kind of a performance ought to be a warning to all of the backcourts in the Big Ten. That said, the box score from this game is a bit funky. After all, when you see that Curry has 6 TOs, you expect Davidson had been coughing it up all game. Not so - the Wildcats posted only 11 turnovers the whole game - a pretty impressive total against Purdue's pressure defense. Robbie Hummel led the Boilers with an 18/14 dub-dub on 11 shots, and Keaton Grant showed some signs of life with 15 points on 7 shots.
Minnesota pulled the upset of the weekend (season?), beating Louisville 70-64 in a 71 possession game. How did this happen? Simple - Louisville could not throw it in the ocean (41.5 eFG), and Minnesota could (47.8 eFG). The teams were equals in turnovers, and Louisville actually rebounded better. Oh, and it helped that Minnesota almost attempted as many shots from the line (37) as they did from the field (45). Louisville got 33 FTAs of their own, but they only made 20 of them (61%). Al Nolen led the Gophers with 18 points on just 6 shots (fueled by 17 FTAs) to go with 5 boards and 5 assists (1 TO). The Hoff pitched in with 15 points on 7 shots. Now, there might be some critics who point out that Samardo Samuels was plagued with foul trouble all game, and that's true. But it's equally true that the Gophers were without their offensive leader, Lawrence Westbrook, for much of the game with foul trouble as well. This is a big win for Tubby's team, and will really help on Selection Sunday. Barring a disaster, the Gophers will be undefeated entering conference play. Box score.
Northwesten's furious rally came up just short against Stanford, as the Wildcats fell 65-59 in a tough road loss. Coming into this one, I expected Northwestern to own the paint, and I was right about that. Stanford shot just 41% from 2 point range in this one, but the Cardinal were red hot from the perimeter, connecting on 9 of their 18 three point attempts. Meanwhile, Northwestern was pressured into 19 turnovers, and that probably cost them the game. But keep in mind, this was a 13 point lead for Stanford at halftime, and Northwestern cut the margin to one point in the final minutes. It's a tough loss, but as losses go, losing tight games on the road to undefeated teams ranks as pretty tolerable for a program that got all of seven wins last season. When the season began, I doubt many Northwestern fans circled this game as a possible win, and disappointment surely outranks resignation. Kevin Coble led Northwestern with 15 points on 11 shots, and 6 rebounds. Box score.
Ohio State beat up on Iona 71-53 in a 58 possession game. The Buckeyes were just too big for the Gaels, as they muscled their way to 35 FTAs. It was the Diebler/Turner show again, as the two combined for 52% of OSU's points. About the only piece of drama for this game was how OSU planned to replace David Lighty. So far, the answer appears to be more minutes for the freshmen. BJ Mullens got the start alongside Dallas Lauderdale, and William Buford played 32 minutes himself. Box score.
Illinois posted its best offensive performance of the season, detroying Detroit 82-51 in a 64 possession game. The Illini shot 61% from 3 and 67% from 2. That's how you win a game despite turning it over on over 30% of your possessions. This game was also the premiere of Alex Legion, the transfer from Kentucky. Legion scored 6 points on 6 shots, and played 18 minutes in an inauspicious debut. Trent Meacham led the Illini with 15 points on just 5 shots. Box score.
Laval Lucas-Perry's debut was a bit louder, and the transfer guard hit for 14 points on 7 shots as Michigan displayed some offensive firepower against Oakland in an 89-76 win. That's a lot of points considering how slow this game was (62 possessions). It was a typical Beilein game, as the Wolverines shot 29 three pointers and turned it over just 5 times. It was also typical in the fact that it was the Manny and DeShawn shot. Manny posted a 15/13 dub-dub (points & assists, no turnovers), and DeShawn nearly had a dub-dub of his own, going for 20 and 9 (rebounds). There are some things to work on here, however, as this was Michigan's worst defensive performance of the season. Oakland averaged over 1.2 points per possession. Box score.
Drake beat Iowa in a bit of an upset, and it wasn't close. The Bulldogs tore apart the Hawkeyes, 60-43 in a 56 possession game. This might be fairly characterized as Iowa's "regression to the mean" game, as the Hawkeyes' offense had been nearly unstoppable entering this game. Their worst efficiency, until Saturday, had been 0.97 points per possssion against Boston College. Against Drake, Iowa averaged 0.77 points per possession, and Iowa was very bad where they had been very good - shooting. They were 28% from 3 and 37% from 2. Frankly, this is what happens when POT teams don't shoot well - they have no other means by which to score (like grabbing offensive rebounds or getting to the free throw line), and they lose big. Anthony Tucker scored 12 points in his return, on 11 shots. Box score.
Wisconsin controlled the glass against Coppin State, winning 57-46 in a 52 possession game (after peaking the tempo in 05-06, the Badgers appear to be walking it up the court again). Wisconsin outrebounded its opponent 36-19, which is the sort of rebounding dominance that is typical under Bo Ryan, but the Badgers probably should have won this game by a bit more. Frankly, Wisconsin has looked a little sluggish all season, but that needs to end now. The Badgers face off against Texas on Tuesday, and then begin Big Ten play against Michigan. Jon Leuer led the Badgers with 16 points on 12 shots, to go along with 6 rebounds. Box score.
Ed DeChellis actually got his bench some playing time in Penn State's 83-55 win over Lafayette. The Nittany Lions' offense was working in this one, as they posted a 65.0 eFG and turned it over just 11 times in a 67 possession game. Talor Battle nearly had a triple double, with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists (3 TOs). Of all the guards in the Big Ten, Battle has had the best stastical start to this season. The other leaders of the Penn State offense, Stanley Pringle and Jamelle Cornley, combined for 33 points on 19 shots. Box score.
As the season wears on, it's becoming more and more clear that the Big Ten is a force to be reckoned with this season. The conference, as a whole, ranks just behind the ACC in the Pomeroy rankings, and were it not for Indiana, this might be the best conference in the land. Take Penn State, for instance. At 7-11 last season, this team finished in the middle of the conference, and even if that was partially the result of uneven performances, the Nittany Lions were still 8th-best by Pomeroy rankings. This year, the team wanted to take the next step and get to a postseason tournament, and maybe even the NCAA Tourney. So far, so good. The Lions stand at 10-2 with no bad losses, and even a quality win against Georgia Tech (on the road).
Nonetheless, Penn State ranks second-to-last in the conference by Pomeroy rank. That's how good the conference has been this season. And with so few non-conference games left (including a couple big ones on Tuesday), there's not much room for that to change. Big Ten teams will beat up on each other until they're black and blue this year, but that won't change the fact that this conference is very good. And as kj points out, much of the talent leading these teams is awfully young. Indeed, the Class of 2007 is the gift that keeps on giving, as the Year of the Freshman has been replaced by the Year of the Sophomore.
Tonight, Florida Gulf Coast vistis Michigan, IPFW visits Purdue, UNC-Asheville takes on Ohio State, and Northeastern is at Indiana.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Michigan State vs. Texas (in Houston) - For Michigan State, in a national sense, this is sort of a "put up or shut up" game. The Spartans entered the season with Final Four aspirations, but the team has been much more disappointing than that so far. Now, this isn't Michigan State's last chance for an elite non-conference win (they play Kansas in East Lansing in January), but it's their last opportunity before Big Ten play starts. Further, the fact that it's on a semi-away court means that a win will be all the more impressive.
Normally the Longhorns live off their offense. In each of the past 3 seasons, Texas' offense has been among the top 5 most efficient offenses in the country. Not so this season - UT is pretty mediocre in that department, but the defense has stepped up. What's changed for UT this year is a TO Rate that went from dazzling to just pretty good (Big Ten Geeks - masters of stating the obvious). On defense, Texas could give MSU all sorts of problems, sporting the 9th-best block percentage in the country. For a Spartan team that doesn't like to shoot the 3, that could be trouble. For a more in-depth preview, check out KJ's analysis.
Minnesota vs. Louisville (in Glendale, AZ) - Minnesota is undefeated so far this season, but they haven't played anyone. We'll see the results of that approach tonight, as they take on one of the most impressive teams in the country. With OSU's defensive lapse against Jacksonville, Louisville has taken over the top spot as the nation's most efficient defense. What drives that defense is outstanding perimeter defense (opponents are shooting 24.3% from 3) and outstanding defensive rebounding (opponents collect only 24.3% of the available offensive rebounds).
I wish I could say something interesting about the Gophers, but the truth is, it's hard to tell what kind of team this is given the schedule. Another byproduct of the Jacksonville game is that Minnesota has slid into the top spot as the nation's best shotblocking team. Unlike Dallas Lauderdale's one-man show in Columbus, the Gophers sport 3 players with a block percentage north of 10%. But against teams that are of mid-major height, does that mean much right now? If the Gophers can contain Samardo Samuels, then I'll be (very) impressed. I will note, however, how weird of a season Damian Johnson is having so far. We picked him to be a defensive stopper, and so far, that's working out (block percentage of 13.6, steal percentage of 4.7). But he's dishing assists like a pass-first PG (28.6 assist rate), and rebounding like a...well, pass first point guard (7.9 defensive rebounding percentage).
Purdue vs. Davidson (Indianapolis) - It became smart to say that Davidson would really miss departed point guard Jason Richards this season. Analysts were saying it so much, you had to question whether or not it was actually true. Well, here's how much the Wildcats have missed Mr. Richards - their already scintillating turnover rate has actually gotten better. Ok, they also have less assists (and are shooting more from the outside), but the loss of Richards hasn't really affected Davidson from a ballhandler/creator standpoint. Steph Curry has shown he can be a PG, and then some. That said, Davidson's shooting percentages are down, and Mr. Richards did quite a bit of shooting last year.
Obviously, the big story in this one is whether Purdue's elite defense can contain Mr. Curry. Chris Kramer will draw the bulk of the workload, but expect to see a lot of Lewis Jackson as well. It's not going out on a limb to say this might be Curry's worst game of the season - Purdue's defense might be the best he'll face. But Purdue's offense needs to get going. Surprisingly, it's the backcourt that needs to start making shots, specifically Keaton Grant and E'Twaun Moore, whom are each shooting 30% from 3 point range.
Iowa @ Drake - The finale for the Battle of Iowa, the Hawkeyes are staring down a sweep of their in-state rivals. Iowa's offense has been tremendous this season, even if the turnovers are a little on the high side for a team that shoots this many threes. But when the team is making 42% of its numerous three point attempts, it's hard to stop. Basically, the Hawkeyes have surrounded the efficient post banger Cyrus Tate with four guys who bombard opponents with three pointers (the fourth member of the quartet, Anthony Tucker, might return to action against Drake after serving his suspension). That's bad news for Drake, who sports a bad defense with particularly bad perimeter defense. Iowa should roll in this one.
Detroit @ Illinois,
Northwestern @ Stanford - As I mentioned a couple days ago, this game features a bit of role reversal. Last year, it was the taller Cardinal who dominated the paint, this year it figures to be the much taller Wildcats. One thing will have to give, however, between Northwestern's POT tendencies and Stanford's defense. Cardinal opponents take only 26.8% of their shots from 3 point range, and they don't make very many of them (27.6%). Northwestern might be better served by pounding it inside where the Cardinal is weak. If the Wildcats do pull off the victory here, expect them to show up on a lot more brackets.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
MSU's offense was tremendous in every area...except turnovers. Raymar Morgan had a great game with a 26/10 dub-dub on just 12 shots, but the 21.2 TO Rate is too high for this team to be posting against the likes of The Citadel, one of the worst teams in the country at forcing turnovers. As regular readers of Spartans Weblog know all too well, turnovers have been the achilles' heel of Izzo's teams for a few years now. And what's more frustrating is how mysterious they are. Last night, the box score makes clear who the main culprit was (the same guy we identified in our preseason preview), but Mr. Walton hasn't been the culprit in every game. As of now, my pet theory is that another big component is Goran Suton's minutes have been limited due to injury, and as a result the turnover-prone Marquise Gray has been seeing the floor more. In any event, Izzo will likely be searching for a cure all season.
Ohio State began its regression to the mean last night, pulling away at the end with a 81-68 win over Jacksonville in a 66 possession contest. Yep, that's right, for the first time this season an OSU opponent averaged over a point per possession. What's more is that Jacksonville actually shot 53% from inside the arc, which so far this season had been a no-fly zone monitored by the capable Dallas Lauderdale. In this contest, Lauderdale had 0 blocks, bringing his block percentage all the way down to 20%. But what the Buckeyes lacked in defense they made up for in offense. For just the 3rd time this season, OSU averaged over a point per possession themselves. And considering how well the Buckeyes shot, you can forgive me for thinking those rims were not regulation size. OSU shot 68% from 2 and 59% from 3, and were led by David Lighty's 21 points (on 8 shots). Shooting that well, it didn't matter that the Buckeyes only grabbed 3 offensive rebounds (true, there weren't a lot of offensive rebounds to be had, but this was still a very low number), or that they turned it over 15 times (22.7 TO Rate). Box score.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
And the main problem has been defense.
As the chart shows, the only year under Carmody that the Wildcats have held opponents to under 0.98 points per possession was 2001-02. That was also the only winning season of Carmody's tenure at Northwestern.
Indeed, defense was the problem last season as well. The Wildcats sported the worst defense in the Big Ten, and that was with the 26th-best defensive turnover rate in the nation. Basically, when their opponents didn't turn the ball over, they scored on the Wildcats at will. Some of these numbers are off-the-charts bad for a Division I team in a major conference:
|Opp. 3 point percentage||38.8%|
|Opp. 2 point percentage||55.8%|
|Opp. offensive rebounding percentage||37.5%|
And although the Wildcats had offensive problems as well, that doesn't matter when a crisis exists on defense. And this was a crisis.
So with his seat temperature nearing the boiling point, and coming off a team winning all of 7 Division 1 games the previous season, with a horrendous defense, what did Carmody do?
He got taller.
See, height brings defense, all else equal. And not just height anywhere, but specifically frontcourt height. There doesn't appear to be a big defense issue with sub-6 footers in the backcourt, so long as the guys down low are not so elevationally-challenged. Last year, Northwestern's frontcourt height ("Effective Height") ranked 267th in Division 1. This year, it's 16th. Carmody's pulled this trick by playing 6-8 Ivan Peljusic more, 6-4 Sterling Williams (who didn't bring much to the offense anyways) less, and brought in a couple of tall freshmen (6-8 John Shurna and 7-0 Kyle Rowley) as well.
The results speak for themselves. Northwestern sports the 22nd best defense by efficiency in the country so far this season. And yes, there are a lot of cupcakes on that schedule, but the Wildcats are also the only loss for Florida State (who beat Florida a couple weeks ago), lost a close one on the road to a very good Butler team, and it's not like the Wildcats are just squeaking by the likes of DePaul, UMKC, and TAMU-CC. They're killing them.
And unless the Wildcats lose every single game remaining on their schedule, they will eclipse last year's win total, and appear to be well-positioned to make a run for the NCAA Tournament (which would be the first in school history). This Saturday the Wildcats face Stanford on the road. This is the kind of game that stands out on Selection Sunday, so Carmody is no doubt working extra hard this week. Last season, the Cardinal dispatched the Wildcats 71-60 in Evanston, and they were missing one of the Lopez brothers. Robin made his presence felt, however, blocking 5 shots. Stanford shot 53% from 2 point range on the day.
This year, the Lopez twins are gone, and the tallest player in the Stanford rotation stands 6-8. That hasn't helped new Head Coach Johnny Dawkins, as the Cardinal sports one of the worst 2 point defenses in the country (opponents are shooting 55.7%). This year, expect Northwestern to control the paint.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Defensively, Northwestern could have been better - they didn't force many turnovers (just a 16.0 TO%) but did keep UMKC off the glass and the foul line. This now makes back-to-back games in which the Wildcats didn't force many turnovers, although nobody will complain when both games have been easy Northwestern wins. UMKC's efficiency 0f 99.3 was slightly better than their adjusted offensive efficiency coming into the game, meaning Northwestern's defense was pretty mediocre last night - perhaps all that cramming took its toll.
Forwards Kevin Coble and John Shurna continued their excellent play, combining for 44 points (on 28 shots), 16 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 blocks. PG Michael Thompson also had a great game, scoring 17 on just 9 shots to go along with 6 assists to only one turnover. Box score.
There are no Big Ten teams in action tonight as final exams continue. The next games are Wednesday night, when a better-than-you-might-expect Jacksonville team (77th in Pomeroy ratings) visits Ohio State, and Michigan State takes on an awful squad from The Citadel. For now, rest well, and dream of large women.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Iowa summarily dispatched Iowa State Friday in the ongoing Battle for Iowa, 73-57 in a 61 possession game. Once again, the Hawkeyes' offense was red hot, shooting 44% from 3 point range. The Hawkeyes' offensive rebounding was also surprisingly robust, and this against a team that usually crashes the defensive glass. Jermain Davis led the charge with 16 points on 10 shots, to go with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Box score.
Penn State struggled to put away Mount St. Mary's on Saturday before winning 61-56 in a 63 possession game. It was a two man show in State College, as Talor Battle poured in 26 points on 11 shots (but 5 turnovers, tsk tsk), and Jamelle Cornley added 18 points on 12 shots. Outside of Battle, Cornley, and Stanley Pringle (who had 8 points), no other Nittany Lion had more than four points. Coach Ed DeChellis has been riding his three horses hard so far this season, and it will be interesting to see if those three will continue to put up impressive numbers against Big Ten opponents. If they can't, there don't appear to be a lot of alternatives. Box score.
Kentucky took down Indiana 72-54 in a 75 possession game on Saturday. The good news is that IU held a quality BCS opponent to under 1.0 points per possession for the first time this season. The bad news is that this was Indiana's 2nd worst offensive performance of the season. Coming into this game, IU and Kentucky were the two worst teams in terms of taking care of the ball, and they did not disappoint. IU had 20 turnovers, and the Wildcats had 23 of their own. The difference in the game was the fact that IU couldn't find the basket. The Hoosiers made 4 of 20 three pointers, and only 8 of 17 free throws. Outside shooting has suddenly become a problem for Indiana. Matt Roth is shooting 42% on the season, but everyone else has been terrible. Malik Story is the Hoosiers' second-best outside shooter at present, at 31%. Box score.
Michigan walked all over Eastern Michigan, 91-60 in a 70 possession game. The Wolverines connected on school-record 16 three pointers (on 33 attempts). Combine that with a mere 5 turnovers, and this was a textbook Beilein win. Manny Harris did everything but sell popcorn, scoring 22 points (on 16 shots), grabbing 7 rebounds, and dishing 5 assists (with only 1 turnover). Box score.
That offensive display, however, was no match for what Michigan State did to Alcorn State on Saturday. The Spartans nearly doubled up their opponent, 118-60 in an 81 possession game. This team couldn't miss, posting a 64.7 eFG fueled by 35 assists. And sure, it was only Alcorn State, but on this game the turnover problems that have plagued the Spartans thus far this year were absent. MSU turned it over only 10 times in this contest, which is a pretty small number for how fast the game was. Chris Allen led the barrage with 20 points on just 9 shots. Box score.
Wisconsin posted a nice win over Green Bay over the weekend as well, 77-57 in 68 possessions. Both sides of the ball were working for the Badgers, though Bo Ryan's "no foul" defense was not. Green Bay attempted 22 free throws, though that might have been because this was a tightly officiated game. After all, Wisconsin had 34 attempts of their own. Joe Krabbenhoft was surprisingly offensive, scoring 15 points on 10 shots. BTG breakout candidate Jason Bohannon was super-efficient, scoring 12 points on a mere 4 field goal attempts. Box score.
Robbie Hummel led Purdue with 25 points in a 76-62 win over Indiana State on Saturday. Hummel also chipped in 9 rebounds on a day when E'Twaun Moore and Keaton Grant were off (the two combined for 14 points on 14 shots). ISU is a pretty bad team (1-8 so far this season), so it's fair to assume the Boilermakers were just going through the motions at times. But isn't that what cupcakes are for? The defense did pressure the Sycamores into 21 turnovers though. Box score.
Tonight Northwestern takes on Missouri-Kansas City at 7 p.m. (CT) on the Big Ten Network.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Northwestern's 2 Point Defense is Excellent: This might be the biggest shock of all so far in the season. Northwestern having a bad interior defense is an incredibly reliable trend. The best they've done over the past 5 years was in 2004-05, when Wildcat opponents shot 50.2% from inside the arc (good for 243rd in Division 1). Last year, opponents shot an astonishing 55.8%. Maybe we expect that to come down a little bit, but this season Northwestern opponents are shooting 41.1% from 2 point range. In what is a testament to that defense and NU's hot shooting, the Wildcats are themselves converting at a higher clip from three point range.
Can this continue? Well, a big ingredient behind 2 point defense is block percentage. And while NU's block percentage is up this season, it's not that up. That 2 point defense will recede a bit, but because NU's block percentage is the highest it's been in years, we ought to expect new lows in opponent's interior FG percentage.
What accounts for the cause of this defense? Without looking at the numbers, you can be forgiven for believing it was 7-0 freshman Kyle Rowley. But with just 2 blocks on the season, Mr. Rowley is clearly still learning the game. No, the guy hosting the block party so far this season is Chicago suburbanite freshman John Shurna. Shurna's block percentage stands at 6.5, and the rest of his game isn't too shabby either. If he can keep it up in Big Ten play, he'll find himself on the All Freshman team.
Illinois is Different...Everywhere: Last season, the Illini couldn't throw it in the ocean. The team was just 31.9% from three point range, and that figure was well-supported by a 60.8 free throw percentage. This year, the free throw shooting is up to 70.9%, and the three point percentage has risen to 36.4%. The offense is making baskets.
Will it continue? Well, there's a decent chance. Chester Frazier's 39% 3 point shooting sure looks out of whack, but so does Demetri McCamey's 29%.
Normally this would mean the Illini team would be shredding opponents. The last time Illinois was shooting 36% or better from the outside was when Dee Brown was on campus, and the offense was one of the best in the nation. But this year, the Illini, while improved on offense, are hardly unstoppable. The reason might be a drastic shift in style. Weber's team is no longer a POT - dedicating only 25.9% of its shot to 3 pointers. That's downright Izzo-esque. The strange part is that Illinois nonetheless "looks" like a POT in every other aspect on offense. They take care of the ball, they don't grab offensive rebounds, and they rarely attempt free throws. Something, I'm not sure what yet, will look different by the end of the season.
On defense, Illinois looks like Tennessee. They have forced turnovers at a 25.1% clip, though it's come at the expense of defensive rebounding. What's strange about this is that forcing turnovers has always been the weak link of Weber's teams. Some years it's better than others, but it's always the worst part about the defense in any given season. Not so much this season. Conversely, defensive rebounding is usually a strength, but this season, it's pretty mediocre.
Actually, Tennessee isn't forcing turnovers this season, and right now stands as one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country. Any chance Bruce Pearl and Bruce Weber accidentally traded orange jackets, and have switched bodies in some weird version of this movie?
The Nets Are on Fire in Iowa: A season ago, Iowa had one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten. This year, they have one of the nation's best. Tell that to one of the mainstream pundits, and they'll laugh. After all, Iowa is averaging just 66.6 points per game this season, good for 216th in Division 1. Of course, they're also averaging just 58 possessions per game as well. And were it not for Denver, the Hawkeyes would rank dead last in tempo.
The secret to Iowa's offensive success has been shooting. They're hitting 42% from 3, and 55.9% from 2. The former mark is even more impressive considering that only one team (yep, Denver!) shoots more three pointers than Iowa.
Will this continue? Well, it's hard to see how, quite honestly. Matt Gatens is having a stellar start to his freshman season, but I have my doubts that he's a 61% three point shooter. And on the other side of the ledger, there aren't any obvious and large corrections.
Wisconsin's Defense Is Bad: This one is very puzzling. Though the departed seven footers Brian Butch and Greg Steimsma suggested the defense would take a hit, I figured the fall would be from "elite" to "very good." It's fallen a lot further than that. Consider that in 4 of Wisconsin's 9 games, its opponent has averaged over a point a possession. In the 36 games Wisconsin played last season, that happened all of 9 times. And none of those were against the likes of Idaho State or Long Beach State.
The cause behind Wisconsin's defense is obvious, if unhelpful - field goal defense. The Badgers are still rebounding, and still not fouling, but this year, their opponents' shots are going in. What has to be more frustrating is that Wisconsin's block percentage is actually up this season. Indeed, the real issue has been on the perimeter, as opponents are shooting 37.2% from three point range this season (they were 31.3% last season). The terrifying conclusion is that Michael Flowers was a better defender than everyone gave him credit for (and he got a lot of credit - he was on the All Defensive Team), because he's not walking through that door. But there's still a lot of basketball to be played, of course, and I for one will be a bit surprised if opponents are shooting that well from the perimeter at the end of the season.
Iowa State @ Iowa
Mount St. Mary's @ Penn State
Butler @ Ohio State
Indiana State @ Purdue
Eastern Michigan @ Michigan
Indiana @ Kentucky
Alcorn State @ Michigan State
Green Bay @ Wisconsin
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Illinois rolled over Chicago St., 89-50 in an 84 possession game. The Illini defense held CSU to 0.6 points per possession, forcing the Cougars into 29 turnovers. In fact, the Illini posted their best defensive efficiency of the season in this game. The Illini also held David Holston, the nation's 2nd leading scorer, to "just" 17 points (on 19 shots). The Illini's offense was led by its All Mike Frontcourt, as Davis and Tisdale each posted double doubles. Tisdale's 25 points set a new career high. Box score.
Penn State was also getting defensive last night, taking down Army 60-45 in a 58 possession game. The offensive numbers were pretty ho-hum except for the fact that the Nittany Lions turned it over just 9 times. What's interesting so far about Penn St.'s season is that, after the first 3 games of the year, there aren't many (any?) teams that have held onto the ball better than Penn St. The highest TO Rate the team has posted in a game since those first three was actually last night - 15.4. Missouri, UNC, and Davidson sport the same mark, for the season. That's good for 5th in the country. Andrew Jones probably had the most impressive line of the night, with 13 points (on seven shots) to go with 7 rebounds. Only one player, Josh Miller, reached double figures for Army, and he had only 10 points (on 10 shots). Box score.
Indiana pulled to .500 (against D1 competition) last night with a 66-56 win over TCU (63 possessions). IU has been somewhat of the anti-Penn State this season, turning it over constantly. Last night was no exception as the Hoosiers turned it over 19 times in a pretty slow game. Of course, TCU turned it over 21 times, which is a good way to win a game despite posting a worrisome TO Rate (make the other team's TO Rate even more worrisome). Still, it's not hard to conclude that IU's turnover problems will be the source of their offensive troubles this season. The lowest TO Rate posted by the Hoosiers (against D1 competition) this season was 23.1, against IUPUI. On the season, no other Big Ten team has a TO Rate that bad. Incredibly, IU is posting a TO Rate of 29.7 on the season, good for 341st (out of 344 Division 1 teams) in the nation. The closest BCS team is Kentucky, a full 3 percentage points lower, at 26.7. Tom Pritchard posted a 15/11 dub-dub, and Devan Dumes scored 20 points on 12 shots. Box score.
Minnesota continued its tour of cupcake city, dispatching South Dakota State 74-60 in a 67 possession game. This game was a block party - the Gophers blocked 14 shots on the night. To put that into context, SDSU only made 13 two pointers. Perhaps one or two of these blocks were on a three pointer, but the point still stands - the Jackrabbits were just as likely to get their shots swatted as they were to convert them. BTG Preseason All-Defense Team member Damian Johnson had us proud, swatting 5 shots, grabbing 6 boards, and recording a steal for good measure. Oh, and he also had 21 points on 15 shots. Box score.
Tonight...nobody plays. But you wouldn't want to miss the Christmas episode of 30 Rock anyways, now would you?
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
As we surmised in our Wisconsin preview, the loss of 7-footers Greg Steimsma and Brian Butch has drastically affected the Badger defense. I do expect that Bo Ryan will improve this defense as we go along, but it seems unlikely that Wisconsin will again be one of the nation's elite defensive teams this year.
Back to last night, Jason Bohannon led the way with 18 points on 11 shots, and Marcus Landry had a nice overall game (14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal). Box score.
Purdue took a short road trip and easily dispatched Ball State, 68-39. As has been the story all season, Purdue's defense was outstanding, forcing 21 turnovers and allowing an eFG% of just 29.3%. At the other end, Purdue scored a point per possession by being adequate but not great in each of the Four Factors. Robbie Hummel had a nice game with 15 points (11 shots), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Box score.
Iowa began their tour of in-state rivals by blowing out Northern Iowa, 65-46. As usual, it was the Hawkeyes' hot shooting that carried the day (59.4 eFG%), although Iowa also did a nice job limiting turnovers (10.2 TO%). Most impressive is that Iowa played this game without suspended leading scorer Anthony Tucker. BTG favorite Jake Kelly stepped into the starting lineup and scored 19 points on 15 shots, along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and no turnovers.
If Iowa can consistently combine high eFG% with low TO%, they could end up being a surprise at-large selection. Hawkeye fans have to be thrilled with the program's quick progress under Todd Lickliter. Box score.
Here's tonight's slate of games, including a potentially tough matchup for the young Hoosiers (all times CT):
6pm - Army at Penn State - ESPNU
7pm - TCU at Indiana - ESPN2 (why?)
7pm - Chicago State at Illinois - bigtennetwork.com
8pm - South Dakota State at Minnesota - Big Ten Network
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Illinois is off to a good start this season, but they need to shore up their defensive rebounding. With the loss of Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle, this was seen as a problem area prior to the start of the season, and there haven't been any surprises. Currently, the Illini rank 240th in all of Division 1 in defensive rebounding. Now, this isn't a monumental problem because the Big 10 as a whole is not a great offensive rebounding conference. But it's hard to see the Illini continue to play elite defense with those kind of rebounding numbers. Indeed, the defense so far has been aided by opponents shooting 60.5% at the free throw line.
Soon, the Illini will add Alex Legion to the squad, so the offense, which is already humming along, should get even better. But Bruce Weber will need to consider some lineup changes. Here are the defensive rebounding numbers for the Illini frontcourt players:
Currently, Davis and Keller are splitting time at the 4 spot, while Tisdale and Semrau are manning the center position. Frankly, that's just a terrible output from Tisdale and Semrau. Add to the fact that Keller's offense off the bench has been tremendous (even if he is a black hole), it seems like an easy decision. But I wouldn't expect any dramatic changes - after all, Davis and Keller will still need a breather, and when they do, it will be Tisdale and Semrau on the floor. Changing the lineup will have some incremental changes, but it won't solve the Illini's rebounding woes. That is likely here to stay.
Tonight, Purdue visits Ball State, Iowa hosts Northern Iowa to tip off the annual state battle, and Idaho State visits the Kohl Center to take on Wisconsin.
Monday, December 8, 2008
So far into this young season, Ohio State is flexing its muscles on the defensive end. By adjusted defensive efficiency, they rank #2 in the nation. Now, part of that is its ridiculous 59-22 drubbing of Samford, but that sort of proves this team is tough to score on, doesn't it? Sure, it's just Samford, but when a team is held to 0.36 points per possession, something is going right on defense.
This game against the Irish again featured excellent defense, as the Buckeyes held Notre Dame to 0.88 points per possession. That's tough to do. With the caveat that it's only December, Notre Dame, even after this game, ranks as the #1 offensive team in the country. And as an experienced team with a track record of great offense, this probably isn't a fluke. Notre Dame is explosive, and OSU stopped them. Looking at the box score, it's clear what happened - Dallas Lauderdale owned the paint. Notre Dame shot 39% from 2 point range, and Lauderdale's 6 blocks and imposing presence likely had a lot to do with that. And against a team that features Luke Harangody, that's impressive (Big Luke was "held" to 25 points on 25 shots).
On offense, Evan Turner continues to lead this team (although perhaps he shouldn't lead so much). On 16 shots, he scored 28 points to go with 10 rebounds (5 on the offensive end) and 5 assists. But the Buckeyes need to find someone who can lighten Mr. Turner's load, as the wing also ended up with 6 turnovers - his 3rd game (out of 6) in which he had 4 or more TOs. Right now, the only blemish on Turner's season is the TOs - other than that, he's having a remarkable sophomore season.
The second time was the charm for Michigan, who took down Duke, 81-73 in a 70 possession game. The Wolverines' game plan was simple - pack that zone in, and dare the Devils to beat Michigan from the outside. Duke shot 7-33 (21%) from the outside, and that was it. Inside the arc, Duke shot a red-hot 75%, but they only took 32 attempts from there.
Was this madness, or genius from John Beilein? After all, Duke returned most of the minutes from a team that shot 38% from three point range last season. Certainly, they are capable of better than this. But that didn't happen on Saturday, for whatever reason. Another byproduct of Duke's extreme POT-ness in this contest was that the Blue Devils reached the free throw line only six times. DeShawn Sims had more than that all by himself.
Speaking of Mr. Sims, it was a solid day at the office for him - 28 points (on 16 shots) and 12 boards. Box score.
Indiana actually made a game of it before Gonzaga pulled away, 70-54 in a 69 possession game. This was a tight game until about midway through the second half, as Gonzaga failed to put any real distance between them and the Hoosiers. Indiana actually defended pretty well, holding one of the more explosive teams in the country to about 1.0 point per possession. In a season to be filled with moral victories, the one that can be taken from this game was that the Bulldogs won in large part thanks to height. Had the Hoosiers been a bit taller, maybe they get the win. But the vertically-challenged Hoosiers shot 26% from inside the arc, while the relatively giant Bulldogs shot 56% from 2. Outside of Tom Pritchard, who was 4-6, IU was 3-21 from 2 point range. IU's 25 TOs, which resulted in their worst TO Rate of the season to date, didn't help matters either. Box score.
If you managed to stay awake through it, you saw Iowa take down Bryant 61-36 in a 50 possession game. Yes, you read that right - 50 possessions. Lickliter has set a new low for his Iowa tenure. A game this slow really throws off your box score meter. Eleven turnovers doesn't sound like a lot, but in a game like this, it's actually kind of high. But that doesn't matter much when 65% of your attempts are three pointers, and you make 43% of them. Freshman Matt Gatens led the barrage with 19 points on 12 shots. Box score.
Illinois ripped apart Georgia on Saturday, 76-42 in a 65 possession game. The game ended on a 22-0 run by the Illini, who displayed excellence on both sides of the floor. That said, there might have been foreshadowing of problems for the Illini frontcourt, as Georgia grabbed 48.5% of the available rebounds on the offensive end of the floor. Rebounding was widely thought to be a problem with this team, and Illinois' All-Mike frontcourt had the kind of game many were expecting - lots of scoring (28 points on 20 shots for Davis and Tisdale), little rebounding (combined 7 boards). That has to change in conference play. Sophomore Demetri McCamey was sparkling, scoring 19 points on 12 shots, dishing 6 assists, grabbing 3 steals, 4 rebounds, and just 2 turnovers. Box score.
Minnesota took down Cornell, 71-54 in a 63 possession game on Saturday. The Gophers did everything well except take care of the ball, committing 17 turnovers on the day. Big Red had its PG Louis Dale back in the lineup for limited action (10 minutes), and actually held a 12 point lead at halftime. After the half though, Minnesota took possession of the paint, making 57% of their twos. Lawrence Westbrook led Minnesota with 17 points on just 9 shots, to go with 5 assists and 2 turnovers. Box score.
The Wildcats are making us look good for predicting a big step forward this season. Northwestern embarassed DePaul, 63-36 in a 58 possession game. Obviously, defense was key. Curiously, it wasn't Northwestern's trapping defense creating lots of turnovers. It was Northwestern's excellent 2 point defense (???) that did the job, holding the Blue Demons to 26% shooting from inside the arc. To be fair, DePaul was without 6-10 Mac Koshwal, but still, the Wildcats held Dar Tucker to 4-14 from inside the arc, and this guy shot 54% from 2 last season. Kevin Coble led the Wildcats, who are thinking postseason, with 25 points on 19 shots to go with 6 rebounds. Box score.
Penn State's impressive early season run hit a speedbump on Saturday, as the Nittany Lions were taken out at home by the Temple Owls, 65-59 in a 60 possession game. The Nittany Lions just couldn't make shots, hitting only 33% of their twos. It didn't help matters that Stanley Pringle was limited to just 9 minutes. This might not be a terrible loss come Selection Sunday, because Temple is hard to figure out at this point (they lost by just 4 at Clemson, for instance). Still, it's never good to be someone else's best win. Talor Battle played every minute, and Jamelle Cornley sat out just 2 - I think it's clear at this point that DeChellis has a short bench. Battle led with 19 points on 15 shots to go with 7 assists and just one TO. Box score.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff didn't stand a chance against Purdue, who dominated with defense en route to a 90-42 victory in a 81 possession game (yes, A-PB is playing very fast this year. No, it isn't helping). Sometimes, one stat is all you need to describe a game: Arkansas-Pine Bluff committed 35 turnovers. There. Box score.
Wisconsin lost a heartbreaker at Marquette, 61-58 in a 63 possession game. Wisconsin's 2 losses this season have one thing in common - that "no foul" defense is nowhere to be seen. The Golden Eagles shot 23 FTs compared to Wisconsin's 13, and that was enough for Marquette to win. In fact, considering the FT gap and the fact that Marcus Landry attempted only 5 shots, it was kind of impressive that Wisconsin was even in this game (Marquette is a good team, even considering the strange blowout loss to Dayton earlier this season). The Badgers need more out of their senior. Trevon Hughes led the Badgers with 14 points on 11 shots. Box score.
Michigan State dispatched with Bradley, 75-59 in a 78 possession game, but didn't exactly look impressive. This was a close game at the half, and a big part of that was MSU's TO problem. The Spartans had 19 in this one, and Tom Izzo must feel like he's in a nightmare that he can't wake up from. Turnovers have plagued the Spartans for going on three seasons now, though it appeared this was all figured out at the end of last season. Apparently, that's not the case. BTG Breakout Candidate Chris Allen led the Spartans with 19 points on 14 shots. Box score.
Tonight Hawaii takes on Illinois in Champaign.
(Get your fill of Big Ten Wonking over at Unfiltered, the blog for Basketball Prospectus).
Friday, December 5, 2008
1) The top of the Big Ten is worse than it was last year
The top of the Big Ten last year, of course, being Wisconsin. I know it's tempting to look at the Badgers' shameful early exit against lowly Davidson, but don't get too caught up with one game. The Badgers had Final Four ability, but had a really bad game against a really good team. After all, this was the same team that went on the road and beat Texas, without Trevon Hughes.
This year, the top of the Big Ten figures to be MSU and Purdue, and I'm not sure we've seen anything that changes that projection. Both the Spartans and the Boilermakers have 2 losses, and at least one of those for each team has been a blowout loss. Now, this doesn't rule them out as real contenders this season (after all, Wisconsin lost by 24 at Duke last season), but it certainly isn't a ringing endorsement either. Purdue's losses aren't that different from Wisconsin's 2 non-conference losses last season (Marquette at home in addition to Duke), as both have come against quality opponents. We'll find out more as this season wears on (December 20th, against Davidson. Mark your calendars).
2) The bottom of the Big Ten is about the same as last year
Indiana's finally emerging from the aftermath of Kelvin Sampson, but every game this year will serve as a constant reminder. To his credit, Tom Crean is putting on a happy face through it all. He commends his players for working hard, and the fans for supporting their team. If he can keep that upbeat demeanor throughout the season, he's a stronger man than I. From where I sit, most probably overrated the Hoosiers coming into this season. And it wasn't just Hoosier fans, it was Illinois fans as well. I keep thinking back to St. John's between 2002-03 to 03-04. In 02-03, the Red Storm went 21-13, winning the NIT. Marcus Hatten led the team in scoring with over 20 points per game. The next season, the Red Storm went 6-21, including 1-15 in the Big East. The issue here for the dropoff wasn't necessarily talent - St. John's brought back 50% of the minutes from the previous season - but it was distraction. Mike Jarvis was fired in the midst of a season that saw allegations of drug use, sexual assault, and improper payments to a player.
At IU, the housecleaning Dakich performed ensured that there was little distraction. But there's still the issue of talent. IU lost 96% of the minutes from last season, and while the new guys that have been brought in can play, no one is going to confuse any of them with Michael Beasley. And really, no one short of Michael Beasley can carry a team to a winning record by himself. Take DePaul for example. Last year, they had two of the most gifted freshmen in the country playing for them, along with several key upperclassmen. But they finished 11-19. High major basketball is tough. It's not enough to put on a jersey with a lot of tradition behind it, and figure they'll get to .500 somehow.
Indiana is bad this season. No question about that. But Crean is doing all the right things to set them up for 2009 and beyond. There was little chance this team was going places even if they returned the likes of Armon Bassett, DeAndre Thomas, and JaMarcus Ellis. So Crean has a roster full of freshmen who will each have over 500 minutes of game experience after this season. That will serve dividends down the road.
3) The middle of the Big Ten is up
With the exception of Wisconsin, who still looks like a tournament team, it's hard not to conclude that every team we picked to finish 3rd through 10th looks better this season. Even Iowa, who lost a lot, defeated Kansas State and nearly took down Boston College on the road. There are very good wins everywhere in this group, and not a lot of bad losses. With that said, it's not clear whether this means the Big Ten will get more NCAA teams, or whether they'll just get higher NIT seeds. A lot of that depends on how the conference finishes out its non-conference schedule.
And with so much improvement in the middle, and less dominance at the top, one thing seems clear at this point: there will be no such thing as a sure win this season (except against Indiana). Expect lots of close games. Home court win steaks will fall. Buzzer beaters will be at an all-time high. It should be fun.
4) Freshmen are no longer the cool kids at OSU
William Buford and B. J. Mullens were top 15 recruits. Like all top 15 recruits, we expected big things from these two. It seemed likely that they would be amongst OSU's top 3 or 4 scorers, that Mullens would be the leading rebounder and shot blocker, and if anyone else was better than these two, that OSU would be pretty good this season.
Well, that doesn't look so smart now. Neither Buford nor Mullens are among OSU's top 5 scorers. Evan Turner actually leads the Buckeyes in rebounds and blocks (and points and assists - when was the last time that happened anywhere?). Now, this could be either good news (OSU's upperclassmen are great!), or terrible news (OSU's freshmen are really overrated). In part because the Buckeyes have only played 4 games thus far, I say it's too early. There are things here that will change (like Jeremie Simmons' 10:1 assist to turnover ratio, or the fact that Dallas Lauderdale is blocking 25% of opponents' 2 point FG attempts). But so far, so good. We will learn a lot more this Saturday when the Buckeyes visit Notre Dame.
5) This conference is still slow
|Team||Poss. per 40 minute game|
I don't have much faith that this will pick up, either. In fact, if any team ends the year above 68 possessions a game, it would be more than a modest surprise.
Lots of good hoops action this weekend:
Bryant @ Iowa
Georgia @ Illinois (United Center)
Gonzaga @ Indiana (in Indianapolis, Hall of Fame Showcase)
Cornell @ Minnesota
DePaul @ Northwestern
Duke @ Michigan
OSU @ Notre Dame (in Indianapolis, Hall of Fame Showcase)
Temple @ Penn State
Arkansas-Pine Bluff @ Purdue
Wisconsin @ Marquette
Bradley @ MSU