Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Wisconsin game.

Wisconsin Badgers
Current record: 16-3
Big Ten record: 6-1
Current RPI: 23
Current Sagarin: 12
2006-07 record: 30-6 (lost to UNLV in second round of NCAA Tournament)
2006-07 RPI: 4
2006-07 Sagarin: 8
Series: IU leads 94-55
Last IU win: 1/31/07 (71-66 in Bloomington)
Last Wisconsin win: 2/8/06 (72-54 in Madison)
Last IU win in Madison: 1/25/98 (69-59)
TV: 9 pm, ESPN

The renaissance of Wisconsin's basketball program in the last decade under the direction of Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan is one of the most remarkable turnarounds in Big Ten history, perhaps second only to Gary Barnett's accomplishments with the Northwestern football program. The Badgers give me hope for IU football. Wisconsin won the fourth-ever NCAA Tournament in 1942 and qualified again in 1947, but did not return to the NCAA field again until 1994. Since that return, the Badgers have become NCAA fixtures. From 1994 to present, the Badgers have played in the NCAA Tournament 11 times in 14 years, including the last nine years. IU's record against the Badgers has coincided with UW's success. Wisconsin beat IU on January 5, 1980 in Madison. IU then won the next 31 in a row, home and away, before losing at Madison on January 4, 1997, 17 years later. Since then, the Badgers and Hoosiers have been nearly even (IU leads 9-8 from 1997 to present). IU won 69-59 at the Kohl Center on January 25, 1998, just a week after the Badgers played their first game in the facility. Since then, IU has lost six in a row in Madison. The Hoosiers have been competitive in three of the games there (most infamously the 62-60 loss in 2005 officiated by Northern Iowa athletic director Rick Hartzell), but IU's only longer road drought in the conference is at MSU.

But, about this year. Wisconsin's 2006-07 probably was its finest since the 1942 NCAA champions, but the Badgers squandered a great regular season performance by losing to UNLV in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers lost Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor and were expected to return to Earth this year, but instead, the Badgers have spent most of the season hanging near the top 10 and near the top of the Big Ten (first place until they lost at Purdue last weekend).
So, how are the Badgers doing it? Defense is the Badgers true area of excellence (#3 nationally at .85 points per possession), although the Badgers' offensive numbers are good as well. Defensively, the Badgers are #12 in effective field goal percentage, #27 in rebounding, #9 in free throw rate (their opponents don't get to the line), and #12 in 2 point field goal percentage(gulp--Better than UConn). The Badgers aren't overwhelmingly good at forcing turnovers or blocking shots, but don't rank below #125 nationally in any defensive category. While not as physically imposing as Connecticut, this is a very good defensive team.
On the offensive side, the Badgers are less overwhelming but still good. They shoot well, rebound well, and shoot over 50 percent from two point range. The Badgers are merely mediocre at protecting the ball and at getting to the line. Perhaps the only positive from IU's stat line against Connecticut was the low rate of turnovers, and Wisconsin may present a good opportunity to make that a trend. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to discuss the individuals, but Marcus Landry and Brian Butch should present a challenge to DJ and company inside, and let's hope the players and staff learned something on Saturday. None of the conference's top five have lost a conference game at home. A win tonight would be the Hoosiers' best road win in years and would put IU in excellent position for the Big Ten title.

Tempo free snapshot.

Busy for now, but via the Big Ten Chronicle, John Gasaway has a nice article with the conference-games-only tempo free stats for the six major conferences. I'll have some thoughts on this later, hopefully. Also, I have added a couple of links to the right. As always, check out the left sidebar for the latest work from the Big Ten Bloggers group, but there are a couple of stat-oriented blogs that aren't in the group to date. First, there is College Basketball Chronotope, formerly known as Hoosier Fun Ball, which has branched out to general college basketball coverage. See also Spartans Weblog, which obviously is written from the MSU perspective.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Big Ten Bloggers poll, week 4.

A clear line has emerged. The top 5 seem likely to stay that way, as do the bottom five, and it remains to be seen what the Gophers will do. Here goes:
1. Purdue (15-5, 6-1). Last week: 3. I don't expect Purdue to remain here, but who else is more deserving right now? Purdue is young, and I would guess that the team that lost to Wofford will show its face again and prevent the Boilers from winning the conference. But for now, Purdue is on top.
2. Wisconsin (16-3, 6-1). Last week: 2. Given my ranking of Purdue, I can't fault the Badgers much for losing at Mackey.
3. Michigan State (18-2, 6-1). Last week: 4. Sorry, Spartans. I'm still punishing you for losing at Iowa.
4. Indiana (17-2, 6-0). Last week: 1. Yes, this is a bit overdramatic, but the Hoosiers need to show me something against a quality team.
5. Ohio State (14-6, 5-2). Last week: 5. Definitely the best of the rest. I still don't have a read on the Buckeyes at all.
6. Minnesota (12-6, 2-4). Last week: 6. The Gophers have played a tough schedule so far, and now begin a stretch in which 6 of their 8 games are against team 7 through 11. If the Gophers are going to make a move, it will be in the next two to three weeks.
7. Iowa (10-11, 3-5). Last week: 7. The Hawks have had a nice run, but they probably won't win again until Michigan comes to town on February 14.
8. Illinois (10-11, 2-6). Last week: 9. The next four games are interesting for the Illini: @Michigan State, Purdue, IU, and @ Minnesota. 3-1 wouldn't surprise me, and neither would 0-4.
9. Penn State (10-9, 2-5). Last week: 8. The Nits are headed for #10, I fear. They haven't been within 15 points of anyone since losing Claxton.
10. Michigan (5-15, 1-7). Last week: 10. They played well in a loss at Wisconsin, and I expect Michigan to pass PSU within the next couple of weeks.
11. Northwestern (6-11, 0-7). Last week: 11. Just hideously awful. Carmody has to be toast, right? NU made a really poor Illinois offense look like North Carolina.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Connecticut 68, Indiana 63.

This one really wasn't as competitive as the score might suggest. After falling behind 9-0, Connecticut controlled the rest of the game and seemed ready to blow the game open at various points. The Hoosiers hung on by a thread with some belated three point shooting, mostly from Jordan Crawford and Armon Bassett, but didn't deserve to win this game. Here's the box score, and the latest link to the Pomeroy "scouting report," which contains some tempo-free stats on a game-by-game basis.
Even on a tempo-free basis, IU ws outrebounded badly. The Hoosiers grabbed only 22.8 percent of their ample offensive rebound opportunities compared to 41 percent for Connecticut.
The only positive stat for IU was 9 turnovers, the lowest total and lowest percentage of the season for IU. Still, the rebound advantage and IU's poor field goal percentage cost IU this game. The Hoosiers too often tried to take the ball into the teeth of Connecticut's defense, and that hasn't worked for anyone this year.
The individuals:
  • Eric Gordon had his worst game as a Hoosier. 14 points on 16 shots, 1-5 from three point range, 3-4 from the line. Gordon and DJ White were the only Hoosiers who shot free throws.
  • DJ White had 13 points on 13 shots and had 10 rebounds.
  • Armon Bassett continues to play well, with 18 points on 10 shots.
  • Jordan Crawford was solid as well, with 10 points on 8 shots.

This game probably shows the limitations of stats. Pomeroy's numbers predicted a comfortable win for IU even before UConn lost two guards to suspension. Still, it was clear that UConn's formidable front line affected every two point shot that IU took, even the open ones. As far as losses go, however, I can handle this one. As bad as it was, by the end of Saturday IU was in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, thanks to Purdue's home win against Wisconsin. Wisconsin has some decent size as well, so the Hoosiers have a tough job up in Madison, but we shall see.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

UConn liveblog!

This is the first time I have tried this for basketball. We'll see how it goes.
Pregame thoughts:
  • The big news, of course, is that two of UConn's guards, Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins, have been suspended indefinitely.
  • I really loathe the "whiteouts." Crimson is a great color. Why would we want to erase it from the palate when we play a big game on national TV? Maddening. And perhaps it's my Knight-era old school notions, but the game should be about basketball. Wear what you want, cheer like crazy for the team. Assembly Hall doesn't need gimmicks.

First half:

  • 18:05. 6-0, timeout UConn. Nothing to complain about so far, except a quick foul on Gordon, again. DJ manufactured a nice look, although it didn't go in.
  • 16:43, 9-0. If they can't guard us on the perimeter, Thabeet won't matter.
  • First TV timeout. 9-1. Liveblogging basketball is hard. Not as much predictable dead time as football. All is well so far except for four personal fouls, one each against Gordon, White, White, and Bassett.
  • 9-3 14:22. You can tell that Thabeet is in their heads, but they are reacting smartly so far.
  • Connecticut's uniforms are hideous.
  • Second TV timeout, 15-9. Treading water for a few minutes, some bad bounces and bad decisions.
  • 7:26, 16-17. Shooting 5-19 from the field, not getting good shots, missing the few they get. Where's Eric Gordon?
  • 5:45--effective out of the timeout. Thomas had two good looks that he missed, nice move by Gordon.
  • 3:39. Tied at 19, now back to 19-24. Missing open shots, and lots of them. As Packer notes, Thabeet seems lost out there, and we haven't taken advantage.
  • 2:10 22-26. Bassett bailed us out with a 3, but about to give it right back by failing to rebound.
  • Holy crap. Someone finally fell for the count.
  • And wasted, just like every opportunity of the half.
  • 24-29 at halftime.

Halftime: Very ugly performance by IU against a talented but undermanned Connecticut team. IU is going to have to play very well in the second half to win, and to overcome the notion that the 17-1 record is the function of nothing but an easy schedule. IU is shooting terribly--4/22 from two point range, but 4-7 from three point range. UConn is shooting 46 percent from the field. Despite loads of misses, IU has onlt 4 offensive rebounds. Turnover problems are under control, but that's about it. Gordon is 2-8 from the field, White is 3-9. Armon Bassett is 2-3.

Second half:

  • Armon is keeping us in this game. And as many breaks as home teams often get from the refs, I hate to complain, but IU can't guy a FG and they miss a flagrant goaltend? Come on!
  • First TV timeout, 27-33. We have played 55 minutes against good teams this year, and have looked like garbage for about 52 of those minutes.
  • 36-31 Signs of life, now we need some rebounding.
  • Nice look, missed bunny, UConn makes us pay. Story of the game.
  • 40-31, under 12 minutes. We will lose badly. UConn played a tough game in Cincinnati Wednesdya, flew back to Connecticut, flew back to the midwest, and IU looks like the jetlagged team. I hope I'm wrong, but I think 36-31 was our last stand.
  • 10:10 42-37 As I said, we're just a couple of threes from getting back into this thing.
  • 7:22. Pathetic, pathetic performance.
  • Well, 44-52. Somehow we are staying just close enough to keep it interesting, but we have no answer inside.
  • 2:58, 50-56, Thabeet going to the line. Still sticking around.
  • 55-60, 1:27. Probably prolonging the agony, but so be it.
  • Good to see that Jim Burr still sucks. The smug grin is a nice touch.
  • Well, too bad we were so tenative for most of the game.
  • 45.4. And it's over. Gordon passed up an open shot well within his range and exacerbated it with a bad pass.
  • Yeah, I'm never doing this again. More later.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Connecticut game.

Connecticut Huskies
Current record: 13-5
Big East record: 4-3
Current RPI: 31
Current Sagarin: 28
2006-07 record: 17-14
2006-07 RPI: 110
2006-07 Sagarin: 69
Series: Connecticut leads 4-3
Last IU win: 1/20/07, 77-73 in Hartford
Last UConn win: 2/4/06, 88-80 in Bloomington
Last IU win over Uconn in Bloomington: 12/17/38 (71-38)
TV: 1 pm, CBS
Tomorrow's game is the fourth (and I believe final) game in the current contract with UConn. The Huskies won the first two games, once in Hartford and once in Bloomington, and IU won in Hartford last year (the IU media guide says Storrs, but that is incorrect--UConn generally plays its weekend home games in Hartford, and media reports indicate that last year's game was no exception). The Huskies haven't been their usual nationally prominent selves for the last couple of seasons, but still seem likely to make the NCAA Tournament, which will make them IU's toughest home opponent of the year so far. Thanks to the expansion of the Big East, the Huskies have been spending some time in the midwest: UConn lost at Notre Dame on January 5 and defeated Cincinnati by one on Wednesday.
UConn's offensive and defensive efficiency numbers are all above average, as would be epxected for a team with UConn's record. Offensively, the Huskies make up for so-so shooting from the field by taking care of the ball, grabbing offensive rebounds, and getting to the line (UConn is #1 in the nation in that category and IU is #6, so this could be a long game). On the defensive side, the Huskies don't force many turnovers and don't rebound terribly well, but they are #2 nationally both in block percentage and two point field goal percentage. Much of the media coverage focuses on the matchup between DJ White and UConn's 7-3 sophomore Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet is a formidable shot blocker and must have a great deal to do with UConn's high ranks in blocked shots and two-point defense. He seems likely to be the key to the game.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Indiana 65, Iowa 43.

Here's the box score. The pace was 64 possessions. The Big Ten is slowing the Hoosiers down. Last night's game was the third time in four games that the Hoosiers have been involved in a game with fewer than 65 possessions per side, as compared to two such games in the first 14. Given IU's turnover problems, I suppose this isn't bad. This wasn't a great offensive performance, as IU was barely over a point a possession, but the defensive effort was the best of the year. Iowa's .66 points per possession is IU's second-best total of the season (Longwood is the only other team that IU held to under .73 points per possession. Iowa shot poorly (34 percent for the game, 21 percent in the second half), but the turnovers were devastating. The Hawkeyes turned the ball over on 31 percent of their possessions. The Hawkeyes have struggled with turnover problems (25.6 percent on the season) but still, this was one of the Hawkeyes' wost performances. It's also IU's second-best total of the season (32.4 by UNC-Wilmington). In IU's first five Big Ten teams, IU's best defensive turnover percentage performance was 17.4 against Illinois. If this becomes a trend for IU, the Hoosiers will be tough to beat. Neither team rebounded well offensively.
As for the individuals:
  • 17 points on 11 shots for Eric Gordon. Gordon was 0-3 from behind the arc but 7-8 on two point shots (his drives resulted in layups rather than free throws (4-4)). Three assists, 2 turnovers, 3 blocks, 4 steals. His defensive effort and performance was outstanding.
  • DJ White had 19 points on 13 shots, but an unusually low 4 rebounds.
  • Jamarcus Ellis had another all-everything game. Ellis scored 12 points on 7 shots (thanks to 6-7 from the line), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers, 4 steals.
  • Deandre Thomas played 19 minutes, but managed only two points on two shots and turned the ball over 4 times.
  • Armon Bassett continued his feast-or-famine trend: 8 points on 3-3 from the field, 3 assists, no turnovers, 2 steals.
  • Jordan Crawford continues to be a bit out of control. Five points on 5 shots, 2 assists, 4 turnovers.
  • Lance Stemler cooled off again. He was scoreless on 0-3 from the field/three point range.

This probably was IU's most complete victory of the season. Of IU's next eight games, seven are very challenging: Connecticut, @ Wisconsin, Northwestern, at Illinois, @ Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue. Within three weeks, we will have an idea of whether 17-1 is a function of IU's less-than-challenging schedule or whether it is an accurate statement of the team's quality.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Iowa game, take 2.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Current Record: 9-10
Big Ten record: 2-4
Current RPI: 173
Current Sagarin: 165
2006-07 record: 17-14 (9-7 in Big Ten, no postseason)
2006-07 RPI: 97
2006-07 Sagarin: 78
Series: IU leads 92-68
Last meeting: IU 79, Iowa 76 (at Iowa City, 1/2/08)
Last Iowa win: 81-75 (2/3/07 in Iowa City)
Last IU win in Bloomington: 1/16/07 (71-64)
Last Iowa win in Bloomington: 2/11/06 (70-67)
In the first meeting, as in most of IU's Big Ten games so far, the Hoosiers allowed Iowa to stick around for most of the first half. IU seemed to have the game in hand, leading 70-57 with just over two minutes remaining, when Justin Johnson went crazy, scoring 19 points in the last two minutes on 6-6 three pointers plus a free throw. If Justin Johnson were an autistic kid from New York State, he would win an ESPY. Has Johnson continued his hot streak? Not even close. Johnson is shooting about 41 percent from three for the season, but seems to have used up all of his luck in the IU game: after shooting 3-5 against Wisconsin, he has gone 3-13 against OSU, 0-7 against MSU, 1-4 against Purdue, and 1-5 against Michigan. That makes 23.5 percent since the IU game and 2-16 in his last three games.
The Hawkeyes' tempo-free numbers don't look much different than they looked on January 2. The Hawkeyes like to play slow (61.2 possession, #323 nationally), play very good straight-up defense (they don't force turnovers, but their efficiency, field goal percentage, and rebounding numbers are in or near the top 50), and don't do anything well offensively except dish out assists on their (all too rare) made field goals. IU should win comfortably, but should not take the Hawkeyes lightly. Iowa's 43-36 win over Michigan State is way more impressive than any win on IU's resume. The Hawkeyes dictated the pace of that 56 possession game, in contrast to the 72 possession game that IU won in Iowa City. The Hoosiers need to play their game and stick a hand in Johnson's face, and they should be fine.
A final note: IU has not lost at Assembly Hall since losing to Iowa on February 11, 2006. That game is best remembered by IU fans for what it did not include: Mike Davis. Davis was too sick to coach that day, but not too sick to whine on the phone to Andy Katz about the pervasive rumors of his supposedly impending resignation. In any event, IU won a school record 50 consecutive home games from 1991-1995. The Hoosiers' last home loss before beginning that streak was a loss to Iowa on February 21, 1991. IU now has won 28 in a row at Assembly Hall.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hoosiers move on up, but Star is wrong.

The basketball polls aren't nearly as interesting as college football polls because the basketball polls don't matter much. Is the Hoosiers' ascent in the polls enough to get me interested? Nah. What has me interested is that the Indianapolis Star's article today is wrong on some pretty basic facts. Here's what the Star says:
Eric Gordon and Co. are gaining on Calbert Cheaney. Indiana climbed two spots to No. 7 in The Associated Press men's college basketball poll released Monday. It's the
Hoosiers' highest ranking since March 15, 1993, when Cheaney and the Hoosiers entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 1.
In fairness to the Star, this article is attributed to Star and wire reports, but a Google news search indicates that the Star is the only outlet running this text. Certainly, 1993 is a line of demarcation in the history of IU basketball. It's the last time IU won the Big Ten outright, the last time the Hoosiers were ranked #1, the last time the Hoosiers entered the Tournament as an expected title contender. In the 15 season period that ended in 1993, the Hoosiers spent 108 weeks in the AP top 10. Since then, only 14 weeks (not counting this season):
1/17/94: 8
Preseason 1995: 9
12/2/96: 8
12/15/98: 10
12/22/98: 10
12/29/98: 8
1/3/00: 10
1/10/00: 9
2/7/00: 10
2/14/00: 10
Final 2002: 3
12/2/02: 10
12/9/02: 7
12/16/02: 6
I can cut the Star some slack on the 2002 final poll. No one really cares who is ranked where after the NCAA Tournament. But numerous online sources, including IU's official site and ESPN's archives, reveal that IU was ranked #6 when Mike Davis ran on to the court during the Kentucky game on December 21, 2002. Certainly, the Hoosiers haven't been ranked this high so late in the regular season since 1993, but that's not what the article said. Perhaps the Star should devote fewer resources to impugning Tony Dungy's worth as a father (I won't honor the article with a link) and more to the basic nuts and bolts of journalism.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Indiana 81, Penn State 65.

The Hoosiers haven't played a complete game in Big Ten play to date, but who can complain about 5-0? Had the Hoosiers won the first half by 13 and the second half by three, there probably would be little consternation about this game, but the final score doesn't reflect the reality that this was a tightly contested game for the first 29 minutes or so.
In examining the box score, I was surprised that Penn State shot only 46 percent in the first half. The Lions were 6-8 from three point range, accounting for more than half of PSU's 34 first half points. IU shot very well throughout the game, but didn't play effective defense in the first half. The pace of this game was 63 possessions per side according to Pomeroy. While Penn State isn't a defensive powerhouse, it's worth noting that one game after turnovers on over 35 percent of their possession, the Hoosiers took much better care of the ball. IU turned the ball over only 10 times, and the 15.8 turnover percentage is IU's third-lowest of the season. Certainly, that says something positive about Sampson and his staff. Eric Gordon, after turning the ball over 7 times at the Barn, did so only once against Penn State.
As I noted in the preview, Penn State is an excellent rebounding team. The Lions entered the game with an offensive rebounding percentage of 39.1 and allowing an ORP of only 30.2. While IU's offensive rebounding was poor (26 percent), the Hoosiers were much more effective on the defensive end, limiting Penn State to 25.4, well below it season average. In the Minnesota wrap-up, I noted IU's absurdly high assist percentage in that game (18/22, compared to about 53 percent on the season). IU again exceeded its average on Sunday, with 18/29 (62 percent).
The individuals:
  • When Jamarcus Ellis shoots well, it just isn't fair, given how well he does everything else. The only blemish on Ellis's line is 3 turnovers. Otherwise, he scored 12 points on 5-6 from the field, had 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals.
  • Eric Gordon was his efficient self, with 25 points on 17 shots. Uncharacteristically, Gordon shot only 4 free throws (third lowest total of the season), but made up for it with 5-11 from three point range.
  • DJ White scored 22 points on 8-11 from the field. He had only 7 rebounds, so the double-double streak did not continue, and had three turnovers, but DJ turned in another solid performance.
  • Armon Bassett scored 17 points on 8 shots, including 5-6 from three point range.
  • Lance Stemler continues to shoot well. Stemler took only one shot but made it from three point range, and added 5 rebounds and no turnovers in 28 minutes.
  • AJ Ratliff still hasn't rediscovered his shot. Ratliff was 0-2 from three point range, dragging his season average down to 20 percent. Ratliff shot 41 percent from behind the arc last season and 44 percent as a freshman (but only 31 percent as a sophomore). Hopefully AJ will be back soon, particularly in time for Wisconsin. Ratliff's return to offensive efficiency will be a key storyline of the Big Ten season. Eric Gordon has sometimes found himself in foul trouble. At his best, Ratliff can replace a significant portion of Gordon's offense if Gordon finds himself on the bench.

BTB Basketball Poll, week 3.

1. Indiana (16-1, 5-0). Last week: 1. It wasn't pretty, but IU survived at Minnesota and finally pulled away against Penn State.
2. Wisconsin (15-2, 5-0). Last week: 2. Strong performance against weak competition.
3. Purdue (13-5, 4-1). Last week: 3. As I said last week, I expect MSU to move back up here (and possibly beyond) eventually, but the Boilers have firmly established themselves in the top four until further notice.
4. Michigan State (16-2, 4-1). Last week: 5. No complaints about the Spartan performance this week, but I still can't forgive them for the Iowa game.
5. Ohio State (12-6, 3-2). Last week: 4. The Buckeyes look like the essence of mediocre. They will knock off some good teams at home, but I don't expect a meaningful road win.
6. Minnesota (12-5, 2-3). Last week: 5. The Gophers were competitive with two of the league's best, but couldn't defend their elevated homecourt.
7. Iowa (9-10, 2-4). Last week: 8. This season doesn't look as grim as it did a couple of weeks ago. Too bad the Hawks can't play a team from the state of Michigan every game.
8. Penn State (10-7, 2-3). Last week: 7. The Lions fought admirably in Bloomington, but eventually the loss of Claxton will catch up with them.
9. Illinois (9-10, 1-5). Last week: 10. The Illini finally won a game, but lost at Purdue. If the Illini are going to salvage their season, they need to start this week at Ohio State and against NU.
10. Michigan (5-13, 1-5). Last week: 9. Tough week upcoming for the Wolverines (Wisconsin and MSU), but at least they won't go 0-18.
11. Northwestern (6-9, 0-5). Last week: 11. The Wildcats were someone competitive in Madison and beat Chicago State in a non-conference game. Northwestern may not have a better week all season.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Penn State game.

Penn State Nittany Lions
Current record: 10-6
Big Ten record: 2-2
Current RPI: 138
Current Sagarin: 109
2006-07 record: 11-19 (2-14)
2006-07 RPI: 199
2006-07 Sagarin: 155
Series: IU leads 26-3
Last IU win: 3/3/07, 94-63 in Bloomington
Last Penn State win: 2/15/06 (68-61 in State College)
Last Penn State win in Bloomington: Never.
TV: 2:00 pm Sunday, Big Ten Network.
Penn State's basketball program is much like IU's football program. The Lions seem to have structural disadvantages (mostly, the school's rural location, far from the state's major cities, which are dominated by Pitt and by the Big Five in Philadelphia). For that reason, I have always viewed the Lions as an appealing underdog, and I hated to see that Geary Claxton, Penn State's 9th year senior, suffered a season- and career-ending knee injury. Claxton led Penn State with 17.5 points per game, and had improved his shooting significantly this year. He was at 50 percent for the season, as compared to a previous career high of 43.9, and was pulling down 8.4 rebounds per game. Penn State seemed to be turning a corner in 2006, when the Lions went 15-14 and qualified for the NIT, but Penn State slipped badly last year. This season, Penn State opened with road wins at Northwestern and Illinois, but lost a close home game to Minnesota before losing badly at home to Wisconsin in the game in which Claxton was injured.
Because of the sudden change in Penn State's team, the numbers may not be particularly useful. Penn State averages 66.1 possessions, sub-200 nationally. Offensively, Penn State doesn't shoot very well, but has a reasonably efficient offense (1.06 points per possession, #84 nationally) thanks to strong offensive rebounding (39.1 percent, #21 nationally) and taking care of the ball (18.1 turnover percentage, also #21 nationally). The Lions' worst offensive attribute is 59 percent free throw shooting.
On the defensive side, Penn State is above average in efficiency (.97 PPP, #95 nationally) and rebounds well (30.2, #59 nationally). Penn State has done this even though no one taller than 6-6 gets meaningful playing time for the Lions. On the other hand, Claxton was the team's leading rebounder, so it's unclear if Penn State's excellence in that category will continue.
The main story on the individuals in the absence of Claxton, and at this point it is unclear how Penn State will handle his loss. After a tough game in Minneapolis, this game should provide the Hoosiers a good opportunity to work on the issues that nearly cost IU that game.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Indiana 65, Minnesota 60.

This win feels like found money. I began mentally preparing myself to rationalize the loss several times during the game, most notably when the Gophers were up by four with 6:50 remaining and when they pulled ahead 60-58 with 1:49 to go. As we know, the Hoosiers scored the final seven points and held on to beat Minnesota in an arena where even the best Hoosier teams have struggled.
Here's the box score, which ought to be rated NC-17. Obviously, IU's turnovers were the big story. This was a 68 possession game, and IU turned the ball over 26 times, or 38.2 percent of the time. As I noted in my preview, the Gophers force turnovers better than nearly every team in the country, but IU's output was significantly higher than the 27 percent usually forced by the Gophers. Of the 341 teams tracked by Pomeroy, only two teams, Savannah State and Prairie View A&M, turn the ball over on even 30 percent of their possessions. In other words, while it's great that the Hoosiers won, this turnover problem simply has to get better if IU is going to beat any elite teams this season. Minnesota turned the ball over only 11 times, or 16 percent of the time. That means that Minnesota had 57 possessions on which it had the opportunity to score, and IU had 42. So how the hell did we win?
  • Efficiency. IU scored 1.38 points per shot. Minnesota only 1.03.
  • Three point shooting. IU was 9-22, Minnesota was 3-17.
  • Free throws. IU was 12-14, Minnesota was 11-21, including 0-7 by Spencer Tollackson.
  • Rebounding. IU corralled 40 percent of its OR opportunities, 11 of 27 misses. Minnesota grabbed only 10 of its 41 misses, 24 percent. This is why IU, despite 15 fewer non-turnover possessions, managed to close the gap a bit.

In sum, IU was significantly better than Minnesota in every meaningful category other than turnovers, enough to eek out a win despite dramatically fewer scoring opportunities than the Gophers. One interesting stat: IU was credited with assists on 18 of 22 made baskets, an absurdly high total for a team that ranks sub 200 in the category at about 55 percent. IU's 18/22 is about 81 percent. The nation's leader, Utah State, averages 72.3 percent. Perhaps the scorer at Minnesota is the long-lost twin of his counterpart at Texas A&M.

How about the individuals?

  • Eric Gordon had his least productive game as a Hoosier. He was called for three fouls in the first half and played only nine minutes. Still, while his output of 12 points wasn't great, and his turnovers (7 in this game) remain a problem. He wasn't all that bad. He was 3-8 from the field, 2-6 from behind the arc, and 4-5 from the line. Gordon, thus far, has avoided what really consititutes a bad night for a guard, a 6-20, 14 point performance. Gordon does a good enough job of getting to the line (and shoots 85 percent there) that he seems nearly incapable of having a game in which he is a black hole.
  • Jordan Crawford saved the day. I have noted before that Jordan really likes to shoot, and with Gordon on the bench for the last eight minutes of the first half, Crawford hit 4-5 three pointers (4-6 on the game). Overall, he scored 16 points on 12 shots.
  • Jamarcus Ellis scored onlt 2 points and was 0-5 from the field, but he contributed elsewhere, with nine rebounds, 6 assists, and "only" two turnovers in 36 minutes (better than any other Hoosier ballhandler).
  • DJ White was DJ White. 7-12, 10 rebounds, 17 points, 2 blocks. But you already knew that, even if you didn't watch the game. We have the two best players in the Big Ten, so we better win it this year.
  • Deandre Thomas may have had the best line of the night. In 12 minutes, Thomas scored five points on two shots, two rebounds, no turnovers, one steal.
  • Lance Stemler was perfect from the field: 8 points on 2-2 from three point range and from the line. His three pointer gave the Hoosiers their final lead of the game. Lance seems to have it back, finally.

Minnesota may not even be an NCAA Tournament team, but this feels like IU's best road win in some time. The Barn is tough on the Hoosiers, and the Gophers are well-coached and did a great job of exploiting IU's weaknesses, yet not effectively enough to win. Last year, the Hoosiers were 2-6 on the road in conference. This year, they are 3-0 already with trips to Evanston and State College remaining. Also, as I noted last night, the game at Wisconsin on January 31 is shaping up as a major showdown. Solid win, Hoosiers, but let's take better care of the ball in Madison and East Lansing.

Our ass.

That's where we found that one. I don't even want to see a highlight of that game ever again, but I don't think any IU team of the last 15 years would have found a way to win that one. The game highlighted the turnover issue that has plagued IU all year, but we shot reasonably well for most of the game and here we are, 15-1/4-0. With home games against Penn State and Iowa (and then a non-conference game at home against UConn), it seems likely that both IU and Wisconsin will be undefeated when the teams meet in Madison two weeks from tonight. More tomorrow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Minnesota game: the first real road test.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Current record: 12-3
Big Ten record: 2-1
Current RPI: 53
Current Sagarin: 33
2006-07 record: 9-22
2006-07 RPI: 191
2006-07 Sagarin: 167
Series: IU leads 86-63
Last IU win: 2/21/07 (71-59 in Bloomington)
Last Minnesota win: 1/29/06 (61-42 in Minneapolis)
Last IU win in Minneapolis: 1/24/04 (86-81 in overtime)
TV: 9:00 pm tonight, ESPN
Lighting round on this one. I put some of my thoughts in the Q&A with PJS, seen below and on the other site. My inclination that the Hoosiers are going to lose this game is based purely on hunch, not any sort of analysis. It's the pessimism bred by 15 years of never winning an outright Big Ten title and losing nearly every meaningful conference road game. I am hopeful that we can change that tonight.
I suppose it's at least worth noting that this would be the Gophers' best win of the season, by far. To date, the Gophers are 0-3 against the RPI top 100. All of the schedule strength ratings have Minnesota below IU. Nevertheless, the Gophers' tempo-free numbers are very good: #47 in offensive efficiency, #20 in defensive efficiency, #64 in offensive rebounding, top 80 in both shooting categories, #21 in assist ratio. The Gophers are only so-so at taking care of the ball, with a 21 percent turnover percentage (#137), but their opponents turn the ball over 27 percent of the time, #4 nationally. The Gophers also post top 20 totals in steal percentage and block percentage.
A big concern is that the Hoosiers, while still above average, have been worse on turnovers than in nearly any other offensive category, while Minnesota forces lots of turnovers. IU hasn't been a great defensive rebounding team, but Minnesota rebounds very well offensively. Statistically, both teams have been dominant against less-than-punishing schedules.
Many of the Gophers' names will sound familiar. The team's top three players, Dan Coleman, Lawrence McKenzie, and Spencer Tollackson, are all seniors. Watch out for freshman Blake Hoffarber, who is 40-81 from three point range. Dan Coleman and Damian Johnson look to be dominant shot-blockers.
I have expressed my pessimism, but I hope I'm wrong. As all of the Minnesota blogs have noted, Minnesota has won 8 of its last 10 home games in this series. Here's a depressing statistic that illustrates just how far the IU administration allowed the program to fall: Clem Haskins resigned in shame in 1999. After probation and rebuilding, the Gophers have made only one NCAA Tournament appearance. IU's record against Minnesota from 2000 to present? 6-7.

Chatting with the enemy: part 2 of exchange with PJS.

I exchanged some questions and answers with Paging Jim Shikenjanski, a fine Minnesota blog named after some goofy white boy who undoubtedly toched the Hoosiers for 30 back in the 1980s. You can read the first half of our exchange here (with pictures!). The second half is below.
On to my question, I've seen a bunch of games in Assembly Hall and a handful at Mackey Arena, but none in any other Big Ten venue. The only one that I am absolutely dying to see is the Barn. They aren't really going to replace it, are they? Didn't you guys learn your lesson with the football stadium? I haven't heard anything since Tubby's initial comments. How was the idea received by Minnesota fans?

PJS: Tubby is in the middle of one hell of a honeymoon period right now. And he used some of the capital that comes along with that to drop a bomb on many Minnesota fans. What was it? He suggested that the University ought to think long-term about replacing historical Williams Arena.

You're right to want to see a game there. The atmosphere can be electric when the team is playing well. The raised floor has a strange charm to it. And the building--though not without its drawbacks and blind spots--means more to many Minnesota basketball fans than any one coach will ever be. While this conversation came and went in the blogosphere and on the message boards quickly, it caused some online pundits I respect to say they'd rather jettison Tubby than raze the Barn if it came to that.

I personally don't agree with that position. Tubby is thinking about building Minnesota into a perennial national contender. To do that, he wants top notch facilities across the board. His first task is to bring Minnesota a practice facility on par with other top notch power conference schools. Eventually, he sees a day when a 14,000-plus arena will render a program non-competitive. I don't know if he is right or wrong, but I think most Minnesota fans would put up one hell of a fight if talk of replacing the Barn got serious. Me? I'm willing to listen. If there is a middle ground, a new Williams Arena, if we can keep the floor, I'd listen.

On to the game Thursday. It's nationally televised. The Gophers are returning home fresh off a confidence-boosting win on the road. Indiana is coming off a surprisingly hard fought game at home against Illinois. So, how did Illinois hang around? What did they do to slow Eric Gordon? And what do you see as Indiana's weaknesses? Where should Minnesota attack IU, and what types of defenses have slowed the Hoosiers so far?

It's clear from above and from my other posts about Illinois that I'm not a fan of Bruce Weber. I do respect him immensely as a coach, however. This year's Illinois team defends well, rebounds well, and takes care of the ball, but can't throw it in the ocean from the beach. I'm not much of an x's and o's guy, but I thought Illinois did a great job against Gordon, who hopefully learned that especially at home, he should take it to the basket constantly against an aggressive defensive team. At times it seemed like Illinois had seven guys on the floor: two on White, two on Gordon, man to man on everyone else. They did a great job doubling those guys whenever they had the ball. Also, Illinois made its first 6 shots and had a 13-4 lead four minutes into the game (those six field goals were nearly a third of the 19 Illinois hit in the game). Combine that with a below-average night from behind the arc, and the Hoosiers were forced into a nailbiter. If there is a knock on Sampson tactically, it's that his teams don't necessarily respond well to new or novel defenses and IU's best players are too prone to turnover problems. If I were coaching against IU I would take the kitchen sink approach and mix up the defensive looks to cause some discomfort (as if anyone could be "comfortable" playing on that platform!)

So, a little basketball talk back at you. What will Minnesota have to do to win? Which Gophers hold the key to defeating the Hoosiers?

PJS: The Gophers are going to need big games from a number of players to pull the upset. This starts with our trio of seniors. Of that group, Dan Coleman is the most talented of the bunch. He scores almost at will against inferior competition but tends to disappear in tight battles. During the Dan Monson era, Coleman played primarily on the perieter offensively despite playing power forward. Tubby Smith has worked to get Coleman to take the ball to the basket and attack. If Coleman is doing that, and getting to the foul line, I like our chances. Fellow seniors Lawrence McKenzie (who played for Sampson at Oklahoma before trasnferring to his home state) and Spencer Tollackson also need to find ways to score.

Aside from the seniors, the Gophers need freshman Blake Hoffarber, who is shooting an amazing 40-81 from three point range. If he gest hot, watch out. And his ability to hit from deep alone could open things up on the inside for the Gophers. I think you'll see Tubby change his defenses like you suggested above. He did that to much success during the 16-point comeback at Penn State last weekend. Tubby is known for his ball-line, hand-in-the-passing=lane defense that creates turnovers and easy points. Beacuse IU shoots well from outside and rebounds well, I don't see the Gophers playing too much zone.

More than anything else, the Gophers need to create turnovers. We don't have the playmaker like Eric Gordon who can score at will, so we need to create opportunities. If IU doesn't protect the ball, the Gophers can pull off this upset.

You have a prediction for Gophers fans who are all of a sudden thinking about an NCAA tournament berth?

HR: While the Xavier game that you mention was a neutral site game, IU has had only one road game against a respectable team, the win at disappointing Southern Illinois. As you note, the Barn has not been kind to the Hoosiers: the 50 point loss in 1994, the come-from-ahead loss to the probation-ravaged Gophers in 2000, the pathetic laydown in hope is that this is the year that IU starts winning these games for the first time since the early 1990s. But until I see it, Minnesota 80, Indiana 72.

One final question and we can wrap this up: you allude to the Gopher's NCAA hopes. If my memory is correct, 2005 is the only time the Gophers have been there since the scandal. Will it happen in 2008?

PJS: NCAA? The optimist in me says yes. The Gophers could win 20 games. But the non-conference schedule didn't yield a good win. Without beating someone like Indiana, MSU or Wisconsin, I don't see it. If the Gophers win as you and I predict, the outlook will improve dramatically. I pick the Gophers over Indiana by two, 77-75.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Indiana 62, Illinois 58.

Sorry I'm late.
Billy Packer made an odd but accurate comment during Sunday's game, something like: "Illinois is a great team except that they can't shoot from the perimeter or the foul line." Shooting is an important part of the game, of course, but as I noted in my preview post, Packer is right, essentially. The Illini defend well, rebound well, and take care of the ball. If they could make baskets, they would have won a bunch more games, including Sunday's game. This deficiency also highlights why Illinois wanted Eric Gordon so badly. Win or lose, watching IU play Illinois during the Weber era has been very frustrating. The Illini do a great job of clogging up IU's offense.
Here's the box. The pace? We played the Illini's game, at roughly 62 possessions per team. That means the Hoosiers were at right around one point per possession, which is pretty low for a team averaging much more on the season. It's really uncanny just how similar the two teams' lines were in this game. IU and Illinois posted nearly identical totals in field goals made, field goals attempted, three point shooting, both rebounding categories, and turnovers. IU shot 25 free throws and made 18. Illinois shot 21 free throws and made 13. Really, that was the difference. Illinois took an early lead on the basis of uncharacteristically good shooting to start the game (6-6, and the Illini led 13-4 four minutes into the game). After that start, the Illini shot only 4-19 in the remainder of the first half and 13-43 (31 percent) for the rest of the game. I would love to say that IU's defense was suffocating. The defense was good, but this is a circumstance where stats don't tell the whole story. These guys just cannot shoot.
Individual performances:
  • Ho hum. DJ White picked up another BTPOW award. After a 22-rebound performance at Michigan, White was his efficient self: 15 points on 9 shots, 5-6 from the line, 10 rebounds (close to a third of Illinois's 32 misses).
  • Eric Gordon posted his usual "bad game" totals. Gordon was only 4-10 from the field but was 8-10 from the line and finished with 17 points. Again, too many turnovers (4), but this guy's ability to be productive even on bad shooting nights is what makes him one of the best players in the country.
  • Mike White, in 19 minutes, posted a solid line: 4 points on three shots, 6 rebounds (the bad: 0-3 from the line).
  • Armon Bassett was excellent in his return to meaningful action: 3-5 from the field including 3-4 from three point range, 11 points.
  • Jamarcus Ellis struggled to 1-6 from the field and 3 turnovers.
  • Jordan Crawford shot abysmally, four points on 2-8 from the field.
  • AJ Ratliff, who has played well in some respects, can't quite find his shot. I'm sure he will.

Like all of IU's three Big Ten wins, IU won despite not playing particularly well. That will have to change Thursday at Minnesota.

Monday, January 14, 2008

BTB basketball poll, week 2.

1. Indiana (14-1, 3-0). Last week: 2. By default, really. IU and Wisconsin have played the same three teams. Wisconsin gets a slight edge on current resume, IU gets a bigger edge based on expectations and potential. This could change.
2. Wisconsin (13-2, 3-0). Last week: 3. The Badgers continue to roll, and had the league's best non-conference win over Texas.
3. Purdue (11-5, 2-1). Last week: 6. I don't expect the Boilers to remain this high, but their near-win at East Lansing and the fairly convincing home win over Ohio State puts the Boilers here for now.
4. Ohio State (12-4, 3-1). Last week: 4. Tough loss to Purdue, but the Buckeyes stay put, thanks to MSU's bad week.
5. Michigan State (14-2, 2-1). Last week: 1. It's hard to reconcile the Spartans' reputation and previous high ranking with the Purdue game or the awful loss at Iowa, a game where Iowa obviously controlled the pace.
6. Minnesota (12-3, 2-1). Last week: 5. The Gophers handed Penn State its first loss, and on the road. The only loss was a competitive game at MSU.
7. Penn State (10-5, 2-1). Last week: 7. The Lions must be disappointed that they dropped a winnable home game, but PSU remains firmly ahead of the Foul Four.
8. Iowa (8-9, 1-3). Last week: 9. Iowa could escape the bottom four if they keep playing tough defense and controlling the pace. They will have some good shooting nights, and the return of Tony Freeman seems to have helped the Hawkeyes.
9. Michigan (5-11, 1-3). Last week: 11. Well, it's something. I don't expect the Wolverines to remain ahead of Illinois, but for now, they have earned it with a road win.
10. Illinois (8-9, 0-4). Last week: 8. Illinois played well at IU, but 0-4 is 0-4. I think Illinois will creep back to number 8 as the season progresses.
11. Northwestern (5-8, 0-4). Last week: 10. Bill Carmody has to be in trouble, right? I really thought he would succeed at NU, but he certainly looks like a man with a pink slip in his near future. Where will NU go from here?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Illinois game.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Current record: 8-8
Big Ten record: 0-3
Current RPI: 114
Current Sagarin: 93
2006-07 record:
2006-07 RPI: 30
2006-07 Sagarin: 51
Series: IU leads 81-77
Last IU win: 2/12/07, 65-61 in Bloomington
Last Illinois win: 3/9/07, 58-54 (OT) in Chicago (BTT quarterfinals)
Last Illinois win in Bloomington: 2/3/04 (51-49)
TV: 4:30 pm, CBS

Eric Gordon's decision to decommit from Illinois and simultaneously commit to IU, back in October 2006, had wide-ranging repercussions. Kelvin Sampson, tarnished by Phonegate I, had instant credibility with IU fans. Many opposing fans and coaches, including Bruce Weber, criticized Sampson for breaking the "unwritten rules" that require a coach to be more loyal to the coaching fraternity than to the university that is paying him over a million dollars a year. Illinois fans reacted with particular venom, egged on by the compliant downstate Illinois media, including Illinois's head cheerleader Mark Tupper and most infamously, Bill Liesse of the Peoria Journal Star. The paper no longer hosts the article on its website, but here's what Liesse, a middle aged sports editor, had to say about a 17 year old kid who changed his mind about where to attend college:

Now that Eric Gordon has decided he wants to wear candystripe pants and play for a coach (Kelvin Sampson) who has as much to do with the NHL as he does the NBA, we thought we'd dedicate this week's (NFL) Lines to that steaming pile of two-guard.
There's no doubt that when IU plays at Illinois, the media and the Orange Krush and Bruce Weber will have the arena whipped in to a frenzy. I'm glad Gordon gets to break the ice against Weber and the Illini in more friendly surroundings.
Currently, IU leads all Big Ten schools in the all-time series except Purdue. Other than Purdue, Illinois is the closest. Since Lou Henson retired, IU is only 7-16 against the Illini. IU was 2-6 against Lon Kruger, 3-4 against Bill Self, and 2-6 against Bruce Weber. IU hasn't won at Champaign since 1999. Especially, IU has struggled to a 1-6 record against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. There have only been ten Big Ten Tournaments, so that means Illinois has eliminated IU more often than every other team combined. IU needs a winning streak against the Illini.

It also helps that the Illini aren't much of a team this year. Illinois started fairly well. Although they were only 6-3 after their first nine games, Illinois beat Arizona State and Oklahoma State and lost to three respectable teams in road/neutral games: Duke, Arizona, and Maryland (they also had a later win against Missouri). In the last three weeks, the wheels have fallen off: the Illini lost home non-conference games to Miami of Ohio and Tennessee State and have opened 0-3 in the Big Ten, including home losses to Ohio State and Penn State.
Team stats
As I mentioned earlier in the week, the Illini have one of the toughest conference schedules and don't even get a quasi-home game in Evanston this year. The Illini certainly have had some respectable wins, but do not seem to be improving. The Illini's 64.3 possession pace is #289 nationally, and their 1.07 points per shot is slightly below average (although when adjusted for their tough schedule, the Illini rank #70). The Illini don't shoot terribly well, and their 29 percent three point percentage is one of the worst in the nation. The Illini do take care of the ball (ranking very high in steal percentage and turnover percentage offensively) and are a strong offensive rebounding team. So, while the Illini maximize their possessions, they don't shoot well and don't get to the line. Our Big Ten rivals like to complain that no one gets to the line in Assembly Hall, so it would be surprising if the Illini do so tomorrow.
On the defensive side, the Illini are #72 in raw efficiency and #35 in adjusted efficiency. The Illini are an interesting case. Their opponents get to the line quite a bit (the Illini are #325 in defensive free throws allowed percentage) but are great in traditional shooting percentage measures. Illinois allows only 30 percent (#32 nationally) in three point shooting and 43 percent (#55 nationally) two point shooting,

I'll try to check back later with some discussion of the individuals.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The BTB conference poll: a closer look.

While polls don't matter all that much in football, the Big Ten Bloggers, under the able leadership of Gopher Nation on a project originally conceived by Maize-n-Brew, are participating in a weekly Big Ten Power Poll. Check out the results here. GN's post also contains links to all of the participants.
One of the oddities of the Big Ten last year is that it was so stratified. As I said last February:

This isn't an original thought (I think I owe IUTerry a hat tip), but it is worth noting: the Big Ten's various "tiers" are extremely well defined this year. Ohio State (14-1) and Wisconsin (12-3) are the top tier; Minnesota (3-12), Northwestern (2-12), and Penn State (1-13) are the bottom tier; and Illinois (9-6), IU (8-6), Iowa (8-6), Michigan State (8-7), Michigan (8-7), and Purdue (7-7) are the middle tier. What is so unusual isn't that there are obvious dividing points, but that the outcomes are almost entirely predictable by tier. Ohio State and Wisconsin went 1-1 against each other and 24-2 against the rest of the league. Wisconsin lost at IU and and at MSU. The bottom tier's results are nearly as uniform. Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State have combined for six wins. Purdue's loss at the Barn is the only win that the "little three" have claimed against any team but each other, at home or on the road. The muddled six have held serve against each other, winning at home and losing on the road, almost as a rule. Iowa won at Michigan, and that's it [actually, after this post, Iowa lost to Penn State]. As I type this post, Michigan is finishing a home win over MSU.

It's not particularly noteworthy that those tiers exist right now, only two or three games into the Big Ten season. But in this week's voting, there seems to be some solid consensus.

1. Tier one: Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin. On the ballots I could find, every single voter had these three teams as the top three.

2. Tier two: Ohio State, Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State. Nearly every ballot (see below re Off the Tracks) listed these teams in slots four through seven. Of the four, only Ohio State would seem to be a realistic threat to break into championship contention.

3. Tier Illinois: Illinois. With the exception of Off the Tracks, which seemed to have the Illini in the middle somewhere (his numbers didn't match the order), every ballot listed Illinois precisely eighth. No one really expected the Illini to be as bad as that of the conference dregs, but their performance has been very dreg-like so far, with home losses to two middle tier teams (Ohio State and Penn State). It wouldn't be a surprise if Illinois salvages its season, but right now the Illini, if record is compared to strength of schedule and home/away, have been worse than anyone else.

4. Tier hopeless: Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan. All of these teams are winless, and none have much hope of postseason play. Every ballot lists these teams as the bottom three.

Again, it's early, but I'll keep an eye on this as the season progresses. There aren't many surprises in the poll right now. I have no argument with IU's position at #2. It's where I voted the Hoosiers. I do disagree with the voters who docked IU for the margin of victory against Iowa. IU didn't dominate Iowa, but with 2:10 remaining, IU led 70-57 and had held Iowa to 26 percent shooting on the half. IU's offense did not shut down at that point. The Hoosiers scored 9 more points. But thanks to the most improbably amazing three point shooting I have seen, Iowa pulled to within three and actually had the ball with a chance to tie before committing a turnover as time expired. Justin Johnson was 6-6 from three point range in the last two minutes and added a free throw for all 19 of Iowa's points in that last two minutes. The final score was an outlier, and if the game were played 20 times it wouldn't play out like that again. To be clear, I voted IU #2, so I have no problem with the ranking, but the Iowa margin of victory should be a major consideration.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Progress on BTN-Comcast front?

Ah, for the halcyon days of summer, when no games were played and the then-unseen Big Ten Network was a daily obsession of this blog. Per this post from mgoblog, the Chicago Tribune reports optimism, progress, productive conversations, etc., between the BTN and Comcast, the midwest's largest cable provider. Ed Sherman of the Trib surmises that that the BTN must have come off of its $1.10 asking price. That goes in the "no shit, Sherlock" category. BTN officials have made clear, on numerous occasions, that the $1.10 figure is at most a "sticker price." And in the post linked above, Brian indicates that over the summer, a Comcast official acknowledged that the company might pay 25 cents a subscriber for BTN placement on expanded basic. So, the number resides somewhere in between $.25 and $1.10, and it's about damn time they find it. As Sherman's article notes, the BTN has 60 days remaining of basketball coverage, which is the BTN's main bargaining chip, and then nearly five months of Olympic sports before football starts. Comcast is big enough to tolerate some loss of subscribers, but my anecdotal contribution to this whole affair is that I have a fairly short commute, but see an AT&T Uverse truck nearly every day. They need each other.
Also, mgoblog's post is worth a look for the discussion of Jay Bilas's unprofessional reaction to Michigan's highly justifiable firing of Bilas's old teammate Tommy Amaker. Most of the time, Bilas is one of the best college basketball analysts around and one of the few tolerable voices at ESPN, but Michigan fans are right to be pissed about this. Tommy Amaker's teams played like garbage and he's a few million richer for having failed at Michigan. He has a coaching job, he's young, and he has the Duke connections. If he's any good, he'll have the chance to prove it in the future, even without Jay Bilas sacrificing his integrity to rehabilitate his buddy's (deservedly) bad reputation.

Indiana 78, Michigan 64.

Like the win at Iowa, this one wasn't pretty, but IU managed to beat an undermanned opponent. The Hoosiers, now 13-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, have matched their conference road win total from last year, when the Hoosiers managed to win only at Penn State and Northwestern. Here's the box score. My quick impressions:
  • Pace: 73 possessions. Definitely more IU's game than Michigan's.
  • Eric Gordon's most formidable opponent for Big Ten player of the year honors may be his own teammate. DJ White scored 21 points on 13 shots and grabbed 22 rebounds, the most by any Hoosier since Alan Henderson has 28 rebounds in 1992. Certainly, that number is skewed a bit by Michigan's terrible shooting, but White's total included 8 offensive rebounds. On his own, White rebounded 32 percent of Michigan's missed shots and 20 percent of IU's missed shots.
  • Despite a very low number of free throw attempts (1-2), Eric Gordon managed 23 points on 16 shots, thanks to 4-7 from three point range. He turned the ball over 5 times, however, which will have to get better as the quality of IU's competition improves.
  • Jamarcus Ellis scored 7 points on 5 shots and had 6 assists and one turnover.
  • Jordan Crawford is taking a much deserved beating for his first half play, but he did seem to tone it down in the second half. Crawford was only 5-15 from the field and turned the ball over 7 times.
  • My sense in watching the game was that IU was moving the ball pretty well and the box score supports that: 18 assists on 30 field goals. Playing against a zone will do that, I suppose. On the other side, Michigan had 17 assists on 19 field goals.
  • While Crawford is taking much of the beating, AJ Ratliff still hasn't found his shot. Only three points on 6 shots. He did have six assists, however.
  • Lance Stemler hit a contested three pointer.
  • I was glad that Sampson chewed out Brandon McGee for his stupid (and poorly executed) dunk attempt, but Michigan, which was pressing while down 17 and with Adam Ahlfeld in the game for IU, has no standing to complain (and Beilein didn't seem all that upset about it).
  • Michigan shot only 31 percent. IU's defense was okay, but the Wolverines missed loads of open shots. Not a single Wolverine shot 50 percent from the field. Of the eight Michigan players who took four or more shots, only four made more than one shot.
  • Manny Harris was about to form. Just a hair over a point per shot, despite poor shooting from the field and because of free throws.
  • Deshawn Sims made the most memorable shot of the night (the half-ending three pointer from beyond halfcourt) but produced five of Michigan's turnovers all by himself.
  • Michigan's best shooter, Kelvin Grady, followed the team trend and wasn't very good: 3 points on 1-5 from the field.

Well? A win, and more comfortable than the last one. I don't know that we learned much about the Hoosiers last night. As noted above, we are off to a good start on the road in the Big Ten, but the atmospheres at Carver-Hawkeye and Crisler aren't what they used to be. The Barn next Thursday will be a different story. The Hoosiers play Illinois before that, however.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Michigan game: the roster.

To the extent that anyone is saying anything nice about Michigan's basketball team, the praise tends to be centered on freshman Corperryale "Manny" Harris. Harris was an IU recruiting target, and my recollection is that his decision to spurn IU (I believe he made his decision before it was clear that Eric Gordon was going to come to IU) was met with much consternation. Certainly, Harris, a 6-5 guard, has quite a bit of potential, but Harris's production hasn't necessarily been good production. On the season, Harris is shooting 38 percent and 26 percent from three point range. When at his best, Harris has been able to get to the free throw line, and shoots 75 percent from the line. In two Big Ten games, Harris is 12/29 overall and 2/10 from three point range. Harris's best games, in terms of scoring output, have been against Oakland, Western Kentucky, and Purdue. He shot poorly from the field in all three games, but got to the line effectively in all three games. Harris is a talent, but even with his good free throw shooting, Harris's effective field goal percentage is only 41.3, compared to 59.2 for Gordon. So let's dial the comparisons back a notch. Harris's assist numbers are good, especially considering how many of Michigan's shots he takes, but he turns the ball over even more often. In short, Manny Harris is likely to be a very good player, but will be back at Michigan next year.
The Wolverines' most efficient regular is Deshawn Sims, a 6-8 forward who shoots 38 percent from three point range. Sims has an EFG% of 54.2. Ekpe Udoh, a 6-10 sophomore, averages 3 blocks a game, and Pomeroy's per possession rankings have him #13 nationally in blocks. As an offensive player...well, did I mention the shot blocking? Statistically, the most intriguing Wolverine is 5-11 freshman guard Kelvin Grady. Grady averages only 6.2 points per game in 22 minutes per game, but is making the most of his time. He shoots 47 percent from the field, including 42 percent from three point range (where he takes the majority of his shots). Despite no significant presence at the free throw line (he's 9-9 on the season), Grady's EFG% is 62.5. Considering the way Beilein's teams at WVU shot three pointers, I would bet that in two years everyone in the Big Ten will hate Grady's guts.
As Maize-n-Brew notes, Michigan is down several scholarship players. Two guys who were on the team at the beginning of the season, Jerret Smith and K'Len Morris, have left. Two other players, Reed Baker and Kendric Price, left in the offseason. John Beilein doesn't have much to work with this year, but he has two freshmen who should make Michigan better soon. Hopefully not tonight.

Basketball odds and ends.

  • John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus takes a quick look at the Big Ten contenders, as well as the other conferences.
  • This was written before Michigan's game at Purdue, but Maize-n-Brew takes a hard look at the statistical reality of the Wolverine program. He also discusses the serious attrition of the last few months, not unusual for a program with a new coach.
  • Armon Bassett likely will not play against Michigan because of bone chips in his ankle. Obviously, this may be an issue for the rest of the season.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Michigan game: tempo free, etc.

Michigan Wolverines
Current record: 4-10
Big Ten record: 0-2
Current RPI: 170
Current Sagarin: 173
2006-07 record: 21-12 (8-8); lost to Florida State in second round of NIT
2006-07 RPI: 54
2006-07 Sagarin: 56
Series: IU leads 97-52
Last IU win: 1/27/07 (76-61 in Bloomington)
Last Michigan win: 2/17/07 (58-55 in Ann Arbor)
Last IU win in Ann Arbor: 3/4/06 (69-67)
TV: 7 pm, ESPN

Last year's loss at Crisler Arena snapped an eleven game IU winning streak against Michigan and a four game winning streak for IU in Ann Arbor. Like most other Big Ten fans, I'll miss Tommy Amaker. His soft, underachieving teams were a thing of beauty to those of us who have never quite moved beyond our Michigan-hatred formed during the Fab Five era. I don't expect Michigan to be any such pushover as the Beilein era progresses, but this year's team might be the worst Michigan team in decades. In their defense, the Wolverines have played, by any measure, one of the nation's toughest schedules. Michigan has lost to Georgetown, Butler, Boston College, Duke, UCLA, and Wisconsin (all by at least 13). Any team could lose to those teams. Losses to Western Kentucky, Harvard (coached by Tommy Amaker!), and Central Michigan are tougher to justify.

I enrolled at IU in the fall of 1992, when both IU and Michigan were at the top of the college basketball world. Both teams were ranked in the preseason top five and both returned nearly every contributor from Final Four teams. Michigan, with all of the Fab Five returning as sophomores, was ranked #1 in the preseason AP poll and the Hoosiers were #4. Because of the high ticket demand that year, IU students received tickets to only four home games each. Tickets were allocated on a random basis, meaning the last person in line might get better tickets than the first person in line. I remember waiting in line for tickets and watching the reactions of the students in front of me. Each recipient reacted with a celebration or a profane outburst, depending entirely on whether a ticket to the Michigan game was in the allotment (yes, I got one, 35th row East Main). So, despite the demise of Michigan's program in the last decade, I am subconsciously programmed to think of IU-Michigan as a big game, and I still get butterflies when I see Michigan on the court with IU, at least when the Wolverines wear the maize jerseys. My personal favorite IU games at Crisler:
  • The 1993 game. During the aforementioned 1992-1993 season, IU won both of the matchups by one point. That doesn't really tell the story of the game in Bloomington. IU led that game by ten with about a minute remaining but Chris Webber made three 3-pointers in the last minute, including one as time expired, to tighten things up at the end, but IU was in no real danger of losing at the end. The game in Ann Arbor, on the other hand, was every bit as close as the score would indicate. As the linked article says, Alan Henderson blocked Chris Webber's attempted putback and IU escaped with a one point win and ultimately won the Big Ten with a 17-1 record.
  • The 1997 game. This IU team ultimately disappointed, but not nearly as much as the Wolverines. This was Steve Fisher's last Michigan team, and despite a roster that included Robert Traylor and Maurice Taylor, the Wolverines somehow ended up in the NIT. The IU game certainly contributed to the Wolverines' demise. IU trailed by 20 early in the second half but worked back to within three points at the end of the second half. Freshman AJ Guyton, who scored 31 points in the game, buried a three pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime. I have linked the Michigan Daily's coverage above. Bob Knight said that other than Keith Smart's shot in the 1987 NCAA title game, "[t]hat's as good a play as I've ever had a kid make under that kind of pressure."

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Chris Webber isn't walking through that door. None of Michigan's tempo-free numbers look particularly good, although the tough schedule means that the adjusted numbers are prettier than the raw numbers. Michigan's raw offensive efficiency rank is #177, but adjusted it's a respectable #102. While the Wolverines don't shoot particularly well, they take care of the ball (19.9 turnover percentage, #69 nationally; 8.1 steal percentage, #45 nationally). Michigan capitalizes on 35.1 percent of offensive rebound opportunities, #116 nationally. Defensively, it's uglier. Michigan allows 1.08 points per possession (#302 nationally), and even the weighted defensive efficiency number ranks #183 nationally. The Wolverines block a lot of shots (#30 nationally per possession) and keep opponents from getting to the line (#17 nationally). The low number of freethrow attempts may be attributable to the Wolverines' part-time use of Beilein's famous 1-3-1 zone. On the flip side, Michigan's opponents shoot over 42 percent from behind the arc (that's #329, almost dead last nationally), so why take it to the hoop?

For an update on IU's tempo-free numbers, go here. Of course, IU's strength offensively has been getting to the free throw line (IU is #2 nationally in free throws made per possession), while Michigan opponents haven't been able to do so. Despite the excellence of Eric Gordon, IU has been a good but not overwhelming three point shooting team (37.4, #90 nationally) and only 30 percent of IU's attempts are three point shots (#255 nationally). IU ranks #20 in both 2-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage. On the defensive side, IU again is above average nationally across the board, but the Hoosiers' weakest category defensively is turnover percentage. IU should win this game, but it seems that Michigan's strength (taking care of the ball) lines up against IU's defensive weakness. And while Michigan isn't a good defensive team, the Wolverines have lost because of opponents' three point shooting, which hasn't been the dominant focus of IU's offense. It will be interesting to see whose game these teams play.

I'll discuss Michigan's roster tomorrow.

First weekly Big Ten power poll.

Those of us from the Big Ten Bloggers group who write about basketball are going to introduce a weekly Big Ten poll. I suppose by the end it will resemble the standings.
Before I start, if you have any interest in presidential politics (and if you are reading this you must care about Big Ten basketball) the post by Hawkeye State at Black Heart Gold Pants is a must read.
1. Michigan State (13-1, 1-0). I think the Hoosiers have an excellent chance to move past MSU this year, but at this point, the Spartans have better wins and a less decisive loss. This is a close call.
2. Indiana (12-1, 1-0). It really isn't IU's fault that Kentucky stinks, SIU is disappointing, and the Big Ten/ACC opponent was uninspiring. Still, MSU has accomplished more at this point.
3. Wisconsin (12-2, 2-0). I really thought that this would be the year that the Badgers would drop off, but the renaissance continues for what was for decades the worst non-Northwestern program in the conference. While IU and MSU play twice, Wisconsin does not have to go to East Lansing, so don't be surprised if the Badgers sneak into the #1 seed in the BTT.
4. Ohio State (11-3, 2-0). The Buckeyes have lost to three good teams (Texas A&M, UNC, Butler), but lost convincingly to all three. The Bucks did beat Florida and Syracuse and currently respectable Illinois.
5. Minnesota (10-3, 0-1). Minnesota was solid in the pre-conference, but didn't beat anyone of note. I'm giving the Gophers a slight bump for playing so well against MSU at Breslin, but I reserve the right to drop them soon and fast.
6. Purdue (10-4, 1-0). Purdue looked great in its signature non-conference win against Louisville, but the Boilers' losses to Wofford and Iowa State keep Purdue out of the top half of this poll and may keep Purdue out of the NCAA Tournament. The Boilers have lots of young talent, and they could move either direction.
7. Penn State (10-4, 2-0). This is another team that could move up or down quickly. I thought 5-7 were tough to distinguish. PSU, with the exception of its Big Ten/ACC win over VT, didn't beat anyone of note in the pre-conference, but opened 2-0 in the Big Ten with two on the road. The Lions have a week to get ready for Minnesota at home, and could move up quickly.
8. Illinois (8-7, 0-2). The Illini continue their post-2005 slide. Illinois lost at home to Penn State today, opening with two killer home losses. I'm sure that anguished Illini fans will suggest that two Native Americans who weren't at the game, Kelvin Sampson and Chief Illiniwek, have something to do with today's loss. Illinois still has eight conference road games left and the one-game opponents are Iowa and Northwestern. I-L-L! N-I-T!
9. Iowa (7-8, 0-2). The Hawkeyes play solid defense and if Todd Lickliter can find some offense, they will beat someone good this year, and I'm glad the Hoosiers played them on the road early. Still, the resume is very weak and I can't justify ranking them any higher.
10. Northwestern (5-6, 0-2). Another year, and the Wildcats, who haven't played in the NCAA tournament ever, are 0-2 in the conference. The Wildcats play a couple of non-conference games during the Big Ten season, so the win total won't be as low as it seems now, but losing at home to Penn State suggests that NU won't be making history this year.
11. Michigan (4-10, 0-2). Wow. Until I started working on my preview for Tuesday's game I really didn't realize how bad Michigan is. Purdue probably should be knocked down a couple pegs just for letting the Wolverines compete. They have played a tough schedule, but have lost by double digits to every respectable team they have played. As with Iowa, this team, with a respected new coach, could improve significantly. But right now, they make Northwestern look good.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

More Iowa post mortem.

I didn't get the chance to mention any of the individual performances when I posted on this game a couple of days ago.
  • DJ White shot more poorly than he has in a white, only 6-13 from the field, but still managed 16 points and 15 rebounds.
  • Jamarcus Ellis was fantastic. 15 points on 10 shots, 7 assists, one turnover.
  • Gordon posted his usual, ho-hum, 25 points on 12 shots. The Christmas break version of Carver Hawkeye isn't exactly imposing, but it's nice to see that Gordon was able to get to the line on the road in the Big Ten.
  • Those two three pointers must have been well-timed, because I was stunned to read that Freeman was only 3-14 from the field. But until Justin Johnson's outburst, he was Iowa's leading scorer. That says something about IU's defense for the most part.

Hardy to NFL.

To no one's surprise, James Hardy will enter the 2008 NFL Draft instead of returning to IU for his senior season. In just three years at IU, Hardy became IU's career leader in receiving yards, receptions, and touchdown receptions. Hardy has been integral to the improvement of IU's program, and while the cupboard is not bare at WR, Kellen Lewis and the rest of the offense will be in a different position next year without the 6-7 deep threat.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Indiana 79, Iowa 76.

The Hoosiers struggled early but seemed to put the game away late in the second half before Iowa's Justin Johnson single-handedly brought the Hawkeyes back into the game, which ended only when IU managed to steal the ball as Iowa passed up the court. Had Johnson ended up with the ball, overtime seemed likely. Here's the box score.
After an Eric Gordon freethrow with 2:10 remaining, IU led 70-57. The Hoosiers didn't exactly shut things down, (IU scored nine points in the last two minutes of the game), yet Iowa still nearly came all the way back. Johnson scored 19 points in the last 1:55, including 6-6 from three point range and a free throw that turned one of the shots into a four point play. Probably the worst that can be said of the Hoosiers in this sequence is that they allowed three offensive rebounds in the last two minutes and shot only 9-14 from the line. Still, Johnson's heroic effort nearly saved the day.
Even with the finish, IU managed a fairly effective second half defense. Iowa shot only 37 percent (13-35) in the second half. Before the 6-10 finish, Iowa was only 7-25 in the first 18 minutes of the half.
This was a fast paced game for Iowa (about 72 possessions per team), and each team obviously was just above one point per possession.
I'm short on time, so I'll look at this one more later (IU doesn't play again until Tuesday at Michigan). Yesterday, I said that I thought IU was in trouble in the case of a close game. While Iowa was quite competitive for much of the game, I was fairly content with the performance when the score was 70-57, and I'm not sure that the flukish finish should be given all that much weight. More later.

The Iowa game.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Current Record: 7-6
Big Ten record: 0-0
Current RPI: 234
Current Sagarin: 197
2006-07 record: 17-14 (9-7 in Big Ten, no postseason)
2006-07 RPI: 97
2006-07 Sagarin: 78
Series: IU leads 91-68
Last meeting: Iowa 81, IU 75 (2/3/07 at Iowa)
Last IU win: 71-64 (in Bloomington, 1/16/07)
Last IU win at Iowa City: 2/19/03 (79-63)

Iowa is not a good team. The Hawks are 7-6 against what Pomeroy rates as the #276 schedule in the country. As noted above, Iowa enters Big Ten play with Sagarin and RPI numbers more appropriate for a team from the SWAC or the Ivy League. Pomeroy predicts a 4-14 conference record for Iowa, and give the Hawks better-than-even odds only in their home games against Northwestern and Michigan.

Iowa cannot resist hiring coaches with ties to Indiana (the state, not the the university). After forcing out consistently above average Tom Davis, Iowa handed the reins to former IU great Steve Alford. Alford's record at Iowa was decent, but not as good as his predecessor's. He also seemed to wear out his welcome in Iowa City based on various personality and off-the-court issues (most notably his coddling of sex offender Pierre Pierce). Now, the Hawkeyes have replaced Alford with former Butler coach Todd Lickliter. Lickliter, a Butler alum and assistant under Barry Collier and Thad Matta, didn't build the Bulldogs from scratch but did preside over the school's greatest moments since the Tony Hinkle era. So far, Iowa is playing to the mid-major stereotype. Iowa is very slow (60.8 possessions per game, nearly dead last in Division I). Last season, Lickliter's excellent Butler team averaged only 58.4 possessions per game. Iowa is excellent defensively (allowing only .91 points per possession and a 44.2 effective field goal percentage, both in the top 50 in Division I), like Lickliter's last Butler team. Unlike the 2007 Bulldogs, Iowa has been awful on the offensive end, averaging a sub-200 .951 points per shot and only 50 percent effective field goal percentage, #162 nationally. The Hawkeyes turn the ball over on 27.5 percent of their possessions, again, almost dead last nationally (#332). This is in complete contrast to last year's Butler team, which led the nation with a 15.5 offensive turnover percentage. In short, the Hawkeyes are defending well, but offensively bear no resemblance to Lickliter's best Butler teams.
In addition to adjusting to a new coach and system, the Hawkeyes just don't have much experience. Of Iowa's five leaders in minutes played, three are freshman. The top two returnees in minutes played, Justin Johnson and Kurt Looby, ranked #4 and #8 in that category last year. Tyler Smith, who was Iowa's second leading scorer, transferred to Tennessee, in part because of his ailing father. Tony Freeman, son of the former Hoosier of the same name, has played only three games because of a foot injury. Still, other than a road win against Northern Iowa (#107 in the RPI), the Hawkeyes don't have anything approximating a quality win and have lost to such powers as Louisiana Monroe and Utah State.
While Iowa should improve as the season and years go by, this one goes in the Penn State/Northwestern category this season. It's an outstanding opportunity to pick up a Big Ten road win. If IU loses or wins a close one, be concerned about the Hoosiers' status as a Big Ten front-runner.
I do hope to give basketball matchups more attention than this as the season transpires, but the Insight Bowl and the holiday made it impossible this time.