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Archive for February, 2008

Day-After Rant

I held off posting these comments last night, but have decided they’re worth sharing.

I’m concerned about Izzo’s approach to this team at the moment. Consider the following from last night’s broadcast:

  • Musberger and Lavin indicated Izzo’s been praising the team’s play publicly but chastising them privately.
  • Erin Andrews reported Izzo was not at all pleased with MSU’s play in the first half, despite the fact they were down by just 4 having gotten only 2 total points from their top two scorers.
  • Izzo could be seen ripping Naymick–a senior who plays defense as well as any Spartan big man has in the Izzo era–at point-blank range for a perceived defensive lapse late in the game (not jumping out on one of Wisconsin’s many slow, short-haired, white guys who make a 3-pointer once a game to drive the opponent crazy).  Izzo berated him to the point Naymick looked like he wanted to go hide in the locker room.
  • Izzo also appeared to be focusing on several offensive miscues by Lucas, despite the fact Lucas continues to be the only MSU player with the confidence to attack defenses and create scoring opportunities. (This one concerns me a little less than the Naymick thing, as Izzo may have just been providing instruction, rather than criticizing Lucas’ play.)

Izzo continues to behave as if this team’s problem is “toughness.” But it’s not. Last night, MSU played very good, team defense for 30+ minutes. They scrapped for rebounds all night. And they didn’t make careless errors with the ball on offense.

The current problem with this team is they can’t consistently create and convert quality shots against good defenses. If you want to chalk up the inability to make mid-range jumpers or contested 3-pointers consistently as a lack of mental toughness, fine. But in my book, Izzo needs to scale back the lambasting of the team for every defensive error or turnover and focus a little more energy on finding new ways to score and boosting the team’s confidence to attack the basket.

Now I understand this is the way Izzo operates and is largely responsible for the rise of Spartan basketball to the level of excellency that makes this season seem like such a disappointment, despite the team’s 22-6 record. I’ve been told by first-hand witnesses that Izzo’s language in practice (and no doubt during games) would make a sailor blush and doesn’t exactly come from the Stuart Smalley coaching manual for affirming your players’ self-wroth.

That is what it is, and I don’t expect–and, as an MSU fan, wouldn’t want–Izzo to change his style. But I do think he needs to recognize this team is playing pretty darn hard and actually pretty darn smart, too.

Michigan State came out last night playing confidently and aggressively on offense, jumping out to a 16-11 lead–much as they did in the game vs. IU. A little more focus on sustaining that confidence throughout the game in hostile environments, rather than focusing on the relatively minor flaws in MSU’s defense, might go a long way to getting this team ready for postseason play.

Please don’t lump me in the message board trolls calling for Izzo to be fired if he doesn’t turn the team around. I wouldn’t trade Izzo for any coach in the country, and I can only hope he stays on the Spartan sidelines for many years to come. But I do think his approach may need to be adjusted slightly to get the most out of this particular group of players.

As a final note, the reason I didn’t go into this rant last night, was one encouraging report late in the game: Erin Andrews indicated Izzo’s comments in one of the second-half timeouts were to the effect that he didn’t want anyone passing up an open shot. So Izzo may realize offensive confidence is a key for this team at this moment.

It would not, of course, be surprising if a future hall of fame coach arrived at a key conclusion before a schmuck with a blog did . . .

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Wisconsin dismantles Michigan State, 57-42. Unofficial box score here.

It’s almost as if Ken Pomeroy drew up the defensive game plan for Wisconsin. They refused to give MSU any clean looks from 3-point range all game. They had only a handful of breakdowns leading to easy MSU looks around the basket. They forced MSU to take mid-range jumpshots. And MSU didn’t make nearly enough of them. Players not named Goran made just 13 of 45 FG attempts tonight: 28.9%.

But let’s step back for one moment and look at the positives from this game:

  • MSU only turned it over 6 times in a roughly 53-possession game (11.3%).
  • They forced Wisconsin to take difficult shots for most of the game, holding them to 11-33 shooting on 2-point attempts (33.3%).
  • They got the best of the rebounding, pulling down 37 rebounds to Wisconsin’s 31.

But Wisconsin countered by being nearly perfectly stingy with the ball–turning it over just 1 time for the entire 40 minutes. I don’t necessarily think that the Spartan defenders are to blame. Clearly, the game plan was to play active help defense to prevent open looks for the Badger shooters. And it worked. Wisconsin simply didn’t make any mental errors on offense.

And they hit 3-pointers when they needed them. They shot 8-16 from beyond the arc. Again, I’m hesitant to blame MSU’s defense. Four of the makes were by Brian Butch. Three of them were on picks up top where the MSU big man hedged toward the ball-handler and Butch took a pass and knocked down the jumper. That’s how MSU guards picks up top. Maybe Izzo should have changed the defensive tactic, but I don’t blame the defenders. Butch came into the game having made just 27.5% of his 3-point attempts on the season.

In the end, it comes down to being able to create and convert high percentage shots. And MSU wasn’t able to. Lucas and Suton were the only two players willing and/or able to attack the basket. They kept MSU close for most of the game, but eventually a team making 3-pointers is going to pull away from a team scratching out decent 2-point attempts. The ten and a half minute stretch spanning the two halves when Wisconsin only scored 4 points was perhaps the ultimate cause of MSU’s demise, as they only scored 6 points over the same time period, missing a number of good looks that could have tied the game or given them the lead.

MSU again spent way too much time passing the ball around the perimeter with no purpose. I thought the ball should have been in Lucas’ hands to try to create off the dribble more, but the stomach virus he picked up earlier in the week may have limited how much of the offensive burden he could shoulder. And he did end up taking 13 shots, making just 5 of them.

It was a terrible night for Drew Neitzel, who scored just 3 points on 1-10 shooting. Michael Flowers played him as well as a defender possibly could. By the time Neitzel started to get a few decent looks late in the game, he was completely out of rhythm. For the first time I can recall in the six years I’ve been watching him play, he looked completely shaken of his confidence in the final few minutes.

Goran Suton did everything within his powers to give MSU a shot at this game. 14 points and 15 rebounds. But he only had so much energy (witness the tugging of his jersey to signal he needed a break midway through the first half), and the second-chance points evaporated in the second half.

As much as MSU stuggled tonight, they stayed within 4 points of a very good team in a very tough place to play for 31 minutes. But Wisconsin was simply the better team down the stretch, maintaining their offensive poise as MSU ran out of energy and any remaining confidence.

That’s all I’ve got on this one. I hope the team is able to shake this one off quickly and not dwell on it. There’s still a chance to beat a top-15 team at home on Sunday, finish the regular season with road wins against two teams that are struggling, and put together a good showing in the conference tournament.

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Pregame Reading

Kalin Lucas missed practice Tuesday with a stomach virus, but is good to go tonight.

Basketball graph of the year: Ken Pomeroy looks at shooting percentages by distance from the hoop based on national data. Remarkably, the data indicate shooting percentages are actually higher for shots just beyond the 3-point line than for shots between 5 and 19 feet–roughly 37% vs. 33-36% for the shots inside the arc. For shots from less than 5 feet, the shooting % jumps to 62%.

Pomeroy’s conclusion is that taking mid-range shots is exactly what a good defense wants you to do. You’re shooting a lower percentage shot for only 2/3 the payoff if you make it. For MSU, this has real implications. The Spartans shoot 3-pointers less frequently than all but a handful of team in the country. This means MSU has to do one or both of two things to shoot the ball efficiently:

  • Create a lot of shots near the basket (offensive rebounding is one way to do this, but can only go so far an increasing scoring efficiency).
  • Shoot a substantially higher percentage on mid-range shots than most college basketball teams do.

This may help explain why MSU occassionally looks so awful on offense (beyond the turnover problem). If the offense isn’t clicking to create easy looks near the basket, they’re reduced to taking low-percentage mid-range shots.

Definitely click through to see the graph and read the whole piece, but this paragraph is particularly interesting in terms of basketball analysis:

The analytical world has embraced Dean Oliver’s “four factors” concept, and for good reason. They explain offensive and defensive efficiency in a remarkably simple way. However, it’s always bothered me how shooting typically dominates the other three factors (turnovers, rebounds and free throws) and I’ve dreamt of the day when it can be separated into two more manageable components: shot selection and accuracy. We’re still far from having the technology to do that, but with data like this, we’re getting closer.

This relates to a random thought that popped into my head the other day:

Defensive effective field goal % is a more meaningful statistic than offensive effective field goal %.

Offensive effective field goal % is subject to the problem Pomeroy notes above: It tells you how good a team is at scoring the basketball (when it doesn’t turn the ball over), but it doesn’t tell you whether the ability to score is the result of (1) creating and taking good shots or (2) simply being a good shooter.

With defensive effective field goal %, on the other hand, it’s a good bet that pure shooting ability is pretty randomly distributed across a team’s opponents. So a low defensive effective field goal % indicates a team excels at forcing its opponents to take difficult shots.

I might be so bold as to proclaim this as the first generalized statistical theory developed here at the Spartans Weblog. Of course, given that it’s tangential to Mr. Pomeroy’s observations, I suppose it qualifies only as a corrolary. Rats.

The good news is that MSU excels at forcing tough shots from their opponents. They rank 3rd in the league in defensive effective field goal % during conference play. The bad news (for tonight) is that Wisconsin is even better; they rank 2nd in the league and have only allowed one conference opponent to put up an effective field goal % above 50.

This leads us all the way back around to where we usually tend to end up when analyzing MSU’s prospects: They can’t turn the ball over. Wisconsin is unlikely to give up a lot of easy baskets, so MSU has to maximize the number of opportunities they have to convert more difficult shots.

Anyway, enough with the numbers. My gut says my brain should shut up. I feel it in my bones that Michigan State will come out playing with confidence tonight and give Wisconsin everything they’ve got.

Go Green!

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Wednesday Night Links

Grant Wahl says Michigan State is one of the top 16 college basketball programs in the nation–placing them in the second tier behind the sextet of Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, and IU.

Tom Izzo says the Big Ten Network has been a “PR nightmare.”

“We have so many things right now that we’re trying to fight — the price of tickets, the economy of our state,” Izzo said. “And then we throw this at them.”

I’m still of the (nonexpert) opinion that more blame lies with Comcast and the other big Midwest cable companies than with the Big Ten. The Big Ten conference certainly has enough sports programming to justify a network (unlike, say, the NFL–which only puts a handful of games per season on their network). And I think if you took a poll of Michigan cable subscribers, BTN would be among the top 60 channels people want and therefore deserving of expanded basic cable status, rather than being placed on the expanded sports tier. But the reality is that the network has hurt the Big Ten in the short run in terms of exposure and fan morale.

Izzo acknowledges the network could still pay off in the long run. Having recruits across the Midwest and the nation be able to watch all of MSU’s games, rather than just the big games, could be a boon to recruiting, for example. For now, though, most people can only watch 8 hours of Big Ten men’s basketball action per week. And that’s not good.

One major caveat: I haven’t actually seen a game broadcast on the BTN yet. Some reports have been fairly unfavorable.

Wisconsin Game Preview

9:00 Thursday. The Kohl Center. ESPN2.

When the conference season began, the tempo-free stats said Wisconsin was really good, whereas the pollsters said Wisconsin was only decent. Well, Wisconsin’s 13-2 conference record would say that we should chalk one up for the tempo-free stats.

Part of the reason for the early-season skepticism about the Badgers was the lack of a go-to scorer in the tradition of Michael Finley, Devon Harris, and Alondo Tucker. The lack of a superstar, though, has arguably made them even more difficult to play, as the defense can’t focus its efforts on any one player. Six Badgers average between 7 and 12 points.

Looking at the Wisconsin roster, I think the best description is they have the nation’s best collection of role players. And I say this with nothing but respect. They have a big man who’s a rock on the boards (Butch), a point guard who takes care of the ball and creates turnovers (Hughes), a solid defensive off-guard who can shoot the three (Flowers), a great hustle guy (Krabbenhoft), an athletic interior player (Landry), and an efficient scorer off the bench (Bohannon). They all know their roles and they all know the Bo Ryan system.

Add it all up and you have a team with no obvious weaknesses. On defense, Wisconsin ranks first in the league in opponents’ points per possession in conference play. They rank second in opponents’ eFG%, third in opponents’ free throw rate, and fourth in defensive rebounding %. Their only nonstrength (as opposed to weakness) on defense is turnover %, where they rank just 6th. Once again, MSU’s fortunes will be tied to holding on to the ball on offense, as they’re not likely to score with a high level of efficiency when they do get a shot off.

On offense, Wisconsin ranks second in the league in points per possession in conference play. They rank fourth in eFG%, first in free throw rate, and fourth in turnover %. Their only nonstrength on offense is rebounding, where they rank just eighth in offensive rebounding %. MSU will need to make sure they do in fact limit Wisconsin to as few second chance opportunities as possible.

It’s worth noting Wisconsin has taken the fewest 3-pointers in the conference of any non-MSU team. They’ve still taken 56 more shots from beyond the arc than MSU, though, and been pretty efficient with them. They’ve made 37.4% of 3-point attempts, third in the league in conference play. The ironclad rule of playing Wisconsin is that they will always make a 3-point shot at exactly the moment they need it.

One statistical oddity: Despite displaying the epitome of team basketball, Wisconsin ranks dead last in the conference in assists per game. This is, I think, a function of their swing offense, which seeks to create mismatches both inside and outside for their players to take advantage of. This necessitates good defense by all five players on the floor for the defense, as they are often placed in one-on-one situations they’re not used to (guards defending in the post; big men being pulled outside).

Given the flaw-free statistical profile above, I will not offer up a full-fledged Spartans Weblog key to the game. This one simply comes down to playing efficient, error-free basketball–because you know your opponent isn’t going to make many errors for you to exploit.

I will single out a key player, though: Raymar Morgan. The one Big Ten team that’s beaten Wisconsin this season is Purdue, with their small, quick, versatile lineup. Izzo may follow suit and go with the smaller lineup with Morgan at power forward for most of the game. Morgan will need to guard bigger players without picking up cheap fouls as he’s had a habit of doing this season.

Coming off the two efficient home wins last week, it would have been nice to ease into a road game against an easier opponent. But you get the sense this MSU team’s odds of winning are less tied to the quality of the opponent and more tied to their own level of confidence. So maybe this game is just the ticket to get MSU back on the national radar.

Kenpom predicts a 65-58 Wisconsin win. I’ll go out on a limb and say MSU plays Wisconsin even through 38 minutes and this one comes down to who can hit one or two big shots in the last two minutes.

A Badger Perspective

As one might expect, Wisconsin Badger Sports revels in the history of this series, taking particular pleasure in the hanging-the-championship-banner-before-the-game MSU loss in 2004. Here’s hoping we can return the favor and deny Wisconsin an outright championship this year . . .

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In light of the speculation in the last two posts that Izzo may be ramping up to use MSU’s depth to make a run at the Big Ten Tournament championship, I thought I’d check to see whether past tournament champions have had unusual amounts of depth. In theory, having more players playing significant minutes should reduce the burden on your starters and leave them in better shape to win three games in three days.

Defining what constitutes depth isn’t immediately obvious, though. I went with a fairly simple measure: number of players playing at least 10 minutes per game.

The table below shows the 10 previous conference tournament champions, along with the following:

  • Number of players averaging at least 10 minutes per game for the full season (and playing in at least half the team’s games).
  • Number of players playing at least 10 minutes in each of the three games en route to the tournament championship. (I’ve excluded Iowa’s opening round game in 2001, partly because it was really hard to find the box scores for that season’s tournament.)
  • Number of players playing at least 10 minutes for the losing team in the tournament championship game.

Big Ten Tournament Champions

# of Players Playing At Least 10 Minutes

Year Champion

Season Avg

Game 1

Game 2

Game 3

Final Opp

1998 Michigan 8 6 6 6 7
1999 MSU 8 8 8 8 8
2000 MSU 10 7 8 8 8
2001 Iowa* 8 7 8 5 7
2002 Ohio St 8 8 7 8 8
2003 Illinois 8 7 8 8 7
2004 Wisconsin 9 7 7 8 6
2005 Illinois 8 9 6 6 8
2006 Iowa 8 6 7 7 7
2007 Ohio St 9 8 8 9 8
Average 8.4 7.3 7.3 7.3 7.4
*Played in opening round of tournament (four games total)  

The results, I’m sad to say, aren’t all that dramatic. All ten of the champions had at least 8 players average 10 minutes/game for the season. But that’s not a difficult threshold to cross; 10 of the 11 Big Ten teams meet that criteria this season. Only three of the champions had 9 or 10 players average 10 minutes for the season.

In each round, the average number of 10-minute players used by the champions was 7.3, as teams tend to shorten their benches in more important, closer games. These numbers are skewed a bit by two of the champions: (1) in 2001, Iowa only used 5 players in the final for some reason, despite already having played three straight days to get to the final and (2) Illinois used 9 players in their first game in 2005 as they blew out Northwestern but only used 6 players in the closer semifinal and final games.

In 6 of the other 8 years, the champion played more players in the final than in at least one of their first two games. So there’s a smidgen of evidence that having an extra player to give you minutes to in your third game can be helpful.

I included the number of 10-minute players on the losing team in the final to see if the winning teams tended to play more players, on the theory that the team with more depth would have an advantage on the third day of play. Apparently, it doesn’t, as the losing teams averaged slightly more 10-minute players than the winning teams. (I didn’t pull the number of 10-minute players for the full season for the losing teams.)

Intuitively, I’m still of the opinion that playing all nine contributors (starters plus Walton, Allen, Summers, and Gray) could have benefits in terms of keeping the players fresh for the 3-game stretch it takes to win the conference tournament. Plus it could have benefits in terms of playing more aggressive defense to either create turnovers or wear down the other team so they can’t defend us as aggressively. But there’s not much in the numbers to back this up.

It may also be that we need a more sophisticated measure of depth. Here are the number of 10-minute players for Big Ten teams this season:

10: Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State

9: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue

8: Illinois, Wisconsin

7: Ohio State

The three teams with the most depth by this measure are all in the bottom six in the conference standings. It could be that using more players is a sign that your starters and top reserves aren’t all that good so that there’s not much drop-off in bringing in players at the end of the bench.

Ideally, you’d want some way to measure the productivity of the 8th, 9th, and 10th players a team uses. But that’s not a simple matter, particularly if you’re trying to measure defensive ability, which could be a key consideration for using more players off the bench.

Tuesday Night Links

TAFKATBTW’s weekly conference check shows last week’s wins over Penn State and Iowa has boosted MSU out of conference-only efficiency margin limbo and back into the top-tier of teams in the conference.  MSU is currently tied for third in points per possession at 1.05, in fourth place in opponent’s points per possession at 0.96, and tied for fourth in efficiency margin at +0.09.  Given the closing four games, those numbers could be pulled back toward the pack if the Spartans can’t translate their recent efficient play to road games.

Future Spartan Draymond Green scored 29 points to lead Saginaw past Arthur Hill in the first round of the Class A playoffs last night.

Big Ten Country breaks down the next two weeks for the three Big Ten title contenders, giving Wisconsin the edge at this point.  He notes the following:

The schedule has played a role in the race. Indiana got the biggest advantage, being able to miss a road trip to Purdue. But overall, kudos to the Big Ten for increasing the regular season schedule back to 18 games and minimizing the impact scheduling would have on crowning a champion.

I’d add that Purdue probably has a bit of a gripe here, since Wisconsin doesn’t have to travel to East Lansing, either.

The best of the Big Ten power poll themes I’ve see: Off the Tracks compares each team to a Star Wars character.  MSU is The Emporer, due to the great power we still have to decide the conference race (and, hopefully, not due to our bad skin).  Michigan State is entrenched at #4 in the overall power poll voting.

Looking ahead to Thursday night’s game,  Joe Rexrode has a rundown of the Izzo-Ryan rivalry.  It’s painful reading.  And motivation to try to play spoiler for the Badgers this season.

If you couldn’t stand to read the last link, this may be more enjoyable: A Youtube clip of Neiztel’s follow-the-bouncing-ball 3-pointer against Wisconsin last year.  It’s taken from the Izzone; fun to watch the pregnant pause in the crowd as the ball bounces on the rim before the eruption as it drops through.

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Rankings Update

In the AP poll, Michigan State held steady at #19 following the two home wins this week. Notre Dame and Vanderbilt leapfrogged us. The three teams are bunched within 5 voting points, though, so no major injustice has been perpetrated against us.

In the coaches’ poll, meanwhile, MSU moved up two spots from #17 to #15. They moved past UConn and Purdue, both of whom lost this week.

Despite our Spartans’ also-ran status in the conference standings, it’s worth noting our strong nonconference performance (related: BYU is back in the coaches’ top 25) keeps us within striking distance of being the top-ranked Big Ten team going into the NCAA tournament.

Wisconsin is currently #10/9. Indiana is #12/12. Purdue is #16/19.

A win in the unfriendly confines of the Kohl Center Thursday night would be a necessary step toward making that fantasy a reality.

The formula-driven rankings:

So the views of both the stat guys and the more intuitive folk have converged to put MSU somewhere between #15 and #19 in the country (throwing out the BB State outlier). Consistent with that convergence, the NCAA bracket projectors are currently slotting MSU as a #5 seed: Joe Lunardi, Stewart Mandel, and Crashing the Dance.  Crashing the Dance is a newly-discovered site that attempts “to predict the behavior of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee using artificial intelligence techniques.”  Wicked awesome.

Coffee Talk

In light of the big game in Madison Thursday night, I’m moving Reader Feedback Thursday up in the week and–drumroll, please–giving it a catchy, new, non-day-of-the-week-specific name: “Coffee Talk“.  Let’s try not to get too verklempt, though.

Dave Dye’s column today confirms my speculation of yesterday that MSU may be gearing up specifically for a run at the Big Ten Tournament championship this year:

“Our goal is to win out,” Neitzel said. “I think that’s a very attainable goal. We’re looking at the Big Ten tournament. That’s the way we can get our ring, get our banner that way.”

So here’s the Coffee Talk discussion question for the week: With four games remaining in the regular season, what does Michigan State need to do for you to consider this season a success?

I see three potential shots at redemption:

  • Winning out in the regular season.  That would put us at 14-4 in the conference and 26-5 overall.  Neither record would be anything to sneeze at.
  • Winning the Big Ten Tournament championship.  It would be our first conference tournament crown in eight years.
  • Making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.  A trip to the Final Four would be great, of course, but a visit to the Elite Eight would help perpetuate MSU’s status as a national contender.

If MSU accomplishes one of these three things, I think you have to consider the season at least a wash.  If they accomplish two of them,  the season would be a clear success.

Agree?  Disagree?  Give a call, we’ll talk, no big whoop.

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Around the Big Ten

Michigan 49 Illinois 43

I can only hope this week’s results will boost MSU well above the Illini in the offensive points-per-possession category for good; the two were tied at 1.01 (in conference play) before this week’s action. UMHoops says rebounding was a key and recaps Jalen Rose’s comments to the Crisler crowd. Sample:

Every time you see the black shoes, the black socks, the baggy shorts, the Fab Five lives. I’ll be back one day when those banners get hung.

As much as the Fab Five could be grating to basketball traditionalists (I’ll always remember the distinct contrast of their baggy, yellow uniforms against the green and white background as they swaggered out on to the floor of the Breslin Center), Rose was the one guy you had to respect for the brilliance with which he played the game.

Indiana 85 Northwestern 82

Northwestern almost pulled off their first conference win of the year in style. They held a 1-point lead with 2 minutes to go before IU made 8 of 8 free throw attempts to pull out the victory in Dan Dakich’s first time out as interim head coach. Inside the Hall has the key stats: “Indiana out-rebounded Northwestern 35-18 and hit 30 of 37 free throws.” Kevin Coble put up a career-high 37 points on 5-6 3-point shooting for the Wildcats. Based on a one-game sample, it appears the departure of Sampson may hurt IU more on the defensive end than the offensive end, where they can rely on the supreme talents of Gordon and White. Of course, given the off-court turmoil and lack of practice time this team dealt with the last few days, it’s probably not wise to read too much into a single game.

Tennessee 66 Memphis 62

I’ve granted this game a special exemption to be included in the Big Ten Roundup since (1) it was #1 vs. #2 and (2) I watched the last ten minutes. And an entertaining ten minutes it was. Two talented, up-tempo teams letting it all hang out. From a statistical standpoint, though, I’d note that neither team reached the point-per-possession mark (it was a 67-possession game). Big Ten teams generally look less talented on offense to the naked eye than teams from the other power conferences, but they also take a lot fewer bad shots. This can cause games to be played at a slower pace and has led, I think, to a somewhat undeserved reputation for the conference being offensively challenged.

Minnesota 75 Penn State 68

The Gophers take care of business at home to get to .500 in conference play (7-7). Paging Jim S says the Gophers were able to come back from a early deficit by playing more aggressively on both ends of the floor. Lawrence Westbrook led the way for the Gophers with 15 points on 7 FG attempts.

Wisconsin 58 Ohio State 53

Both teams played hard in this one from start to finish, reflecting the importance of the game to both squads. The game was tied 32-32 at the half. Neither team could sustain consistent scoring down the stretch in the second half. Jamar Butler couldn’t shoulder the load of initiating the offense for the entire game, as he missed his final 5 FG attempts. Wisconsin, meanwhile, managed to eke out enough points to pull away in the final 7 minutes by finding seams in the Ohio State zone.

At 17-10 overall and 8-6 in the conference, the Buckeyes now have a tough path to secure an NCAA slot. Their final four games are as follows: at IU, at Minnesota, home to Purdue, home to MSU. Wisconsin’s game against MSU on Thursday, meanwhile, now becomes the Badgers’ single significant obstacle to securing at least a share of the Big Ten title. Their final two games are home to Penn State and on the road at Northwestern.

Update: Badgercentric says the key play of the game was a Michael Flowers steal and layup to tie the game at 49.   Flowers finished with 14 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals.

Another Big Ten-Related Link of Interest

The Artist Formerly Knows as the Big Ten Wonk (TAFKATBTW) put aside statistical analysis and delved into the minutiae of NCAA violations and college basketball coaching contracts, in the context of the Jim O’Brien and Kelvin Sampson cases. His conclusion:

In addition to viewing O’Brien’s lawsuit as a cautionary tale, then, athletic directors should also view the Ohio State program’s instant renaissance as both a hopeful parable and as a cudgel to wield at the bargaining table against grasping coaches. Contracts should be structured on the empirically unassailable truth that there are many more excellent coaches than there are excellent coaching positions. Such contracts should also include provision for paid suspension in the event of an NCAA Notice of Allegations. Indiana didn’t have such a clause in Sampson’s contract, so they employed him for two games longer than they should have.

Division 1 college basketball (and football) has certainly become a bizarre little legal universe.

And an MSU Link for Good Measure

Joe Rexrode commends Izzo for the “decisions to go to fullcourt pressure with more subbing and emphasis on running” this week. Thinking about yesterday’s game, it seemed like Iowa put less defensive pressure on our perimeter players than I expected (although I didn’t see the first Iowa game, so I can’t say how it compared). One reason for this could be that our guards wore their guards down when Iowa had the ball. So pressuring the ball could have benefits even if it doesn’t directly create turnovers. I also wonder if Izzo isn’t using more players in anticipation of trying to use MSU’s depth to make a run at the Big Ten Tournament championship, where the winner will need to win 3 games in 3 days. In both games this week, 9 players played 13 minutes or more. Izzo depth, baby!

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