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.
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 . . .