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Rankings Update

The Sports Mitten lays out a scenario in which MSU grabs the final #1 seed.  I remain skeptical.

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Rankings Update

Question (that I do not know the answer to): Could we be placed in the Midwest region (final in Indy) as a #2 seed?  It seems like I remember similar situations occurring in past years, but the couple of bracket projections I looked at today (including Lunardi’s) show us elsewhere.

Izzo for Big Ten Coach of the Year?

The Detroit News’ Eric Lacy has a blog post up making the case for Tom Izzo as the conference’s coach of the year.  Key segment:

Player injuries and illness have forced Izzo to use 13 different starting lineups, as well as play three freshmen (Korie Lucious, Delvon Roe and Draymond Green) key minutes.

Izzo’s team is 23-5 (13-3 Big Ten) despite playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules and they are an NCAA-best 11-2 against the top 50 teams in the RPI.”

Beat the Indiana Hoosiers on Tuesday and the program earns its first outright conference championship since the 1998-99 season.

It’s an uncoventional nomination.  Generally, high-profile coaches of teams expected to compete for the conference title are only considered for conference coach of the year if they put together a truly dominant conference record.  In this case, though, the team in question has played nearly half its conference schedule (eight games) with its preseason all-conference player missing or severely limited and nevertheless put together a title-winning record while losing just one game on the road.  It’s hard to do that without some stellar coaching along the way.

The conference coach of the year race is a lot like the conference player year of the race: There are plenty of plausible candidates, with no clear front runner.  Really, you could make an argument for any of the guys whose teams have increased their number of conference wins from last year:

  • Bruce Weber (+6): From second division to title contender–except that their fundamental performance really hasn’t improved.
  • Bill Carmody (+6): Do you give him credit for how close they’ve come to a winning conference record or hold the late-game collapses against him?
  • John Beilein (+3): From 10-22 to 18-12 with basically the same talent.
  • Ed DeChellis (+2): Built an upper-division team around two undersized stars.
  • Tom Izzo (+1)

What do you guys think?

Indiana Game Preview

7:00 Tuesday.  Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana.  ESPN.

There was certainly very little time for the players to celebrate clinching a share of the Big Ten title.  In fact, our Spartans didn’t even have time to come home–going straight from Champaign to Bloomington.  Thankfully, the extra day of rest/preparation is the only advantage Indiana brings into this game:

Category MSU Off Rk IU Def Rk
PPP 1.07 1t 1.11 11
TO% 21.6 7 19.2 8
eFG% 48.7 7t 56.3 11
FTR 38.5 1 38.8 11
OffReb% 42.8 1 28,8 4
Category IU Off Rk MSU Def Rk
PPP 0.93 11 0.94 2t
TO% 25.6 11 20.7 3t
eFG% 48.2 9 48.1 4
FTR 34.5 4 34.3 7
OffReb% 33.3 3 24.7 1

What I said about the numbers prior to the last meeting:

The rebounding numbers, I think, reflect this is a team that works hard and hustles in a league that doesn’t place much emphasis on offensive rebounding.  The 3-point shooting is more impressive, given that they don’t have any quality inside scoring options to draw defenders in; their 2-point shooting percentage of 43.1% is only slightly higher than their 3-point shooting percentage.

Offsetting those strengths are a multitude of weaknesses.  A high turnover percentage 24.4%) and opposing free-throw rate (39.9%) indicate they’re overmatched defensively.  And they’re allowing opponents to shoot the same 41.3% on 3-pointers.

Three-point shooting is, of course, the one great hope of underdogs facing long odds.  Earlier in conference play, IU looked like it was emerging as a serious 3-point shooting threat, hitting over 50.0% of their 3-point attempts in 4 consecutive games (culminating in their single conference win, against Iowa).  Since then, however, the Hoosiers have shot just 29.6% from 3-point range over 7 games.

Devan Dumes had been the main source of the torrid 3-point shooting numbers, making 18 of 29 long-distance shots in the 4-game stretch.  The next game was against us.  He did a bad, bad thing in that game, was suspended by Tom Crean for two games, and has hit a pedestrian 7 of 21 three-point attempts in the four games since.

Verdell Jones III has been Indiana’s leading scorer of late, scoring 59 points in the 4 games since these two teams met in East Lansing.  At 6’5″, Jones does the vast majority of his scoring from inside the 3-point arc.

On the other end of the court, this game might represent a chance for MSU to refind its own 3-point shooting stroke.  Seven of IU’s conference opponents have hit the 50.0% mark from beyond the arc.

Kenpom predicts a 71-59 MSU win in a 67-possession game.  The conventional thing to say here is that we can’t take anything for granted–and point out that the Hoosiers played Penn State to the wire on the road on Saturday–but I just really can’t see this MSU team losing this game under anything but the most bizarre circumstances.  Indiana has lost 18 of the last 19 basketball games it’s played.  If ever there was a time not to take a bad team too lightly, this is the time.  An outright conference title awaits.

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Rankings Update

Perhaps the buzz of yesterday’s thrilling victory biased my vote in the blogpoll this week, as I was the runner up for the Coulter/Kos Award.  I had MSU at #7, as compared to the pollwide average of 9.86.  I think you can defend my ranking based on (1) the number of quality wins MSU has against top-50 competition and (2) how good they’ve been when their full starting lineup has been healthy.  On the other hand, their losses have been of the ugly variety.

Louisville and Missouri are the two other teams the consensus Blogpoll results have ahead of us.  It’s worth noting that Louisville lost by 14 to Western Kentucky and by a whopping 33 to Notre Dame.  Missouri doesn’t have any particularly ugly losses, and they’ve won 10 of their last 11 games.  So, if I were given a revised ballot, I suppose I’d move them ahead of us.

There, that’s much more gracious than Anne Coulter would be in the same situation, right?

Bottom line: A #2 seed remains ours for the taking.  If we lose no more than one game before the BTT final, that should be enough.

P.S. The date and time for the showdown game against Purdue have been set.  As expected, it’ll be the Sunday CBS game (March 8, noon).

You’ll have to find a way to back out of Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house.

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I’m back–like a bad rash.

Rankings Update

Crashing the Dance has us as the highest of the #2 seeds.  So grabbing a #1 seed is possible–but far from probable.  Pitt beating UConn tonight doesn’t help, as it bumps them up from #4 in the nation, but doesn’t move UConn down that far from #1 in the nation.

I don’t think we can lose more than one game from here on out (not counting the BTT final) and be in the conversation for a #1 seed.  And really, it’s probably still too early to even be talking about it (but that’s what blogs are for, right?).

Monday Night Links

Purdue Game Preview

7:00 Tuesday.  Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Indiana.  ESPN (Vitale/Shulman/Andrews).

With MSU having opened up a two-game lead on the rest of the league, this game doesn’t look quite as enormous as it might have when the season started.  But it’s still pretty big: Win it and and we can start eyeing where that league championship trophy should go in the display case; lose it and it’s a whole new ballgame.

Purdue comes in at 8-4 in league play, having won 8 of its last 10 games.  Most recently, they squeaked by Iowa 49-45 on Saturday.  After sitting out the previous three games due to his continued back issues, Robbie Hummel played 24 minutes, but scored only 2 points.

Our all-conference forward, meanwhile, has also missed the last three games (and played very limited minutes in the two prior games).  The extent to which Morgan and Hummel can play–and play effectively–tomorrow night will have a big impact on match-ups on both ends of the court.  But I think it’s safe to say Purdue needs Hummel more than we need Morgan.

Tempo-free evidence (conference-only numbers):

MSU Off Rk Pur Def Rk
PPP 1.11 1 0.94 2t
TO% 21.0 7 19.1 8
eFG% 49.9 6 44.9 2
FTR 38.6 2 27.2 1t
OReb% 44.5 1 29.1 5
Pur Off Rk MSU Def Rk
PPP 1.00 6t 0.94 2t
TO% 19.4 5 20.4 4
eFG% 50.9 2 47.9 4
FTR 34.9 4 34.2 7
OReb% 26.5 9 26.3 2

Having held each of our last three opponents under 0.80 points per possession, MSU now ranks as an equal of Purdue defensively.  Offensively, though, Purdue remains in the middle of the pack.  Whether Hummel can play at his standard level of production will be a major factor, given how reliant the Purdue offense is on him and JaJuan Johnson.  Among the eight Purdue players playing at least 40% of the team’s minutes, those two are the only players with an offensive rating above 102 for the full season.

Johnson has become a monster in conference play, averaging 14.7 points/game on 55.8% FG shooting to go with 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.  Those numbers are even more impressive considering how inconsistent the Purdue perimeter players have been.  E’Twaun Moore is averaging 12.7 points/game, but shooting just 31.0% from beyond the arc.  Keaton Grant is averaging only 7.6 points/game on 35.4% FG shooting.  Lewis Jackson is averaging 3.7 assists, but also 2.5 turnovers, per game.

Defensively, MSU has to find a way to contain Johnson.  Goran Suton may not be athletic enough, particularly with his recent knee issue.  So Delvon Roe will need to play some tough minutes inside and keep Johnson from using his length and explosiveness to create easy baskets.

Beyond that, it’s a familiar story: Stick with the opponent’s smaller perimeter players, force a tough 3-point look, and secure the rebound.  The last part of that equation shouldn’t be too tough, as Purdue ranks just 9th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage.  The first and second parts of the equation may be a little tougher, as either Suton or Roe will have to guard either Hummel or one of the Purdue guards for most of the game.  This is where 10-15 minutes of Raymar Morgan could help; he should be able to guard on the perimter for short stretches while still providing an advantage in the post and on the boards on the offensive end.

Again, whether Hummel can play most of the game will make a big difference.  For the full conference season, Purdue is shooting a respectable 36.0% from beyond the arc.  In their last three games, with Hummel out, Purdue has shot just 11-48 on 3-pointers (22.9%).  MSU, meanwhile, now ranks first in the league in opponent’s 3-point shooting percentage at 30.6%.  (How is that we’re bigger than everyone else, yet our perimeter defense is better than our interior defense?)

On offense, MSU will again to look to take advantage of its size.  Another double-digit scoring game from Delvon Roe against undersized defenders would be a great help.  And we need to get back to 40% territory on the offensive boards.  Purdue doesn’t give up easy looks at the basket, and they don’t foul much, so getting some second-chance points will be key.  Despite their lack of interior depth, though, the Boilermakers have only allowed one of 12 conference opponents to get to the 40% offensive rebounding percentage mark.

The good news is that Purdue isn’t forcing as many turnovers as they once did.  Only three conference opponents have turned it over on more than 25% of their possessions.  Chris Kramer remains a menace, though; he’s averaging 1.7 steals/game in league play.

Kenpom predicts a 66-63 Purdue win in a 67-possession game.  I really have no gut feeling going into this game.  The Hummel/Morgan situations add an additional level of intrigue.  If Hummel plays 20+ minutes effectively and MSU still finds a way to win, we’ll have real reason to believe this team could be headed toward something special.  (Of course, if Hummel doesn’t play effectively and we win, we’ll take it.)

P.S. Maybe Kalin Lucas will feel slighted by the focus being on the other two all-conference performers in the game and come up big.  Off the Tracks notes that Lucas scored a combined 36 points in the two games against Purdue last season.  The Boilermakers didn’t have the equally-quick Lewis Jackson last season–but Lucas may be able to use his strength to create good looks at the basket in the lane against the smaller Jackson.

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Rankings Update

The back-to-back blowout wins did wonder for our KenPom ranking.  A #2 seed is ours for the taking.  Anything below a #3 seed would be a disappointment.

Monday Night Links

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Rankings Update

Purdue is ranked one spot ahead of us in both the human polls, reflecting that we’re now basically back to being dead even with them.  Kenpom currently projects a 13-5 conference finish for both teams, with Illinois (12-6) and Minnesota (11-7) also in the mix.

I’ve added Crashing the Dance to the list.  As you’ll recall from last year, the site uses quantitative methods to try to predict the behavior of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee based on past results.

Monday Night Links

Conference Midseason Review: The Teams

Here’s your up-to-the-minute, conference-only tempo-free aerial:

b10 tfa feb2

I’ve used 1.03 points per possession–the conference average to date this season–as the midpoint for each axis.  While the 10 non-IU teams have sorted themselves out a lot more neatly than they did in nonconference play, no team has grabbed the mantle of “solidly above average on both ends of the court.”  MSU has the best offense in the league, but is basically average on defense.  Purdue and Illinois have been the class of the league defensively, but mediocre on offense.  Same deal, with a somewhat less stout defense, for Minnesota.

The simplest way to frame the conference race from a statistical standpoint is this: Which happens first in the second half of league play? MSU playing improved defense or Purdue scoring more efficiently?  Can one (or both) of them move their dot into middle of the upper, right-hand quadrant?

The two big surprises relative to nonconference performance are:

  • Ohio State, which has leapt from the good defense/bad offense quadrant to the good offense/bad defense quadrant (they’re currently exactly where Penn State is).  The improvement in offense has been fueled by the development of freshmen B.J. Mullens and William Buford.  On defense, opponents are making 38.2% of their three-point attempts–not good for a team that tries to force perimeter shots with its zone defense.
  • Michigan, which has gone from the being best offensive Big Ten team in nonconference play, by a healthy margin, to hanging out in tempo-free land with the Hawkeyes and Wildcats in.  (More on that below.)

Final note: While conference-only data are the analytical ideal, my sense is that the midseason data are less reliable than they might have been in years past.  It used to be that you played nine different teams in your first nine games, as the conference employed an out-and-back scheduling scheme.  For whatever reason, teams now regularly play the same oppnent twice in the first half of the schedule.  MSU, for example, has already played Northwestern, Ohio State, and Penn State twice each–meaning they’ve played only 6 of 10 total conference opponents to date.  Given that all three of those teams are below-average on defense, MSU’s offense may not be quite as dominant as the numbers currently indicate.

Conference Midseason Review: The Players

Here’s your Spartans Weblog Midseason All-Conference Team, based exclusively on in-conference stats/performance:

  • Talor Battle (Penn State)
    18.7 points/game, 39.0% 3pt%, 44.0% FT rate, 5.0 assists/game, 2.4 TOs/game
    I don’t think anyone who saw Sunday’s game needs me to throw any more superlatives Battle’s way.  The conference player of the year to date.
  • Kalin Lucas (Michigan State)
    19.2 points/game, 38.2% 3pt%, 46.7% FT rate, 3.7 assista/game, 2.4 TOs/game
    Assists are down, but scoring is way up since the nonconference season.  Shooting a very good 46.2% on 2-pointer given the number of shots he takes late in the shot clock (well above the 40% threshold I set for him during his early-season slump).
  • Lawrence Westbrook (Minnesota)
    15.0 points/game, 57.8% eFG%, 88.9% FT%, 1.6 TOs/game
    Westbrook has been a model on consistency for a Gophers team that was looking for a go-to player going into the conference season; he’s scored in double digits in every conference game.
  • Goran Suton (Michigan State)
    10.7 points/game, 60.0% eFG%, 9.9 rebounds/game, 13.8 OffReb%, 27.0% DefReb%
    I’ll confess to a bit of homerism here.  But Mr. Suton has been utterly dominant on the glass, ranking 2nd in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and first in defensive rebounding percentage.
  • JaJuan Johnson (Purdue)
    12.8 points/game, 53.8% 2pt%, 70.7% FT rate, 7.4 rebounds/game, 11.2% OffReb%, 10.1% Block%
    The best all-around post player in the league, despite having to play surrouneded by four guards for large stretches of time.

Battle is the only returnee from my pre-conference season all-conference team, although you could make a pretty good case for Robbie Hummel (despite missed time due to his back issues) and Evan Turner.  Battle, Lucas, and Johnson are the only first-team locks.  Westbrook just edged out Northwestern’s Craig Moore (40.0% on a league-leading 82 three-point attempts).

As for the two other players on the pre-conference season version of the team, the numbers are not as pretty as they once were:

  • Manny Harris: 14.0 points/game, 41.1% eFG%, 7.2 rebounds/game, 3.3 assists/game, 3.9 turnovers/game
  • DeShawn Sims: 13.3 points/game, 48.3 eFG%, 5.9 rebounds/game, 8.6% OffReb%, 17.2% DefReb%

Harris has basically reverted to the freshman version of himself statistically (except for a big jump in rebounds).  Sims’ production hasn’t plummeted quite as far, but his 2-point shooting percentage has dropped 9 points and he’s lost 2-3 percentage points on his rebounding percentages.  Without these two guys playing at the stratospheric levels they achieved during nonconfernce play, Michigan’s offense has fallen to NIT-quality levels, if not below.

Coffee Talk: Who’s impressed you the most in conference play to date (teams or players)?  Who did I miss on the all-conference team?  Does anyone out there (besides his mother) love Goran Suton as much as I do?

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Rankings Update

That loss to Northwestern didn’t hurt too much in any of the rankings.  In the human polls, four teams (Syracuse, Clemson, Georgetown, UCLA) that were just behind MSU last week all lost this week, as well.  And the numbers-based ratings all think Northwestern is a top-50 team.

Monday Night Links

Bonus Link with Bonus Analysis

The Artist Formerly Known As The Big Ten Wonk has his first “Conference Check” of the season up at Basketball Prospectus.  Here are your Big Ten tempo-free numbers:

                                     Opp.
                     Pace    PPP     PPP      EM
1.  Illinois         62.6    1.04    0.91   +0.13
2.  Michigan St.     63.0    1.12    1.02   +0.10
3.  Purdue           64.6    1.02    0.92   +0.10
4.  Wisconsin        60.1    1.06    1.03   +0.03
5.  Minnesota        63.8    1.02    1.00   +0.02
6.  Penn St.         62.0    1.05    1.04   +0.01
7.  Michigan         60.7    1.03    1.04   -0.01
8.  Ohio St.         62.0    1.02    1.05   -0.03
9.  Northwestern     63.1    0.98    1.07   -0.09
10. Iowa             58.7    0.99    1.08   -0.09
11. Indiana          63.0    0.89    1.09   -0.20

The ex-Wonk notes that Illinois’ top-ranked efficiency margin figure is partly a factor of a 31-point win against the hapless Hoosiers.   Nevertheless, the Illini have clearly played in the same statistical league as the two preseason conference favorites to date.

As for Michigan State, they rank first in the league in offensive efficiency by a fairly wide margin of 0.06 points per possession.  On defense, they rank fourth in the conference–but are well behind Purdue and Illinois in the stinginess department.

I thought we’d break down MSU’s tempo-free performance in conference play a little further by looking at where they rank in each of the four factors on the two ends of the court.  Conference-only tempo-free stats are courtesy of StatSheet.  Conference-only individual stats are from the official MSU site.

Offense

  • Turnover percentage: 22.2% (8th in conference).
  • Effective field goal percentage: 49.4% (6th).
  • Free throw rate: 38.1% (3rd).
  • Offensive rebounding percentage: 49.4% (1st).

MSU is making its living on the offensive glass, out-rebounding the second best team in the league (Minnesota) by over 12 percentage points.  As noted in this space last week, six different Spartans are averaging at least one offensive rebound per game, led by Goran Suton with 3.6 per game.

To a lesser extent, getting to the free throw line has been an advantage.  Kalin Lucas has gotten to the line 6 times per game in conference play, converting 88.1% of those shots.

Despite Chris Allen’s dismal 3-point shooting percentage of 24.3% (on a team-high 37 attempts), the team still ranks in the middle of the pack in 3-point shooting percentage at 35.2%.  Every other Spartan to take more than one 3-pointer in conference play is shooting at least 36% from beyond the arc.

The turnover percentage figure is disappointing, but is almost entirely a function of the Illinois and Northwestern games.  Those are the only two conference games in which MSU has posted a turnover percentage greater than 21%.

Defense

  • Turnover percentage: 17.2% (10th in conference).
  • Effective field goal percentage: 50.0% (5th).
  • Free throw rate: 33.7% (7th).
  • Defensive rebounding percentage: 74.0% (3rd).

Once again rebounding is the strength.  No conference opponent has posted an offensive rebounding percentage above 31%.

The effective field goal percentage figure masks this dichotomy:

  • MSU is holding opponents to a three-point percentage of 31.9%, second lowest in the league.
  • MSU is allowing opponents to make 51.7% of their 2-point attempts (I’m too lazy to calculate the rank for that stat).

Post defense has been a problem for MSU.  Jamelle Cornley, B.J. Mullens, and the Illini post players  have all presented problems for the Spartan big men.

The perimeter defense has definitely tightened up since nonconference play, when five opponents made more than 35.0% of their three-point attempts.  Ohio State on Sunday was the first conference team to pull that trick off against us.

Finally, we just aren’t creating any turnovers.  Forcing turnovers has never been a trademark of Tom Izzo teams–he prefers his players to force a tough shot and get the rebound–but that number has to go up a little bit.  The percentage is skewed down a bit by having played Northwestern twice; the Wildcats lead the conference in offensive turnover percentage at 14.7%.

In sum, MSU’s tempo-free numbers aren’t quite as impressive as their 6-1 league record might indicate.  The good news is there’s room to improve.  The rebounding dominance should continue, given that the rest of the conference tends to eschew crashing the glass on offense.  Improved interior defense and a tad more pressure on the opponent’s ball-handlers would go a long way toward separating ourselves from Illinois and Purdue as the conference season approaches the second half.

(Note that I took about ten more paragraphs than Mr. Gasaway did to reach the same conclusion.  His version: “If State’s D can just force a few more misses on the interior or a few more turnovers by opponents (or both), well, stay tuned.”)

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