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Saturday, March 12, 2005
 
How 'Bout Them Hawkeyes?
Iowa's win streak hit five games last night with a 71-69 upset of #13 Michigan State. Suddenly everyone is talking Hawkeye basketball, and you have to like what you're hearing. Prolific college hoops blogger Yoni Cohen says "[t]he Hawkeyes are a lock for the NCAA tournament," and Andy Glockner of ESPN believes the "Hawkeyes . . . suddenly look very good for an NCAA berth." Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel says that "Iowa . . . may be in the dance after all," and upgraded them to his "Bubble In" classification. Tony Mejia from CBS gives Iowa the nod, and states "the committee should take its win over Michigan State as proof it has survived the devastating loss of Pierre Pierce and deserves its reward."

Here's a quick glance at Iowa's tournament resume, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.

RPI: 35
SOS: 44
vs 1-50: 7-7
vs 51-100: 2-0
vs 101-200: 8-3
vs 201+: 4-0
last 10: 6-4
road/neutral: 8-7

My brief scan of the other teams show that only Ilinois (10) and Kansas (9) can boast about having more wins against top 50 RPI teams. I've been getting increasingly irritated hearing the talking heads say that Iowa's early wins mean nothing since Pierce is gone, so the win tonight goes a long way toward showing that the current squad is tourny-worthy.

As for the game - I started out at a buddy's apartment, where we saw Erek Hansen get the start and immediately proceed to sabotage Iowa's efforts by blowing an open layup and letting Paul Davis have his way inside. Coach, haven't you been reading your Hawkeye Hoops for the last, oh, two months? Anyway, with Iowa already down 10-2, we didn't feel like we'd be missing much if we made a trip downtown.

We settled in at Buffalo Wild Wings around the 12:00 mark, just in time for the Horner-Henderson Show. Iowa's backcourt tandem would score 20 of Iowa's last 27 points in the first half. Horner had the hot hand from deep (4 treys at the half), and Henderson finally learned to finish his drives to the basket, scoring on several free throws and shots close to the basket. Mike played a great game, and earned at least a day's reprieve from any Hawkeye Hoops scorn. His layup gave Iowa a four point lead going into the half.

Things looked pretty rough for a stretch in the second half when Michigan State discovered they could pretty much get the ball any time they wanted with a press or tight defense of inbounds plays. The struggle to hold onto the ball combined with severe foul trouble (5 Hawkeyes finished with at least 4 fouls) to make MSU's three point lead with around 4:30 left look insurmountable, at least to this pessimist.

Iowa tried to give the game away with some ugly turnovers and five missed free throws in the last two minutes, but Michigan State's own struggles from the line would cost them the game. Alan Anderson, the Big Ten's leading free throw shooter (and Hawkeye Hoops Second Team-er) had a chance to put the Spartans on top with six seconds left, but missed both his free throws.

A few thoughts......
- Doug Thomas came up huge in a game where Iowa badly needed his skill set. He grabbed 11 boards in just 26 minutes of play, and was a huge reason why Michigan State could only manage a 30% offensive rebound rate, well below their league-leading average of 38%. Iowa matched that 30% rate on the offensive glass. Taken alone, that 30% figure seems fairly meager, but it was huge compared to the 24% MSU normally allows. Doug also made two big free throws to put Iowa up by four with 37 seconds left (though he did miss two on the previous possession). Can we please start him already?

- Jeff Horner had everything falling early on, especially from long range, but his final line looked eerily Pierce-esque - 6-16 FG, 7 TO. I wrote yesterday that Jeff might be returning to his Maui performance level, but with the caveat that his scoring was far from efficient. Given his low shooting percentages, it scares me a little to see him taking as so many shots lately. He's averaged almost 14 shots a game in the 11 games since Pierce left the team.

- Is anyone else stunned that Iowa knocked off MSU with a highly inefficient game from Horner and 0 first half points from Adam Haluska? I didn't think it was possible for the Hawks to take down a big-time opponent without the Big Three hitting on all cylinders, but leave it to Mike Henderson to prove me wrong.

- Was anyone else secretly happy (or high-fiving their friends?) when Hansen fouled out late in the game? And how does a guy who gets abused on the boards and fouls out in nine minutes deserve to start both halves? I'm really starting to question whether he deserves to play, let alone start.

OK, time to look forward to Saturday afternoon's game with Wisconsin. The Badgers were third in the Big Ten with a 109 offensive rating and sixth with a 103 defensive rating, both compared to the league average of 104 points per possession. As always, let's break down their offense and defense with Dean Oliver's Four Factors.

.......................................adjFG%..............TO/poss............Oreb Rate............FTA/FGA
Offense............................0.515...................0.191...................0.318...................0.400
Defense...........................0.491...................0.174...................0.269...................0.314

Wisconsin's offense is about average when it comes to shooting and rebounding, but they excel at holding onto the ball and getting to the free throw line. Both of these strengths were evident when Iowa last played them, as the Badgers only had 8 turnovers and shot a hefty 35 free throws (to Iowa's 14, which Alford was none too pleased about). They get to the line at a frequency second to only Indiana, but only shot 68% there in Big Ten games.

Wisconsin's defensive strength is keeping their opponents from offensive rebounds. Their defensive rebound % is second to Michigan State. Iowa has shown recently that they can neutralize strong rebounding teams with their own bruisers, Greg Brunner and Doug Thomas. Here's hoping that Thomas earned himself at least 20 minutes for Saturday's game.

Fatigue could be another big factor today. Iowa's four players capable of scoring each played at least 34 minutes Friday, and will be playing in their third game in three days. Wisconsin had no one play over 33 minutes against Ohio State, and is playing just their second game of the tournament. Each team has a short turnaround, playing at 3pm Saturday after night games on Friday.

That's about all this sleepy blogger has for now. While Iowa has regained the support of the media in its quest for the big dance, let's hope they've got at least one more quality performance left to eliminate any uncertainty.

Go Hawks!
Friday, March 11, 2005
 
Stayin' Alive
Iowa picked up its fourth straight win and lived to see another day in the Big Ten Tournament with an easy win against Purdue this afternoon. The Boilermaker offense has been helpless since losing leading scorer Carl Landry, and today was no exception. Purdue could only muster 52 points to Iowa's 71 in the 63 possession game.

The scoring trend graph from ESPN's recap makes it pretty clear that this game was never close. That was important, as it allowed Iowa to rest their starters in anticipation of Friday's game against a deep and athletic Michigan State squad.

Jeff Horner, who led the Big Ten in minutes played, only saw 33 minutes of action in this game, his lowest total against any conference opponent. He had enough time, however, to grab six rebounds and pass for eight assists (against one turnover) and earn the coveted title of Hawkeye Hoops Player of the Game. Jeff struggled throughout most of the Big Ten season, but's he's almost returned to his Maui form of late, and Hawkeye fans hope his play will yield similar giant-felling results. His numbers during Iowa's four-game win streak are encouraging -

......................PPG........RPG......APG.......3pt%
Horner...........18.8.........6.0.........6.8.........40.6

He hasn't been impressively efficient, shooting a 53.4 adjFG%, but his shooting touch will play a large role in determining how long Iowa sticks around Chicago (more in a minute).

Iowa also had solid performances from some unexpected sources, including Hawkeye Hoops whipping boys Mike Henderson and Erek Hansen. Henderson scored a career-high 11 points, while Hansen matched his rebound season-high by equalling the total of his point guard. It would be nice if I could step out of my role of Henderson/Hansen critic and heap praise on their efforts, but instead I fret because their performance will likely earn them more playing on Friday (more ahead). Enough of Thursday, it's time to look ahead to Friday.

Let's take a peak at each team's strengths and weaknesses as measured by Dean Oliver's Four Factors.

Team.........................Pts/100 Poss............adjFG%........TO/poss.......Oreb Rt......FTA/FGA
Iowa offense......................104.......................0.494.............0.218...........0.343...........0.373
MSU defense.......................98.......................0.497.............0.218...........0.242...........0.427

Team.........................Pts/100 Poss............adjFG%........TO/poss.......Oreb Rt......FTA/FGA
Iowa defense.....................102.......................0.482.............0.221...........0.331............0.400
MSU offense.....................117........................0.551.............0.209...........0.378............0.333

Michigan State's Defense
Check out the conference ranks for MSU's defense in -
adjFG% - 7th
TO/poss - 7th
FTA/FGA - 11th

Despite those mediocre numbers, Michigan State is 3rd in points allowed per 100 possessions. They do this by dominating the conference in defensive rebound %. They rebound 76% of their opponents' missed shots, compared to the league average of 68%. Their opponents might make an average amount of their shots and shoot a ton of free throws, but second chances are hard to come by. See the leaderboard here.

This brings me to my earlier point regarding Hansen. If the strength of Michigan State's defense lies almost entirely in their defensive rebounding, it would make sense to play someone capable of grabbing a few offensive rebounds (read: anyone not named Erek Hansen). That's why Hansen's 7 point, 6 rebound performance worries the hell out of me - it could make the coaches willing to play him more than usual. Alford always seems to be waiting for Hansen to give him a reason to play him more, and ignoring the obvious shortcomings that should keep him on the bench. Here's a list that should make for an easy decision regarding playing time for the post players tomorrow -

Player.......................Oreb%
Doug Thomas.............12.2
Greg Brunner..............10.4
Alex Thompson...........10.4
Seth Gorney..................9.9
Erek Hansen.................5.8

What does this stat mean? When he is in the game, Thunder Doug will get an offensive rebound on about 12% of Iowa's missed shots. Hansen will grab less than half that. Get the picture?

My beef with Henderson is his turnovers. His turnovers per possession rate (34%) has few peers in the Big Ten, especially among guys playing as many minutes as he does now, and he's shooting just 38%. So my concern is the same as with Hansen - Henderson's performance against a lifeless Purdue team will be rewarded with more minutes and the green light from the coaching staff, which will lead to a repeat of his 0-6 line from the first MSU game. The sad thing is, I'm not sure this team has a better backcourt option. Anyone else excited for Tony Freeman?

Michigan State's Offense
MSU's defense doesn't worry me nearly as much as their offense. Again, here's how their offense ranks in -

adjFG% - 2nd
TO/poss - 5th
Oreb% - 1st
FTA/FGA - 7th

The FTA/FGA figure is a little misleading since it just measures how often a team gets to the line. FTM/FGA takes into account how well they shoot there, and MSU is 4th in that.

Iowa has the horses to stop MSU's domination of the offensive boards, as Doug Thomas and Greg Brunner rank 5th and 6th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding %.

Player.......................Dreb%
Greg Brunner.............21.0
Doug Thomas............20.6
Seth Gorney...............17.6
Alex Thompson..........13.9
Erek Hansen................5.7

How long must we give opponents extra shots while only picking up a couple blocked shots? Aside from the rebounding, I'll point to another Hansen flaw that could be fatal on Friday. His 8.8 fouls per 40 minutes lead the Big Ten. MSU leads the Big Ten in FT%. You do the math.

Can Iowa Win?
The odds are against them, but Iowa has shown against Illinois and against these same Spartans that they're no push-over. If a few of the following go Iowa's way, the Hawkeyes can improve their chances of playing a game on Saturday.

Hit the three
In Michigan State's five losses, their opponents hit 50% of their three-pointers, versus 32% in Spartan victories. With Horner heating up and Haluska hitting 47% of his threes over the past month, Iowa has a good shot to have a good showing from behind the arc.

Get fouled
Michigan State finished the conference season with the second most fouls in the Big Ten, and its opponents shot more free throws per field goal attempt than any other team. That helped Iowa stay in the game last time (42 FTA), and it could work to their advantage again.

This one goes both ways. Iowa needs to keep its key players out of foul trouble. Last time Iowa played the Spartans, Brunner played an excellent game but was only on the court for 23 minutes before fouling out. He and Haluska will have to play a lot more than that to pull this one out.

Play Doug Thomas
There is no reason to play into two of MSU's strengths (free throws and rebounding) by putting Hansen on the court. Thomas, Gorney, and Thompson would all make more sense in this game. Of course, Hansen will start.

Go Hawks!
Thursday, March 10, 2005
 
Next Up - Purdue
#10 Purdue vs. #7 Iowa
1:30 CST
ESPN
Tournament Bracket

March Madness is underway across the country, and now the fever spreads to the Big Ten! I admit that I was much more excited when I thought Iowa was facing Penn State in the first round, with Wisconsin awaiting the winner, but starting the tournament against a Carl Landry-less Purdue won't be so bad either. That's the same Carl Landry who shot over 60% while scoring 45 points in his two games against Iowa. Those 45 points represent 37% of the points the Hawks allowed in the two games with Purdue, and a quick glance at the Boilermaker roster doesn't reveal many candidates to pick up the slack now that he's gone.

Scouting the Opponent
Let's compare a few numbers to see how Purdue played with and without their star. Landry played just 7 minutes in the Minnesota game, so I'm treating that as a "without" game, if only to increase the sample size of games he didn't play in.

Purdue's Offense
...............................Games.......Off Eff........adjFG%........TO/poss.........Oreb%..........FTA/FGA
with Landry...............13..............104............0.495.............0.232............0.362...............0.319
w/out Landry...............3................86............0.427.............0.244............0.323...............0.196

Wow. Any way you slice it, Purdue's offense has been horrible since Landry got hurt. Granted, those three games were against Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin, all among the Big Ten's top six defenses, but....ugh. No one can make a basket, turnovers are up slightly, they're not getting as many offensive boards, and they've just about stopped going to the free throw line. These drops aren't surprising, since Landry ranks 4th in adjFG%, 3rd in FTA/FGA, and 3rd in Oreb/40 min in the Big Ten. There's really no way you can make up for the loss of a player like that.

Purdue's Defense
..............................Games......Def Eff.......adjFG%.........TO/poss.........Dreb%..........FTA/FGA
with Landry...............13.............108...........0.497..............0.178.............0.656.............0.409
w/out Landry..............3..............112...........0.571..............0.217.............0.693.............0.385

The hit to the Boilermaker defense hasn't been anything close to that of the offense, because most of Landry's value has been with the ball in his hands. While he is an outstanding offensive rebounder, he all but disappears on the defensive glass, ranking 33rd in defensive rebound % among Big Ten players with at least 15 mpg. Guys ahead of him on that list include Illinois's Luther Head and Indiana's Bracey Wright and Roderick Wilmont (all 6'3", 6'3", and 6'4" of them, respectively).

The 57% adjFG% against them over the three games should be alarming, although Iowa's outside shooters aren't quite the caliber of Illinois's and Wisconsin's (ranked 1 and 2 in 3pt%), who combined for 24 threes against Purdue in the last two games.

Individuals
Carl Landry was using over 28% of Purdue's offensive possessions, so his departure means a lot of shots will be going to some rather inept shooters. Here's how Purdue looked over the course of their 16 game Big Ten schedule -

Player.......................Pos......Year.......Mpg.........Floor%.......Off Rtg......%Poss
Carl Landry................F..........Jr..........30.3..........0.596............120..........28.3%
David Teague............G.........Jr...........35.8..........0.458............107..........22.0%
Brandon McKnight....G.........Sr...........37.8..........0.420..............92..........20.5%
Matt Kiefer.................F.........Jr............24.0..........0.474............100..........21.4%
Gary Ware.................F.........Jr............15.2..........0.457..............92..........15.9%
Xavier Price...............G........Fr............11.6..........0.294...............71..........20.6%
Charles Davis...........F/C......Jr............13.1..........0.452...............91..........15.0%
Chris Hartley.............G........So............17.6..........0.439............109..........12.0%
Bryant Dillon............G/F.......Jr............26.2..........0.415...............84..........12.3%
Andrew Ford.............G........Sr............14.9..........0.229...............54..........10.6%

Look at that offensive rating column - only Teague and Hartley are above the league average of 104, and Hartley has only taken more than five shots in one Big Ten game. It's easy to see how this team could only score 86 points per 100 possessions without Landry.

Teague now has the burden of scoring for these new-look Boilermakers, and it hasn't been pretty for him so far. Some pertinent numbers from his last three games -

Opponent..........FGM-FGA.......TO
Minnesota..............4-14...............3
Illinois.....................2-15...............3
Wisconsin.............6-14...............0
Total......................12-43..............6

Brandon McKnight has shot more recently, too, going a meager 13-37.

Gary Ware has seen a big boost in his minutes - he played 11.8 mpg over the first 13 games and 30 mpg in the last three. He's definitely taking advantage, shooting 16-22 the past three games. His rebounding is similar to Landry's - good on the offensive end, next to nothing on defense.

Charles Davis is playing more too. He saw action in only 7 of Purdue's first 13 games, but is averaging 19.3 mpg in the last three, hitting 50% of his 12 shots and all 6 of his free throws. His rebounding is decent - his 18.5 def reb% is best on the team and would rank 13th in the conference if he had enough minutes to qualify.

Putting It All Together
There's really no other conclusion you can draw but this - without Landry, Purdue's offense is terrible, and their defense is below average. I hate to call any game an easy win for an Iowa team, especially at this time of year, but if the victory-desperate Hawkeyes can shoot anything close to a respectable percentage, they shouldn't have much trouble making it to Friday.

Quote of the Day
"I'm taking four suits. I told my players, I'm not taking one suit for a game and three for theater nights. I'm going up there with four suits to play four games. So if you don't believe that, I don't want anybody going with me. I might have an empty bus."
- Purdue coach Gene Keady, in Jeff Shelman's look at the Big Ten Tournament
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
 
The Ballots Are In . . .
As you are by now aware, the following players were voted as the cream of the crop in this year's Big Ten.



All Big Ten Teams
Media First Team
Coaches' First Team

Dee Brown, Illinois

Dee Brown, Illinois

Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin

Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin

Luther Head, Illinois

Luther Head, Illinois

Deron Williams, Illinois

Deron Williams, Illinois

Bracey Wright, Indiana

Vincent Grier, Minnesota


Media Second Team

Coaches' Second Team

Alan Anderson, Michigan State

Greg Brunner, Iowa

Greg Brunner, Iowa

Maurice Ager, Michigan State

Terence Dials, Ohio State

Terence Dials, Ohio State

Vincent Grier, Minnesota

Bracey Wright, Indiana

Carl Landry, Purdue

Carl Landry, Purdue


Media Third Team

Coaches' Third Team

Maurice Ager, Michigan State

Alan Anderson, Michigan State

James Augustine, Illinois

James Augustine, Illinois

Paul Davis, Michigan State

Paul Davis, Michigan State

Alando Tucker, Wisconsin

Alando Tucker, Wisconsin

Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern

Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern




As far as I'm concerned, Bracey Wright has no business being named on anyone's First Team ballot. The Big Ten Wonk argued the same point this morning, noting that some 36 players ranked ahead of Wright in the simple yet very underrated Points Per Weighted Shot metric, which measures how well a player uses his field goal and free throw attempts to produce points. This is a valid point, and should have been enough to keep Wright off the first team.
***UPDATE - Anybody remember the Pierre Pierce Rating I created way back when? It's a measure of sustained offensive ineptitude (from the field), and Wright led the Big Ten this year.***

I offer further evidence - playing time. Like baseball injury guru Will Carroll will tell you, playing time is a part of performance. Being on the court is a prerequisite to putting the ball through the hoop. If pitcher A has a 2.50 ERA over 220 innings, while pitcher B manages a 2.30 ERA over 150 innings, it's pretty clear that you don't vote B as the Cy Young. Same story here - Wright may have led the conference in scoring average (in Big Ten games), but by missing 3 games (almost 20% of the season!), he finished a distant 10th place in points scored, 50 behind Grier. Since scoring is about all he brings to the table, a 10th place finish should banish Wright to second team, or even third (more on that in a minute).

Another pick I disagree with is giving Player of the Year to Dee Brown (cue the boos and "this guy's crazy" hollering). That's not intended to take anything away from him, because his rate stats were phenomenal this year. He led the conference in 3-point percentage, adjusted field goal percentage (measures efficiency on field goals only), and PPWS. Not bad at all. What is rather important, though, and is often overlooked, is Brown's role in Illinois's offense. He's always capable of taking over, but he's not the go-to-guy. Note the percentage of possessions used by the Illini's starters (conference games only) -

Roger Powell.......23.9%
Luther Head..........22.4
Deron Williams.....22.2
Dee Brown...........19.9

Playing time is still an issue with me, so Powell's low minutes per game drops him to fourth on the list of Illinois's aggregate possessions used, but Brown still trails two of his teammates. Like I said, Brown was awesome this year, but didn't contribute quite as much as Head, or (in my opinion) Mike Wilkinson. That said, Brown wasn't far behind. Feel free to disagree.

Well, if I'm so willing to disagree with some of the "obvious" choices for the all-conference teams, I should probably make public my selections so I too can be mocked. Here goes.

Some numbers I used to guide my picks -

adjFG% - changes a player's field goal % to account for three pointers
TS% - measures a player's efficiency in producing points from field goals and free throws
floor% - the ratio of a players individual possessions on which he contributes to a team scoring possessions
off rtg - a player's points produced per 100 possessions
%poss - the amount of a team's possessions that a players uses while he's in the game
Stats Glossary

Also, since each guy played (or had the opportunity to play) 16 games against more or less the same schedule, I find per game averages to be almost useless. I used aggregate totals for most of my comparisons (e.g., total rebounds instead of rebounds per game).

First Team - conference rank in parentheses

Dee Brown, Illinois- 0.559 floor% (9th), 138 off rtg (1st), 0.692 adjFG% (1st), 0.706 TS% (1st), 0.515 3pt% (1st), 240 points (9th), 28 steals (4th), 64 ast (4th)
- He might not have been my choice for player of the year, but Brown is an obvious inclusion for the first team, as he was simply the most efficient scorer in the conference.

Luther Head, Illinois - 255 points (5th), 0.591 adjFG% (11th), 0.634 TS% (10th), 31 steals (2nd), 0.391 3pt% (10th), 124 off rtg (7th), 48 ast (9th)
- According to the Wonk, he's the Illini's best defender. Couple that with his undeniable scoring ability, and he's a no-brainer first-teamer.

Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin - 261 points (4th), 48 Oreb (3rd), 78 Dreb (5th), 126 reb (3rd), 0.594 adjFG% (7th), 0.611 floor% (2nd), 129 off rtg (4th)
- Under the assumption that scoring efficiency decreases as one uses more of an offense's possessions, Wilkinson's Big Ten season was very impressive. When he was in the game, Wilkinson used 24.1% of all Badger possessions. Here's the Big Ten's top ten in offensive rating (points produced per 100 individual possessions). Note that Wilkinson leads everyone but Landry in possessions used.

Player.........................Off Rtg..........%Poss
Dee Brown.....................138..............19.9%
James Augustine...........135..............18.1%
Alan Anderson...............130...............23.6%
Mike Wilkinson...............129..............24.1%
Kelvin Torbert.................126..............17.0%
Luther Head...................124..............22.4%
Chris Hill........................124..............20.7%
D.J. White......................121..............23.7%
A.J. Ratliff.......................120..............15.9%
Carl Landry....................120...............28.3%

The quality of Wilkinson's play both offensive and defensively puts him in Brown's league, but I think the quantity (he played 83% of the team's minutes and used 24% of the possessions) gives him a slight advantage in Player of the Year discussions.

Vincent Grier, Minnesota - 288 points (1st), 35 steals (1st), 600 minutes (3rd)
- Grier presents another quality vs. quantity argument. His shooting was far from efficient (0.442 adjFG%), but by leading the league in free throws made and attempted, he produced a respectable TS% over a ton of minutes, which put him on top of the Big Ten in total scoring. That alone is not enough to be a first-teamer, but leading the league in scoring in addition to leading the conference's best defense certainly is. That defense ranks 10th nationally, according to one Ken Pomeroy.

Greg Brunner, Iowa - 254 points (6th), 47 Oreb (6th), 96 Dreb (1st), 143 reb (2nd), 22 steals (8th)
- This one is sure to cause some controversy, since this is an Iowa blog, and as the 5th selection, it drops Deron Williams to 2nd team status. The choice between these two guys was very difficult, considering how close they rate in several categories, but I wanted to be objective and not just assume everyone was right in choosing Williams. Here are some numbers I considered -

Player.................%Min......Pts......Rebs.....Asts....Stls.....adjFG%.....TS%....Off Rtg...%Poss...Floor%
Greg Brunner.......0.83......254.......143........28......22........0.525........0.570.......111........24.7......0.534
Deron Williams....0.83......169.........54......107......22........0.526........0.527.......112........22.2......0.481

These two played essentially the same number of minutes, with Williams being the league's best passer, and Brunner one of the best rebounders. Their offensive efficiencies were basically equal, except that Brunner did his with a larger number of possessions (and as his team's only post option). A common argument for Williams goes along the line of "his team isn't the same without him." Quite possibly true, but the same can just as easily be said for Brunner. Without him, Iowa has no one to score in the paint, and their rebounding takes a significant hit.

This pick was damn-near a toss-up, but Brunner's bigger offensive role and his play down the stretch give him the edge in my book. Let the mocking begin!

Second Team

Deron Williams, Illinois - 107 assists (1st), 169 points (25th), 112 off rtg (20th), 22 steals (8th), 0.403 3pt% (8th)
- If I was making six picks per team, Williams would've made the first team cut, but I only had five. Easy pick for this spot though.

Terence Dials, Ohio State - 262 points (3rd), 40 Oreb (9th), 84 Dreb (4th), 124 reb (4th), 0.571 adjFG% (14th), 0.558 floor% (11th)
- His 83% of minutes played and 25.3% of team possessions made him the anchor of what would have been a decent offense without the 25.1% of possessions and 90 off rtg of teammate Tony Stockman.

Paul Davis, Michigan State - 19.3 reb% (1st), 12.2 Oreb% (9th), 26.0 Dreb% (1st), 85 Dreb (3rd), 20 steals (13th)
- This is the part of my ballot where quality finally starts to win out over quantity. Davis only played 26 mpg in Michigan State's deep and balanced team, but his domination of the boards makes him well-deserving of this spot. To borrow an idea from the Wonk - Davis's 19.3 rebound rate (rebounds per available rebounds) was a full 2% better than Aaron Johnson in second place. If you take 2% off of Johnson's rate, you fall all the way to 9th place in the conference.

Alan Anderson, Michigan State - 130 off rtg (3rd), 0.592 floor% (5th), 0.585 adjFG% (11th), 0.649 TS% (6th), 230 points (13th), 98 rebounds (8th)
- Anderson, like Dee Brown, has superb shooting percentages, but his playing time (27.8 mpg) leaves him behind several players with better aggregate numbers. In any case, he's a borderline first-teamer, so it was nice to see the Wonk give him some recognition. (In case you didn't notice, I don't buy into the "Michigan State 'has to' have one player on the first team" argument.) That seems to be the same as saying one player from each team has to go to baseball's All-Star game, and I hate that rule. You should be selected because you were the best, not to fill some quota.

James Augustine, Illinois - 0.638 floor% (1st), 135 off rtg (2nd), 0.606 adjFG% (6th), 0.680 TS% (2nd), 41 Oreb (8th), 70 Dreb (7th), 111 Reb (7th), 16.3 Reb% (5th)
- The longer I look at Augustine's numbers, the more impressed I get. How many big guys hit 85% from the line (conf only)? He may be just a role player on offense (18.1% of poss), but he fills that role extremely well. And those rebound totals look really good for a guy who saw just 28 mpg.

Third Team

Carl Landry, Purdue - 253 points (7th), 48 Oreb (3th), 0.596 floor% (4th), 120 off rtg (9th), 0.643 adjFG% (3rd), 0.668 TS% (4th)
- This guy was a lock for my first team until he went down against Minnesota. If you pro-rate his 18.1 ppg to 16 games, he would have just edged Grier for total points (and that's counting his 1 point in 7 minutes against Minnie as a full game). His 120 off rtg looks good but not great at first glance, but considering he was forced to use over 28% of Purdue's possessions, it is excellent. The shooting percentages he maintained while being Purdue's only offensive weapon are pretty amazing.

Maurice Ager, Michigan State - 206 points (17th), 0.594 adjFG% (7th), 0.648 TS% (6th), 118 off rtg (13th)
- Another Spartan who's hard to place because of playing time. His 118 off rtg came on 25.1% of team possessions, so he was a solid contributor to the offense when he was on the court.

Adam Haluska, Iowa - 242 points (8th), 20 steals (13th), 119 off rtg (11th)
- At the risk of looking like a true homer, Haluska makes my third team. His point total is solid, and his defense was decent. The truth is, I don't see many guys left who had great Big Ten seasons. I seriously downgraded Bracey Wright and Alando Tucker for missing three games each. Vedran Vukusic seems like a reasonable pick, since he finished second in points, but I think defense matters too. At any rate, I don't expect to see Haluska finish this low next year.

D.J. White, Indiana - 0.606 Floor% (3rd), 223 points (15th), 0.603 adjFG% (6th), 0.638 TS% (7th), 121 off rtg (8th)
- This was a great start to White's Big Ten career. That 121 off rtg came on a hefty 23.7% of team possessions. He could be a first-teamer next year if he learns to rebound, assuming Bracey will share the ball (Wright led the league by using 31.3% of Hoosier possessions, slightly higher than what Pierce used during his 7 Big Ten games).

Bracey Wright, Indiana - 238 points (10th), 110 off rtg (23rd)
- I seriously considered going with Jeff Hagen in this spot, but Wright deserves some recognition for "leading" the Hoosiers to 10 conference wins, although my gut tells me their success has a lot to do with the development of their freshmen. At any rate, a 110 off rtg with over 31% of a team's possessions is no small feat, however inefficient it makes the team. It's a heck of a lot better of an offensive rating than Pierre Pierce managed with a similar number of possessions.

Honorable Mention

Jeff Hagen, Minnesota
Alando Tucker, Wisconsin
Jeff Horner, Iowa
J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State
Roger Powell, Illinois
Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern
Aaron Johnson, Penn State

Player of the Year

Luther Head - For me this award came down to Head, Brown, and Wilkinson. In fact, I find myself leaning toward Wilkinson even as I give it to Head. Wilkinson was nearly as efficient as Brown while using many more possessions. Head scored only 6 fewer points than Wilkinson. All three provided great defense. I give Head the nod over Brown because his defense rates a little better, according to the Wonk and to the Dean Oliver model. And while I generally reject this type of argument, I take Head over Wilkinson because of Illinois's success as a team.

Freshman of the Year

D.J. White - This one was pretty obvious, although Penn State's Geary Claxton did some nice things, including finishing second behind teammate Aaron Johnson in offensive rebounds, as well as finishing 8th in the league in minutes played.

Comments?
Feel free to respond - whether you agree with me or think I'm an idiot, I'd like to hear from you!
Monday, March 07, 2005
 
Horner Named Co-Player of the Week
The Big Ten named Jeff Horner its co-player of the week, along with Alan Anderson of Michigan State. Horner's numbers from the past week include -

Ohio State - 25 pts, 8 reb, 8 ast, 0 TO, game-winning FG
Michigan - 15 pts, 8 reb, 6 ast

Overlooked?
Terence Dials could make a good case for the past week. His two games -
Iowa - 29 pts, 9 reb, 12-17 FG, 40 min
Illinois - 21 pts, 8 reb, 8-13 FG, 39 min

It was Horner's second player of the week award, as he also won it back in November after torching the competition in the Maui Invitational. Good to have you back, Jeff.

Teammate Greg Brunner also won the award a few weeks ago.
 
Big Ten Stats - Finished
The final statistics for the just-finished Big Ten season have been compiled and calculated. Check them out here or through the "Big Ten Team Stats" link at the top right corner of the page. My goal is to add some Big Ten player stats and some team stats from other conferences in the near future.
 
Rebound % Update
I saw some mention of my earlier post about rebound % show up on a Wisconsin message board, so I thought it would be appropriate to update the list to include Brian Butch, who only missed my 25% of minutes played filter because he's missed several games recently. I would just reply on their board, but I was too impatient to apply for membership, and I'm assuming this will find its way there anyway.

Here's the new top ten lists among players who've been on the court for at least 10% of their team's minutes. I used season stats, as of about a week ago.

Player..........................................Total Reb%
Matt Trannon, MSU........................21.4%
Paul Davis, MSU............................18.3%
Aaron Johnson, PSU......................17.6%
Brian Butch, Wisc...........................17.2%
J'son Stamper, Minn.......................17.1%
James Augustine, Ill........................17.1%
Doug Thomas, Iowa........................16.5%
Brent Petway, Mich.........................15.7%
Pat Ewing Jr, Ind.............................15.3%
Drew Naymick, MSU.......................15.1%

Player...........................................Off Reb%
J'son Stamper, Minn......................15.0%
Aaron Johnson, PSU.....................14.2%
Brian Butch, Wisc..........................14.0%
Delco Rowley, MSU.......................13.7%
Carl Landry, Pur.............................13.6%
James Augustine, Ill.......................13.4%
Matt Trannon, MSU........................13.2%
Pat Ewing Jr., Ind..........................12.7%
Doug Thomas, Iowa......................12.5%
Paul Davis, MSU............................11.6%

Player............................................Def Reb%
Matt Trannon, MSU.........................28.8%
Paul Davis, MSU.............................24.3%
Aaron Johnson, PSU......................21.0%
James Augustine, Ill........................20.5%
Brian Butch, Wisc...........................20.3%
Doug Thomas, Iowa.......................20.3%
Drew Naymick, MSU.......................20.1%
Greg Brunner, Iowa.........................20.0%
Zach Morley, Wisc..........................19.6%
Brent Petway, Mich.........................19.6%

Butch and Trannon are each averaging 11-12 mpg. Both play in frontcourts that will lose several seniors, so I won't be at all surprised to see them near the top of the rebounding leaderboard when their minutes increase next year. Trannon's rates look very similar to North Carolina's Sean May, which is to say absurdly good, especially for a guy listed at 6'6".

If Davis, Trannon, and Naymick are all around next year, Michigan State shouldn't have much trouble dominating the Big Ten in rebounding, again. I'm no veteran observer of this conference, so someone fill me in - does Tom Izzo recruit great rebounders, or are they a product of his system/coaching?
Sunday, March 06, 2005
 
Iowa 74, Michigan 72 (OT)
What a day. After some 900 miles of travel and 36 hours with little to no sleep, I returned to Iowa City last night having witnessed Iowa's second consecutive down-to-the-wire, 2 point victory. Just 15 hours before tip off, I had no plans of making the trip to Ann Arbor, but I wouldn't have wanted this trip to come together any other way. The best road trips seem to be assembled at the last second, and this one was no exception.

The Trip
On Friday afternoon I caught word of a fellow Hawkeye fan who didn't want Wednesday's thriller against Ohio State to be the last Iowa game she saw this year. I emailed her, she called me that night, and at 3 am Saturday morning, we met for the first time. Crazy, huh? Two people willing to sit with a complete stranger for a seven hour drive (one way) just to see a basketball game.

My Road Trip Companion (RTC) took the wheel for what I figured to be the first turn in a back-and-forth driving rotation. Maybe it was the experience one gains during those sleep deprived college years, maybe it was the anxiety one feels when getting ready to watch Iowa play on the road, or maybe it was the Frappuccino (now in extra large bottles), but RTC managed to drive all the way to Ann Arbor without calling the bullpen. Outstanding.

RTC's superior driving skills got us to Crisler Arena in plenty of time to have our choice of seats. We settled on the fourth row behind the basket adjacent to Iowa's bench (check out the view here and the proximity to Coach Alford here). We arrived in early enough to catch all the pregame warmups (as seen from halfway up the stands here).

Crisler Arena is maybe the fourth D-I basketball site I've been to, and it probably ranks near the bottom of the list. I'm a big fan of sports venues with a nostalgic feel, and Crisler did have some wooden bleachers and a brick-lined concourse, but I wasn't too impressed overall. The place just felt dreary, and, with the exception of the top-notch pep band, it didn't feel like a great atmosphere for college basketball. (Though I don't blame fans for not coming to see the last home game of a disappointing team.)

The Game
Alford used his normal lineup of Brunner, Haluska, Horner, Henderson and Hansen to start the game. My immediate question, of course, was "where's Doug Thomas?" If Alford admits that Doug is the better player of late (by giving him more minutes than Hansen and by playing Doug at the end of tight games), why can't he start too? My frustration mounted when Michigan got the offensive rebound on their first missed shot. One of the Big Ten's best rebounders, Brent Petway, soon entered the game to exploit Hansen's presence. He would go on to post 10 rebounds (including 6 offensive) and a career high 16 points. Give Tommy Amaker credit for recognizing the mismatch (or at least realizing he had a good thing going) and playing Petway a conference season high 31 minutes.

If you didn't watch the game or you haven't read how the two teams arrived at the final score, catch Jon Miller's recap. By now you probably know the highlights - Jack Brownlee hit another buzzer-beating three before halftime, Jeff Horner missed a potential game-winning three as time expired in regulation, Thomas came up huge with two baskets in OT (both on offensive rebounds), and Mike Henderson sealed it with a layup with 4 seconds left.

A Few Notes
- Jeff Horner tried to fill the vacated role of Pierre Pierce by hitting only 5 of 17 shots, including 1 of 8 threes, but he could only muster 2 turnovers in 44 minutes. Seriously though, even when he wasn't able to hit his shots, Jeff was a valuable contributor. He pulled down some big rebounds and made two huge free throws to push Iowa's lead to four points with 21 seconds left in OT. My biased mind told me to give the Player of the Game to Thunder Doug, but the box score told me to go with Horner - his final line included 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.

- Iowa can barely survive an off night from one of the Big Three of Brunner, Haluska, and Horner, and two is out of the question. Given Horner's shooting woes, Iowa looked to be in trouble when Adam Haluska picked up his fourth foul with over 12 minutes to go in the second half of a tie game. The Hawks managed to keep it close while he was out, and Adam returned to provide some clutch offense, including the shot that tied the game with 45 seconds left in regulation. Haluska continued he streak of efficient scoring games, as he went 6-11 from the field and 4-4 at the line. Here's hoping the streak continues this Thursday.

- Greg Brunner contributed yet another solid performance. He seemed to be getting a touch on nearly every possession in the second half, and his constant attack on the basket led to Greg shooting nearly as many free throws (15) as Michigan did (17). It would have been nice if he had made more than 9 of them, but I'll take 24 points on 7-12 shooting any night. Like Haluska, Brunner has been a consistent contributor since Pierce left, and will need to continue that performance for Iowa to make any noise later this week.

- Exhibit 193 of why Doug deserves/needs to play more - 24 min, 3-4 FG, 8 reb, 1 foul. And this was a game in which Doug was "not feeling well," according to his suppressor, Coach Alford. (That might be too harsh, as I'll be the first to admit that Thomas often leaves Alford no choice to pull him out when he picks up his third or fourth foul in just a handful of minutes.) I see too many Iowa fans desperate for a reason to keep Doug on the bench, like "he looks lost out there defensively" or "he's out of control" or "he misses some dumb shots." Sure, he missed a dunk attempt that was probably ill-advised, but when he hits his other three shots, I find little to complain about. This is a guy, after all, who's hitting 56% of his shots on the season, and 54% in the Big Ten. And, you might recall, he is the fifth best rebounder in the conference. If I learned anything from Moneyball, it's that performance matters more than appearance, and Doug's numbers far out-weigh any of his awkward drives or over-excited miscues.

- Alford mentioned one thing in a post-game interview that I did agree with - Henderson's defense on Dion Harris was a big key to Iowa's victory. It's easy to point to the stat sheet and say that Harris's 25 points meant that someone must have played poor defense, but he had to miss 16 shots and give the ball away 6 times to get there. Mike has been a Hawkeye Hoops whipping boy for several weeks, but his five steals were worthy of some praise. Nice game, kid.

- Stat of the game - offensive rebounding. Iowa had 16 offensive boards to Michigan's 15 defensive, or an astounding 52% offensive rebound rate. Unfortunately, Michigan was nearly as good at the other end, getting 18 offensive boards to Iowa's 22 defensive, for a 45% rate. You might recall that Michigan burned Iowa to the tune of a 57% rate the first time these two teams met. Big Ten average is 32%.

- Is there anything more fun than being a fan of the away team in a game you're pretty confident of winning (other than being an Illinois fan at Carver with 4,000 of your best buddies)? I had a blast yelling myself hoarse, and the small Crisler-turnout provided plenty of opportunities for us to be heard. I also heard we were spotted on TV (that was me behind the basket with the black Iowa shirt over a gold long-sleeved T-shirt). Add in the fact that we were seated right next to what had to be the best pep band in the conference, and you had the makings of a great basketball experience. If I can just get Hail to the Victors out of my head, I'll be in good shape.
 
Son of a....
I had been counting on Illinois to knock off Ohio State, which would have given Iowa the 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and an easy opening game with Penn State. A win there would have given them Wisconsin in the second round, who they played very close on the road.

With Ohio State's 65-64 upset today, Iowa will be the 7 seed and face Purdue on Thursday, which is a big step up in competition compared to Penn State. A win there would mean a game against Michigan State on Friday, who beat Iowa (in Iowa City) with a lot more ease than Wisconsin did.

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