Checking in on the… Big Ten

Posted by nvr1983 on January 20th, 2009

Josh & Mike from Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.

Looking Back
In a highly competitive Big Ten, Michigan State has now managed to achieve a bit of separation. It wasn’t easy – it took a closer-than-expected road win against Penn State and a comeback from a 9-point second half deficit against Illinois – but the Spartans remain the only squad without a conference defeat and are clearly the team to beat after Purdue‘s early stumbles.

Behind Michigan State, there are five teams with 2 conference losses, each with realistic tourney hopes. Minnesota got a huge victory at Wisconsin, a feat that will be difficult for other teams to match. The Gophers followed that up with a loss at Northwestern illustrating how tough it is to consistently win on the road in the Big Ten.

It appears that Ohio State‘s romps over Houston Baptist and Indiana have allowed the Buckeyes to right the ship – their defense, which had been MIA for several weeks, held Michigan to their 4th worst offensive efficiency of the season. The three teams that had better defensive games against Michigan? UCLA, Duke, and Illinois. An Ohio State squad playing defense like that can be a major factor in the Big Ten race.

Speaking of Michigan, they have lost two straight and now sit at 3-3 in the conference. The Wolverines really need to stop the bleeding with a win at Penn State, which may not be as easy as it sounds.

Meanwhile, Indiana missed one of their better shots at a conference victory, falling by 10 at home to Penn State. It’s looking increasingly possible that the Hoosiers won’t win a single Big Ten game – the conference hasn’t had a winless team since Northwestern in 1999-2000. Indiana does still host Iowa and Northwestern, although both of those teams look head and shoulders above Indiana.

Looking Ahead
This is an especially big week for surprising Illinois, who just re-entered the Top 25 after a two-season absence. The Illini have home games against fellow 2-loss teams Ohio State and Wisconsin this week. Going 2-0 would solidify the Illini’s place as Big Ten contender, while a loss (or two) would pull them back to the pack.

Other games of note
Purdue @ Minnesota, Thursday: For the Gophers, this is the start of a tough 5-game stretch in which only one game (at Indiana) looks like a safe win. Purdue, meanwhile, starts a stretch with 4 of the 5 games on the road against the upper half of the conference. Interestingly, this is the only time these two teams will meet in the regular season.

Michigan State @ Ohio State, Sunday: Another chance for the Buckeyes to show if their elite defense is back as they face the Big Ten’s best offense.

Purdue @ Wisconsin, Tuesday: Minnesota managed to win in Madison. Can Purdue keep pace?

A Look at the Numbers
At Big Ten Geeks, we have talked before about Illinois’ interesting offensive identity. They seem to be a perimeter-oriented team, but without the perimeter offense. Statistically, they look just like a perimeter-oriented team – low TO%, few offensive rebounds, low free throw rate – with one glaring difference – they take very few threes. Instead, the Illini rely on lots of mid-range jumpers to drive their offense. Generally, this isn’t a good strategy, but it has worked marvelously for the Illini. I wanted to see just how rare it was for a team to put a good offense on the floor with this type of profile. I ran a filter with these criteria:

* Ranked 200th or worse nationally in 3-pointers taken per FG attempt
* Ranked 200th or worse nationally in offensive rebounding percentage

I took the remaining teams and sorted them by adjusted offensive efficiency. Here are the best offenses that fit this criteria (with their national offensive rank, through games of Jan. 14):

33) Illinois
85) Siena
100) Vermont

Those are the only three teams in the nation that manage to put top-100 offenses on the floor while not taking threes or grabbing offensive rebounds.

It’s interesting to see how each team compensates for their lack of threes and offensive rebounds. Illinois shoots it extremely well, Siena takes great care of the ball, and Vermont gets tons of free throws. This whole exercise illustrates that, while common statistical profiles can be insightful, there is indeed more than one way to skin a cat… or in this case, field an efficient offense.

nvr1983 (1397 Posts)

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