Checking in on the… Big TenPosted by nvr1983 on February 3rd, 2009
Josh & Mike from Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.
It’s hard to believe, but Wisconsin now sits in 9th place in the conference after losing six games in a row. There’s a lot of hemming and hawing up in the Badger State right now with some pointing to a “recruiting hiccup”, but the truth is that the Badgers have just lost a lot of close games including two overtime contests. In fact, this team is 8 points away from being in first place in the Big Ten. They probably aren’t that good, but they’re better than 9th place as they have the league’s 2nd best offense and 6th best efficiency margin. Take them lightly at your own peril.
Illinois was blitzed by Minnesota in Williams Arena this past week, held to the team’s lowest point total in 24 years. It was a fine defensive performance by Tubby Smith‘s team, which had been struggling on the defensive end up until that point. Freshman Ralph Sampson III continues to impress, and has even outplayed the more highly-touted Delvon Roe in conference play.
Speaking of Michigan State, this team continues to behave like Team Winehouse. Although the Spartans have 5 road victories in the Big Ten, they also have two home losses – to Penn State and Northwestern (strangely enough, Tom Izzo‘s team has beaten both of these teams at their arenas). The inability to take care of business at home has opened the door for Purdue, who suddenly looks like the conference’s strongest team.
There are so many big games this week it’s hard to pick out a favorite, but Sunday’s showdown between Illinois and Purdue is our pick. Purdue will be out for some payback after the Illini upended the Boilers in West Lafayette in overtime in the first conference game of the season. That game featured a great battle between two very promising sophomores in Mike Tisdale and JaJuan Johnson, two seven-footers who might be among the best big men in the country at this time next season.
Purdue also faces off against Ohio State tonight (Tuesday) in a very important game for the Buckeyes. If they lose this one, they’re going to have to steal a road win in order to finish above .500 in the conference. And they’ve already used up their games against Indiana.
Oh, and we’ll be really interested to see the Minnesota/Michigan State game on Wednesday. The Gophers have had nearly a week off after their demolishing of Illinois – can they keep up that kind of defensive intensity against the Spartans?
A Look at the Numbers
On the whole, the freshman class isn’t getting a lot of play this season. Indeed, it’s the “Year of the Sophomore”. And why not? We already saw that last year’s freshman class was very, very special so it only makes sense that they would continue to be special for as long as they stayed in the college ranks. But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss this year’s freshmen entirely. Let’s take a look at the early candidates for Freshman of the Year in the Big Ten:
B. J. Mullens: After being in Thad Matta‘s doghouse early in the season for lazy defense and taking plays off, the freshman has…well, continued to play lazy defense and take plays off. Still he is just too good not to keep on the court. Offensively, he needs to do a better job of taking care of the ball, but he has been good enough that declaring for the NBA draft doesn’t sound as ludicrous as it did a couple months ago.
William Buford: The shooting guard largely occupied the same doghouse as Mullens, but David Lighty‘s injury and Anthony Crater’s transfer forced Buford to play out of sheer necessity. It’s a shame that Ohio State isn’t getting a lot of publicity, because this guy has been a dyanmo on offense. Although he scores a bit differently, Buford has been every bit as good this year as Eric Gordon was last year. Why is nobody talking about this kid?
Matt Gatens: There’s an easy comparison to make here, though I’m not sure that Gatens will appreciate it. Gatens looks a lot like J.J. Redick out there. For one, he’s a deadeye outside shooter who has been even better than Redick at the same stage. At 6-5 he’s got great height to shoot over his opponent, he’s lethal from the FT line, and he doesn’t make mistakes. Perhaps the conference’s most efficient player, regardless of class.
Ralph Sampson, III: The Gophers are the nation’s best shotblocking team and Sampson is a big part of that, sporting a block percentage of 8.4 (he blocks 8.4% of the opponents’ two point attempts while he’s on the floor). While he’s efficient on the offensive end, he’s not very assertive. Tubby has plenty of other weapons to go to, but that aggressiveness is what Sampson needs to develop before he’s ready to move on to the next level.
I think those four freshmen have separated themselves from the pack, but here are some quick comments about some other youngsters in the league:
Delvon Roe: Roe is an efficient player and one of the league’s best rebounders already, but he’s very timid in the offense, shooting just 13.9% of the time. There’s no way of sugarcoating this, but that’s not a good thing. Superstars don’t hide in the offense. Moreover, there’s good reason to think this isn’t going to change much over his career. Roe could end up being a slightly better version of James Augustine, but weren’t Spartan fans hoping for more than that?
Tom Pritchard: Pritchard has a high points per game average (11.9), but he’s not getting those points all that efficiently. Of course, he looks good by comparison, and we have to remember it’s harder to be efficient when your teammates aren’t as good (also known as the “Dee Brown Effect”).
Matt Roth: The Epitome of the Spot-Up Shooter. Matt Roth demonstrates how you can “break” the Offensive Rating system. Don’t get me wrong, Roth is a great shooter (52.6% in conference play from three point range), but if you put 5 Matt Roths out on the floor, that team isn’t going to run up the score on Duke or UNC. But that’s what Roth’s Offensive Rating (155.8!) says will happen. Heck, his ORtg suggests that Team Matt Roth could probably beat the Lakers by 20. This is a flaw I’ve found in Offensive Rating – take a guy who doesn’t do much but stand in the corner and wait for a catch-and-shoot opportunity, and he’ll have a huge ORtg if he makes his shots. The reason is that in addition to a high eFG, the player never turns it over, because, well, he doesn’t try to make plays other than shooting. Just goes to show that even in the new era of tempo free stats, you still have to use your eyes.