Checking in on the… Big TenPosted by rtmsf on February 11th, 2009
Josh & Mike of Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.
Amazing what can change in a week. Just a week ago, we were detailing how Michigan State’s armor was beginning to crack, and how Purdue seemed poised to jump through that door of opportunity. Consider that door to be nearly closed. Purdue has since lost two games in the interim, including an 18 point pounding in Champaign. Meanwhile, the Spartans were inflicting some pain of their own with a pair of 25+ point wins over Minnesota and Indiana. By efficiency margin, Michigan State has pulled away from the rest of the conference, and is actually starting to look like a Final Four contender. But they still have two showdowns against the Boilers to get through (the first coming after a week off after last night’s matchup against Michigan).
The other team of the week is Wisconsin, who won at Penn State and against Illinois at home to pull themselves out of the basement in the Big Ten. They’re not quite to .500 yet in conference play, but this is a better team than their record. Keep in mind, they still have two games against Indiana left on the schedule.
Oh yeah, speaking of those Hoosiers, they finally got their first win in the Big Ten! So it looks like Northwestern won’t be getting any company in the record books this season.
Michigan is in a pretty tough spot these days. Even though they’ve beaten two top 10 teams this season (and nearly took down their third against UConn this past weekend), they sit at 5-6 in conference play with a lot of work to do to get into the NCAA Tournament. Consider, this team has zero remaining games against Indiana. They have 3 home games left – against Michigan State (which is tonight), Purdue, and Minnesota. There’s a very good chance they win less than 2 games from here on out. If that happens, they will have to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament to even get on the bubble, let alone get off of it. Slaying Goliath is great, but it’s not as important as the 18 conference games. It’s no fun to be staring down a “must win” against the Spartans as they are hitting their stride.
Two other games stand out as must see events. First, Wisconsin hosts Ohio State on Saturday, as well as ESPN’s Gameday crew. The Kohl Center has lost some of its luster this season (three home losses this season), but it’s still not exactly an easy venue to win at. If Ohio State wins this one, they’re well-positioned to lock up a #2 seed in the conference tournament. But that won’t be easy – the numbers say Wisconsin is the third best team in the conference behind MSU and Illinois.
The other must-see event is of special importance to Hoosier fans. Folks in Indiana weren’t sure what exactly to expect out of this year’s team. Frankly, neither were we – there wasn’t a lot of precedent for that kind of overhaul. But even the most pessimistic of IU followers had two goals for this season – win a Big Ten game, and beat Illinois. After the victory over Iowa, they can check off the first, and this Sunday they’ll get a shot at the latter. But will Devan Dumes play? Without their best player, Indiana doesn’t seem to stand much of a chance. Stay tuned…
A Look at the Numbers
I’ll admit, the scoring habits of a 6-16 team probably isn’t the most interesting topic, but someone needs to put us in touch with Tom Crean, because there’s some low-hanging fruit here. The undersized Hoosiers are, predictably, struggling to score from 2 point range, shooting just 41.9% in conference play. However, led by Dumes and freshman Matt Roth, IU is lighting the nets on fire from 3, shooting 40.4% from that range. And as just about everyone is aware, Indiana has a serious turnover problem, one that hasn’t gone away in conference play as the team has coughed it up on over a quarter of their possessions.
There’s an obvious quick fix here – shoot more 3s. Indiana is, despite its accuracy, loath to take outside shots, devoting just 32.5% of their field goal attempts to three pointers. But when the two pointers aren’t coming any easier, that strategy has to be questioned. Plus, shooting more threes should have the added benefit of reducing turnovers, which is the biggest issue with IU’s offense.
Are there trade-offs to this strategy? Sure – the Hoosiers will almost surely grab fewer offensive rebounds this way. But so what? This isn’t a great offensive rebounding team anyways. They also won’t get to the line as much, but again, who cares – this isn’t a strength. And it wouldn’t be the first time Tom Crean has coached a perimeter oriented team: back in 04-05, Marquette devoted 40% of its shots to 3s (with Travis Diener and Steve Novak suiting up, that sounds like a good plan). Crean scaled back this attack after recruiting guards that were more adept at taking it to the rack rather than shooting from the outside (Jerel McNeal’s sudden shooting touch notwithstanding), but it’s time for him to adapt again – Indiana is overmatched in a lot of areas, but three point shooting isn’t one of them.