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March 9, 2011
Making their Points
Big Ten Tournament

by John Gasaway


2011 Big Ten Tournament
March 10-13
Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Bracket (pdf)

Log5 odds by Ken Pomeroy

Seed                   Qtrs   Semis   Final   Champ
 1 Ohio St.            100    91.8    76.9    54.5
 2 Purdue              100    83.6    50.9    21.4
 3 Wisconsin           100    81.4    40.7    15.2
 5 Illinois            100    66.6    15.6     5.9
 4 Michigan            100    33.4     4.8     1.1
 7 Michigan St.       68.2    13.2     3.9     0.7
 6 Penn St.           63.9    13.8     3.2     0.5
 9 Minnesota          54.4     4.8     1.6     0.3
 8 Northwestern       45.6     3.4     1.0     0.2
11 Indiana            36.1     4.9     0.7     0.08
10 Iowa               31.8     3.2     0.5     0.05

If Nebraska wants to make a good first impression when they join the Big Ten next season, the Huskers would be well advised to start scoring more points. In their last season in the Big 12 Doc Sadler's team scored more or less a point per trip. That might be alright in the conference called the "Big 12" that's going to have ten teams next year, but in the conference called the "Big Ten" that's going to have 12 teams next year that level of scoring is simply unacceptable.

Oh, sure, Big Ten coaches still talk a good game where defense is concerned. Fundamentals, effort, desire, blah, blah, blah. Don't believe it. With the outstanding exception of Purdue, the league doesn't really do D anymore, at least not like it used to. The sassy new-look Big Ten is all about underwhelming logos, curious division names, and 14-of-15 shooting on threes.

This year the average Big Ten team scored 1.07 points on each possession in conference play. The fact that the league averaged just 62 possessions per 40 minutes kept the point totals pretty low, but make no mistake: these teams can score, particularly Ohio State, Wisconsin, and the aforementioned Boilermakers. Fans at Conseco this week should prepare themselves for plenty of points, few turnovers, and single-digits on the shot clock.

Behold the league's last 11-team field, from most- to least-likely to capture the automatic bid:

Ohio State (29-2, 16-2)
The Buckeyes are Exhibit A in the Big Ten's move toward better basketball through scoring. On paper this defense should be getting yelled at by Thad Matta. Opponents make shots! Especially twos! No matter. When your team makes 52 percent of its own twos and (take a deep breath) 45 percent of its threes, you don't sweat the small stuff like made "shots" by the other "team." Jon Diebler rates out as the single most efficient offensive player in the nation, extending an incredible streak for Big Ten role players who score three points each time they touch the ball. (Next year: Jordan Hulls!) Diebler tends to get open looks in part because he has a teammate in the paint who's pretty good. In a year when the Big Ten's top three was much better than its bottom eight, the Buckeyes have a very accommodating bracket as the top seed. The best team Ohio State can encounter before Sunday is Illinois.

Purdue (25-6, 14-4)
The Boilermakers' defense is better, relative to the conference average, than Ohio State's offense. Matt Painter is doggedly keeping D alive in West Lafayette, and it's a sight to behold. It's a rare team that combines: 1) FG defense, 2) opponent turnovers, and 3) few fouls. Nos. 1 and 2 usually don't go together, and 2 and 3 are usually downright hostile to each other. But Painter has squared this circle, and as a result his team is more than capable of knocking off the Buckeyes. E'Twaun Moore is back to shooting threes the way he did when he was a freshman (when the line was a foot closer). This season Moore's made 41 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Meanwhile JaJuan Johnson's doing his best Hansbrough imitation (Tyler, not Ben): the senior draws nearly six fouls per 40 minutes and shoots 81 percent at the line. This prowess on both sides of the ball is good news for Purdue fans, because the Boilers have been done no favors in this bracket. Their first opponent will be the winner of Iowa-Michigan State, and one of those teams was widely held to be pretty good before the season started. Win that game and Painter's team will likely run into a certain group from Madison. No, not Democratic senators on the lam.....

Wisconsin (23-7, 13-5)
Not since Illinois in 2005 have we seen a Big Ten team score points the way Wisconsin did this year. The Badgers averaged 1.19 points per trip in conference play, and the fact that they gave the ball away on just 11 percent of their trips helped that incredible number along. Then again on Big Ten possessions where they didn't commit a TO, Bo Ryan's team averaged 1.34 points, a number topped only by Ohio State. In other words, Wisconsin never turns the ball over and they made 38 percent of their threes in Big Ten play. And, at the risk of oversimplifying, that's your perimeter-oriented Badgers right there: everything else about this team, up to and especially its D, is normal. Jordan Taylor, Jon Leuer, and Keaton Nankivil simply make enough threes to win. Note however the Badgers are the 3-seed in this bracket, and in past years that's been a tough gig at the Big Ten tournament. The 3's the very last team to take the floor, and they do so late Friday night against an opponent that's already won a game (in Wisconsin's case either Penn State or Indiana). It's a scenario ripe with "stun" possibilities: four out of the last five years the 3-seed's lost in the quarterfinals.

Illinois (19-12, 9-9)
Five returning starters and the arrival of a McDonald's All-American were supposed to sum to more than outscoring the conference by 0.05 points per trip, but it didn't work out that way in Champaign this season. I realize this goes against the grain of this year's Big Ten, but you can blame the Illinois offense for this state of affairs. Year after patient ball-reversal year you can set your watch by a total lack of Illini free throw attempts and a small number of offensive boards. Fine. But when those two hardy perennials were combined with this season's high (for the Big Ten) turnover rate, the result was average offense -- even with Demetri McCamey hitting 46 percent of his threes. Bruce Weber's team hasn't experienced the heady thrill of a second consecutive win since January 6. Facing the Illini for the likely eventuality of getting squished by Ohio State will be a certain group from Ann Arbor. No, not Ghostly International....

Michigan (19-12, 9-9)
Being the curious spectator that I am, for years I've waited for John Beilein to have players that can get the ball into the basket in an unglamorous but effective Mike Gansey kind of way. This year it happened, courtesy of Tim Hardaway, Darius Morris, and Jordan Morgan. In Big Ten play the Wolverines made 52 percent of their twos and 39 percent of their threes, numbers the Maize Rage could only dream of during the Manny Harris years of many rim-dents. So how come this offense couldn't score points at a level equal to the Big Ten average? For one thing, there were no second shots for UM this season. That's largely a stylistic preference, of course, but preferences carried to an extreme can be harmful: Northwestern had a higher in-conference offensive rebounding percentage than Michigan.

Michigan State (17-13, 9-9)
The Spartans suffered a total offensive collapse this year, and the longer the season goes on the worse the collapse gets. Over the back half of the Big Ten season Tom Izzo's team scored just 0.98 points per trip. Even MSU's vaunted offensive rebounding took a hit (Minnesota leads the league in this department). For the year the big three of Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green, and Durrell Summers is shooting a combined 45 percent on their twos. (Last year: 52 percent.) Having entered the season ranked No. 2 nationally, the Spartans did not expect to be playing (Iowa) on Thursday at the Big Ten tournament. No one else expected it either.

Penn State (16-13, 9-9)
In a league that shot the ball very well, Talor Battle and company reigned supreme as the Big Ten's best two-point shooting team in conference play. Surprised? Well, you should be. All that accuracy inside the arc couldn't get the Nittany Lions any wins outside of Bryce-Jordan Arena between December 27 (Indiana) and February 24 (Northwestern). On the other hand Ed DeChellis' team did end the year with a win at Minnesota. They face the 11-seed (the Hoosiers) in their opening game, and if all goes well there they'll have the "Curse of the 3-Seeds!" wind at their backs in their game against Wisconsin. Who knows.

Minnesota (17-13, 6-12)
On a possession-by-possession basis the Gophers were the functional equivalent of Michigan State in Big Ten play, but all it got Tubby Smith's team was a 6-12 record. Part of the problem may have been that Minnesota was also the qualitative equivalent of MSU: like Izzo's team, the Gophers had trouble scoring points. Note for example that Smith's team came in under the Mendoza line, hitting 29.6 percent of their threes against the Big Ten. On a team with the Hoffarber arrow in its quiver that should be impossible, but it happened.

Northwestern (17-12, 7-11)
Another year of incredible three-point shooting from John Shurna and Michael Thompson (43 percent as a duo) yielded little in the way of results in Evanston this season because the Wildcats are powerless to stop opposing Big Ten offenses. In 16 of 18 games they allowed the other team to score more than a point per trip, and in half their conference games the opponent scored 1.15 or better. So, yeah, there's some irresistible-force/immovable-object justice in the fact that the Cats have been paired with Minnesota on Thursday. The Gopher offense is happy to see this defense, and vice versa.

Iowa (11-19, 4-14)
The Hawkeyes are in year 1 of a rebuild under new man Fran McCaffery, and they took care of the Obligatory Stylistic Shift with admirable forthrightness. Formerly a deliberate bunch, even by Big Ten standards, Iowa's now the fastest-paced team in the conference, averaging 65 trips per 40 minutes. Also new, different, and McCaffery-engineered: freshman Melsahn Basabe. The young lad can certainly fill a box score. Alas, the one thing that didn't change from coach to coach was a prevalence of turnovers.

Indiana (12-19, 3-15)
In recent times the fact that the Big Ten tournament's being held in Indianapolis has been held up annually as a beacon of hope for a hitherto struggling Indiana team. The only problem there being since the tournament relocated to Conseco in 2008, the Hoosiers have gone 0-3. Call it the curse of Hoffarber.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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