Sunday, December 4, 2016

Question of the week

Is Michigan State Fucked?

MSU has sputtered to a 5-4 start, however in many ways this is no different than past MSU seasons where they struggle early with a tough schedule. MSU has 4 losses to quality teams and none of these games were at home. They lost in the final seconds against AZ, and vs top 10 teams Kentucky, Baylor, and @Duke in games where they were ahead or competitive through half time. I'm not sure you would call any of them good losses, but they weren't embarrassing either. MSU also has some decent wins against St Johns, Wichita St, and Florida Gulf Coast (albeit in controversial fashion).

Throw in a 50 point blowout against MVST and MSU doesn't look so bad, until we get to Oral Roberts. MSU beat OR at home 80-76 in a game that was in doubt right until the end. OR is not good at 1-7. They have posted some respectable losses vs power conferences, but they also have 20+ point blowout losses to Loyola (Chi), Montana, and Oakland. Worse yet, after years of rebounding dominance, MSU was outrebounded in this game 38-37. Bridges didn't play in this game due to injury, but he will return. The same probably can't be said for Shilling or Carter, neither of  whom may play this season. Against OR, MSU's tallest starter was Goins at 6'6".

The bright side of the OR game was the other freshman who all played over 20 minutes and all had career highs in points. Ward was the go to guy and responded with career highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. Bridges will be back, and if these 3 can continue to play well, MSU can get a lot better. MSU is very young with 7 freshman and sophomores in the 11 man rotation so there is lots of room for growth. There's also a possibility Shilling joins the team sometime late, infusing some rebounding and toughness.

Most of the time when you look at a team's schedule for "key stretches" you are looking for a bunch of tough games together where a team can show what they are made of. In MSU's case I would argue the key stretch for them is now. They have 4 non-conference games at home followed by 5 winnable B1G games (home and home vs. Minn sandwiched around home games vs Rutgers, NW, and PSU). 9-0 and MSU can breath a bit easier. 6-3 and MSU is probably out of the tournament.

Unfortunately I think MSU gets things straightened out, but I'll be rooting against them all the way. What say you Torvik?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Don't worry about Michigan

There's an idea out there that Michigan would get into the playoffs ahead of Wisconsin even if Wisconsin beats Penn State tomorrow in the Big Ten Championship game and either Clemson or Washington loses.

I'm not going to get into the subjective debate about which team is actually better, or actually more deserving—that's a black hole. I'm going to tell you why I'm confident about what I think the committee would actually do.

First, the current rankings mean almost nothing. They exist to provide #content for a television show and to provide fodder for sports-talk radio and television. We know this is true because we were alive in 2014, when at this time of year TCU was slotted into the #3 spot in the rankings and Baylor (its fellow Big 12 co-champ, who beat TCU head-to-head) was ranked #6. Then, with both teams idle during championship week (more on that later) TCU magically dropped to #6 and Baylor moved up to #5.

Second, the committee chairman's comments mean nothing. He is just producing #content, the more Delphic the better. Take a look at what Jeff Long said when trying to justify TCU at #3 back in 2014. He said they were #3 because the committee felt "they were an improving team." Then they had a bye week and fell three spots. Apparently they had a setback during the bye week, stopped improving? Nope—you were just a sucker for watching that meaningless show and thinking it meant anything.

Third, we know that the only extent to which the current rankings matter is to provide narrative justifications for the changes they will make next week. What I'm talking about here is very specific: one of the few specific guidelines the committee is supposed to consider is conference championships. (Jeff Long in the clip above: "Championships are certainly what we are supposed to consider.") So what we've seen every year so far in the penultimate rankings is that teams in championship games have been placed behind similar teams that are idle. And in every case the idle team fell behind the team that went on to win its championship game:

2014
Ohio State ranked #5 behind idle #3 TCU; moves past with win.
Florida St. #4 ranked also behind idle #3 TCU; moves past with win.

2015
Stanford ranked #7 behind idle #6 Ohio St., moves ahead with win (despite having one more loss).
Michigan St. ranked #5 behind idle #3 Oklahoma, moves ahead with win.

Teams that win conference championships have always moved ahead of idle teams ranked directly ahead of them, and the penultimate rankings have always been engineered to allow for this move. That's all you need to know, in my opinion.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

UW PSU

After a bad first half, UW rallied against Minnesota to earn me the first push of the season to get to 8-3-1. UW is now 9-2-1 against the spread. They are a 2.5 point favorite against PSU and the over under is 47.5.

The Big Ten Championship has been all over the board. 2 games were decided by just 3 points, 2 games were utter blow outs, and 1 was won by a comfortable 10 point margin. The first 4 were high scoring affairs with anywhere from 58 to 101 total points scored, but last year's game was 16-13.

These 2 teams have remarkably similar resumes. UW has has a tougher strength of schedule, but PSU has the best win, over OSU. Both teams have 2 losses, but UW has 2 close losses @MI by 7 and vs OSU in overtime, while PSU lost @Pitt by 3, but got obliterated @MI 49-10. In their 6 games against common Big Ten opponents (OSU, MI, MSU, Iowa, Minn, Purdue) the point differentials are almost the same- PSU 211-146=65  UW 157-96=61. Both teams are on winning streaks with UW at 6 consecutive wins while PSU is at 8.

UW goes into this game about as healthy as they have been this year with the same O-line starters for the past few games, and Biegel, Jamerson, and Sagapolu should all play. I'm taking Bucky to cover in this one yet again.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Question of the Week

Who you got in the Big Ten-ACC challenge Torvik?

After getting whipped for a decade, the Big Ten has won 5 of the last 7 and tied the other 2. Is this the year the ACC finally breaks through and gets a win?

As in recent years the ACC seems to have an advantage in several of the top matchups, and should be heavy favorites in some others. There are more than enough games down the league to make this interesting enough to go either way, but the ACC starts out looking good.

Matchups predictions are:

Minn @ FSU- FSU
Wake Forrest @ NW- NW
Pitt @ Maryland- PITT
Georgia Tech @ PSU- PSU
Syracuse @ UW- UW
NC ST @ IL- NC ST
MSU @ Duke- Duke
Iowa @ ND- ND
VT @ MI- MI
Purdue @ Louisville- Purdue
Rutgers @ Miami- Miami
Nebraska @ Clemson- Nebraska
UNC @ Indiana- NC
Ohio St @ Virginia- Virginia

I got the ACC this year at 8-6.

Friday, November 25, 2016

OSU

2 centers, 2 point guards and a bunch of wings in between. Thad has just one senior on a team that didn't really lose anyone important from last season. That is a lot of returning minutes with a still pretty young team.

Lyle is a huge point at 6'5 and he is backed up by the smaller fellow sophomore Jackson. Lyle has the size and skills that make him a possible all Big Ten team player, but he was maddeningly inconsistent as a freshman. For example, he had 9 games in which he scored at least 18 points, but he also had 8 games in which he scored 3 points or less. He averaged a team high 4.2 assists/game, but also 3.0 turnovers/game. He shot 40% overall, and just 25% on 3s which he shot too frequently. So far this season he is taking better shots, and turning the ball over less. If that holds up as the competition gets tougher, then the Buckeyes will be in for a good season. Jackson is a JC transfer and has been more of a facilitator. He has 25 assists to just 7 turnovers, but has hit just 2 of 15 shots so far.

OSUs offense works best when they have a big man they can dump the ball to while they space the floor with 4 shooters. They have not had one since Jared Sullinger left town, but they have a nice list of highly recruited disappointments- Amir Williams, Trey McDonald, and Daniel Giddens. They currently have a 2 center rotation with junior Trevor Thompson and freshman Micah Potter. Thompson appears to be in the mold of the centers of the recent past- very big but just serviceable. Potter may develop into a post up center, but at this point in his young career he is just a space eater.

The wings are where the fun is and OSU always seems to have lots of them. This season is no different. The only senior is Loving who was kind of disappointing as he moved into a leading role on last years team that had no seniors. Perhaps the expectations on him last year were unfair, but he has regressed even more so far this year. He is certainly lower in the pecking order than juniors Tate and Bates-Diop. Those two combine to be a high flying, high energy duo that are fun to watch. They both rebound well and play defense, but are lacking in the shooting department. Williams is the final guy in the rotation, and I know he is more of a guard, but in this offense there is really not much difference. He was once considered a combo guard, but he is a black hole shooter as evidenced by his just 1 assist in 5 games.

When OSU has a center they are final 4 quality program, but without one they are just OK. Despite going 11-7 in Big Ten play last season they missed the tournament as they only had one quality win against Iowa in Big Ten play, along with some bad losses in non-conference. This team looks better and should be back in the dance. Prediction 12-6.

Northwestern

Now that the Cubs have won the World Series, will Chicago's Big Ten team become the city's most lovable losers? Maybe, but then someone in Chicago would have to actually realize they had a Big Ten Team. Northwestern has finally given hope to whoever does care, that they can make it to post season play. I am on board with this team in so far as they are an improving team and program, but this is not an NCAA team. They are pretty much a 8 man rotation, and they are still an undersized group, while not as much as in the past.

This team runs a 3 man rotation in the backcourt, with juniors McIntosh and Lindsey both playing over 30 minutes a game. Promising freshman Brown comes off the bench to give them a break. Brown is a bit of a quicker guard who is 3rd on the team in FTA despite only playing 16 minutes a game. Lindsey has good size for a 2 guard and scores in a variety of ways. He is also 2nd on the team in rebounding and assists. He has taken a jump in year 3 filling the role Demps played last year. This is McIntosh's team, as it has been pretty much since he stepped on the floor as a freshman. He is a creative scorer and distributor and is a fun player to watch. If there was any doubt whose team this was it was answered against Notre Dame. With less than a minute to go NW was down one and McIntosh was a horrific 2-17 on the day. There was no doubt the shot was going to be McIntosh's and he made it. NW lost the game, but it was a solid effort against a good team, and clear to all that McIntosh is the best player on the team.

The front court looks different with the graduation of long time center Olah, and the return of Vic Law. Olah has been replaced by sophomore Pardon, who is a smaller player but more athletic. He is more of a shot blocking threat and a solid rebounder, but he does not pose the post up threat they had with Olah. Vic law is back and leads the team in scoring, which is partly driven by shooting an unsustainable 70% from 3 on 20 attempts. Even with a reversion to the mean on that, Law is an offensive force as he also leads the team in FTA. Lumpkin is the 5th starter and is a defensive player. He gives them rebounding and defense while playing undersized at the 4 spot. Skelly and Taphorn get regular minutes off the bench to rest the other 3, but neither offers much. Both are more comfortable shooting a 3 than a layup, and are there for rest, fouls, and rebounding.

Northwestern is lacking in size and athleticism which makes the disappearance of Aaron Falzon quite puzzling. He was a major contributor as a true freshman averaging 25 minutes a game, but after spending the first few games getting minimal minutes he has been a DNP in the last 3. I don't follow NW enough to know if there is an injury, or if he is just in the doghouse. If he has fallen out of the rotation based on skill it would be a bit of a setback for a program that was bragging about him as their highest rated recruit in a long time just last year. 6'8 athletes that can shoot don't fall in Northwestern's lap very often, so if he doesn't pan out it could be trouble for them.

This team has made strides and they are no longer embarrassing to lose to. They have a rough schedule this year playing IU and Purdue 2x, and against UW, MSU, and OSU on the road only. If they get one win in those 7 games it would be a victory. I think they win a lot of games vs the rest of the league and finish 8-10, same as last year.

MSU

MSU is still a team trying to figure things out, and they probably will be for quite a while. They are currently running an 11 man rotation while Izzo decides what will work. This team was going to be a very different team than last season with the loss of Valentine, Forbes, Davis, and Costello, but injuries have thrown Izzo another curveball. While he lost size from last year, he had 2 talented freshman in Bridges and Ward coming in who would fill the minutes. With Shilling, and Goins coming back and the transfer Carter, Izzo had 5 bigs to mix and match while playing a lot of 3 guard line ups too. Then Shilling and Carter got hurt, and it's hard to say if either will play anytime soon or at all this season. MSU is now very small.

Bridges is the gem of the recruiting class and is likely a one and done guy. He has great size (6'7 230lbs) and athleticism for a 18 year old kid, and can shoot and handle the ball. If not for the injuries, Izzo would have loved to play him at the 3 and move him to the 4 in 3 guard lineups. Instead he is playing the 4 next to an undersized, and inexperienced Goins. Goins gives them little on offense, but he's a solid rebounder. It's just weird to see an MSU team with no starter over 6'7. Ward gives them size and scoring off the bench. The freshman is a load inside and is very active on the offensive end. He is averaging 10 ppg in under 15 mpg, and gets to the free throw line regularly. He uses that size to rebound well, but much like Issac Haas he just can't move that size well enough to stay out of foul trouble. Izzo has also been forced to play Ahrens and Van Dyk in the front court- 2 guys that would not be playing at all if not for injuries.

If the frontcourt seems like a mess, the backcourt is worse. At least the frontcourt has 2 talented freshman that are contributing right now. The backcourt has a mix of upperclassmen who just aren't that good, and underclassmen who aren't quite ready to be major contributors. Harris is the only returning starter from last year and while he was effective as the 3rd perimeter option behind Valentine and Forbes, he has not been effective as the lead dog. Nairn Jr has reclaimed his role as starting point guard as he leads the transition offense, but he is non-existent in the half court. In 7 games he has only 22 FG attempts and 3 free throw attempts. When you already have an offensive void with Goins, it's very hard to win with a second in the starting lineup. When the other senior Ellis III was a freshman, I thought he was an athletic kid that wasn't ready to give them more than 5-6 minutes of mediocre backup minutes. As a senior he is about the same.

There is hope for the backcourt. There are 3 highly rated recruits that all look like they will be very good players. They may improve enough by the end of the year to be getting major minutes, I just don't know if Izzo has enough time to win with them this year. McQuaid is a true sophomore shooter. In limited minutes as a freshman he shot 41% from deep. This year he has taken 31 of 36 attempts from 3. His game is limited at this point, but his shooting will space the floor for Ward and Bridges inside. Winston is the PG and he can score and create, but like most young guards his shooting needs work and he turns the ball over too much. Langford is the 2 guard who should be a great scorer, but he fouls too much and needs to be better handling the ball.

So Izzo has early season injury problems, talented players that aren't meshing, and MSU is struggling against a non-conference schedule that is among the most difficult in the nation. Sound familiar? In a normal year I would say that Izzo will find a way and finish in the top 3, like MSU always does. This year, I'm not convinced. This is still a team with a probable top 10 NBA draft pick, and some other good players, so the floor is only so low with MSU, but I think this team is closer to Michigan and OSU than it is to Indiana, Purdue and UW. I think the freshman play more and more as the season goes on, and as always this team is way better in March than in November. Prediction 11-7.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Spare me the Crean Paeans

Indiana lost to Fort Wayne (formally IPFW) last night. The game was in Fort Wayne, at the War Memorial Coliseum. So not on campus, but still a regular haunt for Fort Wayne. Close enough to count as a true road game for Indiana.

Starting with Fort Wayne's coach's magnanimous comments in the post-game interview, people have been heaping praise on Tom Crean for having the guts to schedule this game. He didn't have to do this, they say. Good on him, they say, for taking this chance.

Spare me.

Before last night, Indiana had not played a non-conference road game—other than mandatory games in the B1G/ACC challenge — since playing at Evansville on November 16, 2011. That's over five years without a voluntarily scheduled road game.  Five years: zero voluntary road games.

By comparison, Wisconsin played nine voluntary road games in that span:

12/13/2011 at Milwaukee
11/14/2012 at Florida
12/8/2012 at Marquette
11/15/2013 at Green Bay
12/6/2014 at Marquette
12/10/2014 at Milwaukee
12/22/2014 at Cal
11/29/2015 at Oklahoma
11/15/2016 at Creighton

The Badgers did it three times in a single year (2014), while Crean has now scheduled four, total, in his nine-years at Indiana: Fort Wayne, Evansville, and Kentucky in 2010 and 2008.

This is not bravery. To be fair, Crean has reason to be scared: he actually hasn't won a non-conference road game since beating NC State a couple weeks after that fateful night in Evansville in 2011:


Overall, Crean is 2-7 in non-conference road games at IU, and before last night his losses had been by 25, 18, 12, 19, 17, and 20 points.

For the record, Wisconsin is 9-8 in non-conference road games in that period, including six wins in the five years since Indiana's last win:


Monday, November 21, 2016

UW Minnesota

I am now 8-3 after UW covered again last week. UW is on quite a streak having covered 9 of 11 games this season. UW is a 14 point favorite over Minnesota and the over/under is 44.

Minnesota is kind of interesting. They have 8 wins, but only one against a team that is above .500- Colorado State who is 6-5. They have lost all 3 games they have played against quality opponents, but 2 were on the road and they lost all 3 by no more than one score. So who is Minnesota? Are they the team that just barely beat Rutgers by 2 at home, or the team that lost by 3 in overtime @PSU?

Minnesota has a stout run defense giving up just 116 yards/game on the ground. The pass defense is not as good at 235 yards/game. Minnesota is 16th in the country with 33 sacks, but against Iowa, Nebraska and PSU they totaled only 2. They also lost or tied the turnover battle in all 3 of those games.

I don't think Minnesota will win this game, but can they keep it close with solid run defense like they did against Iowa and Nebraska? 14 points would be Minnesota's biggest loss of the season x2. Minnesota is the highest scoring team in the Big Ten West at 228 points in conference play, but I don't think this holds up against the UW defense.

I am going to keep riding the hot hand. UW wins and covers.

Debacle in East Lansing

Michigan State beat Florida Gulf coast by one point last night. But game was marred on the final play—a full court pass—because the clock started when (or even before) the pass was released, rather than when it was first touched on the court of play:



Watch Bo Boroski there at the bottom of the screen. You can see him tap his belt, and start the clock as the ball is released—an inexcusable fuckup.

This GIF may be somewhat deceptive in that it looks like the TV clock started even before the actual game clock (displayed behind the basket). But even so, the game clock clearly hit zero, the backboard was lit red, and the horn started to sound, even before the pass was caught:



Upon hearing the horn, the FGCU player heaved the ball at the basket, rather than take a dribble and shoot, as he was the plan and as he should have had time to do. Instead, the desperation heave got nowhere near the rim.

Everyone watching, including the announcers, all the players, and all the officials immediately knew there had been a complete fuckup. They went to the monitor, but Boroski bizarrely decided to take a stop watch and see if the FGCU player got the shot off in time (even though he missed) and to see whether any time should be put back on the clock—even though no one kept playing because the horn had sounded and the MSU player under the basket just let the ball bounce off him and go out of bounds. You can see Eron Harris with his hands in the air celebrating while the "shot" is in the air because it was obvious the horn sounded before the shots was taken:




Amazingly, the Big Ten has issued a statement saying this was the proper procedure. This cannot be right. The clock struck zero and the horn sounded before FGCU even had the ball. This is a fixable error: since the clock struck zero and there was a horn before the ball was even in play, the play never happened. Just like if the clock had started and run out while the ref still had the ball.

But Bo Boroski was ready to call it a night. I say he should go ahead and call it a career.