Big Ten Tournament Preview & Odds

March 12th, 2009

This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:


Big Ten

The Big Ten tournament takes place in Indianapolis, with the bottom six teams playing first round games and the top 5 getting byes.









Michigan St.
























Ohio St.






Penn St.




































The thing that should immediately jump out at you in this one is Wisconsin; the Badgers have quietly moved to a position where they have a serious chance of taking the conference title, which could any of four ways. The top three of the bottom group will have a chance to cause a big stir, but I strongly expect one of the top 4 to be left standing in the end.


#1 – Michigan St. Spartans (25-5, 15-3) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.110

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)


The Spartans have been the Big Ten’s best team, but not by a wide margin; they’ve beaten most of the other main contenders, but some home losses against some of the middle-of-the-pack teams suggest some weaknesses. They don’t have the best offense or defense, but have the best combination of play on both ends in the conference.  Michigan St. has been one of the country’s best teams on the glass, and has gotten a fair amount of practice, as it doesn’t make a lot of shots itself, and stops opponents’ shots pretty well, especially from behind the arc, where it holds them under 30%.  On the offensive end, the Spartans tend to pound the ball inside, but haven’t been all that successful. Altogether, they do enough on both ends to complement their rebounding, but if they struggle on the boards they can get in trouble.


Players to watch:

6-0 SO Kalin Lucas, 14.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 4.6 APG, 44.4 eFG% - Kalin Lucas is a good player, but not the best player in the Big Ten, at least in my eyes. His shooting has been really weak, under 40% from inside the arc, but he’s partially made up for it with his 81% free-throw shooting.  He also has a good assist rate, and doesn’t turn it over much, but his numbers just aren’t what you’d expect from the conference’s best player.


6-10 SR Goran Suton, 9.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 55.4 eFG% - Suton missed a good portion of the early season, and it’s little coincidence that the Spartans weren’t great during that time. He’s not a guy who will play a big offensive role, but dominates the glass, and scores efficiently when he does get chances.



#2 – Illinois Fighting Illini (23-8, 11-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.069

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2007 (1st Round)


The Illini finished second in the conference, but only have the ranked 4th efficiency in the league, despite one of the country’s best defenses. The Illini hold opponents under 40% from the floor, including at just 30% from behind the arc, and do it while only rarely sending them to the foul line. Their problem has been one of the Big Ten’s worst offenses, a lack of offensive rebounding and being the worst team in the nation at getting to the free throw line. They make a good percentage of shots inside, but have trouble hitting threes.


Players to watch:

6-9 SO Mike Davis, 11.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 53.7 eFG% - Davis has been the Big Ten’s best rebounder, and is also a very strong inside scoring option. He’s been especially good in the last month, showing a lot more consistency both offensively and on the glass.


6-3 SO Demetri McCamey, 11.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 4.8 APG, 50.3 eFG% - McCamey leads the team in scoring, and while he isn’t a great shooter, he makes up for it with one of the country’s best assist rates.



#3 – Purdue Boilermakers (22-9, 11-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.077

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)


Purdue has been the conference’s #3 team, but is coming in to the tournament on a low, having lost three of its last four games. The Boilermakers can shoot and don’t turn it over much, but poor offensive rebounding and struggling with free throw shooting has left them with only an average offense. They’ve been better defensively, dominating the inside and getting opponents to cough the ball up fairly often.


Players to watch:

6-10 SO JaJuan Johnson, 13.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 55.8 eFG% - Johnson is the conference’s best shot-blocker, and his 56% two-point shooting makes him an effective inside scorer.


6-3 SR E’Twaun Moore, 14.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 48.8 eFG% - Moore leads the Boilermakers in scoring, but is only an average shooter, and has gone just 13-of-39 in his last three games.



#4 – Wisconsin Badgers (19-11, 10-8) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.097

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (Sweet Sixteen)


After a 3-6 start, it looked like Wisconsin was done and dusted, but it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, most of those six losses were tight finishes or went into overtime. Since then, a strong finish has moved the Badgers all the way up to the #2 rank in efficiency margin, and their potential game against Michigan St. in the semis will be really interesting. Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams have typically been strong defensively, but this year’s edition has been weak on that end, while featuring the Big Ten’s best offense. The Badgers play at a very slow pace, so their point totals don’t look great, but they turn the ball over as rarely as any team in the country, and do a good job of making threes. Their defense has suffered, compared to previous years, because it hasn’t been able to defend the inside, though it does feature spectacular defensive rebounding.


Players to watch:

6-7 SR Joe Krabbenhoft, 8.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 52.4 eFG% - Krabbenhoft isn’t a big scorer, but he’s an important player nonetheless, a solid percentage shooter who leads the team in rebounding.


6-7 SR Marcus Landry, 12.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 54.9 eFG% - Landry is the team’s top scorer, and is a 53% shooter inside the arc who can also step out to hit threes.



#5 – Ohio St. Buckeyes (20-9, 10-8) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.017

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2007 (Runner-up)


Ohio St. is rated significantly below the leading four teams in the conference, and don’t look to be major contenders. Still, the Buckeyes have been a very solid team, and could cause some trouble in the tournament. They’ve been the conference’s best shooters by a mile, making 55% of shots inside and more than 40% of their threes, and even a lot of turnovers can’t stop them from having the league’s second best offense. Ohio St. has struggled on the other end, though, as only the bottom three teams in the league have been worse defensively. Opponents have taken a lot of threes against the Buckeyes, and made a very good percentage, so any team that can put up a large number of long-distance shots can take the Buckeyes out.


Players to watch:

6-7 SO Evan Turner, 16.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 53.0 eFG% - Kalin Lucas may have won the player of the year award, but there’s little doubt in my mind that Turner has been the conference’s best player. He’s led the Buckeyes in points, rebounds, assists and steals, and has been an excellent scorer both inside and outside.


6-6 SO Jon Diebler, 11.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 60.8 eFG% - Diebler is a thee-point specialist, and has been a pretty good one, hitting 42% of his numerous long-range attempts.  



#6 – Penn St. Nittany Lions (21-10, 10-8) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.039

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2001 (Sweet Sixteen)


It’s a sign of how wild the Big Ten has been that the Nittany Lions sit as the #6 seed despite being just 9th in the conference in efficiency. They are quite fortunate to draw Indiana, as any other opening round game would have seen them as the underdog. They put up a lot of threes, and are average at making them, but are the conference’s worst shooters from inside the arc and at the free-throw line. Defensively, they’ve been similar, defending the perimeter effectively, but not doing well on the inside. Penn St. has very rarely fouled, and is strong on the defensive glass, but that hasn’t been enough to get its defense above average.


Players to watch:

5-11 SO Talor Battle, 17.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.9 APG, 49.9 eFG% - The conference’s leading scorer, Battle is an average shooter, but takes a lot of shots, and is an excellent ball control guard, putting up a lot of assists while rarely turning it over.


6-5 SR Jamelle Cornley, 13.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 53.1 eFG% - Cornley is the Lions’ leading rebounder, and a solid inside scorer, but his 52% free-throw shooting is a major weakness.



#7 – Michigan Wolverines (19-12, 9-9) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.018

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1998 (2nd Round)


Michigan has a couple of very good wins over quality teams in Duke and UCLA, but in conference play has been up and down, getting some solid wins but also taking some weaker losses. John Beilien has installed his distinctive system, and has had mild success, getting the team to average in the conference at both ends of the floor. The Wolverines put up a lot of threes, but haven’t hit a great percentage; when they do go inside, it’s been effective. They don’t turn it over much, but also get relatively few offensive rebounds. They’ve been the exact opposite defensively, holding opponents well on the outside, but the conference’s worst team inside the arc.


Players to watch:

6-5 SO Manny Harris, 17.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, 46.9 eFG% - Harris basically does everything for the Wolverines and is the key to any success they’ll have in the postseason. He’s not a great shooter, but is deadly at the free-throw line, where he often appears, and is also a very good rebounder and distributor.


6-8 JR DeShawn Sims, 15.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 53.6 eFG% - The few things Harris doesn’t do, Sims does, one of the conference’s best rebounders and an excellent inside scorer. He has committed just 38 turnovers all year, including just seven since the start of February, and good things tend to happen when he gets the ball.



#8 –Minnesota Golden Gophers (21-9, 9-9) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.004

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2005 (1st Round)


After a strong start, Minnesota has won just three of its last nine, and fallen a long way in the standings. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, though, as the Gophers have been the best team in EM of the bottom six. They’ve been excellent defending the inside, holding opponents to just 43%, and are the best shot-blocking team in the country. While they are weaker at defending threes, their ability to force turnovers helps make up for that. Minnesota’s offense has been the worst in the Big Ten outside of Indiana, struggling to hit three-pointers and turning the ball over a lot.


Players to watch:

6-7 JR Damian Johnson, 9.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 2.1 BPG, 50.0 eFG% - Johnson doesn’t have a huge offensive role, but his high rates in both key defensive statistics make him one of the conference’s elite defenders, and he tends to do a decent job when he gets offensive chances.


6-0 JR Lawrence Westbrook, 12.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 49.8 eFG% - Westbrook takes the majority of Minnesota’s shots and hits a good percentage of them, but when he isn’t scoring, as he wasn’t for much of February, he doesn’t do much else in the box-score.




#9 – Northwestern Wildcats (17-12, 8-10) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.030

Last NCAA Tournament bid: None


The only power conference team never to have made the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats will need a long run to get there this year, but having beaten most of the top teams in the conference at least once after an 0-4 start, they have at least a thin sliver of hope. They are terrible rebounders, among the country’s worst at both ends, but excel in turnover margin, committing few and forcing more than any team in the Big Ten. Northwestern takes a lot of threes, and hits a very good 37% of them, which helps it to have one of the conference’s better offenses. Unfortunately, it allows opponents to shoot about the same percentage behind the arc, and this inability to stop opponents has been its biggest problem.


Players to watch:

6-3 SR Craig Moore, 14.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 60.1 eFG% - Moore takes the vast majority of his shots from three, hitting 42% of them, and has been one of the conference’s most efficient guards.


6-8 JR Kevin Coble, 15.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 53.1 eFG% - Coble is Northwestern’s primary inside option, but still takes a lot of threes, and while his team lead in rebounding isn’t too impressive, he is great at holding on to the ball.



#10 –Iowa Hawkeyes (15-16, 5-13) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.082

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (1st Round)


Iowa has been well behind the middle tier of teams, and while it will have a shot against Michigan, it’s unlikely to get any further than that . The Hawkeyes play at the slowest pace in a fairly slow conference, and put up a higher percentage of threes than either Michigan or Northwestern. They are decent at making shots, but don’t make enough to cover for poor rebounding and problems with turnovers. The story is similar on the other end, as they defend shots decently, but allow opponents too many chances.


Players to watch:

6-5 FR Matt Gatens, 11.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 54.0 eFG% - Gatens is a great complimentary scorer, an excellent shooter from three who rarely turns the ball over. His 90% from the free-throw line is one of the best marks in the conference.


6-6 SO Jake Kelly, 11.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 53.4 eFG% - Kelly has been a different player over the last three weeks, averaging more than 20 points in his last seven games. He’s a good inside scorer who can also hit the outside shot.



#11 –Indiana Hoosiers (6-24, 1-17) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.196

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)


A program in a major state of renovation, Indiana was fortunate to get a conference win, beating Iowa at home, but shouldn’t expect another in the tournament, as the worst team in the conference on both ends of the floor. The Hoosiers are decent rebounders, and have been above average on threes in conference play, but in every other area sit near or at the bottom of the conference, and shouldn’t cause a whole lot of trouble to opponents. However, they did play a close game with Penn St., their first round opponent, so a huge upset could be in the making.


Players to watch:

6-9 FR Tom Pritchard, 9.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 49.8 eFG% - Pritchard’s offense has dried up in conference play, but he’s been a pretty solid freshman, a strong rebounder who shoots a decent percentage.  


6-2 JR Devan Dumes, 12.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 52.3 eFG% - Dumes has been Indiana’s best three-point shooter, and its top scorer, but has been up and down over the conference season, and is coming in on more of a down.


My statistical all-Big 10 team:

Michigan SO G Manny Harris, 17.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, 46.9 eFG%

Penn St. SO G Talor Battle, 17.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.9 APG, 49.9 eFG%

Ohio St. SO G/F Evan Turner, 16.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 53.0 eFG%

Michigan JR F DeShawn Sims, 15.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 53.6 eFG%

Illinois SO F Mike Davis, 11.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 53.7 eFG%


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