John Gasaway is a writer for Basketball Prospectus and is a co-author of the upcoming book, The Basketball Prospectus 2010 Major-Conference Preview. He previously wrote for the Big Ten Wonk. We recently exchanged e-mails with John to help us preview the Big Ten and Indiana because, well, he’s smarter than us. The interview is lengthy, so we’ve split it into two parts. Today: Indiana and The Basketball Prospectus 2010 Major-Conference Preview.
Inside the Hall: Indiana is coming off a tough season and is still in the midst of rebuilding. They were nearly last in the country in turnovers a season ago, which I assume you believe will improve this season because it really can’t get worse. What measurable statistics are most important for Indiana to become a competitive team in a seemingly brutal conference?
JG: Measurable statistic? Points! For and against! No, just kidding. You’re asking about the stats that precede that one, and rightfully so.
Fair enough, try this on for size: If Indiana had been playing in some kind of weird parallel hoops universe last year where turnovers were forbidden and each team’s offense was judged simply according to how well they shoot, hit the offensive glass, and make free throws, your scrappy Hoosiers, even as young as they were, would have ranked a somewhat respectable seventh in the conference in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play (instead of 11th, which is where they really came out). So, yeah, the turnovers were huge.
Moving to defense we find that IU ranked 11th there as well, allowing Big Ten opponents to score 1.12 points per trip. That’s bad, sure, but it’s not catastrophic. In recent years teams like Northwestern and Penn State have on occasion done way worse than that. So there’s hope. In fact the Hoosiers were actually normal when it came to rebounding opponents’ misses–it’s just that, uh, there were no misses. Opponents lit it up from everywhere. This year’s deeper and taller roster should help make that a thing of the past.
John Gasaway is a writer for Basketball Prospectus and is a co-author of the upcoming book, The Basketball Prospectus 2010 Major-Conference Preview. He previously wrote for the Big Ten Wonk. We recently exchanged e-mails with John to help us preview the Big Ten and Indiana because, well, he’s smarter than us. The interview is lengthy, so we’ve split it into two parts. Today: the Big Ten and a little national perspective.
Inside the Hall: The Big Ten is once again being mentioned among the top conferences in the country. From top to bottom, where does the Big Ten stand amongst the major conferences?
John Gasaway: It stands rather confidently in a clean well-lighted place at the center of the room where the league is respected but, alas, not terribly feared. The confidence comes from the exceedingly rare spectacle of a league returning its entire all-conference team (Kalin Lucas, Evan Turner, Manny Harris, Talor Battle, and JaJuan Johnson), not to mention last year’s preseason POY (Robbie Hummel).
On the other hand the Big Ten doesn’t terrify the other major conferences unduly because, even with all those returnees, our beloved glacially-paced league isn’t exactly brimming with lottery picks or even first-rounders. Turner, obviously, is going to be putting on a ball cap and shaking David Stern’s hand very soon here, and assuming Johnson and Mike Davis start consuming protein shakes in bulk I’ve seen them listed on some mocks as late first-rounders for 2011. But Turner notwithstanding there are no Walls or Warrens or Aldriches in the league right now. None of which precludes a Final Four run by a Big Ten team or two this year, of course.
Despite a respectful tussle with John Gasaway (aka Big Ten Wonk) in the offseason, all three of us love his work, both in his old format at the Wonk and at his new location, Basketball Prospectus. He and Ken Pomeroy and the rest of the crew over there are on the leading edge of basketball analysis, and are the perfect complement to any fan’s understanding of the game. If you’re not reading, you should be. Pronto.
What a shame that this is what we’re talking about in mid-February 2008 under the heading of “Indiana basketball.” What a shame that we’re not talking about the current Indiana team, which features the best two players to wear the crimson and cream in more than a decade. Both D.J. White and Eric Gordon are having outstanding seasons. Both are great stories. White arrived in Bloomington as a skinny work in progress and has transcended both injuries and three careers’ worth of coaching turmoil to become far and away the best player in the Big Ten, an insatiable beast on the defensive glass and a lethal scoring threat in the low post. Gordon is the answer to an Indiana fan’s wildest and most improbable dream: an Indianapolis kid who carries himself like a true Hoosier (steady, unassuming, fine with his name not being on the jersey), yet is blessed with a level of talent not seen in Bloomington since the days of Isiah Thomas. Today they’re both afterthoughts. What a shame.
If that doesn’t describe just how you’ve felt the past 24 hours — especially as you tuned in last night and realized the game felt suddenly empty — then you’re not an IU fan. Sigh. This blows.
John Gasaway, formerly of Big Ten Wonk, has shifted over to Basketball Prospectus this season and yesterday offered his breakdown of the Hoosiers and the Big Ten. Gasaway had plenty of praise for our Hoosiers, but ultimately picked them to finish third in the conference behind Michigan State and Wisconsin.
While I agree with a lot of what Gasaway offered up, some of his comments regarding Eric Gordon and what he’ll bring to Assembly Hall were hard to agree with.
Case in point:
Gordon is widely assumed to be on track for a one-and-done career in Bloomington. If this is indeed the case, he’ll be doing well during his brief stint in an IU uniform to perform at the level set by Wilmont last season. No one paid much attention, but Wilmont took a lot of shots and had an outstanding year in 2007. In fact, the even more impressive year that Drew Neitzel had on offense for Michigan State last season could be summarized as simply “Wilmont plus assists.” This year Wilmont’s shots will fall to Gordon; Hoosier fans should be thrilled if Gordon hits about 40 percent of his threes and takes obsessively good care of the ball, as did Wilmont. Same performance, way more hype–it could happen.
No offense to Wilmont, but I disagree that EJ will be doing well to “perform at the level set by Wilmont last season.” While Rod had a stellar season at 12.6 ppg, he was mainly a perimeter threat. The fact that he only got to the foul line 53 times tells you that he really never attacked the basket consistently. For a point of reference, Joey Shaw shot 62 free throws.
Gasaway is failing to recognize perhaps the most important piece of Gordon’s game: His ability to get into the lane and score the basketball. This really makes me wonder: How closely has Gasaway followed Gordon’s game? Has he ever seen him play? My guess would be probably not. Expect IU’s free throw attempts to go way up this season. These attempts will not just come from Gordon, but from other players who will get opportunities from defenders collapsing due to his penetration. Not to mention all of the open jump shots created on the perimeter when Gordon kicks it out.
So, am I off base here? Should we really not expect much more than a Wilmontesque performance from our boy this season? What do you say, ITH faithful…