Bad Offense? Good Defense? Both? Neither? The Big 10 Question

Big 10 football gets correctly abused, but do the pumpkin pushers of the Midwest get the same correct treatment? Well, a 38-33 game last year doesn’t do much to help things. Bloggers call the teams boring. Pundits say there is no offense in the Big 10. Big 10 supporters counter by saying that there is just good defense. Who is correct?

To figure it out, we aren’t going to be looking at points scored or allowed per game. The former stat heavily favors teams that run a lot, while the latter unfairly punishes them. Instead, we are going to be looking at points scored per 100 possessions. By stripping out tempo, you can look at which teams were the most efficient offensively and which were the most stringent defensively. Think of it as looking at a pitcher’s FIP. You take out all the context of his defense and look at what he actually did. Ideally, it would be best to take stats from the last few years, but to save time I’m only going to be looking at 2009, as 2009 was a fairly average year for the Big 10.

For comparison’s sake, the D1 average last year was 101.9 points per 100 possessions, and the D1 average for tempo was 67 possessions per game. Settle in, this might be a print and poop.

Michigan State

Rating: 8

Offensive Efficiency (national rank) : 115 pts/100 possesions (20th)

Defensive Efficiency (rank): 88.4 pts/100 possessions (10th)

Tempo (rank): 67.3 (126th)

The Spartans were basically an average team tempo wise, while playing both good offense and good defense. The Spartans could afford to play fast (in fact, they were the fastest team in the Big 10) because they were the best team. It is a common principle that the better you are the faster you play. This is because over the course of more possessions, the more likely it is that the better team will win. Which is what makes our next team so interesting.

Indiana

Offense: 97.7 (228th)

Defense 101.8 (178th)

Tempo: 66.5 (164th)

Why Indiana played as quickly as they did last year baffles me. Part of it can be explained by their 86 possession game in their opener against Northwestern State which was clearly an outlier, but they seemed to play faster against better teams, having a 70 possession game against Ohio State, and a 72 possession game against Purdue. Tom Crean’s Marquette teams were usually in the high 60s in possessions, so perhaps he just needs some time to adjust to the Big 10 style of play. If I were him, I’d mandate that the Hoosiers not shoot until there were less than 10 seconds on the shot clock.

Purdue

Offense: 112.2 (49th)

Defense: 88.5 (16th)

Tempo: 68.3 (112th)

Purdue is another team who was good enough to run on everyone in the Big 10, but at times they seemed to get caught up in playing at the pace of their opponents. They had a 70 possession game with Missouri, a 73 possession game with Baylor, and a 63 possession game with Wisconsin. In order for them to win the conference this year, they need to not do that.

Michigan

Offense: 103.3 (148th)

Defense: 96.3 (80th)

Tempo: 66.2 (189th)

This is going to be the last team I do since I don’t want everyone to fall asleep. But, looking at Michigan’s numbers, it’s easy to see where their problems were last year. They got one third of their points from beyond the arc last year, which was 53rd nationally overall but one of the 5 highest percentages from a major conference team, yet they shot just 31.2% from beyond the arc, good for 314th nationally.

Next, I’m going to average out the offense and defense ratings for all the Big 10 teams along with their tempos, and compare them to a couple other power conferences. I chose the Pac 10 because they were the #1 ranked conference in the power rankings and I wanted to see how tempo impacted quality, and then I took the Big 12 since they were close to the Big 10 in ratings.

Big 10

Offense: 109.2

Defense: 93.8

Tempo: 63.5

Pac 10

Offense: 112.14

Defense: 94.76

Tempo: 65.9

Big 12

Offense: 110.9

Defense: 94.3

Tempo: 67.2

With the caveat that a one year sample is much too small to go on, it does appear that speeding up somewhat impacts the quality of play. The Big 12 was one of the fastest conferences in the country last year, and it regularly is one of the better conferences in the country. The Pac 10 doesn’t play much faster than the Big 10 as a whole (Washington was the 7th fastest team last year, skewing the data), but was much better, at least last year. It appears the Big 10 is what it is, a slow conference that has good offensive teams and good defensive teams, but in aggregate is the 3rd-5th best conference in the country, depending on the year.

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