staff, December 7, 2011

It's been a quiet week so far in Big Ten land, but we did get two interesting games last night. Let's review the light slate, as well as a couple noteworthy performers to this point of the season.

The Iowa Hawkeyes got off to a near-perfect start in their trip to Northern Iowa. Fran McCaffery's team jumped out to a 10-0 lead after five possessions, forcing Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson to use a timeout even before the first media break. It looked like the Hawkeyes had truly come to play, and a road win over a good Panthers squad would certainly have put the wind back into the team's sails.

From that point forward, Iowa was dominated. Look at the efficiencies that followed that fantastic start:

Iowa Eff. UNI Eff.
First five possessions 2.00 0.00
Next 60 possessions 0.83 1.33

Jacobson clearly got his team's attention. All told, this was the highest efficiency surrendered by Iowa all season, yet another data point suggesting that the solid defense of 2010-11 is gone. Statistically, the biggest change has been in defending the three-point shot:

Opponent 3pt%
Iowa 2010-11 33.2
Iowa 2011-12 37.3

True to this trend, Northern Iowa scorched the nets on 11 of 21 shooting from three. If Iowa is to salvage some measure of respectability this season, McCaffery will have to figure out how to put at end to that.

Elsewhere, the new look Minnesota Golden Gophers struggled to a victory over lowly Appalachian State. This was a tie game with five minutes remaining, but a timely run allowed Tubby Smith's team to pull away.

Minnesota's Tubby Smith

As has been the case in all three of Minnesota's post-Mbakwe games, the pace was very slow, so the 70-56 final masks the poor defense displayed by the Gophers. In fact, before the game-clinching finish, Appalachian State was scoring over a point per trip. What saved Minnesota was their efficiency at the offensive end, where second chances and 57 percent shooting on twos produced a sparkling 1.20 points per possession. Rodney Williams epitomized this attack, as he finished with 18 points and four offensive boards.

With those two games comprising the week's schedule thus far, let's take some time to review a couple surprising performers:

Tim Frazier has been excellent as Penn State's new Mr. Everything. The junior guard has taken to his new role better than anyone could have dreamed. Normally you'd expect struggles when a pass-first point guard loses his teammates that were worth passing to, but Frazier's assist rate has exploded. Furthermore, he's managed to more than double his shot diet while actually improving his accuracy. Look at the unreal jumps Frazier has made from last season:

ORtg Shot% Poss% 2pt FG% 3pt FG% FTR Ast% TO%
Tim Frazier, 2010-11 101 12 18 45 34 49 33 29
Tim Frazier, 2011-12 109 28 34 47 41 55 55 20

For that matter, check out how his stats compare to Talor Battle's final season:

ORtg Shot% Poss% 2pt FG% 3pt FG% FTR Ast% TO%
Talor Battle, 2010-11 113 32 28 49 37 33 20 12
Tim Frazier, 2011-12 109 28 34 47 41 55 55 20

Obviously, the huge caveat here is that the 2010-11 numbers–for both Frazier and Battle–were put up against one of the nation's toughest schedules. So far this season, Frazier has faced a relatively weak slate, so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain this level of efficiency into conference play. Regardless, the athletic junior is well ahead of where this Geek expected him to be.

Ben Brust has been a revelation at shooting guard for Wisconsin. After barely playing as a freshman, he's now the most aggressive shot-taker on what appears to be one the nation's best teams. You read that right–Ben Brust is taking a higher shot diet than Jordan Taylor. Before the season started, I'd have said that's a bad sign for the Badgers, but you can't argue with the accuracy Brust is displaying (54 percent on twos, 43 percent on threes). As with Frazier, we must maintain some healthy skepticism given the early schedule, but Brust has taken to Bo Ryan's offense like a honey badger to a cobra.

Tonight, both Frazier and Brust will be in action as six conference members host what mostly should be easy home tuneups. A possible exception is Illinois' tilt against St. Bonaventure, a team that can score and has hung tough on the courts of Cleveland State and Virginia Tech. It would be a great sign for the Illini's prospects if they can win this one going away.