Well, we're halfway through the conference season, which is a logical place to take a look at how we're doing tempo-free-wise. We all know how we're doing conference standing-wise. The tempo free stats tell the same story, although by tempo-free measures we're in a closer race than the standings would indicate. I shamelessly plagiarized this data from John Gasaway's Tuesday Truths column, which is a great read if you are interested in how the other major (and "minor") conferences are shaping up. I was calculating these figures myself but since he already went to the trouble I figured there was no reason to do the work myself. Here are the efficiency margin conference standings for the first half of the Big 10 season:
The good news - we're still in first place, although Wisconsin is right there with us. Purdue's defense has improved since last we checked in, and both they and OSU have made strides and are narrowing the gap with us. Minnesota's defense has been a complete fail in conference play considering they were a top 10 defense in the pre-conference portion of the season. Michigan, despite their record, is looking pretty good in conference play, and surprisingly it is on defense that they are excelling. Iowa is hanging onto 9th place, although Indiana is nipping at their heels. Penn State is all alone in the basement in both the win-loss column and the tempo-free standings.
Moving on to tonight's game, there is some reason for cautious optimism. At first blush, Wisconsin appears to be our statistical equal, and given that they are at home, and home-court advantage is worth a few points, a loss should be expected. A closer look gives us reason to hope, however. In our first meeting we outscored them by .12 points per possession, which is a pretty big margin for home court advantage to make up, and that was with Leuer.
Since they won't have Leuer in this game I thought it would be interesting to look at their efficiency margins for games he played in vs games he has been out. There appears to be a fairly substantial dropoff in their performance since he went down. Their average efficiency margin with Leuer was a robust .165 PPP. Since Leuer went down they are averaging a margin of .042 PPP (approximately a quarter of the margin with Leuer), have held only one opponent below 1 PPP (Michigan), and have scored above 1 PPP in only 2 games (NW and Penn St.). In theory, the efficiency margin between us and them sans Leuer is a little greater the stats posted above would indicate. They don't play games on paper or in theory though, so my guess is that we will have to play better than we did at Michigan and Minnesota if we want to come out of Madison with a win.
For the record, I think it sucks that Leuer got hurt, and unfortunately I think the injury will affect the conference title race. We may not win tonight, but I believe his absence will cost them a game at some point that they otherwise would have won. I guess injuries are a part of the game (we went a good portion of the Big 10 season last year without one of our best players) but I'd rather beat them at full strength.