Big Ten Wonk
Friday, November 12, 2004
But I've talked enough about myself. What do YOU think of me?
Even when he’s ostensibly tossing a bouquet to a fellow coach, Bo Ryan just can’t help engaging in yet more effusive self-regard. Here he is welcoming new Ohio State coach Thad Matta to the Big Ten: “He’s probably asked me more questions about the swing offense in the last five years than anybody.”

EXCLUSIVE: Wonk's 2005 Preseason All-Head-Case Team
WARNING: Numbers are no defense against a guilty verdict on the charge of being a head case. (Just throw a dart at any of the past five or so University of Minnesota Men’s Basketball media guides: Joel Przybilla, Rick Rickert, Kris Humphries, etc., etc.) And so we find the Big Ten’s top three returning scorers leading up Wonk’s All-Head-Case team….

Bracey Wright, Indiana. In April 2002, a gritty overachieving Indiana team made it all the way to the national championship game before falling to Maryland. Going into the following year big things were expected of the Hoosiers and their highly touted incoming freshman, Bracey Wright. The expectations soared even higher when Indiana
won the Maui Invitational that November. The Hoosiers stood 8-0 and ranked sixth in the nation.

But since the moment in Wright’s ninth game on December 21, 2002, when coach Mike Davis lost his mind in public in
the loss against Kentucky, Indiana has gone 27-28. They have played in a grand total of two NCAA tournament games and have won one. The 2002-03 team was devoured by intrasquad acrimony the likes of which Wonk has never seen on any team without Rashad McCants. The 2003-04 team was young and lean, yes, but certainly no more so than Northwestern, whom the Hoosiers ended the year looking up at in the standings.

Can all of this be laid at Wright’s feet? Sheeyeah! He’s The Man. It’s His Team. And what’s the quality of his leadership? Questionable shot selection side-by-oblivious-side with a messianic (note first two letters) quest for the NBA have enabled Wright to achieve a rare trifecta, proving in one swoop he is: a) delusional; b) selfish; and c) not locker room poison, exactly—call him locker room Nyquil: one dose of him and teammates wince, get a bad taste in their mouths, and are left listless and whiny.

And please don’t tell Wonk Wright’s shot selection is the way it is because there are no other scoring options on the roster. There were plenty of other options in 2002-03: Wright still hogged like he was Kobe and the rest of the starters muttered angrily and tuned him out like they were Shaq.

All of the above leads Wonk, who never makes a prediction, to make a prediction:

Echoing, if perhaps not equaling, their trip to the Final Four the year after the NBA-focused Kirk Haston left, Indiana will improve markedly the first year that the NBA-focused Wright is gone, whenever that may be, as the chemistry improves and the offense branches out from its single-dimension feed-Wright focus.

Pierre Pierce, Iowa. T
he Human Turnover, to the tune of four per game last year.

Just how off-the-charts bad is that? Consider: in 2004 first-year Penn State coach Ed DeChellis was forced to throw two freshman guards into his starting lineup, close his eyes, and hope for the best—and even the lightly-recruited and hopelessly overmatched freshman guards on a last-place team didn’t turn the ball over as much as Pierce. Good grief, the entire Wisconsin team averaged just 10 turnovers a game last year. But a veteran on a competitive (fourth-place) team averaging four turnovers a game for an entire year? Incredible.

Wonk is on the record as advocating a mature tolerance of a reasonable number of turnovers as a cost of doing business. And Wonk has also inveighed eloquently, brilliantly, and modestly against an over-emphasis on the assist-turnover ratio, a number that once in a great while can indeed tell us important things about the great ones (cf. Oscar Robertson) but that much more often is an Ichiro-esque vanity stat that has little to do with W’s. (Basically, if you are no threat whatsoever to score,
like Purdue’s Austin Parkinson last year, you stand an excellent chance of putting up a gaudy assist-turnover ratio, like Purdue’s Austin Parkinson last year. It means simply no one is guarding you. They don’t need to.)

But Pierce is the exception that proves Wonk’s rule. Turnovers as a function of aggressive play is one thing but you can’t just give your opponent the ball.

Paul Davis, Michigan State.
March 2, 2004: At 12-3 in conference, the Spartans are playing their final game of the regular season at home against Wisconsin. A win guarantees them at least a share of the Big Ten title. A banner is in the rafters, ready to be unfurled.

With 2:24 left in regulation, Paul Davis, already with 25 points and 10 rebounds in the game, goes to the bench with leg cramps. He doesn’t return and the Spartans lose in overtime.

Now, if you’ve got leg cramps, you’ve got leg cramps—Wonk does not begrudge you that.

But Davis didn’t just have leg cramps. For the better part of a half-hour the young man grimaced, writhed and flopped around on the sideline like a deranged street person who’d been impaled with a tire iron, a display ESPN lovingly returned to again and again with every single stoppage of play. People have donated kidneys with less
chewing of scenery.

Leg cramps hurt, yes, but they’re hardly on a par with third-degree burns or having a limb amputated without anesthetic. You wouldn’t know it to have watched Davis that day.
Willis Reed, he ain’t. Paired with two years of unjustifiably tame performance from a player who has the talent to dominate the conference, this episode earns Davis recognition as All-Head-Case.

Nick Smith, Illinois. Beat reporters covering Wonk's beloved Illini relate that senior big man Nick Smith has added “about 20 pounds” since last season, which means he now dresses at, what, 7-2, 170? Smith, like sixth-year Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer, has seemingly been in Champaign since the Reagan administration. At long last getting a little PT under Bruce Weber, he was largely ignored by Bill Self (rightly, given the frontcourt depth of those teams) and actually recruited and signed by Lon Krueger.

Smith, whose role model is apparently Jan Brady, is given to petulant hissy fits: his technical foul and subsequent
pouting at Wisconsin
last season helped turn a tight four-point game into a 20-point blowout in the last ten minutes.

Token Wonk moment of magnanimity when it comes to Smith: On the other hand, his two three’s and two clutch free throws in OT at Purdue last year almost
single-handedly set the stage for Luther Head’s game-winning last-second shot.

(BONUS (i.e., wholly unrelated) Wonk note on depth of Illinois frontcourt under Bill Self: when Illinois lost to Arizona in the regional finals of the 2001 NCAA tournament, six Illini players fouled out, setting an all-time
tournament record. So many players fouled out, in fact, that Smith was actually on the court at the end of the game, throwing terror into the hearts of Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas, Loren Woods, et. al.)

Daniel Horton, Michigan. When Daniel Horton went to Purdue and dropped 31 points on the stunned Boilermakers in
a key late-season victory in 2003, the freshman was being talked up for Player of the Year. Rightfully so. He was a go-to prolific scoring freshman who created opportunities for teammates and dished assists.

But Horton quickly quieted such talk with
a 1-for-11 outing at Wisconsin and since that golden moment in West Lafayette his play has been notably less stellar. Last year his numbers were actually down slightly from his freshman year: in points, assists, FG percentage, and 3-pt FG percentage—a striking regression.

Tommy Amaker is
on the record as saying the expectations placed on Horton last year were unrealistic and that in fact during the year he improved as a defender and QB. We’ll see.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana faces Division II Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in an exhibition tonight. Combo game preview and Sean Kline profile here.

Minnesota faces Division II St. Cloud State in an exhibition tonight. Combo game preview and Kerry Wooldridge profile here.

EXCLUSIVE Wonk warning to journalism majors reading this now: You graduate, you're hired by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and your assignments editor sends you to do a profile on Kerry Wooldridge. Wonk believes this paragraph should be in the college catalogue, next to Journ 101.

Andy Katz and Dick Vitale of get the retirement-party toasts rolling for Purdue coach Gene Keady here.

Illini beat writer Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times picks Michigan State to win the conference and Ohio State to surprise at fifth. Link here.

The indefatigable Gould also chips in with some Illini recruiting news here. Need an update on Illini forward Brian Randle, the winner of Wonk's first annual Kevin Brown Award for Notably Injurious Stupidity? Links here, here, and here. Want both the recruiting and the Randle stories in one covenient article? Wonk's got you covered here.

Michigan sophomore Courtney Sims, past winner of Wonk's Mike Davis Nostradamus Award, is profiled here.

Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says Michigan State's chances this season hinge less on freshman point guard Drew Neitzel and more on finding some toughness in the paint. (Link here.) Hmmm. Where has Wonk heard that before?

Wisconsin's signees include Marcus Landry, younger brother of Purdue juco transfer Carl Landry. Link here. Combined Badger recruiting update and recap of Wednesday's exhibition win over Wisconsin-Parkside here.

Say you don't buy into Wonk's bullish favorable-schedule-driven NCAA-berth-a-maybe
forecast for the Iowa Hawkeyes? Neither do their fans, appararently. Season ticket sales are down. Link here not only for the info but also for the largest--virtually teen-magazine-esque--picture you will ever see of Iowa Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby. Sorry, girls, dreamboat Bob is spoken for.

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