Horton hears a when Wonk has said it before and will say it again: I love Tommy Amaker to pieces but ever since the Eddie Griffin days at Seton Hall his teams have often played as though afflicted with an inexplicable listlessness, one that seems to strike with particular force in the biggest games. When he coached the Hall I chalked it up to Griffin being a 19-year-old head case. When Amaker arrived in Ann Arbor I chalked it up to the disastrous aftermath of the Brian Ellerbee era and the funereal atmosphere in Crisler Arena, the worst basketball venue in the Big Ten (and that’s saying something).
But now I’m beginning to wonder. Last year’s team got less advance notice than it should have—and then got the lack of notice it deserved. For a team with Bernard Robinson, Jr., Daniel Horton, and a nice complement of young legs, the Wolverines seriously underperformed. True, they won the NIT. So did St. John's in 2003 and that didn't exactly herald a bright new dawn. (And so, one might add, did Michigan in 1997 and Minnesota in 1998--teams about to implode in particularly messy ways, it appears, first win the NIT.)
Now we are told, again, that this is the year. We are told Daniel Horton has matured. But Wonk will believe Michigan has truly arrived when it starts winning on the road, something it has not done—with the huge exception of the Purdue game in 2003—since the now happily discredited Fab 5 days.BONUS non-Big-Ten noteWonk is a fan and graduate (three times over) of Illinois who's followed Big Ten hoops from addresses in California, Atlanta, Kansas City, California (again), and, now, Minneapolis. Yesterday in the fabled skyways of downtown Minneapolis your intrepid Wonk had a chance encounter with the above mentioned Eddie Griffin, who is five games into a promising comeback with the Timberwolves after being waived by the Rockets last year and missing the entire 03-04 season.
WARNING: blinding-flash-of-the-obvious ahead. Wonk is 6'6" and is the tallest person in view, say, 90 percent of the time. Griffin, who blends in vertically without distinction in the NBA and shows no prominence in that category whatsover during the games on my TV screen, TOWERS over Wonk. Well he should, you say. After all, he's listed at 6'10". Yes, yes, Wonk knows. But sometimes I think we forget: these guys are just from another galaxy. To paraphrase a Twin Cities native: the very tall are different from you and me.In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Penn State played the first regular season game of any Big Ten team yesterday and lost to Illinois State, 82-73, in the Black Coaches Association Classic in Milwaukee. Defense, as it has been so often for the Nittany Lions, was a problem: the Redbirds scored 50 points on 62 percent shooting in the second half. Links here, here, and here.
Michigan opens regular season play tonight in the Preseason NIT with a game at home against Binghamton. Game preview here. Wolverine season preview at-a-glance here.
Illinois defeated Division II Lewis in an exhibition yesterday, 92-61. (Links here, here, here, and here.) Oddly, the Illini chose this occasion to raise last season's Big Ten championship banner to the rafters in a pregame ceremony. Who needs motivational gimmicks when Lewis is the opponent? There's no love lost between these two teams. When Illinois and Lewis play you can throw the records out the window. Send Wonk more suggested cliches, please.
Illinois is ranked #9 on si.com's list of the "10 easiest teams to root for" here. Best choice, however, is surely the #10 team on si.com's list of "10 to reject": "Jim Harrick's next school."
Michigan State defeated Northern Michigan 98-56 in an exhibition yesterday. Links here and here.
Iowa defeated Laval University in an exhibition yesterday by the notably non-lopsided score of 85-77. Links from the usual suspects here and here, but Wonk additionally recommends the informative blogger's-eye-view to be found over at Hawkeye Hoops.
BONUS Laval note: Laval is located in Quebec and Wonk can't find any information on whether or not they are Division Deux. In an EXCLUSIVE postgame teleconference with Big Ten Wonk, Hawkeye coach Steve Alford said he was very pleased with how his team defended the trois, adding, "You can't really stop Jean-Phillippe Morin, you can only contain him." Meanwhile, rumors abounded in Carver-Hawkeye Arena that Laval's coach had launched into an obscenity-laced tirade in the locker room after the game ("Vous jouez like merde!") that will no doubt soon be circulating on the Internet.Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!