Big Ten Wonk
Friday, November 19, 2004
A pox on you, schedule makers!
Two gripes about the conference schedule: whom and when.

Whom. Wonk’s beloved Illinois does not get a game against Michigan State in Champaign this year. For Spartan fans this is divine retribution for 2001, when an absurdly talented Michigan State team featuring Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph did not get a game against Illinois in East Lansing and thus had to split the Big Ten title with the Illini.

Fair enough. What comes around goes around. But Wonk would like to offer a memo to the schedule makers for next season and all subsequent seasons: Let us assume that the preseason favorites any given year are Teams A, B and C. Can’t we at least see to it that those three play each other home-and-home? Can nothing be done about this?

Nor does Michigan come to Champaign, a fact that may or may not have a bearing on the Big Ten title, depending on whether or not the Wolverines arrive this season as a force with which one must reckon.

When. Illinois and Wisconsin will be done with their home-and-home February 12. The final week of the season, conversely, Wisconsin hosts likely middle-feeders Purdue and Indiana while Illinois hosts Purdue and visits Ohio State. Wouldn't it be more interesting to have Wisconsin and Illinois play the final week? (As indeed they did in 2003, resulting in a classic down-to-the-wire game in Madison that was, in effect, the conference championship game.) Can nothing be done about this?

Big Ten to coaches: you win
In one stretch two years ago, Michigan State played three in a row and six out of nine on the road, much to the vocal displeasure of Tom Izzo. In one stretch last year, Iowa played three in a row and six out of eight on the road, much to the vocal displeasure of Steve Alford.

Their complaints were heard. This year no team plays more than two games in a row on the road.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan State opens its regular season at home tonight against Florida A&M. Game previews here and here. Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg pens an appreciation of coach Tom Izzo here.

Illinois opens its regular season at home tonight against Delaware State. Bruce Weber-led game previews here and here. Luther Head-led game preview here. Deron Williams-led game preview here. (Williams has matured tremendously, says this link, since a talk with coach Bruce Weber in the spring. Wow, just a couple hundred days ago! What if we all continuously matured tremendously at this rate? Not just when being interviewed by overburdened Big Ten beat writers looking for a writes-itself lead but always? Wonk would be the maturity equivalent of the oldest living Confederate widow by now.) Meanwhile, discussions continue, as they have for some time, as to the feasibility of replacing the Illini's home arena, Assembly Hall (link).

Purdue opens its regular season on the road tonight against Miami of Ohio. Game previews
here, here, and here. Injured Boilermaker guard David Teague is aiming to return to action by mid-December (link).

Iowa opens its regular season at home tonight against Western Illinois. Game preview
here. After the game the Hawkeyes will jet off to Hawaii, where they will open play in the Maui Invitational against Louisville on Monday.

Wisconsin's freshman center Greg Stiemsma is expected to miss six to eight weeks due to a foot injury suffered last week (
link). Meantime, Boo Wade, who took a leave of absence from the Badgers for unspecified personal reasons in October, hopes to return to action by mid-December. This according to his father (link).

Wonk's handy
schedule swears that Michigan is going to play a game at home tonight against Sacramento State. But this particular tilt isn't exactly attracting a lot of ink in Wolverine land. Seems there's a football game tomorrow between Michigan and somebody or other....

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

You have earned a bookmark on my Thunderbird browser. Keep up the good work.

And keep up the Steve Alford digs, too. Alford may be the only person on earth to have all of the negative traits of Bobby Knight without having any of the positive ones--like the ability to get players to play effective half-court basketball.

Which brings me to my next point--is Big Ten basketball, where most coaches produce teams that play a grinding half-court oriented, every possession counts type of ball, in danger of getting to be too boring to watch, even for basketball wonks?
--Mark M.

Mark, Wonk will take your paragraphs one at a time....

1) How perceptive you are!

2) Wonk doesn't know that he's been digging at Alford, necessarily. I'm just genuinely puzzled--on and off the court. On the court, I am puzzled at how a coach who was brought to Iowa City on the strength of an incredible defensive performance by his 1999 Sweet 16 Southwest Missouri State team could have put such nondescript teams on the floor in his first five seasons with the Hawkeyes. Off the court, I am puzzled by the creepy
interview Alford had last month with an Iowa beat writer. More troubling than any quote from the interview itself (though there were plenty of odd ones) was the manifest "Look at me! I'm just plain folk!" agenda behind the sit-down. Remember Wonk's First Law of Media Relations: When someone so plainly seeks out and so eagerly sits down for an "I'm just plain folk" interview, they are not just plain folk.

3) Speaking only for Wonk, styles of play, within reason, are less important than results. Michigan State and Wisconsin both played grinding half-court oriented ball in 2000 and it resulted in such an ugly national semifinal game that the NCAA made hand-checking a point of emphasis going into the following season. But for Wonk, watching that year's Spartans was a pleasure. Watching that year's Badgers was an ordeal. Michigan State was brimming with talented players that Tom Izzo had somehow taught to play defense. Wonk likes that. Wisconsin was limited by their lack of talent and played a similar style because it was the only conceivable way they could compete. Wonk understands that but finds it less engrossing.

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