1Illinois was ranked number 1 in the nation yesterday in both the ESPN/USA Today poll and, barely, the AP. A December number 1 ranking plainly means nothing. One of the first thoughts that occurred to Wonk, don't know why, was that Alabama was a December number 1 two years ago. They went on to barely make the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round at the Fleet Center in Boston to Indiana (subsequently devoured by Pitt). So it's a distinction without meaning. Illinois will lose a game and number 2 or 3 or 4 will move up.But it's a rare meaningless distinction, at least for Illinois fans. The last time the Illini were atop the polls was January 1989 and it was but a one-week stay. They had just defeated Georgia Tech in overtime at home, a game in which Kendall Gill was injured. (Coincidentally enough, Gill was signed yesterday by the Milwaukee Bucks.) Illinois went on to lose their first game without Gill, at Minnesota, and three more without him as well, before welcoming him back, reaching the Final Four, and losing in the national semi's to eventual national champion Michigan on a Sean Higgins tip-in. Yes, it's rare and, obviously, memorable.So enjoy your time at the top, Illini. Many Illinois players have come and gone without this particular "meaningless distinction."1?Illinois limped along on tired legs to a 78-59 win over Chicago State in a surprisingly subdued (and surprisingly un-orange) Assembly Hall last night. (Links here and here.) Said Dee Brown aptly, "It was a fun game. Boring, but fun." The Illini will be happy come Saturday night. They're in the midst of a virtually NBA-esque 11-day five-game stretch that includes games at Georgetown this Thursday and against Oregon in the United Center in Chicago this Saturday.Sportswriters are a tougher audience than coachesMichigan State is 16th in the ESPN/USA Today poll and 20th in the AP.Coaches are a tougher audience than sportswritersIowa is 17th in the AP and 24th in the ESPN/USA Today.Guaranteed lowest point-spreadsEvery game Indiana's played this year has been decided by seven points or less. Western Illinois or North Carolina: doesn't matter, it's going to be close.EXCLUSIVE Wonk investigative report: Shame of a Nation, Day 356 The diligent professionals at the Big Ten press offices continue to maintain a link on the conference's main men's basketball page to this story: "Q&A with Kris Humphries." This was originally posted, mind you, on December 16, 2003. Meticulous can't-be-rushed antiquarians of the Big Ten's web content group, Wonk salutes you! In fact, Wonk thinks you've got a pretty sweet gig if your boss looks to you for new content only every year or so. Watch for still more fast-breaking stories coming soon from the tireless scriveners at Big Ten HQ: "Illinois is Number 1! President Truman Wires Congrats to Johnny 'Red' Kerr""An Appreciation of John Wooden: Purdue Sophomore Looks Promising" "Expansion Again on the Table for the Big Ten: U. of Chicago Opposed" In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Penn State lost at Georgetown last night, 66-53. (Links here and here.)Iowa hosts Northern Iowa tonight. (Links here and here.) An NCAA tournament team last year, the Panthers have already knocked off Iowa State this season (who, in turn, beat Virginia by two points last night in Ames). And since Iowa's beaten Drake this year this can fairly be termed the state championship game.Wisconsin hosts Wisconsin-Green Bay tonight and excitement is building to a fever pitch for a game that marks the reunion of former Indian Hills Community College roommates Zach Morley (now with Wisconsin) and Javier Mendiburu (Wisconsin-Green Bay). Want to read more? In God's name, why? Link here, if you feel you must. More here.EXCLUSIVE Wonk warning to journalism students. You major in journalism, you graduate, you get a job with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and your assignments editor tells you to write a story on the reunion of former Indian Hills Community College roommates Zach Morley and Javier Mendiburu. Wonk thinks this paragraph should be included in the college catalogue, next to Journ. 101.Michigan hosts High Point tonight. (Link here.)Tom Izzo grouses about his Michigan State team here, but says Chris Hill can be both a quiet guy and an effective point guard while the Waiting for Neitzel continues. "You don't have to be demonstrative like Mateen Cleaves or myself. Charlie Bell was not a demonstrative point guard in any way, shape, or form, but he made sure people knew what they had to do and where they had to be."In his "Weekly Watch," Andy Katz of espn.com says of Illinois: "The Illini's dismantling of Wake Forest was the most impressive performance of the year, to date. Illinois looked like it could be in St. Louis today."Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!Wonk,Good post on State this morning. There seem to be two different ways that State fans are thinking about this GW loss, and I'm not yet clear which side of the fence I'm on.
Argument #1: Izzo's teams are always a little shaky/inconsistent early on in the year, so the GW loss is bad, but not a disaster. Most folks who feel this way point to the Wright State loss early in the national championship year. They also point out that Izzo teams are always markedly better later in the year (including last year, with the exception of the slaughter at Champaign).
Adding to this belief is that the GW loss does not resemble last year's awkward early-season defeats (Oklahoma, etc.), and really resembles no game at all from last year with the exception of the aforementioned Illinois debacle. Last year, the team played hard, often looked good, but didn't have the "it" to pull any big games out. In the GW game this weekend, we were just completely incompetent against an adequate team. This is actually a positive, because we know the team isn't terrible, so this must have just been a bad weekend.
Argument #2: The GW loss is indicative of a complete lack of growth from last year, and the only solution is for Hill, Torbert, et. al., to graduate and then rebuild from the Neitzel up. These folks say that our seniors play hard, represent the school well, and are very talented, but will never ever win any championships, Big Ten or otherwise, because they just don't have it in them.
As I said, I'm not sure which is the correct interpretation, and we may not find out until the NCAA tourney this year, since State has a relatively favorable schedule for the rest of the way.
Shawn M.Great email, Shawn. (Didn't the Wright State loss in 1999-2000 come while Cleaves was injured and sitting out?)Wonk will remain studiously and ponderously agnostic on whether to favor Argument 1 or 2. Except to say that the book on this generation of Spartans seems to be morphing before our eyes into an almost Steve Lavin-era UCLA kind of profile: tremendous talent; who knows if they'll show up but if they do then you're in trouble. What was endearing about the Flint-stone era Spartans, by contrast (even for an Illinois fan whose team was always losing to Izzo's), was that they brought the "A" game every night. Cold shooting didn't matter to State because they would shut you down on your end and rebound the misses on both ends.