Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Just watch: the mainstream media will distort Wonk's impassioned speech
Welcome to Day 3 of Wonk's EXCLUSIVE 'round-the-most-convenient-parts-of-the-clock coverage of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge! Wonk has lamely offered the following contrived simile as his narrative gimmick for the week: this too-early media-driven and over-analyzed but nevertheless genuinely compelling and eagerly anticipated competitive spectacle is nothing less than the Iowa Caucuses of hoops.

And so your intrepid blogger finds himself here, late on what has been a busy night, in the Val Air Ballroom, in West Des Moines, Iowa. With his dedicated core of loyal and hard-working Big Ten supporters and his laptop.

Maybe the results tonight have not been what we Big Ten fans had hoped. The ACC leads in the Challenge 4-1. The pundits all say we're finished. No one believes in us anymore.

But you know what....

You know something? Not only are we going to Champaign, Illinois! We're going to Clemson, South Carolina, and Bloomington, Indiana, and Evanston, Illinois! We're going to the BB&T Classic in Washington DC! And we're going to Hartford, and Freedom Hall in Louisville, and Pauley Pavilion, and Dallas! And then we're going to St. Louis! To the Final Four! To take back the National Championship!

We will not give up! We will not give up in Champaign! We will not give up in Clemson! We will not give up in Bloomington, or Evanston, Hartford, Louisville, Westwood, or Dallas! We will not quit now or ever! We want our college hoops back for ordinary Americans! And we're going to win in Champaign! And Clemson! And Bloomington! And Evanston! And Hartford! And Louisville! And Washington! And the Final Four in St. Louis!...


Duke may be "down" but they're still Duke
While Dick Vitale and a suit whose name I refuse on principle to google chatted amiably about who gave how much to the Jimmy V. Foundation last night, Michigan State and Duke played one hell of a game called "basketball" in the Blue Devils' 81-74 win at home over the Spartans. (Links here, here, here, here, and here.) In one of the toughest venues for an opponent in all of sports, Wonk All-Head-Case first-teamer Paul Davis came out in the first eight minutes looking like Tim Duncan (nine points and four boards by the second TV timeout) and frankly had me reconsidering my selection of him for this dubious honor.

And then Davis disappeared for the balance of the game. This has been precisely the maddening MO of this generation of Spartans: Davis, Chris Hill (man, where was he last night?), Kelvin Torbert, Alan Anderson, Maurice Ager, et. al. They show flashes and indeed complete games characterized by brilliance and domination. But then they disappear. A promising start devolved into a flurry of turnovers (of the unforced-error variety) late in the first half. A sweet comeback (capped off by far and away the most spectacular dunk Wonk has seen this year--good grief, it was tasty: props to Shannon Brown) petered out amidst a succession of missed free throws.

We have all seen this disappearing act and we have all said: Michigan State remedies this by getting a true point guard. Well, yes, but, to drag Wonk's Neitzel or no Neitzel Hypothesis center-stage once again: this is a question primarily of leadership. Not assists, or turnovers, or points. Leadership. It pains a blogger to say that because he can't link to stats on something so nebulous. But, again, the truth is that last year's Spartans compare quite favorably on a statistical basis to the 2000 national champions or to any other team.

The Spartans have the skills. They need the player who can impose Tom Izzo's will on the floor. This is the one skill this generation of players has conspicuously lacked. (This would be Wonk's definition of the "it" that Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp says Michigan State does not have.) Spartan beat writers can and will do coming-of-age and maturation stories on Davis and Hill and Torbert until they are blue in the face--it's been a cottage industry for three-plus years--but the fact is: these players still have not shown they possess this skill.

Proposed research topic for Wonk's grad-student readers
It's an empirical fact: when the play-by-play announcer says, "Let's go to Sideline Reporter X: whaddya got for us, X?" a spectacular play is about to happen and the crowd is about to erupt in a thunderous and prolonged chorus of screams that will completely drown out whatever extraneous lagniappe the sideline reporter was going to share. Last night midway through the first half at the precise moment when the sideline reporter whose name I refuse on principle to google uttered her first syllable, J.J. Redick drained a three from what Wonk conservatively estimates to have been 27 feet away, resulting in pandemonium and the complete auditory obliteration of whatever it was she wanted to tell us.

Why do sideline reporters exist? In a setting such as Cameron Indoor Stadium, they are "reporting" from literally just a few feet away from the announcers. It reminds Wonk of the absurd and increasingly prevalent cutaways during local news broadcasts where the anchor in the studio goes to a "live report" from a reporter "in the newsroom," in other words, across the hall.

Glass-is-half-full headline writers of the Detroit News, Wonk salutes you!
Actual headline this morning from a sidebar piece on the Duke-Michigan State game: "No embarrassment this time."

Brawl in the Hall: game-day hype
Wake Forest (ranked first in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls) plays at Illinois (ranked fifth in the AP, third in the ESPN/USA Today) tonight in the most keenly anticipated match up of the Challenge. While perhaps a little less plentiful than it otherwise might have been had Notre Dame football coach Tyrone Willingham not been fired yesterday (see below), the ink is flowing....Frank Burlison of the Sporting News sees tonight's game as a possible Final Four preview....Dan Collins of the Winston-Salem Journal wins this week's bet-on-the-Globetrotters award by publishing his courageous forecast that there will be a lot of orange in the Assembly Hall tonight....Lorenzo Perez of the Charlotte News & Observer shudders to think what "many in the 'look at me, I'm on TV!'" generation might do for a celebration if Illinois wins....Indefatigable Chicago Sun-Times Illini beat writer Herb Gould says Illinois is the last best hope for a state of sports fans stuck with the likes of the Bears, the Bulls, the Cubs and the White Sox....Who-dat Gould colleague Jim O'Donnell mails in this Dee Brown-led game-day piece....Luther Head-led game-day piece from the Chicago Tribune here....More here, here, and here.

Wonk on the march: in blogs!
Yesterday your intrepid blogger hastily tossed in a few words with little behind them (Wonk knows this will come as a surprise) but poor phrasing and Wonk's own dim memory. Well, OK, that pretty much describes yesterday's whole post, but in this instance I'm specifically referring to the part where I said I thought the first person I'd heard utter the words "Dookie V" was Lute Olson.

So imagine Wonk's horror when this reckless assertion was picked up and analyzed not only by the crack staff of research chimps over at Yoni Cohen's industry-standard College Basketball Blog but also, and this was even more mortifying, by the alert readers on Yoni's always lively Comments pages. Great, thought Wonk. A rare opportunity to be proven incontrovertibly wrong by both years and miles in indelible pixels....

Except a funny thing happened. Upon further review and much googling by others, Wonk's half-cocked statement has held up (so far): it appears the first instance of "Dookie V" in print can be traced to a Lute Olson press conference in the spring of 2001.

Wow. Unmediated expression of intuition proven correct. How Emersonian!

Wonk on the march: in mainstream media!
The vigilant sentinels on Wonk's crack Traffic Desk have noted a decided up-tick in readers (defined as: more than none) hailing from ACC country since Wonk landed a mention in this story by Rob Daniels in this morning's Greensboro News-Record. Wonk's old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting (defined as: sitting at my computer) on this week's explosive Illinois uniforms story (links here and here: it really cries out for a "-gate" suffix--send in your suggestions here) netted Wonk this particular cite. Be assured, faithful readers! Wonk would never compromise his considerable journalistic integrity by stooping to cheap flattery in a clumsy bid to win further mentions from Rob Daniels at the Greensboro News-Record, who, by the way, is the best reporter in the history of the species.

Announcing the "Mike Alden Perspicacity in Staffing" Award
Named in honor of the University of Missouri athletic director who hired Quin Snyder over then-Tulsa coach Bill Self in April 1999. Since that day Snyder’s Missouri teams have attracted more NCAA investigations than Jim Harrick while reaching one Elite Eight and going 103-66 (.609), never finishing higher than fifth in the Big 12. Over that same span Self’s teams at Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas have been to three Elite Eight’s and gone 137-38 (.783). Lacking even the learning ability possessed by house plants that instinctively turn toward the sun, Alden has cannily responded to this new data by signing Snyder to a contract that runs through the 2007-08 season.

The winner is: Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White, for his decision yesterday to fire head football coach Tyrone Willingham.

Wonk doesn't really follow college football (translation: I'm an Illinois fan) and certainly didn't follow the Fighting Irish this year. But Wonk does number among his friends numerous Notre Dame alums and has always admired the fanatical and indeed borderline-cultish bond that the university so often forges with its students. I had always fancied that said bond was rooted in something distinct and qualitatively removed from the norm of college athletics, even if I couldn't really define what, exactly, that "something" was.

But yesterday Notre Dame didn't just embrace the norm. They epitomized it. Yesterday the Irish merely looked like Florida. Or Colorado. Or Nebraska.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Looking much younger than they actually are, Michigan was eaten alive at Georgia Tech last night, 99-68. (Links here and here.) The Wolverines were never in this one. Maybe the return of preseason All-Wonk selection Lester Abram will right Tommy Amaker's ship. Maybe, but last night did not bode well for Michigan's prospects on the road in the Big Ten this year. Let's just say it: they looked scared.

Wisconsin defeated Maryland in Madison last night, 69-64. (Links here, here, and here.) Alando Tucker carried the Badgers in the first half and Sharif Chambliss made some clutch shots down the stretch in the second. Chambliss has an uncanny knack for hitting shots despite ugly footwork, precisely the kind of shot he hit to beat these very same Badgers while he was still with Penn State in 2003 (link). (Speaking of uncanny knacks: for years Wonk has winced at the odd terms that Brent Musburger uses as if they are common sports verbiage but that in fact are peculiar to him. Last night he kept saying "three-ball." In years past Musburger has done Ohio State football games and invariably referred to the team as "the Bucks." Question to Buckeye readers: is this an acceptable usage? Clue Wonk in.)

Florida State beat Minnesota in Minneapolis last night, 70-69. (Links here, here, here, and here.) EXCLUSIVE Wonk expert analysis: losing at home to a team that's lost at home to Texas A&M Corpus Christi is not good.

Iowa, keenly conscious of being left out of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, went out and scheduled a high-profile cash-generating game at...Drake. The Hawkeyes won last night, 91-75. (As always, excellent recap over at the Hawkeye Hoops blog. Mainstream links here, here, here, here, and here. Please use this last link if for no other reason than to gaze upon an egregiously large DMV-quality columnist photo. Sorry, girls, he's taken.)

Indiana hosts North Carolina tonight, a game that will feature Tar Heels big man Sean May playing in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. More here.

Northwestern hosts Virginia tonight. (Link here.)

Ohio State plays at Clemson tonight. (Link here.)

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