Big Ten Wonk
Friday, December 17, 2004
Whither the Hoosiers?
Two things happened last night that got Wonk thinking about Indiana. One, my print copy of Sports Illustrated was waiting for me when I got home and it contained a short article on the Hoosiers. (BONUS ironic technology note: the same article's been available to me all week on the website--all I'd have to do is remember a password or type in my name and zip--but just seeing the "SI EXCLUSIVE" on the link makes me scurry away. Fellow subscribers are free to try this link that probably won't work.) Seth Davis says "the Hoosiers' biggest problem these days isn't how they're playing but whom."

Later in the evening I caught the halftime show during the Ohio State-Texas Tech game. Digger Phelps and Steve Lavin were yukking it up in the ESPN studios and handing out "grades" to the Big 12 and the Big Ten. Their lowest marks were given to Missouri in the former conference and to Indiana and Purdue in the latter. But if Seth Davis is correct, Indiana will be fine as soon as they get a non-top-25 opponent. And that would be Missouri, ironically enough, on Sunday.

Will Indiana be fine? The example they have to pin their hopes on, obviously, is Michigan State 2004. (Um, without the part where you lose in the first round to Nevada.) The Spartans woke up last January 11 with a 5-7 record, 0-1 in conference. Not only did they go on to make the tournament, they came within one Chris Hill free throw of winning the Big Ten.

But State had (and has) talent, depth, and multiple scoring options, none of which spring to mind when speaking of Indiana 2005. At the risk of stating the obvious: the Hoosiers need to find a way to score points. And the answer is most emphatically not more touches for Bracey Wright. In the loss to Kentucky, Wright scored 31 and Indiana still totaled only 58 points. The Hoosiers won't win many games with Wright scoring 53 percent of their points: the junior guard would need to put up 42 points for his team to hit 80.

Where will the help come from? Robert Vaden's played all of six games in his college career and could grow into a fine player but as of today his seemingly solid average of 11 points is deceiving. As Wonk noted on Monday, Vaden needs more shots to get those 11 points than almost anyone else in the conference. (Among regular Big Ten starters, only David Teague, Davor Duvancic, Dion Harris, and Brandon McKnight get less out of more.) D.J. White? Again, big upside, no question, but looking pretty raw right now. (And less than four boards a game? What's up with that?) Marshall Strickland? Your guess is as good as Wonk's....

BONUS: Wonk's REVISED Patrick Ewing, Jr. Paradox. The Ewing Paradox states that if he were on a better team, he'd be getting some minutes. (The original Pat Ewing Paradox, explained here, stated that if he were on a better team he'd be starting. He is starting now, but he's still getting just 20 minutes a game.) Ewing continues to play like a Tasmanian devil and to get rebounding numbers that suggest a player with half again as many minutes. But, alas, Ewing is adjudged as too offensively challenged to play for Indiana and that's saying something--a little like the fabled "sixth Rolling Stone" who was said to be too ugly for even the Stones.

Lavin will end up writing massive tomes on detente
Seeing Steve Lavin in the ESPN studio last night made Wonk realize that I like Lavin a lot more when he's calling a game than when I'm watching him pontificate directly into the camera. Lavin worked the Illinois-Oregon game, for example, and, much like the proverbial ref you don't notice, he must have done a good job because I don't remember much of his call. (Wait, that's not true: Wonk remembers liking how Lavin swatted away consummate company man Brent Musburger's invitation to flack for ESPN HD. Musburger, extolling the wonders of this product offered by his current employer, turned to his broadcast partner to ask which sport he liked best in HD. Lavin somehow got off on a Wonk-worthy riff on the potential benefits of televising spelling bee's in HD.)

But when I see him in the studio for some reason my skin crawls ever so slightly. Which moves Wonk to unveil his Nixonian Theory of Steve Lavin: just like the disgraced former president, Lavin comes across better when you don't have to watch him. In Nixon's case this was proven emphatically in his 1960 debates with John F. Kennedy: the then-youthful Republican did better among radio listeners than among TV viewers. Grad students take note! There's a dissertation in it for you if you simply set up one room showing ESPN to your money-hungry sophomore "volunteers" and another room with the same feed and the TV turned to the wall. Wonk can see the title page now: "'Sharing the Sugar': Disparate Audience Reponses to Steve Lavin--A Parsonian Approach."

Pastry shelf
On December 27, when the students will all be home and the only people in the stands will be sedate locals, Illinois will take the court against Longwood University. With an enrollment of 3,700, Longwood is located in Farmville, VA, population 6,845, meaning that the students can and should take over the town. To the barricades, Lancers!

Longwood is in the process of moving up to Division I. According to Director of Athletics Rick Mazutto:

“One of the tremendous positives generated out of moving to Division I is the opportunity to use intercollegiate athletics as a vehicle to raise the public profile of the institution.”

EXCLUSIVE Wonk translation:

“In a naked act of calculated promotional self-immolation we’ve decided a program that went 5-22 with double-digit losses against the likes of Utah Valley State and Pfeiffer last season should play Illinois, Cincinnati, and Wake Forest this season.”

Wonk wishes Lou Henson were still at the helm in Champaign so we could all be treated to the following day-before-game sound bite: “Longwood is a super ball club and we’re going to have to play our best game to win.” The diligent researchers of winless teams at rate Longwood as one of the ten worst teams in the country.

BONUS Wonk Longwood note: Last season one of the Lancers’ five wins gave them bragging rights over archrival and cohort in debilitating rural obscurity Lenoir-Rhyne, which Wonk thinks sounds a lot like a good wine or a leggy French supermodel.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State beat Texas Tech 77-71 in Dallas last night (links here and here) and let's get right to the important part:


The Buckeyes' Ivan Harris attempted not one but two free throws last night, thus bringing a sad end to his thrilling quest to become the first starter in Big Ten history to go an entire season without an FTA. When Harris attempted his first free throw, the crowd erupted in a thunderous six-minute standing ovation and the game was temporarily stopped so that a special ceremony could be held at midcourt. As players from both teams cheered and hugged, Harris briefly addressed the crowd and his words echoed over the American Airlines Center's curiously antiquated PA:

"Tonight...[echo, echo]...I consider myself...[echo, echo]...the luckiest man...[echo, echo]...on the face of the earth...[echo, echo]...because my AD didn't hire Bob Knight."

Iowa's players are about to take finals and, in perhaps the latest example of defining academic success down, they say they're confident they'll remain eligible.

Michigan State will host Delaware State tomorrow and the Spartans are glad to be "home at last" says the Detroit News. Home at last? They've played exactly one game on an opponent's home floor. (OK, playing George Washington in the MCI Center was a near-home game for the Colonials--about like, say, Michigan State playing Stanford at The Palace in Auburn Hills.) Meanwhile, freshman Marquise Gray says he doesn't regret his decision to redshirt this season. And Spartan fans of WATN may appreciate this update on former State guard Brandon Cotton.

Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune says the hot shooting recorded by Illinois this season can be traced to the old-school and virtually Norman Dale-esque shooting drills inflicted upon players in practice by Bruce Weber. (More Weber-during-finals-week coverage here.) Meanwhile the Jack Ingram coverage just keeps on coming--opening sentence: "Jack Ingram once worked as a roller-coaster operator at a theme park." Want to read more? In God's name, why? Link here if you feel you must.

Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News surveys the national hoops scene and says seniors like Luther Head and Roger Powell are having a big impact this year.

Professional Dick Vitale whiners take note! The first "Power 16" of the season at is here! Inveterate iconoclast Vitale puts Kansas (official motto: Every game in Lawrence until March!) at #1. Each of's other hoops pundits (Andy Katz, Jay Bilas, Pat Forde, and Andy Glockner) has Illinois at the top. None of the others has the Jayhawks higher than fourth.

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