Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, January 13, 2005
EXCLUSIVE season-long TVRR coverage
Last night's conference action featured three wins by three favored home teams (see below). As the final horn sounded on each game, Big Ten fans from coast to coast turned as one from their ESPN Plus and asked aloud: But what does this do to the TVRR?

The Ten-Venue Road Record (TVRR) consists of a team's record on the road in conference play, not counting games played at Penn State. For reasons outlined here Wonk hypothesizes that just about everyone will do equally well when they go to Happy Valley (where local meditation enthusiasts are reportedly being urged to "make your mind as empty as the Bryce Jordan Center"). But what about road games played elsewhere? Your intrepid blogger has a hunch that such games may make the difference between unfurling a banner and watching someone else do it. Playing a couple home games might make for a temporarily nice record in the official standings, sure. But Wonk will be keeping an eye on the TVRR as well.

Here's how the TVRR stacks up after last night's action:

Illinois (1-0)
Michigan (1-0)
Michigan State (0-0)
Minnesota (0-0)
Wisconsin (1-1)
Indiana (0-1)
Iowa (0-1)
Purdue (0-1)
Northwestern (0-2)
Ohio State (0-2)
Penn State (0-2)

A talk with Terry Hutchens
Terry Hutchens covers the Indiana Hoosiers for the Indianapolis Star. His excellent and far-ranging Ask the Expert column is required reading for anyone wanting to discuss Hoosier hoops--or anyone just looking to take the pulse of IU fans. Terry talked to Wonk about the state of the Hoosiers, Mike Davis, his players, his detractors, his virtues, and his predecessor.

Q. I'm a devoted reader of your Hoosier Q&A column in the Indianapolis Star because it blends good behind-the-scenes info with stats, game observations, etc. So I've always wondered: have you ever had any indication that Mike Davis and/or any of his players read it?

A. Well, I know Davis doesn't read it because, like the majority of head coaches around the country, he claims not to read much of anything that we write. It's probably better for him in some cases that he doesn't. But I'll be talking to him on the phone and I'll say did you see what so-and-so said about you in the paper, and he'll say, "No, what did he say?'' and I'll end up passing on little nuggets and that kind of thing. I think a lot of what Coach Davis hears from a negative standpoint is things that his son, Mike Jr., passes on. Mike Jr. spends a lot of time on the Internet and my guess is that he keeps his dad up to date on some of the stuff that is said and/or written.

Q. Mike Jr., if you're reading this, Wonk says: hi!

A. As for the players, I can't really say. Dane Fife used to be a loyal reader and would constantly comment on things I had written. He was also a guy, though I've never had this 100 percent confirmed, that is believed to have called up the Mike Davis Radio Show on several occasions, disguise his voice, and ask a question or two on the air.

Q. Seriously?

A. As I say, it's not 100 percent confirmed. He still does read the Ask the Expert column, though. As a member of the IU coaching staff, Dane's always talking about the column with me. On the other hand I've been getting the cold shoulder lately from Marshall Strickland, which leads me to believe that maybe he has been reading some of it, too, and hasn't taken kindly to some of my comments regarding his ability/inability to run the point.

Q. Davis has been getting a lot of abuse this year and you, for better or worse, are uniquely positioned to be perhaps the world's leading expert on people who assail Mike Davis. Paraphrase the Davis critics for a second: what's their main beef?

A. They think he can recruit but that he can't coach. They don't understand his offense, they don't feel he makes great in-game adjustments, they think he's too nice to his players, they think he plays favorites and they are constantly amazed by some of the things he's quoted as having said. Other than that, they think he's a great guy.

Q. What do you say?

A. I say it's more their job to have opinions about Mike Davis than it is mine. My job is to be objective, fair and present the facts. Probably not the juicy stuff you want to hear but that's the way I feel. I'm a beat writer. I'm not supposed to be controversial. We have a columnist who is paid the big bucks to give his opinion. And I'm OK with that.

I will say this: IU basketball fans are not a real patient group, and when you start three freshmen and a fourth is in your top seven players, patience has to be a virtue. I don't think this team is as bad as some people think but they've got a long way to go, too. When you looked at IU's schedule before the season began, you had to think there was a pretty good chance they would lose at least four non-conference games. They lost six. Losing to Northwestern is never a good thing, but they've actually played pretty well recently at home. People forget that last year Northwestern had double-digit home victories against both Wisconsin and Illinois.

But IU fans don't want to take that into consideration because they no longer have any willingness to cut Mike Davis a break. And so with every Indiana loss you're going to have people lining up at the door wanting IU to fire him the next day. I'm not sure what Davis will have to do to stop that from happening. Win ten games in conference? Make it to the NCAA tournament? Get back to the Sweet Sixteen? I'm not sure what it will take. I think in some ways it's just the nature of the beast.

Q. At the start of the Big Ten season you predicted that the Hoosiers could go 10-6 in conference, mainly because they play only one game each against Illinois, Michigan State, and Iowa. Still stand by your prediction?

A. Sure. To be honest with you, I thought they'd be 1-1 right now in the Big Ten. I just thought they'd win at Northwestern and lose at home against Wisconsin. So the results flip-flopped but they're still 1-1. This team has to take care of the home court and find a way to steal a couple of games on the road. Saturday's Purdue game is a big one for them. But I'm not one of those people who makes a prediction and then starts waffling on it game-by-game. The prediction is what it is. A lot of IU fans think I'm crazy and, who knows, maybe I am.

Q. Alright, as long as you're hazarding predictions: who's going to win the conference regular season and what will their record be?

A. Of course Illinois is the safe answer but I'm going to go with Michigan State. The Spartans only play Illinois one time and it's at the Breslin Center on February 1. That game could be for the Big Ten title and I like Michigan State at home. The Spartans also don't play at Ohio State this season and that's another good place not to have to play. Not to take anything away from Bruce Weber and a very good Illinois team but I think Tom Izzo is the best coach in the Big Ten. As for a record, my guess would be 13-3. Illinois and Michigan State could very easily tie at 13-3 and Michigan State wins the tie-breaker with a victory over the Illini.

Q. Final Four picks?

A. Even though I like Michigan State to win the Big Ten, I like Illinois as a team that could make the Final Four. My favorites right now for the other three would be North Carolina, Wake Forest and Oklahoma State.

Q. What's your latest intelligence on your own fellow Indianapolisian Greg Oden? Straight to NBA? Lock for the Hoosiers?

A. It's hard to imagine Oden playing college basketball with all the pressure that will be on him to go straight to the NBA. I understand his mother really wants him to go to college but if he's the guaranteed first pick in the draft, I just can't see him taking a chance on college. If he does go to school for a year or two, I would think IU would definitely be in the mix because he's been seen in Bloomington several times. But a lock? If you remember, they thought Sean May was a lock, too.

Q. Is "Indianapolisian" really a word?

A. Probably not but if we start putting it out there it might just catch on.

Q. OK, time to give you an IU break. Let's talk about the rest of the conference. It's supposedly "down" but sports a surprisingly robust RPI. What's your take: is the Big Ten "down"?

A. I think there's a couple of pretty good teams, a couple of pretty bad teams, and a lot of teams in the middle that will beat up on each other as the conference plays out. But many of those teams in the middle I'm guessing could be good enough to win a game or two in the NCAA tournament. So I'm not ready to label the Big Ten as being down.

Having said that, if I really believe IU can go 10-6 in the Big Ten that may be an indication that the conference is indeed a little bit down. So I guess I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth--something I'm pretty good at, by the way.

Q. Let's say you can pick any five non-Hoosier Big Ten players to start the Terry Hutchens University team. The winners are....

A. Give me Paul Davis, Terence Dials, and Mike Wilkinson across the front line (although I really like Carl Landry, too). I'll go with Deron Williams and Dee Brown in my backcourt. And let Tom Izzo coach them. We’d do just fine.

Q. Who's been your favorite player off the floor?

A. My favorite IU player was Kirk Haston, who was just a great kid, someone you hoped would do well. He taught me a lot about life when his mother, who he was extremely close to, was killed in a tornado in Tennessee just before Haston's junior year at Indiana. I did a story on Kirk on Thanksgiving of 2000, a few months After she had died, in which he told some great stories including one about the last Thanksgiving they had spent together the year before. IU had just come home from playing in the Maui Invitational, and Kirk's mom drove up from Tennessee to surprise her son for the holiday. When she arrived in Bloomington, however, she found no stores were open to buy the Thanksgiving fixings, so she ended up buying dinner at Burger King, and they sat in his apartment and ate Whoppers and watched the move "It's a Wonderful Life.'' He said that was a great final Thanksgiving memory to have of his mother.

In our conversation when I was doing the story, I told him that I kind of knew how he felt because I had just lost my dad a few months before. My dad had died of Lou Gehrig's Disease. I'll never forget how the interview changed at the moment. Suddenly, he was looking for everything he could do to help me get over my grief. He went to his bedroom and grabbed a couple of books that people had given him to help him deal with the loss and he asked me to keep them until I didn't need them anymore. It was quite incredible, really, and something I'll never forget.

Q. Favorite coach off the floor?

A. I guess I'd be crazy if I didn't say Bob Knight. While it was incredibly difficult to do my job because of access restrictions, I had a great amount of respect for coach Knight and you always felt like you were in the presence of a living legend. There was always this funny feeling you would get walking the halls of Assembly Hall, wondering if you might bump into him coming around the next corner. And it's hard to describe, but it was just a feeling that he was larger than life. A lot of people don't know it, but coach Knight and I had a pretty good relationship the last 18 months he was at IU. In fact, he wrote me a letter after his final season in which he expressed an interest in giving me a little more access in the coming years. Obviously, that never transpired. Still, whenever people learn that I cover Indiana basketball, the first thing they always want to know is if I was there with coach Knight.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Northwestern shot .500 on their three's and outrebounded their opponent on the road--and lost by ten. Michigan beat the Wildcats 71-61 in Ann Arbor last night. Deadly shooting (.561) and 25 trips to the line did the trick for the home team. (How could it possibly take 22 hours to travel from Chicago to Ann Arbor? Read Wildcat links here and here and find out. Wolverine links here, here, and here. Chris Hunter, who twisted his ankle in the Iowa game, and Brent Petway, who dislocated his shoulder in the Fairfield game, did not play and are both listed as questionable for Michigan's game Saturday at Penn State.)

Minnesota beat Purdue 63-52 in Minneapolis last night. Watching from the warm and toasty Wonk home, your intrepid blogger repeatedly turned away from the screen in Edvard-Munch-level horror as the two teams combined for 36 turnovers and 5-for-25 shooting on their three's. (More hoary details from Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse here.) Proving once again that personal injury attorneys must not have advertised in the yellow pages back when raised floors were conceived, the Gophers played virtually the entire second half without big man Jeff Hagen after he cut his chin and suffered a possible concussion when he fell off the court diving for a loose ball. (Gopher links here and here. Boiler links here, here, and here.)

The always link-worthy Jeff Shelman, who doubles as a college hoops writer for both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and for, introduces this year's surprising Minnesota team to the larger audience in a nifty sum-up here.

Illinois beat Penn State 90-64 in Champaign last night. Watching the Illini run their offensive sets against the overmatched Nittany Lions and their 2-3 zone reminded Wonk a little of the clips one invariably sees on Colts telecasts of Peyton Manning running pregame drills with Marvin Harrison: unopposed mastery. The Illini set a school record with 15 made three's and tied the team record with 34 attempts from behind the arc. (Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch credits Bruce Weber with creating an atmosphere where the Illini "have an aura, a looseness and freedom." More Illini links here, here, and here. PSU link here.)

Indefatigable Illini savant Mark Tupper (interviewed by Wonk Tuesday) blogs here on the friendly in-house discussion over which Illinois team's better: this year's 17-0 edition or the 1989 Final Four team. The comparison's been fueled by a remark made by Stephen Bardo, radio analyst for Illinois games and member of the 1989 Final Four team. According to Tupper, "Bardo's comment that the Flyin' Illini still rank above the current Clockwork Orange Illini precision drill team grated a bit on current Illini players Deron Williams and Dee Brown, who nevertheless said they had to agree with his assessment." (More here and here.)

Alert reader Dave N. alerted Wonk to this profile of Michigan State's Paul Davis by Skip Myslenski that appeared in yesterday's Chicago Tribune. Davis is putting up some nice numbers and has quietly chipped away at the widespread perception, oft voiced in this blog, that he is something of a head case. But with friends like Myslenski, Davis may lose whatever ground he's gained: the opening paragraphs of Myslenski's piece are best read seated in a circle on folding chairs in a church basement....

More and more, the college player is assaulted by outside forces. That's the reality of modern basketball, a far less simple game than the one he once played.

In a different age, the present was all that mattered and the dominant voice belonged to the coach. But now a chorus comes at the player, who hears from peers and parents and the girlfriend, from talk shows and avaricious agents and every fan in the stands.

Some are able to ignore the cacophony and carry on as they have in the past. But others take it all in, or are taken in by it, and they respond, react, push to produce performances that please those people braying at them.

Lesson: when you're successfully overcoming a reputation as a head case, run when a sportswriter gets that Dr. Phil look.

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

Neitzel or no Neitzel, Wonk stands by his misleading headline
Hi, Wonk,

Thanks for revisiting the Neitzel or No Neitzel Hypothesis. You may have missed a spot, though: it seems to me that the discussion of State's delicious stats vis a vis the point guard spot cannot and should not be undertaken without mention of Chris Hill, the starting PG. The man has an assist/turnover ratio of 4! The next best ratio in the conference, belonging to the excellent Luther Head, is 3.04. This is impressive, but comes nowhere near Hill's production.

Neitzel's doing just fine but it seems to me that Hill's play so far is sabotaging your hypothesis. Not only are State's offensive efficiency numbers sky-high, but Mr. Hill is currently functioning as a "true" point guard in every sense of the term, thereby rendering the hypothesis moot, at least for now.

Shawn M.

Shawn refers to an item in yesterday's post that Wonk put under the headline "Are point guards necessary?"

Wonk liked the headline even though he knew it wasn't descriptive. (Headlines? Descriptive? Great superhuman bloggers can't be bound by the archaic customs of a backward gang of ink-stained wretches! Away with you, "descriptive" headlines! (Insert maniacal laughter here.)) Your intrepid blogger liked the headline because he thought it was pithy. Wonk is very pro-pith.

Alas, said headline could have given the impression that Wonk actually intended to talk about point guards. What your intrepid blogger tried to say with the actual post, by notable contrast, was something more like:

Michigan State's fans have been pining for a point guard for years.

Michigan State is putting up incredible numbers on offense again this year, just like last year.

Scoring points is the nominal purpose of offense.

Wow, Michigan State's good.

Alert reader Shawn points (har!) out that Chris Hill has been shouldering these very duties and doing so with aplomb and statistical panache. Indeed. And so forgotten in an instant is a Neitzel-sized mountain of print stories from last year and indeed this early this year on how imperative it is for the Spartans that Hill be "freed up" to play the 2-guard. Success has a way of doing that.

(Shawn wields the assist-turnover ratio well and Wonk applauds its deployment in this teachably extreme case. Overall, however, your intrepid blogger stands by his courageous denigration of the A-T ratio as a number that is too easily mishandled and wielded as an "Ichiro-esque vanity stat," one biased toward stolid backcourt distributors who are no threat whatsoever to score.)

Farewell, Coach Keady! Now, about the new guy....
Hey, Wonk,

Love your blog. It's like getting a daily dose of national and regional sports news in an easy-to-digest gelcap.

My question: will Purdue ever recover after Matt Painter takes over and was he ever the guy to take Coach Keady's job in the first place?

Russ R.

Thanks, Russ! Wonk can honestly say he's never been compared to a gelcap before.

In answer to your question, yes, Painter is the guy to take the job. He's 34 and looks 24. No comb-over. Has Purdue ties. And the Boilers botched the handoff to Bruce Weber. Painter's your guy on paper. Whether or not he'll be your guy on the court is a different question. Short of coaxing Purdue alum John Wooden out of retirement, though, you'll always have that question.

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