Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Home rules
Another three W's for home teams last night, including, perhaps most surprisingly, Northwestern, 75-74 winners in OT over Iowa.

Wonk has a shocking confession to make. At the point where the Hawkeyes assumed a 62-50 lead with 3:24 left in regulation, your intrepid blogger thought things were well in hand for Steve Alford's men and switched over to check on Maryland-Duke. Man, was Wonk ever wrong....

What your intrepid blogger missed by foolishly switching to non-Big-Ten programming (never a good idea, surely) was Vedran Vukusic (yes, he was supposedly injured--lately it seems any Big Ten player who's listed as "questionable" hops right up and drops 30 on the opposing team) hitting two three's and then sinking three free throws after being fouled outside the arc by Pierre Pierce with 13 seconds left. Overtime.

By now Wonk is watching again and Iowa, again, takes what appears to be a comfortable lead: 73-68 with 1:45 left in OT. But this time your intrepid blogger knows well enough to stick around. Sure enough, Vukusic scores a quick four points and Greg Brunner misses one of two free throws to make it a 74-72 Hawkeye lead with 50 seconds left.

And then the roof fell in for Iowa, albeit slowly:

Jeff Horner missed two free throws with 18 seconds left.

With four seconds left, Pierce threw an inbounds pass directly into the surprised but delighted hands of T.J. Parker and the Wildcats immediately call a timeout.

Inbounding under his own basket with 2.7 seconds left, Tim Doyle is obviously looking for Vukusic but then sees 5'9" walk-on Michael Jenkins, inexplicably left alone by Horner and eagerly spotting up for the three on the left wing. Jenkins gets the pass and once again records a garishly ugly yet indisputably effective three (a habit of his that Wonk has noted before): the ball bounces high off the rim and actually appears to be rimming out (slow-motion replays showed a few distraught Wildcat fans throwing their hands down in disgust for one split-second) before coming back down to the rim a second time and, barely, falling in.

The Hawkeyes at last found an opponent they could beat senseless on the boards (38 to 27) but Alford's men continued a dispiriting habit of theirs and again coughed up too many turnovers (19), including 10 by Pierce alone (number 10 being the fatefully errant inbounds pass with two seconds left in OT).

(By the way, that thud you just heard was the sound of Jeff Horner falling off the All-Wonk Team. Nominations for his replacement are now being accepted!)

In brief yet strikingly mephitic postgame remarks, Coach Alford continued a now venerable tradition he has of repeating this blogger, this time on the topic of Greg Brunner: "Bru did a lot of nice things on offense, but defensively, he was awful." Now, Steve, Wonk has warned you about this: (insert Krusty the Clown voice here) you're stealing my bit!

Money graf from Iowa blogger Ryan's must-read post-mortem at Hawkeye Hoops (no Alford-basher he):

"Now I know what it's like to be a Cubs fan. You come into the season with a guarded optimism, not wanting to get attached to a team that has repeatedly let you down. Your team reels off some wins, and looks like an early contender. You tell yourself, 'Hey, this team is really good, there's no way can history repeat itself again.' Then reality sets in, your team returns to mediocrity, and your season ends way too early. And it finally hits me--Steve Alford has turned Iowa into the Chicago Cubs of the Big Ten. Couple that with ridiculous ticket prices and I also finally understand why no one shows up at Carver (maybe they just need to sell Old Style)."

Mainstream Hawkeye links here, here, and here. Wildcat links here, here, and here.

Elsewhere in Big Ten land last night, Minnesota beat Indiana 70-65 in Minneapolis. Bracey Wright recorded this week's "it's a bad sign when your opponent wants you to shoot" stat line, going 0-of-10 on his three's. The Hoosiers as a team shot .446 from the floor. Subtract Wright and they shot .543, led by 23 points from D.J. White. BONUS Wonk aesthetic critique: The alley-oop that Pat Ewing dunked with about nine minutes left in the first half was get-off-the-couch tasty. If Ewing's dad had been blessed with the same hops in his day he could have touched the top of the backboard. (Gopher links here and here. Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse says Minnesota's winning with their defense. Hoosier link here. Indefatigable Indiana beat writer Terry Hutchens astutely notes that Bracey Wright is yet to record a made three on the road in Big Ten play: he's 0-for-17. Memo to Steve Alford for Saturday: let Wright shoot all he wants.)

Ohio State beat Penn State 68-62 in Columbus last night. The Nittany Lions outrebounded the Buckeyes by nine and recorded the same number of makes from the free throw line (10) as OSU had for attempts--and still lost. Poor shooting (.386) was enough to do in the visitors. Penn State has now lost 26 consecutive Big Ten road games. On the plus side for the Nittany Lions, freshman Geary Claxton continues to display hints of better days to come, giving Ed DeChellis 18 points and nine boards. (Buckeye link here. Laudably glass-is-half-full PSU link here: "The Nittany Lions were competitive for the first time in three Big Ten road trips.")

Wisconsin-Milwaukee beat Purdue 73-68 in West Lafayette last night, a game UWM was actually favored to win. And the PA announcer in Mackey Arena made an appeal in the first half for fans sitting in the upper levels to come down to the empty seats closer to the court. (Ye gods.) All-Wonk Team member Carl Landry notched another double-double (26 points, ten boards) but the Boilermakers went just 2-of-17 on their three's and turned the ball over 19 times. Losing to a hyphenated school at home will doubtless subject the Boilers to a fresh round of howlings from certain quarters. But also keep the following in mind: UWM is 15-4 with a win over Air Force and a very respectable 11-point loss at Kansas to their credit. (OK, everybody loses respectably in Lawrence. Anyway, excellent recap from blogger Chris West here. Mainstream links here, here, and here.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan State hosts Michigan tonight in East Lansing and the Wolverines will play without Daniel Horton, suspended from the team indefinitely after being charged Monday with domestic violence. For their part the Spartans are listing Paul Davis as questionable for tonight's game after he injured his ankle this week in practice. (Detroit-based neither-wholly-Wolverine-nor-Spartan links (Dave Dye and Jim Spadafore! Joint byline! Mass hysteria!) here, here, here, and here. Virtually Jeffrey Toobin-esque legal analysis of Daniel Horton's situation here. Unadulterated Lansing-based Spartan links here and here.)

It's an off day for Illinois meaning there are only 3,461 Illini links to share instead of the customary 14,819. Let's get right to it!....

Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that Illinois fans should stop and smell the roses: 20-0 doesn't happen every day. On the other hand, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch is miffed, probably because the RPI computer wouldn't return his calls requesting an interview. Couch bravely soldiers on, however, questioning how in the world the Illini can be rated ninth in the RPI. (Wonk says: because they played Longwood.) Daily can-they-run-the-table? coverage here and here. Daily coverage of Illini indignation over something Dick Vitale did or didn't say here.

Tribute to former coach Lou Henson here. The City of Champaign has announced it will christen the portion of First Street outside Assembly Hall as "Lou Henson Court."

Meanwhile analysis continues of the win in Madison Tuesday night. Day-afterglow coverage here. Yesterday Wonk saluted the orange and blue for displaying an ability to make in-season offensive adjustments and for showing Wisconsin some different looks. Wonk's not the only one thinking along these lines! Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald looks at Bruce Weber's adjustments on offense here.

Grant Wahl of profiles Nick "Chainsaw" Smith here. (Read it and you'll understand.)

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

Email received late last night....

Why in the world is every Steve Alford team so soft? Criminy! Additionally, how in the world does one human being commit 10 turnovers in one friggin’ game at Northwestern?


Mike E.
Eldridge, IA

At least one observer of last night's game agrees with you, Mike! "I don't know how you can play this game and have 10 turnovers."

That observer would be Alford himself. Wonk has been known to send some tactful criticism Alford's way from time to time (see here). But this blogger saw a lot of non-Alford factors at work in last night's collapse, most notably missed free throws, Pierce's inbounds pass that was intercepted, and, of course, Horner's curious defense on the final play.

(Wonk reads lips and he's pretty sure he saw Horner reduced to shouting "Miss it, Noonan!" at Jenkins.)

Housekeeping, Part 1
Wonk is pleased to announce that his sidebar's links to other blogs have at long last been updated to more accurately reflect the increasing wealth of good hoops commentary that is available in the blogosphere. Enjoy.

Housekeeping, Part 2
Next week, after posting on the Illinois-Michigan State game, Wonk is going to take a few days off. So there.

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