Big Ten Wonk
Friday, January 07, 2005
A modest proposal
A January loss at Northwestern for a proud program. An embattled coach. An irate fan base populated by a vocal contingent that yearns for the team's previous coach. A crucial game upcoming against Wisconsin.

Indiana 2005, yes, but also Illinois 2004.

Given the parallels does Wonk think the Hoosiers are on their way to winning the Big Ten outright this year? Your intrepid blogger doesn't do predictions but he'll go out on a limb on this one:


Still, the example of last season's Illini suggests that a loss in Evanston need not be the world-ending event that many believe. (Wonk's always wondered how Northwestern fans feel about the fact that when any team loses to the Wildcats it's immediately taken as a sign that the patient's flat-lining and it's time to get out the defibrillator paddles.) Indeed, there can be life after a loss to NU. With this foundational belief your intrepid blogger herewith offers the following suggestion to coach Mike Davis:

Play Bracey Wright at the point. No, it's not optimal, but Indiana is at a place where "optimal" doesn't apply. "Survival" is more germane at the moment. (Observe, for example, the excellent Hoosier Q&A column maintained by the Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens and how IU fans are currently pleading with Hutchens for info on why (Wonk is not making this up) Donald Perry isn't getting more playing time.)

Besides, it's not unprecedented. Wright played about half the Kentucky game at point. At the time Wonk somewhat churlishly observed that Wright only recorded one assist in the game but, hey, he also only recorded one turnover. Your intrepid blogger's checked the math three times and is fairly sure that gives Wright an assist-turnover ratio of 1-1, which is far better than Indiana's number thus far this year. And, anyway, he scored 31 that game.

Won't this hurt Wright's production on offense? It might, sure, but until you can show Wonk the non-Wright person who can meet the minimum qualifications of the job description (get the team into its offense), your intrepid blogger doesn't see any point (har!) in quibbling over player stats when W's and L's are at stake.

COMING Monday....
Updated PPWS numbers for the best and worst of 70-odd Big Ten starters and key reserves. Will Minnesota who-dat Brent Lawson still be number 1? Will Purdue's David Teague and Illinois' Nick Smith still be co-anchor-men? Tune in Monday!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
One game into the Big Ten season, Purdue coach Gene Keady has called his team out: "It's like a radio station in Chicago said Wednesday, we're 'God awful.'" (More Keady-gazing here and here.) Giving indications that he is an avid reader of this blog, Keady echoed a point Wonk made Wednesday and told Boiler beat writers, "We can't score on a consistent basis on the inside if Carl [Landry] is not in there. When you take away our inside scoring--with the way we're shooting on the perimeter--we're not going to cut it." Speaking of Landry and points....The sidebar in Michael Pointer's "Around the Big Ten" column in the Indianapolis Star reminds us that Bracey Wright's seven-point effort in Indiana's loss against Northwestern was enough to elevate Landry into the top spot as the Big Ten's leading scorer. (Minnesota's Vincent Grier is second, mere hundredths ahead of Wright--the two leading scorers in the conference are newly-arrived juco transfers.)

Ex-Connecticut big man Marcus White has transferred to Purdue and will be eligible as of the second semester next season.

Who knew that Illinois' Jack Ingram has a press agent? And he or she is doing one whale of a job: dueling profiles of Ingram appear in today's Chicago Sun-Times (here) and Chicago Tribune (here). But is this really the best moment to run these? Forced into big minutes Wednesday night by Roger Powell's two quick fouls, the big guy was torched egregiously by Ohio State's Ivan Harris in the first half of the Illini's 84-65 victory over the Buckeyes. In fact, Wonk's EXCLUSIVE sources within the Big Ten's central office inform your intrepid blogger that Harris has issued a formal request for Ingram to guard him in all upcoming OSU games....Also in today's Sun-Times, Jim O'Donnell notes that Bruce Weber very nearly traveled the path now occupied by Matt Painter. Weber had a "serious discussion" with Purdue three years ago about becoming a one-year associate head coach and then transitioning into the top job. "It was to the point where we were talking about salary," Weber says now....Gamely resisting rampant Ingram-mania, Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald & Review instead looks at James Augustine and notes in closing that Saturday's sell-out for the Illini's game at Purdue may have been helped along by plenty of orange-clad ticket buyers.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has impressed this Penn State beat writer.

Undefeated in conference play after one game, Michigan is talking big. "We think we're just as talented, just as good as anybody in the conference, anybody in this country," says Courtney Sims.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan announced yesterday that guard Boo Wade has chosen to leave the team for good due to personal reasons.

(Actually from yesterday: Jeff Shelman writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that dwindling attendance at Minnesota home games is mystifying to Gopher officials (given the team's surprising 10-3 start) and beneficial to opposing teams.)

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Head cases and Wildcats

Seven points on 4-of-7 shooting and 0 for 4 from three-point land against the lowly Mild-Cats? Sounds like Bracey Wright has regained his seat atop your All Head-Case Team.

Out of curiosity, do you think Northwestern has any shot whatsoever at eking out an NCAA bid? As I see it, they have to go AT LEAST 9 and 7 in conference and then win two in Indianapolis. Can it be done? (Penn State, Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio State should give them seven or so wins--that leaves two or three more to steal from the top dogs.)

Just got turned on to your site. Great stuff. Looking forward to reading throughout the winter.

Ed F.

Thanks for the kind words, Ed. In answer to your question about Northwestern: the signs are not good, at least not yet. Sure, they looked good thumping Indiana the other night but in their previous game they only beat Texas-Pan American by eight at home. One question that arises with any team running a Princeton offense (witness North Carolina State's recent struggles) is: what happens when the shots aren't falling? When this happens to NU they're in trouble. However, the Red Sox came back from 3-0 so Wonk would never say never to the Wildcats' first-ever bid.

P.S. The Big Ten tournament returns to Chicago this year, March 10-13.

Rampant Illini-mania in central Illinois--and beyond!
On Tuesday your intrepid blogger recounted his trip to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, over the holidays and noted the enthusiasm triggered by this year's Illinois team in those parts. Wonk's readers respond!


You're right about the level of enthusiasm about the Illini. Home for the holidays, I went to get tickets to the Longwood game to discover that it was sold out. Being an Illini football fan as well, I assumed that I could get tickets from a scalper. As luck had it, there were several dozen people looking for scalped tickets and virtually no one selling. The people that sold tickets were asking as much as $100. Mind you that this is not only Longwood but also Longwood over break, when students aren't there.

And I've even noticed a higher level of enthusiasm here in Massachusetts, where I go to school. Encounters with other Illinois natives are inevitably characterized by discussion of the Illini. Random strangers are more likely to be wearing Illinois gear. Loyal Illini fans even start compulsively reading college basketball blogs to get their fix of Illini. It's really a very satisfying trend, all in all.

Dave S.

Thanks, Dave!

Meanwhile, alert reader Jason reminds us that you don't have to attend the school to be a fan of its team....


I read your post about the Illini and the fervor that is growing around them. I was particular piqued by the Wonk Uncle who "did not attend Illinois, sent no kids to Illinois, has no connection whatever with Illinois."

May I kindly suggest I think I see why the glint in his eye might mystify you. See I'm also from downstate (Pekin) and I grew up with three things prominent in my sporting life: Illini hoops, high school basketball, and Bradley hoops. By the time I was ten, I was an Illini for life, no matter where I eventually would matriculate.

The Illini were everywhere. On bumper and window stickers, on television, in my father's column. The Henson era teams, in my youth, were inescapable. And I loved it.

The love of a team doesn't begin when a tuition bill is paid for oneself or a child; it can begin more inconspicuously than an invoice. My love began with TV, a little news ink, and Lou waving his index finger in the air.

Now I know you're an alum and, for that reason, you have an understandably strong affinity for Illinois. I've read the Illiniboard and I see the condescending tone some alums assume. (In no manner do I think you assume such an air; in fact, your post genuinely displays the aforementioned mystification.)

But as many Illini fans know, fandom doesn't only begin when feet are planted on campus soil. My father and his son are both directional school graduates but that matters little. In our hearts and minds, we are native sons, and therefore, Illini. There's your missing connection.

Sappy, yes. But for thousands of us, truthful as well.

Big Ten Wonk Fan and Occasional Ohio Correspondent,
Jason H.

Thanks, Jason!

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