Big Ten Wonk
Friday, January 28, 2005
Whoa, Blue
Michigan lost to Michigan State 64-53 in East Lansing last night and the pattern for Tommy Amaker's team is becoming distressingly plain:

Jan. 5: Win at Iowa, 65-63 (25 turnovers, rebound margin +12)
Jan.12: Win vs. Northwestern, 71-61 (11 turnovers, rebound margin -1)
Jan. 15: Win at Penn State, 66-62 (8 turnovers, rebound margin -11)
Jan. 19: Loss at Indiana, 62-53 (20 turnovers, rebound margin +4)
Jan. 22: Loss vs. Wisconsin, 72-61 (10 turnovers, rebound margin -15)
Jan. 27: Loss at Michigan State, 64-53 (23 turnovers, rebound margin -10)

The pattern is this: in any given conference game Michigan stands about a two-in-three chance of being outrebounded. If by chance they are not outrebounded, however, they will give their opponent at least 20 turnovers. Last night the Wolverines merely added some spice to the mix, combining anemic rebounding and 20+ turnovers in the same game for the first time.

(It's amazing Michigan only lost this game by 11--a fact that's not lost on Tom Izzo as he prepares his team for a Tuesday visit from Illinois. "We play like that [against Illinois], we're going to set a North American loss record," said Izzo after the game. "You won't even have me in this press conference. I'll be hiding somewhere.")

Would Daniel Horton have made a difference for Michigan last night? Possibly but not necessarily. Tommy Amaker could have used another scoring option, surely. But when it comes to turnovers, Horton is the worst offender in the maize and blue, averaging over three a game.

(One thing the presence of Horton would have changed, however: the unrelenting attention paid by ESPN to Michigan guard Dani Wohl, who started but played just 11 minutes, all in the first half. This puzzled Brent Musburger, Steve Lavin, and Erin Andrews and the three devoted a modest but nevertheless notable amount of air time to speculation as to why this would be the case. Two conclusions: 1) not a good sign for your program when the question of the night is "Why aren't we seeing more Dani Wohl?" and 2) having Erin Andrews inquire as to his condition (she "spoke to the training staff about Dani Wohl"!) may well represent a peak life experience for young Mr. Wohl right there.)

Last night's loss leaves the Wolverines 3-3 in conference, 12-8 overall. The good news for Michigan is it's still January and they've already played half their conference road games.

So, while it will likely generate little in the way of attention, the Wolverines' game Sunday at Purdue looms very large. One might even presume to call it a fork in the road. If Michigan can pull off the win they would stand at 3-2 in conference on the road. (The Wolverines' win at Iowa on January 5 was simply huge--for both teams involved.) They can still make something of this season.

But they need to start hitting the boards and holding on to the ball. At the same time.

BONUS Wonk note of puzzlement. How in the world can Michigan--with as many bona fide bigs as Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State, and Ohio State combined--be putting up such woeful rebounding numbers?

Michigan State-Michigan links. Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says Michigan is more of a punching bag than an "archrival" for Michigan State. Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski says Maurice Ager is not only the Spartans' leading scorer, he's also their most underrated player. Fellow News columnist Rob Parker says Tommy Amaker is to be commended for suspending Daniel Horton (charged Monday with misdemeanor domestic violence) in advance of a game against the Wolverines' chief nemesis. From the State side of the page, Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz applauds Chris Hill's efforts to whip up some noise from the Izzone and says "for a change, these Spartans wore their emotions like new tattoos." More here, here, here, here, here, and here.

COMING Monday....
Updated PPWS numbers for the 20 best and 20 worst of 80-odd Big Ten starters and key reserves. Will Michigan State's Kelvin Torbert still be number 1? Will Purdue's Brandon McKnight still be anchor-man? Tune in Monday!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
As detailed in yesterday's post, Iowa coach Steve Alford named names and dished out some strong criticism of his own team in the wake of the Hawkeyes' OT loss at Northwestern Wednesday night. This morning Don Doxsie of the Quad City Times makes an unflattering comparison to Alford's own college coach and says the Iowa coach has to take his share of the blame. Doxsie indicts Alford on one count of a "postgame news conference that was Knight-like for both its brevity and its severity. In 137 seconds--our reporter at the scene timed it--Alford managed to verbally rough up his three best players while eluding all responsibility for what happened on the court." More Hawkeye day-aftershock coverage here.

Michigan State has an 11-game losing streak against ranked teams. Is that going to change Tuesday night against Illinois? Indefatigable Detroit News Spartan beat writer Dave Dye says it'll take "an exceptional performance" by someone in a State uniform. Dye says Tom Izzo's team has been on the losing end of such performances this year, ones turned in by the likes of J.J. Redick and Sharif Chambliss. "The Spartans' problem is they struggle to get that same type of elevated performance from anyone in big games." Dye's nominee for this role? Maurice Ager....Profile of scrappy State guard Tim Bograkos here.

Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, beset this year with injuries and now Daniel Horton's legal issues, says he's focused on building a program for the long haul....Detroit News Wolverine beat writer Jim Spadafore looks at his crystal ball and Michigan's remaining schedule in an attempt to figure out if they're going to make the tournament. "It doesn't look good," Spadafore concludes. (But just wait until next year: everybody back, including Lester Abram.) The apparently indefatigable Spadafore also chips in with a Big Ten Report here.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan issued a statement in defense of Brian Butch yesterday. Butch was termed the Big Ten's "most overrated player" by ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb at halftime of Tuesday night's game between the Badgers and Illinois....Profile of Wisconsin guard Sharif Chambliss here. Chambliss's circuitous route--Wisconsin native goes from struggling Big Ten team to Madison--is not lost on some hopeful souls in Badger chat rooms who are rooting for Wisconsin native Carl Landry to "pull a Chambliss."

Penn State recruiting talk here.

Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi announced yesterday that Dan Monson is his man: "Dan Monson is going to be our coach next year." The Gophers are a surprising 14-5 overall, 4-2 in conference....Rick Alonzo, Minnesota beat writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, looks ahead to tomorrow's game between the Gophers and Illinois here....Minnesota beat writer (and blogger and contributor and probably ambassador to Finland--the guy's busy) Jeff Shelman looks at resurgent Oklahoma and other matters of note in the latest installment of his excellent weekly recap of college hoops for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Shelman also points out that in the absence of NHL games, ESPN is broadcasting more college hoops, including this coming Tuesday's game between Division III foes Grinnell College and Beloit College. Grinnell is averaging (no typos in this sentence) over 112 points and 61 three-point attempts per game.

Wonk EXCLUSIVE: nationwide shortages in newsprint, ink, pixels, bandwidth, hyperlinks attributed to "Illini Effect." It's official: forward Brian Randle will redshirt this season. Randle broke his hand in November when he punched a wall in frustration during practice.

Daily coverage of what Dick Vitale did or did not say yesterday here and here. (BONUS non-hoops note: White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan yesterday denied widespread reports that President Bush, distraught over the lack of attention being paid to his ambitious second-term domestic agenda, is considering having Vitale announce the administration's new school-lunch program in an attempt to garner some Illini-level coverage.)

The quest for a "Flyin' Illini"-comparable nickname for this year's team continues. No clear winner yet. Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald asked three current Illinois regulars to name all five starters from the 1989 Final Four team. Results here. (Hint: President Bush will today ask Dick Vitale to announce the formation of a Presidential blue-ribbon commission on improving our nation's awareness of its rich Illini heritage.) Daily which-team-is-better coverage here.

Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey says the heck with losing being a good thing and taking the pressure off. Illinois should aim for the empyrean realm of Scott May, Kent Benson and Quinn Buckner: "Embrace the chance to be the next Indiana [undefeated in 1976]. Enjoy it. Wear it like a warm coat." Morrissey's fellow Tribune columnist Ed Sherman says publicity is the "vital lifeblood of a successful college basketball program. Illinois, though, is about to find how much of a good thing it can handle." (Gosh. A columnist fretting about the amount of press coverage while adding to the amount of press coverage. How McLuhanite!)

In addition to tomorrow's game against Minnesota, the Assembly Hall will host a celebration of 100 years of Illini basketball. Updates on the planned Centennial festivities here and here.

Illini madness on the march. Tuesday night's game between Illinois and Wisconsin was the highest rated college basketball game on ESPN in three years.

March madness online. CBS.sportsline, in conjunction with College Sports Television, announced a multiyear deal yesterday that gives them exclusive video streaming rights for out-of-market games during the men's NCAA tournament. The package will cost $19.95 and cover all games through the regional semi's. Feeds will be available through,, and

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A broad-based (international!) groundswell of support: Kelvin Torbert for the All-Wonk Team
Yesterday your fickle blogger unceremoniously dumped Iowa's Jeff Horner from the All-Wonk Team (3.0) and threw the blogospheric floor open to nominations for Horner's replacement. Wonk's readers respond!

Hi, Wonk,

I'd like to hereby nominate Kelvin Torbert for the all-Wonk team. My case:

-He ranks first in PPWS.

-He ranks 1st in the B10 in free-throw percentage (.909), 1st in 3-point field-goal percentage (.486) and 6th in field-goal percentage (.582). He is the only player in the B10 to be in the top ten for all categories.

-Although he comes off the bench, he plays a similar amount of minutes as the other wings on the team and is, in effect, a 6th starter.

-After being named the HS basketball national POY, he was willing to come to East Lansing, buy into the system, focus on D, improve his shot dramatically, stoically take heaps of criticism, and in his senior year, come off the bench after starting for 3 years.

-He still gets no respect. This Tuesday, while the Free Press did manage to include him in the sub-headline, they also managed to misspell his name.

Shawn M.

Thanks, Shawn! You've got company overseas....

Dear Wonk,

All-Wonk Team Nomination: Kelvin Torbert.

You gotta love this guy. In high school, he was Mr. Everything. Then, his shot fell apart for two years. Last year, only one sub-6'5" guy in the COUNTRY had a better FG% (Hassan Adams). Now, he never misses! And he is the soul of the MSU team. The island of safety in the MSU wavepool.

Give KT the love he deserves!

From Thailand,
Joshua D.

Thanks, Joshua! Wonk's always happy to hear from one of his many readers in Thailand (Wonk being to the Thai roughly what Jerry Lewis is to the French).

Other nominations?

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