Big Ten Wonk
Friday, February 11, 2005
EXCLUSIVE Wonk investigative report--CONTINUED! Shame of a Nation, Day 419
Long-time readers (i.e., those from before last week) may remember Wonk's dogged and tireless efforts a while back to get the Big Ten to remove an antiquated story on former Minnesota gunner Kris Humphries from the conference web site's main men's basketball page. After putting up hard-hitting posts here, here, and here, your intrepid blogger logged onto one day and noted with smug satisfaction that the Humphries story was finally gone. Results at last! And so last December 9 Wonk declared victory and, as chance would have it, also took the time to compliment the members of the Pulitzer selection committee on what an outstanding job they do year in and year out.

UPDATE: But now the crack professionals on Wonk's Follow-Up Desk, aided immeasurably by the diligent sifting of alert reader Cliff A. (shout), have made a shocking discovery: "Q&A with Kris Humprhies" isn't gone, it's just moved! Here it is, still on the Big Ten website! When following this link, gentle readers, keep in mind two things:

1. Today is February 11, 2005.
2. This story was originally posted on the Big Ten website on December 16, 2003.

And so this blogger is moved to once again insert the following auto-text....

Meticulous can't-be-rushed antiquarians of the Big Ten's web content group, Wonk salutes you! In fact, Wonk thinks you've got a pretty sweet gig if your boss looks to you for new content only every 14 months or so. Watch for still more fast-breaking stories coming soon from the tireless scriveners at Big Ten HQ:

"Digger Phelps looks at undefeated number 1 team: 'They have no shot at the Final Four--Scott May's overrated'"

"A talk with John Wooden: Purdue sophomore says he welcomes repeal of Prohibition"

"Coach suffers dizzy spell, faints on court; 'I'm alright,' says Coach Naismith"

Bloggers on the march!
Yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer carried a very nice story by Janet Paskin on the swelling wave of college hoops bloggers. Paskin dishes particularly good details on Kyle Whelliston (Mid-Majority), Yoni Cohen (College Basketball Blog), and Ken Pomeroy (Blah Blah Blah). These blogs require no hypertexting here from Wonk--they are canonical, as stated in perpetuity in Wonk's sidebar, and this blogger devours each of them daily as an avid reader.

Your intrepid blogger also landed a small mention in the Inquirer piece and indeed was interviewed by Paskin on Monday but, alas, my pearls of wisdom--and they were both numerous and epigrammatic, mind you--were left in the recycling bin next to the copy desk. Note to potential interview subjects: long detailed recountings of the time you stole the ball in the sixth-grade game and missed the layup because your trunks had fallen down do not, apparently, go over real well.

BONUS blog-watch note: Wonk notes with wholly unjustified smug pride that the very three bloggers that were declared "canonical" on this site a month or so ago were the same three that got the MSM ink in yesterday's Inquirer. Your intrepid blogger takes this awesome behind-the-scenes agenda-setting power very seriously. And so Wonk kindly directs your attention to Cort Basham's excellent Bracket Board, which yesterday had this to say on the subject of Duke-Carolina:

The ESPN All Stars defeated North Carolina 71-70. I haven't logged on to yet, because I know I'm probably going to see a picture of J.J. Redick walking on water while being crowned by the Pope, accompanied by a link titled, "Why J.J. Redick Will Be President in 2024" by Mike Patrick.

Wonk salutes Basham's three-legged stool of perceptiveness, wit, and, most importantly, grammatical precision, as seen in his correct spelling of the otherwise invariably misspelled "Redick." Well done, Cort!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The girlfriend of Michigan guard Daniel Horton told police she had been abused by Horton prior to the incident that allegedly occurred on December 10 and which led to Horton being suspended from the team. Horton has missed five games since the January 25 suspension. For those who, like Wonk, were puzzled over yesterday's odd silence after we'd been told that a preliminary hearing would be held in Horton's case Wednesday (possibly even resulting in his reinstatement to the team), it turns out that Horton's attorney missed the hearing due to a car accident. It's been rescheduled for Monday....In Horton's absence, Wolverine players say they want to bring the intensity they showed against Illinois to their game at home tomorrow against Michigan State. (For their part the Spartans expect Michigan to slow the game down tomorrow, just like Tommy Amaker's team did Tuesday against the Illini.)

Indefatigable Michigan beat writer Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News chips in with his weekly Big Ten report here. Jon Masson of the Wisconsin State Journal does likewise, here.

Profile of Michigan State senior Kelvin Torbert here. Speculation on whether the Spartans can win out here.

Indiana guard Bracey Wright is still hobbled by the injured ankle he suffered in the Penn State game last week. No date has been set for his return.

Seemingly oft-injured Minnesota big man Jeff Hagen sprained his right ankle late in Wednesday night's game against Northwestern and is listed as day-to-day. (Indefatigable Minneapolis Star Tribune Gopher beat writer Jeff Shelman chips in with his excellent weekly review of the national college hoops scene here.)

Northwestern's players are still happily explaining their dramatic come-from-behind win at Minnesota on Wednesday night.

Profile of Wisconsin guard Kammron Taylor here.

There are days without Illinois games but no days without Illinois coverage. Frank Burlison of the Sporting News says Illinois is the real deal....Indefatigable Chicago Sun-Times Illini beat reporter Herb Gould wins this week's Leopold von Ranke Award for achievement in historiography with this excellent pocket history of the Illini basketball program's last 30 years....Illini players say they're not concerned if their wins are ugly. "As long as we keep winning,'' Dee Brown says, "I don't care what people say about how we're playing.''...Bruce Weber sums up his motion offense thusly: "I lose control; [the players] have freedom. Some coaches can't deal with it and can't run motion." (Token nod to the Illini D here.)...Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper says for the Illini the emphasis now "shifts from inventing game plans to tweaking them as top-ranked Illinois begins a six-game stretch against teams it already has played once."...Can-they-run-the-table coverage here....Profile of James Augustine here....Profile of Jack Ingram here....Fretting over the starters' minutes here....Illini miscellany here.

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

Today is Friday and Wonk is more than happy to leave the brunt of the keystrokes to you, the alert readers. And so enjoy this special double-issue of Wonk-back!

Wonk is thinking seriously of declaring "canonical"

Rumor has it that hits at have gone up 10 percent since the start of the college basketball season.

After fondly noting the correct and appropriate use of "normative" on Wednesday, I gave in and was forced to look up "dispositive" on Thursday.

The basketball commentary is solid, too. Keep it up.

Robin F.

As a normative matter, it's your third paragraph, Robin, that Wonk aims for. Thanks for the kind words.

Being Steve Alford
Also yesterday Wonk likened Iowa coach Steve Alford and his teams' seemingly yearly conference swoons to those people who somehow uncannily suffer injuries or mishaps on the same day of the year every year. Wonk's readers respond!


I just wanted to send a note to thank you for your intrepid musings. I am an Illini grad stranded in the middle of the Hawkeye nation. Your coverage of everything that is Big Ten has saved me from the Orange-n-Blue information starvation from which I have suffered in years past. To top it off, you have to be one of the best writers I've come across. Today's "nails these theses to the blogospheric cathedral door" is a classic. Keep up the inspiring prose.

Since I am infested with all that is Hawkeye, I have my own musings on the Wonder-boy coach. I agree completely with your spin today....

Every year holds great promise for the Hawkeye nation, buttressed with stunning victories (from #1 UConn in Alford's first game as the Iowa head coach to Texas and Louisville this year), only to have those hopes dashed by inconsistent performances, unbalanced foul calling, injuries, and legal proceedings, none of which Alford will take any of the blame for.

He is a dangerous "one-game" coach. Somehow, every year he is able to motivate his players to outperform for a single game or series of games (e.g., the Big Ten tournament), but he has shown that he is unable to sustain that level of performance throughout the dreariness of an entire Big Ten season.

In my opinion, Alford suffers from a lack of a quality apprenticeship under a quality mentor head coach. Sure, he played under Coach Knight, but that was only for four years, but that was probably marred by the dreaded antagonistic coach to player relationship that so many of the Knight players seem to be victims of.

Keep up the great work.

Steve G.

Thanks, Steve!

Annoyed by all the Illinoise, day 2
Still more follow-through from yesterday! You may remember Wonk posted an email from alert reader William L., who said he was "so tired of hearing" that Illinois is the second coming of UCLA under John Wooden. Wonk's readers respond! (And, Wonk notes with interest, the first response comes from a Purdue fan, longtime alert reader Matt M., springing to the defense, kinda, of the Illini.)


William L's e-mail brought up some good points and he is correct in saying that this Illinois team will not be mistaken with any of Wooden's championship teams at this point.

However, some superlatives are in order for this Illinois team in that they have beaten everyone set before them and they have done so with virtually no frontcourt and no bench. Augustine is pedestrian at best and Smith is the proverbial box of chocolates. To say that they would lose against "superior" teams in other conferences is just speculation. Michigan beat ND at Crisler but the Irish beat BC on the same night Illinois got their ugly win at Crisler. Should we attach some sort of significance to that?

As time passes, people attach foggy remembrances of 40 minutes of perfect basketball every night to teams like the '75 and '76 Hoosiers. But there were a lot of narrow escapes for those teams, especially against some fairly average Purdue squads, natch, and not a very deep Big Ten. Illinois has hit a bad stretch but they are still undefeated, thanks largely to their guards running Weber's offense efficiently. There is something to be said for that no matter whom or how they play.

Matt M.

Thanks, Matt!

More from alert reader Dave C.:


Like you, I had to chuckle a bit at William L’s anti-Illinois harangue. You pointed out the most ridiculous argument he makes, the non-conference road win argument. How many Top 25-caliber teams have a pair of road wins like Arkansas and Georgetown. Kansas won at Kentucky but later they were thoroughly embarrassed at Villanova. Wake has a decent wins at New Mexico and Temple. Kentucky won at Louisville on a questionable play. Duke and UNC have no impressive non-conference road wins and UNC only traveled Indiana because they had to….and Illinois has the “pathological fear of playing difficult non-conference games on the road”?

William also fails to make a mention of the “other” four statement games that Illinois won, all of them by double-digits and none of them at home. That would be Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Wisconsin and Michigan State. He states that if Illinois played the way they played against Indiana and Michigan against better opposition, they would’ve lost. Well, I would contend, based on Illinois’ performances in the five “statement” games, that they wouldn’t play as bad against a better team.

The reason for the subpar quality play vs. Indiana, Iowa and Michigan was simply a lack of intensity against an inferior opponent with nothing to lose and everything to gain. People shouldn’t discard this out of hand. Illinois has received everyone’s best shot since they became #1 and they’ve passed every test. They’ve played in some very tough environments in the Big Ten, each of those opponents wanting to shock the world, most of the time on national TV. And all Illinois has done is send their fans home shaking their heads.

I don’t excuse these occasional struggles, and I think Illinois can work to improve their focus in these “dog days” games against “blah” opponents. But I think people are looking too hard to for reason to topple the King of the Mountain. It makes for “good ink,” which is fine with me as an Illini fan. The team can always use the extra motivation.

Dave C.

Thanks, Dave!

There's more but Wonk's going to call a timeout at this point and try a shameless marketing gimmick:

Tune in tomorrow for a point-by-point statement on William's email from alert reader Matthew F.

And we'll hear from the man himself, alert reader William L., as he responds to Wonk's response.


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