Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
From here to March 13 (part 2)
Welcome to day 2 of Wonk's sagacious pontificating on the postseason prospects of the Big Ten's bubble-ish teams! Yesterday your intrepid blogger looked at the scrappy young Indiana Hoosiers, who then promptly went out and laid the latest in a series of road eggs last night, one likely fatal to their chances (see below). This has both Iowa and Minnesota--both with games tonight--emailing Wonk frantically this morning: "Don't post on us! Don't post on us!"

Ha! Silly teams. Wonk will not be swerved by so much as one iota from his duty! (Except with generous cash payments.) And so, fair readers, I give you today's singular subject for searching scrutiny, Dan Monson's lovable band of who-dat's, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Minnesota (16-8, 6-5)
Remaining games:
at Michigan State (tonight)
vs. Ohio State (Saturday)
vs. Iowa (2/23)
at Purdue (2/26)
at Penn State (3/2)

The Gophers must look at that schedule and at that record and think: Doh! If only we hadn't collapsed in the last four minutes at home against Northwestern. We'd be 7-4, tied for third in the conference with Wisconsin.

To which Wonk says: Yup! Pretty much! That Northwestern loss was huge. Losing at home in February to a conference foe with an RPI of 129 usually is. So where does that leave Minnesota today? Better yet, let's move ahead 24 hours....

For the sake of discussion let us assume Dan Monson's team rolls out of bed tomorrow morning at 6-6 in conference. From such a middling perch (and with an RPI of 63), the Gophers will want to win out to give themselves any shot at the tournament. (Remembering always, of course, ATCWCT!)

The good news is the schedule gives Minnesota a decent chance of running the table after tonight. The bad news, however, is that Dan Monson has worried openly about his team's fatigue--and the numbers bear him out. Over their last two games the Gophers are just 32 of 91 from the field (.352) and just 5 of 27 on their three's (.185). And in those two games Minnesota's turned the ball over 38 times (against opponents, Northwestern and Indiana, not exactly known as attacking ball-hawking fiends).

Bottom, for today: The Gophers likely won't win tonight but a good showing would still go a long way toward quelling fears that their tank is empty and that their bid is in serious peril.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State beat Indiana 57-44 in Columbus last night. Bracey Wright dressed but did not play for the Hoosiers. For all those commentators who thought Illinois' win over Wisconsin on Saturday was "ugly," verily Wonk sayeth unto thee: this was ugly. And how! Good grief, watching brick after wayward brick (many not even drawing iron) flung haplessly up in the museum-quality silence of the somnambulant Value City Arena, Wonk was forced to repeatedly turn away from the screen in Edvard Munch-level horror. At one point your intrepid blogger actually thought he heard Steve Lavin snoring. Buckeye coach Thad Matta, calling upon the tactful phrasing that comes so naturally to we central Illinois natives, put it this way: "I don’t think I have ever coached in a game where the shot clock was more involved." Indianapolis Star Hoosier beat writer Terry Hutchens says this was yet "another crucial road loss for an IU team that came into the week probably needing to win at least one of two road games to keep alive its slim hopes for an NCAA tournament berth." D.J. White, still a believer, says from here on out his Hoosiers will "have to win every game."

Michigan State hosts Minnesota tonight in East Lansing. In this morning's Minneapolis Star Tribune, perceptive Gopher watcher Jeff Shelman says Vincent Grier's brilliant 26-point second half against Wisconsin was actually "the beginning of a downturn in the Gophers' offense." How so? "In the Wisconsin game and recent losses to Northwestern and Indiana, the ball hasn't moved as quickly or as often. The Gophers haven't cut to the basket or run off screens as frequently. Instead, the Gophers' offense has consisted of getting the ball to Grier and letting him go to work."...Profile of Grier here....Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says other coaches may be worried about fatigue at this point in the season but he is not. "I'm happy to say that maybe right now is when we get a little stronger because of our depth."...Freshman point guard Drew Neitzel will again get the start tonight in place of Chris Hill....Profile of Spartan forward Alan Anderson here....Paul Davis needs five points to become the fourth current Spartan to record 1,000 career points, the others being Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert, and Alan Anderson.

Wisconsin hosts Michigan tonight in Madison. Wolverine beat writer Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News says Michigan is consistent in their inconsistency. Tommy Amaker's players know at this point they're playing to get to .500 and another NIT bid....Profile of Badger big man Mike "Green Acres" Wilkinson here.

Penn State hosts Illinois tonight in State College, where a new restaurant called Wings over Happy Valley is offering a free order of seven jumbo wings to every fan in attendance tonight if the Nittany Lions pull off the upset. Should store manager Steve Moreira be worried? Penn State coach Ed DeChellis says, er, maybe: "It's going to be a tough task, but it can be done."...Illini pride factoid of the day: Illinois is the only team in the nation to have won 25 or more games each of the last five seasons....Dee Brown is pumped! It may be Penn State but Brown says: "These are the biggest games, bigger than Wisconsin, bigger than anybody. These games get you your rings. If you lose these games, you're right back on your butt. It's that simple."...Yes, Luther Head's hair is getting bigger. The senior guard is staying away from haircuts as a good luck charm....Three-headed monster coverage here....Kent Benson, he of the undefeated 1976 Indiana team, says he for one is not worried about this year's Illini duplicating the storied accomplishment that he and his teammates recorded for the ages. At least not yet. "It's way too early in the season. I don't even begin to get concerned about it or think about it until the Final Four."

Purdue hosts Iowa tonight in West Lafayette. Yesterday coach Steve Alford met with Pierre Pierce and denied his appeal to be reinstated to the team. (Next step for Pierce: a written appeal to Iowa AD Bob Bowlsby.) As for tonight's match up, Alford says correctly, "This is a key road game." Which is to say: the Hawkeyes are yet to win a conference road game. And losing tonight to the Boilermakers (RPI 219, not a typo) would not exactly enhance Iowa's already slim chances for an NCAA invite....Coming off a bye week, Purdue coach Gene Keady says his team is rested and ready.

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

An All-Head-Case coach?

Love your stuff and, no, that is not just a pitiful cry for acceptance and recognition.

If you are going to the trouble of anointing an All Head-Case Team (and who am I to argue with the Almighty Wonk?) you might as well finish the job and give us the All Head-Case Coach. Think of the possibilities...

Behind door number 1, we have Mean Gene Keady, who sounded like he was going to go postal and single-handedly massacre his own team...and this was BEFORE they played last weekend.

Behind door number 2, we have the always beloved Steve Alford, who threw his team under the bus after a ghastly loss against Northwestern earlier this year.

Behind door number 3, we have Mike Davis, who perpetually looks like someone just ran over his dog.

And let's not forget those bit players in the Big Ten ranks, Bruce Weber (love the guy, but who else can answer one question from the media for forty-five minutes and never even pause to take a breath) and Tommy Amaker (he gets a pass for this year, but has anyone ever failed to fill expectations more thoroughly than this man?)

Wonk, we demand an accounting!

John G.
Woodridge, IL

Thanks, John! Wonk is going to reach outside the Big Ten for still another nomination....

Readers, if you haven't already seen this tidbit making its way throughout the blogosphere, please link to it now. It is video of Missouri coach Quin Snyder in the locker room with his team. In this precious bound-for-the-Smithsonian clip, Snyder (Wonk is not making this up) is singing his own soulful solo rendition of the 1982 Survivor hit "Eye of the Tiger" to his bewildered players, none of whom were sentient music-listening beings 23 years ago. (This link comes to you from, where else, a Kansas Jayhawk blog, the very well done Phog Blog.)

In Wonk biographical terms, Snyder's bizarre warbling equates roughly to the spectacle that would have been presented to this blogger, when he was but a reserve powerless forward on the Springfield H.S. sophomore team, if coach Clark Barnes had attempted to "keep it real" with us jaded youngsters by suddenly bursting forth with his rendition of "A Tisket, a Tasket" or "Mama Will Bark."


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