Big Ten Wonk
Friday, February 25, 2005
The book says that Bo Ryan is inside Michigan State's head. That the Spartans can't win against ranked teams. And, most especially, that a team that rebounds like the Spartans can't possibly be as fast as the Spartans. But Michigan State, it would appear, is rewriting that book.

The Spartans beat the Badgers 77-64 last night in East Lansing in a game that seemed almost unfair. Tom Izzo had an entire team at his disposal but for the balance of the evening it seemed Bo Ryan had only Mike Wilkinson, Alando Tucker, and Zach Morley. Take those three out of the box score and the Badgers are left with only 19 points.

State, by notable contrast, comes at you in waves. If Wonk didn't already know the Spartans are a new kind of Tom Izzo team, your intrepid blogger got the message in the first half when, while Erin Andrews chatted amiably from the sidelines about this or that, Michigan State got out in transition off of a made free throw by Wisconsin. Call Wonk old-fashioned but I thought teams typically walk the ball up in this situation precisely because on any free throw attempt there's a player from the shooting team lingering at half court. Didn't stop State: Shannon Brown got to the other end and got the baseline before Wilkinson could close it off. Foul, two shots.

And yet the Spartans aren't just a team that gets up the floor. They're a team that attacks the glass with ferocity and then gets up the floor. No offense against Paul Davis and Drew Neitzel, but Brown, Alan Anderson and Maurice Ager are the icons for what Wonk is talking about: guys who can touch the top of the backboard and beat you down the court. Wonk has said this before but it bears repeating: Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the Big Ten by far. The words "best rebounding team in the Big Ten" used to conjure a picture of wide bodies and slow games. No more.

(Not that Tom Izzo's totally averse to kicking it old school in that department: wide-bodied Matt Trannon is averaging a notably robust four boards a game in less than 12 minutes per outing.)

As for the Badgers, it is time to ask once again what this team is capable of doing outside of Madison. Aside from playing Illinois tough in Champaign, the record is not good: wins at Purdue, Michigan, and Penn State; 13-point loss at Indiana; 10-point loss at Minnesota; and now a 13-point loss at Michigan State. (Not to mention the ancient non-conference wounds: blowout losses at Marquette and at Pepperdine.) As a source of offense last night the Wisconsin backcourt was missing in action. And Wonk never thought he'd see the day when a Bo Ryan-coached Badger would blow a Fundamentals 101 play as badly as Andreas Helmigk blew the box-out on Drew Neitzel's missed free throw early in the second half. Paul Davis grabbed the rebound, made the putback, got fouled by Helmigk (not really but Helmigk had put himself in a position to be wronged), and made the three-point play. Helmigk did everything but install a paved driveway to the rim for Davis (THIS WAY TO REBOUND)--with all due respect to Davis, the Wonk Grandmother could have gotten that board. Wilkinson may have to play the whole 40 every night from here on out.

No such worries for State, where no player averages more than 26 minutes. The Spartans are doubtless the most overlooked 20-4 and 11-2 team in conference history. Sure, the Big Ten's "down." But that's not the State's fault. They're anything but.

BONUS note on being "down." At the risk of being heretical, the Big Ten was also "down" 29 years ago when a certain team went undefeated and won the national championship. The only ranked opponent that certain team faced that year in conference play was Michigan. True story: just one ranked opponent in-conference. And no one, rightly, criticizes that certain team for the failures of its opponents.

Wisconsin-Michigan State links. Spartan hero Alan Anderson, he of the ridiculously gaudy stat line (28 points, 10-of-10 from the field, 7-of-7 from the line), says, "We had to have this game." (Bo Ryan saw Anderson's numbers after the game and said, and this is a quote, "Wow.") Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says "Anderson was the story of this game, but the great thing about this team is that he probably won't be the story of the next one. This team is so balanced, the school is replacing the Sparty mascot with the scales of justice." Paul Davis, who notched his fourth double-double in the last six games, says victory is sweet indeed after "taking crap left and right" for games not won. Columnist Todd Schulz of the Lansing State Journal says last night the Spartans "proved the outsiders wrong." Dave Dye of the Detroit News says: "Here's the streak that's important now: MSU has won six straight." Dye also points out that, within about a 24-hour period, "Michigan State's record against RPI top-50 teams improved from 2-3 to 5-3." How so? With their win at home over Iowa, Minnesota entered the ranks of the hallowed top 50 this week--and State's beaten the Gophers twice....Is Alando Tucker calling out some of his teammates? Kind of sounds like it: "Some of our guys weren't ready."

EXCLUSIVE Wonk investigative report: Shame of a Nation, Day 433
The diligent professionals at the Big Ten press offices continue to maintain a link on the conference's site to this story: "Q&A with Kris Humphries." This was originally posted, mind you, on December 16, 2003.

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:

"Surly veteran of national champion speaks out: Jerry Lucas says Kent Benson and the Hoosiers 'haven't done anything yet'"

"Farewell to a legend: Indiana fans honor outgoing Purdue coach F. Homer Curtis with new kerosene lamp"

"Baseball star denies substance abuse: in angry rambling rant, Cap Anson says Lister's Carbolic Unguent is legal"

Weekend preview....
Wonk's going to take a long weekend and thus will not post his usual terse Saturday morning here-are-the-games edition. Um, so here are the games....

Purdue hosts Minnesota tomorrow in West Lafayette. Very big game: Gene Keady's last in Mackey Arena. And the Gophers most likely must win to get to the tournament.

Penn State hosts Iowa tomorrow in State College. The Hawkeyes are looking for their first conference road win. The Nittany Lions are looking to build momentum for next season.

Northwestern hosts Michigan tomorrow night in Evanston. Tommy Amaker's team looks to win two in a row after snapping their ten-game losing streak. The Wildcats look to recover from Wednesday's blowout loss at Illinois.

Indiana hosts Michigan State Sunday in Bloomington. Very big game: if the Hoosiers pull off the upset they will at one stroke have put themselves back into tournament consideration. If not, they leave themselves in a position where they must win their game against Wisconsin in Madison Tuesday night. And having to win a game in Madison's not a good position to be in.

Ohio State hosts Wisconsin Sunday in Columbus. For the Badgers it's all about seeding: they need a win to avoid consecutive losses at a bad time of year and to shake the growing perception that they're harmless on the road.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Indiana has been notified by the NCAA that its men's basketball team is not meeting required Academic Progress Rate (APR) standards, a finding that could in theory result in scholarship penalties in the future should the Hoosier fail to show any improvement in this area.

Purdue coach Gene Keady says he's not looking forward to closing out the season with road games at Illinois and at Wisconsin...within 48 hours of each other: "I've been coaching for 25 years and how can the Big Ten double-punish us with that trip to Death Valley?" Andy Katz of pays tribute to Keady here.

Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News is out with his weekly look at the Big Ten. The apparently indefatigable Spadafore also says Michigan's not going to make it to the NIT.

Dave Dye of the Detroit News says Michigan State's MVP is Alan Anderson. (Bo Ryan would agree.)...Tom Izzo says he's learned to accept that a reasonable number of turnovers is a fact of life for an up-tempo team....Tripartite profile of three Spartan freshmen who are redshirting here.

Meme du jour: Who can stop Illinois in the NCAA tournament? Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer looks at "16 teams that can beat Illinois." Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times also looks at some potential Illini-killers (and the RPI top-50)....The Dee-Brown-for-Big-Ten-MVP boomlet continues....Potential Illini all-bus-ride tournament run coverage here....Coverage of incoming Illini recruits here.

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

Latest update from longtime alert reader and die-hard Spartan fan Shawn

After weeks of extolling the virtues of your admittedly impressive Illini, I relish the opportunity to bask in the glory of a Spartan team that has finally come together exactly as we hoped they would.

The team has blossomed in a way that most of us Spartoons had not thought possible. Alan Anderson has taken over, Ager and Brown are remarkably consistent, and Davis has registered another quiet double-double. Moreover, I actually saw him clapping along with the Izzone tonight. It's a beautiful thing.

Regardless of what happens for the rest of the year, I'm proud of these guys for stepping up, playing hard, and knocking the Detroit media back on their heels. Nice job, gentlemen! On to the tourneys!

Shawn M.

P.S. Excellent A.E. Housman reference this week! I did my thesis on him!

Thanks, Shawn!


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