Big Ten Wonk
Friday, March 11, 2005
According to form
Welcome to day 2 of Wonk's 'round-the-most-convenient-parts-of-the-clock coverage of the Big Ten Tournament!

The results of yesterday (dubbed "Lourdes Day" by your intrepid blogger--teams playing on Thursday need a miracle) have left us with today's like-they-drew-it-up bracket (all times Central):

(1) Illinois vs. (8) Northwestern, 11am (ESPN)
The Wildcats would seem to be hopelessly overmatched in this one but, of course (all together now!): the 1-seed has lost on Friday in four out of the seven years the Big Ten Tournament's been played. (The victims were: Michigan State in '98, Ohio State in '00, and Wisconsin two years in a row, '02 and '03.) When fun facts collide! But wait, here's an additional nugget: Illinois has never lost a quarterfinal game. The Illini have made it to at least the semifinals every year.

So who knows? To compete with the Illini, NU needs to do the following: 1) shoot extremely well (like you did against Illinois in Evanston) and/or see if you can get some Matt Sylvester-esque stuff going with Vedran Vukusic taking it to the tin; 2) Hope Illinois is off their game; 3) See 2. Wonk does not mean to be flippant because, in fact, far stranger things have happened than Northwestern winning this game this morning. (See: 2004 ALCS.) It's just that the Wildcats would have to do multiple things diametrically out of character to pull it off. They are the worst rebounding team in the Big Ten, the worst free throw shooting team, and the worst non-Penn-State team in the conference in terms of offensive efficiency.

Links. Bruce Weber doesn't sound like a guy who's going to be hoisting a trophy on Sunday: "It would be nice [to win], I guess. It's not going to make or break us, though. If I had my choice between winning this weekend and next weekend, I'll take next weekend--and the weekend after that. And the weekend after that." (For his part, indefatigable Illini beat writer John Supinie sounds a bit more enthused about the weekend than Weber.) Still, the Illini coach says he'd be "surprised" if his team did not play well--"especially Friday"....Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti really really needs a new meme. He's still on the losing-was-a-good-thing thing. At this rate he'll be regaling some retirement home attendant in 2054. ("I tried to tell them. It's too much pressure. The media's scrutiny's too much.")...Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper lists five postseason to-do's for Illinois on his blog....Columnist Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Illinois needs to execute like they have all season long--except in Columbus....More fretting about Luther Head here....Fred Nkemdi profile here.

(4) Indiana vs. (5) Minnesota, 1:30pm (ESPN)
The most interesting game of the day, at least in advance. Let's get the bubble speculating out of the way at the top, shall we? Here's how Wonk sees it, bearing in mind always the admonition of William Goldman:

If Indiana loses, they're going to the NIT.

If Indiana wins, they keep hope alive but their work is likely still not done. Minnesota, meanwhile, should still be able to creep in as an 11-seed or so (barring an embarrassing blowout).

(Wow, Jeff Shelman agrees! St. Paul Pioneer Press writer and inveterate iconoclast Rick Alonzo, on the other hand, isn't so sure the Gophers are so safe.)

The Hoosiers have made their late-season surge thanks in no small part to a sudden and highly-contagious outbreak of good shooting. IU is shooting .480 on their three's over the last five games--statistically speaking, it's as if the entire Indiana team is suddenly Dee Brown. Minnesota, on the other hand, is holding opponents to just .315 from outside the arc. (WARNING: cliche ahead.) Folks, something's gotta give!

As has been noted in this blog previously, if you see the Gophers take the court, get ready to see a lot of turnovers: Dan Monson's team leads the Big Ten in gifts for the opponent. And yet Minnesota takes the ball away often enough to actually have a +1.14 turnover margin. As for the Hoosiers, the danger in this game is that they will be beaten to a pulp on the glass. IU's leading rebounder is (no, not D.J. White) Bracey Wright--so the opportunity should be there for a gaudy stat line for Jeff Hagen.

Links. The best game-day analysis may well come from Hoosier big man D.J. White, who says of Minnesota: "Both times we've played them, they've double-teamed me inside and basically dared our perimeter players to beat them." Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says if the Gophers make the big dance, "the rebuilding will finally be complete" and the Clem Haskins-era woes at last put in the past. (Year-by-year detailing of the rebuilding here.)

(2) Michigan State vs. (7) Iowa, 5:40pm (ESPN Plus)
Take it from the regionally indispensable blogger Ryan at Hawkeye Hoops: Michigan State dominates the defensive glass. (Wonk believes it's an open question whether any Big Ten team has done anything as well this year as the Spartans have done rebounding. Illinois and assists, perhaps.) And Iowa (most specifically Erek Hansen) has serious issues on the offensive glass. So either the Hawkeyes need to make all their shots or they need to play Hansen less and Doug Thomas more.

More bad news for the Hawkeyes: they are thin and State is deep and loves to run. (Just take it from Tom Izzo! "I want to run every time we get the ball.")

Good news for the Hawkeyes: Jeff Horner's been playing better of late, after struggling virtually the entire post-Maui season.

Wonk has been surprised to see how successful Steve Alford's "we're still a bubble team" campaign has been. A win tonight might make this blogger a believer.

Links. Is Michigan State looking ahead to Illinois? Iowa certainly hopes so. But Tom Izzo certainly isn't: "My biggest concern is that first game."...Coverage of the Spartans' alleged struggles in close games (2-3 in contests decided by ten points or less) here....Dave Dye agrees with Wonk! The erstwhile Detroit News writer says Bracey Wright had no business being selected first-team All-Big-Ten by the media and that Alan Anderson deserved better than third-team honors from the coaches.

(3) Wisconsin vs. (6) Ohio State, 8:10pm (ESPN Plus)
Wonk has been fretting aloud for a while now that the Badgers rely far too heavily on scoring from Mike Wilkinson and Alando Tucker alone.

That might not be a concern tonight. Bo Ryan will likely look to feed the post early and often in an attempt to either tire or even foul out Buckeye big man Terence Dials. And, indeed, with the way the Wisconsin backcourt has been playing of late, this is arguably the best strategy irrespective of the opponent right now.

As for the Buckeyes, they got a career day from Tony Stockman yesterday (see game recap below) which might actually be a bad thing. Stockman has a notoriously quick trigger finger despite abundant evidence suggesting he should not (e.g., he's 52nd in the Big Ten in PPWS). Many FGA's from Stockman today is likely good news for Badger fans: it means fewer attempts for Dials and the surprisingly little-noted J.J. Sullinger.

Links. The Badgers have won either a regular-season or conference tournament championship each of the past three seasons. Zach Morley and Kammron Taylor coverage here.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The RPI is now correct. Nationally indispensable blogger Ken Pomeroy says the RPI figures that we've all been using all year are not the same as what the selection committee will be using ("all the lemmings have gone over the cliff on this one") and that ESPN's RPI numbers will, apparently, continue to be incorrect. Report at once to Ken's blog for further explanation and the correct numbers.

Northwestern beat Michigan 58-56 yesterday. An intentional foul in the final seconds sealed the Wolverines' fate. Longtime readers will recall a bygone era known as yesterday, when Wonk predicted a "close ugly game." And how! The Wildcats and Wolverines fairly made the fans in the United Center turn away from the floor in Edvard Munch-level horror as the two teams combined for 7-of-37 shooting (not a typo) on their three's. NU coach Bill Carmody blamed the ugliness in part on the 11am start time: "These are 20-year-old guys. They think at 11 o'clock that it's dawn." Carmody benched T.J. Parker at the start of the game ("He told me to go to the bench," the junior guard explained with admirable concision) and Parker, kind of, responded, scoring 15. Mohamed Hachad led the Wildcats with 17. Michigan big man Courtney Sims scored a career-high 25 points in only 29 minutes....Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp says Tommy Amaker's job could be in jeopardy if the Wolverines aren't back in the NCAA's next season. Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News would seem to agree: "There shouldn't be any excuses next season."...Michigan assistant Charles Ramsey says he's interested in the coaching vacancy at Eastern Michigan.

Iowa beat Purdue 71-52, bringing the Gene Keady era to a close. Lafayette Journal and Courier columnist Tom Kubat says sub-par recruiting led to this sub-par ending. Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey says: "It was no fun watching Gene Keady's career at Purdue end with the coach massaging his forehead on the bench, his tired eyes having seen too much." Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says it was "a lousy denouement for a legendary coach." And the man himself? He likened the last game to a mercy killing and offered this last word: "I don't know how I'm going to be in the morning. I've had to be someplace ever since the first grade. Think about it. And I don't have to be anyplace tomorrow."...Charles Davis, who comes off the bench for Keady and starts for Joe Tiller, sounds like a guy who might focus on football from here on out....Adam Haluska says the Hawkeyes' quick start was key: "We came out with everything we didn’t have when we lost to them last month." Jeff Horner says the pregame plan was to pound the ball inside but when Greg Brunner had the temerity to miss his first shot the Hawkeyes started draining treys. Steve Alford says he's proud of what his team has done since losing its leading scorer, Pierre Pierce.

Ohio State beat Penn State 72-69. The Buckeyes trailed by 15 in the second half before rallying for the win. OSU guard Tony Stockman scored 25 points on 20 FGA's. "I figured if I was going to go out, I was at least going to go out being aggressive and having fun," Stockman explained. Freshman Geary Claxton recorded a double-double for the Nittany Lions with 20 points and 13 boards and echoed the strategy of every Buckeye opponent: "We thought we could take them inside." Penn State's players took consolation from a game in which they led most of the way. "I thought we stayed together as a team, better than we had all year long," said Danny Morrissey afterward.

Illinois fans of a certain vintage will enjoy this exercise in WATN: Audie Matthews, Levi Cobb, Neil Bresnahan, Derek Holcomb, Mark Smith, and more! Guess which one's a tenured professor now.

Neil Milbert of the Chicago Tribune previews today's quarterfinal games here.

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Getting back to that Gene Bartow question....
Longtime readers will recall a bygone era known as a month ago when alert reader Dave G. wondered aloud how in the world Gene Bartow was selected to replace John Wooden at UCLA in 1975 when the would-be legend-replacement was coming off his first (very mediocre) season at then-struggling Illinois. Wonk's readers (at last) respond!

Hi, Wonk,

I found your site a few short weeks ago and love it dearly. I have had many near-sleepless nights trying to catch up with the archive material and have gone on record as stating yours is the best site in the history of the internet. I'm a native Illinoisan and have loved the Illini since, probably, birth even though I didn't attend (UIC had that illustrious honor).

You had asked a while back about the Gene Bartow thing. My memory is hazy (I'm in my dotage) but as I recall Clean Gene had some midwestern credentials and had taken the Larry Kenon-led Memphis State team to the Final Four. I believe he was a very hot commodity when the Illini snared him. I don't remember what his record was the year he was in Champaign, nor the team's record before he arrived but what I do remember was the visceral hatred I had for him when he went to UCLA. It just sickened me to think that Illinois' program wasn't considered a premiere program. There was simply no justification in leaving, no matter how many championships Wooden had won. I literally hated Bartow for quite some time, certainly wishing he'd awaken, if not with the horse's head, at least with poisonous snakes in his pajamas.

Even to this day, had I been at the Centennial, the best he would have gotten from me at his introduction would be silence. I know some may think of Bill Self the way I did Bartow but maybe I've become more of a realist and at least Self had plenty of Big 12 connections, etc., to mitigate the perception of Illinois' second-class status. Anyway, sorry I can't be more specific on the whole deal.

Bill C.

Thanks, Bill! At least you took a whack at it. Anyone else have any info?...


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