Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Wisconsin beat Indiana 62-60 in Madison last night on a last-second put-back by Alando Tucker. The Hoosiers were playing on the road (2-5 in conference entering last night) and the Badgers were playing their third game in six days. So this game wasn't particularly pretty.

Mike Davis's team is young, of course, but the irony is that freshmen and acronym-lovers D.J. White and A.J. Ratliff (a combined 10-of-15 from the field last night) play with perhaps the most confidence of any of the Hoosiers. White continues to impress: with Carl Landry sidelined by injury, White is now the Big Ten's best pure post scorer, as he proved last night by going 7-of-9 against Mike Wilkinson (no slouch on D he). As for Bracey Wright, he had his usual struggles shooting the ball on the road (3-of-13) but Wright actually has been finding ways to help his young mates even and especially when his shots aren't falling. Last night he had five assists and six boards.

Still, Wisconsin pulled out the W, no thanks to its backcourt, which went 4-of-17 from the floor with eight assists. Someone page them and tell them they're needed on the court. Wonk is on the record as saying that nattering TV-heads tend to overstate the importance of guard play come March. Guards are vital, yes, but having an Okafor or an Anthony has proven pretty handy the past couple years, as well.

That being said, Wisconsin is relying far too much on Wilkinson and Tucker. The swing offense is a tough one to defend if and only if the swingers are posing a threat on the outside and you have to get out there and guard them. If not you can let them swing all they want out there and Bo Ryan's vaunted spacing on offense becomes moot. That's pretty much what the Hoosiers deduced in the second half last night: let's pack the paint and force the Badgers to prove they can beat us from outside. They couldn't. They went more than nine minutes without a field goal until Tucker's buzzer-beater.

Last night's game was also a glimpse of Saturday and, especially, Sunday at the Big Ten tournament. Dead legs means an NBA (outside of San Antonio, Phoenix, and Seattle) style of play: static offensive sets featuring one-on-one moves and eight tired guys standing around watching.

BONUS D.J. White note: White is a budding talent, to be sure, but he needs to work on his rebounding. Otherwise he'll start to hear the question that Iowa's Erek Hansen has lived with for a couple years now: how in the world can you be so tall and not rebound? True guards like David Teague of Purdue and pseudo-guards like Vincent Grier of Minnesota and Geary Claxton of Penn State--all average more boards than does White. What's more, White's rebounding numbers are actually trending the wrong way: he's doing worse in-conference than overall. Last night he grabbed just two rebounds. Roderick Wilmont had eight. EXCLUSIVE eight-month-ahead meme forecast! November's preseason Hoosier coverage will feature lots of the following: White's been in the weight room bulking up, looking to improve his rebounding, etc.

BONUS Zach Morley note: Whether it was in response to the Hoosiers' smallish lineup or to Morley's recent leg injury Wonk cannot say but for whatever reason Bo Ryan gave 36 minutes to Kammron Taylor and just nine to Morley. Taylor actually pulled his weight on the boards, hauling in five, but overall the Badgers were outrebounded 33 to 30 by IU, a team that, in effect, starts four guards.

Indiana-Wisconsin links. Bo Ryan may want to consider being a prophet if this basketball coach thing doesn't pan out. According to both Ryan and Alando Tucker, during the game's last timeout, with 10 seconds left, the Badger coach turned to the Wisconsin forward and said: "Alando, you are going to get the offensive rebound on the miss that's going to win the game."...Mike Davis says that, while he's proud of his team's effort ("We played the best game we could play"), coming close in the Kohl Center is no consolation: "We should have won the game." (And, yes, the Hoosiers are still grumbling about that last-second shot that cost them the W against Charlotte. ESPN showed a replay last night indicating, if any doubt truly remained, that Brendan Plavich's shot should not have counted.)...Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dale Hoffman looks ahead to the postseason and says the "Badgers will go exactly as far as Mike Wilkinson and Alando Tucker take them." Inveterate iconoclast Tom Oates dissents from Wonk's troubled forebodings where the Badgers are concerned and says: fret not, Wisconsin looks ready for the postseason. "Some think UW is relying too much on its inside players," the Wisconsin State Journal columnist says, "but consistent scoring by Wilkinson and Tucker shows that the guards are regularly getting them the ball where they need it, something they haven't always done this season." Wonk says: sure, feeding the post is important. So is hitting your shots and the Badger backcourt (Hanson, Taylor, Chambliss and Flowers) went 2-of-11 on their three's.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Penn State hosts Minnesota tonight in State College. A Gopher win would put Dan Monson's team (RPI 49) at 10-6 in conference and 20-9 overall--looking pretty good for a tournament bid. A loss, conversely, to a team with an RPI of 243 (not a typo) would rightly be regarded as catastrophic. So don't be fooled by the fact that tonight's contest will be played in a silent arena in front of few fans: this is the most important game Minnesota's played in three years. Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press agrees: "The University of Minnesota men's basketball team faces a tipping point." For his part, inveterate iconoclast Dan Monson pooh-pooh's Wonk's analysis and says: "I don't care what [Penn State's] record is or what their RPI is, it's a Big Ten road game." Minneapolis Star Tribune Gopher beat writer Jeff Shelman gamely rallies to Wonk's defense and pooh-pooh's Monson's pooh-poohing: "Let's just say playing at the Bryce Jordan Center isn't quite like playing at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium or Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse." Thanks, Jeff!...Penn State coach Ed DeChellis diagnoses his team's struggles thusly: "We're sharing the ball, but we just can't make shots. And that's been a theme for weeks now."

Northwestern hosts Michigan State tonight in Evanston. Wildcat center Mike Thompson is still listed as questionable, suffering from a foot injury that had caused him to miss the last six games....In State's conference road games opponents are shooting just .386; in the Breslin Center, by striking contrast, Big Ten opponents are shooting .507. The Spartans' leading scorer, Maurice Ager, is shooting .692 from the floor and .842 from beyond the arc for his career against the Wildcats.

Iowa hosts Ohio State tonight in Iowa City. Profile of Greg Brunner, currently leading the Big Ten in rebounding in conference play, here. It's senior night for a Hawkeye team that has one senior: get your Jack Brownlee profiles here and here. ....Buckeye coach Thad Matta bravely resists the rampant Brownlee mania and instead looks at the whole Iowa team: "They are like us. They are kind of a young team and I think those guys are growing into an understanding of what they’re trying to do defensively maybe a little bit better now than earlier in the year."

Illinois (more specifically Dee Brown) is featured on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated but Daily Herald columnist Barry Rozner says even the fabled SI jinx won't be enough to derail the Illini: "If you've seen Oklahoma State, Boston College or Louisville ambushed in the last month by inferior teams, you should appreciate the manner in which Illinois has not only held off some weak clubs down the stretch but also found the intensity and desire to bury those teams."...Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper says the spirit of senior night only goes so far: Bruce Weber will not start an all-senior lineup in tomorrow night's game against Purdue....Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline says he'd love to see a tournament match-up between Weber and Southern Illinois....It takes some doing but in the intensively-covered world of the Illini, Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times has come up with a first: get your profile of senior walk-on Fred Nkemdi here....Coverage (Wonk is not making this up) of the Illini's tattoos here.

Purdue scientist Matthew Huber, an expert in the field of ancient climate change, says "If you really want to understand what it was like 50 million years ago, you have to try to immerse yourself in it, to imagine that you are living in that world." Why is this link here? Ask the Lafayette Journal and Courier, which evinced what Wonk thinks is a nice bit of eccentricity by putting it at the top of today's "BoilerStation" page. (Plus, as you know, Wonk has pledged to keep the alert readers abreast of the latest developments in ancient climate change.) In non-Matthew Huber news: indefatigable Illinois beat writer John Supinie pens a farewell to Boilermaker coach Gene Keady here. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper chimes in with more praise for Keady on his blog here.

Pat Forde of kicks off the postseason awarding of hardware here. Winners include Luther Head, Dee Brown and Deron Williams collectively (national "ensemble of the year"); Head individually (Big Ten player of the year); Bruce Weber (Big Ten coach of the year "in a walk"); and D.J. White (Big Ten freshman of the year).

Profile of Ed Hightower, Big Ten referee and Superintendent of the Edwardsville, IL, School District, here.

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BONUS All-Hoosier edition of Wonk-back!

First the Charlotte game and now this. I'm not sure which was worse. The stars are aligned against the Hoosiers. Can you imagine Bob Knight coaching that game? Any chance IU would've lost that game with Knight on the sidelines? Mike Davis needs to throw a fit after this one.

Dave C.

Dave, you're not alone in your Davis-derived despondency! Read on!...


I am a disappointed Hoosier fan after the game tonight. I thought the team played well, but forgot to box out on the last play. IU played well down the stretch of the game where IU held UW to two FG's in the last ten minutes of the game.

My question for you is what in the wide world of sports did Steve Welmer, Rick Hartsell and Eddie Hightower decide in the last two-three minutes of the game? The entire game was physically tough, classic Big 10 b-ball. Then, they gift Mike Wilkerson five trips to the free throw line (yes, two were fouls), but the ones on Strickland and! I like to think the Big 10 has some of the best refs in the country calling their games (unlike the Pac-10's "invent-a-call" refs). The refs kept UW in the game and at the end and Tucker made the play.

Speaking of Hightower, he has had both of the games where the refs screwed the Hoosiers (vs. Charlotte!). I know it is easy to blame the refs and I know the Hoosiers had plenty of chances to play better but the refs set the tone of the game early and called the game one way for 36 minutes, then changed their style. (And don't get me started about the lack of a call on Wilmont's rebound on the 2nd to last possession for IU.)

I think if IU wins this game, they would have been in the big dance. Now, the game against NU is a must as well as against Minnesota in the quarters of the B10 tourney. That game vs. the Gophers will be a NCAA play-in game, with the winner dancing and the loser, well, whatever one does in the NIT (sorry it has been since '85 for IU...don't remember what it is like).

I enjoy the website and Ewing gave more proof to the paradox tonight with a solid effort. He would be a better player if he could stay out of foul trouble--on the court more (and with White) and putting up better stats. I could see him as a 10 pt and 10 boards type of guy.

Keep up the good work. Thanks,

Nate D.

Thanks, Nate! And thanks, Dave! Wonk offers two quick thoughts to you both:

1. Close games cut both ways. True, IU didn't get some calls last night. That's a pretty safe assumption when you play on the road and your jersey doesn't have "DUKE" on its front. The trick is to not get into close games. Indiana's lost some heartbreakers but, of course, they've won some of those, too: Oral Roberts (one-point victory); Western Illinois and Indiana State (four-point wins); Purdue (two-point win in double-overtime); and, most recently, Michigan State (four-point win in overtime).

2. Indiana and Minnesota aren't so equivalent. Despite the likelihood that the two teams will both finish the Big Ten season 10-6, the Hoosiers have a worse overall record (14-12 vs. 19-9) and a worse RPI (68 vs. 49, as of this morning). Thus a probable 4-5 game on Friday in the Big Ten tournament would conceivably be much more important for Indiana than for Minnesota.


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