Big Ten Wonk
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Glass act
For the second consecutive year, the teams in the Big Ten Tournament final are:

(3) Wisconsin vs. (1) Illinois (CBS, 2:30pm CST)

Here's how it came to pass....

Wisconsin 59, Iowa 56
The Badgers beat the Hawkeyes yesterday on a last-second three off the glass by Alando Tucker, launched after he'd dribbled the length of the floor with 3.7 seconds left on the clock. Officials viewed a replay to confirm that the ball left Tucker's hands before time expired. Wisconsin's win was impressive inasmuch as they did it almost entirely without the aid of Mike Wilkinson, limited to a double-single (nine points, six boards) and relegated to the bench for much of the second half with four fouls.

BONUS glimpse at the Hawkeye playbook. Down 56-54 in the game's closing moments, Iowa tied the game on a put-back by Greg Brunner. The rebound was set up by a play in which Jeff Horner drove toward the right baseline and then, just before going out of bounds, whipped a pass under the basket all the way out to the left wing, where Adam Haluska was spotted up outside the arc. Haluska's shot was off but Brunner got the board and tied the game.

Wonk has seen this play from the Hawkeyes before and it is, to say the least, unorthodox. Future opponents guarding Horner in this situation will want to follow him out of bounds and deny the pass.

Links. Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says today's final will be worth watching because the Badgers are a "worthy opponent for the Illini." Wonk disagrees! Wisconsin is indisputably a worthy foe but today's game will be meaningless for both teams because, for better or worse, they're both seeded already. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dale Hoffman agrees with Wonk: "Other than notoriety, upending the Illini won't do a thing for Wisconsin if the selection committee ignores the result the way it did last year.") What's worse, neither team will have any legs after two games in two days. (Notice how ugly both second halves were yesterday?) Thank goodness, in a weird way, that Illinois is no longer undefeated and that their quest for perfection was never subjected to the mercy of an artificial made-for-TV contrivance like today's game. Wonk will tune in primarily to hear Billy Packer bloviate.

Oates also says Badger big man Zach Morley is "undoubtedly the tournament's MVP so far." Longtime readers of this blog may recall that Wonk's crack staff of software development engineers have perfected a Big-Ten-hoops-savvy program called HoopCheck. When this blogger typed the words "Zach Morley" and "undoubtedly the tournament MVP," HoopCheck repeatedly highlighted the sentence with a green squiggly line. When Wonk right-clicks he gets the following "suggested change":

"Undoubtedly the player who looks most like Mickey Dolenz of the Monkeys."

Bo Ryan's optometrist needs to "step up." "You can’t tell me that team playing out there tonight in the dark uniforms wasn’t a team that can play in the tournament," Ryan said of the Hawkeyes and their tournament hopes. Iowa was wearing their gold uniforms....Ryan says last-second shots are "something we've done a thousand times (in practice). We didn't make that shot a thousand times--understand that. That was a break. But as far as the catch, getting it up the floor and trying to get the shot off, that's what you need to do." This is Tucker's second game-winning shot in the past couple weeks, having made one on March 1 against Indiana....Iowa coach Steve Alford sounded a philosophical note: "Last night we got the breaks; tonight Wisconsin got them." (Though Alford did refer to Tucker's game-winner, somewhat derisively, as "a fadeaway, double-clutch bank shot.") Hawkeye rebounding fool Greg Brunner says his team deserves an NCAA bid: "Our entire season we haven't had one game where we haven't shown up." Columnist Pat Harty of the Iowa City Press-Citizen says: "It would be a bummer if Alando Tucker's 25-foot running bank shot at the buzzer proved to be the difference in Iowa making the NCAA tournament for just the second time in six seasons." Columnist Sean Keeler of the Des Moines Register weighs Iowa's chances for a tournament bid and in the process cites Ken Pomeroy's "excellent" blog. Welcome to the fan club, Sean!

Illinois 64, Minnesota 56
The Illini reached a new low by notching a season-high 23 turnovers. Was it poor play by Illinois or feisty ball-hawking D from those pesky Gophers? Mostly the former. There were some outright steals (most notably when Vincent Grier picked Rich McBride's pocket beautifully and then blew the dunk) but Illinois recorded many more traveling violations, offensive fouls, and passes to empty spots on the floor. And they shot just .357 from the field. And won by eight.

Good board work did the trick for the Illini. Bruce Weber's team pounded the Gophers to a pulp on the glass, 45-33.

Vincent Grier led the way for Minnesota with 24 points.

Links. Gopher coach Dan Monson sounded content in defeat: "One of the things we felt in the locker room is we slugged it out toe to toe, and they were better than us today. But the margin is narrowing for us." Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan says Vincent Grier gave the Illini's vaunted guards all they could handle. Now Minnesota's thoughts turn to the big dance and Gopher big man Jeff Hagen says they're not satisfied with just an invitation: "We're excited, but we feel we can go in there and do some damage."

Pat Forde of says Bruce Weber showed courage by coaching this game within hours of the death of his mother (and after having missed his first team meeting in his two years as coach). Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper, posting to his blog, agrees. By one writer's lights, "the normally indefatigable Weber appeared wan and worn by his family's ordeal." Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti says of Weber: "Even amid tragedy, he coaches." Daily Herald columnist Mike Imrem says "Illini emotions translated into early mistakes and missed shots." Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Downey says: "Illinois—the basketball team, like the state—looks a little flat." Why are the Illini winning so ugly? Musing here.

Wonk abhors predictions. So here's one.
In a few hours your intrepid blogger will be (where else?) at a party watching the selection show. As you know, Wonk usually avoids predictions entirely (finds he looks smarter that way) but in this instance I think it's only fair to give some additional grounds for mockery of Wonk come tomorrow. So here's what I think we'll see as far as Big Ten teams.

Illinois (1-seed)
Michigan State (5-seed)
Wisconsin (5-seed)
Minnesota (9-seed)
Iowa (11-seed)

Wonk sees some brackets out there in pundit land with some higher numbers, particularly for Minnesota and Iowa. But cruel experience the last two years (in 2003 some poor souls actually thought top-10-ranked Illinois would be a 2-seed--they were given a 4) has taught this blogger to hedge his bets where seeds are concerned.

Could the Hawkeyes be left out entirely? Surely. We'll wait and see....

OFFICIAL bracket of Big Ten Wonk fans!
Indefatigable college hoops blogger Yoni Cohen has a spiffy NCAA Tournament Bloggers Bracket that any self-respecting Wonk fan will want to call home for the next three weeks. (You'll love the Genie!) It's up and running so link right now and tell Yoni Wonk sent you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ah, that heartiest of perennials! A modest proposal to expand the NCAA tournament field to 256 teams.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Slezak looks at Gene Keady and life after basketball.

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

Reporting from peace-torn East Lansing
In the aftermath of Michigan State's loss Friday night to Iowa, Wonk expected to hear from the reliable chorus of Spartan fans who regularly email after big games, win or lose. Alas, whether because of the tough loss or because of the weekend, no such emails were forthcoming. But this morning a ringer steps in to fill the void in reportage from Izzo-land....


I just wanted to say that your coverage of all things Big Ten basketball-related is AWESOME.

Don’t be confused by the email address, either. I’m a die-hard Illini fan/graduate now pursuing another degree here in East Lansing, a city still reeling from the shock of last night’s game. If the undergrads weren’t all still drunk in Cancun on spring break, my forecast for mid-Michigan last night would have been for mostly-smoky skies from the burning couches with a 60-70 percent chance of outright rioting in the streets.

Keep up the great work!

Nora G.

Thanks, Nora!


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