Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Hail the conquering Gopher
Minnesota beat Penn State 73-69 in State College last night. The win leaves the Gophers 20-9 overall and 10-6 in conference--and their RPI this morning stands at 51, a resume that Wonk has been saying will likely get Dan Monson's team into the NCAA tournament.

No one, and Wonk means no one, saw this coming. (Minnesota has "exceeded the expectations of even their most optimistic fans," says the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Jeff Shelman, correctly.) Dan Monson's team played better defense than any Gopher squad in recent memory. Vincent Grier hit the ground running and quickly became the best player in the Big Ten at taking the ball to the tin. And Jeff Hagen battled through more injuries than Grant Hill to give Minnesota an old-school post presence on both ends of the floor.

If they do make the tournament, the Gophers might fairly be said to be the first team to have backed in to a bid so far this season. Minnesota led the lowly Nittany Lions by as many as 15 early in the second half but PSU cut the margin to just three with five minutes left. Penn State guard Danny Morrissey scored 22 points and went 6-of-10 on his three's in a game that featured a total of 41 turnovers. Grier (27 points) makes no apologies for winning ugly. "That's how we play," he says. "We're not a team that's going to blow a lot of people out."

Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Bryce Jordan Arena "was almost empty, despite prizes for a few lucky fans that included video game systems, trips to Florida and a chance to win $10,000 with a halfcourt basket."

Indiana: poster child for the old RPI
Yesterday Wonk pointed out that Indiana could, like Minnesota, finish 10-6 in conference (needing only a win over Northwestern at home on Saturday) but that the Hoosiers would nevertheless present a very different resume to the selection committee. Specifically, Mike Davis's team would still be just 15-12 overall with a relatively low RPI.

Ah, yes, the RPI--recalibrated this year to more heavily weight a team's performance, for good or ill, on the road. The Hoosiers have been awful on the road this year (their only wins on an opponent's home floor have come versus Purdue and Michigan) and thus their RPI as of this morning is just 69.

But here's what's interesting: under the old (last year's) formula, Indiana's RPI right now would be 44. Not a "lock," maybe, but looking a lot better, certainly, than the high-60s. Watch for the Hoosiers, then, to be exhibit A in what is sure to be a lively discussion of old vs. new RPI over the coming days.

Wonk gets his info, of course, from the indispensable Ken Pomeroy: link here to see old vs. new RPI for the top 180 D-I teams. Here's where the nine top-180 Big Ten teams rate, on both the old and new scales:

Team: Current RPI/Old RPI (Diff.)
Illinois: 2/2 (0)
Wisconsin: 15/16 (+1)
Michigan State: 18/19 (+1)
Minnesota: 51/34 (-17)
Iowa: 61/37 (-24)
Ohio State: 68/56 (-12)
Indiana: 69/44 (-25)
Northwestern: 141/102 (-39)
Michigan: 164/117 (-47)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan State beat Northwestern 69-58 last night in Evanston. The Spartans led by as many as 18 before the Wildcats pulled to within five with a little more than three minutes left in the game. But Maurice Ager (20 points) hit a three and Tom Izzo's team, as they so often do, made their free throws to put this game safely away. Michigan State recorded its sixth road win in conference play despite turning the ball over 17 times. The turnovers displeased Izzo: "I thought some of them were forced, some of them were ridiculous. We just have to clean that up." NU coach Bill Carmody was ejected from the game with under a minute to play in the first half after receiving his second technical foul. ("Just the normal stuff coaches do with officials," Carmody explained afterward.) The ejection actually seemed to inspire Carmody's team in the second half ("I wish (the ejection) maybe happened five minutes earlier," quipped Vedran Vukusic) but ultimately Northwestern ran out of gas. The Wildcats now need a win Saturday at Indiana to qualify for the NIT. "That game means a lot for us and Indiana,'' Vukusic says. "It's definitely going to be a great game down there."

Iowa beat Ohio State 74-72 last night in Iowa City, thanks to an 18-footer from Jeff Horner with about four seconds left in the game. Start with the briskly efficient recap at Hawkeye Hoops, defining state of the art in team blogs since 2004. As for MSM goodies...."It was a great Big Ten basketball game with two teams trying to fight for a win, knowing the possibility the sixth seed in the conference tournament was at stake," Iowa coach Steve Alford said. Referencing both his team's next game and the Hawkeyes' conference season-opening home loss to Michigan, Horner said, "Now we can go to Michigan on Saturday with a little confidence and with a chip on our shoulder. We owe them one, too." Iowa has now won back-to-back conference games for the first time in the last two seasons....Buckeye coach Thad Matta said, "We could not find an answer to stop Horner and [Adam] Haluska. They took the game over and knocked down some huge shots."

Illinois hosts Purdue tonight in Champaign. Purdue is 3-11 in Big Ten play and will be without the services of their leading scorer and rebounder Carl Landry, out for the year with an injured knee. Jeff Washburn of the Lafayette Journal and Courier says this game "has ugly written all over it." Boilermaker coach Gene Keady is left to wonder: "Why don't guys we recruit nowadays get better like they used to here? I blame me. That's why I'm leaving. The magic is gone evidently." Glass-is-half-full headline writers of the Indianapolis Star, Wonk salutes you! The Star's piece on tonight's contest between the Illini and the depleted Boilermakers is headlined: "Opportunity arrives for Boilers' backups."...For the Illini it's senior night for a class (Luther Head, Roger Powell, Nick Smith, Jack Ingram and Fred Nkemdi) that's gone 105-23 with three Big Ten titles. Senior class profiles here and here. Profile of Ingram here....Three-headed MVP coverage here....Illinois coach Bruce Weber says it will be tough going up against his old mentor: "It's part of my life: My dad, my mom, my wife and coach Keady."...Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline says the chink in the Illini's armor, at least in the near future, is that "Illini coach Bruce Weber has not recruited well."

BONUS impressive Gene Keady stat: the Purdue coach is 11-11 lifetime in games played at Illinois. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs on Keady's departure and says his exit "will leave a big void" where Big Ten coaches and their personalities (or lack thereof) are concerned. On the flip side, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch says Keady's university is ready to move on: "While Purdue celebrates Keady's career, it is even happier about his departure. The school is like a whistling mortician, throwing platitudes and then measuring its legendary coach for the box."

Indiana's coaches and players are still mulling what went wrong in their 62-60 loss to Wisconsin in Madison Tuesday night.

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Hoosiers, whistles, and justice
Wonk received more than one email off of yesterday's post from Indiana fans pleading the injustice of the calls made by the refs in the closing minutes of the Hoosiers' 62-60 loss at Wisconsin Tuesday night. Like this one:


I am angry about how the crew changed the way they called the game in the final minutes, regardless of outcome (though I wouldn't be so upset if IU had won). I hate it when the refs directly influence the result of the game.

Nate D.

Wonk agrees! Let me be clear--to all Hoosier fans, Wonk says: I share your indignation at bad calls and particularly at unevenly enforced calls. Your intrepid blogger just doesn't have much interesting to add in the way of analysis about a bad call, other than to say: there, it exists. (Functioning as what C.S. Peirce would have called an index: empty of meaning, just pointing.)

And Wonk stands by his corollary statement on this matter: the best defense against getting jobbed by a bad call (particularly on the road) is to keep the game out of that five-point-or-so window, where one call can decide the outcome. That doesn't absolve refs from the withering scorn of the basketball gods for their bad calls. It does, however, acknowledge the fact that those calls will occur, as unjust as that is.


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