Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Jury duty for Billy Packer. Now.
An open letter....

March 29, 2005

Mecklenburg County Trial Court Administrator's Office
800 E. 4th St.
Room 311
Charlotte, NC 28202

Dear Trial Court Administrator,

I know I speak for tens of thousands of college basketball fans when I say that Mr. Billy Packer, your own fellow Charlotte resident, would be eminently well-suited for jury duty in your Mecklenburg County Civil Court system.

Would it be possible for him to start tomorrow on a months-long high-profile case that will involve immediate 24-hour sequestering of the jury?


You see, we fans of college hoops have a problem. There's this thing known as the "Final Four." Maybe you've heard of it. It is the single best sporting event of the year, as close to perfection as college football's "championship" is to farce. The Final Four is, in a word, sublime.

Yes, all college "hoops" fans should be excited at this time of year.

But, sadly, we're not. Because we know that your own neighbor, Mr. Packer, will be coming along, too.

You, perhaps, already know Mr. Packer under one of his various pseudonyms:

"Persistent Negatative State"

"Captain Carp"

"Dr. Evil"

"Comfortably Glum"

"C. Montgomery Packer"

"Billy Bringdown and his Buzz-Kills"

"The Scary Old Guy Who Lived Next Door When You Were a Kid and Was Always Yelling at You to 'Get Your Damn Frisbee Off Ma' Yard!'"

Oh, we'll watch this weekend anyway. How can we not? But the Final Four with Billy Packer is like a honeymoon with your in-laws coming along. Like Beethoven's Ninth on a kazoo. Like The Godfather with Ben Stiller as Michael.

Why not address this matter through the appropriate channels, you say? Believe me, I've tried: letters, phone calls, faxes, emails, skywriting, lobbying my congressperson, candlelight vigils outside CBS headquarters in New York...nothing works. (There's even a petition online, started up by like-minded long-suffering souls. Still, no luck.)

No, for whatever reason CBS, in this single narrow yet prominent instance, has proven as impervious to market forces as a garden-variety East German tractor factory circa 1966. And the strange part is: any other analyst would be a vast improvement. My goodness, throw a stick along press row in St. Louis this weekend and you'll hit ten, 20, 50 carbon-based life forms who would be better.

Still, I want it understood that I will continue to "act locally" and do my part. For years now I have maintained a personal boycott on all CBS "Road to the Final Four" advertisers and will continue to do so for as long as Billy Packer holds his current position.

This year that means I will not rent a car from Enterprise to impress women at my high school reunion. I will not dance to KC and the Sunshine Band in front of my neighborhood Blockbuster. I will not celebrate the tournament by following a bouncing basketball to a "March Madness sales event" at my local Chevy dealer. And I will not get an American Express card so I can give homilies through my nose on "being a leader."

And, please understand, this is a great sacrifice for me because in any ordinary week I would do all of those things.

Sadly, my boycott may not yield the desired results before Saturday. And that's where you come in.

This very same Mr. Packer would be a perfect fit as a jury member. His owlish fascination with yellowing decades-old compilations of long-forgotten minutiae and his concomitant dogged refusal to be swayed by "irrational" and "emotional" events in the present-tense (e.g., tremendous basketball games taking place on the court in front of him) would be highly prized in the jury room!

Yes, it's truly a "win-win." We lose a thorn from the most beautiful rose in all of sports. And you gain a crabby old guy whose bafflingly querulous nature is so deep and so constant that he'd doubtless vote to convict a ham sandwich.

Elevate the Final Four at last onto its richly deserved Packer-free pedestal and get criminals off the streets of Charlotte. Not a bad two-fer, that.

Thank you for your consideration.

Blogospherically Yours,
Big Ten Wonk

P.S. Can you send me some free stuff? Maybe a "How the Meck are Ya?" t-shirt? Thanks.

BONUS Final Four edition PPWS
There's no trick to putting up a nice number for points per game (PPG). Just shoot a lot. But who would get the most points from the same number of shots?

To answer that question we turn to the handy stat that not only measures scoring efficiency, it also captures more than just points from the field (unlike, say, points per shot or "PPS"). This stat takes in both FGA's and FTA's. It's points per weighted shot (PPWS), developed cannily by John Hollinger (The Basketball Prospectus) and renamed brazenly by Wonk.

Below are the current PPWS numbers for just about every player you'll conceivably see in the Final Four. As always, these numbers take in all games played to date, from November through this past weekend:

1. James Augustine, Illinois (1.36)
2. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.36)
3. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.34)
4. Larry O'Bannon, Louisville (1.33)
5. Marvin Williams, North Carolina (1.30)
6. Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State (1.28)
7. Taquan Dean, Louisville (1.28)
8. Jawad Williams, North Carolina (1.27)
9. Sean May, North Carolina (1.25)
10. Maurice Ager, Michigan State (1.25)
11. Roger Powell, Illinois (1.24)
12. Rashad McCants, North Carolina (1.23)
13. Luther Head, Illinois (1.23)
14. Brandon Jenkins, Louisville (1.20)
15. David Noel, North Carolina (1.20)
16. Francisco Garcia, Louisville (1.20)
17. Otis George, Louisville (1.20)
18. Raymond Felton, North Carolina (1.18)
19. Paul Davis, Michigan State (1.17)
20. Chris Hill, Michigan State (1.14)
21. Juan Diego Palacios, Louisville (1.12)
22. Shannon Brown, Michigan State (1.12)
23. Lorenzo Wade, Louisville (1.11)
24. Jackie Manuel, North Carolina (1.10)
25. Ellis Myles, Louisville (1.09)
26. Deron Williams, Illinois (1.09)
27. Melvin Scott, North Carolina (1.07)
28. Jack Ingram, Illinois (1.05)
29. Rich McBride, Illinois (0.97)
30. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.95)
31. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.88)

What it means. Give James Augustine 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll likely score about 20 points. Give Nick Smith the same number of shots and he'll likely score about 13.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Slezak says maybe the Big Ten wasn't down this year, after all. So does Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline looks at the "pivotal moments" faced by each of this year's Final Four teams.

Penn State junior big man Aaron Johnson says he's leaving the Nittany Lions and will use his final year of eligibility at another as-yet undetermined program. At 9.9 boards a game, Johnson was the Big Ten's leading rebounder this season.

Minnesota recruit James Davis will not play for Dan Monson after all--at least not next season. Monson announced yesterday that the seven-footer will not be enrolling in the fall. Davis was arrested in Minneapolis on March 10 and charged with carrying a gun without a permit.

Wisconsin is looking to an Alando Tucker- and Kammron Taylor-led future...An appreciation of the job done by Bo Ryan this year here....Is this a typo or are Madison-area senior-citizens really being herded into detention centers? Actual headline (link quick before they fix it!): "Old with the old, in with the new for Badgers."

(Michigan) State of euphoria!
Resurgent Spartan big man Paul Davis says: "We belong here." Andy Katz of (yes, the page successfully loaded!) says "Michigan State's upperclassmen making the Final Four after being branded as players who couldn't win the big game is one of the week's best stories."

Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz salutes Tom Izzo: "Four Final Fours in seven years are mind-boggling by any measure."

Dick Vitale says North Carolina is "going to have to play a lot better against Michigan State then they did against Villanova and Wisconsin."...Pete Thamel of the New York Times profiles future Tulsa head coach, current Michigan State assistant coach, and former North Carolina assistant coach Doug Wojcik here.

So it wasn't just the sledgehammer! Seems there was a players-only meeting that fateful Selection Sunday, too, to clear the air....Compare and contrast: Michigan State Spartans; Detroit Pistons. (Well, for one thing, no Spartan comes close to Ben Wallace in the little-discussed but vital 'fro department.)...Two-headed-monster coverage of Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager here....Shiny Happy Spartans Everywhere on-campus coverage here....Final Four ticket snafu coverage here.

Wow, even academic All-Americans mix their metaphors! Senior Chris Hill on his playing career: "This was a four-year road, and we had plenty of potholes and valleys--even black holes--during this journey."

Bruce Weber gives credit for Saturday's incredible win to his players: "The best thing about the comeback was their poise." And now? "'We caught a lucky game. Now let's make the most of it and see if we can go win the thing." Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti says--alongside the likes of Pitino, Izzo, and Williams--Weber will arrive at the Final Four as "The Other Guy."...Why is Weber, even when he's lost his voice, so dang accommodating when it comes to interview requests? "The Final Four is a continuous commercial for your program," he says.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino gushes about the Illini here....Illini-on-a-mission coverage here....The update on the Illini injuries (Luther Head's hamstring; James Augustine's knee) appears to be that there are no injuries to update....Two-headed-monster coverage of former Maywood, Illinois, residents and Proviso East High School teammates Dee Brown and Shannon Brown here....Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport grumbles about the Illini not being in Saturday's prime-time game here.

Link of links for the Miracle at Rosemont! One industrious blogger has already compiled what can only be called an anthology of game coverage and links related to Illinois' dramatic comeback win over Arizona Saturday night. And it's outstanding. Link here for access to wall-to-wall goodies, including video downloads of the game action and a nice series of links to what the MSM pundits and the blogosphere (pro-Illinois, pro-Arizona, and pro-great-game) had to say about the memorable events at Allstate Arena. (BONUS truth in advertising! This link contains nice things said about Wonk--but your intrepid blogger would be passing this along even if the content were Wonk-neutral or Wonk-free. It's good stuff.)

Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper says it's time to put the Arizona game in the past. (Tell that to the players: they watched a tape of the game Saturday night on the bus ride from Chicago to Champaign.)

EXCLUSIVE Wonk helpful advice! Good grief, do Big Ten officials really monitor "basketball broadcasts, keeping an ear open for both criticism and praise"? How pathetic. Do something productive with that time--like deleting this 16-month-old article about Kris Humphries from your web site.

BONUS non-Big-Ten note! Yesterday both Utah's Andrew Bogut and Arizona State's Ike Diogu declared their intentions to enter this year's NBA draft. (Bogut has hired an agent, meaning he has definitely played his last college game. Diogu, as yet, has not and as long as he doesn't secure representation he has until June 21 to remove his name from consideration.) How might they fare in the pros? Blogger Ryan of Hawkeye Hoops fame brings his usual impeccable quantitative skills to the question and comes up with some surprising answers--a must-read for all NBA GM's.

FINAL BONUS non-Big-Ten note! It's official: Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl has accepted the head job at Tennessee.

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

Where to draw the line
Yesterday Wonk said the Big Ten's success in March illustrates that it "was a bifurcated league this year...and the dividing line was just south of third-place Wisconsin." Wonk's readers respond!


I'm not so sure this is the case. Surely we have some dogs, and some middleweights, but so do all conferences.

In fact, our middleweights are unusually strong--although the Big Ten's average RPI places us sixth among conferences, our median RPI places us first. We have a pretty solid bench in Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio St., and Indiana.

Of course, the ACC's worst team, Florida State, is arguably better than our bottom four combined, so I don't know how far I'd take this argument. But I think the right assessment is that we have a trio of giants at the top, an unusually strong middle four, and a worthless bottom third. If there's bifurcation, it happens between Indiana and Northwestern, not between Wisconsin and Iowa.

Peter C.

P.S. I've got to add that I've never in my life been more satisfied with a losing performance than the one by my Badgers yesterday. We committed none of the signature mistakes that we do when we lose games and instead showed off arguably the best ball we've played all year. Tucker's moves in the post blew my mind. We were just up against a (slightly) better team that didn't make any mistakes, one that earned their win. Awesome, awesome loss.

A thousand "amen"s to your P.S., Peter!

As far as conference heft, it looks to Wonk as though our positions are not at all contradictory, with the exception of your recommended line between IU and NU. Drawing the line there could still be perfectly compatible with this blogger's premise: Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin were underappreciated because of their conference.

Still, if Wonk had to draw just one line, it'd be between nos. 3 and 4. And, certainly, as an Illinois fan who spent December-February beating up the RPI with the club/evidence of on-court performance, Wonk can't very well switch horses now and beat up on-court performance with the club/evidence of RPI.


Iowa was outclassed by Cincinnati.
Cincinnati was whipped rather soundly by Kentucky.
Kentucky was beaten by Michigan State.


Minnesota was thumped by Iowa State.
Iowa State was never in the game against Carolina.
Carolina was taken to the limit in a six-point win against Wisconsin.

That's what Wonk calls bifurcation.


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