Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, March 10, 2005
"Lourdes Day" at the Big Ten Tournament
Teams playing on Thursday need a miracle.

The Big Ten Tournament tips off today at the un-hoops-friendly hour of 11am Central Time:

11am: (8) Northwestern vs. (9) Michigan
1:30pm: (7) Iowa vs. (10) Purdue
4:05pm: (6) Ohio St. vs. (11) Penn St.

(View the entire bracket here.)

There was a time in the recent past when one or even two teams played on Thursday with a presumption that they'd already locked up a bid to the NCAA tournament. (In 1999, Minnesota was a 6-seed in the conference tournament and ranked 23rd in the nation. They lost their Thursday first-rounder to 11-seed Illinois.) No more. This year the Thursday-Friday split cleanly divides the teams looking for divine intervention from those who will have a reason to watch the selection show on Sunday, whether comfortably (Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin), expectantly (Minnesota), or nervously (Indiana).

On paper Penn State (6-22, 1-15) and Purdue (7-20, 3-13) are well below even the Big Ten's weak lower-middle (Northwestern and Michigan) much less the conference's soft middle (Ohio State and Iowa). The Nittany Lions hold the distinction of putting on the court both the conference's worst offense and its worst defense, according to Ken Pomeroy's points-per-possession-based efficiency ratings. And, as detailed in this excellent post this morning from the Hawkeye Hoops blog, Purdue's offense--never a Platonic ideal of productivity to begin with--has fairly fallen off a cliff the last three games without the presence of injured big man Carl Landry. Absent unforeseen developments of Chaminade-esque oddity, both teams will end their seasons today.

(BONUS Wonk-critiquing-Wonk note. By forecasting doom for the Boilermakers, your intrepid blogger is flouting his own cardinal rule: never ever count wins in advance with a Steve Alford team. Duly noted.)

Northwestern (14-15, 6-10) has been struggling on offense all year (no non-Penn-State Big Ten team does anything--offense or defense--as badly as the Wildcats do offense) and the length and athleticism of Michigan (13-17, 4-12) have the potential to make the opposing team look bad in the half-court. Conversely, the Wolverines' guard play has been horrific for virtually the entire year. Wonk's prediction: a close ugly game.

When last we saw Ohio State (19-11, 8-8) they were being made to look like UNLV in 1991 by an uncharacteristically charitable Illinois team. Wonk does not expect the Buckeyes to have any problems today but a potential quarterfinal against Wisconsin does not, by this blogger's lights, bode well for Thad Matta's team. Unlike the Illini, the Badgers had no problem dispatching the Buckeyes in Columbus.

Iowa (19-10, 7-9), too, should have little trouble today but a tough match-up looms tomorrow for the "schizophrenic Hawkeyes" (Grant Wahl's adjective, not Wonk's) with Michigan State. Steve Alford, take heart: the Spartans' quixotic and should-be-illegal combination of Big-Ten-best rebounding and Illinois-like speed makes them a tough draw for anybody.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Big Ten Tournament previewapalooza! Get em while they're hot: Pat Forde of; Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News (just a couple hundred words but, hey, what's there is choice); Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times; Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star (yes! the link is correct--scroll to the bottom); Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald & Review; Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald; Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press; Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune; still more from the indefatigable Shelman; and Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

But is it worth it? Neil Milbert of the Chicago Tribune points out that the inception of the Big Ten Tournament in 1998 has coincided suggestively with a notable uptick in the conference's winning percentage in the NCAA tournament. Milbert's colleague at the Tribune, columnist Skip Myslenski, says the Big Ten is "the Dan Rather of basketball conferences."...Columnist Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal says the conference tournament "means absolutely nothing."...Pocket history of the Big Ten's first 100 years here.

Northwestern plays Michigan this morning at the United Center in Chicago. Wildcat coach Bill Carmody looks back at a disappointing season and says: "There was a lack of depth when we thought we would have depth."

Daniel Horton was sentenced to 24 months' probation yesterday after pleading guilty last month to one count of misdemeanor domestic violence.

Purdue plays Iowa today and the level of expectations among the Boilermaker press can perhaps be judged by this headline from this morning's Lafayette Journal and Courier: "McKnight exits a winner." (Wow, McKnight must have the same agent as Ashlee Simpson--more McKnight mania here.). Gene Keady, conversely, is talking big: "Our kids are going up there with the idea they're going to play four games in four days."...Excellent game preview at Hawkeye Hoops, defining state of the art in team blogs since 2004....Columnist Pat Harty of the Iowa City Press-Citizen proposes a straight-up Steve Alford-for-Mike Davis coach swap with Indiana....Oddly Iowa-less game day write-up from the Des Moines Register here. More traditional game-day write-up (it talks about the game!) here....Profile of the flourishing-without-Pierce Adam Haluska here.

Pierre Pierce case update here. No word yet on who will be playing Pierce in the E! trial reenactment.

Ohio State plays Penn State this afternoon. Columnist Mike Downey of the Chicago Tribune says of this game: "for the first time since 1998, the Big Ten's last-place team probably couldn't beat the NBA's Bulls." More traditional preview here.

Wisconsin's players and coaches say they're not counting out Penn State! But, um, well, OK: they are counting out Penn State and getting ready for Ohio State.

Michigan State guard Chris Hill says the Big Ten Tournament is "extremely important" to the Spartans....Profile of Shannon Brown here.

Illinois fans have been anticipating an Indianapolis-to-Chicago-to-St. Louis road to the Final Four for months now but selection committee chairman Bob Bowlsby says there are no guarantees that the Illini will be put in those venues. (Bowlsby and Martha Stewart, by the way, are the two most closely observed humans on the planet at the moment--more on the former here.)...Coverage of the Illini coverage here, making this link coverage of the coverage of the Illini coverage. Cool!

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Seconding the All-Wonk Team (4.0)
Hey there, Wonk,

Spot-on commentary on the All Big-Ten selections, and a good proper lashing of the media for their selection of Bracey Wright to the first team.

With Vincent Grier's starring role in the Golden Goofs' turnaround, it's tough to keep him off the first team. But I really liked seeing you give some credit to Alan Anderson for his great all-around play during the conference season (full disclosure: green-blooded Spartan fan writing here). With the emphasis on statistics, and especially scoring, it was going to be hard to get any Spartan on the first team this year but there is absolutely no doubt among close observers that Anderson has been the most important player on the squad during a pretty strong, if overshadowed, conference run. No slight to Ager, but I think most Spartan fans would agree.

Jeromie W.

Thanks, Jeromie!


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