Big Ten Wonk
Friday, March 18, 2005
March mildness
The Big Ten went 1-1 yesterday as the conference reflected the overall trend of the tournament's first day: by and large the brackets went according to form, with the higher seeds going 13-3 yesterday. Congratulations to Cinderellas UW-Milwaukee (83-73 winners over Alabama, the 12-seed Panthers were tapped by the far-sighted and modest Wonk as the underdog to watch in the Chicago region in this interview Tuesday!) and UAB (so maligned by so many for receiving a bid, the 11-seed Blazers cruised easily past LSU, 82-68).

(As for 9-seed Nevada, well, Wonk doesn't consider a team that beat Michigan State and Gonzaga in the tournament last year much of a Cinderella this year; nor was their win over 8-seed Texas much of an "upset.")

Yesterday's Big Ten action was in Indianapolis, where two games produced one survivor:

(7) Cincinnati 76, (10) Iowa 64
Ken Pomeroy has put it most succinctly: "Iowa scored five points in their first 19 possessions and lost to Cincinnati by 12." Indeed, this game was lost in the opening minutes. Rebounding, such a point of emphasis in pregame remarks by Steve Alford (and Wonk), was not a factor: the Hawkeyes just couldn't make any shots, particularly at the start of the game when they went 1-of-14 and fell behind 21-5. Iowa managed to pull within three at 35-32 two minutes into the second half but that was as close as the Hawkeyes could get. Jason Maxiell led the Bearcats with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting and six blocks.

Cincy-Iowa link o' the day! Don Doxsie of the Quad-City Times offers this in-game vignette from press row:

One observer in press row just couldn’t hold his tongue any longer.

“The Big Ten must really suck,’’ he said to the man seated next to him. “These guys don’t match up physically at any spot on the floor. And Cincinnati’s not a great basketball team.’’

He was wrong about only one thing: The Big Ten didn’t really suck this year. It’s just that he was watching Cincinnati play against the Big Ten’s seventh-place team, a club that went 7-9 in conference play and which, in retrospect, might have been better off playing in the NIT.

More Cincy-Iowa links! Iowa guard Jeff Horner gave Cincinnati credit for taking the Hawkeyes out of their game: "They got into us pretty good, and they got into us deep on our offensive end of the floor. They played us so tight that there were times that it seems like we were running around 100 miles an hour just trying to get open. We haven't played teams like that." ("You could tell everybody was really nervous," Horner added.) Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler says "Adam Haluska had the look in his eyes of a deer caught in headlights." (Wonk says: Haluska always looks like that. Seriously, that's his facial expression even when he's playing well.) Steve Alford says the Bearcats' length bothered his team: "They had a 6-foot-7 guy (James White) on Jeff, and I’m not sure he’s had to deal with anything like that all year." Cincinnati now faces Kentucky in the second round and Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline likes the Bearcats' chances against the 2-seed Wildcats.

(1) Illinois 67, (16) Fairleigh Dickinson 55
Fairleigh Dickinson led this game 20-19 and trailed by just one at the half. The strangely listless Illini (take it from Dee Brown: "We didn't come out with a lot of energy") were outrebounded by the Knights 39-27, not surprising when you consider that, aside from James Augustine's beastly 15 boards, no other Illinois player had more than three. On the plus side, the Illini recorded 16 assists and just eight turnovers. Brown led Illinois with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The Illini now move on to play Nevada on Sunday afternoon. The Wolf Pack overcame .371 shooting and defeated Texas yesterday 61-57. ("We win ugly," Nevada coach Mark Fox said afterward. "This is a typical game for us. They're just not pretty.")

BONUS mitigating factor! Wonk has never seen as many really bad misses in his life as those put up by FDU in the first half of last night's game. The wild ricochets seemed invariably to fall into eager Knight hands in non-traditional rebounding spots on the floor. (Granted, Nick Smith's first-half miss on a would-be baby hook from the lane set new standards for the term "bad miss.")

Little-noticed Illini big man James Augustine, Wonk salutes you! In his last four games, Augustine is averaging a double-double: 12.2 points (on .667 shooting) and 11.5 boards. Moreover he has become arguably the single most important Illinois player simply because no one else does what he does--there is no Illini three-headed monster in the paint. Maligned for his lack of size by national pundits, Augustine rebounds like an animal, sets the team's best picks, and uses his quickness to move without the ball like a traditional small forward: he seems to record at least two dunks a game where he's lost his defender completely with a cut to the tin.

Links. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper says Brown pumped "life, confidence and energy into a team caught up in an unexpected fist fight." (In his blog, Tupper frets about the cold shooting of Luther Head (4-of-15) and Deron Williams (3-of-9).)...Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald leads with a parallel that Wonk thought would be much more ubiquitous in the recaps this morning: the 1989 Final Four Illinois team also played a lousy first-round game against a 16-seed (McNeese State) in this very same Indianapolis venue (then known as the Hoosier Dome). "Today we did play in spurts," says Augustine. Roger Powell praised Gordon Klaiber, who scored 24 points for the Knights: "He played big-time." Bruce Weber offered this thumbnail description of his team: "We rely on Deron for running the show. We rely on Dee for having great energy. James is the guy dominating in the paint." And all of his players, according to Weber, "know we have to play better if we're going to continue to advance."...For his part, FDU guard Mensah Peterson was unimpressed with Brown: "He's very quick but not as quick as everybody says." Teammate Tamien Trent agreed: "I guess with all the hype, we expected more."...Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey says that after a dismal first half Illinois came out in the second half and played "angry." Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti says "the Illini did just enough wrong in their 67-55 win to suggest they remain vulnerable later in the brackets." And the usually on-point Copley News Service columnist Mike Nadel picks a very odd time to devote a column to redshirt Brian Randle.

Three who would see Sunday
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan State play today as the Big Ten tries to send multiple teams deep into the tournament for the first time since 2001.

(8) Minnesota (21-10) vs. (9) Iowa State (18-11)
Charlotte (12:30pm EST)
EXCLUSIVE Wonk forecast! Many, many turnovers: both teams force opponents into coughing the ball up over 17 times a game. And the Gophers themselves give the ball away very nearly as often....Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan says having faced Keith Langford of Kansas has helped his team prepare for Minnesota's Vincent Grier. Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan talks to coach Dan Monson, who says the fact that the Gophers missed out on postseason play last year actually helped them land juco transfer Grier. This time a year ago the talented slasher from Charlotte was also being recruited by Arizona and Oklahoma. Last March, while the Wildcats and Sooners were in the tournament, Grier visited Minnesota and Monson secured the young man's commitment that very weekend. "If he went to those places," Monson reflects, "he probably wasn't coming here."...Profile of Gopher big man Jeff Hagen here. Gopher backcourt vs. Cyclone backcourt analysis here.

(6) Wisconsin (22-8) vs. (11) Northern Iowa (20-10)
Oklahoma City (7:20pm EST)
Northern Iowa coach Greg McDermott says he likes Badger big man Mike Wilkinson: "Mike is a farm boy and that's where I came from. I just appreciate his work ethic and his expression very seldom changes regardless if he just made a crazy turnover or made a game-saving play. He just competes and he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."...Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Dale Hoffman says Northern Iowa is a worthy foe. Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says Wisconsin's "immediate future depends largely on the play of its guards, who have struggled at various times this season with excessive turnovers, poor shooting and just getting UW's swing offense to run with its usual efficiency."...Badger forward Alando Tucker has been practicing with a taped left wrist since injuring it in the Illinois game on Sunday. Joint Tucker-Wilkinson profile here. Connection between Northern Iowa AD Rick Hartzell and Wisconsin (and Indiana, one might add) discussed with unusual breathlessness (as if we hadn't known about this) here.

(5) Michigan State (22-6) vs. (12) Old Dominion (28-5)
Worcester, MA (9:40pm EST)
Tom Izzo says of Old Dominion: "Everybody shoots the three." Like the Spartans, the Monarchs have nine players who average double-figures in minutes....MSU guard Chris Hill says the tournament is the "absolute final test." Very good "dissection" of the Spartan fast break here. Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says Izzo has "made peace with the lofty expectations he created in East Lansing--and the pain of not fulfilling them." Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom says never mind the hype pinned on Kelvin Torbert coming out of high school: the Spartan wing is a true success story. Albom's fellow columnist at the Free Press, Drew Sharp, profiles Tim Bograkos here.

Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski reports this morning on the "round-the-clock" Sunday-to-Tuesday access he was given to the Spartans. What did he learn? That Izzo worries about the same things State's fans worry about. "THIS IS A JOKE!" he shouted at his players at a team meeting on Sunday. "We've got to stop listening to the media, the fans and all the people who say you guys crack. You worry about the pressure at the end, but every play at the beginning counts, too!" (Izzo also does a good Gallagher impression, sledge-hammer and all.)

BONUS story Wonk had never heard before! On the night of September 11, 2001, Izzo was scheduled to board a flight to Boston to recruit Worcester Academy point guard Jarrett Jack. Izzo was thus delayed in getting to Worcester by a few days and never did make it to Washington, DC, to talk to Jack's mother. The rest is history: "I've never been a Bin Laden fan, but I like him even less considering basketball. I'm telling you we were right in the hunt. Whether we could have gotten him or not, who knows? But it kind of ended our chances."

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Latest update from alert reader and die-hard Illini fan Jason
Last night's game was interesting, and I'm not sure what to make of it. Dee was much better than he had been since the Purdue game, and Augie continued to prove he's a necessary (and stellar) component of the team. But overall, Illinois' performance was listless, uninspired. Another performance or two like that, and they won't cut down any nets in St. Louis, or Chicago for that matter.

Enjoy Day 2 of the annual four day smorgasbord!

Jason H.

Thanks, Jason!

Kentucky and first-round Thursday mornings
Yesterday your intrepid blogger wondered aloud whether it was just him or does not Kentucky play in the very first (non-play-in) game of the tournament every year? Wonk's readers respond!


You are right on with the call about the NCAA’s penchant for sending Kentucky out of the gate early. UK did play the Thursday opener in 2000 against the Bonnies (winning in 2 OTs), then again in 2001 (narrowly edging Holy Cross) and one more time in 2002 (beating Valpo by 15).

David G.

Thanks, David!


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