Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Presenting the All-Wonk Team (4.0)
The coaches and the media have each picked their All-Big-Ten teams. Now it's time for the main event! Presenting the fourth and final edition of the 2004-05 All-Wonk Team....

Token introductory note: Carl Landry would be on this team if he weren't injured: 18.2 points, 7.1 boards, and a PPWS of 1.32--those, alert readers, are All-Wonk numbers. Not to mention Landry was the sole and unceasing focus of every opposing defense. Force of nature Carl Landry, Wonk salutes you!...But your injury opens a nice opportunity to, in effect, honor six outstanding players....

Alan Anderson, Michigan State. The coaches picked Minnesota's Vincent Grier for this fifth spot; the media, Indiana's Bracey Wright. They're both wrong (the media much more so than the coaches--see below). This spot belongs to Anderson, who gets the nod just ahead of Grier and Maurice Ager. Anderson is intrinsic to who the Spartans are this year (so, too, is Ager) and why, the Indiana hiccup aside, they've been so tough to play for the past five weeks. The senior from Minneapolis can grab the rebound (5.5 per game), make the outlet pass, and jet downcourt before the defense gets set. True, he doesn't shoot three's particularly well (.345) but unlike Wright (.329) he knows it and adjusts accordingly, giving him a robust 1.33 PPWS, good enough for third in the Big Ten.

Deron Williams, Illinois. Williams didn't just "lead the conference in assists." In conference play he constituted his own analytical category assist-wise. Consider: with seven assists per game, Williams averaged more than 2.1 more dishes than the second-place finisher, Jeff Horner. Subtract 2.1 assists from Horner, in turn, and you take in no fewer than nine other players. Granted, Wonk is on the record as being uneasy with Williams' sometimes diffident defense. His three-point shooting is down this year from last year (though, interestingly, his overall FG percentage is up). And his desire to make the dazzling pass sometimes leads to a dazzling turnover. All understood. But make no mistake: Illinois needs Williams. The Illini have flourished precisely to the extent that the rest of the team has started to attack opposing defenses with something like Williams' own court sense and vision.

Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin. Wilkinson's consistency (OK, forget about the Pepperdine game), work ethic and all-around solid citizenship have all been universally praised--and rightly so. In an effort to actually say something new about the guy, then, allow Wonk to point out something that this blogger loves about Wilkinson: his ability to score in a multitude of different ways from just about anywhere on the floor. The senior big man would be an archaic oddity for his back-to-the-basket post moves alone (and he's good with either hand). But Wilkinson can also hit the midrange jumper and even the three. And his all-feet-no-hands position D is paradigmatic of Bo Ryan's proven approach: few blocks, few fouls, few points for the opponent. Wilkinson is tough, smart, and, not least, vital: the Badgers are not the same team during his short breathers on the bench.

Luther Head, Illinois. On any other team, Head would be the center of attention and, probably, averaging about 20 points a game instead of a mere 16 or so. And, with no disrespect whatever to Dee Brown (named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year yesterday), Head is the Illini's best defender. Brown won his defensive award with three crucial and highly-visible steals in the Michigan game but Head--quick, tenacious and deceptively long-spanned--is the player you want on the opponent's best scorer. And on offense, Head, at his best, puts defenders in a no-win position: give up the three (.425) or give up the dunk. Wonk could go on: fifth in the conference in both assists and PPWS, Head was on-track for the conference player of the year award, if not for a late surge by a certain teammate....

Dee Brown, Illinois. Brown's always been fast. And he's always been a Mateen Cleaves-esque leader. Those qualities shouldn't be taken for granted but we did at least know them coming into November. But this year Brown is making shots. Tenth in the nation, as of this morning, in three-point percentage (.482), Brown actually has a higher overall FG percentage this season than Mike Wilkinson. Repeat: Brown, who's attempted 170 three's this season, has a better FG percentage (.538) than get-it-to-him-in-the-post Wilkinson (.525). It's been a sensational performance by a player who's never lacked for attention: Brown has thrived in that spotlight and even surprised us. He was indeed the best player in the Big Ten this year.

BONUS mockery of other All-Big-Ten teams! When it comes to the AP (writers) and ESPN/USA Today (coaches) polls, there is a school of thought that says that the latter of the two is, not to put too fine a point on it, worthless. Coaches don't see games outside of their conference because they're much too busy, the story goes; consequently, certain traditionally strong programs (absent a total meltdown) are just written in automatically year after year and can fall no further than 20th or so. From time to time, Wonk has found some merit in this school of thought.

This year's All-Big-Ten teams, however, suggest a diametrically-opposed possibility: when you're talking about in-conference, listen to the coaches and forget the writers. Exhibit A: Bracey Wright as first-team All-Big-Ten? What were the writers thinking? Well, they were probably thinking that the conference's leading scorer (18.5) deserves a spot. If so, they couldn't be more wrong. Wright is the conference's leading scorer, yes. And to reach that distinction has required a tremendous number of shots: 335 in just 24 games--and 196 of those were misses. Using PPWS to steer by, here's how some other players would have fared this season if given Wright's FGA's and FTA's:

Points per game, given Wright's FGA's and FTA's
Dee Brown, 23.7
Alan Anderson, 22.4
Luther Head, 22.0
Maurice Ager, 21.8
Adam Haluska, 21.4
Courtney Sims, 20.5

You get the idea. Give everyone in the conference Wright's numbers for attempts and no fewer than 36 Big Ten players would average more than 18.5 points a game. That includes offensively-challenged bigs like Zach Morley and Brent Petway. That includes who-dat's like Aaron Robinson and Je'Kel Foster. And that includes fellow Hoosiers like D.J. White and A.J. Ratliff.

One thing Wonk will say for Wright: he's always been a surprisingly good rebounder, even in his freshman year. But he has not had an All-Big-Ten year. Writers, report to Wonk immediately for slappage of wrists.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Purdue coach Gene Keady is brushing aside talk that tomorrow could bring his last game as the Boilermakers' head man: "Say we beat Iowa by one point, then we would have to play Michigan State on Friday. If I can bribe Tom Izzo into throwing that game--that's tongue in cheek--then you never know."

Indiana big man D.J. White says being selected Big Ten Freshman of the Year was "important" to him but he's focused on higher goals: like an NCAA bid.

The state of Indiana is losing its best high-school ballers to non-in-state programs. David Woods of the Indianapolis Star frets about it here.

Wonk thought this past weekend's flurry of Jack Brownlee Mania was merely a token gesture of valedictory fuss given to the Iowa senior guard upon his departure. Boy, was Wonk wrong! Get your very latest Jack Attack coverage here....Meanwhile, the odd--some might say worrisome--affinity for dog-based metaphors continues for the Iowa City Press-Citizen's Hawkeye beat writer. Guess who this is about: "Picture a dog that's finally let out of its cramped kennel to run free in the yard, or a 6-year-old who's had to be quiet and well behaved in church all morning but in the afternoon is turned loose to ride his skateboard pell mell down the steepest hill in the neighborhood." If you guessed Adam Haluska, move to the head of the class.

David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News wins this week's Edward Albee Award for Ominous Foreshadowing: "the Penn State men's basketball team is not a healthy unit....Rifts exist just below the surface that could blow the team completely apart if the losses mount next season." Yikes!...On a notably more serene note, profile of Geary Claxton here.

Northwestern forward Vedran Vukusic says he's "90 percent" sure he'll be back for his senior season.

Ohio State has signed coach Thad Matta to an eight-year contract, one that gives Matta only from the end of the season until April 15 in any given year to pursue other coaching jobs.

Michigan State big man Delco Rowley is expected to miss two to three weeks after injuring his right knee in practice Monday....Kelli Anderson of salutes State for balancing successful men's and women's basketball programs.

Minnesota slasher Vincent Grier says being named to the coaches' All-Big-Ten first team is "a great accomplishment" but that he's focused on higher goals.

Wisconsin big man Mike Wilkinson says being named first-team All-Big-Ten is "nice" ("This is further than I thought I'd get") but he's focused on higher goals....Former guard Boo Wade is in trouble with the law. Nevertheless, he hopes to continue playing ball, perhaps at a Division II school.

Illinois guard Dee Brown, recovering from some robust dental work, says being named Big Ten Player of the Year is fine ("I give credit to my teammates") but he's focused on higher goals. Deron Williams says it's "something [Brown] deserved." Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander makes a rare foray into college hoops to say: "Here's to you, Dee Brown."...Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs on the mystery of what happened to Brown on Sunday in Columbus....Bruce Weber says being named Big Ten Coach of the Year is "fine" but he's focused on higher goals....Weber frets about Rich McBride here.

Big Ten Tournament crystal-ball gazing! Jeff Washburn of the Lafayette Journal and Courier says Ohio State did the rest of the conference a disservice by waking the hitherto sleeping Illini giant: "This week's bottom line? Illinois in a romp." (Steve Batterson of the Quad City Times draws a diametrically-opposed conclusion: the loss to the Buckeyes "provides other teams with hope." He gives his team-by-team breakdown here.)

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A Wonk bricolage!
Yesterday's post featured two seemingly unrelated items: 1) the fact that the local CBS affiliate in Champaign, Illinois, ran a hoops-gods-flouting text message in the second half of the Illinois-Ohio State game (with the Illini in the lead) telling fans not to come to the airport to welcome the team home; and 2) the fact that Michigan State big man Delco Rowley injured his knee in practice Monday.

Seemingly unrelated, but longtime alert reader and die-hard Spartan fan Shawn ties them together in one of Wonk's three favorite emails of the year so far....

Hi, Wonk,

In reference to the gods-provoking, awkward-in-retrospect text message that evidently scrolled across Illini television sets during the game this weekend, I'd just like to note that although Illinois is tops in the Big Ten this year, their athletic department still has a lot to learn in terms of the best way to prematurely celebrate and consequently jinx a special accomplishment.

For help, I suggest they turn to their friends and counterparts in East Lansing, where for the last eight years or so there's seemingly been an unfurled banner of celebration in the rafters at the beginning of every important home loss. Moreover, the folks at MSU have generally found it essential to alert the media to the presence of said unfurled banner to increase the general awkwardness of the situation.

I have it on good authority that this practice extends well beyond big games and that, for example, a banner celebrating Delco Rowley's completion of the season without an incredibly painful knee injury was hanging expectantly in the Breslin rafters at practice on Monday.

Shawn M.

Thanks for the laugh, Shawn!

...and you may find yourself in the United Center...and you may ask yourself, "My God! What have I done?"

Will this year be a repeat of last year's fiasco where, due to the timing of the selection show, the Big Ten championship game won't even be a factor in the final seedings of the teams? (I believe one other Conference championship game, Big 12 perhaps, suffered the same fate last year). If so, they should tell the teams in advance so they don't do anything stupid like get a player hurt.

Can you imagine a Mike Wilkinson or Dee Brown going down in an essentially meaningless game? Here's hoping they did the right thing and moved the selection show back a few hours.

Stephen S.

Stephen, you have like-minded company....

Dear Wonk,

Coach Weber is correct that Illinois doesn't need to win the Big Ten Tournament to get a 1-seed, but not for the reasons he gave. The tournament final occurs too late on Selection Sunday for the committee to take the results into consideration. For NCAA seeding purposes, the championship is meaningless. You can thank the contract between the Big Ten and CBS for that little scheduling mishap.

Query how the committee would handle it if minutes after a team with a terrible resume like Purdue actually won the tournament in double OT and thus securing the automatic bid after the committee was supposed to release its bracket?

Keep up the good work,

Jeremy K.
Los Angeles

It's not that the championship game doesn't mean anything. It's that Saturday and most of Friday and certainly all of Thursday don't matter, either. This year the one game that we know means something in advance is Friday's quarterfinal between Indiana and Minnesota.

Granted, if Purdue wins the conference tournament, then the selection committee has more work to do. When a patently no-bid team makes it to the championship game on Sunday (see Iowa 2001, Illinois 1999), the committee has to create two brackets (one with said team and one without) and wait and see like the rest of us.

Otherwise, the tournament means little even in terms of NCAA seeding, much less selection. This was brought home to this Illini fan most forcefully in 2001, when Illinois, angling for a 1-seed in the big dance, lost in the conference semifinals to Indiana. Wonk was inconsolable, thinking a 1-seed had been lost and an entire season, in effect, damaged. Turns out Illinois got their 1-seed (and put into a regional with Arizona, who beat the Illini in a regional final that set an all-time NCAA tournament record for number of players fouling out from one team: six). Meantime, Michigan State, who'd lost in the quaterfinals to Penn State, also got a 1-seed. Your intrepid blogger learned then that, historic extremes aside, the conference tournament doesn't matter. It's too late to matter.

Bottom line: enjoy the hoops this weekend but, unless you're a Hoosier, don't fret about the implications.


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