Sweet to Elite(1) Illinois 77, (12) Wisconsin-Milwaukee 63Yesterday Wonk said Wisconsin-Milwaukee had made the Sweet 16 "on their own threes and their opponents' turnovers." Your intrepid blogger went on to say that taking away either factor would result in a loss for the Panthers--take away both "and they'll lose badly."Last night both factors were indeed taken away (UWM shot .241 on their threes; Illinois turned the ball over just nine times) but the Panthers didn't lose badly. For the "pedestrian 14-point" spread so eerily predicted (kind of) by ace blogger (and Wonk interview subject) Chris West, we have two forces of nature to thank: 1) Joah Tucker (32 points from everywhere on the floor except the top of the backboard); and 2) the recent and maddening Illinois insistence on turning every 20-point second-half lead into a 10-point second-half lead, just to keep CBS from switching away.Tucker had the best game any player has had against Illinois this year--statistically and visually. When the 6-5 Tucker started the game with a bunny-hop to outside the arc and drained a three with the 6-10 James Augustine draped all over him, this Illini fan said a low "uh-oh." Sure enough it was that kind of night for Tucker: 12-for-18. He hit threes, drove to the tin, posted up, and hit mid-range jumpers. It was a stellar performance under the brightest lights by a gutty player.Fortunately for this Illini fan, Tucker's mates were as ineffective as he was unconscious. Take Tucker out of the mix and the UWM box score inspires Edvard Munch-level horror: 31 points on 10-for-39 shooting (.256). Ed McCants alone was 4-of-17. The Illini deserve some of the credit. ("I usually get a lot of my points late when teams get tired," McCants says. "But Deron Williams and Luther Head did a phenomenal job. I couldn't wear them down like I expected to.") Since losing to Ohio State due to lethargic second-half defense, Illinois' pressure on the ball has been outstanding. Is that a function of Illini mastery or of a series of overmatched opponents (Northwestern, Minnesota, (the struggling backcourt of) Wisconsin, Fairleigh Dickinson, Nevada, and UWM)? We're about to find out: Arizona's next.Stat line of the year: Williams and Dee Brown each scored 21 points on combined 15-of-24 shooting. Brown was 5-of-8 on his threes. Williams had eight assists. And all Augustine did was the bare minimum for yet another double-double: 11 points, 10 boards.BONUS Wonk note of puzzlement! Just who is "Chris Pearl," anyway, and did s/he enjoy having his/her name spoken repeatedly (about as many times as Bruce Pearl's, actually) last night by a befuddled Dick Enberg? Links. Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says "Illinois might very well move on to a national championship for the greater glory of the Big Ten, but the Illini will never forget how the limits of their extraordinary skills were stretched by the pride of the Horizon League." "I thought we could do it," Bruce Pearl says of pulling the upset. "But Illinois is a great team. They have that swagger." Pearl adds: "They had to play well to beat us."...Bruce Weber favors understatement! Of Joah Tucker, Weber says: "He is a tough player." More awe of Tucker here....What happened to the Panther press? Answers here and here....Bruce Pearl says being booed by the Illinois fans was no big deal. "You think this is the first building I've been booed in?" (Dan McGrath of the Chicago Tribune says "maybe only Dave Wannstedt can identify with the volume of boos that greeted Pearl.") Coverage of Pearl's family here.Copley News Service columnist Mike Nadel says he was seated on press row right behind Pearl: "I had a perfect view of every hissy fit, every confrontation with his own players, every look of disgust upon seeing Deron, Dee and Luther foil the press time after time after time." Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey says: "The original-recipe Illini returned Thursday night, and it was good." Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald says story-of-the-game Deron Williams will soon "start billing thousands of dollars per hour for his point-guard services." Daily Herald columnist Mike Imrem salutes Williams here. Two-headed-monster Williams and Dee Brown coverage here. Slump-is-over-for-Brown coverage here and here....How serious is Luther Head's hamstring injury? Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper frets about it in his blog here; in his dead-tree space, Tupper salutes Head's toughness here. "We knew Luther would struggle, and he actually played a gutsy performance," adds Weber.Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post says the Illini have "so many smart, skilled, resourceful players that a spot in the Final Four and an end to the 100-year championship drought may finally be in order."Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander says "it's pretty clear, listening to all the doubters out there, that only a national crown will prove that just maybe the Illini are a terrific team."Wall-to-wall Sun-Times Bill Murray coverage! Bill Murray was at the game last night. Did Wonk mention Bill Murray was there?Omigod, omigod, omigaaawwwddd! Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White was there, too! You're not going to believe this but my friend totally talked to him! And he's so nice! My friend got a picture of him with her cell phone and afterward she was just, like, o...my...gaaawwwdddd!Then Wrigley Field must be an archaeological site. Columnist Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch talks about Allstate Arena like it was the Boston Garden--if not Stonehenge. ("The former Rosemont Horizon positively reeks old-school with its moldy scent, its cedar-planked roof and its dark, cozy seats," etc.) Memo to Burwell: the arena was built in 1979.Who says you have to be smart to get into med school? This cardiologist paid a scalper $1,200 for two seats behind the basket in the top row of the upper level. ACC-Big Ten Challenge, part 2Can the Big Ten make up 37.5 percent of the Elite Eight? It can with two wins tonight....(5) Michigan State (24-6) vs. (1) Duke (27-5)7:10pm (EST)Commentators will say the deeper Spartans will look to tire out the Blue Devils. Wonk says: don't believe it. Duke (and every other team playing tonight) is operating on four days' rest and, besides, while you're seeing that Cingular ad with the guy at the pay phone for the 112th time during the extra-long March-variety commercial break, the Dukies will be getting their wind back. Fatigue won't be a factor.But fouls might be. State, of course, does love to get out in transition and take it to the tin. It's a style of play that can get you fouled and Duke just doesn't have the depth to be doing a lot of that. Keep an eye on the PF's. Duke shoots threes (.382) better than MSU (.352) but the Spartans shoot from the floor (.498) better than the Blue Devils (.446). Both teams turn the ball over about 13 times a game. And, of course, Tom Izzo's team rebounds much better (+7.5) than Mike Krzyzewski's (+1.8). Links. Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom says Coach K "has become college basketball's sensei, the master in 'Kung Fu,' Yoda in 'Star Wars,' the unlikely mentor, not very big or tough himself--heck, Mike Krzyzewski fainted on the sidelines this season--but nonetheless, you fear him, you figure he knows something you don't." Tom Izzo says he's always admired Coach K and his program: "Before it was gushing about them because I was dreaming of getting my program in that same area code. Maybe now we're in the same area code, but I'd like to get in the same city limits. Then I'd like to get in the same damn building." Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says relax, Coach Izzo, your program is truly elite. (Two-headed-elite-monster profile of Coaches K and Izzo here.) Free Press columnist Drew Sharp says: "It doesn't get any simpler than this--beat the Blue Devils, and the Spartans' seniors can leave the Frank Ervin Center tonight knowing they finally proved themselves." Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski says "Michigan State got what it craved, a rematch tonight with its blue-blooded nemesis."...State big man Paul Davis says: "We need to use our numbers to wear them down. We are going to try to get to the line and try to get some of their guys into foul trouble." (P.S. Davis also says his ankle is fine.)...Dave Dye of the Detroit News says he's standing by his prediction: Michigan State's going to the Final Four....Chris Hill is 0-for-10 on his threes in the postseason (counting both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments)....Spartan freshman point guard Drew Neitzel was a non-factor in the game at Duke in November--but he's all growed up now!...Profile of Kelvin Torbert here....Delco Rowley injury update here.Izzo says he blames himself for the loss at Duke: "It wasn't the players' fault, it was my fault. I forgot to tell them to guard [J.J.] Redick when he came into the gym."(10) NC State (21-13) vs. (6) Wisconsin (24-8)7:27pm (EST)When Illinois is patient on offense and moves the ball around it's called basketball the way it was meant to be played. When Wisconsin and North Carolina State are patient on offense and move the ball around it's called boring. Go figure.NC State shoots a little better (.457) from the floor than the Badgers (.437) but UW shoots the three (.388) better than the Wolfpack (.369). Both teams take care of the ball. Wisconsin should have the rebounding edge. My only concern if I'm a Badger fan is, of course, Julius Hodge: that's a tough match up with any team's defensive personnel, including Wisconsin's. Links. Mark Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says: "There might not be another program left in the NCAA tournament that takes more jabs from the national press than the Badgers, who despite reaching the Sweet 16 have been taken to task for their halfcourt style and the supposed arrogance of their coach." Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal says national pundits "seem to think UW has returned to the Dick Bennett years on offense....Even CBS dissed the game, sending it to only seven percent of the nation." (Meaning only seven percent of the nation will see the contractually-mandated 112 reaction shots of Mike Wilkinson's fiancee, Alexis Schrubbe.)...Differences between Princeton and swing (offenses that is) spelled out here....The last time the Badgers made it this far: the 2003 regional semifinal won by Kentucky 63-57. A great game where Devin Harris played with the heart of a champion and where Bo Ryan (somewhat oddly, Wonk thought at the time) left the then-younger Mike Wilkinson alone on a defensive island, trying to guard beastly Marquise Estill one-on-one. That didn't work well.Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! A wonk bricolage!Wonk has posted recently about topics as disparate as: 1) Jay Bilas sounding surprisingly similar to Bill Raftery; and 2) the patented give-and-go run by James Augustine and Deron Williams (Wonk noted it in the game at Wisconsin in January and this past weekend in the tournament game against Nevada). Alert reader and bricoleur par excellence Don G. ties them both together! Dear Wonk,Thanks for the blog. Very enjoyable. My brother alerted me to it -- we're from Champaign, though I've since moved to Big East country in Pittsburgh. (Unless you count Penn State, and I'm not sure why you would...)Anyway, two comments. First, Jay Bilas loves Raftery and has been imitating him for years, especially "the kiss," "man-to-man" and "onions."Second, that play where Augustine goes to set the pick and breaks to the hole--also ran that against Ohio State. I drove over with a friend and was explaining to him why that was such a great play. If you're playing defense correctly against the pick, the path to the hole is wide open. Hence the defeated look on Mike Wilkinson's face after it happened in Madison. Best,Don G.Thanks, Don!