Big Ten Wonk
Monday, March 21, 2005
The Sweet 16 is set:

(all times EST)

7:10pm: (4) Louisville (31-4) vs. (1) Washington (29-5)
9:40pm: (7) West Virginia (23-10) vs. (6) Texas Tech (22-10)

7:27pm: (12) Wisconsin-Milwaukee (26-6) vs. (1) Illinois (34-1)
9:57pm: (3) Arizona (29-6) vs. (2) Oklahoma State (26-6)

7:10pm: (5) Michigan State (24-6) vs. (1) Duke (27-5)
9:40pm: (6) Utah (29-5) vs. (2) Kentucky (27-5)

7:27pm: (10) NC State (21-13) vs. (6) Wisconsin (24-8)
9:57pm: (5) Villanova (24-7) vs. (1) North Carolina (29-4)

For those of us keeping score, that's three teams each from the Big Ten and ACC; two each from the Pac-10, Big East, and Big 12.

In yesterday's action, two Big Ten teams joined the club by knocking out beloved underdogs....

(5) Michigan State 72, (13) Vermont 61
The Spartans were actually outrebounded in this game by the "overachieving cult heroes" from the Green Mountains and the turnovers were even so why was this such a (relatively) comfortable win? Defense. State held the Catamounts to woeful .314 shooting from the floor: 22-of-70. (Take it from Tom Izzo: "Today our defense, if you ask me, at times was as good as it's ever been in my career here.") Yes, T.J. Sorrentine had 26 points for the Catamounts but he needed no fewer than 23 shots to get there (giving him an abysmal PPWS of 1.09 for the game). Meanwhile Mo Ager answered critics who say he comes up big in small games and vice versa: 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting (PPWS 1.29) in the biggest game of the year for MSU. And big kudos to Paul Davis for an outing that in late March 2005 can only be called Augustinian: 14 boards and 11 points. (Not that Taylor Coppenrath wasn't equally Jamesian: 14 boards and 16 points--though he, like his teammate, needed 23 shots to get there.)

Watching this game Wonk was reminded of the night in January when Michigan State went on the road to play another plucky underdog on a roll, Dan Monson's Minnesota Golden Gophers. In both games the Spartans never allowed their opponent to get into any kind of offensive rhythm. In both games the score was deceptively close. In both games the opponent looked overmatched.

Links. Goodness! "The Spartans took the glass slipper and smashed it." Elsewhere, in today's less hostile write-ups....Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says Tom Izzo's men were "quicker, longer, deeper and stronger than Vermont." Great minds alert! MSU was "stronger, faster and better." And Boston Globe columnist Jackie MacMullan says "Vermont didn't have the depth, the legs, or the stamina to withstand a workman-like performance by the Spartans, who simply refused to be caught up in the emotion of New England's favorite team." (Sorrentine agrees: "It seemed like they were always fresh.") Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp says: "It's not the Spartans' fault their path to Austin, Texas, was paved with Nos. 12 and 13 seeds, but they shouldn't get a lot of credit for manhandling the respective bests of the Colonial Athletic Association and America East Conference, quality that doesn't even measure up to mid-major competition."

Sharp's fellow columnist at the Free Press, Mitch Albom, says winning this game was "harder than you'd think....Vermont had nothing to lose and the world to win over. It had four seniors, a beloved, departing coach, a cute team name, a devoted fan base, a cheering, packed arena and the karma of the national media looking for a good story." Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski adds: "It's not that MSU Coach Tom Izzo and his players don't like a good story. It's just that, well, they think they're capable of fashioning one themselves." Detroit News Spartan beat writer Dave Dye says this State team is beginning to look like the Final Four teams of 1999-2001 in that it's "taking away an opponent's strength on a regular basis."

Andy Katz of says reaching the Sweet 16 "should dampen criticism that this team has not excelled."

Quote o' the day! Tom Izzo praised Kelvin Torbert thusly: "He's not as demonstrative [as Alan Anderson], but when you've got muscles on your earlobes you don't have to be as demonstrative. I'd listen to him."

Next up for the Spartans: a rematch with Duke.

BONUS obsequious pander to ACC interlopers! Wonk still isn't ready to support J.J. Redick as a Naismith finalist but I will say this: Duke has now made eight consecutive Sweet 16s, a run of sustained excellence that is little short of staggering. (Ask Kansas and Wake Forest how easy it is not to make the second weekend.)

(6) Wisconsin 71, (14) Bucknell 62
This game was won at the free throw line, where the Badgers outscored the Bison by 11. Alando Tucker alone had 18 FTA's. Repeat: Alando Tucker shot 18 free throws (and made 15: a career-high, we are told--well, duh). Other than that the two teams were even in shooting (both teams shot about .460), rebounding (Badgers +1), and turnovers (Badgers -3; yesterday marked the fifth straight game where Wisconsin's turned the ball over fewer than ten times). Bucknell tried to do to Wisconsin what Northern Iowa did: take the inside away. This time it didn't go so well--Mike Wilkinson had 23 and free-throw machine Tucker scored 17. The Badger backcourt, while stout on defense, was again underwhelming on offense (5-of-17) but, in their defense, they were never needed yesterday. And Bucknell's Chris McNaughton wins today's D.J. White award: the Bison big man put up 23 points but only four boards.

Links. Alando Tucker says on offense the Badgers liked the match-up in the paint between Wilkinson and McNaughton: "We just kept running the same play to get it to [Wilkinson]." "He worked the angles in the post about as well as I've seen," Bo Ryan said of Wilkinson. Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says "UW did what Kansas couldn't do, which is why the Badgers will keep playing." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Dale Hoffman says: "If Bucknell was the Little Engine that Could on Sunday, Wisconsin was an east-bound freight."

With two teams (Wisconsin and Wisconsin-Milwaukee) in the Sweet 16, the state of Wisconsin is feeling like North Carolina west (and, um, north).

Bucknell coach Pat Flannery, who, like Bo Ryan, has put in many years at the Division III level, says the last time he walked off the court in defeat after a Division I tournament game was in 1986 when he was at Drexel and the Dragons lost to eventual national champion Louisville. Good omen for this year's Badgers? (Insert Kent Brockman voice here:) Only time will tell.

BONUS Wonk puzzlement: Let me get this straight....The Oklahoma State band "adopted" Bucknell and played and cheered for them. OK, but where did they get all those "BUCKNELL" t-shirts? Did the Bison bring them with?

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
The passage of time has not changed how Texas Tech coach Bob Knight feels about his departure at Indiana: "I stayed at Indiana six years too long because of the administration. The administration handled a lot of things poorly. I was working for an athletic director [former IU AD Clarence Doninger] that didn't know his [expletive] from third base. I ended up staying because of the kids that I liked and the people I did like rather than focusing on the real negatives there." Nor does Knight think much of Mike Davis: "The guy that's coaching there [Mike Davis] is a guy that I told Pat [Knight, his son and assistant coach] we were going to replace at the end of the season. There's no way that I would have kept the guy any longer than that. [But] That's their [Indiana] problem."...Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz congratulates Knight on reaching the Sweet 16 but says "it would be a mistake to argue that Knight should have remained in Bloomington."

Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse says Minnesota coach Dan Monson "will not have full credibility as the right guy for the Gophers until he has a program that relishes only victories, not moral victories."

Illinois coach Bruce Weber says he's not looking past Wisconsin-Milwaukee (it is, after all, his alma mater). "Was I surprised by Boston College [losing]? No, they had one day to prepare. If you've never faced it, you have no idea. Even though you might have a better, more talented team, they can screw you up--get you going too fast, get you flying around when you shouldn't be." But Weber also says he knows he'll get a "very good scouting report" on Oklahoma State from Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery, a former Weber assistant. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti says the Cowboys have "the athletes, defensive formula, trademark toughness and venerable coach (Eddie Sutton) to scare the tattoos off the Illinois players."...Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch says: "Today's North Carolina team is much better than today's Illinois team."...Profile of Fred Nkemdi here....Wall-to-wall Geezers' Meme! Links here, here, and here. (Wonk has openly hoped for a get-over-it statement on this front from former Illini coach Lou Henson--no such luck...yet.)

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Continued: Is Jay Bilas slowly becoming Bill Raftery?
Yesterday your intrepid blogger remarked that during Saturday's Illinois-Nevada and Kentucky-Cincinnati telecasts, Jay Bilas was, to these ears, suddenly sounding downright Bill Raftery-esque (in an enthusiastic growly way). Wonk's readers respond!


No, it's not just you. In fact this is roughly the same internal commentary that I had running through my head watching the Thursday night games in Indianapolis. The growl is not only there: it is most evident during Raftery-esque exclamations after big plays. I actually heard Bilas growl about a player knocking in a shot off the backboard "with a kiss"!

Is this the outcome of some career advice or something? After hearing Bilas on espn for a while now the extra zeal seemed a little manufactured (which is why I suppose we both noticed it). But I was thinking not too long ago about how much his profile has been pushed as of late by his home network. After all, Vitale can't last forever (can he?) and who will replace him as espn's big-game go-to guy?

And speaking of Raftery, we need to get this guy to the Final Four before his career is over. After another weekend of listening to the least likeable self-professed know-it-all in all of sports television, I am already getting myself mentally prepared for the endless barrage of egotistic negativity sure to be launched once this tournament finds its way to St. Louis. I used to be in the minority on this one, but as the years go on I get the feeling that my anti-Packer campaign is gaining steam. Unfortunately I think that he is firmly ensconced as part of the CBS "tradition" at the Final Four.

Jeromie W.

Thanks, Jeromie!

Wonk likes Bilas. But then Wonk would like anyone with such a colorful resume:

Former Duke great.


College hoops analyst for ESPN.

Starred as "The Good Alien" in the 1990 movie, I Come in Peace, starring Dolph Lundgren.

Guest-starred on the early 1980s TV show, "The White Shadow." Bilas says: "I was only 16 when I was on the show, and was a guy named Larsen. I was the best player on an all white team that a guy named Reese transferred to. All of the guys on the show seemed to be my age, but all were about 30, which seemed ancient at the time."

Litigator, hoops practitioner, able thespian, and hoops pundit Jay Bilas, Wonk salutes you!


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