Big Ten Wonk
Monday, March 14, 2005
Taking the fifth
Wonk has to be honest: this blogger was worried for Iowa when, after Illinois had been announced as the overall number 1-seed and the Chicago regional had been revealed, that second (Albuquerque) regional was announced and there wasn't a Big Ten team anywhere in it. "They'll never put four Big Ten teams into just two regionals," Wonk thought.

But that's precisely what the selection committee did....

Illinois (1-seed, Chicago Regional)
First-round opponent: (16) Fairleigh Dickinson (Thursday, Indianapolis)

Michigan State (5-seed, Austin Regional)
First-round opponent: (12) Old Dominion (Friday, Worcester, MA)

Wisconsin (6-seed, Syracuse Regional)
First-round opponent: (11) Northern Iowa (Friday, Oklahoma City)

Minnesota (8-seed, Syracuse Regional)
First-round opponent: (9) Iowa State (Friday, Charlotte, NC)

Iowa (10-seed, Austin Regional)
First-round opponent: (7) Cincinnati (Thursday, Indianapolis)

(Note that fans going to Indianapolis can see both Illinois and Iowa in action on Thursday. Wonk wishes he could join you.)

This blogger is very, very happy that the Big Ten put five teams into the dance. Five is so much more than last year's three and, for supplying that margin of difference, fulsome thanks go out to the Minnesota Golden Gophers (who'd-a-thunk in November?) and the Iowa Hawkeyes (who'd-a-thunk in February?).

Now the question becomes: how much damage can those five teams do? It's going to be tough, of course. Four of the five are seeded with an expectation that they'll be gone come midnight this Sunday night. Here's Wonk's look at the road ahead for these five teams....

Illinois (32-1, 1-seed, Chicago Regional)
This is a kind bracket for the Illini. The 2-3-4-seeds are Oklahoma State, Arizona, and Boston College. Worthy foes all, certainly (especially those first two), and yet the regional is bereft of any of the teams most highly respected, shall we say, by Illini Nation (principally Georgia Tech as a possible first-weekend opponent and Connecticut and Kansas as potential Sweet 16/Elite Eight foes--plus Carolina, of course, but no one thought the Heels were going anywhere but a 1-seed).

On Thursday the Illini face Tamien Trent, Gordon Klaiber, and the Northeast Conference tournament champs Fairleigh Dickinson Knights. BONUS grammatical issue! Hyphen or no hyphen? "Fairleigh-Dickinson" or "Fairleigh Dickinson"? The MSM seems to say yes to the hyphen but Kyle Whelliston says no. And, what do you know, Kyle's right! (Man, first the MSM screws up the RPI and now this--not a good week for the media giants.) Anyway, the Knights have played a couple of "power conference" opponents: on December 4 they lost at California 80-66. Two days later they lost at Arizona State by the very respectable score of 89-81. And on December 22 they lost at Rutgers 88-57. So assuming Illinois wins Thursday and keeps the mother of all winning streaks going (since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985 1-seeds are 80-0 against 16-seeds--not that Princeton didn't get Georgetown's attention in 1989), Bruce Weber's team will meet the winner of Texas vs. Nevada on Saturday. The Longhorns are worthy of respect, certainly. They won at Oklahoma State a week ago--but then lost by 12 to not-very-scary Colorado in the Big 12 Tournament. And you'll doubtless remember Nevada from their run to last year's Sweet 16. (Michigan State and Gonzaga certainly do.) They lost Kirk Snyder to the NBA and coach Trent Johnson to Stanford but they still have Nick Fazekas, all 6-11, 21.5 points and 9.4 rebounds of him.

Michigan State (22-6, 5-seed, Austin Regional)
The Spartans face Old Dominion on Friday in one of those dreaded 5-12 games that seem to screw up office pools so frequently. With a gaudy 28-5 record and a Colonial Athletic Association tournament title, the Monarchs are led by Aussie Alex Loughton, a 6-9 forward who put up 28 points and 11 boards in the CAA final. And they have some impressive wins, most notably Kent State, St. Joseph's, TCU and Drexel. Should the Spartans prevail there they will face the winner of Syracuse vs. Vermont (sure to be one of the most-watched first-round games: Hakim Warrick vs. Taylor Coppenrath). Either of those two teams would give State a game--and vice versa.

The 1-2-3 seeds in the Austin Regional are Duke, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.

Wisconsin (22-7, 6-seed, Syracuse Regional)
One of the most controversial selections of the tournament, Northern Iowa, looms for the Badgers on Friday. Last night's instanalysis centered around the Panthers (who seemed doomed after losing in the quarters of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament) and UAB receiving invites while Notre Dame and Miami of Ohio were left out. Be that as it may, Northern Iowa's in at 21-10, with a win over Southern Illinois to their credit. If the Badgers win that game they move on to the winner of Kansas vs. Bucknell. If KU were to win that first-round game, Jayhawk coach Bill Self is, of course, very familiar with Bo Ryan and his sets--that would be an interesting game.

In addition to Kansas, the other top seeds in the Syracuse Regional are impressive, to say the least: North Carolina, Connecticut, and Florida.

Minnesota (21-10, 8-seed, Syracuse Regional)
The Gophers will play Iowa State Friday. The Cyclones caught the attention of the hoops world with their win at Kansas on February 19, a game in which Curtis Stinson fairly put his team on his back and led them to a stunner in venerable Allen Fieldhouse. If Minnesota manages to advance they will play the winner of North Carolina vs. Team X (the winner of tomorrow night's play-in game between Alabama A&M and Oakland). Wonk thinks the Gophers can give the Heels a game, even in Charlotte--if they don't turn the ball over.

Iowa (21-11, 10-seed, Austin Regional)
Bob Huggins' Cincinnati Bearcats will take on the Hawkeyes Thursday in Indianapolis. Led by Jason Maxiell on both offense (15.3 points) and defense (only Kenyon Martin has more career blocks at UC), the Bearcats are talented as always but lacking in quality wins. Should Iowa prevail they will face the winner of Kentucky vs. Eastern Kentucky.

OFFICIAL bracket of Big Ten Wonk fans!
Indefatigable college hoops blogger Yoni Cohen has a spiffy NCAA Tournament Bloggers Bracket that any self-respecting Wonk fan will want to call home for the next three weeks. (You'll love the Genie!) It's up and running so link right now and tell Yoni Wonk sent you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Illinois beat Wisconsin 54-43 to win the Big Ten Tournament title yesterday. James Augustine was named tournament MVP after averaging a double-double (12.7 points, 10.3 boards) over the three games. Meanwhile Dee Brown's shooting woes continued--the junior guard went 0-for-8 from the field. (Recaps here and here. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dale Hoffman says: "It's hard to shoot when you can't breathe, and Illinois' collapsing defense made sandwiches of Wisconsin's big men while daring the guards to make them pay from the perimeter." Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says the Illini are a team that can beat the Badgers "anywhere, anytime, playing at any speed.")

Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey looks at Brown's recent struggles and says "deep down, no one is sure when Brown's offense will return." Copley News Service columnist Mike Nadel says never mind Brown's shooting, "Illinois' side of the bracket is incredibly favorable." Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that "no team is perfect," not even the other 1-seeds. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell says the Illini are embarking "on the final steps of its fantasy voyage season." Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti is already looking ahead to a potential regional final between the Illini and Oklahoma State. Mariotti's fellow columnist at the Sun-Times, Rick Telander, is already looking ahead to a potential national championship game between the Illini and Duke. On the other hand, Telander's fellow columnist at the Sun-Times, Ron Rapoport, says Illinois certainly isn't playing like the best team in the country. And Daily Herald columnist Mike Imrem says he's been telling people "for weeks" that Illinois is going to lose in the second round to Nevada.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says the tournament is an opportunity for his players "to prove something to themselves." (He also says "it's been the hardest year I've had in a lot of ways.") Senior guard Chris Hill says he and his teammates will "go out Friday and lay it on the line."

Minnesota forward J'son Stamper knows Iowa State's Curtis Stinson: the two grew up within 20 minutes of each other in the Bronx: "He's my boy from back home." Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan says this was a special day for the Gopher seniors. St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers says this was a special day for coach Dan Monson. And Minnesota's athletic director calls the bid "huge."

Iowa rebounding machine Greg Brunner is now bald: "I made a bet with the team that if we go to tournament I would shave my head, and I am a man of my word." (Wonk hasn't seen the pictures and is no expert on such matters but the betting here is that this will not be a good look for the young man. BONUS reader-involvement gimmick! Wonk is now taking nominations for Players You Don't Want to See Bald. Send in your vote today!) Coach Steve Alford says his team is "excited."

Indiana coach Mike Davis couldn't be reached for comment last night after his Hoosiers were left out of the tournament. They will play Vanderbilt in the first round of the NIT Wednesday night in Bloomington. Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says, with zero in-state teams going to the dance, basketball in the state of Indiana has officially reached "rock bottom."

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March speculation on April coaching changes....

I've been reading your blog for most of the season--thank Grant Wahl at for pointing it out as one of the best Big Ten blogs out there. I'd have to agree personally.

But now, I have a real question (which you are allowed to wait until after Selection Sunday to answer). Which current Big Ten coaches will not return for the 2005-2006 season? And Gene Keady does not count as an answer!

In my mind, there are three coaches that might get the axe: Davis, Alford, and Amaker. Amaker has fallen short of expectations the past two years (especially after the dream season of 13 consecutive wins in '02-'03, and the Wolverines were as bad as they've ever been this past year (sob). Plus there have been rumors that he might bolt for the Virginia job if offered. But it would be tough for Bill Martin to let him go already so I think he'll get one more year (but no more than that).

A week ago, I would've said Alford was the leader of this pack, but Iowa's come on strong--an NCAA bid would ensure him job security. Now, I have to say that Davis is the front-runner. He started by going to the national championship game, then delivered IU's first losing season in a long, long time. As of today (Saturday, March 12) I don't see how the Hoosiers will be in the NCAA tournament. What are your thoughts on this?

And, if you feel up to it, who's gonna replace the coaches that you think will not return?

Keep up the good blogging.

Dave W.

Thanks, Dave! (Nice prediction on the Virginia vacancy!) As for my learned speculation: all of the above will be back next year. It's interesting to ponder, though, what might have become of Alford had Alan Anderson made those two free throws on Friday night....


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