Big Ten Wonk
Monday, March 07, 2005
Ohio State beat Illinois 65-64 yesterday in Columbus on a three by Matt Sylvester with five seconds left, a shot which capped a second-half Buckeye rally from 12 down.

First and foremost credit is due to Thad Matta and his players (most notably Sylvester: career-high 25 points), for accomplishing that which no one else this year was able to accomplish. They did to Illinois what the Illini have done to opponents all year: they made plays down the stretch (e.g., the huge block by Terence Dials on Roger Powell's baseline shot in the final two minutes, a rejection that nullified a rare well-designed and perfectly executed Illinois play). Illini fans, including this one, felt comfortable going into the last four minutes of even an increasingly close game yesterday because Bruce Weber's team has been clutch all year in the last minutes. Not this time: the comfort was wholly unwarranted. For that, credit goes to Ohio State--credit and congratulations.

For the Illini, the question that is raised by their first loss of the season is this: to what extent did yesterday reveal something systemic about Bruce Weber's team or, alternately, to what extent can it be said that it was just one of those days? Wonk, as is his penchant, says: little of neither.

It's the system!
Illinois, like a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics who can't balance his checkbook, has excelled all year in an area that many teams don't even attempt in any meaningful way (ball movement). Yet, when an opponent plays the passing lanes and opens itself up to the obvious easily-taken counter-measures (ball penetration, back cuts, etc.), the Illini have looked surprisingly ineffective.

The problem is this: in the half-court Illinois plays like they don't have anyone who can finish a drive to the basket. Wonk is careful to say "plays like" instead of the more succinct "doesn't have" because if ever there were someone who should be able to finish, goodness knows it's a combination penetrator and leaper like Luther Head. But the ball-movement religion has been imbibed with such fervor by Weber's charges (and indeed why not--see the first 29 games) that an opponent such as Ohio State can do something as nominally suicidal as putting the bulk of their defense 23 feet out from the tin and yet suffer little or nothing in the way of dribble-drive reprisals. (And those drives need to start with the attitude not of "I'm going to draw the defense and dish" but from a less stylish and more Matt Sylvester-esque presumption: "Unless somebody's WIDE open I'm going to score or get fouled.")

In the specific case of Ohio State, the book all year has been to go right at Terence Dials. The Buckeyes are thin in the post and Dials, the book says, will either: a) avoid contact for fear of foul trouble; b) get into foul trouble; or c) become fatigued. The last of these actually happened yesterday but it didn't matter because, for virtually the first time this season, Illinois was doing nothing on the offensive end (13 points in the last 11 minutes of the game).

So, yes, a little of that's systemic (when was the last time you saw the Illini run something as declasse as a clear-out?) but as for the rest of it....

It was just one of those days!
Illinois shot poorly (.383) and while part of that was due to perimeter harassment by the Buckeyes, there were many open looks that led to bricks instead of makes (and, in turn, resulted in a surprising number of offensive boards (13) for the men in orange--good thing, otherwise they would have lost by 15).

(BONUS meaningless stat: Weber's starters shot .312. The bench shot .667.)

And on defense the performance by the Illini was, if anything, even worse. Don't be misled by the under-70 by Ohio State. Illinois played defense like a tired team: all hands and no legs. This frustrated Illini fan took to keeping track of the number of consecutive Buckeye possessions that ended in either a made field goal or an Illinois foul. Wonk has bemoaned this tendency of the Illini previously--consider the tendency re-bemoaned.

Token moment of balanced reason (won't happen again, promise)
But you know what? Call him crazy but Wonk will take 29-1 and a prohibitive lock on a 1-seed. Teams play bad games. At the risk of being heretical, Illinois has played bad games (see: at home vs. Iowa, at Michigan), they'd just been fortunate enough not to lose any of them. Until now.

Illinois-Ohio State links. "Maybe it's good." Such is the spin from Bruce Weber. "I'd rather lose now than three weeks from now." (For his part Buckeye big man Terence Dials thinks there's no maybe about it--it's definitely good: "I'm speechless right now. To beat Illinois, the No. 1 team, on Senior Day, on our home court, there's no better feeling.'' Along with Dials, Matt Sylvester and Thad Matta also helped make it happen.)

"Five seconds from perfection," is how Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald leads it. Five seconds indeed....

Stewart Mandel of says "the Illini lost their cool." Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, like Wonk, is deeply troubled by how long James Augustine held on to the ball 55 feet from the rim with less than five seconds to go and his team trailing by one: "the ball rested in Augustine's hands long enough to whip up a three-egg omelet."

Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that he's not worried about the Illini losing at Ohio State, per se, but "what does worry me is how Illinois played." (Great minds alert! From Copley News Service columnist Mike Nadel: "The 'special' got sucked right out of the Fighting Illini, but that's not really the bad part. The bad part was how it happened.") Jack Ingram agrees: "We were tentative." Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti says Thad Matta and his men gave Illinois "a reminder that they aren't superior to the rest of college basketball as much as a high-quality byproduct of a wishy-washy Big Ten." St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz says "Illinois and [its] fans can find some comfort in the freakish nature of this loss." Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey, while hardly minimizing the ugliness of yesterday's spectacle, nevertheless waxes hopeful: "All of what happened Sunday was fixable, basketball-wise and psyche-wise." Daily Herald columnist Mike Imrem says he saw this coming. (Very well, Mike Imrem, please tell us what's coming over the next four weeks.)...Weber says he thought Matta would go to Dials and not Sylvester in the final seconds. (He's also second-guessing some of his own second-half adjustments on D.)...End-of-many-streaks coverage here....Three-headed-monster-is-human coverage here....Shocked Illini Nation coverage here....The aforementioned Tupper, in his column for dead-tree-space, says he's pro-Brown and he votes! Dee Brown is still Tupper's pick as Big Ten Player of the Year....Will-Illinois-still-be-no.-1-in-the-polls? coverage here. (AP voter Jeff Shelman says: yes. Andy Katz of says: yes. And Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline says: polls, schmolls, "Illinois still has fewer issues than any team in America.")

Indiana beat Northwestern 77-55 Saturday in Bloomington. Led by 20 points from Roderick Wilmont, the Hoosiers hit 12-of-20 three's and shot .542 from the floor. Wildcat coach Bill Carmody was impressed: "When we played them the first time, we thought if you just stopped one guy you had a good chance of winning the game. Today it was obvious that this is a much deeper and well-rounded team." Mike Davis agrees: "Right now, there are not a lot of teams playing better than us." Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says Hoosier fans who've been waiting for coach Mike Davis to be given his walking papers are in for a disappointment: "Mike Davis isn't going anywhere....Except maybe to the NCAA Tournament. Or, worst-case scenario, to the National Invitation Tournament, which wouldn't be the worst thing for a young team like this one."

The win means the Hoosiers finish the season at 10-6 in conference,15-12 overall--the nightmare scenario, as Wonk has put it before, for the selection committee. On the one hand, no eligible 10-6 Big Ten team has ever not made the tournament. On the other hand, none of those teams were just three games over .500 overall. It also sets up an intriguing 4-5 game at the Big Ten Tournament between Minnesota and Indiana. Wonk believes Minnesota (20-9, 10-6) is in.

And yet how odd it would look for the Gophers to get a bid and for the Hoosiers to be left out come Sunday if, say, Indiana had just soundly defeated Minnesota on a neutral floor on Friday? (WARNING: acronym ahead.) Would this not trigger something of a Selection Embarrassment Factor (SEF)? The kind of thing the committee always says they don't pay attention to, granted, but, come on, how could they not? Stay tuned....

Wisconsin beat Purdue 64-52 Saturday in Madison. The Badgers led this game 40-19 at halftime but the Boilermakers actually drew to within 56-47 with a little more than three minutes left in the game before a personal 7-0 run by Kammron Taylor put the game away. "We needed to attack and Kam is the guy on our team that can attack," said Bo Ryan afterward. For his part, Gene Keady was pleased that his team didn't quit: "In the second half, we played like we can play. We played right." Yes, but "it was too late," added Boilermaker guard and apparent Niebuhrian realist Brandon McKnight. Possible bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for Purdue: Carl Landry's season-ending injury has given more PT to Gary Ware--and Ware has responded (12 points against Wisconsin)....Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says Badger big man Mike Wilkinson "ever so quietly has become one of the all-time greats in UW basketball history." (And yet Gene Keady still refers to him as "Wilkerson." Oh, well....)

Iowa beat Michigan 74-72 in OT Saturday in Ann Arbor. Start with the briskly efficient game recap from Hawkeye Hoops: indefatigable blogger Ryan was on the scene in Ann Arbor for the game. As for MSM goodies....The Hawkeyes scored on each of six possessions in OT. Wonk assumes this ref is an athletic director somewhere: With 39.8 seconds left in OT, Iowa inbounded the ball under their own basket. They still hadn't made it to halfcourt when they called time-out with 26.1 seconds left. Yet there was no 10-second call. Wow....Greg Brunner scored 24 for the winning team and would have flirted with 30 if he could have done better than .600 (9-of-15) on his free throws. "The deal was to just get the ball inside to the hot person," said Brunner. "Tonight, that person was me--except from the free-throw line, but I made the ones that counted." Dion Harris scored 25 for the Wolverines. "Harris gave us everything he could, considering they had two or three guys chasing him all afternoon,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said afterward. "Both teams competed their hearts out from start to finish."...Iowa's 19 regular-season wins is the most ever in Steve Alford's tenure in Iowa City....Brownlee mania--catch it! More on the "Jack attack" here.

Michigan State beat Penn State 90-64 Saturday night in East Lansing. The Nittany Lions trailed by just four at the half on .545 shooting but were outscored 51-29 after intermission. Tom Izzo pulled seniors Alan Anderson, Kelvin Torbert, Chris Hill, and Tim Bograkos out of the game individually in the closing minutes and each kissed the "S" at center court on their way off the floor....Shannon Brown is suffering from an injured toe. He played 18 scoreless minutes....Since their memorable run to the Sweet 16 in 2001, Penn State has finished last in the Big Ten each of the last four seasons.

Big Ten Tournament
The lineup is set for this year's conference tournament, to be held at the United Center in Chicago. All times Central Time:

11am: (8) Northwestern vs. (9) Michigan
1:30pm: (7) Iowa vs. (10) Purdue
4:05pm: (6) Ohio St. vs. (11) Penn St.

11am: (1) Illinois vs. Northwestern-Michigan winner
1:30pm: (4) Indiana vs. (5) Minnesota
5:40pm: (2) Michigan St. vs. Iowa-Purdue winner
8:10pm: (3) Wisconsin vs. Ohio St.-Penn St. winner

12:40pm: Semifinal 1
3:05 pm: Semifinal 2

2:30pm: Finals

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
More fallout from the "Jack Demspey-esque long count" courteously given to Iowa in OT in its game at Michigan Saturday (see Iowa-Michigan summary above)....

Wisconsin's players say they need to give more scoring support to Mike Wilkinson and Alando Tucker.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ran Rapoport says he misses Bobby Knight.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

And make no mistake: the suck-up is obligatory

Having been turned on to your blog by an Illini fan with whom I regularly converse on The Final Score, Andy Gamm's Big Ten website, I now stop by daily to absorb the in-depth hoops erudition, the campy pop-culture asides, and the plethora of way-cool multi-syllabic words I've successfully managed to avoid since pouring over Thorsten Veblen's and John Stuart Mill's treatises during my undergrad days at fair Purdue......

With the obligatory suck-up platitude paragraph out of the way, I can't let your mention of Greg Couch's piece in the March 3 Sun-Times pass without adding my comments on this waaaay-after-the-fact hatchet job on Purdue University.

I began my Purdue career at the same time Gene Keady did (1980) and I believe nobody since Piggy Lambert has meant more to Purdue basketball, but it's clearly time to move in a new direction... Purdue AD Morgan Burke bent over backwards to ensure Keady had an active role in the future of the program (despite Keady's dalliance with the vacant USF job around the time he was lobbying Burke for a contract extension). I realize Gene's been saddled these last several seasons with an unfair share of bad luck and untimely injuries, but he's also been a victim of his own stubbornness. In my opinion it's lame for hacks like Couch to continue to take potshots at Purdue now that a mutually agreeable succession plan has been worked out with Keady/Painter.

Everyone involved deserves credit, not flimsy second-guessing, for crafting a solution to a difficult situation that respects Keady's immense legacy, while at the same time allowing Purdue basketball to again become a force in the conference. I don't think even Couch himself truly buys into this goofy argument....hell, halfway through his piece, he admits that Keady "was never the greatest recruiter" and furthermore expresses doubt that Keady could ever bring Purdue back to the heights it enjoyed for much of his tenure in West Lafayette.....(gee, Greg--can ya 'splain to us again why Purdue should have extended Gene's contract??)

Purdue took its share of lumps from the media (perhaps deservedly) many months ago, before this succession plan was crafted and Keady's future was in doubt...this whole matter is long-settled, and Couch's sorry, me-too commentary is abject proof of what happens when a dolt is on deadline.

Eric S.
(now livin' too far away from my beloved Midwest)

Thanks, Eric! Wonk says a hearty amen to all of the above--and for biographically specific reasons....

On a given morning your intrepid blogger is busily tossing links into that day's post and, while a certain column (like Couch's) may feel a tad dubious, Wonk just doesn't have the minutes to comment on the spot on all such links.

But a funny thing happened in the case of Couch's column: that night (Thursday) Wonk flew to Chicago and at 10pm was on a CTA Orange line train from Midway to the Loop. On the seat next to me was a discarded Sun-Times and I re-read Couch's column. Reading it a second more leisurely time was something of a revelation. ("Wow, what a mess.") As you point out correctly, Eric, even he doesn't know what he's saying: if Keady should have been fired or if he should still be kept on through 2009.

Worse, the Sun-Times' struggling scrivener shows either a debilitating lack of Big Ten knowledge or a simple failure to gesture toward the de facto discursive etiquette. Specifically: It has become de rigueur to discuss the Keady-Painter arrangement only in the company of a reference to a notably similar Jud Heathcote-Tom Izzo arrangement a decade ago (one that, we might point out, turned out rather nicely). But this is news to Couch.

Good catch, Eric.

EXCLUSIVE on-the-scene reporting from longtime alert reader, die-hard Illini fan, and Ohio resident Jason H.

I nearly decided not to file my promised reportage from Columbus. What, afte rall, with my last memory of the Schott (was it The Shot?) being slumped between my seat and the one in front of me, hands over eyes, not believing what I'd witnessed.

And I wasn't alone. The Illinois student next to me struck a similar pose, albeit slumped in his seat and not slumped between two seats. The students in front of me, when I finally looked, stood a bit thunderstruck.

Yes, that's a bit dramatic, but wasn't the moment? Our boys were gunning for 30-0, and doesn't that just sound extremely sexy? "30-0." So yes, the moment was dramatic, and so were we.

Some notes:

-- Traveling Illini Nation showed in force. I predicted we'd be north of 33% in attendance, and I believe we were awfully close if we didn't exceed that number. The lower bowl was obviously scarlet, but we owned the upper bowl. Some sections were nearly a sea of orange with the occasional red bobber throw in for visual noncompliance.

-- To the Buckeye who threw his arm around my shoulder as the stands cleared and said, "Good luck in the tournament": the next time I see the "I" in script Ohio dotted, I'll tip my hat to you. Quality effort, young man.

-- Overall, the atmosphere was fantastic. Loud, involved, enthusiastic, and frankly, full of all the things that make college sports so special. Good show from both sides of the aisle. And the Schott is a fine place to see a game.

Ah, yes, the gory game details. I don't claim basketball genius, though I believe I'm well versed in the game. So when the Illini set up for the last full court in-bounds play with Dee taking the ball out, I humbly thought: What the hell is that? Isn't Dee the fastest guy on the court? Shouldn't he be utilized, say off a screen to get the inbound and bolt upcourt in a flash? Another Illini fan two seats away said, "I don't like the looks of this."

Bonus illumination: as Sylvester taunted Augie today, causing foul trouble and generally being troublesome, I mused: wouldn't Brian Randle be nice right about now? Randle would have added an entire new dimension to today's game. But for an ill-timed temper flare-up.....and spilt milk. Musing on this is silly, but I was desperate to stop Sylvester at the time, so a-musing I went.

I'll say this, and I have no clue if any Illinois players read this blog (though you should, it's a damn fine exposition upon your conference). You have exceeded all the realistic goals/dreams of Illini Nation. As fans, we are enormously proud of this regular season, and you have earned a special place in our hearts.

That said, as my Buckeye friend brilliantly noted on the way home, you still have March. Indeed we do, to the tune of nine games. How about a new win streak, guys, say of nine games? Eyes on the prize, boys, eyes on the prize.

Reporting from Columbus, via Akron,

Jason H.

Thanks, Jason!


<< Home

wonk back!
email me

a very special wonk
the blog's final days

me, simmons, and 150 million other american males
the four dullest topics for a hoops blog
drama, magnitude, and finality
2007 "power"-conference velocity report
special report: in tedium's path
stop DAD: defensive attention deficit
consistency, threes, and stereotypes
they shoot free throws, don't they?
every rebound needs an adjective
fouls: call fewer or allow more
was norman dale wrong?
what's PPWS?
POT: perimeter-oriented team
symphony of altruists
mammalian theory of extreme home-court advantage
law of november weight change
scoring and preventing points: how to

tempo-free aerials
(conf. games only)
big east
big ten
big XII

geek chorus
intro to tempo-free stats
2007 big ten team tempo-free stats
2006 big ten team tempo-free stats
2005 big ten team tempo-free stats
state of the stats, april '06

canonical bloggers
yoni cohen
ken pomeroy
kyle whelliston
ryan kobliska
chris west
brian cook

November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
August 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
August 2006
September 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
October 2007