Departing Big Ten players, Wonk salutes you!This blogger has dredged up some old posts to bid farewell to graduating seniors and other departing players, be they transfers or would-be pros. (Alert the Wonk background music department! Cue the Green Day!)Aaron Johnson, Penn State (announced his intention to transfer)January 18: "Watching Aaron Johnson try to (almost) single-handedly carry this team game in and game out is like watching time lapse photography of the aging process: it's only mid-January and Johnson, the sole focus of every opposing D, is already worn down to a nub. He should take a cue from Gene Keady, bill his road games as a farewell tour, and see if he can at least get some golf clubs and good liquor our of this ordeal--they're both starting to look the same age."Andrew Ford, Purdue (graduating senior)Ford was involved in one of the season's most memorable plays--from January 17th's post: "Indiana beat Purdue 75-73 in a double-overtime thriller in West Lafayette on Saturday afternoon. With nine-tenths of a second remaining in the first overtime, IU's Marshall Strickland went to the line for two shots with the score tied at 61. Having made the first free throw, Strickland tried to miss the second--but it went in and Mike Davis's head slumped to his chest. Sure enough, after a time-out, Purdue's Andrew Ford threw a length-of-the-court pass to Carl Landry, who laid the ball in after the horn sounded, but was fouled by A.J. Ratliff (a freshman--go figure) before time had expired: basket counts, a free-throw completes the three-point play and wins the game. Except Landry missed. Hoosiers go on to win in 2 OT's. 'Nolan Richardson had his 40 minutes of hell,' said Purdue coach Gene Keady afterward. 'We're having a season of hell. Any way we can find a way to lose it, we find it.'"Brandon McKnight, Purdue (graduating senior)November 29: "Announcing the 'Leopold von Ranke Rolls in His Grave Tonight' Award! (Presented in honor of notably dubious statements about past events.) The winner is: Brandon McKnight, Purdue's senior guard. Asked about his team's challenging schedule (one that includes upcoming games against North Carolina State, Memphis, and Oklahoma), McKnight offered the following: 'Michigan State had this type of schedule last year and they went pretty far in the NCAA tournament.' Define 'far.' Wonk and McKnight have different notions about this vexing term, apparently, for the Spartans lost in the first round last year to a scrappy Nevada squad, 72-66. Brandon, Wonk salutes your knack for defining success down! You'll go far!"T.J. Parker, Northwestern (announced his intention to enter the NBA draft)November 11: "Let this be the one squib on Parker that does NOT mention that he’s the younger brother of Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs…DOH! Anyway, little bro is the capable QB on a Northwestern team that has featured more intricate plays than a garden-variety NFL playbook. So what if he has no outside shot? He’s jet-quick, plays D, has started every game but one in his career, and is a coach on the floor. Wonk will take one of those any day."Jack Brownlee, Iowa (graduating senior)March 9: "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."Tony Stockman, Ohio State (graduating senior)December 11: "Ohio State hosts Portland State tonight in the first game played since OSU Athletic Directory Andy Geiger announced that the Buckeyes were self-imposing a ban on postseason play in light of former coach Jim O'Brien's admission that he gave $6,000 in 1999 to a recruit's family. This decision had to come as unwelcome news to all the team's seniors, of course, but especially to Tony Stockman, who transferred from Clemson with the stated intention of joining a team that would make it to the dance."Patrick Ewing, Jr., Indiana (announced his intention to transfer)December 17: "Wonk's REVISED Patrick Ewing, Jr. Paradox. The Ewing Paradox states that if he were on a better team, he'd be getting some minutes. (The original Pat Ewing Paradox stated that if he were on a better team he'd be starting. He is starting now, but he's still getting just 20 minutes a game.) Ewing continues to play like a Tasmanian devil and to get rebounding numbers that suggest a player with half again as many minutes. But, alas, Ewing is adjudged as too offensively challenged to play for Indiana and that's saying something--a little like the fabled 'sixth Rolling Stone' who was said to be too ugly for even the Stones."Aaron Robinson, Minnesota (graduating senior)February 24: "Minnesota beat Iowa 65-57 in Minneapolis last night....The Gophers trailed in this game 36-31 with 14 minutes left but were propelled from that point by good shooting from an unlikely source: guard Aaron Robinson hit four second-half threes to lead Dan Monson's team on a 26-7 run. ('Every time I found A-Rob,' offers Gopher wing Vincent Grier, 'I said, "Shoot it with confidence, baby."')"Brent Lawson, Minnesota (graduating senior)January 3: "So who is Brent Lawson? A senior wing from out of Maple Grove, MN (just miles from the Official Current Wonk Residence!). He's averaging but eight points a game but the fact that he's doing it on .630 shooting (not a typo) vaults him to the top of this week's [PPWS] spreadsheet. Wonk welcomes the anomaly: a who-dat at the top of the list is often the cost of doing business when you measure performance via efficiency instead of using good old absolute numbers. We're all adults here. The numbers tell adults that Lawson's had an incredible year shooting the rock and that, in all likelihood, he might want to pull a muscle now while that FG percentage is still ostentatiously north of .600."Jeff Hagen, Minnesota (graduating senior)January 26: "Minnesota hosts Indiana tonight in Minneapolis and for the first time this season the Gophers are daring to ponder what once seemed preposterous: they have a chance at making the NCAA tournament. Meantime Jeff Hagen remains wobbly due to an injured knee but Wonk says that before every game and Hagen always ends up playing."Andreas Helmigk, Wisconsin (graduating senior)March 26: "(6) Wisconsin 65, (10) NC State 56....Thank you, hoops gods. For letting Bill Raftery do this game. With eight minutes left in the contest, Andreas Helmigk was at the free throw line and banked in his first attempt. It took Raf a minute but he heard Wonk ('Say it! Say it!') a thousand miles away: 'At the free throw line, with a kiss!'"Sharif Chambliss, Wisconsin (graduating senior)November 10: "BONUS Sharif Chambliss note! A native of Racine, Wisconsin, Chambliss played three seasons at Penn State (he was a freshman on the Joe-Crispin-led 2001 team that went to the Sweet 16) and led the Big Ten in made threes in 2003. His late-game heroics were largely responsible for the dramatic upset win the Nittany Lions posted over the Badgers in State College that season. Penn State entered that game 5-16 overall and 0-10 in the conference. That kind of record tends to have an effect on attendance and thus the game was played in front of, shall we say, a notably select group of Penn State supporters. Few in number, the home fans nevertheless stormed the court when the final horn sounded. To this day it is the only instance in Wonk's experience where the jubilant fans swarming onto the court were actually outnumbered by the players, coaches and referees already on the floor."Clayton Hanson, Wisconsin (graduating senior)January 26: "Illinois now runs a good five-pass sequence leading to a 14-footer on the right wing for Augustine. He misses, Wisconsin rebounds. Chambliss brings the ball up. Every other Wisconsin player is outside the three-point-line--except Wilkinson. Chambliss passes to Clayton Hanson on the right wing, Hanson makes the entry pass, and Powell's marooned on an island. No Illinois player's close enough to give help and Wilkinson easily drop-steps Powell for the basket. It's a play Wonk saw in the sixth grade. It's effective. Illinois 44, Wisconsin 44 (17:06). Illinois calls timeout."Zach Morley, Wisconsin (graduating senior)January 6: "Wisconsin beat Purdue in West Lafayette last night 77-68. Zach Morley led the Badgers with 22 points, including 6-of-8 on his threes. EXCLUSIVE Wonk software note. Wonk's crack staff of software development engineers have perfected a Big-Ten-hoops-savvy syntax checker called HoopCheck. As I typed the above paragraph it continually put a squiggly green line under the words 'Zach Morley' and '6-of-8 on his threes.' When your intrepid blogger right-clicks he gets, 'Suggested changes: "Zach Morley ball-faked jerkily and dribbled the ball off his foot"; "Zach Morley flopped and got the call"; "Zach Morley got yelled at by Bo Ryan and told to 'get a damn haircut.'"'"Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin (graduating senior)March 9: "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."Tim Bograkos, Michigan State (graduating senior)March 31: "Profile of Tim Bograkos here. (A quick scan does not as yet turn up the word 'scrappy' but Wonk trusts it's in there somewhere.)"Chris Hill, Michigan State (graduating senior)March 19: "This is what happens when you interview an academic All-American: 'Extreme disappointment, frustration, and agony.' That is how Spartan guard Chris Hill (he of the 3.75 GPA in finance) described his feelings when he sat on the bench for the last six minutes of State's loss to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament last Friday night. (Wonk, conversely, would have said something more along the lines of: 'Me bad feel.')"Kevin Torbert, Michigan State (graduating senior)
March 21: "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.'"Alan Anderson, Michigan State (graduating senior)March 9, announcing Anderson's selection to the All-Wonk team: "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). 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."Nick Smith, Illinois (graduating senior)November 12: "Beat reporters covering Wonk's beloved Illini relate that senior big man Nick Smith has added 'about 20 pounds' since last season, which means he now dresses at, what, 7-2, 170? Smith, like sixth-year Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer, has seemingly been in Champaign since the Reagan administration. At long last getting a little PT under Bruce Weber, he was largely ignored by Bill Self (rightly, given the frontcourt depth of those teams) and actually recruited and signed by Lon Krueger. Smith, whose role model is apparently Jan Brady, is given to petulant hissy fits: his technical foul and subsequent pouting at Wisconsin last season helped turn a tight four-point game into a 20-point blowout in the last ten minutes. TOKEN Wonk moment of magnanimity when it comes to Smith: On the other hand, his two threes and two clutch free throws in OT at Purdue last year almost single-handedly set the stage for Luther Head’s game-winning last-second shot."Jack Ingram, Illinois (graduating senior)February 1: "Here's a comparison that just three short weeks ago Wonk never would have dreamed he'd be using: Ingram now reminds your intrepid blogger a lot of former Purdue Boilermaker and current Sacramento King Brad Miller. Like Miller, Ingram will never be termed gifted athletically. But also like Miller, he plays a game that is methodical, self-contained, and, at its best, lethally effective--even if he doesn't realize it."Roger Powell, Illinois (graduating senior)April 5, recapping Illinois' loss to North Carolina in the national championship game: "So with Augustine on the bench and poor outside shooting by the Illini, how in the world was this game this close? Two reasons. First, because Illinois turned the ball over once--once--in the entire second half, when Head penetrated the lane with 32 seconds left in the game and his pass was intercepted by Raymond Felton. And, second, because of heroic--no other word suffices--effort on the boards against one of the best rebounding teams in the country: Illinois out-rebounded Carolina 37 to 34. Roger Powell, last seen looking disconcertingly similarly-sized standing next to Jim Nantz in Saturday's postgame interview, out-rebounded perhaps the single best pure rebounder in the nation, Sean May, hauling in 14 boards, eight of them on the offensive glass (giving Powell a rebounding percentage of 20.8 for the evening). May gathered in ten boards (rebounding pct.: 16.6) but no other Tar Heel had more than five. If this proud University of Illinois alum had a medal, I would pin it on the Reverend for duty quite literally above and beyond."Luther Head, Illinois (graduating senior)February 18, from Wonk's interview of Sporting News senior college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy: "Q. Did you know Luther Head would have this kind of year? A. No. If you’d asked me about Head before the season I probably would have said he’s a two-trick pony: someone who can dunk lobs and make an occasional three. But his development as a passer and ball handler has been staggering. Almost unprecedented. I don’t remember the last time a player went from dunking alley-oops to being a point-guard-quality player. I tell you what: if you put Luther Head on Cincinnati and gave him the ball, the Bearcats would instantly become a top-10 team. He is that good of a point guard. And he’s the third-best point guard on his team."Deron Williams, Illinois (will soon announce his intention to enter the NBA draft)January 21, recapping Illinois' win in overtime against Iowa: "So the scoring burden fell to the usual suspects but the results were far from usual, as Illinois played for long stretches without Brown and Williams in the game at the same time. Williams had only four points and he was credited with four turnovers (mostly dishes Augustine wasn't ready for) but he recorded eight assists and his mere presence on the floor is as comforting to the Illini on offense as having your mom with you when you're sick. The crucial possession with about a minute left in regulation where Weber called a timeout with seven seconds left on the shot clock? That turned into two points, courtesy of a sweet floater from Williams."Bon chance in your next endeavors, men! You made blogging fun.In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Wisconsin assistant coach Rob Jeter is reportedly the leading candidate for the head coaching job at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.Departed Michigan State forward Alan Anderson will undergo surgery on his right knee, which he injured in the Spartans' double-overtime win over Kentucky.Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says any college team would lose to the Atlanta Hawks--but he loves the college game anyway. Free Press columnist Mitch Albom apologizes for saying Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson were at the Final Four. Turns out they were not.Columnist Pat Harty of the Iowa City Press-Citizen doesn't like Billy Packer.Illinois' projected starting five, 2005-06: Dee Brown, Rich McBride, Brian Randle, Marcus Arnold, James Augustine. Dan McGrath of the Chicago Tribune says North Carolina, not the refs, beat Illinois....Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch tells the University of Illinois: "Make up your mind on the Chief and go with it."Welcome to day 4 of Wonk's week-long farewell! Wonk is about to put the blog on hiatus for six months or so. Barring major we-interrupt-this-program-level developments like Gene Keady starting a new career as spokesperson for his own line of hair care products, tomorrow's post should be the last one. Your intrepid blogger will then dutifully shut the old girl down for the off-season like a Bar Harbor lobster pound--only to descend visigoth-like upon your free time yet again come November. So without further ado, we continue our week-long look at hoops blogs beloved of Wonk! Hoops blogs Wonk loves: The Mid-MajorityFirst, an acknowledgment: April's an odd time to be dishing referrals to college hoops blogs. Indeed, the blog that Wonk is gushing about today has already shut down for the off-season. Too bad! For weeks now Wonk's been too busy cranking out the game recaps and passing along the links to pause and relay a dawning realization: when it comes to college hoops, the still-yeasty blogosphere has already yielded up some incredible material. (And, OK, some real drivel--but that's a topic for another day.) Wonk is here before you today to praise Kyle Whelliston, creator of The Mid-Majority, and the question the task fairly poses is: Where do I start? With his hoops savvy? His creativity? His dedication? (The man went to 100 games this season.)...Or how about with the first piece of Kyle's that I read back in November, one that made me immediately post an urgent appeal to my blog's readers (which at that time numbered roughly seven people--three if you exclude Gasaways): go, I said to the readers, and enjoy Kyle's essay, "The Beautiful Season":It is the most beautiful of sports seasons - rambling and undulating, slightly flawed, yet offering perfect dramatic structure. The season quickly and effectively winnows hundreds of hopefuls down to one champion (one must only pass a fleeting glance to our college football brothers to see exactly how hard of a task this really is). Four distinct stages in rapid succession, each played with quickening pulse and shorter breath.
So let's begin. Man. The screen is unworthy, you know?But I've gotten ahead of myself: Kyle Whelliston covered the so-called mid-majors this basketball season with assiduous fidelity and keen alacrity. In so doing he gave the blogosphere its perfect use: in Kyle, message and medium met with tongue-and-groove precision and aptness. Only a blog--not a paper, not a magazine, certainly nothing broadcast--could have covered the Drexels, Quinnipacs, and Binghamtons with this level of insight.Here is just some of what went on at the midmajority.com this year....--The 100 Games Project, of course. Kyle's stated aim at the beginning of the year was to hit the century mark in games attended. It took 23 games in eight days in March but he made it.--The Red State Basketball Goodwill Tour. Believing that only college hoops could bridge the gulf between Red and Blue, Kyle set off (on a route determined by his readers) in mid-February on a tour of red-state America and saw some good hoops along the way.--And then the really good stuff: photoshopping Rick Majerus's head onto Fat Albert's rotund frame; headlines that are steals from the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack; "A Very Mid-Majority Christmas".... It all beggars description, really, but your intrepid blogger will try....In roughly the same way that one can be a longtime golfer and still not be very good at it, Wonk is a longtime guitar player. So the highest compliment I can give Kyle is to class him as the Jimi Hendrix of college hoops bloggers. While the rest of us are out here gritting our teeth and working strenuously to achieve the blog equivalent of plucking out the opening chords to "G-L-O-R-I-A" (fellow bad guitar player Dave Barry once said if you drop a guitar, it will play "G-L-O-R-I-A"), Kyle is playing the damn thing upside down, picking the strings with his teeth and riffing on "All Along the Watchtower." His superstructure of playful experimentation could only have been erected upon a base of confident mastery.Naturally we, as readers, want more. And yet Kyle ended the season on a note of uncertainty:I would love to do a national version of the 100 Games Project, visit the venues of the west and south, find and tell their stories. But this Project has been funded completely from the family bank account (not one single person clicked on the donation link all season), and came to be an immense burden--both financially and health-wise. I didn't get much sleep.
But I never started this to make a quick buck. I've turned down every one of the sponsorship opportunities that presented themselves over the course of the year, because I have no intention of turning The Mid-Majority--or myself--into an ugly billboard or a beholden entity. I just want to go to basketball games and write about them, and that's all.
So I can't do this type of thing again without some sort of subsidy. And granted, it's not up to me to decide whether or not this document has been "good" enough to merit one. If it's been decided that it has, you'll be hearing from me. If not, I'll simply fulfill the wishes of the site's many detractors and fall back into anonymous obscurity.
I'd like to think that there's room for coverage of college hoops that celebrates the whole big messy big picture instead of the AP Top 25, or jock-tosterone, or the tiresome my-team-or-else mindset. But if there isn't, or if I'm not anointed as the chosen chronicler of the sub-250 RPI's, that's all well and good too. I'll find other things to spend my time on.And so we're left with questions. Last fall Kyle set forth gleefully to jack-hammer away at college hoops' rhetorical caste system--but where can we get more Kyle in the future? What's to become of us fans?Still, questions about the future should never overshadow praise that is due the present: Kyle Whelliston gave his readers one beautiful season indeed.Wonk's dumbest posts of the year Our week-long look at the worst of Wonk continues with a real gem from the bubble-watch file! On February 10 your intrepid blogger oh-so-sagaciously assessed Iowa's tournament prospects as follows:You know those curious cases where a person has some inexplicable and injurious mishap visited upon them on the same day every year? One year they go skiing and break a leg. The next year on the same day they're in a car accident. And the year after that on the very same day they spill some boiling water and burn themselves. Steve Alford's like that. Every year his team comes to the Big Ten season with high hopes--and some years, such as this one, those hopes are justified. And yet somehow every year those hopes are dashed. This year the Hawkeyes have shown surprising resilience without Pierre Pierce--but they have nothing to show for it, losing closely-contested games at home against Michigan State and on the road against Wisconsin (see below). They too are now in a position where they must win out to justify serious consideration for a tournament bid. Meaning they must win next Saturday when Illinois comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.Iowa did not win out but made the tournament anyway. Next February when Wonk is freely dispensing bubble insights, read at your own risk.Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! On IzzoWonk,Sometimes I can't help but wish that Tom Izzo weren't so candid. Played it a little closer to the vest. Didn't wear his heart on his sleeve so much. Honestly, he's the one that said "we want to be elite" two years ago when he made that masochistic schedule and then he vilified the press later for holding them to that standard. (BTW, no one should call college kids "losers" like Sharp...the Detroit media, ugh, but that's another story. I do love Bob Wojo though.) Then I realized: that's what's great about Izzo, that's what everyone sees and loves outside the state of Michigan, fans and those in the college basketball community. His passion and his drive and his candor make him the fantastic leader that he is. I think he's frustrated that he has to recruit his butt off for in-state kids now where before it was easier (see Crawford to UK).
I also think he had a hard time enjoying his seniors because it was a grueling four-year battle to get them to do two things: play the "Izzo" way; lead others.
You saw at the end that it could happen with this team, but there were a lot of frustrating moments in between, for fans, for the kids and for him. Bill M.Thanks, Bill! From the archives! Day 4 of Wonk's five favorite emails of the year... Hey, Wonk,Love your blog. It's like getting a daily dose of national and regional sports news in an easy-to-digest gelcap. My question: will Purdue ever recover after Matt Painter takes over and was he ever the guy to take Coach Keady's job in the first place?Russ R.Wonk said it on January 13 and I'll say it again: never been compared to a gelcap before. Thanks, Russ!