Final-lyHad Wonk better planned out his week he would have saved all the points he's been making about tonight's games for one uber-post here today. Alas, this blogger's strange notions have been scattered across the past few days: which of tonight's players shoot productively and which don't; why either North Carolina or Michigan State will have to exceed their normal (excellent) performance to win tonight; why, whether they win zero, one, or two games in St. Louis, Illinois has had a season for the ages; and a bunch more here (e.g., why Deron Williams, Luther Head, and Dee Brown are even more vital to the Illini than we thought; and Carolina's most troubling weakness (turnovers), as well as their most formidable strength (Sean May)).All of which is to say: given all that Wonk's said already (and all that everyone's said about these two games), your intrepid blogger's going to keep this intentionally short and sweet today....(4) Louisville (33-4) vs. (1) Illinois (36-1)6:07pm (EST)At the risk of sounding obvious, it all comes down to who's making the shots. Ryan at Hawkeye Hoops rightly points out the struggles the Illini have been having on the offensive glass during the tournament--the way to negate those struggles is by draining the swamp of offensive rebound opportunities, as it were, by making your shots.The key for the Illini on both sides of the ball today is Roger Powell. On offense he can be the non-three-point dish option for Deron Williams when the Illini guard drives into the Cardinal zone. (They will play zone...won't they?) And on D, Powell needs to go to the glass if Illinois is to take away Louisville's very strong offensive rebounding. Augustine is dependable on the boards--when he has one partner in crime in that area Illinois is very tough to beat.If you're an Illini fan, the Louisville player you do not want to see shooting is Larry O'Bannon, who has been very efficient in the tournament and indeed all season long at turning shots into points. The player you do want to see shooting is Ellis Myles, who has been inefficient in that area. Myles has also been committing a lot of turnovers in the tournament. On the plus side for Cardinal fans, he's been an absolute beast on the glass the last four games.For all the talk about Illinois and their alleged "reliance on the three," Louisville shoots more threes than any other team in the Final Four: 42 percent of their shots are from behind the arc. That's good news for Illinois if the Cardinals are cold and bad news if they're hot. Again, it comes down to who's making their shots.(5) Michigan State (26-6) vs. (1) North Carolina (31-4)8:37pm (EST)Both teams are superb on the glass and in fact Wonk will almost be hoping for missed shots just so he can see Sean May and Marvin Williams do battle with Paul Davis and Matt Trannon. But that battle, while epic, is unlikely to yield a decided advantage for either team.Turnovers, on the other hand, could be crucial. Absent absolutely abysmal shooting by the Tar Heels, it's hard for this blogger to envision scenarios where Carolina (number 1 in the country in offensive efficiency) loses without turning the ball over at least, say, 14 times.As for player match ups, Wonk has already voiced his concern, speaking as a Big Ten fan, about what will happen in the Spartans' half-court defense when Drew Neitzel is in the game. See "Wonk back!" below for a full discussion by the alert readers of Neitzel--bottom line: this spectator, for one, will be nervous when Neitzel's in the game, (much) more from a defensive standpoint than an offensive one.But, of course, Carolina has their own defensive worries. They're coming off their worst defensive performance of the season and about to take on the number 4 team in the nation in offensive efficiency....The team that defends and values the ball wins.In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Michigan fans won't want to miss this outstanding player-by-player look ahead at the 2005-06-edition Wolverines (or this PPWS talk!). Keep it coming, mgoblog!Wonk's not saying the good folks at Purdue have lost interest in the college basketball season or anything but this article is at the top of this morning's "Boilerstation" page.J.A. Adande of the Los Angeles Times salutes one man who has already had an enormous impact on tonight's games, Gary Colson. Who's Gary Colson? Read on.(Michigan) State of euphoria!Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press offers his mea culpa for his January 17 column (this senior class "will forever be branded as a loser," etc., a column Wonk branded at the time as the winner of the Panic Early and Often Award).But, while we're on the subject, just what did happen to that team that supposedly couldn't win close games? Historical reflection and learned speculation here.Mitch Albom of the Free Press salutes Tom Izzo. Only 11 coaches have won more than one national championship, an elite group Izzo can join with two more wins. (Wonk is second to none in his praise of Izzo. But is he--is anyone?--really ready to be saddled with the label of the next John Wooden?)Once and for all, Gregg Doyel or no Gregg Doyel, State is not going to change what they do (run) against Carolina.Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz says Alan Anderson is the face and the soul of the Spartans. Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune profiles Minneapolis native Anderson (and fellow seniors Kelvin Torbert and Chris Hill) here.Etc. Report on the Spartans' Friday workout here....Shannon Brown and Dee Brown were high school teammates? Why wasn't Wonk told!...Chris Hill is 1-of-13 on his threes in the tournament but is finding other ways to contribute....Advice from Mateen Cleaves here. (Cleaves bravely resisted the urge, apparently so appealing to former Illinois greats, to go into great detail about how his 2000 team would mop the floor with this 2005 team.) Meet you in St. Louis Spartan Nation coverage here.Illinipalooza!Louisville guard Taquan Dean says this game was meant to be: ''At the beginning of the season, when Illinois started to go on its run, 'Francisco [Garcia] said, 'It's destiny that we match up because this team is so similar to us.'"Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs on Illinois' Friday workout (which drew more fans than an Assembly Hall sell out) and on Louisville, who looks "very, very good. They're quick and long and they look determined." (In his dead-tree space this morning, Tupper looks back at Bruce Weber's early years: talking on a pay phone at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee and asking Gene Keady for a job. Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times also covers some of that same terrain. So does Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile one reporter who finds himself in Carbondale, Illinois, on this of all days reports that Weber's still popular in Saluki land.)Mike Imrem of the Daily Herald salutes the 2005 Illini: "The class with which they play is surpassed only by the class with which they carry themselves."Etc. Stewart Mandel of sportsillustrated.com says Illinois fans have taken over St. Louis. Maggie Haskins of sportsillustrated.com says Illinois fans have taken over Chicago....Greg Couch of the Sun-Times gives James Augustine a now-go-get-'em-killer speech....Luther Head says his hammy is fine....Louisville native Nick Smith (he moved to Florida "in the second or third grade") talks about facing his old hometown team here. Smith says should the Illini advance to Monday night, he'd rather play Carolina because they're "the best" but he'd "feel a lot better" about his team's chances against Michigan State....Ohio State forward Matt Sylvester, who gave the Illini their only loss of the year with his last-minute three in Columbus, says he'll be rooting for Illinois this weekend: "I am definitely rooting for them, not only because they're such a good team that's fun to watch but because I think they're all really good guys, a class act."Pete Thamel of the New York Times profiles Ellis Myles here.Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! Neitzel or no Neitzel colloquiaYesterday Wonk wondered aloud why Drew Neitzel is starting. Wonk's readers responded! Indeed, so similar were the excellent emails from alert readers Shawn M. and Kyle J. that Wonk is going to combine and summarize their insightful points:1) Neitzel starts but he doesn't play that many minutes.2) He's shooting better lately.3) He gets the Spartans down the floor quicker.4) Hill performs better coming off the bench.5) Hill's been shooting worse lately.Neitzel is indeed shooting better of late. His PPWS since January 1 is 0.95. Since February 1 it's 1.02. Since March 1 it's 1.08. And in the tournament it's 1.23. Marked improvement!Still, this blogger doesn't anticipate either Neitzel or Hill lighting it up with lots of threes tonight (though Wonk would be ecstatic if they did). And Neitzel may indeed get the Spartans into the flow of their offense better--but he also turns the ball over much more than Hill. Call that, charitably, a wash.So for Wonk it really comes down to D. Wonk says: Hill is older, longer, bigger and much more experienced. Izzo says: I've been to four Final Fours. Izzo wins that one going away.Sparks' shot in HDThe discussion over Sunday's Kentucky-Michigan State game continues, specifically Patrick Sparks' last-second game-tying three....Wonk,I am a Michigan State (and Big Ten) Fan (family friend of the Hills). I really have enjoyed your blog! In looking at the end of regulation of the Kentucky-Michigan State game, I noticed some things other than a potential foul. First I watched the game on a 96" HD projector in CBS HD. I think that Jim Burr was holding up two fingers with his right had after Sparks shot. There was never indisputable evidence that his toe was not on the line, even in HD. Burr if prevaricating about the original call. But this does not really matter because Sparks traveled before the shot! Sparks grabbed the rebound with both feet off the floor. The first foot to land was the right foot establishing the pivot. After landing with his left foot he makes the jab step with his RIGHT foot! Placing the right foot (Pivot) down a second time before releasing the shot is traveling. If you have the tape it is easy to see. And, besides, all this proves is that State won twice. Keep up the good work, Jeff P.Thanks, Jeff! Wonk will get HD someday. Have to drop the old set a few more times--hard--when the Wonk Wife isn't looking.The absolute final word(s) on announcersWonk,
I agree with all of your Billy Packer comments and your solution. I am surprised, however, that during this discourse no one has commented on perhaps the most annoying, inept and inappropriate tournament broadcaster of all: Bill Walton. On a good day, Bill Walton is stiff and a master of the obvious. When he was assigned to cover games in which his son, Luke, was playing, he became downright unbearable. The TV listings should have shown the broadcasts as "A Salute to Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats." Remember the Elite Eight game in 2001 when Illinois lost to Arizona? It was an incredible display and I don't mean that in a good way. I turned the sound off early in the second half. Thank God that's behind us!
Great work and Go Illini!
Golden, COThanks, Diane!Wonk, As long as you're discussing Jim Nantz, am I the only one who finds it offensive that a guy who doesn't do games the whole winter, shows up in March and does all the tournament games, including the Final Four?
Nantz is a perfectly good announcer but his passion is golf. He'll be the first to tell you that the most exciting event he covers is the Masters. So Nantz spends January and February covering golf and then all of a sudden he's the face of college basketball? It's infuriating.
Recently found your blog. Wish I had known of it all season.
Kevin H.Thanks, Kevin!