Wonked out...for nowWelcome to the last day of the season here at Big Ten Wonk! Barring unforeseen blog-resuscitating-worthy events such as Henry Bibby taking a coaching job with the WNBA (good thing that happened yesterday!), today’s post should be the last one. Tomorrow your intrepid blogger will 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. And so, as part of our special last-day festivities ‘round here, we invite you to enjoy this very special kinda-backward edition of Big Ten Wonk! BONUS super-sized season-ending edition of Wonk back!Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! (Um, just be aware, though, that your email might not be posted here for seven months.) A Hoosier on Monday night’s officiatingWonk, Your open letter failed and we got Billy Packer at the Final Four anyway. I can't listen to him long enough to dissect him as well as you have--it would be like staring into the sun for me. I will sum up my feelings by saying, "WHY DID YA HAVE TO LEAVE US AL?" Still, I can turn the volume down on Packer but I can't fix the other problem that is taking the fun out of watching men's college basketball. I am so sick and tired of the Jekyll-and-Hyde officiating that I don't know if I will get it out of my system by next season. In one game in the NCAA tournament, an offensive player with the ball charges into a defensive player using a forearm to the throat and no foul is called. In another game, a team's best player is fouled out on a foul not visible to the naked eye. In the championship game, Sean May was "foul-proof" (had one for the game, I think) while Augustine of Illinois was not even allowed to take his place on the court without a foul being called. Packer could find no fault with May shouldering the defense out of the way to get his shot, but noticed that Augustine needed to learn to move his feet. This may sound like sour grapes. And yet I am an Indiana fan, so I have no ax to grind. I just think that if the officiating is going to suck, it should suck on both ends of the court. At least that way I could concentrate on watching the game instead of wondering what the hell is going on with the officiating. Charles K. Thanks, Charles! The season’s final update from alert reader and die-hard Illini fan JasonWonk, I'd like to applaud the Big Three of the theoretically (for cause) bifurcated Big Ten. Two Final Four berths, three of the last surviving eight, and a big handful of "take that!" for the nattering bobbleheads. Good work, all. By any measuring stick, an Illini fan must look at the '04-05 season with tremendous pride. True, the loss Monday was, for me and I suspect for many others, devastating. As a fan, the one banner I want more than any other is one stating "NCAA Champions" hanging in the Assembly Hall. But as the cloud dissipates, less than 72 hours later, I can only stand in great admiration for this team. That banner will come; another team like this might not. You've chronicled many of those reasons, so I won't waste time restating each of them but in this shorthand: 37-2, nearly wire-to-wire #1 ranking, tied single season men's record for wins, won in Madison, won in E. Lansing, BT regular season champion, BT tourney champion, the Arizona comeback, Chicago regional champion, played on the first Monday in April, and played with a style and singular determination that was pure joy to watch. To boldly, brazenly steal from Wonk: 2004-05 Illinois basketball, I salute you! Thanks for the ride, boys, it was stellar. Jason H. Amen, Jason. The season’s final pert question from pert questioner and alert reader William L.Wonk, I am wondering whether you think that the alleged comments by some of the 1989 Illini were more a media creation or whether there was a real problem there. It seemed like a minor distraction that the Illini certainly did not need before the game of their life.
It is hard to imagine Michael Jordan or Grant Hill saying something similar before their alma maters play in the final.
William L. Or Mateen Cleaves or Juan Dixon or Carmelo Anthony or Emeka Okafor. That’s what made the whole spectacle so bizarre. Well said, William. (Although: can’t you just picture Rashad McCants pulling something like that in a year or two?) The season’s final update from alert reader and die-hard Spartan fan ShawnWonk,
I'm writing to say thanks very much: thanks for posting so well and so thoroughly on Big Ten basketball, for allowing me to participate once in a while, and for probably making me a better Big Ten basketball fan (I attribute a part of my newfound lack of disgust for Bo Ryan to your even-handed assessments).
I've really enjoyed reading the blog this season, and I know many others have as well. What other hoops blog contains, as yours did yesterday, a single two-sentence paragraph touching upon college basketball, Jimi Hendrix, Dave Barry, and Marxist base/superstructure? Very few, no doubt.
I'll stop here before I cross the line into Mitch Albom territory. Anyway, have a good summer, and sign me up for that "Return of Wonk" email alert in November.
Thanks, Shawn! Your email had me toying with the notion of a mock tribute to Wonk from the selfsame Mr. Albom, the Detroit Free Press columnist. (“Indulgently oleaginous prose fairly oozes from this misplaced camp counselor like ink from a squid,” the always tactful Wonk said of Albom.)
Yeah, that’s the ticket! A tribute to Wonk from Mitch Albom! Hmmm, I wonder what that would read like. (Cue the harp! Screen goes wavy!)…
Spend a little time with the Big Ten Wonk, the college hoops blogosphere’s leading light, the stunningly handsome and supremely accomplished young man, the legend, the man-god, and you realize that look on his face, the furrowed brow, the crooked mouse finger (product of so many “link here”s), the down-turned mouth, the reddened cheeks, the burning eyes, is not a look of anger, bitterness or ego….
From the archives! Day 5 of Wonk's five favorite emails of the year....How appropriate that we just heard from alert reader Shawn, who, on March 9, chipped in with one of this blogger’s very favorite emails…. The previous day’s post had featured two seemingly unrelated items: 1) the fact that the local CBS affiliate in Champaign, Illinois, ran a hoops-gods-flouting text message in the second half of that Sunday’s Illinois-Ohio State game (with the Illini in the lead--Illinois went on to lose) telling fans not to come to the airport to welcome the team home; and 2) the fact that Michigan State big man Delco Rowley injured his knee in practice that Monday.
Seemingly unrelated, but Shawn tied them together....
In reference to the gods-provoking, awkward-in-retrospect text message that evidently scrolled across Illini television sets during the game this weekend, I'd just like to note that although Illinois is tops in the Big Ten this year, their athletic department still has a lot to learn in terms of the best way to prematurely celebrate and consequently jinx a special accomplishment.
For help, I suggest they turn to their friends and counterparts in East Lansing, where for the last eight years or so there's seemingly been an unfurled banner of celebration in the rafters at the beginning of every important home loss. Moreover, the folks at MSU have generally found it essential to alert the media to the presence of said unfurled banner to increase the general awkwardness of the situation.
I have it on good authority that this practice extends well beyond big games and that, for example, a banner celebrating Delco Rowley's completion of the season without an incredibly painful knee injury was hanging expectantly in the Breslin rafters at practice on Monday.
Shawn M. In today’s less Wonk-ish venues….Wisconsin assistant coach Rob Jeter was named the new head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee yesterday. Jeter replaces Bruce Pearl who left UWM to take the head job at Tennessee. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dale Hofmann says UWM Athletic Director Bud Haidet has now made three good hires in a row: Jeter, Pearl, and former Panther head coach Bo Ryan. Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says Jeter’s move shows “how far UW basketball has come since 1995. Ten years later, the school that once couldn't give away its coaches is now fighting to keep them.” New Illinois football coach Ron Zook says he’s been watching and learning from Bruce Weber. (But he also cautions against expecting Weber-esque results right away, saying the Illini are “about one percent of the way to where we need to be.”) Concluding our week-long farewell: Wonk’s dumbest posts of the yearAs part of Wonk’s week-long farewell, we’ve been looking at some of the more memorably wrong things said in this blog over the past five months. Today we conclude the tour of ineptitude with a laughably incorrect item from March 9. Here is Wonk holding forth learnedly on the (un)importance of conference tournaments…. [Conference tournaments mean] little even in terms of NCAA seeding, much less selection. This was brought home to this Illini fan most forcefully in 2001, when Illinois, angling for a 1-seed in the big dance, lost in the conference semifinals to Indiana. Wonk was inconsolable, thinking a 1-seed had been lost and an entire season, in effect, damaged. Turns out Illinois got their 1-seed…. Meantime, Michigan State, who'd lost in the quarterfinals to Penn State, also got a 1-seed. Your intrepid blogger learned then that, historic extremes aside, the conference tournament doesn't matter. It's too late to matter. The following Sunday the NCAA tournament selection committee gave Kentucky a 2-seed, specifically citing the Wildcats’ woeful performance in their Sunday conference tournament championship game against Florida as the reason they weren’t given a 1. Wonk’s said it before: read at your own risk. Hoops blogs Wonk loves: Ken PomeroyFirst, 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, mostly, 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.) Longtime readers of this blog know that Wonk customarily avoids out-and-out declarative assertions--finds he looks smarter that way. Instead of saying something potentially erroneous like “Illinois will win the national championship,” your intrepid blogger prefers to say something like “Illinois will win the national championship--unless they don’t.” So you know it has to be a weighty matter when your intrepid blogger breaks with precedent, goes out on a limb, and offers a real honest-to-goodness no-context-necessary declarative assertion. Such as: Ken Pomeroy is the best college basketball writer in the country. Note Wonk doesn’t say “best blogger.” No, the claim here is that Ken Pomeroy is the best writer on college basketball working anywhere--MSM, blogs, you name it. Quite a statement, yes. But can you prove Wonk wrong? That won’t be easy. Ken’s blog has quietly and incrementally yet unmistakably become the common reference point of shared and addicted awe for bloggers and (the most interesting subset of) MSM commentators alike. His read on a game, a team, or a player is essential. How essential? Here is Wonk’s daily ritual for the past three months or so: I write my summary of a given game intentionally and scrupulously prior to reading any of the MSM’s or blogosphere’s commentary on said contest--with one exception. I read what Ken Pomeroy has written, just to make sure I don’t wander too far off-course. (Thank goodness he works at night--and one time zone behind.) Ken is doing his level best to drag basketball stats out of what he’s called its “mesozoic era.” His overall approach is doubtless familiar to and highly valued by most if not all of the readers of this blog. Still, Wonk thinks a sum-up is in order, if for no other reason than to state the case for wider adoption of said approach. One essential Pomeroy syllogistic cornerstone seems to this reader to boil down to the following: (1) We can all agree for the most part on the performance stats of interest: points, rebounds, assists, turnovers, etc.(2) The question is not so much (1) as what to do with them, specifically: assuming those are our numerators, what should the denominators be?(3) The most common such denominator, of course, is games, as in points per game, rebounds per game, etc. But this can lead to misleading numbers: up-tempo teams score more points, get more rebounds, make more assists, and give up more turnovers--and give the opposition more of all of the above.(4) So one handy denominator is possessions: points per possession measures offensive efficiency in a way that’s tempo-neutral. Ditto points allowed per possession for defensive efficiency. Ken is always generous to a fault about crediting his predecessors in this area (most notably Dean Oliver). And there’s nothing terribly radical in the approach outlined above, surely, although calculating a team’s number of possessions (roughly: subtracting offensive rebounds from the sum of field goal attempts and turnovers, with a bothersome but necessary corrective fraction for free throw attempts) is admittedly more involved than simply counting the number of games they’ve played.
But that’s precisely Wonk’s point: we don’t have to count the number of possessions. Ken does it for every Division I team every week, giving us a 1-through-300-something ranking of the most efficient teams in the country on both sides of the ball. These rankings are cited everywhere in the blogosphere--it's only a matter of time until they are cited everywhere, period. So much for Ken’s approach. Here’s what he’s able to do with it…. When Rashad McCants missed four games in March because of an intestinal disorder, North Carolina kept right on winning. But Ken raised a finger of warning: if the Tar Heels wanted “to make a run at the title, they need to get McCants back.” Why? UNC has enough scorers to fill the McCants void, but they aren't getting the fast break opportunities that they used to get, because they aren't forcing as many missed shots and turnovers as they used to….The reduction in defense is one reason why UNC is less upset-proof without McCants, but the decrease in possessions is also important because it gives UNC fewer opportunities for their talent to demonstrate its superiority. (See why Wonk might want to check Pomeroy first before making airy generalizations about the previous night’s Michigan State game?) Nor is Ken merely a cloistered stats geek too busy with spreadsheets to worry about frivolous details like which teams will make the tournament. In fact, he’s an exceptionally astute observer of the game itself--and his national sweep is impressively assured. Here’s Ken in early March giving this reader, for one, way more information on New Mexico than I received from anywhere else…. Ritchie McKay has told anyone that will listen that Danny Granger was out for three of their six losses, and this has been trumpeted religiously by various media outlets. But who have they beat with him? Utah and that's it. You can't really excuse a double-digit loss at BYU, regardless of Granger being out - and the Lobos have only played four games against the top 100, losing three. This team needs to win the MWC tourney…. And then there is the biggest feather of all in the Pomeroy cap. One that has gone but little noticed. One that, if Wonk has his way, will be given its due. It is this:
On March 10, Ken Pomeroy, gathering information from other writers but analyzing it alone and publishing first, alerted the college hoops world to the fact that the RPI we had all been using all season long was not what the tournament selection committee was using. Recall that the tournament selection committee this year instituted a “new” RPI, one that would give more weight to road wins. And while the secretive NCAA doesn’t simply say “Here is the new formula,” their numbers are historically replicable by the industrious few, such as Ken, who have the ability to follow the mathematical trail. And so all year long we college hoops fans were all talking breezily about whose RPI was higher and what it would mean on Selection Sunday. Just about every game on ESPN after January 1 cited the RPI's of the teams playing. And every single one of those cites was completely wrong--until Ken sounded the alarm on March 10. The NCAA’s formula was different from everyone else’s. Bear in mind that both espn.com and collegerpi.com charge for their RPI data--but that data was useless and utterly without value. (Cue the Breaking Away sound bite! “Refund?! Refund?!”) So too was Ken’s, of course--but he offers RPI data for free and he promptly corrected his numbers. ESPN, as far as I know, never did revise their numbers--and neither they nor collegerpi.com (again, as far as I know) ever admitted error. Wonk is not particularly interested in belittling the performance of ESPN in this episode--events have done so better than I ever could--or in lecturing them on their civic responsibility to publish a correction, give refunds, etc. But allow me this sentiment, as strong as wording and italics will allow: There is no earthly reason for any college basketball fan to pay money for RPI data. Get it from Ken Pomeroy. The information is free and its provenance is infinitely and indeed demonstrably more reliable. So, in summary: during this past college basketball season, Ken Pomeroy has: (1) Championed the adoption of a new statistical model for the evaluation of players and teams;(2) Provided commentary that is national in scope, surgical in its analysis, and elegantly succinct in its phrasing;(3) Single-handedly outperformed the MSM on the vital (to paying customers) question of what data the NCAA will use to inform its selection of the 65-team tournament field. That sounds like the best college basketball writer in the country to Wonk. And now: exit, blog left….Frankly, events have confounded my preparations. I had assumed that this blog’s readership would plunge after Monday night’s national championship game and thus the wording I had in mind for today’s post was something along the lines of: this blog is concluding the season the way it began--with very few readers. But the strange thing is: absent any games or news, readership as of yesterday has only fallen off by half from last week’s Billy Packer open letter all-time-high cast of thousands. I confess to being surprised and happily so: apparently this Big Ten hoops affliction is strong stuff indeed. So let me begin the ending by addressing you directly and saying: thank you so much. Every time I thought I’d seen an email that stood out as my favorite kind of reader response, another one equally nice would roll in…. The one that offered me an HD-quality DVD copy of the Illinois-Arizona game: “Consider it a thank-you for your work on the blog all season.” The ones from readers in San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and elsewhere: each, in their own wordings, offering to buy me a beer and talk hoops if I’m ever in town. The ones from beat writers for various Big Ten teams--or even from other parts of the country--saying they'd found some useful stuff here. The ones from fans who have been following their teams for much longer than I’ve been following mine--your interest in and robust critiques of what a (relative) pup has to say have been as helpful and enjoyable as they were unexpected. And particularly the ones from readers who have no connection with and little interest in Big Ten basketball--but enjoy stopping by anyway. It has all been a wonderful surprise and I look forward to returning in November, recharged with a fresh stack of future “dumbest posts of the year” buzzing around my head. (No, in answer to a frequently asked question, Wonk doesn’t blog Big Ten football. You’re not missing out on anything, believe me, by going without my thoughts there. And, besides, that territory is already very well covered by Andy Gamm’s excellent Big-Ten-dedicated Final Score site.) I had thought about dropping by occasionally in the off-season to offer thoughts on completely extraneous matters. Who knows, maybe I’ll blog on other things--but if I do it’ll be in a different location and under a non-Wonk label. Still, seeing the non-sports blogosphere comment on the Big things, such as the Pope passing away, has reminded me again of what led me to sports blogging in the first place: the topics come pre-shrunk. On really important things, by contrast, I still can’t escape the nagging feeling (even with an estimable writer like, say, Andrew Sullivan) that a blog just isn’t the right place, somehow, to be doing this. No doubt that’s merely an accident of biography: my introduction to discourse on the serious matters came from newspapers and magazines so I export that accident churlishly to the world (like the luddites who a decade ago didn’t want to see the New York Times use color photographs). But there it is--I can’t shake that feeling. So in this space, at least, I’ll stick to the series of concentric topical rings that proceeds as follows: sports, college basketball, Big Ten, Illinois. One of my fondest hopes for the blog was that one could acknowledge being a fan of a particular team and still do justice to the conference as a whole. To fans of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin, then, I hope I was able to give you a good read. And to my fellow Illini fans: what a year. I know it’s time to move on to other things because all the signs are insistent. The Masters is on TV. The trees are budding at last here in Minneapolis. It’s light outside after dinner now. My birthday’s next week. Baseball's started up again. Every year these signs announce that I need to put that year’s Illinois basketball season behind me. This year, doing that’s tougher than it’s ever been. It may be a while before I can.
Until then, I may find myself thinking back to a particular moment: a little after 10 central time on April 4, 2005, when the score was tied at 70, when I was so nervous and thrilled I literally couldn’t stand still much less sit, when the Edward Jones Dome was electric with anticipation, and when Illinois had the ball, the momentum, and the heightened and accumulated longings and dreams of this alum and thousands of others like him….
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!
The 2005 Big Ten season in 250 words or less1. Illinois (37-2, 15-1)Historic: see "November," "December," "January," "February," "March," and "April" under "Archives." Season ended by Carolina.2. Michigan State (26-7, 13-3)Redemptive: inexplicable quarterfinal loss to Iowa in Big Ten tournament followed by Final Four run. Season ended by Carolina.3. Wisconsin (25-9, 11-5)Masterful: no Harris, no Wade, no real production from Butch--no problem for Bo. Elite Eight. Season ended by Carolina. (This blogger thinks he sees a trend, by Godfrey!)4. Minnesota (21-11, 10-6)Shocking: Monson takes slasher Grier and a team of who-dat's to the NCAA's. First-round exit (Iowa State).5. Indiana (15-14, 10-6)Overscheduled, under-experienced, unprecedented: first eligible 10-6 Big Ten team ever to not receive a bid. First-round NIT exit (Vanderbilt).6. Ohio State (20-12, 8-8)Ineligible: but had one shining moment on March 6.7. Iowa (21-12, 7-9)Tumultuous: stellar in calendar 2004, struggling much of 2005. Pierce kicked off team February 2. Strong finish, first-round exit (Cincinnati).8. Northwestern (15-16, 6-10)Disappointing: more was expected from returning veterans and Duke transfer Thompson.9. Michigan (13-18, 4-12)Injured: loss of Abram in November devastating--more so, perhaps, than loss of Horton (to injury in December and to legal troubles in February-March).10. Purdue (7-21, 3-13)Incommensurate: Keady's brilliant career in West Lafayette ends with too little horsepower.11. Penn State (7-23, 1-15)Worrisome for Pennsylvania: close loss to Pitt in December said much more about the Panthers than about PSU.In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... With all five starters returning, hopes are high for Iowa next season.Illinois, 2005-06: Dee Brown, James Augustine, Brian Randle, Warren Carter, Rich McBride, Calvin Brock, Chester Frazier, Jamar Smith, Charles Jackson, and Marcus Arnold.Or are we so sure Dee Brown is returning?Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times salutes the 2004-05 edition Illini. Sun-Times Illini beat writer Herb Gould reminisces here....Coverage of yesterday's season-ending rally in Memorial Stadium here, here and here....James-Augustine-will-use-this-as-motivation coverage here.Sean May made the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. Deservedly so.Welcome to day 3 of Wonk's week-long farewell! Wonk is about to put the blog on hiatus for six months or so. Barring unforeseen earth-shaking developments like Bobby Knight praising Mike Davis as "one helluva basketball coach," Friday'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: "yoco :: College Basketball"First, an acknowledgment: April's an odd time to be dishing referrals to college hoops blogs. Indeed, at least one blog that Wonk intends to gush about this week is 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 started this blog last November as a silent indulgence of his curiosity on the question of how blogs work. There was little expectation that there would actually be a continuing presence in this space--your intrepid blogger just wanted to see how these things were actually put together. So, in early November, Wonk committed some hoops thoughts to pixels and flung them up at blogspot.com. But Wonk did not tell a soul those words were there. Not the Wonk Wife. Not friends. No one.Yoni Cohen found them anyway. The very first email to roll in to email@example.com came from Yoni on November 8. It read:Came across your blog today. Great stuff. Like the catch on Mike Davis hyping a 5'8" walk-on and the piece about the Ichabods. Very funny.Wonk would wager that any fellow bloggers reading this are nodding their heads in recognition, doubtless having experienced a similar introduction to Yoni: he is a protean force verging on blogospheric omniscience.Yoni, of course, now dishes his very pointed and pithy hoops insights under the banner of FOXSports.com (here's his very fine tournament sum-up), so his blog, while enlivened by the user posts of an uncommonly sophisticated band of devotees, has been deprived of the man's vital essence, as it were, for the last few weeks. (But when he does drop in he's displayed a strikingly detailed grasp of info pertaining to coaching changes--like Walter Winchell has returned with a vengeance and a sudden interest in college hoops.)But what is or is not posted to Yoni's blog on any given day is, now, beside the point. As was said of Sir Christopher Wren in London: if you seek Yoni's monument, look around you (um, blogospherically speaking, of course). Pick any link to any blog in the sidebar of "Big Ten Wonk." Then note the first such link--first because Yoni fairly invented the category itself. No, not literally. But qualitatively.Indeed, Wonk's introductory portal to college hoops blogs was Yoni. The remaining two blogs that Wonk will be praising tomorrow and Friday were first stumbled upon by this reader solely because Yoni steered his readers to them.
Any hoops geek such as Wonk can sit at a keyboard and blather away indulgently about annoying announcers or pathetic referees. Throw a stick at the blogosphere and you'll hit 50 such. But Yoni achieved something far cooler and as yet wholly unduplicated: he single-handedly created one outstanding salon of hoops talk. (What London coffee-houses were to republican ideology in the 17th century, yocohoops was to PPWS! The weird stat with the weirder name has been popping up here and there--and yocohoops was its petri dish.) Wonk has many favorite bloggers; Yoni adds and merits the title of innovator. Wonk's dumbest posts of the year Our week-long look at Wonk's worst moments continues with a real howler.... On January 4 Wonk held forth confidently on how the past two national champions, Syracuse and Connecticut, had each been led by a dominant player: Carmelo Anthony for the 'Cuse and Emeka Okafor for the Huskies.But that paradigm would come to an end this year, your intrepid blogger serenely informed his readers, because: "If there's an Okafor this year Wonk is yet to see him. Maybe Ike Diogu...."Little could Wonk know that hundreds of miles away in Chapel Hill, NC, a young man with a distinguished lineage and imposing physique would pin that quote to his bulletin board and prove emphatically that he is indeed a dominant player, leading his team to the national championship in the process.BONUS behind-the-scenes admission! Your intrepid blogger is beginning to find it disheartening to dig up all this documentary proof of my analytic ineptitude. Frankly, my memory had been that I was much smarter than this.Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! Big Ten Wonk: where you, the reader, dictate Wonk's outgoing email!Wonk,First: your blog freakin' rocks. I could wax poetic, but suffice to say you've "justified your existence" as the Onion used to put it--and I've only been reading a month.Second: you've gots to set up some kind of email list to alert readers when you're back online. I am dumb. I will forget to check your site after six months. I will hate myself for forgetting. You hold in your hands the power to prevent my suffering. Just sign me up for a mass, once-a-year email when the machine roars back to life. Please.Peter C.Consider it done, Peter. Wonk will give you an I'm-back email this November. If anyone else wants to sign up, feel free!The year's last email on Billy PackerDear Wonk,
After watching the Carolina-Illinois final, I want to jump on the anti-Packer bandwagon (which you so eloquently lead). I hadn't thought deeply about Packer's alleged “ACC bias”--until I saw a lot of it in last night’s game. As I reviewed the tape of the game this morning, I noted that there were times when Packer said all the right things about the Illini. But his bias came out when officiating calls were made. He overlooked times when: UNC fouled Powell and others; or when May hit the ball out of bounds mid-court but it was given to the Tar Heels; or when Augustine was called for fouls that UNC was routinely getting away with. Most egregiously, the “tough screens” that Packer complimented the Illini on through most of the second half suddenly morphed into “illegal, moving screens” that Packer constantly harped on near the end of the game, just when Illinois was threatening to win the whole thing.
David H.Thanks, David! From the archives! Day 3 of Wonk's five favorite emails of the year... One of this blog's most faithful correspondents has been alert reader, Ohio resident, and die-hard Illinois fan Jason. Here's one of his finest epistles, his March 6 report from Columbus on Illinois' one-point perfection-spoiling loss to Ohio State.Wonk,I nearly decided not to file my promised reportage from Columbus. What, after all, 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.For being such a dang fine state of Ohio bureau chief, Wonk salutes alert reader Jason!