Big Ten Wonk
Friday, March 24, 2006
Bitter tears in the Sweet 16
I've been watching hoops a long while and it's not often that you see a player out and out cry. (I know Darius Washington, Jr., said he was crying last year after he bricked his free throws at the end of the C-USA championship game against Louisville. But he pulled his jersey up over his head so we couldn't see.)

So it was striking, to say the least, to see easily the two most highly publicized players in the land, J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison, both get weepy last night. It was practically a chick flick!

Heck, I cried--because the hoops were so great and the Big Ten so absent. Only one boring game last night and three outstanding ones....

(4) LSU 62, (1) Duke 54
This game was all about defense: the winning team scored just 0.87 points per possession. So it's entirely fitting that the night's most dominant player, by far, scored just nine points and had only 25 minutes of floor time. Tyrus Thomas was sensational. If ever the phrase "credited with only five blocks" were apt, it is this morning: Thomas clearly got into the Blue Devils' heads. Rebounding and turnovers were even in this game--it came down to making shots. And, Shelden Williams notwithstanding (and even he was just 8-of-18), the Dukies couldn't do it. The Blue Devils went 5-for-26 on their threes. Redick, harassed all night by Garrett Temple, was held to 11 points on 3-of-18 shooting, the incredible part being that he was 0-of-9 on his twos. That is what shot-blockers can do. (Box score.)

(2) Texas 74, (6) West Virginia 71
Kevin Pittsnogle hit a three to tie the game at 71 with ten seconds to play. But credit Rick Barnes for not calling the customary timeout in this situation: he let play continue and it worked. A.J. Abrams did his best Tyus Edney impression for about 60 feet and then fed Kenton Paulino, who had a wide open look at a three with one second left. He nailed it....This game was West Virginia's season in miniature: no offensive boards (three) but no turnovers either (eight). Most of their shots were threes and the Mountaineers were in this game at the end because they were hitting those shots (15-of-33). But it wasn't enough. The Horns won this game on the interior, where they hit more than 60 percent of their twos. Soon-to-be lottery pick LaMarcus Aldridge (26-15 dub-dub) is, of course, a beast. P.J. Tucker (15-14) isn't too shabby either. Stat of the game: there were 30 rebounds available off of Texas misses last night. The Horns hauled in 17 of them. Incredible. And decisive. (Box score.)

(2) UCLA 73, (3) Gonzaga 71
OK, Illinois fans. Raise your hand if you flashed back to last year's Elite Eight game against Arizona in the final seconds of this one. Jordan Farmar was Jack Ingram to J.P. Batista's Channing Frye, stripping the ball from Batista off an inbounds pass under UCLA's basket and feeding Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for the go-ahead lay-in. The Bruins looked just as dead last night as the Illini looked against the 'Cats last year. Gonzaga had been in front the entire game, leading at one point by 17. But the Bruins scored the game's last 11 points. BONUS deconstruction of weeping! The weird part about Morrison crying was that there were still 2.6 seconds left. And, as it happened, Batista ended up having a pretty good Laettner-esque look off a full-court baseball pass that would have put the game in OT. Verily, Adam, remember your Eliot Ness: never stop until the fight is done.

(1) Memphis 80, (13) Bradley 64
Congratulations to the Braves, the pride of Peoria, for making it further than anyone imagined. (Further, this Illini fan might add, than any other team from Illinois.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Last night's weep-fest will be a very tough act to follow. Tonight:

(4) Boston College vs. (1) Villanova (Minneapolis, 7:10pm ET)
The Eagles have the worst defense of any of the 12 teams still playing. And the Wildcats' offense is, of course, superb. Even more ominous, the weakest part of BC's defense is on the perimeter. That being said, the Eagles' offense is outstanding in its own right, especially on the offensive glass. There should be some points put up in the Metrodome tonight.

(11) George Mason vs. (7) Wichita State (Washington, D.C., 7:27pm ET)
The Patriots play excellent defense and shoot the ball. That's a good combination. Only thing: George Mason needs to hit their shots; if they don't they're in trouble because their offensive rebounding is weak and they don't go to the line much. (Think Ohio State here: when the shots don't fall, that's it, party's over. No plan B.) And, as it happens, Wichita State's defensive rebounding is outstanding. So this game will come down to the looks given to Jai Lewis and Will Thomas and what they do with them. (Um, unless Sean Ogirri goes nuts from outside for the Shockers.)

(7) Georgetown vs. (3) Florida (Minneapolis, 9:40pm ET)
OK, you know how these little preview blurbs the past couple days have been saying this game or that features what should be an interesting collision between X and Y? Well, this time I really mean it: best interior shooting in the country (Florida) against that long Hoya front line that spooked Ohio State so. Let the sparks fly. (Granted, that Hoya D is surprisingly meh on paper. Have they matured suddenly or was the OSU game a fluke?)

(5) Washington vs. (1) Connecticut (Washington, D.C., 9:57pm ET)
These two teams share some notable similarities. (And not just their common nickname.) Neither shoots threes and both are ferocious on the offensive glass. But UConn's, uh, ferociouser: the very best in the nation at hauling in misses. And U-Dub won't get 28 more free throws than their opponent tonight like they did in their last game. (Nope, no bitterness here!) So how do the Huskies from Seattle win tonight? Answer: one of those patented weird UConn funks. Otherwise? Not a chance.

In today's less still-alive venues....
Another day with no news on the Indiana coaching search. (Hoosier AD Rick Greenspan is reportedly asking former IU players what characteristics the next coach should have.) And I think each passing day with no news lends more and more support to the notion that Indiana doesn't want to make this hire without first talking to Memphis coach John Calipari. Not to say Calipari's necessarily the first choice, mind you. Merely that IU has the apparent luxury of waiting and seeing. For all the talk of a coaching carousel, there really isn't one this year. (Unless you consider Bob Huggins getting out of the house at last and a one-day vacancy in Cedar Falls, Iowa, a coaching carousel.) And there won't be one until Indiana (or, conceivably, Missouri) starts one in motion by hiring away someone.

Profile of Purdue's incoming freshmen--Chris Kramer, Jonathan Uchendu, and Dan Vandervieren--here.

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So, in a way, Illinois is still alive!
Has there been any mention of former Illini Kyle Wilson and his impact on the Sweet 16 Wichita State Shockers?

Don G.

Ah, Kyle we hardly knew ye. And I mean that literally.

Wilson was another one of Bill Self's Texas finds (a la Deron Williams, Jack Ingram, and Warren Carter) but the young man got zero PT (less than seven minutes a game) and left when Self left at the end of 2003. This year he's doing quite well for the Shockers, functioning, in effect, as an efficient cog in Mark Turgeon's strikingly balanced attack. (For one thing, Wilson's hitting better than 43 percent of his threes.)

Former Illinois bench denizen Kyle Wilson, we desperate Illini fans salute you!

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