Big Ten Wonk
Monday, March 13, 2006
Who did Tennessee sleep with?...and other bracket thoughts
Editor's note: the Wonk World HQ in the Twin Cities was hit with a surprisingly stout March snowstorm last night--a storm that is still with us as this is written. One result: my power's out. This post was started before my life became so Lord of the Flies-esque, thank goodness, but it is being wrapped up amid said challenges. Thus today's effort will be a bit shorter than the norm. Make it up to you this week.

Ohio State was slotted exactly as I--and everyone--expected: a 2-seed. And the 6-seed given Michigan State also felt about right.

The seeding of every other Big Ten team, however, frankly surprised me, from a little to a lot....

I was pleasantly surprised with Iowa's 3-seed. Thought they might be more of a 4.

On the other hand, I was quite unprepared for Illinois' 4-seed--in the Connecticut bracket, no less. I thought surely the Illini would rate a 3-seed. But maybe there was a certain rough (very rough) justice here. For years Big Ten fans in general--and Illinois fans, like me, in particular--have wailed and moaned that the selection committee overlooks the many fine performances in the Big Ten tournament. No more: the selection committee most certainly took the conference tournament into account this year. They rewarded Iowa (tournament champion) and punished Illinois (knocked out in the quarterfinals). Moral of the story: win Friday.

Indiana grabbed a surprisingly high seed, a 6--not bad for a team that was being left for dead just three weeks ago. (But then, they won Friday. See how this works?)

And Wisconsin was given a 9-seed. Feels a little low for a team that finished ahead of (6-seed) Michigan State in the conference standings, sure. But there you are. (They lost Friday.)

Oh, and Michigan? Ah, yes. Michigan....

Requiem for a Wolverine
The men of Ann Arbor were left out again this year. The team that hasn't been to a tournament since 1998 will have to wait at least one more year before that drought ends. And that's huge--or at least it looks huge now.

Because this was to be the year. Talent, experience, and depth--it was all there. True, Lester Abram missed the balance of the Big Ten season with an ankle injury. But even minus Abram, is this team truly less loaded than, say, the tournament-bound Wisconsin Badgers?

I'm reminded of something I wrote four months ago, possibly because it's one of the few things that doesn't sound patently absurd four months later. (Even a blind pig finds the occasional truffle.) I was speaking of the Wolverines' injury riddled 2005 and the expectations for a healthier and thus more successful 2006....

Make no mistake: fate gave Michigan a wicked pitch to hit last year. But the Wolverines didn't just swing and miss. They swung, missed, hit the ump with the bat, fell down, clubbed themselves over the head a few times, stumbled back to the wrong dugout, threw up, fell down the steps, hit their head on the bat rack, and fell into a coma.

Which means, even as this blogger expects Tommy Amaker's team to improve markedly this season, there is a lingering potential for unpleasant surprise attached to even a healthy Michigan team.

(Emphasis in the original.)

COMING tomorrow! (assuming there's electricity)
The patented Wonk 360 technology goes to work! Each venue hosts, in effect, a couple four-team tournaments. And if there's a Big Ten team involved, Wonk 360 will break the four teams down, starting tomorrow with Salt Lake City (Indiana, San Diego St., Gonzaga, and Xavier) and San Diego (Illinois, Air Force, Washington, and Utah State). Don't fill in those brackets without Wonk 360!

Breakdowns on Friday's competitors in Philly (Wisconsin, Arizona, Villanova, and Monmouth or Hampton), Dayton bracket I (Ohio State, Davidson, Georgetown, and Northern Iowa), Dayton bracket II (Michigan State, George Mason, North Carolina, and Murray State), and Auburn Hills (Iowa, Northwestern St., West Virginia, and Southern Illinois).

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa beat Ohio State 67-60 in the championship game of the Big Ten tournament. Despite my dire predictions of a slow game between two tired teams, this contest was actually quite easy on the eyes. A foul-blighted Terence Dials was limited to ten points in 22 minutes. The Buckeyes' shooting woes continued as they made just 6-of-28 threes. And seldom-prominent Alex Thompson came up big for the Hawkeyes with a clutch three-pointer in the final minutes, as the Hawkeyes ended the game on a 10-3 run. Big Ten Tournament champion Iowa Hawkeyes, Wonk salutes you! (Box score.)

BONUS note on Ohio State's shooting! Last week I offered the thought that the Buckeyes had better start hitting their threes or else their bricklaying "will end their season within the next 20 days, even with a favorable seed." That was last week--you can change the "20" to "13" now but everything else still holds. (Ken Pomeroy was even blunter yesterday.) The Big Ten tournament provided a great illustration of this dynamic, as OSU played three progressively more formidable opponents (Penn State, Indiana, and Iowa), shot poorly from the outside against all three (33.3 percent, 18.5 percent, and 21.4 percent), and saw the results regress from a seven-point win, to a one-point win, to a seven-point loss. What we are seeing now is Ohio State minus the three-point shooting. And Ohio State minus three-point shooting is beatable. (Yes, all teams need to make their shots. But not all teams devote 40 percent of their shots to threes. Actually, in Indy, nearly half--49.7 percent--of the Buckeyes' shots were from beyond the arc. They hit just 24.7 percent. And that, in a nutshell, is why they weren't wearing commemorative hats and talking to Billy Packer after the game yesterday.)

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