Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, November 02, 2006
A warning to readers of season previews
The teams that made it to the Final Four last season were Florida, UCLA, LSU, and George Mason. I can't recall that any of the four were the subject of special attention or analysis last November. Not from me, certainly.

Which is merely to state the obvious--but sometimes the obvious needs re-stating. Season previews are notoriously unreliable. Doesn't matter who's writing them: an MSM commentator, a former coach, me, anyone. The preview, by its very nature, can look silly within days. (Blue Ribbon notwithstanding, of course.)

For my part, then, I fret less about how sensible my previews sound and more about how quickly I can flee dumb positions staked out in murky November.

Take last season. A year ago at this time I was telling all who would listen about how Michigan State was going to blaze their way to the Big Ten title. Yep, no question about it. I mean, what's not to love? Izzo, four starters returning from a Final Four's a no-brainer.

Well, it was a no-brainer, but not in the originally intended sense. For it came to pass that actual games started to be played--and I began to fret openly in the blog. MSU lost its first game to Hawaii, 84-62. Wow, total fluke, I said--but let's "stay tuned" on this.

Then the Spartans lost a triple-OT thriller to eighth-ranked Gonzaga in Hawaii. Wow, great game, I said--but this Spartan defense looks worse than I expected. Then MSU beat sixth-ranked Boston College by seven in a slow game at Madison Square Garden. Wow, great win, I said--but this Spartan defense looks worse than I expected.

The fretting culminated in a virtual volte-face on January 3. By that time Michigan State was 12-2 and ranked seventh in the nation. But I was good and spooked:

As Frank McGuire is my witness and barring only a 2004 Red Sox-level miracle, Michigan State won't get to Indianapolis playing the way they've played thus far. If they continue to play at this level they will be merely this year's Wake Forest: superb on offense and blessed with NBA-level talent yet defensively hapless and, in the end, sitting at home watching the Final Four.

This, of course, was but a few dozen days removed from my State's-a-sure-thing talk.

So consider yourself warned: "November insight" is an oxymoron about like "Terrell Owens' quiet dignity."

(Also note that, for all my fretting about the D, it turns out State's offense last year was also significantly worse than in 2005. None of which I or anyone that I know of foresaw in November.)

BONUS preemptive exculpation! There will be at least one catalytic surprise this year in the Big Ten. In 2005 it was Vincent Grier. It would have taken a leap of faith, surely, in November of 2004 to have written: "This who-dat from Dixie State Junior College is going to prove to be a prolific scorer, tireless defender, and effective leader. He will lead Minnesota to the NCAA tournament this year." In 2006 it was Erek Hansen. It would have taken a leap of faith, surely, in November of 2005 to have written: "This rebounding-averse and offensively-challenged enigma is going to be the essential ingredient in one of the nation's top five defenses this year. He will lead Iowa to a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament." We shall see what catalytic surprises arise in 2007.

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