Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Of hype, reality, and really slow games....
In Champaign: Illinois 51, Indiana 43
1. Once in a great while the reality actually exceeds the hype. The first face-to-face meeting between Kelvin Sampson and Bruce Weber last night was one such case. Not the game itself, of course, which had the approximate entertainment value of a documentary on toenail clippers. No, I'm referring to the interaction, or lack thereof, before and after the game between the two coaches. For all the talk of these two not liking each other, it was clear to anyone with functioning optic nerves last night that these two really don't like each other. (Or, more precisely, Weber doesn't like Sampson.) For the first time in years, the hitherto drearily chummy fraternal order of Big Ten coaches has a real honest-to-goodness goll dern feud. Cool.

2. I thought maybe Indiana was due for a less productive night on offense--but not like this. Last night was a perfect storm of non-production: much slower than usual (51 possessions), with more missed shots and turnovers from the Hoosiers. (Don't be fooled by that benign-looking "12" in the TO column for IU. In a game this slow that's actually well above their season average for coughing up the ball.) And, make no mistake, this was bad Indiana offense more than it was good Illinois defense. The Illini have shown time and again this year that they are vulnerable to dribble penetration but the Hoosiers showed little if any inclination to take the ball to the rim. Sampson's team looked listless.

3. Don't forget the grueling travel time between Bloomington and Champaign. Last night Steve Lavin suggested rather adventurously that the lethargic showing by the Hoosiers may have been due to the ill effects of traveling to Hartford for their win Saturday over Connecticut. Travel fatigue? To Hartford and back? That's 850 miles each way with two days off between games. When Minnesota and Penn State play, conversely, the road team travels 975 miles. (Not to mention Pac-10 road games like, say, Washington vs. Arizona: 1625 miles.)

4. Shaun Pruitt should injure his knee before every game. Listed as questionable due to a sprained knee coming into the evening, Pruitt notched the rare ascending-numbers dub-dub (10-13) on a night when Illinois was without the services of Brian Randle, who is sidelined with an injured foot. (It doesn't look good for Randle. Words like "boot" and "plantar fasciitis" are recurring where he is the subject.)

(Box score.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Canonical blogger Chris West is now back up and running, his struggles with the Blogger powers-that-be (his site was somehow flagged as a "spam blog") having been successfully resolved. Give thanks!

Michigan plays Wisconsin tonight in Madison. Wolverine dunkmeister Brent Petway says he and his mates are ready for the challenge: "Everyone says we can't get a win on the road, so (Madison) would be the best place to put that stigma to rest."...Profile of Badger big man Greg Stiemsma here....It says here that the Badgers are continuing "to hustle and play hard, which is best exhibited by their league-best average of 13 offensive rebounds per conference game." No, what's best exhibited in that number is two things: 1) Wisconsin is indeed good on the offensive glass (though not as good as Michigan or Michigan State) but, more importantly; 2) they're missing a lot of shots (only Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota miss more).

Ohio State plays Northwestern in Evanston tonight. Wildcat assistmeister Tim Doyle says the Buckeyes are "the most talented team in the league, by far."...Profile of OSU guard Jamar Butler here. Thad Matta says he has no plans to pull a Bruce Pearl and show up shirtless in the student cheering section at an Ohio State women's basketball game. Good. Let's nip this whole coaches-gone-wild thing in the bud.

Minnesota plays Michigan State tonight in East Lansing and Drew Neitzel says Tom Izzo's been in a good mood lately: "He's not jumping down people's throats every second." Meanwhile, Spartan freshman and Minnesota native Isaiah Dahlman is miffed that he won't play tonight due to an injured foot: "It bums me out big time that I can't play against Minnesota....I was really looking forward to showing people (in Minnesota) what I've done to improve." Gopher big man Spencer Tollackson has been out of action since breaking his hand against Wisconsin on January 6 and the editor for this piece chose the following headline: "Without Tollackson, U has lost its way." Maybe. Then again with Tollackson Minnesota was 7-8 and the head coach was, um, relocated. That's a "way" you might want to lose.

Penn State plays Iowa in Iowa City tonight. Ed DeChellis says he's stumped by his team's struggles on defense, most recently against Michigan State: "We played some zone. We played some man. We pressed. We did just about everything we had." Looking to tonight the Nittany Lion coach is fretting about Adam Haluska: "We're gonna have to play him and find him if we play zone....If we guard him man-to-man, he's a tough matchup, because he's 6-5, 6-6. He's pretty athletic, he shoots over guys, gets the ball to the rim."

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