Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Curse the schedule maker
Michigan State 64, Wisconsin 55 (box score)
After last night's loss to Michigan State in East Lansing, there is already a CW coalescing this morning around the idea that Wisconsin now has to win at Ohio State on Sunday to have a shot at a 1-seed. Otherwise, it is said, the Badgers won't get one of the four coveted 1 slots, not with "two consecutive losses this late in the season."

Only problem there being: Wisconsin, as it happens, has been scheduled to play consecutive road games against the two best non-Wisconsin teams in the Big Ten. Let's say for the sake of discussion that the Badgers do indeed lose Sunday in Columbus. Had they had the good fortune to lose these two road games back in obscure January, they would be coming into the postseason on a nice little win streak. Everyone would be talking about how Bo Ryan has his team "peaking at the right time," etc.

Bottom line: seed Wisconsin based on their body of work. Maybe that's a 1, maybe it's a 2. But--barring an uncharacteristic collapse in Columbus, as opposed to a close loss like last night--one loss or maybe even two losses "this late in the season" reflects extraneous happenstance more than intrinsic merit.

And as for those Spartans....
I can't repeat this often enough: this is the scariest 7-6 in-conference team around. Scary because they already play D, they already hit the boards (see last night), they even shoot pretty well. Their only weakness--and it's huge--is that they kill themselves with turnovers. If they can merely hold on to the ball, you're looking at a team that's the equal of Wisconsin and Ohio State. Repeat: equal.

Last night was the exception that proves the rule: MSU once again coughed the ball up left and right (they gave it away 14 times in a 58-possession game) but it didn't matter because they were meanwhile pounding the offensive glass, hitting 7-of-16 threes, and limiting Wisconsin to 12 free throws.

Drew Neitzel gave the single best offensive performance I've seen turned in by a Big Ten player this year--best because he did it against Michael Flowers. A couple of Neitzel's early threes came off of kickouts after offensive boards but as the game progressed he started to make them off of set plays and with Flowers right in his face. His totals for the evening: 6-of-11 threes for 28 points.

And Raymar Morgan looks to have matured a year in the last month. Suddenly he's looking to score--and that's huge for this team. (Not to mention the D he and Travis Walton played on Alando Tucker. True, Tucker buried some threes last night--so too did Marcus Landry. But if you're playing Wisconsin you'll take your chances there. Overall the Spartans kept Tucker from slashing into the paint.)

BONUS requiem for a dying stat! Wisconsin's shooting last night is being described as a "season-low." It wasn't, it's just that they shot more threes than usual so their straight FG pct. (again, a stat which needed to be killed outright 20 years ago) suffered accordingly. Look to effective FG pct.: the Badgers actually shot worse in their no-one's-guarding-Jason-Chappell win at home over Purdue on January 17. (Note also that last night the Badgers started the evening 8-of-15 on their threes but made only one of their last 13.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
For the first time this season, a night of Big Ten action wherein the Badgers aren't in first....

Michigan plays Illinois in Champaign (ESPNU, 9 ET), a game that in theory is senior night for Rich McBride, Warren Carter, and Marcus Arnold. But, alas, there's a lot going on in Champaign these days....

Tonight will also mark the last halftime appearance of Chief Illiniwek. The University of Illinois announced last Friday that the Chief is being retired--in exchange the NCAA has lifted its ban on Illinois hosting postseason events.

And then there's Jamar Smith, already done for the year and now charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. Smith was the driver in last week's one-car accident, a collision with a tree that sent teammate Brian Carlwell to the hospital with a severe concussion. Carlwell has since been released and may even play again this season but otherwise the details that have emerged subsequently are not pretty. Smith's blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, the result, apparently, of a drinking game with other players. After the crash, Smith drove to his apartment and sought out other Illinois players, leaving the unconscious Carlwell inside the badly damaged car. And the only 911 call that night was made by another resident in the apartment complex. It's all enough for Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch to ask if Bruce Weber has control of his team.

Penn State plays Ohio State in Columbus. Buckeye coach Thad Matta says his team is "totally" looking past tonight's game and focusing instead on Sunday's match up with Wisconsin. "I told the players I don't even want to see them until a couple minutes before tipoff," a relaxed Matta said to stunned reporters, adding: "I'm not even sure, really--who is it we play again first?" When told his team was scheduled to play Penn State, Matta snorted dismissively: "Penn State? Heck, four eighth-graders and a crossing guard in her 50s could beat those guys." Pulling a sleep mask over his eyes, Matta then added: "Wake me up when it's halftime."...No, actually Matta makes all the right noises here....Nittany Lion coach Ed DeChellis waxes pugilistic in his metaphors when comparing recent opponents Ohio State and Wisconsin: "Wisconsin's gonna punch you and take you 12 rounds and you think you have a chance, but you really don't have a chance....Ohio State's like a knockout team. They're gonna throw it at you, and try to knock you out and get it over quickly."

Minnesota plays Indiana in Bloomington. Kelvin Sampson says Roderick Wilmont hasn't been shooting enough threes lately; Oklahoma transfer and Gopher guard Lawrence McKenzie will be playing against his former coach; Minnesota point guard Limar Wilson didn't make the trip to Bloomington; profile of Gopher big man Bryce Webster.

Purdue plays Iowa in Iowa City. The Boilers could use a non-Penn State road win to tidy up their resume; salute to Boilermaker seniors Carl Landry and David Teague; profile of Hawkeye big man Seth Gorney (if you've ever longed to see a picture of a 7-footer in the lotus position, now's your chance--the caption here should read simply: "Made for Deadspin").

Texas-Pan American plays Northwestern in Evanston. UTPA has a Quality Enhancement Plan and the minutes from the last QEP team meeting are admirably succinct--how refreshing! Cogent minutes-drafter Jeffery Huerta, Wonk salutes you! (Keep us posted on that e-mail to Dr. Sale.)

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Yay, Spartans
Hi, Wonk,

My goodness--I'll take this as our down year. Drew Neitzel was obviously phenomenal, and has officially entered that rarified Scotty Skiles/Steve Smith/Shawn Respert category, at least in my mind.

The real story tonight, however, has to be the rebounding. Yes, MSU is very good on the boards, but the beatdown these guys put on an excellent Wisconsin team was truly stunning. That endless possession in the first half, during which our FG pct. must have dropped ten points was the single best rebounding performance I've seen in years.

And to think that we lose a grand total of zero players next year? I can't wait to cast my vote for the 07-08 All Wonk Team.

Shawn M.

Thanks, Shawn!

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