Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Spinner's alley at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge
In keeping with his adopted narrative shtick for the week--the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is the Iowa Caucuses of hoops--Wonk herewith coughs up some wry yet empty calories of the coverage-of-the-coverage variety....

Best prediction. The winner, in a walk, is Rob Daniels of the Greensboro (NC) News-Record, for this gem:

"Ohio State at Clemson, Wednesday, 7:30 pm (ESPN2): Just when the Tigers are about to win, somebody comes off the Ohio State bench and punches a Clemson player. (Sorry. Couldn't pass up the Woody Hayes reference.)"

BONUS obsequious pander to rabid anti-ACC conspiracy theorists! Loyal and alert readers of this blog know Wonk customarily has little time for that type of rabid anti-ACC conspiracy theorist who rails against “Dookie V” (Lute Olson was actually the first person Wonk heard say that), the Duke lineage of Jay Bilas, or the Wake Forest upbringing of Billy Packer. In short: Deng and Livingston are pros, Duke is down, and Vitale is onto different flavors of the month (OK, largely ACC flavors); Bilas does his homework (unlike Wonk he actually seems to know--and care--who comes off the bench for, say, Wyoming); and Packer would be a querulous old get-your-frisbee-off-my-yard! buzzkill no matter where he played 40 years ago.

That being said, even Wonk raised an eyebrow when he read this
tidy compilation of the most incendiary quotes from both sides of this particular gulf. Did Jay Bilas really say Deron Williams of Illinois would only be the 10th-best player in the ACC?

SPECIAL Bruce Weber exemption: Yes, yes, Wonk knows Illinois coach Bruce Weber himself said, "Dick Vitale can take his Dookies and shove it." (Hey, it was a pep rally.) But, far from finding this rabid, Wonk (like Sports Illustrated, who specifically cited this quote among its reasons for placing Illinois in its ten "easiest teams to root for") finds it welcome and indeed refreshing. If coaches talked less like members of the same country club and more like Don King, we'd have a more enjoyable spectacle. Um, which is the nominal purpose of sports.

Toward that end, Wonk pledges to do his part: for the next 72 hours, Wake Forest at Illinois will herewith be known as the....

Brawl in the Hall: day-before hype
Wonk reported yesterday that Illinois planned to wear "throwback" jerseys in honor of the 1989 Final Four team Wednesday night. Those plans have been scrapped because the uniforms arrived and the shorts are...too big? Is that possible?...Indefatigable Illini beat writer Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times reminds readers of the last time Illinois played a consensus number 1 in Assembly Hall: January 11, 1979, when Illinois defeated Magic Johnson and Michigan State on a last-second baseline jumper from Eddie Johnson. (Bad invocation: after winning that game, the 15-0 Illini went 4-11 the rest of the year.)...Gould's colleague at the Sun-Times, columnist Carol Slezak, says the game is Bruce Weber's opportunity to achieve Self-like visibility with the nation's recruits....Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune eerily puts both story threads in a blender and pours it out here. More day-before game previews here, here, here, and here.

Shooting bricks in the sticks
The ACC leads this Challenge 1-0 after North Carolina State's 60-53 victory over Purdue last night in Raleigh. (Links here, here, here, and here.) The Boilermakers' David Teague, in his second game back after suffering a broken hand, continued his "I Shouldn't Be Back Yet!" tour, going 2-of-11 from the field. (The miss that Teague jacked up from behind the arc with eight minutes left in the game was so far off that for a split second Wonk genuinely feared it would go behind the backboard on the fly. It's a teachable comment on Purdue's current personnel that everyone keeps looking to the injured Teague as though he were the second coming of Glenn Robinson--and he averaged all of 11.5 points per game last year.) Maybe it's unfair to single out Teague for cold shooting, though, in a game that totaled an astounding 85 rebounds: in a nice piece of what was no doubt pre-arranged symmetry in honor of Gene Keady, both teams shot .333 from the field.

BONUS garden-variety worst-call-ever gripe. With four minutes left in the game NC State's Julius Hodge fouled Purdue's Matt Kiefer on a breakaway and was called for an intentional foul. Wonk has watched with increasing alarm as the intentional foul has morphed in the space of just a few seasons from something called only in the case of the most egregious and physically harmful fouls to something that is expected as a veritable birth right on any foul on a breakaway. (Keady immediately screamed for an intentional foul, as though anticipating contact that did not in fact occur.) Hodge made a smart and appropriate play on the ball and swiped it out of Kiefer's hands, with no harm done to the lumbering Boilermaker. If he can't make that play in that situation, all breakaways should simply be conceded.

EXCLUSIVE Wonk software note. Wonk's crack staff of software development engineers have perfected a Big-Ten-hoops-savvy syntax checker called HoopCheck. As I typed the above paragraph it continually put a squiggly green line under the words "Matt Kiefer on a breakaway." When I right-click I get, "Suggested changes: 'Matt Kiefer dribbles the ball off his foot and falls over'; 'Matt Kiefer gets called for double-dribble and falls over'; 'Matt Kiefer misses a free throw and falls over.'"

EXCLUSIVE Wonk investigative report: Shame of a Nation, Day 348
The diligent professionals at the Big Ten press offices continue to maintain a link on the conference's main men's basketball page to this story: "Q&A with Kris Humphries." This was originally posted, mind you, on December 16, 2003.

Meticulous can't-be-rushed antiquarians of the Big Ten's web content group, Wonk salutes you! In fact, Wonk thinks you've got a pretty sweet gig if your boss looks to you for new content only every year or so. Watch for still more fast-breaking stories coming soon from the tireless scriveners at Big Ten HQ:

"Eddie Johnson and Illinois Beat Ervin 'Magic' Johnson and Michigan State"

"Big Ten Considers New Wrinkle, So-Called 'Three-Point Line'"

"Area Toddler, Lil' Matt Kiefer, Takes First Steps, Falls Over"

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp repeats the most tired meme of all, that Mike Krzyzewski "saved" college basketball by not going to the Lakers. (I've seen this year's Lakers and let us be clear: Mike Krzyzewski saved first and foremost his sanity and his still-dark hair by staying in Durham.) Sharp even gets Tom Izzo to say that if college hoops had lost Coach K, the game "would have lost its soul." Coach Izzo, Wonk is a big fan of yours. Let's keep it that way. Please don't say anything even remotely so fatuous again. In other news...oh, right, Michigan State plays at Duke tonight in a game Wonk cannot wait to see. Game previews here, here, here, here, here, and here. (Kudos to alert reader Dave N. for this last link.)

Wisconsin hosts Maryland tonight in Madison. The psychic bruising suffered by the Badgers in their loss at Pepperdine Saturday night can be gauged by the prevalence of "Maryland is a lot like Pepperdine" quotes (another word sequence HoopCheck doesn't like) to be found in game previews here and here. View from the Terps' turf here.

Michigan plays at Georgia Tech tonight. Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News, apparently an alert reader of this blog, notes that the Wolverines just aren't the same without Preseason All-Wonk selection Lester Abram. Glad to have you aboard, Jim! More here.

Minnesota hosts Florida State tonight in Minneapolis. Game previews here and here.

Iowa, keenly conscious of being left out of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, went out and scheduled a high-profile cash-generating game at...Drake. The Bulldogs are coached by former Iowa coach Tom Davis. Predominantly Davis-led game previews here, here, and here.

Confronted with an ESPN-sponsored event, competing content providers such as and the Sporting News are for the most part taking a "What ACC/Big Ten Challenge?" approach. Notable exception: Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline posts his preview of the Challenge here.

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Monday, November 29, 2004
The Iowa Caucuses of hoops!
The sixth edition of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off tonight and Wonk says: enjoy the spectacle! (Previews here, here, and here.) Sure, it's an artificial early-season contrivance that moves pundits to lay out arbitrary and mutually contradicting measuring sticks. (How many wins does the Big Ten need to achieve respectability? Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News holds the envelope to his forehead and solemnly says: four!) What of it? Anything that can give us Wake Forest against Illinois and Duke against Michigan State is a worthy cause in Wonk's book.

Stats you will hear quite often this week: The ACC has won the Challenge all five years (by a 5-4 count three of those years) and is 27-17 overall. Duke and Wake Forest are both undefeated. Illinois and Wisconsin, by notable contrast, are both 1-4.

Illinois resorts to voodoo: When NFL teams wear throwback jerseys on Thanksgiving, they're harkening back 60 or 70 years. When college basketball teams do it, appropriately enough, they are going back just 15 years, which to a college player is the functional equivalent of 60 or 70 years. For Wednesday's home game against Wake Forest, Illinois will wear "throwback" jerseys in honor of the 1989 Final Four "Flyin' Illini."

Does a 15-year-old jersey really qualify as a "throwback"? Isn't it more of a "tossback"?

How good is Illinois?
No one knows. Yet. One thing we do know is that Gonzaga had no business being in the top 25. ("If Gonzaga is a top 25 team," says Copley News Service columnist Mike Nadel, "I'm the next President of United States." Other links here, here, here, and here.) The Zags are young, with four new starters playing alongside proven star Ronny Turiaf. (Kind of like Illinois two years ago with newbies Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Roger Powell, and James Augustine alongside Brian Cook.) Adam Morrison showed he's got both game and heart, though, and the Bulldogs will improve markedly as the season progresses.

As for the Illini, if they turn out to be as good as they looked Saturday it will be in large part because of their unselfish blink-and-you'll-miss-it ball movement. The Illini's three guards are averaging nearly 19 assists a game. Luther Head (7.5 assists per game), Deron Williams (6.5) and Dee Brown (4.8) are pleasing the purists with that kind of passing. "I thought that was one of the finest performances I've seen in a while, especially in the first half," said the tournament's namesake, John Wooden. ("It's like God talking," the SportsCenter guys said when they played that clip.)

How good is Michigan State?
No one knows. Yet. One thing we do know is Tom Izzo will never again schedule Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, UCLA, and Oklahoma, as he did last year.

The Spartans' latest triple-digit self-esteem booster came Saturday at the expense of Nicholls State, 102-52. (Links here, here, here, and here.) Wonk knows it's only November, but: the Spartans are leading the nation in scoring offense, averaging 103.3 points a game.

How bad is Purdue?
Bad (headline on Sunday's autopsy by Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz: "Painter might inherit large-scale project at Purdue"), but....

Wonk was impressed with Carl Landry despite Landry's best efforts to the contrary--he had a terrible day in the loss against Cincinnati. (Links here, here, here, and here.) Wonk knew, of course, of Landry's beastly 25-point 16-board effort in a losing cause against Miami of Ohio but did not know that the big guy can dish the rock. He's no Vlade Divac, mind you, but if David Teague can get healthy these two can put up some assists and points.

Speaking of Teague, the junior guard, apparently aiming for an inspiring Willis Reed kind of thing, came back earlier than expected after suffering a broken hand and played in Saturday's game--and shot very much like someone who'd come back earlier than expected after suffering a broken hand.

How bad is Indiana?
Bad, surely, and the Hoosiers are about to post numerous L's (North Carolina, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Kentucky), but....

Wonk was heartened by one aspect of what was the otherwise disheartening spectacle of a 64-60 struggle at home over Western Illinois Saturday night. (Links here and here.) What was encouraging was the complete and utter invisibility of Wonk All-Head-Case first-teamer Bracey Wright. Wonk feels strongly that Indiana's improvement lies squarely in the direction of diversifying its offense beyond watching Wright miss shots (see 2003-04). Saturday night, for all its ugliness, that is pretty much what happened. Wright was ineffective on the offensive end (1-of-7 shooting) but Indiana did not force the ball to him anyway like they did so many times last year. This represents improvement Wonk thought may not occur until the post-Wright era.

Additional encouraging note: Wonk was impressed by Patrick Ewing, Jr. So much so that Wonk herewith introduces the Ewing Paradox: if this guy were with a better team, he'd be starting. Ewing has no post moves, no driving ability, and no shooting touch so, on an offensively-challenged team, coach Mike Davis can't afford to start him. (Actually Ewing did start Saturday night but only because Sean Kline was in Davis's doghouse for some reason.) But Ewing's defense and tenacious rebounding would be highly valued on any team with plenty of scoring but little inside presence (say, Illinois or Michigan State). If the Hoosiers get some scoring from some non-Wright types, watch for a sudden and deserved upswing in the ink and pixels devoted to Ewing.

Wonk reprints old posts only when he's right
Wisconsin lost at Pepperdine late Saturday night, 75-61. (Links here and here.) How did the Badgers come to post their first L? Here's what Wonk said last Monday, referring to Wisconsin's easy win at home over Penn:

What will be interesting to watch this year is whether or not Bo Ryan is able to continue his winning formula or will have to find a new one. Ryan's teams have relied on rock-steady guard play, specifically the ability to not turn the ball over....And so Wonk notes with interest that even against the hopelessly overmatched Quakers, the Badgers turned the ball over a fairly un-Ryan-like 16 times....

Two seasons ago Wonk started a running tally of conference games in which Wisconsin was outrebounded and outshot and still won handily. They did it by not turning the ball over and by shooting many more free-throw attempts than their opponent. Keep an eye on this.

Now note the box score from the Pepperdine game here: 22 turnovers. Vintage Bo Ryan teams go about three games before turning the ball over that many times.

Two concerns for Ryan's team moving forward this year: valuing the ball and outside shooting. On Saturday night they still outrebounded the Waves and attempted nine more free throws. But while shooting basically the same number of three's (Wisconsin shot 17, Pepperdine shot 18), the Badgers yielded 15 fewer points from the effort, going just 3-of-17 while the Waves drained 8-of-18.

Note to members of the Orange Crush, Izzone, Grateful Red, Gene Pool, and the 117 socially-challenged undergrads who attend Penn State home games. The Pepperdine home crowd, all 3,024 of them, chanted "Chris Rock" every time Kammron Taylor touched the ball, referencing an alleged resemblance between the Badgers' sophomore guard and the once-funny SNL performer who (Wonk knows this will come as a surprise) has gone on to do a string of undistinguished movies. Wisconsin lost. Can't argue with results.

In yesterday's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State cruised against Tennessee-Chattanooga Saturday night, 84-67. Link here. St. John's Arena is a wonderful old venue (and the Buckeyes' current home, Value City Arena, is fully blessed by every fault its very name foreshadows) but when one's old home floor has since been lined and painted for volleyball it's just too visually disconcerting to come home again. Verily, Wonk sayeth to the Buckeyes: stay in your cold and sterile new home.

Penn State defeated Sacred Heart Saturday, 69-61. Link here. Wonk knows it's only November, but: Penn State's Aaron Johnson is third in the nation in rebounds, averaging 14.8 a game.

Minnesota lost to Oklahoma, 67-54, in the third-place game of the Great Alaska Shootout Saturday night. Links here and here.

Michigan's Daniel Horton was the subject of a Sunday feature-length/multiple-header think-piece in the Ann Arbor News, the kind of ponderous spelunking-in-print usually reserved for the Mideast peace process or Cher. Verily, Wonk says: when you're so inscrutable you attract headlines like "The Education of Daniel Horton," you deserve your spot on Wonk's All-Head-Case team.

Announcing the "Leopold von Ranke Rolls in His Grave Tonight" Award
Presented in honor of notably dubious statements about past events.

The winner is: Brandon McKnight, Purdue's senior guard. Asked about his team's challenging schedule (one that includes upcoming games against North Carolina State, Memphis, and Oklahoma), McKnight offered the following: "Michigan State had this type of schedule last year and they went pretty far in the NCAA tournament."

Define "far." Wonk and McKnight have different notions about this vexing term, apparently, for the Spartans lost in the first round last year to a scrappy Nevada squad, 72-66.

Brandon, Wonk salutes your knack for defining success down! You'll go far!

Runner-up: Jeff Washburn of the Lafayette Journal and Courier, who printed McKnight's adventurous historiography without comment.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Colorado defeated Northwestern in Boulder yesterday, 66-57. Links here and here.

Purdue kicks off the ACC/Big Ten Challenge tonight in Raleigh, NC, against North Carolina State. Game previews here, here, and here.

He's-a-work-in-progress piece on Michigan's sophomore guard Dion Harris here.

(EXCLUSIVE Wonk warning to journalism students: you major in journalism, you graduate, you get a job with the Detroit Free Press, and your assignments editor tells you to write a he's-a-work-in-progress piece on Dion Harris. Wonk thinks the above sentence should be printed in the college catalogue, next to Journ. 101.)

What the heck happened to Wisconsin? Get your day-after head-scratching here.

Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline says Illinois has the best guards in the country (but that still won't be enough some nights) here.

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Saturday, November 27, 2004
BONUS Wonk weekend edition!
In other words, don't get used to this.

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In Wednesday's edition of this blog's recurring "pastry shelf" feature, Wonk profiled Michigan State's next opponent, the Colonels of Nicholls State University. Thinking he had diligently researched this institution of higher education located in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Wonk, it turns out, had barely scratched the surface....


Having lived in New Orleans for a while I must say that Thibodaux is a nice little town. In fact one of my best friends is a Nicholls graduate and is an adjunct teaching there at present. That being said basketball is not on the top of anyone's list of priorities since one has to pass too many drive-in daquiri stands to get to the court.
--Dave N.

Wonk's readers are so well-informed they know of the location and prevalence of drive-in daquiri stands in Thibodaux, Louisiana! Thanks, Dave!

Speaking of Nicholls State....

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
At noon eastern the Colonels of Nicholls State will offer themselves as a five-fold human sacrifice on the court of the Breslin Center at Michigan State. Slaughter preview here.

Alabama defeated Minnesota 78-72 last night in the semifinals of the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska. (Link here.) What is up with this, Wonk readers ask? The consensus 10th-best team in the Big Ten hanging with the top-25 Crimson Tide? Further elucidation coming tonight, perhaps, when the Gophers take on Oklahoma in the third-place game.

Providence beat Michigan 72-63 in the third-place game of the Preseason NIT last night. Links here and here.

Illinois faces Gonzaga today in the opening game of the fifth annual John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis. (Links here, here, here, and here.) Want a link to the Zags' hometown (Spokane) paper? Too bad! It's a paid site! Wonk warning: Wonk's ire at such oddities is building into a big post for a slow day.

Purdue plays Cincinnati in today's second game at the John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis. Links here, here, and here.

Penn State hosts Sacred Heart today. Link here.

Indiana hosts Western Illinois tonight. Link here.

Ohio State hosts Tennessee-Chattanooga tonight in the first game played by the Buckeyes in their former home, St. John's Arena, since 1998. Link here.

Wisconsin wins Wonk's first-ever You Are Highly Intelligent! Award, traveling to Malibu for a game against Pepperdine. (Links here, here, and here.) Wonk has seen his share of college campuses but believes Pepperdine's is the single most beautiful one he has yet encountered.
Friday, November 26, 2004
A venerable Thanksgiving tradition: Wonk's day-old recap in 300 words or less ....
Wednesday night....

North Carolina overwhelms overmatched Iowa, 106-92, in the championship game of the Maui Invitational. (Links
here, here, and here. ESPN's Jay Bilas raves about the Hawkeyes here.) Jeff Horner puts up another sweet line (granted, one skewed by garbage-time second-half looks): 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting (6-of-7 on his three's) and nine boards. If Horner continues anything remotely approximating his play in Maui, watch out....

With All-Wonk selection Lester Abram nursing a sore shoulder and watching from the bench, Michigan loses in overtime to Arizona, 61-60, in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT in New York. (Links here, here, and here.) The Wolverines play a surprising amount of zone in the first half--and give up 15 offensive boards to the Wildcats. Michigan big man Courtney Sims has potential but right now his footwork--on both ends of the floor--is nonexistent. (Mobile bigs like Paul Davis and James Augustine should fare well against Sims.)...

Creighton defeats Ohio State in overtime, 65-63, in the finals of the Guardians Classic in Kansas City. (Links here and here.) The Buckeyes attempt only seven free throws all night--and make only two.

Illinois dispatches Oakland, 85-54. (Links
here, here, and here.) Wonk thought the Grizzlies might at least hang in there for a half. Wonk thought wrong. Looking like the 2002 Sacramento Kings, Wonk's beloved Illini put on a ball-movement clinic: 31 field goals on 26 assists. Yikes....

Minnesota beats Furman, 84-69, in a quarterfinal game at the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska. (Link here.) The Gophers never trail and shoot .566 from the field and .583 (7-of-12) on their three's against the apparently jet-lagged Paladins. Minnesota faces Alabama in a semifinal Friday night. Game preview here.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
"Holiday blogging": contradiction in terms?
Wonk answers in the strong affirmative. He will therefore spend his Thanksgiving holiday with his family and away from the keyboard. See you soon.
Wonk's streak of consecutive posts without a pun on Paige Laurie's name continues!
Yesterday the University of Missouri announced that the Laurie family has relinquished the naming rights to the $75 million Paige Sports Arena, which was named after their 22-year-old daughter and Wal-Mart heiress, Paige Laurie. The decision comes less than a week after the ABC News program "20/20" broadcast a story alleging that Paige Laurie paid a roommate in excess of $20,000 over a period of three years to write term papers for her at the University of Southern California.

The university's board of curators will now meet to decide on a new name for the arena. In an EXCLUSIVE interview with Big Ten Wonk, Tom Atkins, president-elect of the board of curators, outlined the criteria the board will employ in making their selection.

"Well, obviously we're looking for someone who is at once shallow, callow, and utterly unaccomplished, yet with a maddening presumption of privilege," Atkins said.

"But I think the most important single factor, and I emphasized this to the board, is that the person we select should, like Paige Laurie, have no connection whatsoever to the University of Missouri."

Atkins dismissed as "premature" widespread speculation that the facility will now be named the "Paris Hilton Sports Arena."

"Actually, we were thinking about calling it the 'Brad Pitt Sports Arena' but then someone did some checking and found that he actually attended the University of Missouri."

Other possible candidates were similarly ruled out by Atkins, including the "Ashlee Simpson Sports Arena" ("She just has too much gravitas"), the "George W. Bush circa 1972 Sports Arena" ("Hey, the guy went on to have a life--with Paige at least we knew she wasn't going to be president"), and the "Quin Snyder Sports Arena" ("Malfeasance assumes a kind of forethought for which our kind of candidate is simply not equipped").

Brushing aside suggestions from extraneous parties such as University of Missouri alumni and students, Atkins instead left the decision to the readers of a blog about basketball in a different conference.
Send in those suggestions today!

Bad decision, good result--how Hegelian!
In non-Paige-Laurie news, the Iowa Hawkeyes, continuing their dogged one-team project to reverse the damage already done to the conference's RPI by Penn State, defeated Texas last night 82-80 in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational. The Hawkeyes will face North Carolina tonight in the tournament's championship game. (Outstanding post on the game over at the Hawkeye Hoops blog. Other links here and here.)

With 44 seconds left in the game and Iowa trailing 78-76,
Wonk All-Head-Case first-teamer Pierre Pierce found himself with the ball some 25 feet from the rim, so far from the tin he was practically in Steve Alford's lap.

You could see it. You could feel it. He wanted to shoot it soooooo bad. But Pierce hesitated. Wonk thought to himself, "Man, last year he would have shot that. Maybe he is maturing."

Pierce was understanding, it seemed, that any other option was a better choice. After all, teammate Jeff Horner was having an absolutely unconscious 6-of-10-on-his-three's kind of night on his way to 27 points. And Pierce himself has made something of a specialty out of driving to the rim. True, he often turns the ball over on such drives but here was a situation that plainly called for taking the ball to the tin. Yes, Wonk thought, Pierce has finally become a true leader, one who....

Oops. Never mind. He shot it. If the Longhorns rebound the miss, the free-throw contest begins now and the Hawkeyes have been clanging their FT's all night. Terrible decision.

Except it went in. Pierce is the hero, rightly so. Such is the genius of happenstance. Yet, verily, your intrepid blogger waggles a finger and intones this Wonk warning: the iron law of statistics decrees that this decision will harm you about three times for every one time it helps you.

(In non-finger-waggling news, Pierce twisted his ankle on the game's final play and his status for tonight is in doubt.)

A correction and a reiteration
Yesterday Wonk posted an item on Indiana's brutal schedule and neglected to note that the Hoosiers will play Western Illinois this Saturday. Wonk regrets any inconvenience this omission has caused and assures his readers that the hard-working staff on Wonk's Schedule Desk (Jayson Blair, Mary Mapes, Dan Rather, et. al.) have been severely reprimanded and sent home without their usual Thanksgiving "For Those about to Wonk" oven mitts.

Properly pentitent, Wonk now wishes to gloat and direct attention to a still earlier
item suggesting that it may be a long year for the Hoosiers. Nothing Wonk saw last night in the last ten minutes of Indiana's 56-52 victory at home against Indiana State swayed my opinion. (Links here and here.)

This was an ugly game. Both teams put up air balls in the final four minutes. Even on a good shooting night (8-for-13),
Wonk All-Head-Case first-teamer Bracey Wright jacked up some notably ill-conceived shots. The rest of the team looks young and scared spitless because they are. And the Hoosier defense was vaporous, 52 points for the opposing team notwithstanding. No wonder coach Mike Davis has done his best to define success down for this year's team, saying, "We might be one of the elite programs in the state."

Pastry shelf
Michigan State will host Nicholls State this Saturday in the Spartans' latest attempt to get as far away as possible from last season's masochistic approach to scheduling. Located in Thibodaux, Louisiana, NSU
"serves a diverse base of traditional and non-traditional students, as well as professional, social and cultural populations."

No doubt NSU's diverse base of traditional and non-traditional students (as well as professional, social and cultural populations) were all wondering what the Thibodaux was going on when their basketball coach pulled a Ricky Williams and
resigned suddenly last month, coming off a 6-21 season.

On the plus side, Nicholls State claims one of the coolest names Wonk has ever seen bestowed upon
a student services entity: "La Maison du Bayou." Unimaginative and coldly bureaucratic northerners like Wonk, by notable contrast, tend to call this function something strikingly more dweeby like, say, "Student Housing." Lyrical and Faulknerian romantics of NSU Student Services, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State defeated Houston 78-61 last night in Kansas City in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic. Links here and here. The Buckeyes face Creighton tonight in the finals.

Purdue defeated Detroit Mercy 66-56 in West Lafayette last night. Links
here, here, and here.

Wisconsin defeated UC-Santa Barbara by the notably nonlopsided score of 72-61 in Madison last night. Links
here, here, and here.

Michigan State defeated Wisconsin-Green Bay by the notably lopsided score of 104-46 in East Lansing last night. Links
here, here, and here.
More from what is rapidly becoming the most intensively reported beat in the Big Ten, the Neitzel beat, here.

Michigan plays Arizona tonight in New York in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT.
All-Wonk Team selection Lester Abram is suffering from a sore shoulder and his status is questionable. Game previews here, here, and here.

Illinois hosts Oakland University tonight, a game
Wonk believes could be more interesting than the garden-variety November rout. Game previews here, here, and here.

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Yesterday Wonk posted this
link to an article in the Bloomington (IL) Pantagraph on the father of new Ohio State coach Thad Matta. Since noting last week that Matta is a native of Hoopeston, IL (where the sports teams are indelibly known as the Cornjerkers), Wonk has watched with paternal and no doubt wholly misplaced pride as this bit of trivia has subsequently appeared in other blogs and in even in the MSM (Mainstream Media). Still, even Wonk must draw the line on new Matta information somewhere.

WARNING: Shocking confession ahead. Which is to say Wonk may not have read all the way to the bottom of an article he's linked to on Thad Matta's father (apologies to the Dad of Thad). But Wonk's readers do! In detailing the Thad mania and alleging the sudden prevalence of Cornjerker paraphernalia in Ohio, the article's author, it seems, may have embellished the truth. At least according to this email from Ohio....

Quickly becoming a daily read. Really, you're good at this and I enjoy the read.

But Big Ten Wonk Fan (BTWF) is confused. See, we read the
report on Matta's dad and we're stunned to learn that not only is there a market for Jerker apparel, but such fine quality clothing items exist outside of the greater Hoopeston-East Lynn metropolitan area. Don't get me wrong, I trust the Graph (fine paper, the sports desk once wooed BTWF's father to no avail), but this knowledge begs for cosmic realignment.
--Jason H.

Wonk's readers are so well-informed they number among themselves enough Illinois natives now living in Ohio to catch the MSM in their nefarious deceptions! Thanks, Jason!

MSM, you are on notice! Wonk's readers form a veritable army of fact-checkers! Monitors of truth! Tribunes of accuracy! Over-users of exclamation points!
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Thank you, Hawkeyes, but....
A couple weeks ago a certain college basketball writer whom Wonk respects came out with his season preview and pointedly ranked the Big Ten as inferior to Conference USA. So Wonk confesses to feeling a certain satisfaction at seeing Iowa, the consensus fifth-best team in the Big Ten, hand a 76-71 defeat to Louisville, the consensus best team in the C-USA, last night in the Maui Invitational on ESPN. (Links here, here, here, here, and here.)

That being said--and as strange as the following will sound when speaking of a Rick Pitino-coached top-15-ranked team--Louisville looked absolutely atrocious last night, at least in the part of the game that Wonk saw. I joined the action with about 18 minutes left in the second half and the Cardinals up by four. From that point on Pitino's team exhibited no ability whatsoever to read and react to what the Hawkeyes were doing. There was zero movement without the ball. Iowa's Erek Hansen was a shot-blocking beast, yes, but his task was made immeasurably simpler by Cardinals dribbling toward him on 30-foot straight-line drives. If there had been cutters moving without the ball Hansen's zealous pursuit of the block could have been used against the Hawkeyes.

Other random Wonk impressions: Jeff Horner was unconscious....Greg Brunner and Brian Cardinal share a barber....Not a good first impression of Adam Haluska: lost his man on D and allowed a three, then fired up a miss from 24 feet after one pass, then committed a charging foul.... Iowa will face Texas in a semifinal game tonight.

(BONUS Maui note: Man, did Carolina look beastly or what? Pity BYU.)

Polls in November are inherently futile. So here's one....
In the AP poll released yesterday, Wake Forest replaces Kansas as #1, Illinois moves up a notch to 5, and Michigan State edges into the top ten:

1. Wake Forest
2. Kansas
3. Georgia Tech
4. Syracuse
5. Illinois
6. Oklahoma State
7. Connecticut
8. Kentucky
9. Duke
10. Michigan State

Wisconsin moved from 21 to 20. Michigan is still lurking two or three spots outside the top 25.

Pastry shelf
Purdue hosts Detroit Mercy tonight, mindful, no doubt, that UDM claims the #25-ranked dental hygiene program in the nation.... WARNING: over-used cliche du jour ahead. Or could this be a trap game for the Boilermakers? UDM does have a home win over Southwest Missouri State to its credit already this season. And, Carl Landry aside, Purdue showed few signs of being able to play effectively in David Teague's absence while losing at Miami of Ohio Friday night.

Two reasons why Illinois should take its next game seriously
The Illini host Oakland University and the Grizzlies are not your standard November pastry: 1) Oakland's 6'7" tweener, Rawle Marshall, may play in the NBA someday soon; and 2) the Grizzlies only lost by 11 at Xavier Friday night.

True, Miami of Ohio also went to Xavier
last night and they won by 12. Safe to say Xavier's not what they were last year. Still, Wonk's point is that Oakland is no Florida A&M.

(BONUS Miami of Ohio note: thus far this season the RedHawks are shooting .667 on their three's.)

(BONUS BONUS Miami of Ohio note: "RedHawks" is not a typo but it should be. Wonk has learned from sources close to the situation that University officials plan to donate the proceeds from this year's capital campaign toward endowing a space.)

Mike Davis: pastry-free
The reason Wonk’s crack staff of analysts on the “pastry shelf” desk have not yet trained their beacon on some lightweight on the Indiana schedule is quite simple: there are no lightweights on the Indiana schedule. Leading up to the Big Ten opener on January 5, the Hoosiers will play: Indiana State, North Carolina, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Missouri, Charlotte, Ball State, Oral Roberts and Furman.

It's true that Indiana State and Ball State are coming off down years (
9-19 and 14-15, respectively). But Wonk has heard of them, they are in real conferences (Missouri Valley and the MAC, respectively), and they are and have for some time been Division I. And every other team on that schedule won at least 17 games last year. You are nothing if not brave, Coach Davis. Here’s hoping your RPI makes up for the L's.

EXCLUSIVE Wonk investigative report: Shame of a Nation, Day 341
The diligent professionals at the Big Ten press offices continue to maintain a link on the conference's main men's basketball page to this story: "Q&A with Kris Humphries." This was originally posted, mind you, on December 16, 2003.

Meticulous can't-be-rushed antiquarians of the Big Ten's web content group, Wonk salutes you! In fact, Wonk thinks you've got a pretty sweet gig if your boss looks to you for new content only every year or so. Watch for still more fast-breaking stories coming soon from the tireless scriveners at Big Ten HQ:

"Young, Thin and Mellow: Gene Keady Hired as New Purdue Coach"

"Buckeyes Win it All: Credit Given to Calm and Quiet Role Player, Bobby Knight"

"Traditionalists Cry Foul: Should Nets Replace Peach Baskets?"

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State will play Houston tonight in Kansas City in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic. Game preview at-a-glance here. (Link here for a briskly efficient column on the Tom Penders-coached Cougars.) Meanwhile, Buckeye coach Thad Matta's father (known to friends as Dad of Thad) proves profile-worthy in his own right here.

As noted above, Indiana will play Indiana State tonight in Bloomington. Game preview

As noted above, Purdue hosts Detroit Mercy tonight. Game previews
here and here.

Michigan State hosts Wisconsin-Green Bay tonight. Game previews
here and here. Tom Izzo says he's been having some heart-to-heart's with freshman Drew Neitzel. He should. Neitzel's line in the Florida A&M romp: 15 minutes, no points, four assists, six turnovers, fouled out.

Wisconsin hosts UC-Santa Barbara tonight. Game previews
here and here. Profile of Brian Butch here. DeAaron Williams, a freshman from Peoria, IL, has decided to redshirt this season.

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Monday, November 22, 2004
Maybe Wonk was right after all
On Saturday Wonk interrupted a blog-free weekend to point out that All-Wonk selection T.J. Parker of Northwestern had a nice game in the Wildcats' season opener Friday night, scoring 18 points and draining 3-of-6 three's. Maybe, Wonk opined on Saturday, Parker can shoot the rock after all.

Or maybe not. Saturday night Northwestern fell to New Mexico State, 64-61, in day 2 of play at the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska. Parker put up a 4-for-12, including 0-for-4 on his three's. It's all right here in this
box score, which, believe Wonk, was not easy to track down.

One of the oddest sights in college hoops is the team that keeps shooting nothing but three's--even when they're not hitting them. Take for instance Northwestern Saturday night: 31 attempts from outside the arc (no, that's not a typo) and only eight makes.

Update: Northwestern lost to Utah State in
last night's game, 64-57. Parker's line: 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-4 on his three's.

Winning ugly, part 1
Wisconsin defeated Penn in the Badgers' regular-season opener Saturday night, 77-44 (links here and here). The Quakers shot just .319 from the field.

What will be interesting to watch this year is whether or not Bo Ryan is able to continue his winning formula or will have to find a new one. Ryan's teams have relied on rock-steady guard play, specifically the ability to not turn the ball over. But this year's guards are all either on leave of absence (Boo Wade), new to the program (Penn State transfer Sharif Chambliss), new to playing time (Kammron Taylor), or new to college ball (Michael Flowers). And so Wonk notes with interest that even against the hopelessly overmatched Quakers, the Badgers turned the ball over a fairly un-Ryan-like 16 times. They also allowed an un-Ryan-like 17 free-throw attempts to their opponent.

Granted, it didn't matter one whit because Wisconsin beat Penn unconscious on the boards, 40-22. But it's interesting, nonetheless. Two seasons ago Wonk started a running tally of conference games in which Wisconsin was outrebounded and outshot and still won handily. They did it by not turning the ball over and by shooting many more free-throw attempts than their opponent. Keep an eye on this.

Winning ugly, part 2
Continuing their Giving Big Ten Teams Self-Esteem Tour, Florida A&M lost to Illinois yesterday, 91-60, after having been similarly pounded at Michigan State Friday night, 104-72. Dee Brown put up a sweet line: 8-for-8 from the field, 4-of-4 on three's, 20 points. (Links here, here, here, and here.) And yet Brown also coughed up a Pierre Pierce-esque six turnovers to the scrappy Rattlers, leading, if that's the correct term, an Illinois team that totaled 21 turnovers. Wonk hopes (trusts) this is just early season sloppiness. (With apologies to Gordon Lightfoot: "The ball it is said/Never goes where it's sent/When the skies of November turn gloomy.")

Gopher fans, look fast: Minnesota is undefeated
Minnesota held off a feisty Lipscomb squad yesterday, 83-66, in the regular season opener for the Gophers (links here and here). Meanwhile, Tom Powers, columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, beat Wonk to the punch yesterday and said what I was going to say here one of these posts: it's absurd to call this a make-or-break year for Minnesota coach Dan Monson. Everyone knows the Gophers will struggle this year. There's no talent in the program right now. The knock on Monson, conversely, has been that he can't win even when he does have talent. To judge Monson by the results he shows this year is as good as saying he's a lame duck.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa will play Louisville today in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. Game previews here, here, and here. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino likes to deploy a five-man "red team" that comes off the bench as a unit and runs an attacking pressing style. Pitino has been known to call this group the "Kamikaze Kids" but tactfully refrained from doing so at the press conference in Hawaii yesterday.

Dick Vitale lauds Purdue coach Gene Keady

Wisconsin's Brian Butch and Michigan's Dion Harris merit mention as two of ten sophomores to watch nationwide in Seth Davis's latest post at

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Saturday, November 20, 2004
Friday night sights
Wonk interrupts his blog-free weekend to do some micro-posting and call your attention to some numbers....

Purdue's juco transfer Carl Landry had a monster line last night, putting up 25 points and 16 boards. Didn't matter. Host Miami of Ohio shot .700 on their three's (not a typo) en route to an 81-71 win. Links
here and here.

Wonk was right! There was a game scheduled last night between Michigan and Sacramento State, even if little advance notice was given in the understandably Michigan-Ohio-State-football-focused Wolverine press. Michigan held Sac State to just 49 points for the game and 18 points in the second half. Final score: 70-49. Links
here and here.

Iowa sank 20 of 20 free throws in their win over Western Illinois. Links
here and here. Additionally and as always, excellent blogger's-eye-view to be found over at Hawkeye Hoops.

Displaying a slackness on defense that will need to change quickly, Illinois allowed the scrappy Delaware State Hornets to shoot .571 from the field. Fortunately, the Illini shot .625 and won 87-67. Links
here, here and here.

Being the first annual Pick on an Innocuous State Day in the Big Ten, Ohio State decided to match the Illini's fearless scheduling and defeated Delaware last night, 74-49. Buckeye guard Tony Stockman went a notable 10-of-13 from the field, including 6-of-9 on his three's, in notching 26 points. Link

Wonk selected Northwestern's T.J. Parker for his
All-Wonk Team even though, Wonk said then, Parker has no outside shot. Wonk may have to change his tune but not his selection. Parker went 3-of-6 on his three's last night, including the game-winner, in scoring 18 points to lead the Wildcats over Portland 56-53 in the first round of the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska. Links here and here.

Kelvin Torbert picked up where he left off last year (little noticed hot-shooter), hitting at an .800 clip from the field and .750 on his three's. Michigan State won 104-72 over Florida A&M. Links
here and here.

It's only November but Penn State's already been a one-team wrecking crew when it comes to the conference's RPI, posting losses to Illinois State and South Carolina State. The Nittany Lions at least avoided further damage last night, defeating in-state rival Lehigh, 73-64. Link

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