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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