Big Ten Wonk
Monday, January 31, 2005
Wonk's first whack at a predictive rule
Alert readers know that Wonk ordinarily avoids predictions (finds he looks smarter that way) but your intrepid blogger is nevertheless always on the look-out for the best postulate or series of postulates that will correctly predict outcomes in Big Ten games.

For example:

1. Penn State and Northwestern will lose.
2. In all other games the visiting team will lose.
3. If Penn State and Northwestern play each other, see (2).

Let us term this the State College/Evanston Futility Predictive Rule and see how she does for a week or two. Granted, Illinois threatens to render our SCEFPR useless by rudely continuing to win games regardless of venue, thus blowing (2) away.

But this past weekend, with Illinois conveniently at home, the SCEFPR did quite well....

Purdue beat Michigan 84-55 in West Lafayette yesterday. Was this the beginning of a resurrection for Gene Keady's team or the beginning of the end for Tommy Amaker's? Wonk inclines toward a mushy kinda-neither interpretation (go figure)....

Your intrepid blogger doesn't want to be like some observers and make entirely too much of a single road loss for a Big Ten team from the state of Michigan. While only 3-4 in conference presently, the Wolverines will play six of their last nine games at home. And who knows but that Daniel Horton may be present for some or all of those. So it's too early to declare season-over in Ann Arbor.

But the Wolverines have work to do. Wonk has already noted their disturbing habit of coming off the floor at the end of every Big Ten game having either a) been beat senseless on the boards, or b) coughed up at least 20 turnovers. Yesterday it happened to be (a)--plus they sprang a new leak, in the form of good shooting by the opponent. The visibly puzzled Boilermakers found themselves shooting .521 from the floor. With all due respect to Purdue: Wonk looks at the men in the road blues, sees them losing the battle of the boards and allowing their opponent to make most of their shots, and places the lion's share of the responsibility for this outcome at their door. (Boiler links here, here, here, and here. Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says the win brings "joy to a coach whose farewell tour has lacked a certain fuzzy sentimentality." Wolverine links here, here, and here.)

Playing in front of more than 350 former Illini players, coaches and support staff on hand to celebrate the program's 100th anniversary, Illinois beat Minnesota 89-66 in Champaign Saturday. Wonk tuned in eager to see, among other things, how the Illini perimeter D (which this blogger and Illinois fan has termed a bit too porous against dribble penetration for comfort) would hold up against relentless dribble-penetrator Vincent Grier. Alas, the landslide was on well before the first TV timeout and not much could be learned along those lines. Deron Williams had a strong day from behind the arc and if that continues Illinois opponents, previously faced with multiple scoring threats and a Peyton Manning-like QB in Williams, may have to resort to Brian-Butch-on-Paul-Davis-style tackling to stop this team.

BONUS Wonk "that's entertainment" moment. Your intrepid blogger very much enjoyed the scene that occurred in the first half when the Gophers went on a 7-0 mini-run and cut the deficit to ten or so. A disgusted Bruce Weber called timeout and the Minnesota players charged off the floor bumping chests, exchanging high-fives, etc. Not to be outdone in this department, however, was freshman backup big man Spencer Tollackson, who, at 6'9" 250, charged off the floor and, to the wonderfully apparent bewilderment of his teammates, began to push the diminutive and eerily Jeff Bezos-like Dan Monson around like a hapless intruder in a bar fight. When the slo-mo replay of this bizarre scene ran, former Illinois standout Doug Altenberger dead-panned with admirable aplomb, "I'm not sure I would have been comfortable doing that to Lou Henson."

Fifteen Illini links and, um, one Gopher link. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper gets Dee Brown and Luther Head to confess they're too young to remember the Flyin' Illini but they do remember Kiwane Garris. Peoria Journal Star columnist Kirk Wessler takes time out to remember the first African American member of an Illinois basketball team, Walt Moore. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch says "Illinois finally seems to have made it but needs to keep going"--meaning they need, as returning Illini legend Kendall Gill put it so succinctly, to "finish the job" and win a national title. (No pressure here.) Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Downey wonders what the reunion will be like in 2055 and what they'll be saying about this year's team in 50 years. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell says Illinois "may not get to 39-0 but they look at '39-0' and smile. It is not a pressure-packed task to this group of players. It is a joyful journey." Illini game recaps here, here, here, and here. Coverage of Illini centennial celebration here, here, here, here, and here. Gopher link here.

Iowa beat Indiana 72-57 in Iowa City Saturday. In the wake of last Wednesday's debacle at Northwestern (where the Hawkeyes blew a 12-point lead with less than three minutes to go and lost in overtime), Steve Alford benched four of his starters for the opening tip and serenely watched a squad of relative who-dat's for the game's opening two-and-a-half minutes. (Excellent recap at Hawkeye Hoops, defining state-of-the-art in team blogs since 2004. Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler says tough love seems to work with this group of Hawkeyes. (Wonk says if having to sit on the bench for 150 seconds constitutes "tough love," your intrepid blogger logged a lifetime's worth of tough love as a powerless forward on the sophomore team back at Springfield (IL) H.S.) Keeler also professes to have seen "frothing pit-bull" defense from this Iowa team in December. He apparently beheld a different Hawkeye D than what Wonk saw, both empirically and in the equally if not more trustworthy impressionistic seat-of-the-pants sense. More Hawkeye links here, here, and here. Hoosier links here and here.)

Wisconsin beat Penn State 76-50 in State College Saturday. (Badger links here and here. PSU link here.)

Ohio State beat Northwestern 65-52 in Evanston Saturday and did it early enough in the day for Iowa's players to see it whole before the start of their own game against Indiana and to kick themselves for not being able to beat put away a team the struggling Buckeyes could glide past by 13. (Buckeye link here. Wildcat link here.)

Michigan State beat Oakland 92-75 Saturday night in East Lansing. Paul Davis did not play, resting an ankle he'd injured in practice earlier in the week.

Oakland has now played both the Spartans and Illinois this year and Grizzlies coach Greg Kampe was inevitably asked his thoughts on Tuesday night's game between the Illini and Michigan State. His answer: "Tom [Izzo] might get mad at me for saying this...I live in the state of Michigan and I'm a Michigan person, but Illinois is the best basketball team we've ever played in all my years of doing this. And I mean that far and away....Does that mean MSU won't beat them Tuesday? No, I bet MSU does beat them." (Links here, here, and here.)

Forget PPG. Remember PPWS.
There's no trick to putting up a nice number for points per game (PPG). Just shoot a lot. But who would get the most points from the same number of shots?

To answer that question we turn to the handy stat that not only measures scoring efficiency, it also captures more than just points from the field (unlike, say, points per shot or "PPS"). This stat takes in both FGA's and FTA's. It's points per weighted shot (PPWS), developed cannily by John Hollinger (The Basketball Prospectus) and renamed brazenly by Wonk. Here are the latest Big Ten PPWS numbers, including yesterday's Michigan-Purdue game:

Top 20 PPWS
1. Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State (1.47)
2. James Augustine, Illinois (1.38)
3. Carl Landry, Purdue (1.34)
4. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.33)
5. Luther Head, Illinois (1.33)
6. Brent Lawson, Minnesota (1.32)
7. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.32)
8. Aaron Robinson, Minnesota (1.31)
9. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (1.27)
10. Jeff Hagen, Minnesota (1.27)
11. Adam Haluska, Iowa (1.27)
12. Maurice Ager, Michigan State (1.26)
13. Roger Powell, Illinois (1.26)
14. Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State (1.26)
15. Jeff Horner, Iowa (1.25)
16. D.J. White, Indiana (1.25)
17. Chris Hunter, Michigan (1.25)
18. Clayton Hanson, Wisconsin (1.24)
19. Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern (1.24)
20. Paul Davis, Michigan State (1.23)

Bottom 20 PPWS
1. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.83)
2. Brandon McKnight, Purdue (0.85)
3. Ben Luber, Penn State (0.87)
4. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.87)
5. Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota (0.92)
6. David Teague, Purdue (0.92)
7. Jamar Butler, Ohio State (0.92)
8. Dion Harris, Michigan (0.94)
9. Ray Nixon, Wisconsin (0.95)
10. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (0.95)
11. Tim Doyle, Northwestern (0.97)
12. John Andrews, Michigan (0.97)
13. Mike Thompson, Northwestern (0.97)
14. Mike Henderson, Iowa (0.97)
15. Brian Butch, Wisconsin (0.98)
16. Dan Coleman, Minnesota (0.98)
17. Andreas Helmigk, Wisconsin (0.99)
18. Robert Vaden, Indiana (0.99)
19. Xavier Price, Purdue (1.00)
20. Mohamed Hachad, Northwestern (1.00)

What it means. Give Kelvin Torbert 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll likely score about 22 points. Give Nick Smith the same number of shots and he'll likely score about 12.

What it really means. In his own ruminations, Wonk has taken to using PPWS not so much as a ranking but as more of a character reference. With all due respect to Kelvin Torbert and James Augustine, the two top players on this week's list are both roughly the fourth or fifth scoring options on teams with multiple offensive threats. Thus Torbert and Augustine are able to get open looks (often from beyond the arc, in Torbert's case). And, again, your intrepid blogger gives them credit: they're knocking down those shots.

But look at the next three players on the list: Carl Landry, Dee Brown, and Luther Head. While scoring about 100 more points than Torbert or Augustine, these three are performing at virtually the same level of efficiency. Incredible. And Landry in particular merits a new adjective. This guy is not only scoring lots of points, he's somehow doing so efficiently without any--and Wonk means ANY--other scoring threat on his team (yesterday notwithstanding). What a gamer. Your intrepid blogger is proud to have these three competitors on the All-Wonk Team.

COMING tomorrow....
Complete game-day coverage of Illinois-Michigan State, featuring an interview with Dave Dye, Spartan beat writer for the Detroit News. Dye will share his insider's view of Tom Izzo, Paul Davis, and the rest of the Spartans--and give us his prediction on who's going to win the big game. Tune in tomorrow!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Pat Forde of gives out "conference midterms" here and says, among other things, that Minnesota is better than advertised, Purdue is worse, and Luther Head of Illinois is Big Ten Player of the Year so far.

Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline rates Illinois' W at Wisconsin last Tuesday as a "Best Win" in his weekly recap.

Lansing State Journal Spartan beat writer Joe Rexrode grants that tomorrow night's game between Michigan State and Illinois will spur much unavoidable talk of this State team's legacy, mettle, and all that, but, more importantly, it will define the Big Ten race one way or another.

There are off-days for Illinois players but not for Illinois beat writers. Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times says the Illini and Michigan State are "friendly rivals." Bruce Weber says the Spartans are "probably a better team than Wisconsin." Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald says "Illinois seems to be embracing" the challenge posed by facing Michigan State in the Breslin Center. John Supinie of the Copley News Service says, for better or worse, Illinois "fans are already focused on the Final Four."

Wonk back!
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A Boiler lets off some steam
One of this blog's most alert readers and most faithful emailers has been die-hard Purdue fan and fellow intrepid blogger Matt May. Wonk thought about Matt yesterday, as the Boilermakers cruised to victory, and wondered what was on the mind of such a true fan in the face of unprecedented good fortune.

Wonder no more:

Hi, Wonk,

Yes, it was against a shorthanded Michigan team that handles the ball like a live grenade, and, yes, the Boilers were due for a victory. But it still feels great, not unlike setting back on the couch after Thanksgiving meal, unbuckling the belt and letting out a sigh.

Matt May

Thanks, Matt!

Make yourself Wright at home
Dear Wonk,

Can you please explain Bracey Wright's road/home splits this year? As a Badger fan, I thought he looked like the second coming in IU's home win. But he's shooting something like 10 percent from three on the road. What's the deal here?


Brian H.

Brian, the deal is this: Bracey Wright has not been hitting three-pointers--at home or on the road. Let's go to the numbers....

This season Wright has hit just 31 of 107 three-point attempts, meaning he's shooting .290 from behind the arc. Contrast this with Purdue's David Teague, whose notoriously poor (yet oh so frequent) shooting has launched a thousand emailed laments to Wonk from Purdue fans and which indeed has landed him at or near the very bottom of Wonk's PPWS rankings for as long as they've been around.

Sit down--this will come as something of a shock....

David Teague is a better three-point shooter than Bracey Wright.

It's true. Where Wright is 31-of-107 (.290), Teague is 33-of-111 (.297).

Now, as you point out, it's also true that Wright is especially inept away from Bloomington--just 9-of-47 (.191). But he's no Kelvin Torbert at home, either--just 22-of-60 (.367), and that includes a 1-of-6 in Bloomington against your Badgers. (Wonk watched that game and Wright did his damage--to the tune of 30 points--by moving without the ball inside the arc and by shooting 10 free throws.)

Plus: Wright is still yet to record a made three on the road in conference play.

More from the "What is this PPWS?" desk
Hi, Wonk,

I greatly enjoy your writing, links, and stats--my ten minutes daily Wonk browsing is time well spent!

A vexing (for me, at least) question has moved me to write you. You are quite taken with the PPWS statistic. It certainly works better than points per game as a measure of offensive efficiency, both for teams and individuals, and I've been convinced that it is a useful measure. I am not convinced, however, that the fancy weighting tells you very much. Why not simply points per shot (PPS)?

What does PPWS tell you that PPS doesn't? PPWS appears to downweight the contribution of guys that take it strong to the hoop and go to the line a lot. PPWS is also hobbled by that 0.44 parameter that seems, well, a little arbitrary. Why not .45 or .43? Could it vary by team, conference, strength of schedule, or lunar cycle? And in the end, isn't a point a point, whether it is scored beyond the arc, in the paint, or at the line?

What am I missing here?

Yours in B10 hoops,
Ashton S.

Ashton, Wonk is thinking seriously of using PPWS only in the company of a USDA-like "part of a complete statistical breakfast" disclaimer. PPWS is basically the sliced banana on the points-per-possession (PPP) corn flakes supplied by Ken Pomeroy and his indispensable PPP-based team efficiency ratings for every D-I team. And that may even be giving PPWS too much credit.

Still, your intrepid blogger likes three things about this particular stat: 1) its ease of use (Wonk is at root lazy), requiring as it does just three readily available numbers--points, FGA's and FTA's; 2) its applicability to individuals (I've stopped using it for teams---PPP surveys the same terrain with greater acuity); and 3) its scope, which encompasses all points scored and not just points from the field.

Points per shot (PPS) is an erstwhile friend, to be sure, but a recurring theme in Wonk's wall-to-wall coverage of this Big Ten season is the following hunch: free throws are undervalued by we bystanders precisely because (Carl Landry at the end of the first OT against Indiana notwithstanding) they are so very dull. Dull, yes, but they count. Just ask Iowa, who outscored Illinois and Northwestern from the field and lost both games.

Is PPWS unfair to the player who takes it strong to the hoop? Don't know. Good question for the off-season, perhaps. Two purely impressionistic bits Wonk will note even in busy January, however: 1) Carl Landry (who goes to the line a lot) is intriguingly side-by-side in PPWS with Dee Brown (who never goes to the line); and 2) Arizona State's Ike Diogu out-Landry's even Landry (Diogu goes to the line an absolutely absurd 9.4 times per game) and the oft-hacked Sun Devil--surely the reductio ad absurdum of going to the line a lot--sports a healthy 1.37 PPWS, which in the Big Ten would put him ahead of Landry and behind only Kelvin Torbert and James Augustine.

And as for the 0.44, that--or something close to it--is the number you dance with unavoidably when you come to the Efficiency-Based Measures Prom that is hoops stats. (And what a prom that is, by the way, populated by a veritable firehouse calendar of beefy hoops-stat-nerd eye-candy.) Wonk uses 0.44 because the creator of the stat, John Hollinger, used it. For his part, stats legend Dean Oliver prefers the more aesthetically pleasing 0.40. And some folks choose to split the difference and use 0.42. (And to think you called it arbitrary!) They're all attempts to get at the un-get-at-able: a free throw is half (0.50) a two-point field goal, yes, but then sometimes you get a free throw after a made two (or even three) and sometimes you get a free throw on a technical foul. Thus the vaporous but essential multiplier.

Housekeeping note
Wonk is going to take a few days off this week after posting on the outcome of the Illinois-Michigan State game.

He'll return fresh as a daisy next Monday to take this blog straight through to April and the rollicking-good soap opera supplied yearly by post-Final-Four coaching changes....

And then he'll shut her down for the off-season like a Bar Harbor lobster pound....

Only to descend visigoth-like upon your free time yet again come November.

Saturday, January 29, 2005
COMING Tuesday....
Complete game-day coverage of Illinois-Michigan State, featuring an interview with Dave Dye, Spartan beat writer for the Detroit News. Dye will share his insider's view of Tom Izzo, Paul Davis, and the rest of the Spartans--and tell us who's going to win the big game. Tune in Tuesday!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Northwestern hosts Ohio State today in Evanston. Wildcat coach Bill Carmody says Mohamed Hachad will continue to start. Hachad has struggled thus far this year while reserve guard Michael Jenkins has garnered more positive reviews, most recently Wednesday night when his three-point shot in overtime gave NU the winning margin over Iowa. Hachad has started 60 consecutive games. Ohio State is 0-5 in games played on an opponent's home floor this year. (Additional Wildcat link here. Buckeye link here.)

Iowa hosts Indiana today in Iowa City. The Indianapolis Star's indefatigable Hoosier beat writer, Terry Hutchens, opens his game-day write up thusly: "It was the 44th minute of a 45-minute interview and Steve Alford knew the question was coming: If there were a coaching vacancy at Indiana University, could you see yourself returning to lead your alma mater?" Alford's answer here but even better is Hutchens' perfect (downright Shavian!) sum-up of this curious fact:

"In Indiana, IU basketball fans constantly make a pitch for Alford's return."

"In Iowa, there's a large group that wishes Hoosiers fans would get their way."

More from today's Indy Star: coaches returning to their alma maters don't always work out--look at Matt Doherty. For his part Alford has hinted at "some changes to start the game," which likely means Doug Thomas starting in place of Erek Hansen (two points and two boards in 17 minutes against Northwestern). Both Indiana and Iowa enter the game with key players struggling from the outside. Bracey Wright is yet to make a three-point shot on the road in the Big Ten this year. Jeff Horner has hit just 11 of his last 34 three's. (More from the Hawkeye beat here.)

Illinois hosts Minnesota today in Champaign. Gopher beat writer Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has returned to a familiar place (he covered the Illini in the early 1990s for the Danville Commercial-News) but found things are a bit more lively this year: "While Illinois basketball has always been a winter staple in central Illinois, things are different now. This Illini team--undefeated and top-ranked nationally--has painted an entire state orange." Minnesota big man Jeff Hagen says the Gophers will "play our style and see what happens."

Illini players are apparently warming to the meme (voiced yesterday by Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey) that they don't particularly need or want a loss just to take the pressure off. "I want to win them all," says Deron Williams. (Frank Burlison of the Sporting News looks at Illinois' chances of running the table here.) The Illini are also holding festivities today to mark the 100th year of men's basketball at Illinois. More orange and blue game previews: here, here, and here. Illini's-eye view of the Gophers here.

Penn State hosts Wisconsin tonight in State College. Surprisingly, the Badgers have lost three straight at the Bryce Jordan Center. (PSU link here. Badger links here and here.)

Michigan State hosts Oakland tonight in East Lansing. (Links here and here.)

Wonk back!
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Latest in a series of Saturday recaps from alert reader and Illini fan Jason

So as I sat there this glorious Tuesday past, I was a bit stunned. Certainly, it wasn't over with 4:29 to play and down 64-61. But that run, that 14-1 run to finish in Kohl? Never saw it coming.


I think I was still dazed yesterday, still unsure I saw Wisconsin collapse and UI blister onward simultaneously. Oh, but links abound, and they all confirmed what I saw.

There are always games in a season that begin a new trend line, either upward or downward. I'll humbly submit, that even though Illinois entered that game at 19-0, that was the type of colossal win which pushes the upward trend. If they didn't know John Cheney's mantra already, they do now: anyone, anywhere, anytime. And I believe they'll be stoked for another hostile crowd and difficult road game this Tuesday (but I'm withholding predictions on that one!).

I'm not sure the national types quite get the enormity of Illinois winning in Kohl, and maybe Illini fans (that would be me) are overly sensitive to it because Kohl has been our team's personal house of horrors (much like the Barn is to IU). But conference media types and Illini fans understand. As I predicted, it was deliciously sweet cake.

Jason H.

Thanks, Jason!
Friday, January 28, 2005
Whoa, Blue
Michigan lost to Michigan State 64-53 in East Lansing last night and the pattern for Tommy Amaker's team is becoming distressingly plain:

Jan. 5: Win at Iowa, 65-63 (25 turnovers, rebound margin +12)
Jan.12: Win vs. Northwestern, 71-61 (11 turnovers, rebound margin -1)
Jan. 15: Win at Penn State, 66-62 (8 turnovers, rebound margin -11)
Jan. 19: Loss at Indiana, 62-53 (20 turnovers, rebound margin +4)
Jan. 22: Loss vs. Wisconsin, 72-61 (10 turnovers, rebound margin -15)
Jan. 27: Loss at Michigan State, 64-53 (23 turnovers, rebound margin -10)

The pattern is this: in any given conference game Michigan stands about a two-in-three chance of being outrebounded. If by chance they are not outrebounded, however, they will give their opponent at least 20 turnovers. Last night the Wolverines merely added some spice to the mix, combining anemic rebounding and 20+ turnovers in the same game for the first time.

(It's amazing Michigan only lost this game by 11--a fact that's not lost on Tom Izzo as he prepares his team for a Tuesday visit from Illinois. "We play like that [against Illinois], we're going to set a North American loss record," said Izzo after the game. "You won't even have me in this press conference. I'll be hiding somewhere.")

Would Daniel Horton have made a difference for Michigan last night? Possibly but not necessarily. Tommy Amaker could have used another scoring option, surely. But when it comes to turnovers, Horton is the worst offender in the maize and blue, averaging over three a game.

(One thing the presence of Horton would have changed, however: the unrelenting attention paid by ESPN to Michigan guard Dani Wohl, who started but played just 11 minutes, all in the first half. This puzzled Brent Musburger, Steve Lavin, and Erin Andrews and the three devoted a modest but nevertheless notable amount of air time to speculation as to why this would be the case. Two conclusions: 1) not a good sign for your program when the question of the night is "Why aren't we seeing more Dani Wohl?" and 2) having Erin Andrews inquire as to his condition (she "spoke to the training staff about Dani Wohl"!) may well represent a peak life experience for young Mr. Wohl right there.)

Last night's loss leaves the Wolverines 3-3 in conference, 12-8 overall. The good news for Michigan is it's still January and they've already played half their conference road games.

So, while it will likely generate little in the way of attention, the Wolverines' game Sunday at Purdue looms very large. One might even presume to call it a fork in the road. If Michigan can pull off the win they would stand at 3-2 in conference on the road. (The Wolverines' win at Iowa on January 5 was simply huge--for both teams involved.) They can still make something of this season.

But they need to start hitting the boards and holding on to the ball. At the same time.

BONUS Wonk note of puzzlement. How in the world can Michigan--with as many bona fide bigs as Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State, and Ohio State combined--be putting up such woeful rebounding numbers?

Michigan State-Michigan links. Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says Michigan is more of a punching bag than an "archrival" for Michigan State. Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski says Maurice Ager is not only the Spartans' leading scorer, he's also their most underrated player. Fellow News columnist Rob Parker says Tommy Amaker is to be commended for suspending Daniel Horton (charged Monday with misdemeanor domestic violence) in advance of a game against the Wolverines' chief nemesis. From the State side of the page, Lansing State Journal columnist Todd Schulz applauds Chris Hill's efforts to whip up some noise from the Izzone and says "for a change, these Spartans wore their emotions like new tattoos." More here, here, here, here, here, and here.

COMING Monday....
Updated PPWS numbers for the 20 best and 20 worst of 80-odd Big Ten starters and key reserves. Will Michigan State's Kelvin Torbert still be number 1? Will Purdue's Brandon McKnight still be anchor-man? Tune in Monday!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
As detailed in yesterday's post, Iowa coach Steve Alford named names and dished out some strong criticism of his own team in the wake of the Hawkeyes' OT loss at Northwestern Wednesday night. This morning Don Doxsie of the Quad City Times makes an unflattering comparison to Alford's own college coach and says the Iowa coach has to take his share of the blame. Doxsie indicts Alford on one count of a "postgame news conference that was Knight-like for both its brevity and its severity. In 137 seconds--our reporter at the scene timed it--Alford managed to verbally rough up his three best players while eluding all responsibility for what happened on the court." More Hawkeye day-aftershock coverage here.

Michigan State has an 11-game losing streak against ranked teams. Is that going to change Tuesday night against Illinois? Indefatigable Detroit News Spartan beat writer Dave Dye says it'll take "an exceptional performance" by someone in a State uniform. Dye says Tom Izzo's team has been on the losing end of such performances this year, ones turned in by the likes of J.J. Redick and Sharif Chambliss. "The Spartans' problem is they struggle to get that same type of elevated performance from anyone in big games." Dye's nominee for this role? Maurice Ager....Profile of scrappy State guard Tim Bograkos here.

Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, beset this year with injuries and now Daniel Horton's legal issues, says he's focused on building a program for the long haul....Detroit News Wolverine beat writer Jim Spadafore looks at his crystal ball and Michigan's remaining schedule in an attempt to figure out if they're going to make the tournament. "It doesn't look good," Spadafore concludes. (But just wait until next year: everybody back, including Lester Abram.) The apparently indefatigable Spadafore also chips in with a Big Ten Report here.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan issued a statement in defense of Brian Butch yesterday. Butch was termed the Big Ten's "most overrated player" by ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb at halftime of Tuesday night's game between the Badgers and Illinois....Profile of Wisconsin guard Sharif Chambliss here. Chambliss's circuitous route--Wisconsin native goes from struggling Big Ten team to Madison--is not lost on some hopeful souls in Badger chat rooms who are rooting for Wisconsin native Carl Landry to "pull a Chambliss."

Penn State recruiting talk here.

Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi announced yesterday that Dan Monson is his man: "Dan Monson is going to be our coach next year." The Gophers are a surprising 14-5 overall, 4-2 in conference....Rick Alonzo, Minnesota beat writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, looks ahead to tomorrow's game between the Gophers and Illinois here....Minnesota beat writer (and blogger and contributor and probably ambassador to Finland--the guy's busy) Jeff Shelman looks at resurgent Oklahoma and other matters of note in the latest installment of his excellent weekly recap of college hoops for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Shelman also points out that in the absence of NHL games, ESPN is broadcasting more college hoops, including this coming Tuesday's game between Division III foes Grinnell College and Beloit College. Grinnell is averaging (no typos in this sentence) over 112 points and 61 three-point attempts per game.

Wonk EXCLUSIVE: nationwide shortages in newsprint, ink, pixels, bandwidth, hyperlinks attributed to "Illini Effect." It's official: forward Brian Randle will redshirt this season. Randle broke his hand in November when he punched a wall in frustration during practice.

Daily coverage of what Dick Vitale did or did not say yesterday here and here. (BONUS non-hoops note: White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan yesterday denied widespread reports that President Bush, distraught over the lack of attention being paid to his ambitious second-term domestic agenda, is considering having Vitale announce the administration's new school-lunch program in an attempt to garner some Illini-level coverage.)

The quest for a "Flyin' Illini"-comparable nickname for this year's team continues. No clear winner yet. Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald asked three current Illinois regulars to name all five starters from the 1989 Final Four team. Results here. (Hint: President Bush will today ask Dick Vitale to announce the formation of a Presidential blue-ribbon commission on improving our nation's awareness of its rich Illini heritage.) Daily which-team-is-better coverage here.

Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey says the heck with losing being a good thing and taking the pressure off. Illinois should aim for the empyrean realm of Scott May, Kent Benson and Quinn Buckner: "Embrace the chance to be the next Indiana [undefeated in 1976]. Enjoy it. Wear it like a warm coat." Morrissey's fellow Tribune columnist Ed Sherman says publicity is the "vital lifeblood of a successful college basketball program. Illinois, though, is about to find how much of a good thing it can handle." (Gosh. A columnist fretting about the amount of press coverage while adding to the amount of press coverage. How McLuhanite!)

In addition to tomorrow's game against Minnesota, the Assembly Hall will host a celebration of 100 years of Illini basketball. Updates on the planned Centennial festivities here and here.

Illini madness on the march. Tuesday night's game between Illinois and Wisconsin was the highest rated college basketball game on ESPN in three years.

March madness online. CBS.sportsline, in conjunction with College Sports Television, announced a multiyear deal yesterday that gives them exclusive video streaming rights for out-of-market games during the men's NCAA tournament. The package will cost $19.95 and cover all games through the regional semi's. Feeds will be available through,, and

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A broad-based (international!) groundswell of support: Kelvin Torbert for the All-Wonk Team
Yesterday your fickle blogger unceremoniously dumped Iowa's Jeff Horner from the All-Wonk Team (3.0) and threw the blogospheric floor open to nominations for Horner's replacement. Wonk's readers respond!

Hi, Wonk,

I'd like to hereby nominate Kelvin Torbert for the all-Wonk team. My case:

-He ranks first in PPWS.

-He ranks 1st in the B10 in free-throw percentage (.909), 1st in 3-point field-goal percentage (.486) and 6th in field-goal percentage (.582). He is the only player in the B10 to be in the top ten for all categories.

-Although he comes off the bench, he plays a similar amount of minutes as the other wings on the team and is, in effect, a 6th starter.

-After being named the HS basketball national POY, he was willing to come to East Lansing, buy into the system, focus on D, improve his shot dramatically, stoically take heaps of criticism, and in his senior year, come off the bench after starting for 3 years.

-He still gets no respect. This Tuesday, while the Free Press did manage to include him in the sub-headline, they also managed to misspell his name.

Shawn M.

Thanks, Shawn! You've got company overseas....

Dear Wonk,

All-Wonk Team Nomination: Kelvin Torbert.

You gotta love this guy. In high school, he was Mr. Everything. Then, his shot fell apart for two years. Last year, only one sub-6'5" guy in the COUNTRY had a better FG% (Hassan Adams). Now, he never misses! And he is the soul of the MSU team. The island of safety in the MSU wavepool.

Give KT the love he deserves!

From Thailand,
Joshua D.

Thanks, Joshua! Wonk's always happy to hear from one of his many readers in Thailand (Wonk being to the Thai roughly what Jerry Lewis is to the French).

Other nominations?
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Home rules
Another three W's for home teams last night, including, perhaps most surprisingly, Northwestern, 75-74 winners in OT over Iowa.

Wonk has a shocking confession to make. At the point where the Hawkeyes assumed a 62-50 lead with 3:24 left in regulation, your intrepid blogger thought things were well in hand for Steve Alford's men and switched over to check on Maryland-Duke. Man, was Wonk ever wrong....

What your intrepid blogger missed by foolishly switching to non-Big-Ten programming (never a good idea, surely) was Vedran Vukusic (yes, he was supposedly injured--lately it seems any Big Ten player who's listed as "questionable" hops right up and drops 30 on the opposing team) hitting two three's and then sinking three free throws after being fouled outside the arc by Pierre Pierce with 13 seconds left. Overtime.

By now Wonk is watching again and Iowa, again, takes what appears to be a comfortable lead: 73-68 with 1:45 left in OT. But this time your intrepid blogger knows well enough to stick around. Sure enough, Vukusic scores a quick four points and Greg Brunner misses one of two free throws to make it a 74-72 Hawkeye lead with 50 seconds left.

And then the roof fell in for Iowa, albeit slowly:

Jeff Horner missed two free throws with 18 seconds left.

With four seconds left, Pierce threw an inbounds pass directly into the surprised but delighted hands of T.J. Parker and the Wildcats immediately call a timeout.

Inbounding under his own basket with 2.7 seconds left, Tim Doyle is obviously looking for Vukusic but then sees 5'9" walk-on Michael Jenkins, inexplicably left alone by Horner and eagerly spotting up for the three on the left wing. Jenkins gets the pass and once again records a garishly ugly yet indisputably effective three (a habit of his that Wonk has noted before): the ball bounces high off the rim and actually appears to be rimming out (slow-motion replays showed a few distraught Wildcat fans throwing their hands down in disgust for one split-second) before coming back down to the rim a second time and, barely, falling in.

The Hawkeyes at last found an opponent they could beat senseless on the boards (38 to 27) but Alford's men continued a dispiriting habit of theirs and again coughed up too many turnovers (19), including 10 by Pierce alone (number 10 being the fatefully errant inbounds pass with two seconds left in OT).

(By the way, that thud you just heard was the sound of Jeff Horner falling off the All-Wonk Team. Nominations for his replacement are now being accepted!)

In brief yet strikingly mephitic postgame remarks, Coach Alford continued a now venerable tradition he has of repeating this blogger, this time on the topic of Greg Brunner: "Bru did a lot of nice things on offense, but defensively, he was awful." Now, Steve, Wonk has warned you about this: (insert Krusty the Clown voice here) you're stealing my bit!

Money graf from Iowa blogger Ryan's must-read post-mortem at Hawkeye Hoops (no Alford-basher he):

"Now I know what it's like to be a Cubs fan. You come into the season with a guarded optimism, not wanting to get attached to a team that has repeatedly let you down. Your team reels off some wins, and looks like an early contender. You tell yourself, 'Hey, this team is really good, there's no way can history repeat itself again.' Then reality sets in, your team returns to mediocrity, and your season ends way too early. And it finally hits me--Steve Alford has turned Iowa into the Chicago Cubs of the Big Ten. Couple that with ridiculous ticket prices and I also finally understand why no one shows up at Carver (maybe they just need to sell Old Style)."

Mainstream Hawkeye links here, here, and here. Wildcat links here, here, and here.

Elsewhere in Big Ten land last night, Minnesota beat Indiana 70-65 in Minneapolis. Bracey Wright recorded this week's "it's a bad sign when your opponent wants you to shoot" stat line, going 0-of-10 on his three's. The Hoosiers as a team shot .446 from the floor. Subtract Wright and they shot .543, led by 23 points from D.J. White. BONUS Wonk aesthetic critique: The alley-oop that Pat Ewing dunked with about nine minutes left in the first half was get-off-the-couch tasty. If Ewing's dad had been blessed with the same hops in his day he could have touched the top of the backboard. (Gopher links here and here. Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse says Minnesota's winning with their defense. Hoosier link here. Indefatigable Indiana beat writer Terry Hutchens astutely notes that Bracey Wright is yet to record a made three on the road in Big Ten play: he's 0-for-17. Memo to Steve Alford for Saturday: let Wright shoot all he wants.)

Ohio State beat Penn State 68-62 in Columbus last night. The Nittany Lions outrebounded the Buckeyes by nine and recorded the same number of makes from the free throw line (10) as OSU had for attempts--and still lost. Poor shooting (.386) was enough to do in the visitors. Penn State has now lost 26 consecutive Big Ten road games. On the plus side for the Nittany Lions, freshman Geary Claxton continues to display hints of better days to come, giving Ed DeChellis 18 points and nine boards. (Buckeye link here. Laudably glass-is-half-full PSU link here: "The Nittany Lions were competitive for the first time in three Big Ten road trips.")

Wisconsin-Milwaukee beat Purdue 73-68 in West Lafayette last night, a game UWM was actually favored to win. And the PA announcer in Mackey Arena made an appeal in the first half for fans sitting in the upper levels to come down to the empty seats closer to the court. (Ye gods.) All-Wonk Team member Carl Landry notched another double-double (26 points, ten boards) but the Boilermakers went just 2-of-17 on their three's and turned the ball over 19 times. Losing to a hyphenated school at home will doubtless subject the Boilers to a fresh round of howlings from certain quarters. But also keep the following in mind: UWM is 15-4 with a win over Air Force and a very respectable 11-point loss at Kansas to their credit. (OK, everybody loses respectably in Lawrence. Anyway, excellent recap from blogger Chris West here. Mainstream links here, here, and here.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan State hosts Michigan tonight in East Lansing and the Wolverines will play without Daniel Horton, suspended from the team indefinitely after being charged Monday with domestic violence. For their part the Spartans are listing Paul Davis as questionable for tonight's game after he injured his ankle this week in practice. (Detroit-based neither-wholly-Wolverine-nor-Spartan links (Dave Dye and Jim Spadafore! Joint byline! Mass hysteria!) here, here, here, and here. Virtually Jeffrey Toobin-esque legal analysis of Daniel Horton's situation here. Unadulterated Lansing-based Spartan links here and here.)

It's an off day for Illinois meaning there are only 3,461 Illini links to share instead of the customary 14,819. Let's get right to it!....

Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that Illinois fans should stop and smell the roses: 20-0 doesn't happen every day. On the other hand, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch is miffed, probably because the RPI computer wouldn't return his calls requesting an interview. Couch bravely soldiers on, however, questioning how in the world the Illini can be rated ninth in the RPI. (Wonk says: because they played Longwood.) Daily can-they-run-the-table? coverage here and here. Daily coverage of Illini indignation over something Dick Vitale did or didn't say here.

Tribute to former coach Lou Henson here. The City of Champaign has announced it will christen the portion of First Street outside Assembly Hall as "Lou Henson Court."

Meanwhile analysis continues of the win in Madison Tuesday night. Day-afterglow coverage here. Yesterday Wonk saluted the orange and blue for displaying an ability to make in-season offensive adjustments and for showing Wisconsin some different looks. Wonk's not the only one thinking along these lines! Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald looks at Bruce Weber's adjustments on offense here.

Grant Wahl of profiles Nick "Chainsaw" Smith here. (Read it and you'll understand.)

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Email received late last night....

Why in the world is every Steve Alford team so soft? Criminy! Additionally, how in the world does one human being commit 10 turnovers in one friggin’ game at Northwestern?


Mike E.
Eldridge, IA

At least one observer of last night's game agrees with you, Mike! "I don't know how you can play this game and have 10 turnovers."

That observer would be Alford himself. Wonk has been known to send some tactful criticism Alford's way from time to time (see here). But this blogger saw a lot of non-Alford factors at work in last night's collapse, most notably missed free throws, Pierce's inbounds pass that was intercepted, and, of course, Horner's curious defense on the final play.

(Wonk reads lips and he's pretty sure he saw Horner reduced to shouting "Miss it, Noonan!" at Jenkins.)

Housekeeping, Part 1
Wonk is pleased to announce that his sidebar's links to other blogs have at long last been updated to more accurately reflect the increasing wealth of good hoops commentary that is available in the blogosphere. Enjoy.

Housekeeping, Part 2
Next week, after posting on the Illinois-Michigan State game, Wonk is going to take a few days off. So there.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
A tale of three runs
Illinois ended Wisconsin's 38-game home winning streak with a 75-65 win in Madison last night and pun-weary sports-section readers everywhere, beaten down by a week of "38 Special" headlines, rejoiced as one that at least now we will not have to endure the chillingly inevitable sequelae ("The 39 Steps!" "40 Days and 40 Nights!" "41-derful Home Wins!" etc.).

The Illini held a two-point lead at halftime and indeed the game was closely contested throughout, with the notable exception of three second-half runs. The first favored Wisconsin; the last two propelled Illinois....

Run #1: Wisconsin 12, Illinois 0.
With 17:40 to play in the second half, Illinois leads Wisconsin 44-39. The Illini have just run a very nice delayed give-and go between James Augustine and Dee Brown. Mike Wilkinson got caught cheating on Brown up top, Augustine moved to the hole and took a feed from Brown, and Wilkinson was too far gone to recover. (Yet even when he's beat Wilkinson looks good: taking a position--albeit one that's not good enough--and extending his arms straight up.) Augustine laid it in.

And yet the seeds of reversal are already planted for Illinois....

Augustine is busy thumping his chest in pride at having hit the bunny. Wilkinson, meanwhile, sets a ball screen in the backcourt and picks off Luther Head, who smacks into Wilkinson without warning or preparation. Instead of fighting though the screen, Head sulks, jogs the next few feet, and even glares angrily at Bruce Weber as if to say, "Why didn't anyone call out the screen?" (Head's beef is with Roger Powell, the man guarding Wilkinson.) Weber is waving his arms to tell Head to get back on defense. Too late: no one picks up Head's man, Sharif Chambliss, and Chambliss simply dribbles to the arc and hits the open three. Illinois 44, Wisconsin 42 (17:32).

Illinois now runs a good five-pass sequence leading to a 14-footer on the right wing for Augustine. He misses, Wisconsin rebounds. Chambliss brings the ball up. Every other Wisconsin player is outside the three-point-line--except Wilkinson. Chambliss passes to Clayton Hanson on the right wing, Hanson makes the entry pass, and Powell's marooned on an island. No Illinois player's close enough to give help and Wilkinson easily drop-steps Powell for the basket. It's a play Wonk saw in the sixth grade. It's effective. Illinois 44, Wisconsin 44 (17:06). Illinois calls timeout.

Then a three by Tucker, the spectacular block by Ray Nixon on Brown's breakaway, a lay-in by Tucker on the other end, and a turnover from Deron Williams trying to feed Augustine. Wisconsin ball, leading 49-44....

Brown's guarding Kammron Taylor up top and when Taylor gets a pass Brown goes for the steal. He misses. The Badgers are in a set with no one else on this entire (right) side of the floor except Wilkinson. Taylor drives to the basket and Wilkinson boxes out Augustine like it's a rebound. During Taylor's drive, Wilkinson moves from the Big Ten logo in the paint to the rim, pinning a moving screen on Augustine all the while. No call: Taylor lays it in. Wisconsin 51, Illinois 44 (15:13).

Illinois committed just one turnover during this Wisconsin run and recorded just three out-and-out missed shots. But two defensive errors by Head (the screen fiasco and Tucker's three--where Head, the nearest man to Tucker, was guarding no one), one scandalous play by Nixon (har!), and one savvy play by Wilkinson (the moving screen) were enough to spring a 12-0 run.

Run #2: Illinois 13, Wisconsin 2.
With 12:40 left in the game Wisconsin has a 56-48 lead. But the Badgers are about to go virtually silent on the offensive end. They haven't gone cold. They just can't buy an FGA, much less a make....

At the exact moment when Vitale is speculating on whether or not Duke will move up to number 1 after this, Head steals a pass from Nixon to Chambliss and is fouled. (Turnover 1)....

Andreas Helmigk travels. (Turnover 2)....

Zach Morley drives the left baseline and tries to feed Helmigk with a bounce pass (Turnover 3). Deron Williams brings the ball up. Brown spots up for a three on the right wing, Richard McBride does the same on the left. Williams feeds Brown, who ball fakes, penetrates and dishes to Augustine in the paint. Augustine makes the skip pass out to McBride, still spotting up patiently. He hits the three. Wisconsin 56, Illinois 51 (10:19).

Suddenly nothing's going on in the paint for Wisconsin. Wilkinson gets touches but they're beyond the arc. Tucker finally drives baseline and feeds Michael Flowers but the shot is blocked by Augustine. Williams picks up the loose ball and is fouled on the breakaway. He makes two free throws. Wisconsin 56, Illinois 53 (9:22).

Then Wilkinson misfired on a contested lay-in and Head was fouled by Taylor driving baseline.

Two Head free throws, two points. Wisconsin 56, Illinois 55 (8:48).

Taylor gets loose on a no-pass possession and hits a 15-footer. Wisconsin 58, Illinois 55 (8:35).

Jack Ingram comes out top to rotate the ball but Wilkinson is quite deliberately leaving him alone and staying down in the paint. Bad scouting: Ingram's only made two three's all season, sure, but he's also been draining 17-footers all year. He can do it from 19. Wilkinson watches Ingram drain the three. Wisconsin 58, Illinois 58 (8:19).

Tucker misses a three. Rebound Augustine.

Wilkinson does it again! This time Ingram is setting screens out top. Wilkinson's planted in the paint. By now Bo Ryan's doing everything but holding up a hand-lettered sign: "INGRAM CAN MAKE THAT." To no avail. When Ingram gets the ball Wilkinson at least comes out in a hurry this time but it's too late. Another three. Illinois 61, Wisconsin 58 (7:42).

Not a single two-point FG in the run for the Illini: four free throws and three three's. During this time Wisconsin gets only three shots to the rim and makes just one.

Run #3: Illinois 14, Wisconsin 1.
With 4:29 left in the game Wisconsin has a 64-61 lead. They've made their last field goal.

Augustine and Williams run a sweet pick-and-roll. Wilkinson's beat on the back cut and can only grab Augustine. Two free throws, two points. Wisconsin 64, Illinois 63 (4:11).

Helmigk misses a 12-foot turnaround and fouls Ingram over the back on the rebound. Two free throws, two points. Illinois 65, Wisconsin 64 (3:39).

Chambliss tries to feed Wilkinson in the post but Ingram reaches around and pokes the ball to Head. Ryan and the crowd go nuts, wanting the foul.

Augustine and Williams set up on the right wing again, seemingly to run the same pick and roll. But this time Augustine fakes the pick and then darts to the rim, leaving Wilkinson in no-man's land. Williams feeds him for the dunk. Illinois 67, Wisconsin 64 (3:04).

Hanson drives, misses, tips rebound out of bounds.

Head takes the ball from the wing to the top of the key. He wants to drive on Hanson--doubtless has been told to do so when he gets the chance--and finally gets the opening. Head blows past Hanson and drives the lane, forcing Wilkinson to stop the ball. Head dishes to Augustine for the dunk. Illinois 69, Wisconsin 64 (2:19).

After missed three's by both teams (Chambliss and Brown) took another minute off the clock, the fouling began and Illinois went 6-of-8 on their free throws down the stretch. Game over.

What it means. The blowouts against Gonzaga, Wake Forest, and Cincinnati were nice for Illinois but make no mistake: this is their biggest win, the jeweled pivot around which the season may well turn. Dangers still loom, in the form of complacence, injury, and Michigan State. But that's precisely the point: Illinois now has its fate in its own hands. At 20-0 and 6-0 in conference, the Illini need to focus on this Saturday's home game against Minnesota. If they do, they can go to East Lansing next Tuesday night playing loose, knowing the worst morning-after outcome is a tie in the standings with the Spartans and a 21-1 record. Not a bad worst-case, that.

Three lessons to carry forward from last night:

1. This is not your father's Bo Ryan Wisconsin team. Illinois turned the ball over three fewer times than the Badgers and attempted eight more free throws. (Wisconsin recorded a woeful 5-of-12 from the line.) Make no mistake, the Badgers will do fine--winning at home and getting the road wins that they should get--and could still contend for the Big Ten title should Illinois slip. But, as detailed here, the Badgers were turning the ball over and making ruinous mental mistakes on defense during the two crucial second-half runs that won the game for Illinois. And that's not the Bo MO. With Tucker hobbled and a thin bench, they're not going to out-personnel anyone in the big games. They simply can't afford turnovers and defensive lapses.

2. Illinois can make in-season offensive adjustments. Faced with opponents determined to "take away the perimeter," the Illini showed last night they can take what's given them. The game was decided in the final four minutes on simple two-man sets run by Deron Williams and James Augustine, sets that resulted not in three-point attempts but in dunks. And Wonk sends out a special kudo to the much-maligned Augustine, often criticized for a lack of bulk. It was precisely Augustine's speed (he looked like Adrian Peterson when he faked the screen and cut to the basket) that enabled the Illini to make some of the night's most important plays.

3. The Illini need some Norman-Dale-variety drilling on defensive footwork. For the past few games we've been told that the high FG percentage that Illinois allows its opponents is a result of their high-risk, high-reward "double-trap" defense. Wonk says: Trap, schmap. The Illini were getting beat off the dribble one-on-one--and getting beat by the injured Alando Tucker and the time-lapse-photography-slow Mike Wilkinson. Illinois simply must work on their footwork on D. Maybe they've been counseled to avoid contact at all costs--to never even risk the charge--due to their thin ranks this year. But at times it was painful to watch. When Alando Tucker is literally grimacing in pain and limping one minute and beating you off the dribble the next, you have a problem. And the Illini made the tectonic Mike Wilkinson look like Dee Brown.

Wisconsin-Illinois links. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dale Hoffman says the Badgers' home winning streak "died at the hands of superior defense, not the law of averages. Home holds no comfort for teams that finish the last four minutes of a close game with one point." Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says "it took a great team that was highly motivated and playing extremely well" to end the Kohl streak. More Badger links here, here, here, and here.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti says it's "possible Illinois played its best against Wake Forest and Gonzaga in December. But give them this: They are surviving the dog days, the prime-time games, the harsh exams of winter in hostile environments." Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey says Illinois imposed "its will on a Wisconsin team that huffed and puffed and couldn't blow down the No. 1 team in the country. A 75-65 victory for the Illini. A great team winning a great college game." Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper says Illinois "showed iron-clad guts, steely determination and made a fabulous rush to the finish." Copley News Service columnist Mike Nadel says if the Illini "can win that game, they can win any game." More Illini links here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (Also: Lou Henson has decided he will attend this weekend's Centennial festivities in Champaign after all.)

Andy Katz of says "the knock has always been that there's a void on Illinois' bench....That might not be an issue anymore. Welcome Jack Ingram to the national stage." Luke Winn of says after "this win, the Illini are No. 1--with a renewed swagger." (Winn mistakenly says Iowa led Illinois by 13 in the second half Thursday night. It was the other way around.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan guard Daniel Horton has been suspended from the team indefinitely after being charged with domestic assault. (More here.) Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says Horton says his mother was herself a victim of domestic abuse. (The Wolverines play Michigan State tomorrow night in East Lansing. Spartans'-eye view of Courtney Sims and Brent Petway here.)

Minnesota hosts Indiana tonight in Minneapolis and for the first time this season the Gophers are daring to ponder what once seemed preposterous: they have a chance at making the NCAA tournament. Meantime Jeff Hagen remains wobbly due to an injured knee but Wonk says that before every game and Hagen always ends up playing. (Additional Gopher link here. Hoosier link here.)

Northwestern hosts Iowa tonight in Evanston. The Wildcats may be without the services of both Vedran Vukusic (injured shoulder) and Mike Thompson (suspended indefinitely for missing class). (Good preview at Hawkeye Hoops. Mainstream Hawkeye links here and here.)

Ohio State hosts Penn State tonight in Columbus. (Buckeye link here. PSU link here.)

Purdue hosts Wisconsin-Milwaukee tonight in West Lafayette. (Link here.)

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Wonk reader can see into the future! (Says next five Ben Stiller movies will be "derivative and lame")

I have read your blog for a while now, and I just wanted to take a few moments to drop you a note to thank you for your excellent work. Not only do you really know your basketball, but coupling that with a nice writing style makes for some enjoyable time-wasting while I am reading your blog.

I was a Student Manager at the University of Illinois during the Lou Henson era, the Flying Illini years, so I am an obsessive fan, to say the least. I am not in the business of making predictions (much like yourself--best illustrated by your multiple caveats in your Michigan St. vs. Wisconsin preview). Having said that, I suspect that the "Clockwork Orange" Illini are really geared up for tonight's game against Wisconsin, more so than most, as witnessed by some of the statements in the last couple weeks about hoping Wisconsin would beat Michigan St.

With the Centennial Celebration coming up this weekend, I would predict that if there is going to be another performance like the Iowa game, it would either be against Minnesota (who also ruined Coach Henson's final home game), or on the road against the Spartans (though we have owned them too).

To be quite honest, with the exception of Mark Tupper and John Supinie who cover them up close on a day to day basis, you seem to do the best analysis of where the Illini are and what to expect from them.

Keep up the great work!

J.D. A.

If your taste in blogs is as impeccable as the quality of your clairvoyance, Wonk is flattered. Thanks, J.D.!

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