Wonk is taking a long weekend and will return Tuesday See you then.
RewriteThe book says that Bo Ryan is inside Michigan State's head. That the Spartans can't win against ranked teams. And, most especially, that a team that rebounds like the Spartans can't possibly be as fast as the Spartans. But Michigan State, it would appear, is rewriting that book.The Spartans beat the Badgers 77-64 last night in East Lansing in a game that seemed almost unfair. Tom Izzo had an entire team at his disposal but for the balance of the evening it seemed Bo Ryan had only Mike Wilkinson, Alando Tucker, and Zach Morley. Take those three out of the box score and the Badgers are left with only 19 points.State, by notable contrast, comes at you in waves. If Wonk didn't already know the Spartans are a new kind of Tom Izzo team, your intrepid blogger got the message in the first half when, while Erin Andrews chatted amiably from the sidelines about this or that, Michigan State got out in transition off of a made free throw by Wisconsin. Call Wonk old-fashioned but I thought teams typically walk the ball up in this situation precisely because on any free throw attempt there's a player from the shooting team lingering at half court. Didn't stop State: Shannon Brown got to the other end and got the baseline before Wilkinson could close it off. Foul, two shots.And yet the Spartans aren't just a team that gets up the floor. They're a team that attacks the glass with ferocity and then gets up the floor. No offense against Paul Davis and Drew Neitzel, but Brown, Alan Anderson and Maurice Ager are the icons for what Wonk is talking about: guys who can touch the top of the backboard and beat you down the court. Wonk has said this before but it bears repeating: Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the Big Ten by far. The words "best rebounding team in the Big Ten" used to conjure a picture of wide bodies and slow games. No more.(Not that Tom Izzo's totally averse to kicking it old school in that department: wide-bodied Matt Trannon is averaging a notably robust four boards a game in less than 12 minutes per outing.) As for the Badgers, it is time to ask once again what this team is capable of doing outside of Madison. Aside from playing Illinois tough in Champaign, the record is not good: wins at Purdue, Michigan, and Penn State; 13-point loss at Indiana; 10-point loss at Minnesota; and now a 13-point loss at Michigan State. (Not to mention the ancient non-conference wounds: blowout losses at Marquette and at Pepperdine.) As a source of offense last night the Wisconsin backcourt was missing in action. And Wonk never thought he'd see the day when a Bo Ryan-coached Badger would blow a Fundamentals 101 play as badly as Andreas Helmigk blew the box-out on Drew Neitzel's missed free throw early in the second half. Paul Davis grabbed the rebound, made the putback, got fouled by Helmigk (not really but Helmigk had put himself in a position to be wronged), and made the three-point play. Helmigk did everything but install a paved driveway to the rim for Davis (THIS WAY TO REBOUND)--with all due respect to Davis, the Wonk Grandmother could have gotten that board. Wilkinson may have to play the whole 40 every night from here on out.No such worries for State, where no player averages more than 26 minutes. The Spartans are doubtless the most overlooked 20-4 and 11-2 team in conference history. Sure, the Big Ten's "down." But that's not the State's fault. They're anything but. BONUS note on being "down." At the risk of being heretical, the Big Ten was also "down" 29 years ago when a certain team went undefeated and won the national championship. The only ranked opponent that certain team faced that year in conference play was Michigan. True story: just one ranked opponent in-conference. And no one, rightly, criticizes that certain team for the failures of its opponents.Wisconsin-Michigan State links. Spartan hero Alan Anderson, he of the ridiculously gaudy stat line (28 points, 10-of-10 from the field, 7-of-7 from the line), says, "We had to have this game." (Bo Ryan saw Anderson's numbers after the game and said, and this is a quote, "Wow.") Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says "Anderson was the story of this game, but the great thing about this team is that he probably won't be the story of the next one. This team is so balanced, the school is replacing the Sparty mascot with the scales of justice." Paul Davis, who notched his fourth double-double in the last six games, says victory is sweet indeed after "taking crap left and right" for games not won. Columnist Todd Schulz of the Lansing State Journal says last night the Spartans "proved the outsiders wrong." Dave Dye of the Detroit News says: "Here's the streak that's important now: MSU has won six straight." Dye also points out that, within about a 24-hour period, "Michigan State's record against RPI top-50 teams improved from 2-3 to 5-3." How so? With their win at home over Iowa, Minnesota entered the ranks of the hallowed top 50 this week--and State's beaten the Gophers twice....Is Alando Tucker calling out some of his teammates? Kind of sounds like it: "Some of our guys weren't ready."EXCLUSIVE Wonk investigative report: Shame of a Nation, Day 433The diligent professionals at the Big Ten press offices continue to maintain a link on the conference's site 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 14 months or so. Watch for still more fast-breaking stories coming soon from the tireless scriveners at Big Ten HQ:"Surly veteran of national champion speaks out: Jerry Lucas says Kent Benson and the Hoosiers 'haven't done anything yet'" "Farewell to a legend: Indiana fans honor outgoing Purdue coach F. Homer Curtis with new kerosene lamp""Baseball star denies substance abuse: in angry rambling rant, Cap Anson says Lister's Carbolic Unguent is legal"Weekend preview....Wonk's going to take a long weekend and thus will not post his usual terse Saturday morning here-are-the-games edition. Um, so here are the games....Purdue hosts Minnesota tomorrow in West Lafayette. Very big game: Gene Keady's last in Mackey Arena. And the Gophers most likely must win to get to the tournament. Penn State hosts Iowa tomorrow in State College. The Hawkeyes are looking for their first conference road win. The Nittany Lions are looking to build momentum for next season.Northwestern hosts Michigan tomorrow night in Evanston. Tommy Amaker's team looks to win two in a row after snapping their ten-game losing streak. The Wildcats look to recover from Wednesday's blowout loss at Illinois.Indiana hosts Michigan State Sunday in Bloomington. Very big game: if the Hoosiers pull off the upset they will at one stroke have put themselves back into tournament consideration. If not, they leave themselves in a position where they must win their game against Wisconsin in Madison Tuesday night. And having to win a game in Madison's not a good position to be in.Ohio State hosts Wisconsin Sunday in Columbus. For the Badgers it's all about seeding: they need a win to avoid consecutive losses at a bad time of year and to shake the growing perception that they're harmless on the road. In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Indiana has been notified by the NCAA that its men's basketball team is not meeting required Academic Progress Rate (APR) standards, a finding that could in theory result in scholarship penalties in the future should the Hoosier fail to show any improvement in this area.Purdue coach Gene Keady says he's not looking forward to closing out the season with road games at Illinois and at Wisconsin...within 48 hours of each other: "I've been coaching for 25 years and how can the Big Ten double-punish us with that trip to Death Valley?" Andy Katz of espn.com pays tribute to Keady here.Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News is out with his weekly look at the Big Ten. The apparently indefatigable Spadafore also says Michigan's not going to make it to the NIT.Dave Dye of the Detroit News says Michigan State's MVP is Alan Anderson. (Bo Ryan would agree.)...Tom Izzo says he's learned to accept that a reasonable number of turnovers is a fact of life for an up-tempo team....Tripartite profile of three Spartan freshmen who are redshirting here.Meme du jour: Who can stop Illinois in the NCAA tournament? Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer looks at "16 teams that can beat Illinois." Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times also looks at some potential Illini-killers (and the RPI top-50)....The Dee-Brown-for-Big-Ten-MVP boomlet continues....Potential Illini all-bus-ride tournament run coverage here....Coverage of incoming Illini recruits here. Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! Latest update from longtime alert reader and die-hard Spartan fan Shawn Wonk,After weeks of extolling the virtues of your admittedly impressive Illini, I relish the opportunity to bask in the glory of a Spartan team that has finally come together exactly as we hoped they would.
The team has blossomed in a way that most of us Spartoons had not thought possible. Alan Anderson has taken over, Ager and Brown are remarkably consistent, and Davis has registered another quiet double-double. Moreover, I actually saw him clapping along with the Izzone tonight. It's a beautiful thing.
Regardless of what happens for the rest of the year, I'm proud of these guys for stepping up, playing hard, and knocking the Detroit media back on their heels. Nice job, gentlemen! On to the tourneys!
P.S. Excellent A.E. Housman reference this week! I did my thesis on him!Thanks, Shawn!
Republicans and Democrats, Red Sox and Yankees, Spartans and BadgersMichigan State hosts Wisconsin tonight in East Lansing in the latest installment of what has in three short years become the best rivalry in the Big Ten. "Their fans don't like us, our fans don't like them," says Tom Izzo correctly. The rivalry has the most important element for any such feud: both teams are good and have been so for a while now. The games mean something. Never mind the streaks (State's lost six in a row against the Badgers and 12 in a row against ranked teams). This game can be eagerly anticipated on its own merits....Bo Ryan's team is historically excellent at transition defense and that's precisely the first order of business for any team facing Michigan State's outstanding offense (fourth-best in the nation, behind only Wake Forest, Illinois, and North Carolina, according to Ken Pomeroy's points-per-possession-based ratings). The Badgers may have lost by ten to Illinois in Champaign a week ago Sunday but they allowed precisely 0 fast break points in the process. How will State react tonight if they're not running? More specifically, how will newly installed starting point guard Drew Neitzel react?These are the two best rebounding teams in the Big Ten but the difference between the first-ranked Spartans and the Badgers is far greater than that between Wisconsin and third-ranked Minnesota--Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the conference by a considerable margin. And the Spartans shoot a significantly better percentage from the floor than do the Badgers. State's playing at home--what could possibly swing this Wisconsin's way?Two things: 1) the aforementioned transition defense. Michigan State is shooting a nice percentage from the field in part (only in part) because of a nice number of fast-break dunks and lay-ups. The Badgers will try to shut off that faucet. 2) Turnovers. Michigan State averages almost 14 turnovers a game--not catastrophic, by any means, but not great, either. Again, Wonk wants to see how Neitzel reacts under the bright lights. This is by far his biggest start.Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are the three best teams in the conference and among those teams there are but five scheduled meetings this season. Tonight's the fifth. Wonk can't wait.Wisconsin-Michigan State links. The Detroit News has a handy chronology of both Michigan State's 12-game losing streak to ranked opponents and of the Spartans' six-game losing streak against the Badgers. Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal says Bo Ryan "has emerged as MSU fans' favorite villain."...Asked if he thinks Michigan State's players "hate" Wisconsin, Badger big man Mike Wilkinson replies: "'Hate' is a strong word. Maybe dislike a little bit."...Profile of Badger guard Kammron Taylor here....Badger big man Brian Butch is not expected to play. He is still recovering from his bout with mononucleosis.In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Minnesota beat Iowa 65-57 in Minneapolis last night. Absent a Big Ten tournament title, the Hawkeyes are going to the NIT for the fourth consecutive year. At 4-9, Steve Alford's team is alone in eighth place in the conference. The Gophers trailed in this game 36-31 with 14 minutes left but were propelled from that point by good shooting from an unlikely source: guard Aaron Robinson hit four second-half three's to lead Dan Monson's team on a 26-7 run. ("Every time I found A-Rob," offers Gopher wing Vincent Grier, "I said, 'Shoot it with confidence, baby.'") Grier had 17 points and Gopher big man Jeff Hagen added 17 rebounds, including 11 offensive boards. "They were hitting shots, and when they weren't hitting shots they were getting offensive rebounds," sums up Iowa guard Adam Haluska. Briskly done, Adam! Indeed, the Gophers recorded a robust 20 offensive boards on 46 opportunities. To Jeff Horner, though, "It's just another frustrating loss." Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler leads off this morning's commentary with an obituary for Iowa's NCAA hopes: "After battling a prolonged illness, Iowa's NCAA Tournament dream died Wednesday night. It was 26 games old." (Keeler keeps the shtick going through the third paragraph: "A preliminary autopsy showed the likely cause of death to be shoddy coaching, compounded by a thin bench, butterflies, sloppy ballhandling, lack of focus and non-existent outside shooting.") Minnesota plays at Purdue Saturday and at Penn State next Wednesday. If they win both, they will be in excellent position, at 10-6 in conference, to make the dance. If they lose one, they're probably on the outside looking in. Illinois beat Northwestern 84-48 in Champaign last night. The win clinches at least a share of the Big Ten title for the Illini, their fourth in five seasons. The Illini were at their ball-moving best (22 assists on 32 field goals--"best ball movement I've ever seen in my life," according to one observer named Dee Brown). On one memorable first-half sequence Wonk counted 14 passes leading to a wide open Brown three. Brown scored 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting (6-of-8 on three's) and Roger Powell recorded a double-double with 18 points and 10 boards. Illinois shot .593 from the field and .609 on their three's (14-of-23, coincidentally, the same line from beyond the arc recorded by Indiana in Ann Arbor the other day). Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch says Roger Powell "is a lot more important to this team than anyone has ever said." Couch's colleague at the Sun-Times, Herb Gould, says Brown is "playing his way into the Big Ten MVP hunt, which some experts have been conceding to Deron Williams or Luther Head." (Mark Tupper agrees.) As for Brown himself, he's bullish on the Illini. "We've got the things that make you win in March and April: Defense, free-throw shooting and rebounding." Wildcat coach Bill Carmody says Brown and Luther Head have elevated their games: "They've improved. Now they're two of the better long-range shooters in the league. No one thought that two years ago." (Carmody also dismissed talk that Illinois may not be the best team in the country: "If it's not the best team, we're in a lot worse shape than I thought.") Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that Illinois may not "have another game like this, and maybe the players sensed it."...Illinois players say they'll be cheering for Michigan State tonight in the Spartans' game against Wisconsin. A Michigan State loss tonight would give the outright Big Ten title to the Illini but the men in orange say they want to win it themselves on their home floor against Purdue next Thursday on Senior Night. Michigan beat Penn State 63-48 in Ann Arbor last night. Wolverine guard Dion Harris scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting. It was Michigan's first win since January 15 (also against Penn State--Tommy Amaker should schedule them more) and the home crowd responded with a standing ovation at the final horn. Afterward Amaker sounded relieved: "It's been a while since we could celebrate in the locker room and sing the Victors." (More here.)Indefatigable Indiana beat writer Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star has posted the latest installment of his outstanding "Ask the Expert" Q&A column. Kyle Whelliston has competition! Craig DeVrieze of the Quad City Times says a relative dearth of strength in the middle-sections of the "power" conferences has left some so-called mid-majors with some gaudy RPI's this year, including Vermont (RPI 13) and Southern Illinois (RPI 16), not to mention a more obvious program in Spokane.For what it's worth (and when you see that expression it means it's worth nothing), Frank Burlison of the Sporting News has chosen his 15 Wooden Award finalists and Illinois accounts for an impressive 20 percent of Burlison's picks. Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams all merit consideration, according to Burlison.Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! Whither Alford? Wonk,How close is "the enemy" to Steve Alford right now? (You remember his Des Moines Register interview...)I'd love to see you share some of your analysis on ole Steve sometime.Love the site. Great job.Will M.Wonk was intrigued by this email because your intrepid blogger opened it soon after last night's Hawkeye loss to Minnesota and thought: "Wow, that was fast." But closer scrutiny of the time revealed Will had sent this before the game.Small distinction but perhaps an important one: if Iowa had won last night they would stand an excellent chance of winning their remaining games (actually, they still do) and perhaps wriggling into the NCAA tournament at 8-8 and 20-9. But now they need to win the Big Ten tournament.Alford is 105-81 at Iowa (.565) and just 38-55 in conference (.409). Attendance has dropped at Hawkeye home games for four consecutive years to the point where now--again, on average--there are almost 4,000 empty seats in Carver-Hawkeye for every game. And the two-part two-year Pierre Pierce kerfuffle certainly did Alford no favors.The coach serves at the pleasure of his athletic director and his university. They will look at those facts and make their call. Wonk certainly claims no exclusive omniscience or even particular interest where Hawkeye AD Bob Bowlsby and his conscience are concerned. This blogger knows only that Tom Davis's few down years were the parentheses in a strong program--and that Alford was hired in Iowa City to take that strong program to the next level. No one, least of all Alford himself, is claiming he's done it yet. Whether he'll be given the opportunity to continue to try, well, we'll see.
The dawn of time: 1976The crack professionals on Wonk's Readership Demographics desk inform your intrepid blogger that a robust percentage of this blog's readers are in fact 28 or 29 years old. To these readers Wonk says: hitch up your Depend undergarments, turn up your Miracle Ears, and give Wonk whatever meager portion of your increasingly age-addled attention you can muster! You have doubtless looked on with increasing alarm over the past few weeks as the year of your birth, 1976, has come to be represented as an epoch as distant and inscrutable as the Bronze Age or perhaps even the era of "Family Guy"....Wonk refers, of course, to the many, many media invocations of Indiana's undefeated season in 1976. Maybe there were just as many of these invocations last February when St. Joe's was undefeated but if so Wonk has blocked out the memory. This year, with Illinois fast approaching March still undefeated, it feels like you can't swing a cat without knocking over three references to 1976. And so your intrepid blogger has three questions about this 1976-comes-to-2005 stuff....Isn't there any better footage? During last night's Purdue-Indiana game, ESPN ran footage of the 1976 Michigan-Indiana national championship game that looked like 16mm (silent!) film shot by a 1976-variety local news crew. The film was so grainy and dark Wonk could barely make out the short-shorts. Why is this? Contemporaneous sporting milestones have given us normal-looking archival video. Take Carlton Fisk's walk-off home run in Game 6 of the '75 World Series. That happened six months before Indiana's national championship game and that video looks normal. Is Wonk correct in understanding that NBC covered the Final Four back then and, if so, wouldn't they have the tape?Can we please interview someone other than Kent Benson? Bob Knight's center on that '76 team, Kent Benson, was a force of nature and a relentless embodiment of John-Wooden-like consistency. Wonk salutes this all-time-great Big Ten player. At the same time, this particular all-time-great has for whatever reason chosen to show an increasingly Mr.-Burns-like aspect to the world in interviews of late and your intrepid blogger feels like we pretty much have all the juice we're going to get from this particular orange: Illinois hasn't done anything yet. OK, got it. Now: what about Scott May or Quinn Buckner? Can we get their thoughts? (Here's a heretical thought. What about Knight?)Can we acknowledge the factors that might make an undefeated season more difficult now? Last night Jay Bilas of ESPN pointed out the '76 Hoosiers made their run in an era when opposing teams were populated with "junior and senior lottery picks." Fair enough. But are there not also countervailing forces at work today to make running the table a more formidable task? Wonk can think of two: 1) The dead weight of 29 years where no team has done it. Indiana, conversely, was duplicating a feat UCLA had pulled off more than once in the then-recent past. 2) The explosion of sports media coverage. Wonk doesn't wish to shock tender young readers but back in 1976 not every Indiana game was televised. No highlights. No cable sports. No discussion boards. Can it be: no...blogs? (O, the humanity!) Illinois, by notable contrast, is operating in a white-hot parse-every-syllable glare perhaps fully understood only by presidents, Beatles, Steve Bartman, and Melissa Theuriau. In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Indiana beat Purdue 79-62 in Bloomington last night. Hoosier fans gave Gene Keady an extended standing ovation before the opening tip. "The ovation was very much appreciated," Keady said afterward. "I'll remember it for a long time, but I'll remember the butt-kicking they gave us even longer." (Also on hand for the festivities last night was Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline, who thinks a chair flung at Keady would have been a more fitting tribute.) Led by 27 points from Bracey Wright, Indiana put up numbers last night that can only be termed Illinois-ish: .491 shooting from the field, .455 on their three's, and only eight turnovers. The Hoosiers put the game away early in the second half with a 20-0 run ("a very big run," Carl Landry called it with admirable understatement). Is this the start of something big for IU or a measure of last night's opponent? Wonk says: little of neither. Indiana will continue to live dangerously as long as Marshall Strickland gets minutes (Strickland had five of the Hoosiers' eight turnovers, albeit with six assists--he got yanked off the point and replaced with Robert Vaden) but your intrepid blogger continues to like the look of little-noted freshman A.J. Ratliff (15 points and 6-of-7 from the field last night). "Right now, our intensity and effort are better than ever," says Mike Davis. As for the Boilers, Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz surveys Keady's final tour of the Big Ten with sorrow: "By any measure, it's been an awful season, maybe the worst way Keady could leave the Big Ten scene." Columnist Tom Kubat of the Lafayette Journal and Courier says, considering the circumstances, Keady "was unbelievably mild mannered." Minnesota hosts Iowa tonight in Minneapolis, an event Wonk has chosen to christen Bubble Bowl I because, absent a Big Ten tournament title, the loser of tonight's game will not be in the NCAA tournament. Of course, the winner may not be, either.... For those just tuning in, the reason we're even discussing the tournament prospects of Iowa--a team that's 4-8 in conference and one game behind Northwestern in the standings--is their non-conference record. They entered Big Ten play 12-1, meaning, if they can somehow run the table over the next four games, their very mediocre 8-8 record in conference could be put alongside a more impressive 20-9 record overall. And that non-conference record includes wins over Louisville and Texas (when the Longhorns were healthy and whole).If the Hawkeyes can win their first Big Ten road game tonight they would indeed be in an excellent position to run said table. Their last three games are at Penn State and Michigan and at home against Ohio State. BONUS Wonk admonitory finger-waggling: that being said, never ever count wins in advance with a Steve Alford team. Keep in mind that Iowa, still with Pierre Pierce in the fold, lost at home to Michigan.And as for Minnesota, a win tonight would leave them in good shape, both mathematically and realistically, to reach the magic 10-6 mark in conference. Since the inception of the 16-game Big Ten schedule, 28 teams have finished 10-6 and 27 of them have received NCAA bids. (The only exception is the 2003 Michigan team which was ineligible for postseason play due to self-imposed Ed-Martin-related sanctions.)Iowa-Minnesota links. Start with the excellent game preview at Hawkeye Hoops, defining state-of-the-art in team blogs since 2004. And then: "The major issue we have not overcome this Big Ten season is not finishing out the last four minutes in a half, or the last four minutes in a game," says Steve Alford. Hawkeye guard Jeff Horner explains his team's road woes thusly: "It just seems when we go on the road, teams that we should beat are playing very well at the time." Those darn opponents! Meanwhile, Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press says the Gopher fans "who called for coach Dan Monson's job have been quieted." Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune points out that those few Gophers who were also around last year have really boosted their production this year--see the numbers here. (Tonight, by the way, is senior night for the Gophers.) Illinois hosts Northwestern tonight in Champaign. A win would clinch a share of the Big Ten title for the Illini. It would also eclipse the 27-0 start posted by the 1960-61 Ohio State Buckeyes. Former Buckeye and Boston Celtic great John Havlicek "has seen one Celtics game in person this year ('And please don't ask who they played'), parts of a few Ohio State games on TV and one Illinois game." So let's ask him what he thinks! ''These are days and nights that the members of the Illinois team, their coaches, their families and fans and everyone else around the program will never live through again. Revel in them, enjoy them and make more of them happen."...Northwestern beat Illinois by ten just thirteen short months ago and has won four of their last five games but Wildcat coach Bill Carmody is talking expectations down like a presidential candidate before a debate: "They're a much better team than they were last year. They're more confident. I don't know if we're as good as we were last year."...Bruce Weber says his team will be ready. "Northwestern is trying to make a run, get an NIT bid. Our kids are older and understand it." (Weber also notes that Vedran Vukusic is a tough match-up for the Illini.)...Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that Weber hopes to make "this season's unselfish share-the-ball mentality...a permanent cornerstone of the program."...Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the "Big Ten Conference MVP has come down to a three-player race and all three wear Illinois jerseys."...Profile of James Augustine here....Inveterate iconoclast Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald has penned what Wonk believes may well be the only Illini article all season with a reference to Liberace.Michigan hosts Penn State tonight in Ann Arbor. Wonk doesn't wish to spread alarm but after diligent research and profound deliberation your intrepid blogger believes one of these two teams stands an excellent chance of winning tonight's game. Wolverine guard Dion Harris, it would appear, literally cannot remember the last time his team won a game. (More links here and here.)Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talks up the Big Ten here. Meanwhile, speculation continues that Izzo's Spartans need a win tomorrow night against Wisconsin (the fabled Big Win) to boost themselves from a possible 4-seed to a possible 3.Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is rumored to have a strained relationship with Tom Izzo. But Mark Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says: forget those old fogies, the outcome of tomorrow night's game between the Spartans and the Badgers will have weighty consequences for both teams.Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates takes a page from Wonk's book this morning and scans the horizon eagerly, looking for a fourth conference team to take to the NCAA's. Oates doesn't like what he sees: "Except for unbeaten Illinois, which has more go-to guys than many NBA teams, the Big Ten is notably deficient in players who can break down defenses and create shots for themselves and others."The ACC, the Big Ten, and ESPN announced yesterday that the ACC-Big Ten Challenge has been extended through 2010 and that the new format will feature 11 games instead of nine. Despite a recent history of lopsided outcomes in favor of the ACC, the games continue to draw ever-larger viewing audiences. Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! Illinois: undroppable? Wonk, I have been reading your blog all year and really enjoy it. I have been an Illini fan for quite some time and am thrilled with this dream season. My question for you is this--if the Illini lose one of their last three regular season games, would anyone be justified in dropping them from the number one ranking? If a number one loses, it seems they always drop a slot or two and you have a new number one. But the way things have gone for the Illini this year, even if they lose a game now, I can't see putting any other team in front of them. Can you?
Mark T.To quote the immortal Sammy Davis, Jr.: Yes, I can, Mark! If Illinois lost tonight at home to Northwestern (RPI 145) or in a few days at home to Purdue (RPI 215), the writers who vote for the AP poll and the coaches who vote for the ESPN/USA Today poll would react with sheer unadulterated horror (yes, Edvard Munch-level horror). A road loss to Ohio State (RPI 54) would be less shocking but still enough to bounce the Illini from the top spot.One of the nice side benefits of having more blogs on college hoops has been the opportunity it's provided for things like the AP poll to be demystified. Take Jeff Shelman's blog. Shelman is an AP voter and he posts his choices each week, often with an explanation of how tough the exercise really is. (Try it: rank 25 teams correctly and don't leave anyone out.)So polls aren't the apodictic truth. Nor are they Archimedean verdicts on a team's intrinsic worth. They are instead a reflection of current thinking. And if Illinois lost to one of those teams the current thinking would change. (But not enough to jeopardize a 1-seed in the tournament.)
Gene KeadyPurdue plays at Indiana tonight and, barring unforeseen events in the Big Ten tournament, this will be the last game between these two erstwhile rivals during Gene Keady's tenure as coach of the Boilermakers. It seems as good a time as any for a blog devoted to Big Ten basketball to recognize the man who's prowled the sidelines in West Lafayette for 25 years.
Wonk has no long flowery tribute to offer. Merely what I know and what I remember about Keady....That for far too long, he made my life as an Illinois fan miserable. Every fan scans the schedule of their team in advance and does a quick mental calculation of the likely W's and L's. For many, many years, the date at Mackey Arena was calculated in my book as a likely L.That he coached the player who to this day is still the single most dominant scorer Wonk has ever seen in Big Ten play, Glenn Robinson.That, in addition to the above paragraph being true, Keady's "best" players were most often in the Brad Miller/Brian Cardinal mold--players who weren't necessarily the most talented but ones who left it all on the court. (And yet look at those "not so talented" millionaires now.)That for many years his teams were instantly recognizable as coached by Keady: tenacious defense; rebounding with a vengeance; and tough screens and constant motion on offense.That he went from being a high school coach in Beloit, Kansas, to the Elite Eight.That, for all the talk of his recent struggles, Keady is still the last opposing coach to walk in to Assembly Hall in Champaign and walk out with a win.That he is a spontaneous and witty guy in a profession that seems to be trending toward cautious corporate types.And that, primarily for this last reason, he will be genuinely missed by this blogger. Best wishes, Coach.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 and, no, the top three aren't alphabetized. This is the actual order of finish for the week, with the top three separated by mere hundredths of a point: Top 20 PPWS 1. James Augustine, Illinois (1.38) 2. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.38) 3. Kelvin Torbert, Michigan State (1.38) 4. Luther Head, Illinois (1.32) 5. Carl Landry, Purdue (1.32) 6. Brent Lawson, Minnesota (1.28) 7. Alan Anderson, Michigan State (1.28) 8. Maurice Ager, Michigan State (1.27) 9. Jeff Hagen, Minnesota (1.27) 10. Roger Powell, Illinois (1.26) 11. J.J. Sullinger, Ohio State (1.26) 12. Adam Haluska, Iowa (1.25) 13. Michael Jenkins, Northwestern (1.24) 14. Courtney Sims, Michigan (1.24) 15. D.J. White, Indiana (1.24) 16. Vince Scott, Northwestern (1.23) 17. Chris Hill, Michigan State (1.23) 18. A.J. Ratliff, Indiana (1.22) 19. Aaron Robinson, Minnesota (1.22) 20. Clayton Hanson, Wisconsin (1.22) Bottom 20 PPWS 1. Ben Luber, Penn State (0.81) 2. Nick Smith, Illinois (0.86)3. Brandon McKnight, Purdue (0.87) 4. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State (0.88) 5. Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota (0.91) 6. Roderick Wilmont, Indiana (0.91) 7. Mike Henderson, Iowa (0.92) 8. Andreas Helmigk, Wisconsin (0.93) 9. David Teague, Purdue (0.95) 10. Dion Harris, Michigan (0.95) 11. Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Ohio State (0.95) 12. Gary Ware, Purdue (0.96) 13. Jamar Butler, Ohio State (0.97) 14. Xavier Price, Purdue (0.97) 15. Dan Coleman, Minnesota (0.98) 16. Marshall Strickland, Indiana (0.99) 17. Tim Doyle, Northwestern (0.99) 18. Warren Carter, Illinois (1.00) 19. Erek Hansen, Iowa (1.01) 20. Aaron Johnson, Penn State (1.02) What it means. Give James Augustine 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll likely score about 20 points. Give Ben Luber 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 James Augustine and Kelvin Torbert, your intrepid blogger directs your attention to the other three names in the top five: Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Carl Landry. 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 consistent scoring threat on his team. What a gamer. Prodigious and efficient scorers Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Carl Landry, Wonk salutes you!In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Indiana hosts Purdue tonight in Bloomington. Gene Keady is 6-17 lifetime at IU--but one of those six wins, of course, furnished the impetus for one of the most famous set-pieces in college hoops history: Bobby Knight throwing a chair on the court in disgust as his Hoosiers go down to defeat against the Boilermakers, February 23, 1985. (And which Boilermaker was at the free-throw line when the chair was thrown? Link here and all will be revealed.) As for tonight's game, Wonk trusts no furniture will be hurled, however....Looking back on the rivalry, Keady offers what could almost be a credo for his career: "I remember the technicals and the hard-fought games."...After injuring his knee in practice last Friday and being limited to his most ineffective outing of the year Saturday against Michigan State, Purdue big man Carl Landry says he's good to go: "85-to-90 percent," according to his own self-assessment....Jeff Washburn of the Lafayette Journal and Courier says the Indiana-Purdue rivalry isn't the same without Knight. Boilermaker head-coach-in-waiting Matt Painter agrees: "It has lost its sting."...As for the Hoosiers, they say they'll be ready tonight, even with just one day of rest since Sunday's victory in Ann Arbor against Michigan. "Normally, it might take a lot out of us having a quick turnaround like that," says Robert Vaden. "But this is Purdue."Former Minnesota coach Clem Haskins says he will be in attendance Saturday when the Gophers play at Purdue. Haskins says he will be there at the invitation of Gene Keady, who will be coaching his last game in Mackey Arena. Dan Monson's predecessor hasn't seen a Minnesota game since he was fired after the 1999 season amid an academic fraud scandal that ultimately resulted in NCAA sanctions. Haskins served under Keady for two seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky....St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Charley Waters looks at the suddenly available former coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves and says, no, Flip Saunders will not replace Dan Monson as coach at the University of Minnesota. No one will, Waters says: Monson's staying....Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse says Monson was wise to play a relatively soft non-conference schedule back in November and December....Monson says his team knows it will have a tough game against Iowa tomorrow night because the Minnesota players remember how the Hawkeyes (albeit with Pierre Pierce) were able to contain Vincent Grier in Iowa City in January. "They were the first team to have done that this year."Iowa coach Steve Alford says he's not concerned about his job security. "That’s just not something I worry about." Alford also says his team needs to make its case for a tournament bid in the next two-and-a-half weeks. "I'm going to continue to push guys like Greg (Brunner) and Jeff (Horner) and Adam (Haluska), guys that are veterans of playing at this level, and I demand more of them. I've got to be tougher on them. But I also want them to know it's nothing personal, and I really appreciate what they're giving." Nevertheless, the Hawkeye coach says his team would accept an NIT bid if Iowa doesn't make the NCAA tournament. "I wouldn't think we'd ever turn down postseason play."Illinois guard Deron Williams denied a report yesterday by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney that he "already has decided he will hire an agent and leave school." "That's not true,'' Williams said. "I don't know where that came from. I'm worried about the season right now. After the season, I'll decide that." Williams has said that he will go pro if he's projected as a first-round pick. Deveney's item quoted "one scout" as saying Williams would likely be a 15 to 25 pick in the first round....Bruce Weber is said to be "furious" about the timing of an article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune which revisited the November 2003 break-in at a University of Illinois apartment and Luther Head's alleged involvement in the burglary....Weber will be on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" today at 5 Eastern....Weber and his players say that in the event of a win tomorrow night at home against Northwestern, there will be no celebration--even though a win will clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title for the Illini....Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald gets to stretch out a little bit and delivers 1,000 words from behind the scenes at an Illinois practice.Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline looks at Michigan State and says "Illinois is better than Michigan State, but then, Illinois is better than everyone in college basketball." Conclusion? "Don't go to sleep on Michigan State, which hasn't received enough credit for being what it is: one of the handful of teams, non-Illinois division, with the talent and depth to win the national championship."...Tom Izzo says his top-10 team is held in higher regard by national media than by local media. Does that bother him? Heck, no! "I'm going to do the opposite of Tom Izzo. I'm going to start focusing more on the positive things that have happened."...Kelvin Torbert is in a rare shooting slump, going just 2-of-14 on his three's over the past four games.Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan says his team is ready as it embarks on a demanding stretch where the Badgers will play three games in six days. "You just play it....It's all TV and everything else that sets it up. We don't have any control." Wisconsin plays at Michigan State Thursday night, at Ohio State Sunday, and then returns to Madison to host Indiana one week from tonight.Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg says suspending Michigan guard Daniel Horton for the rest of the season was the right thing to do. Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! The alert readers are still all "discoursey for DeCourcy"! Wonk received many, many interesting emails in response to Friday's interview of Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News. So here's another one....Wonk,
I discovered your blog a few weeks ago when it was mentioned by one of the SI or ESPN writers, and have been really enjoying it ever since.
Great interview with Mike DeCourcy today. As an Illini alum in Arizona, I have often wondered about the “East Coast bias” allegation. I always thought it had a lot to do with the time difference – that a lot of West coast games are still going on by the time the East coast writers are finishing their stories. What Mike pointed out about the Pac-10’s TV rights was an angle I hadn’t heard before and makes perfect sense. I personally am sick of hearing about the ACC and Duke in particular, and took great satisfaction in Illinois’ dismantling of Wake Forest at the start of the season.
There’s a pretty good Illini connection here in Phoenix, with Jerry Colangelo, former owner of the Phoenix Suns whose son Bryan is the GM, and Eddie Johnson (my Illini classmate) one of the Suns commentators. I think there are some parallels between the Suns and the Illini – they both have great athletes who like to push the pace, don’t have a lot of height (at least among those getting the most minutes), play very unselfishly, and are great fun to watch. I think the Illini are going to do much better in the postseason, however.
Keep up the great work!
Beth K.Thanks, Beth! Interesting parallel. Wonk thinks Illini fans wouldn't mind having Amare Stoudemire in orange. (Bearing in mind, of course, that the NBA All-Star is younger than either Jack Ingram or Nick Smith. Amazing.)PPWS for other conferences? Is this allowed?Wonk,I enjoy the weekly update of your PPWS stats for the league. Do you have any information for comparison from the other leagues? As a Spartan fan, I'm interested to know if anyone out there is bettering Kelvin Torbert's mark!
I greatly enjoy the blog. Thanks for the highly entertaining work. Jeff K. in upstate NYThanks, Jeff! Wonk regrets to inform you, however, that, as seen in today's post, Torbert's recent slump has dropped him to third in the Big Ten in PPWS. As for other conferences, Wonk ran some famous names just to see where they fall out--call it PPWS for random big names:Salim Stoudamire, Arizona (1.46)Andrew Bogut, Utah (1.37)Ike Diogu, Arizona State (1.34)Shelden Williams, Duke (1.28)J.J. Redick, Duke (1.25)Raymond Felton, North Carolina (1.25)Sean May, North Carolina (1.24)Rashad McCants, North Carolina (1.23)Wayne Simien, Kansas (1.21)Hakim Warrick, Syracuse (1.20)Francisco Garcia, Louisville (1.20)Taylor Coppenrath, Vermont (1.19)Gerry McNamara, Syracuse (1.12)Lawrence Roberts, Mississippi State (1.08)Conclusion: Stoudamire is having a year for the ages.
Need a fourth?Just 20 days to go until selection Sunday and, like a desperate threesome on the first tee, the Big Ten is still tapping its foot nervously and watching for a fourth team to join Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin as sure-thing's for tournament bids. Don't get Wonk wrong: a fifth such team would be wonderful--as would a sixth and indeed (like the old days) a seventh. But your intrepid blogger, dedicated blogospheric servant that he is, deals in facts and the fact right now is that only three teams have secured bids. As a matter of appearances, a fourth would be nice.And so your intrepid blogger has a suggestion for fans of the conference: come Thursday morning, root for the winner of Wednesday's Minnesota-Iowa game. Now, let Wonk be plain: this blogger has nothing at all against, say, Indiana and, indeed, would be thrilled to pieces if all three of the above made the tournament. But....1) As of this morning Indiana has an RPI (81) that makes on-lookers turn away in Edvard Munch-level horror--doubtless the selection committee will do the same (if they even get as far as looking). And their 7-5 record in conference is nice (as was their road win at Ann Arbor yesterday--see below) but keep in mind that to this point far they've played the big three of Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin a grand total of...twice. That's about to change as the Hoosiers host the Spartans and then journey to Madison in the next eight days. (Minnesota and Iowa, by teachable contrast, have each played four games against those three teams and are safely past that section of their schedules.)2) At 67, Iowa's RPI is but 14 places higher than the Hoosiers'--less horrifying at first blush, granted, but still in the highly-questionable 60s. Not to mention the following NC-17 fact that's going tactfully unmentioned but that Wonk feels should be brought before the public in a responsible and mature fashion: as of this weekend Iowa is actually a game behind Northwestern in the Big Ten standings. So Wednesday's game between the Hawkeyes and the Gophers (RPI 54) is shaping up as a true Bubble Bowl: the loser will not make the tournament (unless they win the Big Ten tournament).Here's how we got to this point.... Indiana beat Michigan 70-63 in Ann Arbor yesterday in a game that bids fair to win this blogger's 1997 Florida Marlins Commemorative Fluke Award. Stat-watchers such as Wonk don't wish to admit that such things exist but here, truly, was a game indicative of absolutely nothing, to wit: the Hoosiers shot .609 on their three's (not a typo--they were 14-of-23). Not bad for a team that entered the weekend as the worst team in the conference at shooting three's. (This single game lifted them to ninth.) And inside the arc Indiana was just 7-of-23 (.304). Errek Suhr (yes, Errek Suhr) entered the game with six career points. He was 3-of-4 on his threes. Marshall Strickland came in shooting .265 on his three's. He went 4-of-6 from behind the arc. Tommy Amaker wins this week's Bob Newhart Award for outstanding achievement in the field of understatement for this sum-up: "Indiana's ability to hit three-point shots was a key." "Amazing," Hoosier beat writer Terry Hutchens says of IU's sudden accuracy in this morning's Indianapolis Star. Hutchens' colleague at the Star, columnist Bob Kravitz, says this Indiana team is still alive: "Barely." At least until tomorrow night's game between the Hoosiers and Purdue, Michigan is all alone in tenth place in the conference, above only Penn State. "It's been a motivating factor every time we lose a game," said Wolverine big man Brent Petway after the game. By that metric, Michigan--having lost ten straight--is now one of the most highly motivated teams in the country. Former Wolverine great Glen Rice was honored at halftime of yesterday's game and his jersey was retired. Michigan played having just learned that guard Daniel Horton's suspension will be carried through to the end of this season. Columnist Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News cries foul: "I'm impressed by the way [Michigan] stood up for a principle. I'd be more impressed if they also stood up for the player, who had never been in trouble with the law." Illinois beat Iowa 75-65 Saturday in Iowa City. This game's being compared to the one played between the same two teams in Champaign January 20. It shouldn't be. The Hawkeyes may "match up well" with the Illini and it certainly looked that way a month ago when Steve Alford's team limited the men in orange to .328 shooting from the field. Funny thing about Saturday's game, though: with the exceptions of rebounds and opponent FTA's (see below), Illinois pretty much had its normal numbers. Bruce Weber will take 10 turnovers and 75 points on .481 shooting on the road any day. So why was this contest so close (just a two-point game with four minutes left)?1) Because Illinois, a slightly better rebounding team than Iowa, got absolutely hammered on the boards, 36-21. Watching this strange twist of fate occur, Wonk thought of the CSTV behind-the-scenes look at the Illini (due to be aired next month), in which Bruce Weber is seen going ballistic in practice and screaming: "Is it written somewhere that Illinois guards don't have to rebound?" Nor do the non-James-Augustine Illini bigs escape blame: Augustine had eight boards; no one else in orange had more than three. Roger Powell has an excuse: he played just 11 minutes. But Jack Ingram, Nick Smith, and Warren Carter (given minutes due to Rich McBride's flu-like symptoms) between them totaled 37 minutes and only four boards. Unconscionable.2) Iowa shot 26 free throws. Which doesn't sound like all that many (and indeed Illinois shot 23) until you remember that the Hawkeyes attempted only 43 field goals (even with all those rebounds) in a game with 140 total points. If they hadn't given the visitors 21 turnovers, Iowa was on course to shoot an honest 30-plus FTA's. (By "honest" Wonk means uninflated by late hacking by an opponent trying to come from behind.) And, make no mistake, they need those trips to the line. Wonk suddenly understands Alford's owlish fascination with FTA's and his ritual complaints after road losses about his team not getting enough of them. But your intrepid blogger worries about the effect this stratagem is having on the Hawkeyes: they play very much like a team looking to outside forces (e.g., refs) to help them out--instead of like a team (e.g., Illinois) looking to get the damn W no matter what. BONUS puzzling over Haluska. Wonk has already been known to wonder aloud about Adam Haluska's strange lack of court sense. Well, your intrepid blogger herewith wonders again. I am told the guy is an Iowa high-school hoops (and track) legend but at times he looks for all the world like some Belgian prodigy who was just introduced to the game two years ago. The latest example being his two very odd fouls on Dee Brown on breakaways. These Basketball 101 lapses were more aesthetically jarring than truly harmful (together the two miscues cost the Hawkeyes one point) but, still, in what Iowa was hoping was going to be a close game they were very prominent indeed.Steve Alford does Wonk's job! Check it out: "We threw about everything we had at them. We made more free throws than they did and we outrebounded them by 15, but they still beat us by 10. They just don’t seem to feel any pressure.” So how'd the Illini do it, Coach? "One team turned it over 11 more times. You can't give the No. 1 team 11 more times to score; that's too much for our team to overcome." Briskly done, Steve! That about sums it up. Columnist Pat Harty of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, conversely, does not share Wonk's high opinion of Alford's skills at summation. "Just when you think [Alford] has said the wrong things at the wrong time for the last time," Harty writes, "he does it again." Specifically, Harty thinks Alford is deflecting blame when he utters the following observation: "Good teams, good players, they find a way to make plays, and we've got to learn those things." Meanwhile Harty's colleague at the Press-Citizen, Hawkeye beat writer Susan Harman, says Illinois "met every challenge with poise born of experience, talent and confidence."Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that Saturday's game included what for him will be remembered as the play of the year for these Illini: with three minutes to play in the game, Luther Head deflected a Hawkeye inbound pass and then saved it from going out of bounds by flipping it back over his head. From there Augustine outjumped two Iowa players to tap it to Deron Williams. Williams bumped it ahead to Brown. Brown made the fast-break layup and was fouled by Haluska. Not a bad choice by Tupper....The indefatigable Tupper doesn't just blog, he writes a column! In yesterday's piece, Tupper talks about Nick Smith: inappropriately loquacious with his laments of too little playing time earlier in the week, needlessly silent in heroic victory Saturday afternoon. Alas. (More coverage of the strong silent Smith here and here.)Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Downey says this game "was a little more exciting than the Exciting Illini would have liked it to be. It was one of their poorest performances and one of their tightest games from beginning to end." "Credit Dee Brown, who's hot," says Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times, "and Nick Smith, who has been feeling left out in the cold, for making the big plays down the stretch." Steve Alford says the Hawkeyes have been able to hang with the Illini and their "war-tested" backcourt twice this season largely because they've contained Roger Powell....Deron Williams admits he, too, has been surprised by this team. "At the start of the year, I don't think there was any way to think we'd be undefeated at this point."...Bill Liesse of the Peoria Journal Star says he knows Illini-mania is reaching truly Beatles-in-'64 proportions because "half the autograph seekers in Saturday's postgame wore gold and black." Liesse also says the adulation is deserved because the Illinois guards are without equal: "Be honest, now. Can anyone picture any of Illinois' guards panicking like UNC's Ray Felton did on the last possession at Duke?" Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti still thinks it would be best for Illinois to lose a game before the big dance. This time he advances the theory that the media coverage of an undefeated team (including scrutiny of its less sunny aspects--see next paragraph) will quickly intensify to the point where it could engulf the heretofore happy Illini. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune takes another look at the November 2003 "incident" in which Luther Head allegedly participated in a break-in at an off-campus apartment. "The contrast," Haugh notes, "between the way Illinois coach Bruce Weber handled the incident—he suspended Head and two teammates for four games but welcomed them back to the team—and the disposition of criminal cases involving other Big Ten basketball players is still bothersome to some people." WANTED: An Iowa media guru, to explain to Wonk how in the world the Des Moines Register could have only this wire story on its website as late as mid-day Sunday when the number 1 team in the nation has played a road game against the state's flagship university. (Since then, the Register has at last posted this write up from its beat writer--but why the delay?) The last time your intrepid blogger noted such a coverage anomaly in our Big Ten hoops world, it had taken place in the byzantine world of Detroit media and the explanation (befuddling to the not-very-bright Wonk yet transparently obvious to many alert readers who chimed in with an avalanche of emails) involved something about overlapping newspaper ownerships, joint operating agreements, the Bretton Woods Agreement, and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. I'm sure something equally odd yet locally understood is at work in this instance. But what is that exactly? Clue me in!BONUS note about the showers. Just about every story on this game mentions the fact that the Illini had no hot water at their Iowa City hotel Saturday morning. Wonk demands a full investigation! Three years ago your intrepid blogger lived in Sacramento when the Lakers came to town for the Western Conference Finals and Kobe Bryant was seriously slowed for game 2 because of a bad cheeseburger he ordered from room service at a downtown Sacramento hotel. The subsequent coverage and investigation of this episode was perhaps equaled in modern times only by the Starr Report. Wonk confidently awaits the similarly-sized onslaught of second-wave stories here.Minnesota beat Ohio State 52-50 in Minneapolis Saturday. The Buckeyes shot just .358 from the field, were outrebounded by 13, and attempted (per usual for Thad Matta's team) only eight free throws. Yet they only lost by two. For their part the Gophers recorded a notable eight blocks. Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan says the Gophers are OK with winning ugly, which is why Jeff Hagen "is their perfect poster player." Souhan's colleague at the Star Tribune, Jeff Shelman, says "when a game is seemingly played in mud, the Gophers probably are going to win." Michigan State beat Purdue 68-57 in West Lafayette Saturday. Carl Landry was hobbled by an injured knee suffered in practice the day before and was limited to just seven points, a season-low. Gene Keady termed his team's performance "embarrassing." "We lacked making that one big play," said Purdue guard David Teague. The home loss ensures that the Boilers will post their first losing season at home in the history of the 38-year-old Mackey Arena. (The game served as a reunion for many former Boilers who returned to Mackey to honor Keady. No-shows included Glenn Robinson and Brian Cardinal.) Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says for Matt Painter to turn things around in West Lafayette, he needs to start keeping the in-state talent in-state....Indefatigable Detroit News Spartan beat writer Dave Dye points out that State's won five games on the road in conference by an average of over 15 points. Chris Hill says quieting a crowd on the road is as good as it gets: "That's one of the best feelings. To be on the road and be able to hear silence." Drew Neitzel scored a career-high 10 points and self-assesses: "I'm playing my best ball." Northwestern beat Penn State 54-39 Saturday in Evanston, the latest in a series of archetypal Welsh-Ryan Arena scores. In what turned out to be a futile attempt to shake things up, PSU coach Ed DeChellis shuffled his lineup and gave first-ever starts to who-dat's Kevin Fellows and Jason McDougald. The Wildcats can still qualify for the NIT if they win two of their final four games.In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline weighs in on this fourth-bid stuff that's got Wonk so intrigued and says: Iowa's done but Minnesota is still alive.Illinois coach Bruce Weber says he wants Dee Brown to cut down on the fouls....Skip Myslenski of the Chicago Tribune looks at "other contenders" for the national championship here. (No, Wonk doesn't understand the list, either. At first I thought it was comprised of teams that could end up in the same regional as the Illini but then I saw Michigan State. Maybe the print edition explains the rationale behind this odd piece?)...Illinois says it's taking its next three opponents seriously, etc., etc....The Illini are rewriting the record book, etc., etc. Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! The alert readers are all "discoursey for DeCourcy"!Wonk received many, many interesting emails in response to Friday's interview of Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News. Your intrepid blogger will try to work as many of them in this week as practicable. Here's a taste....Wonk,Great interview. Great blog. I think the point by DeCourcy about UNLV '91 was right on the mark. Skip Prosser made a point earlier this year about enjoying the season, during a campaign where Wake fans are probably just as desperate to win a title as the Illini. Roy Williams, when asked about his 1997 Kansas team and whether that team was successful, noted that they only lost two close games, one in overtime, had success in the classroom and sent several players to the NBA. Yes, I'd say that season was one of the greatest of all time. Somehow, in the minds of the media, a close loss in the Elite Eight makes one a loser.Statistically, this is rubbish. Illinois fans need to know that as long as this team makes it to the Elite Eight, which I think they will, that this season has been fantastic. After that, there is too little to separate the top teams (barring early round upsets) to take the final results too seriously. Statisticians can chime in, but I believe the concepts of probability indicate that both luck and skill are necessary unless there is a huge talent gap. The 1976 Indiana team had 2 starters on the Olympic team. The 1973 UCLA team had Bill Walton and Keith Wilkes in the starting line-up. Both won fairly easily. Fast-forward to 1982. UNC had James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan on the same team and barely won, and almost lost in Charlotte against James Madison University. While there is no longer a hard stall in college ball, top teams must now contend with more talent spread more evenly, as well as the 3 point shot, which adds another level of variability.Another issue is when do certain teams peak. UConn has an amazing amount of talent and athleticism on their club, maybe more than Kansas or UNC. Will they be ready? Probably not. Did the Illini peak too early? Maybe. Nevertheless, it is impossible at this point, to tell if Illinois is better than the rest of the top five. That is why many of us enjoy the Sagarin and Pomeroy ratings so much, and which indicate that Illinois may be a hair better than another team that appears on ESPN more often than the Illini. Illini fans do seem a tad defensive if anyone questions whether some other team might be just as good or better.Illinois is probably the coolest team this year, which is always a lot of fun to be, so Illini fans should relish that and really try to enjoy this amazing, efficient ballclub. One final note, after re-analyzing the Wake-Illinois box score, I find it difficult to surmise how Wake could ever beat Illinois, even in a re-match in St. Louis. Blow-outs involving equal teams often involve a string of five or six 3-pointers, or massive turnovers, leading to one team becoming discouraged, sort of like the Villanova-Kansas game. That is not what appears to have happened in the Wake game. Both Illinois and Wake are excellent 3-point shooting teams and that part of the game was fairly equal. (10-24 for Wake, versus 11-26 for Ill.). Rebounds and turnovers were also essentially equal. Wake made five more free throws. Perhaps the key stat is that Illinois had nine more assists. Match-ups often make games--like Frazier, Ali, Foreman, where A beats B and B beats C and C beats A. I don't know how Wake could change this result if they play the Illini again, even on a neutral court. Now as for Kansas or Carolina or Duke, who knows. I have not heard many Wake fans clamoring for a second shot at the Illini, the way UNC fans are itching to play Duke and Wake again after highly contested losses. Wake has a great shot at winning it all, but I think they are hoping that someone else can take out the Illini.Regards,William L.Thanks, William!DATELINE: the shallow end of the Gene PoolLong-time alert reader Dave N., die-hard Michigan State fan that he is, made the trip to West Lafayette for Saturday's game against Purdue. He files this report on observing the twilight of a legend....Wonk,The Sparties controlled the whole way and, unlike last year's game, the final result was never in doubt. Purdue came out playing well on the defensive end, but unfortunately for them so did State (which Izzo said was the best tribute the team could pay to Keady--true, but I can hear Keady saying: thanks!).Stationed, as I was, at the furthest point possible away from Gene Keady (and unable to ascertain a way down to floor level), I still do not know if he is actually bald or not. The scene that occurred when he got T'd up, though, gives some evidence that he really doesn't have any hair (or conversely has a pomade that doubles as super glue!). Upon learning he'd been assessed a technical he went into his usual semi-burlesque disrobe with half-twist. At this point I fixed my eyes upon his GLORIOUS DOME and was not able to ascertain a single hair move; not even slightly! Wonder of wonders, Gene has been deceiving us all: perhaps his coiffure is really a tattoo, or perhaps something even more exotic! Unfortunately I will not be able to find out until he begins his second career: male stripper. I mean come on, the deftness with which he removed that size 48 sport coat; the half-twist (on one leg mind you) is sure to drive the women wild. Gene, basketball's loss is every woman's gain and I support your new life. Mackey was great--quaint and not a bad seat in the house. It really is too bad that Keady has to go out like this. Hopefully he can take one last game at home next Saturday. Nuff said, take care. Dave N.Well done, Dave!