Big Ten Wonk
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Drama, magnitude and finality
The tournament starts in earnest today when Kentucky tips off against Eastern Kentucky in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

And so at 12:20 EST begins the best sporting event of the year. By far....

Every November, when college football is noisily twisting itself into bewildering BCS knots trying to determine who will play for the national championship, Wonk thanks the bracket gods for giving us such a beautifully Euclidean way of determining who will play for the national championship.

Every May and June, when the NBA inflicts upon us "playoffs" that occupy about as much time as the Crimean War (Wonk especially appreciates the four-day pauses between first-round games, drawing out the suspense of that tense San Antonio vs. Denver series), this blogger thanks the bracket gods for giving us such a tidy three-week method of going from 300+ to 65 to 1.

Every January-February, when the NFL presents a Super Bowl that feels so oddly disconnected from and unrelated to an actual football game, Wonk thanks the bracket gods for giving us tournament games that are the very epitome of college hoops (Laettner, Drew, et. al.)

Every October when baseball gives us its best games in indigestible four-hour slabs in the dark of late-night in game-altering 30-degree weather, Wonk thanks the bracket gods for selecting their champion in two-hour installments in precisely the right game-enhancing venues (neutral floors, opposing fans, opposing bands).

And every October 15, this blogger thanks the bracket gods for starting the cycle anew.

"Drama, magnitude and finality"? It's lifted from those erstwhile wordsmiths at the Supreme Court, ruling against President Truman some 53 years ago. Wonk thinks the Supremes of a half-century ago would happily concede that theirs is a better description of March Madness than of what they thought they were describing (the presidency).

Starting today, each game is the most important game of the year. Each game eliminates one more team. And there is one fewer game than there are teams.

As of this morning, it's all still in front of us. Nice moment, this.

BONUS first-round Thursday quizzical musing! Why does Kentucky so often play in the tournament's first non-play-in game? Does Wonk's memory deceive him or was not their close scrape against St. Bonaventure in 2000 also the first Thursday game?

(7) Cincinnati (24-7) vs. (10) Iowa (21-11)
RCA Dome, Indianapolis (2:40pm EST)
There is quite little to be added to the customarily outstanding game previews (here and here) posted by blogger Ryan at Hawkeye Hoops. For those alert readers too sedentary to reach all the way over to that mouse way over there and link, here's Ryan's take in a nutshell:

The Bearcats' strength is their rebounding and they do not rely solely on Jason Maxiell for their boards. Far from it. One key for the Hawkeyes will therefore be keeping the newly-bald rebounding machine known as Greg Brunner on the floor and out of foul trouble (and, just as important, keeping the unbald no-rebound machine known as Erek Hansen firmly on the bench)--no small task since Maxiell, Brunner's likely assignment on D, is very good at getting fouled.

Wonk would only add a couple after-dinner mints to Ryan's hearty fare: Iowa guard Mike Henderson, after a season of making this blogger scratch his head and wonder why Steve Alford was giving him PT, has recently shown some flashes of good things to come. And Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner can decrease the centrality of the Hawkeyes' efforts on the offensive boards, of course, by draining their shots. With Haluska of late this has not been a concern but Horner has been more streaky. (Horner is a bit of an odd duck. Sometimes he looks like a stolid dependable point guard: numerous assists, hitting the open looks, running the show. Other times he looks for all the world like the dear departed Pierre Pierce: driving head-down without a plan.)

Links. Profile of reputed "odd duck" Jeff Horner here. Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler looks at the relationship between Horner and coach Steve Alford and says "Alford is tough on his junior point guard" but it's tough love....Will the locals in Indy be cheering on (kind of) local boy Alford and his team? One writer says: yup!...Alford now echoing the Hawkeye Hoops blog! Earlier in the season Wonk complained repeatedly that the Hawkeye coach was parroting this blog's every word. (And he was.) Now, apparently, Alford has taken to reading Hawkeye Hoops: when asked what his team needs to do to win today the first verb out of the coach's mouth was: "Rebound."...The label lingers but the facts change: UC coach Bob Huggins says: "We're not as athletic as we used to be." (And the coach is finding that his DUI incident is, after just nine months, already ancient history as far as the media hordes in Indy are concerned.)

Don Doxsie of the Quad-City Times, "as of today," is a blogger.

(1) Illinois (32-1) vs. (16) Fairleigh Dickinson (20-12)
RCA Dome, Indianapolis (9:40pm EST)
Sure, maybe a "star" like Dee Brown was on the "cover" of some "magazine" called Sports Illustrated. But can he say, as indeed the Knights' Gordon Klaiber and Tamien Trent can, that he's been the subject of his own cartoon? Wonk thinks not. (Link, of course, courtesy of Kyle Whelliston, defining state of the art in non-Yoni/Ken-national blogs since 2004.)

That being said, Klaiber and Trent may well want to clip and save that cartoon, for tonight will likely be supplying little in the way of similarly fond remembrances. The Illini, after grinding out a 54-43 win over Wisconsin in their last game, should enjoy more open looks against FDU, a team that allowed 110 points in a 40-minute loss to St. Francis (NY) on February 21.

The aforementioned Brown will of course be watched like the love-child of Robert Blake and Martha Stewart by hundreds of media looking to see if his shooting slump is over. Wonk says: if making shots against Fairleigh Dickinson should not inspire slump-is-over trumpeting (which of course it shouldn't but which of course it will), then misses (within reason) should not occasion despondency.

Everyone was quick to make fun of Billy Packer's comments to Brown after the Wisconsin game (roughly: don't worry, Dee, your shots will fall) but the historically anti-Packer Wonk is in this instance in the odd and indeed unprecedented position of agreeing whole-heartedly with the eerily Mr.-Burns-like CBS analyst. He was exactly right: Brown's shots will start falling and Wonk has the stats to prove it.

No, the real agenda for Bruce Weber for tonight is: stay healthy, limit the starters' minutes, get the W, and get to bed.

Links. Forget his dental drama, is there something wrong with Dee Brown's foot? Fret here....In his dead-tree space this morning, oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper says: "If this team fails to reach the Final Four, in many people's eyes it will fall short of accomplishing all it needs to be Illini basketball royalty." Meanwhile in his blog Tupper waxes somewhat less Teutonic: "I think this team is ready."...St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell says under "normal circumstances, it's rational to say that Illinois has nothing to worry about. But these aren't normal circumstances."...Dick Enberg says Al McGuire, wherever he is, is rooting for the Illini....Daily Herald columnist Mike Imrem, he of "Illinois will lose in the second round to Nevada" fame, wonders if maybe his fretting about the Illini is due to "post-traumatic Cubs stress syndrome." Copley News Service columnist Mike Nadel out-Imrem's Imrem and worries openly about tonight's game. Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Downey, meanwhile, Imrems in a different direction and says Texas poses the real second-round threat to Illinois. But Downey's fellow Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey chooses to pull an anti-Imrem: "Illinois is going to win the national championship." ...Iowa's players talk about how to beat Illinois here. Wonk must have missed the game won by the Hawkeyes....Other memes on the loose: the time is now! Taking the first step! It's a fan and media frenzy! It's a fan and media frenzy (part 2)! Fairleigh Dickinson guard Mensah Peterson calls the attention received by the Illini "amazing"!

Watch the games on this very computer! offers live video streams of the CBS feeds for all tournament games through the Sweet 16 for $19.95. To save five bucks and get the package for just $14.95, link here.

Wonk actually already mentioned this nifty service in the blog back in January. But now the good people at CSTV have been kind enough to send Wonk a free subscription, apparently thinking this will induce your intrepid blogger to mention their product.

Well, mission accomplished! And, unlike some bloggers who say bourgeois pre-postmodern things like "I would have written about [CSTV] without the free subscription" (snort!), Wonk wants it to be perfectly clear that in fact I would not have written about CSTV (again) without the free stuff.

And if that's not plain enough, let Wonk be even more transparently shallow:

Send me free stuff and I will blog about you.

Securing and maintaining my own personal line on free stuff actually constitutes the sole reason why I started this blog. I'm just happy someone finally realized that fact.

Once again, the main points of today's post:

Give me free stuff.


Stop reading this blog in the middle of this sentence right here and get up and send me free stuff.

UPDATE! As of tomorrow this blog will be known as "Depend Undergarment Wonk."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says: "I'd like to think this team can get to a Final Four. Any team we play, we're capable of beating. The unfortunate thing is, any team we play is capable of beating us."...Equal opportunity men's and women's State hoops coverage here. Spartan's-eye view of first-round opponent Old Dominion here. Profile of Spartan guard and college basketball Academic All-American of the Year (3.75 GPA in Finance) Chris Hill here.

Wisconsin big man Zach Morley says "the important thing is to come out aggressive" in tomorrow's game against Northern Iowa. (Wow, this guy was taping that interview, too!)...Wonk's not saying Mike Wilkinson is beloved in Madison or anything but check out the Abe-Lincoln-in-Illinois-esque reportage here, delivered under a Blue Mound, Wisconsin, dateline (Wilkinson's hometown).

Minnesota returnee Moe Hargrow says, after a short-lived transfer to Arkansas that has left him ineligible for the season, he's back where he belongs. Meanwhile, Hargrow's mates on the court say their tournament bid is the beginning of better days in Minneapolis.

CBS says they will display real-time scores of other games in banner form across the top of the screen instead of the revolving dissolves in the upper right-hand corner of years past.

Vanderbilt beat Indiana 67-60 in Bloomington last night in first-round NIT action. Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says if "IU athletic director Rick Greenspan walks into next week's big postseason meeting with [Mike] Davis and decides to make a change, it's a decision that cannot possibly be criticized."

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The last day: players we don't want to see bald
Welcome to the final day of Wonk's EXCLUSIVE coverage of Big Ten Players We Don't Want to See Bald! Longtime readers will recall an idyllic bygone era known as Monday, when your intrepid blogger noted that Iowa rebounding machine Greg Brunner has shaved his head in honor of a pledge he had made to do so if the Hawkeyes made the tournament. This made Wonk speculate aloud that: a) this probably won't be a good look for Brunner (indeed, it's not); and b) there are likely many other players in the conference we don't want to see bald.

And how! Judging from the reaction of the alert readers, the very idea of some Big Ten stalwarts sporting reflective lids fills Wonk's readers with Edvard Munch-level horror!


It probably goes without saying that the coach of this team would be Gene Keady. There can only be one reason he keeps the comb over--he knows how he looks bald.

As for players, Andrew Ford completely shiny might be the closest to winning a "Scream" look-alike. And it would be apt since that is the pose most Boilermaker fans adopted whenever he handled the basketball.

Non-West Lafayette nominees would include Vedran Vukusic from Northwestern. His odd visage would not be helped with a clear pate.

Matt M.

Thanks, Matt!


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