Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
The redemptive power of State vs. Carolina
Wonk can think of no better way of expressing his high expectations for Saturday night’s game between Michigan State and North Carolina than to say he believes it holds the potential to equal the standard set by this past weekend’s games. These are two heavyweights, each saying to the other: "We beat Duke, too. What of it?" To win this game, one team is going to have to exceed that which is usually sufficient for them....

For Carolina, it has almost without exception been sufficient this year merely to show up. But not recently (one-point win over Villanova; six-point victory against Wisconsin) and definitely not Saturday night. Imagine for a moment what would happen if the strangely indifferent defense the Tar Heels played this weekend were pitted against the offensive efficiency displayed by State in the second half against Kentucky. Even the Heels can't score enough points to emerge from that spectacle with a W. What got them here isn't enough anymore. To win Saturday night Roy Williams' team is going to have to defend.

As for the Spartans, they've made a season out of wearing down the opposition with superior depth. On Sunday it took an extra ten minutes, granted, but, sure enough, by the end Kentucky was exhausted and State advanced. Yet there is little chance of tiring out a Roy Williams fast-breaking team in the abstract and close to zero chance of tiring out this Carolina team in particular. And in this State's a bit like a dome-housed high-octane passing offense playing an NFC or AFC championship game in January in Philadelphia or New England. What got them here isn't enough anymore. To win Saturday night Tom Izzo's team is going to have to outperform an equally-matched opponent straight-up.

Man, Wonk loves this time of year. Love everything about it. Except....

CBS, bloggers, and one unpopular weird old guy
See the parallels? Can recent history repeat itself—if not by Saturday at least by next year? We can only hope: yesterday’s post in this space suggesting immediate
jury duty for Billy Packer resulted in this blog’s busiest day ever. (Note to self: fewer posts on ho-hum things like historic comebacks and double-OT's in Elite Eight games; more dropping upon Packer like a jaguar out of a tree.) Apparently Wonk is not alone in wishing fervently that Packer could find something—anything—else to do this weekend.

Styling himself after the 1972 Dolphins and their annual ritual, Wonk has a bottle of champagne on ice waiting for the day--and it will come--when CBS announces that Packer has at last laid down his headset.

The end draws near
Speaking of moving on, Wonk is going to put the blog on hiatus for six months or so after posting next Friday, April 8. Watch for a week-long 2004-05 retrospective starting Monday! Five-themed features to include:

Wonk’s five dumbest posts of the year (I know, I know: only five? Send in those nominations today!)

Wonk’s five favorite contributions to Wonk Back! from the alert readers.

“Five Hoops Blogs I Love.”

After that Wonk will shut the old girl down for the off-season like a Bar Harbor lobster pound.

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

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ah, that heartiest of perennials! The snappish move-the-line-back piece complaining that nowadays threes come too easily. It's a familiar refrain but give credit to Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune--he's come up with some tasty word-bites: "At one point deep into its game against Louisville, West Virginia had connected on so many 3s that the Mountaineers' point total was greater than if they'd shot 100 percent from two-point range."

Northwestern guard T.J. Parker has announced his intention to forego his senior season, hire an agent and turn pro. Parker says he made the decision while visiting his brother, San Antonio guard Tony Parker.

Purdue coach Matt Painter announced yesterday that two players, Xavier Price and Adam Liddell, have decided to transfer. Meanwhile, the softies at the Indianapolis Star send the two ex-Boilermakers off into the world with this notably un-sentimental and un-cuddly actual headline: "2 little-used players leave Purdue program." (Not unlike the warm fuzzies inherent in Wonk's favorite recent headline, seen in a British tabloid announcing the impending nuptials of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles: "BORING OLD GITS TO WED.")

Minnesota is also losing a couple players. Kerry Wooldridge and Miles Webb have both announced their intentions to transfer.

Wisconsin's future is bright! So sayeth Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal, here.

Eerie coincidence! Which team played all of the Final Four teams this year? Iowa. Steve Alford went 2-4 against that group and handicaps the field here. And here. Here, too! And, um, here. Now, on a different topic--no, wait, here, too...Seth Davis of, by notable contrast, didn't play any of the Final Four this year. Nevertheless, he has the temerity to handicap the field here.

(Pierre Pierce update: news from the courtroom here.)

Who needs seniors? Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press salutes the Final Four's junior class (Sean May, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Paul Davis, Francisco Garcia, etc., etc.)

The United Colors of the Big Ten. Are Michigan State fans really going to wear orange for the first game Saturday? Are Illini fans really going to wear green for the nightcap? That's the talk and, if they can pull it off, it would be nifty. (Not to mention a boon for merchants selling Illini gear in Michigan and Spartan gear in Illinois.)

(Michigan) State of euphoria!
Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski says Michigan State's "Final Four story is unique and enlightening, and not just because the ego-less Spartans defied their own recent history and won huge games. It's because Izzo, a man who already had accomplished everything in college basketball, adjusted and found another way to accomplish more." (Four Final Fours say the man's doing something right. So are his assistants.)

Meanwhile, Izzo is busy with patter of the first-tee variety, talking up North Carolina and making his Spartans out to be more of an underdog than they really are. "If every one of those guys and every one of our guys plays to [their] potential, there's just more talent there." Still, Izzo says he's going to dance with that girl that brung him and run the floor, even against the run-the-floor Heels.

Actual photo caption! "Michigan State's Alan Anderson grabs coach Tom Izzo by the head." Link here for quite a visual.

Why wasn't Wonk told! Roy Williams has never won a national title? Who knew? UPDATE: Wonk is receiving reports, as yet unconfirmed, that Roy Williams has never won a national championship. Wonk will keep you updated on this breaking story as further information becomes available...Skip Myslenski of the Chicago Tribune salutes Williams here.

Wall-to-wall Doug Wojcik! More on the next head coach of Tulsa who's currently an assistant at Michigan State and who used to be an assistant at North Carolina here.

New nominee for dullest opening sentence. Ever.

Bruce Weber is making calls to coaches with Final Four experience (Tom Crean, Jim Calhoun, and, yup, Tom Izzo) to get ideas on how best to guide the team through the weekend hoopla. Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline salutes Weber here. And Weber's former boss, Gene Keady, says he'll be in St. Louis this weekend cheering for the Illini....Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs about the superstitions of Illini Nation. And in his dead-tree space this morning, Tupper says there's no question about it: Deron Williams is the MVP of this team....The fan poll at has Illinois trailing North Carolina in the who's-going-to-win-it-all voting and, by Godfrey, Rick Morrissey is ticked!

Wonk's streak of consecutive posts without a pun on Bill Self's name continues! The former Illini coach says he has no regrets about missing out on a Final Four run made by players he recruited. "We knew there was a potential for this to be an unbelievably special group. And it has played out to be every bit of that. That said, I'm happy for them and certainly think that could be me coaching them. But I don't dwell on that at all." More Self coverage here and here.

Dee Brown was named one of five finalists for the Wooden Award yesterday. The other finalists are Andrew Bogut, Sean May, J.J. Redick, and Wayne Simien....Profile of Brown here. Deron Williams here. Pocket history of Weber-at-Illinois here. Celebration of Chicago-bred Illini greats, past and present, here.

Bill Murray on-the-bandwagon coverage here. Plans for on-campus Illini send-off's, celebrations, etc. detailed here.

The Louisville Cardinals held a pep rally in downtown Louisville yesterday and 16,000 people came. Was the crowd even more enthused because Kentucky lost this weekend? Apparently....Profiles of Larry O'Bannon here and here. Profile of Francisco Garcia here....Pat Forde of looks at the Cards here. Louisville for Dummies here....Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins played both Illinois and Louisville this season and offers up his thoughts here.

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Revisiting Michigan State vs. Kentucky

You have a great site. But I think you ought to mention the dead-obvious foul on Patrick Sparks at the end of regulation. Sparks did more on that play than hit a tough three. He juked his defender and deserved to go to the line. Now what would have been an all-time great play will be forgotten. As much as I agree that Michigan State is the better team, they needed a horrible call to win.

Matt N.

Wonk loves Kelvin Torbert to pieces and has blogged accordingly for months now. But the customarily savvy Spartan did indeed come achingly close to recording a foul as Edvard Munch-level stupid and potentially disastrous as that committed by former Indiana great (and new IPFW head coach!) Dane Fife against Duke's Jay Williams in the final seconds of the 2002 regional semifinal. "Dead-obvious"? Not to this blogger's eyes. But close enough to make Wonk squirm mightily when he watched it live, certainly.

(On the other hand, Sparks had just missed a crucial free throw a minute before--and thereafter did his best imitation of Nick Smith moping on the bench--so Wonk's not so sure a foul call would have translated so directly into a Kentucky win.)

May, Augustine, and PPWS

Sean May is having a monster tournament: 86 points in four games, 67% shooting from the floor and 80% from the line. This averages out to be about a 1.43 PPWS.

So I was surprised that James Augustine was atop your PPWS standings and didn't believe you until I looked at the actual stats and realized Augustine's shooting 63% from the floor for the year.

Wow. That's something the press has overlooked, despite them exhausting every possible storyline from Illinois this year.

Thanks for the education.

Brian H.

Thanks, Brian!


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