Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
The 2005 Big Ten season in 250 words or less
1. Illinois (37-2, 15-1)
Historic: see "November," "December," "January," "February," "March," and "April" under "Archives." Season ended by Carolina.

2. Michigan State (26-7, 13-3)
Redemptive: inexplicable quarterfinal loss to Iowa in Big Ten tournament followed by Final Four run. Season ended by Carolina.

3. Wisconsin (25-9, 11-5)
Masterful: no Harris, no Wade, no real production from Butch--no problem for Bo. Elite Eight. Season ended by Carolina. (This blogger thinks he sees a trend, by Godfrey!)

4. Minnesota (21-11, 10-6)
Shocking: Monson takes slasher Grier and a team of who-dat's to the NCAA's. First-round exit (Iowa State).

5. Indiana (15-14, 10-6)
Overscheduled, under-experienced, unprecedented: first eligible 10-6 Big Ten team ever to not receive a bid. First-round NIT exit (Vanderbilt).

6. Ohio State (20-12, 8-8)
Ineligible: but had one shining moment on March 6.

7. Iowa (21-12, 7-9)
Tumultuous: stellar in calendar 2004, struggling much of 2005. Pierce kicked off team February 2. Strong finish, first-round exit (Cincinnati).

8. Northwestern (15-16, 6-10)
Disappointing: more was expected from returning veterans and Duke transfer Thompson.

9. Michigan (13-18, 4-12)
Injured: loss of Abram in November devastating--more so, perhaps, than loss of Horton (to injury in December and to legal troubles in February-March).

10. Purdue (7-21, 3-13)
Incommensurate: Keady's brilliant career in West Lafayette ends with too little horsepower.

11. Penn State (7-23, 1-15)
Worrisome for Pennsylvania: close loss to Pitt in December said much more about the Panthers than about PSU.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
With all five starters returning, hopes are high for Iowa next season.

Illinois, 2005-06: Dee Brown, James Augustine, Brian Randle, Warren Carter, Rich McBride, Calvin Brock, Chester Frazier, Jamar Smith, Charles Jackson, and Marcus Arnold.

Or are we so sure Dee Brown is returning?

Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times salutes the 2004-05 edition Illini. Sun-Times Illini beat writer Herb Gould reminisces here....Coverage of yesterday's season-ending rally in Memorial Stadium here, here and here....James-Augustine-will-use-this-as-motivation coverage here.

Sean May made the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. Deservedly so.

Welcome to day 3 of Wonk's week-long farewell!
Wonk is about to put the blog on hiatus for six months or so. Barring unforeseen earth-shaking developments like Bobby Knight praising Mike Davis as "one helluva basketball coach," Friday's post should be the last one. Your intrepid blogger will then dutifully 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.

So without further ado, we continue our week-long look at hoops blogs beloved of Wonk!

Hoops blogs Wonk loves: "yoco :: College Basketball"
First, an acknowledgment: April's an odd time to be dishing referrals to college hoops blogs. Indeed, at least one blog that Wonk intends to gush about this week is already shut down for the off-season.

Too bad! For weeks now Wonk's been too busy cranking out the game recaps and passing along the links to pause and relay a dawning realization: when it comes to college hoops, the still-yeasty blogosphere has already yielded up some incredible material. (And, OK, some real drivel--but that's a topic for another day.)

Wonk started this blog last November as a silent indulgence of his curiosity on the question of how blogs work. There was little expectation that there would actually be a continuing presence in this space--your intrepid blogger just wanted to see how these things were actually put together. So, in early November, Wonk committed some hoops thoughts to pixels and flung them up at But Wonk did not tell a soul those words were there. Not the Wonk Wife. Not friends. No one.

Yoni Cohen found them anyway. The very first email to roll in to came from Yoni on November 8. It read:

Came across your blog today. Great stuff. Like the catch on Mike Davis hyping a 5'8" walk-on and the piece about the Ichabods. Very funny.

Wonk would wager that any fellow bloggers reading this are nodding their heads in recognition, doubtless having experienced a similar introduction to Yoni: he is a protean force verging on blogospheric omniscience.

Yoni, of course, now dishes his very pointed and pithy hoops insights under the banner of (here's his very fine tournament sum-up), so his blog, while enlivened by the user posts of an uncommonly sophisticated band of devotees, has been deprived of the man's vital essence, as it were, for the last few weeks. (But when he does drop in he's displayed a strikingly detailed grasp of info pertaining to coaching changes--like Walter Winchell has returned with a vengeance and a sudden interest in college hoops.)

But what is or is not posted to Yoni's blog on any given day is, now, beside the point. As was said of Sir Christopher Wren in London: if you seek Yoni's monument, look around you (um, blogospherically speaking, of course). Pick any link to any blog in the sidebar of "Big Ten Wonk." Then note the first such link--first because Yoni fairly invented the category itself. No, not literally. But qualitatively.

Indeed, Wonk's introductory portal to college hoops blogs was Yoni. The remaining two blogs that Wonk will be praising tomorrow and Friday were first stumbled upon by this reader solely because Yoni steered his readers to them.

Any hoops geek such as Wonk can sit at a keyboard and blather away indulgently about annoying announcers or pathetic referees. Throw a stick at the blogosphere and you'll hit 50 such. But Yoni achieved something far cooler and as yet wholly unduplicated: he single-handedly created one outstanding salon of hoops talk. (What London coffee-houses were to republican ideology in the 17th century, yocohoops was to PPWS! The weird stat with the weirder name has been popping up here and there--and yocohoops was its petri dish.)

Wonk has many favorite bloggers; Yoni adds and merits the title of innovator.

Wonk's dumbest posts of the year
Our week-long look at Wonk's worst moments continues with a real howler....

On January 4 Wonk held forth confidently on how the past two national champions, Syracuse and Connecticut, had each been led by a dominant player: Carmelo Anthony for the 'Cuse and Emeka Okafor for the Huskies.

But that paradigm would come to an end this year, your intrepid blogger serenely informed his readers, because: "If there's an Okafor this year Wonk is yet to see him. Maybe Ike Diogu...."

Little could Wonk know that hundreds of miles away in Chapel Hill, NC, a young man with a distinguished lineage and imposing physique would pin that quote to his bulletin board and prove emphatically that he is indeed a dominant player, leading his team to the national championship in the process.

BONUS behind-the-scenes admission! Your intrepid blogger is beginning to find it disheartening to dig up all this documentary proof of my analytic ineptitude. Frankly, my memory had been that I was much smarter than this.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Big Ten Wonk: where you, the reader, dictate Wonk's outgoing email!

First: your blog freakin' rocks. I could wax poetic, but suffice to say you've "justified your existence" as the Onion used to put it--and I've only been reading a month.

Second: you've gots to set up some kind of email list to alert readers when you're back online. I am dumb. I will forget to check your site after six months. I will hate myself for forgetting. You hold in your hands the power to prevent my suffering. Just sign me up for a mass, once-a-year email when the machine roars back to life. Please.

Peter C.

Consider it done, Peter. Wonk will give you an I'm-back email this November. If anyone else wants to sign up, feel free!

The year's last email on Billy Packer
Dear Wonk,

After watching the Carolina-Illinois final, I want to jump on the anti-Packer bandwagon (which you so eloquently lead).

I hadn't thought deeply about Packer's alleged “ACC bias”--until I saw a lot of it in last night’s game. As I reviewed the tape of the game this morning, I noted that there were times when Packer said all the right things about the Illini. But his bias came out when officiating calls were made. He overlooked times when: UNC fouled Powell and others; or when May hit the ball out of bounds mid-court but it was given to the Tar Heels; or when Augustine was called for fouls that UNC was routinely getting away with.

Most egregiously, the “tough screens” that Packer complimented the Illini on through most of the second half suddenly morphed into “illegal, moving screens” that Packer constantly harped on near the end of the game, just when Illinois was threatening to win the whole thing.

David H.

Thanks, David!

From the archives! Day 3 of Wonk's five favorite emails of the year...
One of this blog's most faithful correspondents has been alert reader, Ohio resident, and die-hard Illinois fan Jason. Here's one of his finest epistles, his March 6 report from Columbus on Illinois' one-point perfection-spoiling loss to Ohio State.


I nearly decided not to file my promised reportage from Columbus. What, after all, with my last memory of the Schott (was it The Shot?) being slumped between my seat and the one in front of me, hands over eyes, not believing what I'd witnessed.

And I wasn't alone. The Illinois student next to me struck a similar pose, albeit slumped in his seat and not slumped between two seats. The students in front of me, when I finally looked, stood a bit thunderstruck.

Yes, that's a bit dramatic, but wasn't the moment? Our boys were gunning for 30-0, and doesn't that just sound extremely sexy? "30-0." So yes, the moment was dramatic, and so were we.

Some notes:

-- Traveling Illini Nation showed in force. I predicted we'd be north of 33% in attendance, and I believe we were awfully close if we didn't exceed that number. The lower bowl was obviously scarlet, but we owned the upper bowl. Some sections were nearly a sea of orange with the occasional red bobber throw in for visual noncompliance.

-- To the Buckeye who threw his arm around my shoulder as the stands cleared and said, "Good luck in the tournament": the next time I see the "I" in script Ohio dotted, I'll tip my hat to you. Quality effort, young man.

-- Overall, the atmosphere was fantastic. Loud, involved, enthusiastic, and frankly, full of all the things that make college sports so special. Good show from both sides of the aisle. And the Schott is a fine place to see a game.

Ah, yes, the gory game details. I don't claim basketball genius, though I believe I'm well versed in the game. So when the Illini set up for the last full court in-bounds play with Dee taking the ball out, I humbly thought: What the hell is that? Isn't Dee the fastest guy on the court? Shouldn't he be utilized, say off a screen to get the inbound and bolt upcourt in a flash? Another Illini fan two seats away said, "I don't like the looks of this."

Bonus illumination: as Sylvester taunted Augie today, causing foul trouble and generally being troublesome, I mused: wouldn't Brian Randle be nice right about now? Randle would have added an entire new dimension to today's game. But for an ill-timed temper flare-up.....and spilt milk. Musing on this is silly, but I was desperate to stop Sylvester at the time, so a-musing I went.

I'll say this, and I have no clue if any Illinois players read this blog (though you should, it's a damn fine exposition upon your conference). You have exceeded all the realistic goals/dreams of Illini Nation. As fans, we are enormously proud of this regular season, and you have earned a special place in our hearts.

That said, as my Buckeye friend brilliantly noted on the way home, you still have March. Indeed we do, to the tune of nine games. How about a new win streak, guys, say of nine games? Eyes on the prize, boys, eyes on the prize.

Reporting from Columbus, via Akron,

Jason H.

For being such a dang fine state of Ohio bureau chief, Wonk salutes alert reader Jason!


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