Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
The true importance of Indiana
Duke at Indiana (ESPN, 9 ET)
I thought going into this Iowa Caucuses of Hoops that tonight's game in Bloomington had the potential to be the best contest of the week. And, trust me, nothing I saw last night in Chapel Hill (see below) disabused me of said belief (though the Hoosiers and the Dukies will have to go a long way to top the show put on by the Badgers and the Demon Deacons last night). This ACC-Big Ten Challenge is still waiting for its signature moment.

That moment should come tonight, courtesy of Duke and Indiana. True, your intrepid blogger suspects our estimations of both the Blue Devils and the Hoosiers right now exceed the underlying realities by a goodly bit--particularly in the case of Duke. Explain to me again how a team that struggled to beat Drexel by ten (St. Joseph's beat Drexel by ten last night--maybe they should be number 1) and starts two freshmen not named Greg Oden is supposed to inspire such awe and fear. I'm just not seeing it--Connecticut would get Duke's lunch money just by glaring at them.

And as for Indiana, well, life is good, surely, when you're shooting 58.3 percent on your threes and rebounding about 80 percent of your opponent's misses, as are the Hoosiers thus far this year. To say those numbers are unsustainable over the long haul is a hoary cliche--but a true hoary cliche: particularly in the case of outside shooting, a fearful correction is imminent.

But so what? That means only that IU will need to find ways to win when the threes aren't falling. And this is where I'm an optimist. Mike Davis has shown a willingness to go Roy Williams with this team and let them run. (The Hoosiers are averaging 78 possessions a game this year.) Your intrepid blogger has gone into great detail as to why I think this is exactly what Indiana should do: basically it increases the likelihood that a deep and talented team will win the games they're supposed to win.

That being said, I have a more selfish reason to want to see the Hoosiers run. From time to time last year your intrepid blogger would see this or that ESPN analyst say the Big Ten was "down" and the reason was that Indiana or Michigan or both were having bad years. This line of thought has always baffled me completely--and if I were a fan of, say, Iowa or Minnesota, it would rankle me. In the little matter of conference pride, it doesn't matter which teams are good, it matters only that enough teams are good.

Still, conference pride is sustained by quality of play. And quality of play is, in part, a function of tempo. So the ESPN analysts were partly right without knowing it: it is important to the Big Ten how Indiana plays. For the Hoosiers represent a swing vote, as it were, on the little matter of pace.

The sociology of the Big Ten's pretty straightforward when it comes to speed: Michigan State and Illinois will play as fast as their opponents allow. So too will Minnesota, though for different reasons. Wisconsin and Northwestern, conversely, don't want to play fast (although if the Badgers keep running like they did last night, this statement may require revision). Purdue is also fated to go fairly slow for the foreseeable future. Which leaves Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State to fall in line with the prevailing conference tempo. (Penn State, as always, representing its own discrete analytical category.)

Indiana can influence that prevailing tempo for good or for ill. Last year it was for ill. This year it's been for good. I would love to see another 78-possession game tonight....

And a Big Ten victory over overrated Duke. ("Overrated Duke." Redundant?)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Badgers lose--but look great
Wake Forest beat Wisconsin 91-88 in Winston-Salem last night. I watched this game with steadily increasing excitement: the Demon Deacons were playing their usual fast pace (take it from blogger extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy: this game was a "track meet") and yet the young Badgers were sticking right there with the home team, even forging ahead at 62-60, before falling just short. (Box score.)

Yes, Justin Gray went off for 37 points. Not too much shame there, though--the guy's a stud, he was carrying his team in the absence of foul-blighted Eric Williams, and 13 of his points came from the foul line.

Four quick thoughts on this one:

1. I was wrong about Kammron Taylor. Your intrepid blogger has said the Badger guard is a smidge overrated. Well, maybe not. Last night I saw Taylor break down a very fast Wake Forest D and take the ball to the hole for two. What I failed to take into account is the value of uniqueness: Taylor is a very fast guy on a very slow team. Wisconsin badly needs someone who can take the opportunities that present themselves in transition and defend at any speed. Taylor is that guy.

2. I was right about Kammron Taylor. He took a lot of dumb shots and turned the ball over five times.

3. Brian Butch is a force to be reckoned with. Sure, he'll continue to take a lot of grief because he's 6-11 and yet can't finish around the basket. (Take it from outstanding Milwaukee-based blogger Chris West: Butch is "the only guy I’ve ever seen that I’d rather see shooting from six feet out than two feet out." Exactly right.) But there's good news, too: Butch has the best shooting touch of any Big Ten big man since Brian Cook. And he hits the boards. Nuff said.

4. I'm quickly running out of adjectives to apply to Alando Tucker. I've already said I'd go to war with Tucker, that the undersized Badger is brilliant in ways that transcend stats, etc. Last night he displayed anew (23 points after halftime) what I struggle to put into words: right now Tucker is a leader without equal in the Big Ten. Period.

This was a fantastic game and the Badgers did the Big Ten and Wonk proud. Outstanding road warriors of Wisconsin, Wonk salutes you! This Illini fan wishes my young team had played half as well in victory as did your young team in defeat. Speaking of which....

Illini win--but look awful
Illinois beat North Carolina 68-64 last night in Chapel Hill. The game was tied at 35 at the half before the Illini opened up a 14-point lead with six minutes to go--a lead the Heels whittled down to just two with a minute left. Dee Brown drained two free throws with 13 seconds left to seal the win. (Box score.)

Just 28 short days ago, I uttered the following nugget of wisdom with regard to this year's Illini:

This Illini fan is less worried about replacing Deron Williams than I am about replacing Dee Brown. That is, Brown can cover Williams' role capably enough this year. But who's going to cover Brown's?

Man, was I wrong! Right now Dee Brown is simply not a very good point guard. Unless it's a fast break (in which case none of this applies), his decisions with the ball are unsure and his reads of game situations are just not there yet--or maybe they're there but he can't get this young team to follow his lead. In either case, Illinois is currently without the services of both Deron Williams and Dee Brown. (Meaning Andy Katz picked a very odd time, in my humble estimation, to salute Brown.)

But what was truly mortifying to watch was the Illini matador D in the first half. I never thought I'd see a Bruce Weber-coached team allow so many uncontested drives along the baseline and to the rim. (And remember Weber saying defense was going to have to carry this young team early in the season? The team didn't get that particular memo.) And it wasn't just the new guys--this giddily permissive "be our guest!" spirit somehow infected everyone, old guys too.

OK, Illini-fan rant terminated. The good news is Illinois will be fine this year. Suddenly there is depth in the frontcourt (James Augustine, Shaun Pruitt, Brian Randle, Warren Carter, Marcus Arnold) and I'd almost forgotten what that's like--it will come in dang handy against Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

Wolverines handcuff hapless Hurricanes
Michigan beat Miami 74-53 last night in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines used stifling D, outstanding rebounding and balanced scoring to turn a five-point halftime lead into a blowout. (Box score.)

But enough of that. Here's all you really need: keen-eyed and ever feisty blogger Brian from mgoblog was on the scene and liveblogged this thing somethin' fierce! And--what's this?--Brian's even predicted what I'll say about the game?....

Official Wonk Astuteness Prediction
--Mention of Dion Harris's poor shooting percentage, especially given his extremely high three count.
--Perhaps some retraction about Horton, who had another efficient night.
--Turnover-related chiding and perhaps a note on the shocking turnaround from half to half.
--Commentary on Michigan's nigh-Gopherlike suffocating, largely foul-free defense, though the garbage time numbers distorted that somewhat.
--Similar commentary on Michigan's nigh-Spartan defensive rebounding.

Sweet! My work here is done--um, except for the business about this blogger retracting his predictions of doom if Daniel Horton is given permission to actually attempt field goals. As if! Wonk retract an opinion just because of some bothersome little "evidence" like "statistics" or even (snort) "actual performance"? Never!

...Well, OK, maybe--but not just yet. After all, Horton has built up quite a body of work in the field of inefficiency, one that can't be eclipsed entirely in just four games. Stay tuned.

BONUS wonderment! What is it about Michigan recaps, anyway, that enable me merely to point at stellar work done by others? Last week canonical blogger Kyle Whelliston was on the scene at the Michigan-Boston University game and he, too, filed a definitive report. In fact, something about Kyle's outstanding game recap--its very look and feel, as it were--seems really familiar to me. You be the judge. (Seeing a site as magnificently put together as The Mid-Majority adopt a look as pokey as that of my own little blog--even in the service of parody, even just for a day--pains me. It's like seeing Yo-Yo Ma play a kazoo.)

Games Wonk did not see
Florida State beat Purdue 97-57 in Tallahassee last night, a game which the Seminoles led by 35 at half. In that first half alone 11 different players scored for Florida State. (Ye gods.) "They had a dunk contest there for a while, and I didn't have enough timeouts," said Matt Painter afterward. "We couldn't stop the bleeding out there." (Box score.)

Clemson beat Penn State 96-88 last night in State College. Geary Claxton scored a career-high 27 points in a losing effort. (Box score.)

On tap for tonight
Georgia Tech plays at Michigan State tonight (ESPN, 7 ET). Tom Izzo says his team isn't taking the young Yellow Jackets lightly: "They've struggled a little bit in some areas, but I think they're probably one of the hardest playing, well-coached and great-athlete teams that we'll play." Turning to his own squad, Izzo also credits Paul Davis with becoming a "better rebounder" during his career in East Lansing.

NC State plays tonight at Iowa (ESPN2, 9:30 ET). Today's must-read on the game comes--where else?--courtesy of canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska at Hawkeye Hoops. Ryan interviewed the sagacious and observant Wofpack fan behind the very well done Section Six blog and the result is a briskly efficient primer on NC State hoops for us guileless Big Ten types--make haste!

Minnesota plays at Maryland tonight (ESPN2, 7:30 ET). Feisty youngster Spencer Tollackson says the Gophers may be depleted due to injuries but will nevertheless be full o' spunk: "We can't feel sorry for ourselves because Dan [Coleman] wasn't there last night or because Vince [Grier] is hurt. We obviously would like these guys here, but if they can't play, they can't play. We need to move forward and when they come back, let the chips fall where they may."

"Small sample size"? Bah! (I won't be swayed from my sweeping pronouncement!) You heard it here first: the Gophers are doomed. (I mean this season, not necessarily tonight.) Look at the numbers: Minnesota's allowed three relative who-dat opponents to shoot 40.0 percent on their threes. (Last season in conference play, by notable contrast, that number was 27.4.) They've won two of those three games anyway because these same opponents turned the ball over on a whopping 30 percent of their possessions. As the Gophers play stiffer competition, however, those takeaways will likely grow more scarce--even as the likelihood of good outside shooting from the opponent increases. This outlook will improve, doubtless, when Vincent Grier returns--but how many losses can they afford in December and still be playing in mid-March?

Northwestern plays tonight at Virginia (ESPNU, 8 ET). Game notes here.

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But maybe in 50 years it'll be "venerable old Value City Arena"?
Yesterday your intrepid blogger referred to Ohio State's home arena as "the college hoops equivalent of U.S. Cellular Field." Wonk's readers respond!


Fairly new to the blog--found it a few weeks ago. Love it, though--keep up the good work.

As for your comments on Value City Arena: you're absolutely right. It's got tremendous amenities and is probably the "best" college arena by those lights. However, I was a student during the "crossover" to the new facility (and attended last night's Virginia Tech game) and those old eight-win teams got St. John Arena rocking pretty good for the big games against, for example, Knight's Indiana squads. We sucked but I sat so close to the hoop I could trade barbs with the officials (and often did).

The new digs are so huge, and the students so far away from the court, that it becomes really really hard to get the same kind of atmosphere. The Final Four-bound team managed to get some good crowd noise when MSU or Purdue came to town but an eight-win team would never manage the same kind of vocal support they did in St. John. Value City Arena lacks the character and passion that college arenas should have.

Oh, and I agree with you when it comes to Sullinger. What a player. But what's up with Harris? He's barely figured so far this year (yes, it's early) and for such a highly-touted recruit he's failed to live up to the billing so far in season three. I'm doubting he'll be a starter as a senior next year when the Thad Five arrive--and he was a McDonald's All-American! A bit of a head-scratcher.

Brian G.

Thanks, Brian! As for Harris, it's true he hasn't lived up to his advance billing. Still, Ryan Kobliska has captured my thoughts perfectly here:

Sure, Harris was supposed to be a top level recruit out of high school and his performance to date hasn't been quite what everyone expected. [But] don't you at some point have to turn the finger on the "experts" who incorrectly built up the expectations in the first place?...

Sometimes you need to focus less on what you want and more on what you have--what the Buckeyes have is a 6-8 forward with a career mark of .430 from three point range. Only eight Big Ten players shot more efficiently from the floor (eFG pct.) last year. That seems like a rare commodity to me.

Amen, Ryan. Sometimes when watching Harris or Brian Butch, I ponder whether the worst thing that can happen to a high school player is to be named a McDonald's All-American.

Jinkies! That gives me an idea....For any bloggers out there casting about for a topic, how about a player-by-player look at recipients of this honor the past few years? Heck, I'll even get you started! Here's the 2004 team (Marvin Williams, Shaun Livingston, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, et. al.) and here's the 2003 roster (man, "LeBron James"--WATN, right?). Just give me all the credit if it turns out interesting--if not I had nothing to do with it, capiche?
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
What? The Big Ten leads this thing?
Ohio State beat Virginia Tech 69-56 in the kickoff of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge last night in Columbus. Propelled by excellent first-half shooting (and, to my eyes, a strangely lethargic opponent), the Buckeyes led by 21 with 18 minutes to go before the Hokies whittled the margin down to 57-54 at the three-minute mark. From that point Ron Lewis scored seven of his 10 points to lead a 12-2 run that sealed the win for OSU. (Box score.)

One thing I'll say for this Iowa Caucuses of Hoops: as opposed to "preseason" tournaments like the Guardians Classic (where quality opponents face each other fatigued from playing the previous day) or the Maui Invitational (where quality opponents face each other fatigued from playing the previous day--and from the jet lag), the ACC-Big Ten Challenge arguably gives fans their first taste of actual ACC- or Big Ten-style ball.

It was like a real game last night! Gosh! Herewith three observations....

1. Ohio State is an NBA-style team in an NBA-style arena. Last night Bill Raftery said it just as I was thinking it: everyone in an Ohio State uniform wants to create their own shots. Assists are passed (har!) by in Columbus. The Buckeyes were seventh in the conference last season (all games) in assists per field goal--a surprisingly low standing for a hard-core POT such as Thad Matta's team. Instead, it's all about spacing, isolations, and taking your man in the post (Terence Dials--see below) or off the dribble (everyone else).

And as for the venue, as its very name suggests Value City Arena is the college hoops equivalent of U.S. Cellular Field: a relatively new yet strikingly lifeless NBA-ish facility that represents an opportunity missed. If you're a Michigan or Indiana fan and your team plays in a horrible venue you can at least console yourself with the thought that said venue is old and will be replaced someday soon. Not so Value City.

2. No Big Ten player has more of an impact on his team's offensive strategy than Terence Dials. When Dials is out of the game (as he was for 16 minutes last night, though foul trouble wasn't an issue--what was up with that?), Ohio State runs a traditional motion offense. (Pass, go down low, set a pick, post up, gesture madly for the ball, cycle back outside, lather, rinse, repeat.) But when Dials is on the floor the Buckeyes are a strict 1-4 team on offense. It's as if the three-point line is an electric fence and every non-Dials player is wearing one of those restrictive collars. The ball and the other four OSU players stay outside the arc until there's either a post feed or a three.

And I'm not so sure that should be the case. I stand second to none in my praise for Dials, a hard-working undersized big man. But Matta runs the offense like Dials is the second coming of Bill Walton, Tim Duncan, or, um, Greg Oden. (Oliver Stone moment: so maybe this is all preparation for next year. Hmmm....)

3. J.J. Sullinger is underrated--through no fault of yours truly, who gushes over the guy daily. Is there a reason why we never hear "Sullinger" and "NBA" in the same sentence? Here's a guy who's 6-5, built, shoots 44.6 percent on his threes, and rebounds like a tasmanian devil. That profile sounds an awful lot like Nick Anderson to me. Is there a reason no one's talking about Sullinger in terms of "the next level"? Just asking!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Gardner-Webb beat Minnesota 73-72 in Minneapolis last night. It's remarkable that this game was this close--specifically, that the Gophers came this close to winning after trailing by 14 in the second half. Box Score Oddity of the Month nominee: the Bulldogs posted a 63.5 effective FG pct. while Minnesota had just a 38.3 eFG pct. Yet it was a one-point game because "dominance" does no descriptive justice to what the Gophers did to the visitors on the boards (84.0 defensive rebound pct.; 54.5 offensive--"You don't get 24 offensive rebounds if you don't battle," Dan Monson said after the game). Even so, the disparity in shooting was simply too great for Minnesota to overcome. Gardner-Webb sank 12 of 20 threes; the Gophers were 1-of-14 (including an 0-of-6 from Adam Boone). Bright spot: Minnesota got 21 points and 5-of-5 shooting at the line from eager youngster Spencer Tollackson. (Box score.)...Monson was reduced to playing a seven-man rotation last night. Vincent Grier is out for the next month with an injured hand. Rico Tucker is on "academic lockdown." And Dan Coleman missed last night's game due to a "family emergency." "We've got to get some people back healthy and develop some depth," Monson said after the game. "Of the seven guys we played, three of them were freshmen."

ACC-Big Ten Challenge
Frank Burlison of slips his preview in under the wire here.

Illinois plays at North Carolina tonight (ESPN, 9 ET). Bruce Weber will be hobbling around on a fractured right ankle that he injured doing yard work yesterday. (Bruce Weber does yard work? Dude, go Coach K, already, and get an entourage.) On the plus side his team will be sporting fresh out-of-the-box neato new blue uniforms. (Carolina will also be sporting new duds.)...Weber pooh-poohs any talk of a national championship game "rematch," pointing out that both teams are painfully young: "Both of us are just trying to survive." The Illini coach wasn't so sanguine when the game was scheduled, however--in fact, Weber called the Big Ten office to inquire as to why this game was being slated for Chapel Hill instead of Champaign. But that was before Weber knew that Dee Brown was coming back and the entire Tar Heel team was going to the NBA--so now everything's jake....In his dead-tree space this morning, oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper points out that Illinois unsuccessfully recruited two of the young Tar Heels: Tyler Hansbrough (Poplar Bluff, MO) and Bobby Frasor (Chicago Brother Rice). "For a freshman thrust into this scenario, he's done better than OK,'' Roy Williams says of Frasor, who starts at point guard for the Heels. "I think he's got tremendous basketball IQ. He's a better athlete than people think."

BONUS Illini recruiting stuff! The seemingly indefatigable Tupper uses additional dead-tree space this morning to look at the verbal commitment given to the Illini this week by national-top-10 Indianapolis shooting guard Eric Gordon (more specifically, a verbal commitment given by his father). Tupper says Chicago Simeon point guard Derrick Rose is the next target for Weber on the recruiting front....Speculation has it that the Illini crowd chanting Gordon's name at the Illinois-Penn State football game is what sealed the deal. You read that correctly: Gordon attended an Illinois football game and yet is choosing to attend Illinois anyway. Wow. (Other attendees at Memorial Stadium this year had a somewhat different reaction.)

Wisconsin plays at Wake Forest tonight (ESPN, 7 ET) and, if you haven't heard already, Badger freshman Marcus Landry is a stud....Jason Chappell's father, Len Chappell, played at Wake in the early 60s.

Miami plays at Michigan tonight (ESPN2, 9:30 ET). Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press says Daniel Horton has "seized the role" of "dominant presence" for the Wolverines. (I say: Aiiiyeeee! Stop before it's too late!)...Tommy Amaker says he can see the "confidence building in Courtney Sims."

Purdue plays at Florida State tonight (ESPN2, 7:30 ET). Boiler coach Matt Painter says Carl Landry will play. Landry suffered a slight left ankle sprain in the first half of Saturday's game against Xavier and did not practice Sunday. "I know we go through him...but honestly, that's the least of our worries right now," Painter said. "We have to make improvements from our mental approach and toughness approach and win those games." Painter also says he expects to give the Seminoles a healthy dose of Korey Spates tonight: "Korey is the best we have at breaking down the defense."

Clemson plays at Penn State tonight (ESPNU, 8 ET). Nittany Lion coach Ed DeChellis has praise for the Tigers' pressure D: "They're playing the way I hope we can someday get to where we can play in terms of pressure."

Indiana fans are looking forward to tomorrow night's match up between Marco Killingsworth and Shelden Williams of Duke.

Iowa guard Jeff Horner is suffering from a left thigh bruise but says he'll be OK for tomorrow night's game against NC State. More on Horner and his three-point shooting here, a topic on which I've already bloviated.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says he's looking for someone to replace the struggling Drew Naymick in the starting lineup.

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Forecasting the Challenge--aye, there's the challenge
Hey, Wonk,

I check you every day. I'm a long-time IU fan and work at Northwestern, so I'm into Big Ten hoops.

My call for the Big Ten-ACC challenge: Big Ten's first win! 6-5.

I agree with the forecasts by Yoni Cohen and Gregg Doyel for the most part, except for picking Northwestern over Virginia on the road. Doyel says Virginia's got no one to contain Vukusic, but as the UNC-Wilmington proved, that's not something you need to do. Also, Yoni picks Miami over Michigan, but Michigan's rather healthy and Miami's without their point guard, Anthony Harris.

Otherwise it's all common wisdom, but I say keep an eye on the Penn State-Clemson game, too.

I'll be rooting like heck for Indiana over Duke, but if I had any money, I'd probably have to put it on Duke.

Keep on Wonking!

Devin S.

Thanks, Devin. Wonk agrees! While I'll be pulling hard for Northwestern and indeed have no illusions about a thoroughly meh Virginia squad, I was nevertheless struck by Doyel's apparent degree of confidence in predicting victory for a Wildcat team that won one true road game all of last year and, as you note, was bested by the feisty Seahawks this year in the BCA Invitational.

Bo, the swing, and the offensive glass (cont.)
A couple weeks ago when I did my preseason walk-around of Wisconsin, I chanced to remark that Bo Ryan has in effect made a Faustian bargain with the turnover devil in adopting his swing offense. In exchange for never turning the ball over, his team suffers on the offensive glass. Alert readers then emailed me to point out that, in addition, Ryan's preference for a slow pace also hurts the Badgers' chances for offensive rebounds.

Is this systemic? Is it unchangeable fate? Wonk's readers analyze!


Very nice work on your reviews of all Big Ten teams.

One quick note about Wisconsin. In your review, you mentioned the lack of offensive rebounds last year for the Badgers. If the first four games are any indication, this year’s version is going to grab a lot of offensive rebounds. So far they have 58 offensive rebounds or 14.5 per game. One might question whether this trend will continue against better competition, but I believe it will, given what I have seen so far. I view it as more of a personnel issue rather than an inherent feature of the swing offense.

Most of the players who graduated were undersized for their position (Wilkinson) or not particularly quick to the ball (Hanson, Chambliss and Helmigk). In contrast, they have been replaced in the rotation by players who are tall for their position (Butch, Stiemsma, Chappell & Krabbenhoft) or who are extremely quick to the ball (Flowers, Landry, Williams).

This will be an interesting phenomenon to observe as the season progresses.

David L.

You're exactly right, David, that this year's tall Badgers will reveal whether last year's low numbers for offensive rebounding were a matter of personnel or of system. The reason I've thus far inclined rather toward the latter is because the same personnel did quite nicely on the defensive boards. As you say, we shall see. Thanks for the thoughts!
Monday, November 28, 2005
What? Here again already?
Ohio State hosts Virginia Tech tonight in Columbus. And so begins this year's ACC-Big Ten Challenge--an artificial early-season contrivance that moves pundits to lay out arbitrary and mutually contradictory measuring sticks. This particular artificial contrivance, however, also happens to be a genuinely compelling competitive spectacle. (As of this year ESPN has expanded it to 11 games--because we watch.) Thus my preferred metaphor: here truly is the Iowa Caucuses of Hoops.

And, oh, how the Big Ten has suffered in this thing. Thank goodness Illinois absolutely obliterated then-No. 1 Wake Forest last year. Otherwise onlookers may have been inclined to notice that the Big Ten was, um, 2-7 in the Challenge overall.

Indeed, fate seems to frown on the Big Ten where this event is concerned. Case in point: when the ACC grabbed a geographically inappropriate new member to improve their football (BONUS note of breathtaking obviousness: the only reason conferences ever expand is to improve their football), they got Boston College, currently ranked in the top ten in both major hoops polls. When the Big Ten grabbed a geographically inappropriate new member to improve their football, they got Penn State. O, hoops gods. Why dost thou mock Wonk so? (At least BC's not playing in the Challenge this year, there being 12 ACC teams and 11 games.)

Stats you will hear quite often this week
The ACC has won the Challenge all six years (by a 5-4 margin three times) and is 34-19 overall. Duke is the only team from either conference that is undefeated in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

As for this year, the ACC looks less formidable than in recent seasons--Marvin Williams, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, Julius Hodge, Sean May, Jarrett Jack, and Rashad McCants are all gone, courtesy of the first round of the NBA draft. True, a respectable four ACC teams are in the AP top 25 but--only because Maryland and Wake Forest are currently nos. 23 and 24, respectively. And maybe that accounts for why the games just don't look as interesting this year. Duke vs. Indiana ranks as the one truly enticing match up.

Speaking of match ups, here they are, accompanied by the barest minimum of information on each of the ACC contestants. Numbers for offensive and defensive efficiency are from the 2005 ACC regular season, i.e., conference games only. (As for the Big Ten teams, simply follow the handy links provided to see my preseason walk-arounds.)

Virginia Tech at Ohio State (ESPN2, 7:30 ET)
The Hokies are 5-1, having lost by one point to Bowling Green on November 12. They return four starters from last year's 16-14 NIT team.
Virginia Tech 2005 offense: 0.95 points per possession (PPP)
Virginia Tech 2005 defense: 1.04 opp. PPP

Wisconsin at Wake Forest (ESPN, 7 ET)
Chris Paul is gone but Justin Gray and Eric Williams are back for the 24th-ranked Demon Deacons. Skip Prosser's team comes in at 5-1 having lost to Florida by five in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
Wake Forest 2005 offense: 1.20 PPP
Wake Forest 2005 defense: 1.04 opp. PPP

Purdue at Florida State (ESPN2, 7:30 ET)
The Seminoles are 2-1 after losing by eight at Florida on Friday. Four returning starters from last year's 12-19 team are joined by highly-touted freshman Uche Echefu.
Florida State 2005 offense: 0.95 PPP
Florida State 2005 defense: 1.05 opp. PPP

Clemson at Penn State (ESPNU, 8 ET)
With lopsided wins over Bethune Cookman, Coppin State, South Carolina State, and Charleston Southern, the Tigers are undefeated. Last year they were a 16-16 NIT team.
Clemson 2005 offense: 0.93 PPP
Clemson 2005 defense: 1.02 opp. PPP

Illinois at North Carolina (ESPN, 9 ET)
You know the story: everyone's gone for the Heels (so pay no heed to the 2005 numbers below). They beat Gardner-Webb by three before enjoying much more comfortable wins over Cleveland State and UC-Santa Barbara.
North Carolina 2005 offense: 1.12 PPP
North Carolina 2005 defense: 0.90 opp. PPP

Miami at Michigan (ESPN2, 9:30 ET)
The Hurricanes lost by four to Air Force and by 17 at Temple. Four starters are back from last season's 16-13 NIT team.
Miami 2005 offense: 1.00 PPP
Miami 2005 defense: 1.06 opp. PPP

Georgia Tech at Michigan State (ESPN, 7 ET)
Friday night while no one was watching, the Yellow Jackets lost by 18 to Illinois-Chicago. At home. Translation: they're young--all five starters are gone from last year.
Georgia Tech 2005 offense: 0.98 PPP
Georgia Tech 2005 defense: 0.99 opp. PPP

Minnesota at Maryland (ESPN2, 7:30 ET)
The Terps are ranked 23rd and their only loss came by 12 to Gonzaga in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. A core of veterans returns from last year's 19-13 NIT team (that beat Duke twice--and yet lost to Clemson three times).
Maryland 2005 offense: 0.99 PPP
Maryland 2005 defense: 1.03 opp. PPP

Northwestern at Virginia (ESPNU, 8 ET)
Egad! A rematch of last year's horrific 48-44 scrum won by the Cavaliers. (I've already noted the remarkable aspect of said scrum: it featured two of the very worst defenses in major-conference basketball--yet there were only 92 total points scored.) More recently, the Cavs lost by 30 at Arizona yesterday.
Virginia 2005 offense: 0.96
Virginia 2005 defense: 1.11 opp. PPP

Duke at Indiana (ESPN, 9 ET)
It's the Duke recipe: take a couple All-Americans (Shelden Williams, J.J. Redick), add a solid supporting player (Sean Dockery), mix in some prodigiously talented youth (Josh McRoberts, Greg Paulus), and, voila, you have your number 1 ranking.
Duke 2005 offense: 1.09 PPP
Duke 2005 defense: 0.97 opp. PPP

NC State at Iowa (ESPN2, 9:30 ET)
The Wolfpack lost Julius Hodge but return a host of familiar characters (Ilian Evtimov, Engin Atsur, Tony Bethel, and Cameron Bennerman). They're coming off a 13-point win Saturday over Notre Dame in Indianapolis.
NC State 2005 offense: 1.08 PPP
NC State 2005 defense: 1.06 opp. PPP

BONUS ACC-Big Ten previews!
Get 'em while they're hot! From Gregg Doyel at cbs.sportsline (link) and Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times (link).

In today's (and this weekend's) less Wonk-ish venues....

Your intrepid blogger was interviewed over the long holiday weekend by the indefatigable Scott Long at the always read-worthy Juice Blog. (No, he didn't trick me into bad-mouthing Donovan McNabb.) Read it here.

In non-me news, the Indianapolis Star reports this morning that Indianapolis shooting guard Eric Gordon will announce his intention to attend Illinois this week. Gordon is ranked as the number 5 high school junior in the nation by

Oh, and there's been some hoops played since this blog's last post. So there's some catching up to be done this morning....

Michigan State beat Arizona 74-71 in overtime in the consolation game of the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii. After seeing a 14-point lead turn into a two-point deficit late in the second half, the Spartans came back to force the overtime and then hit their free throws in the extra session to win by three. State shot extremely well from the floor and rebounded fully half of their (few) misses--so how in the world was this game this close? Turnovers: the Spartans had 27 of them, including eight from (the no doubt fatigued) Maurice Ager alone. On the other hand, Ager also led MSU with 20 points. Meanwhile, Travis Walton continues to post Netizelesque assist numbers, dishing five in just 18 minutes. (Box score.)

Penn State beat Nicholls State 93-56 in State College. Freshman Jamelle Cornley led the Nittany Lions with 17 points in only 19 minutes, while David Jackson recorded eight assists for PSU. BONUS pro bono lobbying! Nittany Lion freshman Milos Bogetic recorded 13 boards in only 24 minutes. The frenetic Serbian board meister now has two career games under his belt and I've lauded the young man's rebounding abilities after each. Give him some PT, Coach! Don't tell me what he can't do (and I'm sure it's a lengthy list)--he's got a 25.8 rebound pct. Play him! (Box score.)

Illinois beat Wichita State 55-54 in the semifinals of the South Padre Island Invitational in South Padre Island, TX. Warren Carter hit a layup off an inbounds play under the basket in the closing seconds to give the Illini their margin of victory. For a moment, Wichita State appeared to have won the game when Karon Bradley hit a half-court shot off the glass as the final horn sounded. The officials waved off the basket, however, and replays confirmed Bradley still had the ball in his hands when time expired. Illinois' shooting was atrocious--fortunately that of the Shockers was even worse. James Augustine led the Illini with 14 points and 10 boards. (Box score.)

Xavier beat Purdue 74-55 in the John Wooden Tradition at Indianapolis. A foul-blighted Carl Landry was held to just five points and the Musketeers outscored the Boilers 32-13 late to put this one away. Bright spot: freshman shooting guard Chris Lutz was 3-of-4 on his threes. (Box score.)

DePaul beat Northwestern 59-49 in Rosemont, IL. Vedran Vukusic led the Wildcats with 22 points. Kentucky transfer Bernard Cote made his first start for NU but played only six minutes. The Wildcats attempted 31 threes and made only nine. (Box score.)

Illinois beat Rutgers 77-57 in the title game of the South Padre Invitational in South Padre Island, TX. James Augustine was named the tournament MVP and led the Illini with 18 points and seven boards. Brian Randle added 16 points for Illinois. (Box score.)

Iowa beat Texas-San Antonio 79-46 in Iowa City. Adam Haluska (15 points), Greg Brunner (14), Jeff Horner (13), and Alex Thompson (11) scored in double figures for the Hawkeyes. (Box score.)

Indiana beat Western Illinois 102-79 in Macomb, Illinois. The Hoosiers hit 16-of-26 threes. A.J. Ratliff, recovering from a broken thumb, dressed but did not play. Mike Davis said he hopes to play Ratliff Wednesday night against Duke. (Box score.) BONUS writes-itself Macomb joke! When your intrepid blogger was but a wee little Wonk, he used to watch the "The Bozo Show" on WGN. One day the kid picked for the Grand Prize Game by the tips of the magic arrows was from Macomb. The following exchange took place between Bozo and Cookie. Bozo: "You know where Macomb is, don't you?" Cookie: "Sure, right next to ma' brush." It says something damning about me that I can't remember my next-door neighbor's first name but I remember this particular pun 25 years after the fact.

Wisconsin beat Coastal Carolina 92-54 in Madison. Kammron Taylor scored 20 points thanks in part to 7-of-7 shooting from the line. Brian Butch added 17 points and nine boards. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Butler 78-74 in Ann Arbor in front of a reportedly sparse Thanksgiving break crowd. The Wolverines rallied from an eight-point second half deficit and Daniel Horton (28 points) sank six straight free throws in the last minute for the win. (Box score.)

Minnesota beat UT-Chattanooga 67-46 in Minneapolis. I caught parts of this game and, as the score would indicate, the Mocs had no offensive game whatsoever--kudos to the stout Gopher D. Adam Boone had line-o'-the-night-worthy numbers: 20 points, 10 boards, and five assists. (Box score.) In other Gopher news: redshirt freshman big man Jonathan Williams has lost weight and says he's ready to contribute.

Penn State beat LIU-Brooklyn 80-64 in State College. My mini-boomlet for frenetic Serbian board meister Milos Bogetic hit a bit of a snag, as the freshman went boardless in 11 minutes. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat IPFW by the surprisingly non-lopsided score of 84-73 in East Lansing. The Spartans trailed for much of the first half. IPFW is coached by former Indiana Hoosier Dane Fife. Paul Davis had 30 points and 14 boards in 27 minutes. (Box score.) Matt Trannon dressed but did not play. He may make his season debut against Georgia Tech Wednesday night.

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In response to Wonk's mini boomlet for frenetic Serbian board meister Milos Bogetic
Hey, Wonk,

I got to see my first Penn State game today at the nearly-empty Bryce Jordan Center (box score says attendance was almost 5500--I can assure you that's an overstatement by an order of magnitude or so.)

But, while it's no surprise they managed to dominate LIU in every category but fouls (what a dirty nasty fouling team LIU is), I was actually pleasantly surprised at how well they played as a team. There were about 10 baskets made with blind passes and misdirection confused the defense and after a rough first 10 minutes, they managed to start making baskets at a startling percentage. Startling for Penn State, at least.

The one player that didn't impress me at all was Milos Bogetic (supposedly pronounced "Bogetish," if the arena announcer was correct). He was slow, not very physical, and didn't really go after the ball at all. His size might get him some rebounds against weaker teams, but he's not going to be much of a factor in conference games if he doesn't act more like a basketball player and less like a tourist.

Ben S.

Thanks, Ben!
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
215 points, 160 shots, 89 rebounds, 55 minutes, 3 OTs, and one question
Gonzaga beat Michigan State 109-106 in three overtimes in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii last night. As its very length would seem to indicate, it was indeed an outstanding game--though perhaps not quite as great as the breathless AP write up would have you believe. ("Classic" and "November" being irreconcilable terms in hoops, about like "classic" and "May" in baseball.) Adam Morrison (43 points) and Maurice Ager (36) each gave heroic performances, each of them hitting shot after game-changing shot. And, in Ager's case, the big shots just kept coming from further and further out--it was an incredible performance from a player saddled with four fouls for the balance of the evening.

When confronted with 215 combined points (even given three overtimes), my keen hoops sense tells him there was some good offense played on both sides. That sense is indeed correct: per-possession numbers for points (1.18 for the Zags and 1.15 for the Spartans) were stellar given the level of the respective opponents. (Box score.)

Which begs the question: were the offenses that good last night or were the defenses that bad? After all, there is a school of thought out here in the land o' hoops blogs that says Gonzaga's defense is suspect--even if no one's noticing. How suspect? Last year their D slipped noticeably from 2004 and indeed was worse than Wake Forest's. This school of thought therefore suspects that the Zags offer impressionable and defenseless (har!) hoops writers the punditry equivalent of a parent-flouting thrill date: look at me! I've picked a non-major-conference team for the Final Four! Am I not wacky! Nothing I saw last night suggested that Gonzaga's defense has improved.

Only problem being, of course, that those stout defensive stalwarts from Michigan State were meanwhile busily allowing even more points. I'm on the record as stating that last year State's defensive rebounding carried their defense. Take away that rebounding (say, by having an opponent make their shots) and the Spartans suddenly look very ordinary on D (see for example last year's Illinois game).

Which is precisely what happened last night. In fact, as antithetical as the very word sequence may sound to Big Ten ears, State got beaten on the boards by Gonzaga on both ends of the floor. MSU's offensive rebounding was good (37.5 oreb pct.) but not up to their 2005 standard (40.5)--and not as good as the Zags' last night (39.0). Their defensive rebounding was not very good (61.0 dreb pct.), nowhere near their 2005 standard (78.4), and a little worse than the Zags' last night (62.5).

Indeed, as great as this game was, last night was a taste of bizarro world for Spartan fans. In addition to getting beat on the boards, MSU turned into a POT for one night: a perimeter-oriented team. Fully 41 percent of their shot attempts were threes--this despite the fact that, as a team, they were shooting only 29.4 percent on those frequent threes. (Ager was 7-of-17; the rest of the team was 3-of-17.)

Bottom line: this was a jewel of a game--especially for one so early in the season. It featured outstanding coaching, skilled offensive players, and, not least, excellent free throw shooting (the two teams were a combined 53-of-57). It was also a game that can provide both of the aforementioned outstanding coaches with some valuable tape and some teaching points for their players to tighten up on D. And that will need to happen if these teams are to meet their expectations.

Some links. "That was just a great game," Tom Izzo said afterward. "We'll put this in the bank and this will come back to help us some time this year, as long as we grow from it." Paul Davis said "neither team deserved to lose." State's freshman big man Goran Suton said he feels he's to blame for the loss after missing a layup in the final seconds of the third overtime. Izzo's take: "Suton, he had egg on his face, you know? And it's good for a freshman to get a little egg on his face early on. He missed a layup because he did one-hand it. That was a mistake. But it was a freshman mistake. And you know he also made the tip-in to keep us in the game. He had a couple great rebounds. He had some unbelievable plays." State will play Arizona in today's consolation game.

BONUS note for the historical record! The game finally ended when Shannon Brown lost control of the ball while attempting what would have been a game-tying three over Jeremy Pargo. When asked by reporters after the game if he was fouled on the play, Brown paused before answering and turned to Izzo. "Don't say anything," Izzo told Brown. "Say it was close." "It was close," Brown repeated to the press. I stand second to none in both my Big Ten homerdom and in my esteem for Izzo. But in this case the coy winks about a presumed botched call are wholly unjustified: Brown wasn't fouled. If Pargo can't stand still with his arms straight up, we might as well remove defenders from the floor entirely and play HORSE.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Texas beat Iowa 68-59 in the championship of the Guardians Classic in Kansas City last night. Adam Haluska carried the Hawkeyes virtually single-handed with 23 points. Greg Brunner and Jeff Horner, conversely, were a combined 4-of-23 from the field. Even so, Iowa led with less than five minutes to go before the Longhorns closed the game with a 14-4 run. (At this morning Andy Katz says Iowa lost "a bit of the control it had over the game late" and so missed out on a "legit shot to oust Texas in front of a partisan Hawkeye crowd.") LaMarcus Alrdridge led Texas with 18 points and 10 boards. Steve Alford says of Aldridge, "He's as good a big man as we're going to face." (Box score.)

BONUS inside-the-Beltway coverage of the coverage notes! ESPN2's feed of the game was delayed by an overly long college football game (redundant) between Bowling Green and Toledo. Viewers outside of Iowa and Texas didn't see hoops until there were less than three minutes left in the first half....What happens when ESPN's Erin Andrews walks into a media hospitality room filled with mostly male basketball writers? Read on!

Ohio State beat Butler 79-69 in overtime in Columbus last night. The Buckeyes were lucky to escape with the win after having blown a 13-point lead with four minutes left in regulation. "This team is not real good right now," Thad Matta said after the game. Brandon Crone was a one-man wrecking crew for the Bulldogs, lighting up Ohio State with 27 points on 5-of-7 shooting from three-point land. Two good stats and one bad one. Buckeye big man Terence Dials led the home team with 24 points while J.J. Sullinger recorded 14 rebounds. Ron Lewis, on the other hand, coughed up six turnovers. (Box score.)

Michigan beat Boston University 51-46 in Boston last night. Yes, it was a slow game (61 possessions) but in addition to operating at a snail's pace both offenses played very badly. The problem was turnovers: 38 of them (19 apiece, symmetrically enough) in a really slow game is a ton. Daniel Horton led the Wolverines with 21 points, 11 of which came in the final six minutes. Courtney Sims pulled down eight boards but attempted only two shots from the field. Dion Harris played just seven minutes and failed to record a shot attempt, a notable non-presence that Tommy Amaker attributed to both Harris's nagging foot injury and to strong play by freshman Jevohn Shepherd. (Box score.)

Illinois beat Texas Southern 93-59 in Champaign last night, a game one-sided enough early enough that no Illini player saw more than 25 minutes of action. "They were a blur," Texas Southern coach Ronnie Courtney said afterward. "They were moving at a different pace. They're probably the fastest team we'll play all year, and that's putting it mildly." Five Illinois players reached double figures and three of them came off the bench: Jamar Smith (12 points), Warren Carter (11), and Marcus Arnold (10) joined Dee Brown (14) and James Augustine (13) in attaining this distinction. (Box score.) Now the Illini hit the road: they will face Wichita State Friday afternoon in South Padre Island, TX. Oracular Illini observer Mark Tupper blogs that he wants to see "what Illinois can do against a real team."

Purdue beat South Alabama 85-67 in West Lafayette last night. Get outta the way and let the big dog eat! I want to leave you with two words in regards to this game: Carl Landry. As in: 35 points on 10-of-13 shooting. No wonder the newer Boilermakers are instructed by Matt Painter to get Landry the ball no matter what. "Landry took over the game," South Alabama coach John Pelphrey said after the game. Perspicacious observer of hoops John Pelphrey, Wonk salutes you! (Box score.)

Question: why didn't Northwestern big man Mike Thompson play Monday night against Florida Atlantic? He's reputed to be "ill" yet sat on the bench in no apparent distress. What's the deal? Keen-eyed blogger Chris West was on the scene in Evanston Monday night and he thinks something's up--even if we don't know what it is yet.

Mark Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says Wisconsin freshman Marcus Landry didn't make the Paradise Jam all-tournament team--"but maybe he should have."

Undersized Minnesota rebounding maniac J'son Stamper says his team will have to prove it can win without Vincent Grier, sidelined for four to six weeks with a broken finger. "It's going to be hard, no one person can take the place of Vince. It will have to be a group effort."

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Latest report from die-hard Hoosier fan Nate!

Re: Monday night's game against Florida A&M--maybe this new style isn't so great. As in 20 TOs. Ugh! Yes, IU won easily, but a performance like that against Duke will lead to the same score except favoring the bad guys (and, yes, I am getting my anti-ACC mojo workin').

The one thing I am looking forward to this season is the number of quality wing players IU can throw at another team. Strickland and Wilmont (more later) are having good starts. Ratliff and Vaden are great complementary players (defense, passing, scoring--whatever the team needs). And don't forget about Hardy now that football season is over. This reminds me of many of Izzo's teams up at East Lansing, how they had a number of guys between 6-3 and 6'-7 who did a lot of things well and played hard because they didn't know how long they would be on the court.

Speaking of Strickland: another great game, scoring bunches in the first 15 minutes (18 points). Then they keyed their zone on him and, instead of forcing his shot (no Bracey-clone is he), he looked to distribute the ball. Adjusting during the game is a sign of smart players and/or smart coaching--these signs have been few and far between at IU the last couple of years.

Nate D.

Thanks, Nate!
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
So what do you think of Iowa now?
No, really, I mean that literally. Because your intrepid blogger doesn't know what to make of this team. They looked thoroughly blah for perhaps 35 of 40 minutes last night. And beat Kentucky, 67-63, in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic in Kansas City. (Box score.)

First, the good news: Mike Henderson proved surprisingly effective at getting to the free throw line--shooting nine and making seven, which put him on track for 15 points overall. (He also made a three--and never mind the box score that says he didn't. He was between the experimental and regulation lines when he released the ball.)

Erek Hansen was his traditional November self: sitting with foul trouble, coming back in the game, blocking shots (five) and just generally wreaking havoc on the defensive end, loping doggedly down the court, and just generally wreaking a different kind of havoc on the offensive end. (Again, ignore the box score: Hansen's credited with only two turnovers. But when your teammate passes you the ball and you make no attempt to catch it, that, my friends, is your turnover.)

And Greg Brunner (17 and 12) was, as ever, Greg Brunner. I herewith repeat my position statement on the issue of Brunner's optimal weight. He sank one three, yes, but in-the-paint garbage is the raw material that Brunner processes most effectively into points and boards. So let him eat.

But was the ugliness of the game attributable to outstanding D by the Hawkeyes? We suspected going into the game, after all, that the Wildcats would struggle on offense--vigilant keen-eyed bloggers told us so most persuasively (here and here). There's no telling where this Kentucky team, with or without Randolph Morris, might end up (Final Four-bound Louisville looked similarly inept on offense a year ago in losing to Iowa in Maui) but right now they have no answers on offense (though Rekalin Sims showed flashes).

The play that disturbed me the most was the Jeff Horner turnover with two-and-a-half minutes left in the game. Bringing the ball upcourt in a situation where the Hawkeyes wanted to kill some clock, Horner dribbled without plan or purpose into the teeth of the Wildcat D and promptly had the ball stripped. It was disturbing on a couple levels. One, Horner's a senior. And two, it didn't entirely surprise me--for a stolid Iowa school boy hoops legend, Horner has always seemed to have this jarringly counterintuitive potential for careening completely out of control. Still, Horner helped his team, even on a frigid shooting night (1-of-10), with eight assists. (As it stands now, Steve Alford has a shooting guard who makes assists happen--and a point guard who does not.)

Tonight the Hawkeyes will take on Texas in the Guardians Classic championship game (10 Eastern on ESPN2), courtesy of West Virginia's inability to hit free throws. The Longhorns, like the Wildcats, have tremendous potential but looked eminently beatable in the KC Municipal Auditorium last night. Everyone's eminently beatable. It's November.

BONUS post-facto awards-show lobbying! Wildcat guard Rajon Rondo is 6-1. And he pulled down 19 rebounds last night. (That's a rebound pct. of 27.4 for the evening, by the way.) And he doesn't get Line o' the Night from Ken Pomeroy? O the humanity! Ken! Show my man Rondo the love!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Minnesota wing Vincent Grier will miss four to six weeks with a broken bone in his left (shooting) ring finger. BONUS Wonk instanalysis! The Gophers will lose some nonconference games they otherwise might have won--and it will be too bad if those three or four games spell the difference in March between getting an NCAA bid and going to the NIT. So Dan Monson's team will have little margin for error in conference play. Because it's a finger and not a knee or ankle, Grier can come back for the Big Ten season close to 100 percent in his conditioning and defense. Shooting may take longer to regain but, to be candid, that wasn't Grier's long suit to begin with. In any event, prepare yourself for some very ugly basketball in the near term. The Minnesota offense wasn't exactly poetry in motion with Grier. Without him...well, Mr. Munch would know what to expect.

Wisconsin scored 52 points after halftime and beat Old Dominion 84-81 in the championship game of the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands last night. Kammron Taylor definitely had his Wheaties before the game, registering game-highs for minutes (39), points (27), and rebounds (eight). Freshman Marcus Landry sank four free throws in the game's final seconds to seal the victory. Alando Tucker (20 points) was named the tournament's MVP. How convenient! Each team shot exactly as well as the other (51.7 effective FG pct.) and turnovers were likewise similar. The difference in the game was slightly better rebounding by and more trips to the line for the Badgers. "I've learned that [this is] a tough group mentally and physically," Bo Ryan said after the game. (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Chaminade 89-67 yesterday in first-round action at the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii. Maurice Ager led the Spartans with 23 points fueled by 4-of-5 shooting on his threes. Paul Davis needed only 23 foul-blighted minutes to record a double-double (16 and 13). And redshirt freshman Marquise Gray helped ignite the slow-starting Spartans with a couple of notably emphatic dunks. As for the Silverswords, they bet on the three--and lost, going just 4-of-21. BONUS glance toward the future! Freshman point guard Travis Walton played 24 minutes and recorded five assists. (Box score.) Just two days removed from leg cramps and a 22-point loss to Hawaii, MSU's players were mocked by Chaminade fans who chanted "Water, water" during each Spartan trip to the line. (One sign-crafting fan landed on ESPN2 with: "Every Spartan Player Needs 2-Hydrate.") State advances to play Gonzaga in the semifinals tonight at 7 Eastern on ESPN.

Indiana beat Florida A&M 100-63 in Bloomington last night. The Rattlers played zone and the Hoosiers shot over it, launching 29 threes and hitting 16 of them. Marshall Strickland continued his "2005? What 2005?" home stand, draining 5-of-7 threes and scoring 20 points. Equally if not more impressive, Strickland recorded seven assists and just three turnovers. Roderick Wilmont came off the bench and added 17 points and eight boards in just 22 minutes. Earl Calloway injured his hip in Friday's game against Nicholls State and was held out of the game as a precautionary measure. (Box score.)

Northwestern beat Florida Atlantic 69-59 in Evanston last night. This was an ugly game: the Wildcats turned the ball over with Michigan-in-2005 frequency (18) and bricked 12 of 15 threes. Fortunately for Bill Carmody and his team, FAU also bricked 12 of their 15 threes. Matt Doherty's team fell behind by 18 early in the second half before making things interesting by switching to a zone. Still, NU managed to hold on--albeit only after seeing their lead shrink to four points--thanks in part to a well-timed dunk and three-point play from Vedran Vukusic, he of the game-high 27 points. "We were lucky to escape with a win," Vukusic said afterward. (Box score.)

Illinois hosts Texas Southern tonight in Champaign. The Illini are playing their second game in 48 hours but so are the visitors, who lost to Wichita State 86-54 on Sunday. (Profile of Brian Randle here.)

Ohio State hosts Butler tonight in Columbus. Buckeye coach Thad Matta both played (1988-90) and coached (2000-01) at Butler.

Michigan hits the road and plays at Boston University tonight. Maybe it's good that it's an away game--the Wolverines have lost to BU at home each of the last two years.

Purdue hosts South Alabama in West Lafayette tonight and freshman Nate Minnoy is impressing the Boilermaker fans with his play....Former coach Gene Keady has been approached by the Toronto Raptors about joining the team as an assistant or consultant.

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To Suhr with love
Yesterday I wondered aloud why 5-8 walk-on Errek Suhr is getting so many minutes at guard on a suddenly deep Indiana team--and why reputed Aussie stud Ben Allen is getting so few. Wonk's readers respond!

Hi, Wonk,

I've been enjoying your blog since someone pointed me to it at the very end of last season.

You asked for a "why" about the PT balance for Calloway, Suhr, and Allen. I have been at Assembly Hall for both preseason games and the Friday night Nichols State game and have been a long-time Hoosier watcher.

Here's my take. Suhr is a better shooter than Calloway (at least from what I've seen so far). When a player gets hot as Suhr did early, Davis is inclined to leave him in the game to see what he can produce. Also, Suhr has been with the team for a couple of years (and played with Davis's son and Sean May at Bloomington North HS) so he has longer knowledge of Davis's offense than anyone else on the team. I think when A.J. Ratliff gets healthy again, you will see him have most of the minutes that Suhr enjoyed Friday.

Now for Mr. Allen. He still looks a little lost out there, and he is a foul machine. Throughout the years I have watched the Davis-coached Hoosiers, Davis has been reluctant to give PT to big men who don't know the offense and foul a lot. George Leach suffered that fate his first couple of years for Davis, and Pat Ewing had the same problem. Personally, I wish he would have played Allen more in the Friday game, especially when we were ahead, to give him more of a chance to learn on the job--so (when we need to rest one of our two bigs) he won't have to play Vaden at the 4 like he did last year.

Happy writing and watching!

David U.
Bloomington, IN (IU MFA 1984)

Thanks, David! You have like-minded company....


Clearly the reason Suhr played so much is that Davis tried to get his best rebounding team on the floor. (VBG) Did you notice that Suhr pulled in eight rebounds (four off., four def.) in those 24 minutes? You've been clamoring for IU to hit the boards; who knew that Suhr would be the answer? Also, he was 3-of-3 from three-land.

All kidding aside, IU looked like a much different team on offense. They were running the ball up the court, reversing the ball from side to side in their half-court sets, and feeding Killer the ball nearly every time down the court. I was impressed with the solid play of Monroe: 10 points, five rebs, seven assists. He looks to be the solid floor general IU has been lacking for several years. Too bad he only has this season.

Luke H.

Thanks, Luke! Time for one more contribution....


In addition to your question, I think Strickland will continue to play strong, especially now that he has escaped the point and the weight of Bracey Wright's massive ego (and not-so-massive play). He had two strong games in the preseason and looked more confident than I ever remember.

Talking with my brother during the game Friday, I mentioned your point about slow, boring Indiana games and how that has changed. The next IU possession, Calloway received the inbound from a made Colonel basket, beat three guys down the court and dished to Strickland for a layup....They might not win all the games, but at least they will be more entertaining.

In regards to rebounding, I am curious to see tonight's game as I believe the rebounding margin was a fluke. The Colonels were quite small and young--and a lot of balls went directly to IU players. The technique didn't seem much improved but, if they keep rebounding, so be it.

Always enjoy reading the blog. Keep up the good work,

Nate D.

Thanks, Nate!

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