Wonk's OFFICIAL 2006 Big Ten PreviewYo-hey, alert readers! I'm excited to be back after an almost-seven-month hiatus that featured a grand total of one ("1") post. At that level of productivity, your intrepid blogger received some very serious feelers from both the House Ethics Committee and the Teamsters. But I can't be pried loose from my beloved Big Ten hoops!So let's do this thing.It's the preseason and that, of course, means predictions. But wait! The tiny Wonk inner voice (hereafter known as the TWIV) is saying predictions are an inherently fruitless exercise, one that virtually guarantees future laughter. Very well. If I'm going to be wrong, I at least want to be colorful and singular in my errors. So rest assured, fair readers: as your intrepid blogger relays these glimpses of the future to you, he's sporting a wacky turban and insisting that he be referred to as Swami....EXCLUSIVE predictions for 2005-06Tomorrow: Speaking to reporters at Value City Arena, Ohio State coach Thad Matta vigorously denies reports that he's already looking ahead to next season, when the Buckeyes will welcome Greg Oden and three other national-top-25 recruits to Columbus. The following exchange takes place between Matta and the assembled members of the press:MATTA: We're focused on this year. With the players we've got we're excited about the present. Jamar Oden's just a super ballplayer--REPORTER: You mean Jamar Butler?MATTA: Who?REPORTER: Butler. Jamar Butler.MATTA (squinting, trying to remember): Um, yeah. Right. Butler. Uh, what position does he play again?REPORTER: Guard.MATTA: Great! We need those. Anyway, with Butler and Greg Dials coming back--REPORTER: You mean Terence Dials?MATTA: Whatever. All I'm saying is we really feel like the future is now. All our efforts are zeroed in on 2007.REPORTER: 2006.MATTA: Right. 2006....(pause)REPORTER: Uh, Coach?MATTA: Mm?REPORTER: Uh, you're staring at that life-size cut-out of Greg Oden again.MATTA (starts to drool): Mmmm....Thursday: Entering the season with a robust 69-28 career record (.711) at Iowa in non-conference games but just a 41-55 mark (.427) against Big Ten opponents, Hawkeye coach Steve Alford starts the year on a good note as he leads his veteran team to a 112-78 win over Brock University of Canada in an exhibition game at Iowa City. "I saw some good things out there tonight," Alford says after the game, "but it's just one game." (To be continued....) November 8: Introducing his promising crop of freshmen to the press, first-year Purdue coach Matt Painter issues a stern warning to Nate Minnoy, a reputed lil'-Barkley from Chicago. (Even the Boilers' press guide--vouchsafed as accurate by former FEMA Director Michael Brown--lists Minnoy as 6-3, 260, meaning in actuality he's probably closer to 6-2, 280.) "To borrow a line from Sir Charles himself," Painter remarks knowingly, "Nate's just two words away from making the All-Freshman Team: 'I'm full.'"November 29: During Illinois' game against North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, play is halted after a player purporting to be Rich McBride makes a three-point shot. Suspicious authorities--including former FEMA Director Michael Brown--immediately swarm onto the court and question "McBride" closely. How is it, the authorities ask, that a guy who shot 31.0 percent on his threes last year is suddenly able to make one? Then a bespectacled and studious young detective with the Chapel Hill PD named Velma steps forward and reveals that "McBride" is in fact wearing a rubber mask and is really--Mr. Jenkins! "He knew about the buried treasure under the court," Velma explains patiently to a semi-circle of onlookers all facing the same way, "so he tried to scare everyone away by making them think Rich McBride had actually made a three." "And it would have worked, too," Jenkins responds bitterly as he's led away, "if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!"November 30: Riding strong performances from Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner, and Adam Haluska, Iowa destroys NC State 94-61 in an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game played in Iowa City. A euphoric coach Steve Alford says of his 6-0 Hawkeyes, "There's no limit to where this team can go." Bristling at the suggestion that in past years Iowa's been "snake bitten" in conference play, Alford flatly declares: "This is the year we carry our success into the Big Ten season. I guarantee it!" December 17: In an effort to turn around his struggling team, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker asks former Duke teammate and current Missouri coach Quin Snyder to speak to the Wolverines privately at the team's practice facility. "The kids really seemed to listen to Quin," Amaker says afterward. "I think he really got through to them." In the days that follow, junior big man Amadou Ba is seen riding an ATV--firing an AK-47 with one arm and waving an empty fifth of Wild Turkey with the other--at the home of University President Mary Sue Coleman; senior forward Graham Brown is charged with driving his SUV 105 mph while under the influence and while making an adult film inside the passenger compartment; and, in tacit exchange for a generous cash donation from its new namesake, Crisler Arena is promptly renamed "Former FEMA Director Michael Brown Arena."December 30: Filled with confidence and riding the wave of a 14-0 record, Iowa schedules an unprecedented exhibition game against the San Antonio Spurs and wins 117-86. "Nothing can stop us now!" exults Hawkeye coach Steve Alford. "NOTHING!" Alford then breaks into peals of maniacal laughter while ominous music swells from an indeterminate source....December 31: Iowa big man Greg Brunner is lost for the year due to injuries sustained when he's run over by an ATV carrying Michigan junior big man Amadou Ba and former FEMA Director Michael Brown. "It's a tough break," a visibly shaken Steve Alford tells reporters upon hearing the news. "But we feel like we still have enough talent and depth on this team to reach our goals."January 1: On a visit to New Orleans, Iowa guard Jeff Horner is lost for the year due to injuries sustained when he inadvertently comes between a Hurricane Katrina victim struggling to open a pudding can and Geraldo Rivera and his camera crew. (Horner later relates hearing Rivera shout: "I can do that for you! Let me do that! LET ME DO THAT! FILM IT! FILM IT!") "I know it looks bad now," a deeply saddened Steve Alford says to reporters later that night. "But I think we're going to come out of this stronger."January 2: Iowa wing Adam Haluska is lost for the year due to injuries sustained while shaving with the new 2006 Gillette Mach 9 razor. ("The first blade shaves your beard incredibly close. The second shaves it even closer. The third shaves really, really close. The fourth shaves really, really, really close....And the ninth blade is pretty much 'shaving' facial bones.") A plainly despondent Steve Alford tells reporters, "I think I'll just be quiet this time." January 3: Still smarting from being outed as the slowest-paced "power"-conference team in the nation in 2005, Indiana uses the occasion of its Big Ten home opener to honor its oldest living basketball alum, Asa Lamarr Pringle, Class of 1922. With just two minutes to go before halftime and the score tied at 6, however, the 105-year-old Pringle decides he's seen enough. Releasing the parking brake on his "Rascal"-brand personal mobility device, Pringle pilots his vehicle onto the court where, gliding along at a brisk 2 mph, he is easily the fastest-moving object on the floor. He swiftly overtakes a bewildered Robert Vaden, wrests the ball away from the young Hoosier, and shrieks at coach Mike Davis: "Consarnit, son! You're slower than a blind date on prom night! This ain't mah jong! Saints' bejabbers, in the name of William Jennings Bryan and the Crown of Thorns, run!"January 21: Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan stuns the college basketball world by announcing that this will be his last season as head coach. In a room full of reporters, Ryan chokes back tears as he declares: "I've decided to follow my heart and pursue my first love: break dancing." Ryan reveals that the "Bo Ryan" dancer who entertained fans with a center-court break dance at the Badgers' Midnight Madness event in October was not a student wearing a Bo Ryan mask but was in fact Ryan himself. Asked how he plans to pursue his new career, Ryan further shocks the assembled reporters by revealing that for the past year he has been appearing incognito as "Moe," the relentlessly frenetic break dancer and single most annoying member of the relentlessly annoying children's TV trio known as the Doodlebops.February 22: Coming off a strong if schizophrenic 2005 in which they featured both the Big Ten's best defense and its worst non-Penn-State offense, Minnesota brings its twin tendencies to a logical culmination in a home game against Purdue that is still tied at zero at the end of regulation. After conferring with officials, respective coaches Dan Monson and Matt Painter agree to end the fans' suffering and instead decide the contest with a series of free kicks.February 25: Penn State holds its annual year-end Fan Appreciation Night at the Bryce Jordan Center. Things take a bit of a sour turn, however, when the team's fan, a sophomore leisure studies major named Godfrey L. Blortskins, leaves the arena with more than 17 minutes left in the first half, muttering that he "has an 8 o'clock tomorrow." Nevertheless, Penn State Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley professes to be unfazed by this turn of events. When reporters point out that the only people left in the arena are players, coaches, officials, members of the press, custodial staff, and Curley himself, Curley responds: "That is baseless and incorrect. Because I'm leaving now, too."March 1: In a home game against Ohio State, on a play in which four of five Buckeyes are knocked unconscious, Northwestern inadvertently records its first offensive rebound of the year when a missed shot unexpectedly ricochets into Vince Scott's hands. (Spectators near the court report hearing Scott mutter quizzically: "Off-ens-ive...re-bound?") Reeling from the shock, Wildcat coach Bill Carmody clutches his chest and cries out ("Sweet mother of Pete Carrill!") before collapsing on the sidelines. Former FEMA Director Michael Brown promises a full investigation.
March 12: Seeking to motivate his team before its first-round NCAA tournament game, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo uses a large black rubber mallet to smash what he's been told are videotapes of the Spartans' losses that season. Closer investigation, however, reveals the tapes were in fact Drew Neitzel's painstakingly assembled collection of "Lizzie McGuire" episodes. "You monster!" Neitzel shrieks at Izzo. "You don't even care if Miranda and Gordo are there for Lizzie, do you? Do you?!"A talk with Andy Katz
Andy Katz is a senior college basketball writer for ESPN.com.
Q. Andy, this is Big Ten Wonk's first day of the season and rather than do this all by myself I thought I'd flip the switch on 22 weeks of blogging with a nationally recognized hoops expert--and a Big Ten dude, right? I understand you went to Wisconsin?
A. Yeah, I'm a Badger.
Q. Not that you're 112 or anything but "back in your day" things had to be pretty grim hoops-wise in Madison, yes? Pre-Bo, I mean.
A. You could say that. I was there in the '80s. Steve Yoder's a good guy but I doubt we'll again see a Big Ten program keep a coach who has one winning season in 10 years.
Q. So what took you from Madison to Bristol?
A. I spent 10 years in newspapers working in Albuquerque and Fresno while freelancing a ton for various publications, including espn.com.
Q. You have Duke as your preseason No. 1 and they seem like a popular pick. Are they going to be as good this year as Carolina was last year? A. No. First off, Duke won't be the consensus No. 1. I know some folks are picking Michigan State, maybe Villanova, Connecticut and/or Texas. Duke could be the national champs if the point guard spot is settled (Sean Dockery and Greg Paulus) and Josh McRoberts lives up to his enormous hype.
Q. Follow-up: one topic that's triggered some interesting discussion is the respective stats and comparative worths of Shelden Williams and Emeka Okafor. Is Williams in that, um, "Okaforean" league?A. No. Okafor was NBA rookie of the year. Williams won't be next year. He's a solid low-post presence in college and we'll have to wait and see how that translates.
Q. Let me depart from tradition here and start my questions on Big Ten teams at the bottom, as it were. Let's say you're Ed DeChellis at Penn State. How do you build that program? How long will it take?A. He's got to keep the top players around. I know Aaron Johnson had issues (see: New Mexico) but he can't afford to have a revolving door. DeChellis is a solid person but he's facing one of the toughest jobs in the country. He needs to get lucky with a few recruits. We'll see how patient the administration is over the next few seasons. Personally, I don't think Penn State should have ever left the A-10 in hoops.
Q. You have Michigan State ranked No. 4 in the nation in your preseason top 50. Can I assume, then, that you would label them the clear favorite to win the Big Ten this year? A. Yeah. The Spartans are the favorites.Q. You say they're thin on outside shooting--how important are easy transition hoops to this team? A. Shannon Brown and Mo Ager apparently have been working on their strokes. If they can make the three-pointer on a consistent basis and not go through any offensive lulls then they should win the league. The Spartans have an underrated transition offense. Their break is as tough to defend as anyone's in the country. Drew Neitzel can push the ball as well as any point guard in the league not named Dee Brown.
Q. Other Big Ten teams in your top 50....You have Iowa at 17 but you note that they don't really have that proverbial go-to guy. How important is that guy, anyway? (Did Michigan State have one last year?) A. We'll see. The Hawkeyes are pretty balanced, but I'd like to see who takes the winning shot. Maybe Haluska is that guy.
Q. Indiana at 18. How much of a difference will having Marco Killingsworth make to this team? How much of a difference will not having Bracey Wright make? A. Killingsworth has to be a difference maker. He could take plenty of pressure off of D.J. White. They should have one of the top frontcourts in the country. I don't think Wright will be a serious loss. If Robert Vaden and Marshall Strickland can knock down the necessary shots then that won't be an issue.
Q. Illinois at 25. Are the Illini tougher to predict than these other teams because they'll have so many (relatively) new faces getting minutes? A. I still say they're a top-25 team. Brown makes that much of a difference. Q. How much of last year's success was NBA talent and how much was Bruce Weber?A. The credit for last year goes to Weber and the players. He handled that team extremely well.
Q. Michigan at 30. Let's go best-case here: what will a healthy and effective Wolverine team even look like? Fast? Slow? Will it play D? Or can we know?A. Aside from the Petway mess, the Wolverines should be back this season. They'll likely pick up the pace and use their athleticism to their advantage. They should be a better rebounding team, too. If the Wolverines don't make the NCAAs it will be a major disappointment.
Q. Wisconsin at 38. You list the Badgers' "credentials" as, and I quote: "Bo Ryan." Will he have to change his style of play this year to match his personnel? His roster has a healthy share of bigs, including Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma. A. I don't see him changing his style. Alando Tucker will be the go-to guy but he's got plenty of frontcourt role players who will determine how far this team advances. The Badgers won't beat themselves too often. This is one of the most intriguing teams in the conference.
Q. Minnesota at 43. Can Dan Monson launch a program in Minneapolis the way he did at Gonzaga? Are we seeing the beginning of that here?A. Well, last season was a major step forward. The Gophers should be a tournament-berth contender again. Don't be surprised to see Minnesota continue to contend in the next few seasons. Monson has to continue to keep the big-time talent home, which has been a constant battle in his tenure. He has picked up players on the rebound, but he needs to get them first.
Q. Ohio State at 47. How much will Ron Lewis help this team? A. Lewis will allow the Buckeyes to be a contender for a berth. If he's as much of a scorer in the Big Ten as he was in the MAC then Ohio State doesn't have to wait for the newcomer class of 2006-07 to get into the NCAAs.
Q. Last question: favorite coach to interview?A. John Brady of LSU probably gives the best quotes.Q. I lied. Ha! OK, promise, this is the last question: favorite sport when you're not covering college hoops?A. I'm a diehard Red Sox fan.Q. You'll always have '04, Andy. Thanks for the time. In today's less Wonk-ish venues....Not from today's papers but worth traveling back in time for! This actual exchange took place between reporters and Missouri coach Quin Snyder at the Big 12 Media Day in Irving, Texas, on October 19:Snyder started the 15-minute group interview at the Harvey Hotel answering questions about his team, but he corrected a reporter when addressed as "Quin.""Coach Snyder," Snyder interjected. "I've been in the league seven years now, can I be Coach Snyder?
"I think I've earned that," Snyder continued. "Why am I the only coach still called by his first name? Do you call (Oklahoma State) Coach Sutton 'Eddie'?"Call Eddie Sutton "Eddie"? Isn't he, like, 112 years old? (And his son's older than the retired Wonk Dad, I believe.) Good grief, Sutton makes Lute Olson look like Matt Painter. Even John Wooden calls Sutton "the old man." And we're going to call him "Eddie"? Not on my watch!This blogger is therefore proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Coach Snyder on this issue. In fact, let the word go forth from this time and place that I've issued the following ukase: vocational or avocational nouns will henceforth be mandatory. In this brave new Blogger Wonk/Coach Snyder utopia we would see the following exchange at Media Day:REPORTER: Coach Snyder, what do you think of this year's team?SNYDER: Well, Reporter Jones, we'll only go as far as Basketball Player Thomas Gardner can take us. If he has a good year, you'll hear a lot of cheering from the Various Occupation Fans coming to the venue formerly known as Vapid Carbon Blob Paige Laurie Arena.REPORTER (spilling his coffee): Oops. Sorry, Reporter Smith! Did I spill on you? Let me clean that up.SNYDER: That's OK, Reporter Jones! Building Sanitation Engineering Specialist Miller will take care of that!BUILDING SANITATION ENGINEERING SPECIALIST MILLER: Just one second, Coach Snyder! I'm getting a call on my cell phone. (Flipping open phone) Hello? Spousal Unit Fran? You need me to pick up Genetic Descendants Caitlin and Corey?....Predictions are futile--so here's oneTuck this away until March 6 and let's see how it looks: the Big Ten writers' preseason poll....1. Michigan State2. Illinois3. Indiana4. Iowa5. Wisconsin6. Ohio State7. Michigan8. Minnesota9. Northwestern10. Purdue11. Penn State(Voters listed here.)COMING this week and thereafter....Hope you savored today's Big Ten Preview, alert readers, because this here post officially brings the previewing to a close. Starting tomorrow I'm going to look at a team each day but these will not, repeat, not be previews. (If I could predict the future I'd buy a lottery ticket for the first and last time in my life and thereafter enjoy a very very very early retirement with the Wonk Wife on a beach in a warm place.) These will be reviews of what we think we know now....Tomorrow: Illinois--and a talk with oracular Illini observer and blogger Mark Tupper.Thursday: Indiana--and a talk with indefatigable Hoosier beat writer Terry Hutchens.And maybe some more interviews after Thursday. But definitely my deep thoughts on:Friday: IowaMonday, November 7: MichiganTuesday, November 8: Michigan StateWednesday, November 9: MinnesotaThursday, November 10: NorthwesternFriday, November 11: Ohio StateMonday, November 14: Penn StateTuesday, November 15: PurdueWednesday, November 16: WisconsinWonk back!Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!