Big Ten Wonk
Friday, April 07, 2006
Here's where the story ends
First some old business:

Rutgers 76, Penn State 71. (Box score.)
Minnesota 73, Wake Forest 58. (Box score.)
Cincinnati 76, Minnesota 62. (Box score.)
Michigan 82, UTEP 67. (Box score.)
Michigan 87, Notre Dame 84. (Box score.)
Michigan 71, Miami 65. (Box score.)

And so with these tardy additions, courtesy of the good people at the NIT, I do believe this here blog contained within its figurative covers this year links to every box score for every game played by a Big Ten team. To what end, you ask? Heck if I know. (But devotees of the annales school of history writing were no doubt pleased.)

The 2004 Cardinals and the Big Ten's 2006 season
As long as we're attending to the official record, this year the conference looked like this:

Ohio State (26-6, 12-4)
Illinois (26-7, 11-5)
Iowa (25-9, 11-5)
Wisconsin (19-12, 9-7)
Indiana (19-12, 9-7)
Michigan State (22-12, 8-8)
Michigan (22-11, 8-8)
Penn State (15-15, 6-10)
Northwestern (14-15, 6-10)
Minnesota (16-15, 5-11)
Purdue (9-19, 3-13)

If we were to compare 2006 with 2005 in statistical terms we might say the mean of performance was slightly higher this year than last but the standard deviation was much smaller. Better yet, forget stats: It was a better conference overall this year but who cares about overall? There were no great teams.

Speaking team-by-team, I think Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, and Penn State were all better this year than they were last year. Indiana, Northwestern, and Purdue were about the same year to year. (Fun fact: laudably consistent Northwestern was 6-10 in-conference and one game under .500 overall in both 2005 and 2006.) And Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were worse this year than last year.

The problem, of course, resided squarely in that last group: when Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin see a dropoff, it doesn't bode well for your conference playing into late March. (It would have been almost literally impossible for there not to have been a dropoff in the case of Illinois. Duly noted.) Those three were the "big three" for a good long while but it's safe to say there's no big three anymore. Ohio State and Iowa crashed that party this year and the Buckeyes figure to stay a while. And, while Wisconsin looks solid for 2007, it remains to be seen whether Illinois and Michigan State can replace the likes of Dee Brown, James Augustine, Paul Davis, and Mo Ager.

That being said, the articles that came out after the tournament's second weekend saying "the Big Ten stinks" were overwrought, to say the least. The Big Ten in 2006, like the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, will be remembered first for its surprising futility in the final act of the postseason. In neither case, however, should the postseason futility blind us to the good that was done during the year or, more importantly, to the good that remains.

The old "big three" may have dipped this year but when you're talking about Bruce Weber, Tom Izzo, and Bo Ryan, optimism will always be the correct default until events dictate otherwise. Moreover, Thad Matta is building a monster in Columbus such that I even see his name bandied about in Duke chat rooms as being a desirable potential successor to you-know-who when the day comes. (Note that, when that day comes, there will be no North Carolina-/Indiana-style hand-wringing about whether or not to hire someone "with Duke ties." Wonder why not?) And who knows what the future holds for Kelvin Sampson and Matt Painter? In the near term, then, the Big Ten would appear to have a critical mass of coaches who are good enough and young enough to continue to send more than half the conference to the big dance. Anyway, let's hope so.

On with the off-season....
The headline atop today's post is a blatant steal from Kyle Whelliston's final entry of the year last season. So I only steal from the best. But beyond the petty thievery I find some additional common notes. Kyle wrapped up things last year kind of wondering aloud: what now? Last year I didn't wonder that, maybe because my team had just gone 37-2 and made it to the final minute of the national championship game. But this year I find I kind of do wonder that. I'm open to ideas.

One preemptive clarification, lest there be any misunderstanding. Last year I shut the old girl down with a week-long salute to the best college hoops bloggers. This year I thought doing so would be superfluous--chalk it up to a maturing medium. The best bloggers out there are phenomenal (and certainly need no introduction to you from me). You know it, I know it, anyone following college hoops with any degree of acuity knows it. I sense that's the case for other sports too. (For one thing, throw a stick in the direction of Michigan fans and you'll hit about 20 indispensable blogs. What do they put in the water in Ann Arbor?)

So well-known are the best of the best, in fact, that I've thought about changing the "canonical bloggers" heading in the sidebar to "iconic bloggers." Icons indeed, on a par with the great presidents! You have your Washington (the founder), your Jefferson (brilliant polymath), and your Lincoln (Lincolnian). Let's find a mountainside and start carving some iconic-blogger likenesses! (Now there'd be an attractive tourist destination.)

The challenge now is not to locate the 2.0 wave of quality college hoops bloggers--the wave is already here--but rather to pry said quality bloggers away from the clutches of college football, high school hoops, or unforeseen desuetude. May the topic be college hoops and may the words flow. (I have that sentence available on a t-shirt if anyone's interested.)

As for my own humble little corner of the 'sphere: speaking as a reader of this blog, if that's possible, I think maybe I was a little better at this banging on a keyboard thing this year than I was in my rookie season. But of course fate decreed that the subject matter this March was not to be quite as interesting as last--so it probably netted out to about the same level of stuff on your screen year to year. Here's hoping for continued improvement in both next season.

Until then, take care and stay in touch.

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