Posted on: March 19, 2010 6:07 pm
Edited on: March 19, 2010 7:22 pm

Potential Cinderella Killed by Badgers


Unfortunately for the Wofford Terriers, it seems that tournament magic was first come, first serve. And Thursday there was a run on upsets. 

And so it was in Jacksonville this afternoon that good old-fashioned experience won out over fresh-faced excitement and Bo Ryan's seasoned Badgers dispatched the Wofford Terriers 53-49. The Wofford crew was in the tournament for the first time ever -- and although the first half looked rough for the newcomers, coach Mike Young must have really fired them up at halftime as Jamar Diggs led with 13 points and it looked like an entirely different Terriers team in the second half.

I'll cop to being enamored with the Wofford storyline going into this game, but I thought some seeming cockiness from the Terriers' Cameron Rundles (playing to the crowd, gesturing the number one sign and generally looking like he was trying to put together his celebratory Sportscenter reel) kinda soured the event. The more the clock ticked down and the more Wofford closed in on Wisconsin, eventually making it a one-point back-and-forther, the more I felt like Wofford was believing their own upset hype. If they'd been here before, they might realize that you just can't expect the magic to show up, especially against a Wisconsin team that, every year, just quietly puts their heads down and trudges forward until they get stopped or win. As a result, the Badgers' stellar Jon Leuer and Trevon Hughes, netting 20 and 19 points respectively, looked as if to say "Look guys, this was cute, but if you're gonna get snarky about it we're just gonna shut this thing down." A careless Wofford turnover with 4 seconds left sealed the deal, and Bo Ryan and company head on to face the Big Red of Cornell (or is it the Cornell "Hugging Bears," as their logo would suggest?) on Sunday.

Sure would have been trippy to see a Cornell/Wofford matchup, but it would have also felt like we were all living in Bizarro world. And I think we're all too tired and drunk on beer and basketball to be prepared for that kind of mindtrick right now. Thanks, Wisconsin, from bringing this thing back to the real world a bit. 

Tonight's game brings more opportunity for some surprises. Let's see if there's any pixie dust left in this tourney. I'm willing to bet there is.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 12, 2010 10:31 am
Edited on: March 12, 2010 11:06 am

Big implications in today's Big Ten slate

John Wilkinson

A bubbly Big Ten tips-off at noon with Michigan battling arch rival Ohio State, commencing the Evan Turner Show. The POY finalist is certainly worth keeping an eye on, but some major bracket fallout is expected in the later sessions. 

At 2:00, Illinois takes on Wisconsin in a fight for NCAA Tournament salvation. It's been an up and down season for Bruce Webber's bunch, from handing Wisconsin its only home loss of the year last month to dropping five of its last six conference games to seal their fragile fate.  

If Minnesota can find some scoring and upset Michigan State in the 8:55 tip, it just might be enough to propel them to the dance, especially if Illinois is unable to beat Wisconsin. The Gophers were swept by the Spartans in the regular season, and you know what they say about trying to beat a team for the third time...which may or may not hold water statistically, I have yet to analyze the datum. Hard to believe with Izzo's Final Four prowess that Sparty hasn't won this tournament in 10 years. 

Now, let's whip out a hypothetical where both Illinois and Minnesota falter, as expected. Will the Big Ten really be just a 4-bid league? Many factors are at play here obviously, but what about Northwestern? The Wildcats are not mentioned on anyone's radar, thanks to a 7-11 conference record, but with 20 wins overall that include Notre Dame, a full-strength Purdue, and Illinois, perhaps they'll claw their way into tournament discussion if they can dispatch the wounded Boilermakers tonight at 6:30. Hey, if Georgia Tech can dance with a sub .500 conference record, then why not the Wildcats? Contrary to long-held attitudes, the ACC was hardly a juggernaut this year, certainly no tougher than the Big Ten. Come on, they've never been to the tournament people. 

It will be an exciting, borderline enchanting day in Indianapolis as the fate of its 2-3 bubble teams will have a tremendous impact on the national landscape. All that and Evan Turner. Enjoy. 
Posted on: March 11, 2010 12:07 pm
Edited on: March 11, 2010 12:26 pm

Big Ten Tournament: a preview


A three-way tie atop the regular season conference standings will be settled this weekend as the Big Ten Tournament begins today in Indianapolis. This year's edition is flush with intrigue as well as adversity, and if the regular season were any indication, expect nothing short of an evenly matched brouhaha here in the heartland. Heavy on back-doors, ball-lines, and box-outs, the Big Ten is often accused of lacking pizazz and offensive whimsy, and yet its sent four different schools to the Final Four in the last decade: Michigan State (4x), Ohio State ('07), Illinois ('05), and Indiana ('02). 



Michigan State (24-7, 14-4)

Can you even have a final 4 without first running it by Tom Izzo? Sparty has reached college basketball's penultimate playoff 5 times in the last 10 seasons, despite not winning a Big Ten Tournament since the Flinstones in 2000. Izzo is a master of motivation and seems to do his best work when his Spartan's are overlooked. Sparty's solid record speak for itself, but they've battled uncharacteristic chemistry issues all season and star guard Kaelin Lucas is just now getting over an ankle injury that is about to be heavily tested. Likewise, the team's top 3-point threat, Chris Allen, has been suspended for the tournament. 


Ohio State (24-7, 14-4)

This tournament means more to the Bucks than perhaps anyone else with that 4th #1 seed still up for grabs. It also serves as Evan Turner's final stage to make his case for National Player of the Year. The Buck's lone glaring weakness is its lack of depth. Their starting five is the best in the league but how far can you ride a 6-man rotation in a grueling tournament format? 


Purdue (26-4, 14-4)

You don't really appreciate an ACL until its been shredded. With star forward and leading scorer Robbie Hummel on crutches, Purdue's odds of winning this tournament and earning a favorable seed for a shot at an Indianapolis homecoming have been slashed. Yet, Matt Painter's squad will be playing with guile and you can bet a chip on their shoulder to prove they are more than a one-trick pony. Guards E-Tuawn Moore, Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer form a defensive minded perimeter but whether or not the Boilers can score enough points will ultimately decide their fate. 


Wisconsin (23-7, 13-5)

When are the Crew Cuts not solid? Every year they end the season at or near the top of the Big 10 with their trademark swing offense and shut-down defense. Bo Ryan has won this tournament twice in his 8 seasons in Madison, but has yet to really put his stamp on the program with a final 4 appearance. We know 'Sconsin can bring it, as they did early in the year against ACC bookends Maryland and Duke, and they beat every team in the Big Ten at least once. The return of strapping big John Leuer from injury gives Wisconsin some much needed scoring and defense on the block and could be enough to separate them from the four-way gridlock. The Badgers lead the nation with a mere 9 TO's per game, and blanketing defense is good enough for 3rd in the NCAA, which equates to one tough out. 



Illinois (18-13, 10-8)--the bubbled Illini must beat Wisconsin tomorrow to earn a spot in the big dance. Their success hinges on senior guard Demetri McCamey, who can light you up on offense or clank his team right out of contention. 


Minnesota (18-12, 9-9)--beset by suspensions and general off-court theatrics, the Gophers are an inconsistent mess but if we know anything about Tubby Smith, it's that the man thrives in the under-dog role. They should be able dispose of Penn State in the opener but are equally capable of just flat out not showing up. 


Northwestern (19-12, 7-11)--the Wildcats were a pretty tough out most of the year behind the league's most underrated talent, forward John Shurna. They also lost to Indiana to close the regular season, a flare-up of mediocrity difficult to ignore. But if anyone outside of the top 4 can steal a win or two, it's Northwestern. 



Michigan (14-16, 7-11)--John Beileine's Wolverines underwhelmed once again this year despite a solid one-two punch in guard Manny Harris and forward DeShawn Sims. There are problems with this team beyond Beileine's increasingly tired pick n' pop offense. It won't take much to get past Iowa today, but it's hard to expect anything but an early exit here in Indy. 


Indiana (10-20, 4-14)--the Hoosiers are bad, really bad. It's actually pretty shocking they managed to avoid the 11th seed in this tournament as losers of 11 of their final 12 games. I'd be shocked if Northwestern succumbs to this makeshift roster again in today's opening round, and I'm sure the folks in Bloomington are just ready to see this train wreck of a season come to an end. 


Penn State (11-19, 3-15)--a mid-season debacle featuring a 12 game conference losing steak secured a last place finish for the Nittany Lions, though two near misses agaisnt MSU and Purdue to close the season showed they might at least be capable of a win against the Gophers today. 


Iowa (10-21, 4-14)--on a given night, Iowa is certainly capable of out-sucking just about anyone they play. Except Indiana of course, the source of half of the Hawkeyes Big Ten victories. 


Why watch? 

Evan Turner alone is worth the price of admission, and Purdue's attempt to overcome the loss of Hummel will be as intriguing as any post-season storyline this weekend. It's Izzo, Bo, Thad, Turner and Lucas, all in one tangled web of bracketed mayhem. Can the Big Ten claim the last #1 seed? Can they squeeze a fifth team into the dance? Can Evan Turner really carry his team on a previously broken back? Will anyone score 80 points? 


Come on, you know you want a hit of this. 

Today's match-ups:


(8) Michigan

vs.                 2:30

(9) Iowa 


(7) Northwestern

vs.                 4:30

(10) Indiana 


(6) Minnesota 

vs.                 7:30

(11) Penn State 

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