Earlier this year, right before March Madness began, I interviewed two of the best college basketball bloggers on their tourney thoughts. Well, with the new season in its infancy, I decided to check back in with Ken Pomeroy and John Gasaway. This year I’ve also added an interview with the best young college blogger, Ryan Kobliska, who both Pomeroy and Gasaway had touted last year at this site. (See my links on the side to visit these great sites.) Part one of our College Hoops Preview is with the writer I consider one of the best 5 sports bloggers on the web, John Gasaway of Big Ten Wonk.
Gasaway has done something that a lot other bloggers could learn from. The Big 10 Wonk focuses on one conference to give its readers a complete look at the league. Maybe someone should start doing that with pro sports, like an AL West blog for example. So if you are out there and are an Oakland A’s fan, instead of adding to the many good blogs already dedicated to the subject, take a wider look at the division as a whole. Instead of getting regular readers of one team, you have the potential of reaching fans of four. Enough on that for now, let’s get on with my interview with John Gasaway.
Scott Long: Since you’re an Illinois grad, I want to start with a question from last year. If the 2004-05 Illini would have played North Carolina 10 times, what would the overall record have been?
Big 10 Wonk: Can we get different officials for the other nine games? Ones who think it’s actually OK to call fouls on Sean May? Then, without question, the Illini would go 9-1, and I have several VERY sophisticated statistical models that prove this incontrovertibly. (As you say, I’m an Illinois grad.)
What I do know is the other games would have featured much better shooting by the Illini and much better rebounding by Carolina. So I think you’d see a series of great games, ones with much larger contributions from James Augustine (obviously) and Marvin Williams.
Scott Long: Give me your predicted order of the Big 10 for 2005-06.
1. Michigan State
2-10. Everyone else except 11.
11. Penn State.
I’m serious. I’d be surprised if 1 or 11 changed but just about anything in between wouldn’t shock me.
Scott’s Big 10 Rankings
1. Michigan State
7. Ohio St.
11. Penn State
Scott Long: Rank the Big 10 coaches from first to worst?
Big 10 Wonk: I prefer to think of this in terms of “tiers”….
Izzo. Four Final Fours–not to mention he’s the only coach in the Big Ten to have won the (D-I) national championship.
Weber. He’s 68-9 at Illinois.
Ryan. He’s 96-37 at Wisconsin.
Matta. Yes, Matta–anyone with the recruits he has on the way deserves membership here.
Monson. For starting Gonzaga on its roll and for taking a team of who-dats to the big dance last year.
Carmody. Has the right system for the program–but needs to get them playing D.
Amaker. Class act but with his Ellerbe-esque record, it’s a good thing he went to Duke. People might not be as patient if he went to Sonoma State.
Davis. Maker of odd statements but he landed the talent for this year, at least.
Alford. In the league all these years and we’re all still trying to figure him out.
“Who can tell?” tier
DeChellis. You know, if anyone ever did build Penn State into a strong program they’d be the hottest coaching property around, wouldn’t they? What would be more impressive?
Painter. I only make sweeping pronouncements once a coach has four career games at his school under his belt.
Scott Long: I agree completely with your first tier, though I rate Ryan and Matta above Weber, as Bruce won with Bill Self’s players and hasn’t proven he’s a top recruiter. I would almost make a 3rd tier with Amaker, Davis, and Alford being listed as psudeo-underachievers. Davis took his team to a NCAA tourney final, while Alford when he was at Southwest Missouri State made a Sweet 16 appearance, so they both have resume highlights to point to, but both should be expected to get at least one NCAA tourney win this season to keep their jobs. Amaker has had some really bad luck with injuries, but if he can’t get the Wolverines to the Big Dance this year, the Coach K sheen will have lost enough of its luster to keep him in Ann Arbor. What Big 10 teams do you see making the NCAA tourney this year?
Big 10 Wonk: Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio State.
Scott Long: I agree, except I also see Michigan being the 7th team, as the Big 10 has better depth than they have had in a few years. What school would you add to make the Big 10 an even 12?
Big 10 Wonk: Longwood–because their coach does interviews with bloggers. If they turned us down, Notre Dame.
Scott Long: I would go after Missouri, as it would help open up the only 2 major markets in the Midwest (Kansas City and St. Louis) the Big 10 isn’t strong in.
Scott: Who is your sleeper to make the Sweet 16?
Big 10 Wonk: Let’s say sleepers, plural, because it depends so heavily on how the brackets fall out. Old Dominon’s certainly an obvious choice after the game they gave Michigan State in the first round last year–but because they’re obvious I’m not sure I’d call them a “sleeper.” Same for Bucknell–not sure how much of a “sleeper” you are after you beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. And I’ll toss Davidson in there. They were undefeated in-conference last year and had the nerve to play Duke this year. They got beaten senseless, of course, but that’s what makes them a sleeper.
Scott Long: What is your first college basketball memory?
Big 10 Wonk: Man, good question. I’m going to steal this one for my next interview. Ah, I guess it was the year of Magic and Bird meeting in the championship game. I think NBC had the Final Four then–whoever it was played that song “This Is It” over and over.
Scott Long: I’m completely with you about how great that tourney was. With a young Bryant Gumbel in the studio and the Kenny Loggins’ song anchoring the excitement, it is the blueprint of how sports coverage is done today. While many just remember the Bird/Magic angle, there were so many great games in the 1979 tourney and NBC covered it so well that the combination created an elevation of college basketball on a national basis. Phew. Next subject, who is your favorite team of all-time?
Big 10 Wonk: You ask this of an Illinois grad? The 2005 Fighting Illini, both for their record and the manner in which they attained it: with unselfishness, tenacity, and class. They did my alma mater proud.
Scott Long: Who is your favorite player of all-time?
Big 10 Wonk: My favorite player of all-time from a non-Illinois team is every single player on the 2000 Michigan State team. Those guys truly had an aura. You just knew the only way you were going to beat them was if they beat themselves.
As for Illini, well, after last year’s Arizona game there will certainly always be a special place in my heart for Deron Williams. There’s not a true Illinois fan alive who can’t cue up Dick Enberg’s call of that game from their memory anywhere anytime. (“Williams can TIE it with a three!…HE DOES!”) And I loved Roger Powell. Undersized and not terribly talented, he outrebounded an entire floor full of guys now in the NBA in the national championship game.
But I’ll go with Kenny Battle. That guy just never quit. Ever. I was just a pup but one of my favorite memories from a Big Ten game came when Illinois played at Indiana during Battle’s senior year. (Remembered as the game of The Shot by Nick Anderson.) That was while Bob Knight was at Indiana, of course, and he could be overheard clearly on the broadcast berating the officials. One particularly irate Knight tirade ended with, and I quote: “That’s not basketball, goddamn it!” Immediately Battle’s oddly high-pitched voice could be heard adding unsolicited yet timely advice for the officials: “Ooo! Give him a technical!”
Scott Long: How many complete NBA games do you watch per season?
Big 10 Wonk:Regular season? On TV? Literally, none. Watching an entire regular season NBA game on TV should be banned under the Geneva Convention. Their games are an odd combination of too fast (it’s tough to run much besides pick-and-rolls or isolations in 24 seconds) and too slow (I want it over in two hours, like a college game–which is also my main problem with college football).
That being said, I have two exceptions to this rule: 1) a special team; and 2) in-person attendance. As for (1), the 2002 Sacramento Kings were an absolute delight to watch–and I only know that because I lived in Sacramento at the time. (So maybe I’m missing out on other good teams–who knows?)
And as for (2), I now live in the Twin Cities and I went to two Timberwolves games last year. If you can get good seats (i.e., if someone’s company is paying) an NBA game really is a sight to behold. I’m 6-6 and the guys who look smallest on TV are all my height or taller–and built. And run like track stars. It’s really incredible to see. Anyone who’s seen Kevin Garnett perform in person and then says they weren’t impressed is either vision-impaired or a liar.
Scott Long: Who is your favorite college basketball analyst?
Big 10 Wonk:Hands down, Bill Raftery. I love him. I love his shtick (“with a kiss,” “man-to-man!”) plus he’s knowledgeable without being a weenie about it. My version of Now I Can Die in Peace will be published when Raftery does the Final Four.
I also like Jay Bilas–if he’d gone anywhere but Duke I think he’d be recognized in the Pacific, Mountain, and Central time zones as being as good as he is. I actually disagree with him fairly often but to me that just proves he’s actually stating positions–which is surprisingly rare for an analyst.
Overall, though, I think college hoops is notably missing what for lack of a better term I’d call the Gary Danielson analyst. Nobody raves about how great Danielson is on college football games or even notices him, really, because in truth he’s borderline-Gray Davis dull. But he really knows the game and he delivers his insights with a stealthy efficiency.
Scott Long: Whom do you find hotter, Erin Andrews or Stacey Dales-Schuman?*
Big 10 Wonk: Neither can hold a candle to the Wonk Wife. In addition to being the politic answer, it’s also the honest one: both of the above bore me to tears (remarkable considering they’re only on-screen for 20 seconds a pop) and boring ain’t hot. If forced to declare for at least one haunter of sidelines, I personally would incline more toward the Bonnie Bernstein side of the street, i.e., someone who knows what they’re talking about–and yet doesn’t look like Rick Majerus.
Scott Long: Thanks. Let me reiterate that the Big 10 Wonk is one of the best sites on the web. Check it out.
Scott’s Note: It would be fair as a reader to ask are you just asking Mr. Gasaway questions that you want to answer yourself. Somewhat, but you see I’ve always found if no one asks you the questions you want to be asked, don’t be afraid to do it yourself.