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Monday, March 20, 2006

I didn't want to say anything like this earlier on the assumption that predictions in this space will immediately be proven wrong and thus sink my bracket, but I had no Big Ten teams in the Sweet Sixteen, mostly because I had seen all of them in action against Michigan. How good can you possibly be if you don't kill Michigan? (Iowa excepted. Rather: how good can you be with a bald white dude starting?) I also had the aid of the always perspicacious Wonk, who sounded a note of warning before the tournament got underway:

So while the Big Ten can be said to have had a better year this year than last (best conference RPI and six teams in the tournament), it's also true that no Big Ten team this year appears to be the equal of Michigan State last year-- much less Illinois last year. (I am still amazed at the grief last year's Spartans took right up until late March--a team, after all, that went 13-3 in the conference.)

Now, might last year's numbers for the best teams have been inflated a smidge by last year's weaker Big Ten opponents? Of course. Still, the fact remains that the conference's top teams this year look decidedly more mortal on paper than they did last year.
Aye. When your top seed is a team that back-assed its way into a Big Ten title by shooting stupid threes -- even though those threes weren't falling for the last six or so games -- you've got trouble. Even so, I was still excessively optimistic about the conference's performance. I had Iowa squeaking by Northwestern State, mostly because I've looked at maps and stuff: "Northwestern" is not a state. (Also not a state: Arkansas.)

However, somone tell Wonk that
  • if he's going to cover a mid-19th century presidential election it should be the 1844 election featuring James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump, and
  • there are still two Big Ten basketball teams in action: Minnesota and Michigan.
Sure, it's the NIT, but even if this particular smack is low-grade stuff cut with sugar it's the last precious hit Wonk will get until distant October. C'mon, Wonk! We need your best Ewan-McGregor-in-Trainspotting impression... though preferably with intelligible dialogue.

In hockey the CCHA may go the way of the Big Ten this year: many teams, few wins. Four CCHA teams made the tournament (PDF), but it looks doubtful any of the four will break the league's streak of Frozen Fours sans representation. Michigan State (hey, welcome back... but not really) has reverted back to its old days of Abomination Hockey where double-digit shots for either side are an accomplishment; Michigan has the draw of doom; UNO and Miami have drawn BU and BC in Worcester.

Michigan State has the best shot, as their bracket is WCHA-free and their regionals site is not within 50 miles of their opponent's home arena. The WCHA has been both the nation's strongest conference over the past few years and Spartan kryptonite, but all MSU has to face is a wonky UNH team and the winner of Maine-Harvard. Still, they haven't scored a goal in the tournament since calculus was invented, and God willing they won't this year either -- State tried to deny their destiny but have reverted back to the days where they tried to win -1 to -2. Such hockey must be punished.

OUTRAGE!!! Probably. You know this year isn't going well when we're getting screwed in sports that I don't even understand entirely. To wit: many people are pissed off that Michigan wrestler Ryan Churella was not awarded a pin and thus a national championship towards the end of the second round of his match against Oklahoma State's Johny Hendricks. Here's the video:
I have no idea what constitutes a pin, but hell, even Iowa fans are pissed off. And so are wrestling fans (<-- w/ pictures of the critical moment), though there's some disagreement as to the validity of the pin. However, everyone is in agreement that the series of takedowns awarded to Churella's opponent later were somewhere between questionable and criminal. I won't make any bold proclamations because I'm no more qualifed to comment on amateur wrestling than Bill Walton is on the NBA (zing!), but it kind of figures, doesn't it? Stupid year. Churella's distinguished career (three Big Ten championships and runs to the semi-final in three consecutive years) comes to a close on a sour note; as helpful emailer Matthew Stout put it, the refereeing in Churella's match
made the officials in the Alamo Bowl look like a bunch of geniuses.
Ouch. Condolences to Churella and congratulations on a great career.

Spring practice is here.