Monday, November 27, 2006

Spring Break in November

So this past weekend, the men's basketball badgers played in a "tournament" in South Padre Island, Texas. According to my older brother, who should know, South Padre Island turns into some insane sex-farm for college students every spring break-- the kind of place where Girls Gone Wild executive producers hang out. Not so bumping in November, however. Why this Texas-based tournament included playing two games against Delaware State and Southern in Madison, I don't know. (I'm guessing it has something to do with giving the Badgers the chance to charge admission to two additional home games).

The two games in Girls Gone Wild-land, played in what appeared to be a community college gym, were an indicator of the two ways this season can head. In the first game against Missouri State (aka Southwest Missouri State, remember that terrible first-round exit under Bennett in 1999?) on Friday, we learned what can happen when no one besides Alando steps up on offense. Mizzou-State bombed us in the first half, with this one squirrely guard shooting the lights out, running up a 19-point lead at one point. Thanks to some timely tenacity, we were able to close the game to 13 points at the end of the first half, and spent most of the second half on one of those typical Wisconsin "runs"-- not where we quickly score a bunch of points in a row, but where we prevent the other team from scoring much, and slowly work our way back in it. At one point, with about 5 minutes left, we had taken the lead, and were up by 5. Then we stopped scoring, didn't make enough stops, and missed key free throws, scoring two points the rest of the game. Despite all that, we still had the ball on the last possession of the game with a chance to tie or win it. Unfortunately, that possession, and the two immediately preceding it, were pathetic. We took the ball, sat around the top of the key, and someone shot a forced jumper as the clock got close to running out. Way to go team.

Bo said something about the team's offense like "one person has the ball, and the other four need to move" meaning, I suppose, that the team wasn't running its offense properly. When that's not working, we're in trouble. It looks like the only guy on the team right now who can consistently score outside the offense is Alando, and after we got back into the game, they did a fine job of taking him away. So the game proves the point--when no one else steps up offensively besides A-Tuck, we lose. Alando is clearly our best player, but against a decent team (and Missouri State is a solid team who may very well make the tournament this year), other people (Butch, Taylor, Flowers, the Hoft, etc) must hit enough of their shots to make the defense respect them in order for us to win.

The next game in the southern tip of the continential U.S. was against Auburn, and was a good example of the reverse. People hit their shots, specifically Taylor (16 points), Flowers and Bohannon (two 3's apiece), and kept the defense honest, although I imagine Auburn is a less disciplined team, defensively, than Missouri State, which won 22 games last season. Regardless, if we can consistently get contributions on offense from people other than Alando, I think we have a good chance to win most of our games.

That said, I'm a bit concerned about two things. One is the short hook. Bo consistently pulls guys who turn the ball over on offense. Once or twice and they're out. Stiemsma was playing well against Mizzou-State, making a serious impact on defense (he blocked two shots and forced several other misses), and helping key our second half rally. But at one point he pushed off a bit with his off-hand while trying to catch a post pass and was charged with an offensive foul. He was pulled, and ended up playing only 7 minutes total. He did have four fouls, I admit, and in 7 minutes that's a fast rate of fouling. But who cares if he fouls out if he's not even playing? His defensive presence was huge, and he made two nice lay-ups. I know possessions are precious, but when players are contributing in other ways I implore Coach Ryan to give Stiemsma a longer leash, and let him play through his mistakes. The same goes with our younger guards like Perry and Hughes.

Second, largely because of our inexperienced backcourt behind Flowers and Taylor, I think we're vulnerable to teams like Missouri State that have experienced guards and run a lot of three-guard sets. You'd think we'd be able to take advantage of that by playing someone like the Hoft or Landry, who are both athletic enough to guard a two, I think, and pushing the ball inside on offense. It looks like we did that a bit against Delaware State, where Butch was the only big guy to get any decent minutes, and Bohannon and the Hoft played big minutes. I guess it worked, although we only won by 12, at home. After watching Marquette ride a three guard line-up to victory over a solid (but relatively inexperienced) Duke team, I'm seriously concerned about not only losing that game, but looking bad. I suppose they'll be ranked higher than us when we play them, and the game's in Milwaukee, so a loss will be excusable, but man I hate losing to those guys. A significant loss would be terrible. Hopefully, James will bolt to the NBA after this season.

In Packer-related news, Tauscher is still out, which means our offense should remain ineffectual. This is bad because I'm counting on Jennings to do something tonight in my fantasy league. Also, all those people who were calling for Abdul Hodge to start after seeing him kill practice squad running backs in the Family Night scrimmage in August, get excited. Barnett is out because of a broken hand, and Hodge will be playing middle linebacker. My expectations for Hodge are some decent play against the run, but some iffy play against the pass, though he should get pulled in the nickel, which means Poppinga (uh-oh) will be running around the field on passing downs. Trouble. Though Seattle's been an odd team this season, very up and down and injury-riddled, and their running game is clearly missing Hutchinson, I think they should be fired up with Alexander and Hasselfront coming back. I predict a double digit loss, alas, although if Moll can shape up we should be able to run the ball on them a bit.

The biggest Packer related story of the past week is losing Rodgers to injury after a half of football. You've got to feel for the guy. He gets a half with a 3/5 rookie o-line against one of the best defenses in football, looks iffy and breaks his foot. Crap sandwich. He didn't get a chance to prove himself at all, and won't get another this entire season. For A-Rodg, I'm sure it feels like an entire off-season of work (he was up in Green Bay a lot, working out with McCarthy) was wasted. For fans and the team, we're both deprived of a chance to see whether he'll actually be a passable replacement for Favre, and the injury raises questions about what the team should do when the draft rolls around. It also highlights how absurdly durable Favre has been. Rodgers got a season-ending injury in his first half of football. Brett hasn't missed a start since the early 90's. Ridiculous.
This injury also makes Favre's health even more crucial. Before Rodgers went out, if Favre had been injured we would have gone to formerly great (now pretty good) player to inexperienced, but potentially good player. If Brett gets seriously hurt now, we'll go from pretty good player to player who shouldn't even be in the league-- a developmental fifth-draft pick from Furman or a player Thompson just signed off the street. Since the team is far from loaded talent-wise, our performance would likely go from "somewhat competitive" to "utterly terrible." I'm talking beyond "Sherman in 2004 against the Titans on Monday Night" terrible. More like, "being shut out by Detroit at home" terrible. Really god-awful. Lets hope that doesn't happen, for the sake of our dignity, the team's and the state's pride, and any chance of being on Monday Night Football ever again.

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