Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Road Hardly Ever Traveled

As far as I know, the last time a Big Ten men's basketball team went through the Big Ten season undefeated was a Bobby Knight Indiana squad that went swept the league, went 32-0 overall, and won the 1976 NCAA championship. This was the back half of an unprecedented two-year stretch for IU, during which they only lost one game, and won every conference game.
The closest any team has come to matching this performance since was Illinois' one loss season in 2004-05, where they lost at Ohio State on a last minute shot in the last game of the regular season. You don't come much closer to going undefeated than that. And, if you'll recall, that team had two first round NBA draft picks on it, and all five starters have spent at least some time in the league.
I'm not saying that I expect this year's University of Wisconsin men's basketball team to go through the Big Ten season undefeated, or even match Illinois' feat of two years ago. If anything, the 31 years that have passed since it was last done indicate how ridiculously difficult it is to go through the season undefeated. In re Wisco this season, I think it's wise to strive to win every game, but not to be unrealistic. If more talented teams like the Fab Five, year two, or the Mo Pete/Cleeves Sparty, or the Deron/Wee Brown Fibs couldn't get it done, our chances are remote. But still, we must dream the impossible dream!

Wisconsin is in the middle of what appears to be one of the two most difficult patches of the Big Ten season. At the Fibs last weekend, a talented but undisciplined Michigan team, followed by today's game at Iowa, where Iowa had won 28 out of the past 29 games, then capped off by Wednesday's game at Indiana, where he of the excessive phone calls, Kelvin Sampson, has the Hoosiers playing quite well. We took care of business this afternoon, either stifling Iowa's two leading scorers or getting intensely lucky since they both had poor shooting nights. But Indiana will be a toughie, as the Hoosiers have the most efficient offense in the league (an outlandish 1.16 PPP), largely due to the rate at which they're hitting 3's. They hit 10 on Saturday, shooting 50% from beyond the arc. That equates to a scary 1.5 PPP on possessions during which they launched a three-pointer. But, but, you (and I) protest, Indiana lost at Illinois to a Fib team lacking it most talented player, the 6'8" small forward Brian Randle, in the "how dare you recruit our recruit who gave us a non-binding verbal commitment" game. Yeah, I saw that too. That game was a colossal brick-fest. If we can bring some serious defense to the table, keeping their shooters from getting open looks, and frustrating Deeg White with our assortment of bigs, then I think we can take them. So far, we're playing the best defense in the league, although our stats must have been helped tremendously by the straight-brokedness of Iowa this afternoon. If Indiana starts hitting 3's though, look out, we're in trouble. What may bode well for Bucky is that Indiana plays good perimeter defense but iffy interior D. Teams are shooting only 23% on 3's against the Hoosiers, but they're apparently quite gracious once you get inside the arc--allowing opposing teams to hit 52% of their two-point shots. Since we typically prefer to focus our offense on the interior anyway (partly because we haven't shot the ball well from outside this season), this could spell some offensive success. That's if the "they're really good at stopping what we're not very good at so don't really try to do" logic makes sense to you. It may not. It's understandable.

At the end of the Big Ten season, Wisconsin dives into its second rough-looking stretch. We play at Sparty and at Ohio A&M, and then end the regular season with Sparty at home. Yeesh. And by the looks of MSU's furious comeback in Columbus and the stats (they're one of the four teams in the league with a solid efficiency margin so far (that is PPP scored minus PPP given up)) they're actually a decent team. What may make this last stretch tolerable is that there's plenty of time between games. We play at Sparty on 2/20 (a Tuesday) and then at The Ohio A&M College on 2/25 (a Sunday). Then we don't play our last game until 3/3 (the following Saturday). So there'll be time to recuperate and focus on the next game, at the very least.

So I haven't said much about the Iowa game, yet, huh? Haluska, the Big Ten's leading scorer, did not look all that impressive. He was hustling and did get some open looks, but very little was hitting the sink. Iowa's big freshman, Tyler Smith, who an Iowa paper compared to a young Alando, also struggled from the field. I'm not sure if Smith's and Haluska's struggles were due to them having off games, or our defensive intensity. Hopefully it was both. Good defense certainly doesn't make those shots go in any easier. And finally, Alando was back on offensively, hitting jumpers, floating to the basket, making contested lay-ins in the paint. A-Tuck hit 78% of his shots, scoring 27 points, or roughly 50% of our offensive output. A game recap briefly mentioned something about Alando having a sprained thumb during the past few weeks (did you notice the tape on it the past few games?), and that injury healing may have had something to do with a return of his shooting form. Butch also hit three 3's, and was a rebounding machine, ending up with fourteen boards. Folks who may not have watched the game may be thinking something like "if Iowa's two leading guys played so poorly, and Alando was on, why didn't we win by a larger margin?" Three reasons-- (1) Iowa got to the line more often than we did (Haluska is a fine actor, and went 9 of 10 from the stripe), (2) no one else was shooting all that well (Kam went 1 for 7 and hit that one shot early in the game), and we turned the ball over a decent amount-- 12 times. Kam hits a few more open jumpers, we get a few more calls (Alando got called for a suspect charge underneath the basket), we win the game by the high teens.
Iowa rattled us a bit on offense by playing tight pressure D on the perimeter, and doubling quickly when our main guys, like Kam and Alando, tried to drive past it. Other guys have to cut and get open.
A final note-- Jason Bohannon, the freshman from Marion, Iowa, who I like to affectionately refer to as Boyannyon, was roundly booed by the Iowa City crowd. Jason was Iowa's Mr. Basketball a year ago, led his team to a state championship during one of his high school years, and is the oldest son of a former Iowa quarterback, Gordy Bohannon, who started for an Iowa Rose Bowl team in the early 80's. It's kind of the equivalent of Darrell Bevell's kid choosing to go to Illinois. Or, wait a minute, it's almost the exact equivalent of the Wes Matthews, Junior situation. Wes's dad, Wes Matthews Senior, was the Badgers leading scorer and best player in the late 70's and went on to play in the NBA. Wes Jr. went to Madison Memorial (suspect), was Wisconsin's Mr. Basketball his senior season (edging out Marcus Landry for the honor), and decided to go to Marquette (argh...), turning away from his hometown team and his dad's legacy. Now I love me some Badgers, but it's hard to blame Wes, and thus, if I were an Iowa fan, it'd be hard to get mad at Jason. Would you feel comfortable being a high-profile athlete at a school where you father or mother (or even an older sibling) was a star? Wouldn't you want to create your own legacy? And avoid potentially nasty comparisons? Though don't tell this to Flowers or Nankvil, there's also something to getting the hell out of Dodge, and trying out a new place.
I understand the boos that Wes got in Madison last year and that Jason got this afternoon, but I hope they fade in time as fans start seeing them as players, not as a legacy that their school was entitled to. Hitting that first three pointer must have felt pretty good, Jason.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Michigan or Michigan't?

Michigan basketball has been quite odd under Tommy Amaker. He seems to attract talented basketball players, and they're very capable of beating (even up) on lesser teams. But when they get into games against tough opponents, particularly in unfriendly environs, the Wolverines wilt. The blowing of the lead at NC State this year. The absolute pounding by UCLA. And this is on a team with a bunch of seniors-- guys you'd think would be experienced and tough competitors, but apparently, ummm, aren't.
And so it goes...Michigan started out 4-1 in the Big Ten, beating Illinois, Penn State and Purdue at home, and taking down Northwestern on the road, but suffering a double-digit loss at Purdue.
So predictably, Michigan comes into Madison, feeling optimistic and a little pleased with its 4-1 record, and gets spanked. The final margin was 13, 71 to 58, but the Badgers were up 24 points with eight minutes left and 21 with 3 minutes left. A bit of a beatdown.
The Big Ten Wonk notes a core reason for Michigan's problems--they can't stop turning the ball over. They turned the ball over 19 times Wednesday night, nearly a third of their possessions ended not with a shot, but by handing the ball back to les Badgers. Not particularly impressive, and something that doesn't speak well for Coach Amaker. And it's not all the young players. Senior PF/C Courtney Sims turned the ball over 7 times last night. If kids that have been in your program for several years are turnover machines, I'll just let that one sit.

It's interesting that Wisconsin actually performed better on offense without Alando in the game, which they had to do since he was out for the majority of the game due to foul trouble. Normally that's not the case. I was trying to figure out how that might be, and my theory is this-- other teams spend much of their defensive preparation planning for ways to stop A-Tuck, so when he's not in the game, their defensive gameplan breaks down a bit. But it's probably a one game anomaly. Small sample size and all.
Anyhow, we shot absurdly well last night, partly because almost all of it was within the three-point line (we only shot six threes). Thus, a very solid 1.09 points per possession for the game, while holding turnover-prone Michigan to a less than stellar .89 PPP. Excellent.
Other thoughts--
Did anyone see 6' 2" Michael Flowers block 6' 11" Courtney Sims? That was quacktastic.
As were the unusually high number of successful drives to the hole (Flowers, sure, but the Hoft, Landry, and, of all people, Butch? Fantastic!) If we can't shoot the "three-ball" consistently because Bo won't play Boyannyon and Pop Hughes, than I guess we should take it to the rack. Wait a minute, if we don't shoot the three well, then why in God's name would Michigan be guarding our guys so closely on the perimeter? My guess is that it's an attempt to slow down our perimeter passing, which is one of the key facets of the swing offense. So it becomes a matter of picking your poison. You either let us blithely and quickly rotate the ball from side to side, or your come out and get burned as we drive to the hole. Or your have Oden rotate over, and your shot gets partially blocked, but lets not think about that. (No more years! No more years!)
Also, did anyone notice Packer's play-by-play man Wayne Larrivee repeatedly attribute Michael Flowers' accomplishments to other players? I swear he did that multiple times.
Atmosphere note--during the Petway freak out/technical foul/fouling out five minute break, it was great to hear multiple repetitions of H-cock's favorite basketball cheer-- the immortal, dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum, "Drop the Puck!"
Finally, I leave you with the video footage of Bo Ryan doing the "Hambone;" first shown during the Illinois broadcast. Alternately amusing and disturbing.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Chicago Bears vs. the United States Saints

Gregg Easterbrook (brother of the bombastic federal judge Frank Easterbrook, aka Judge Eastercreek) has taken to referring to the Saints as the "United States Saints" apparently searching for a new euphemism for "America's Team." This refers to the sympathy everyone either has, or is expected to have, for everyone who was in the shit in Louisiana a year-and-a-half ago. This makes me wonder where all the Saints sympathy was last season, when they sucked hard, going 3-13. Are people only paying attention now because the Saints drafted Reggie Bush, and have an excellent and exciting offense? That is, now that they're good and exciting they're suddenly the team everyone's rooting for? Wouldn't it have been even more inspiring for the people of New Orleans if they had been a good team last I think the answer to that is maybe. Coming back to New Orleans is clearly a big deal, especially when a lot of people thought that the Saints would head for a better market after last season. But if they were a really boring, mediocre team, would anywhere near the same amount of people care? I'm dubious.
That said, anyone with any sense should be rooting for the Saints this afternoon. That's because a Saints Superbowl, with their offense and probably a rejuvenated Joe Horn (he's injured now, but remember his cell phone celebration?), would be awesome to watch. A Bears Superbowl would be terrible. Not only would I, a Packer fan living in the Chiccy-G, have to sit through two more weeks of media fellatio, but the Bears would probably be annihilated in a boring game that would be over before the midpoint of the third quarter. They have one standout player--Brian Urlacher-- and their defense has been only decent since losing their other stud--Tommie Harris. Their offense is mediocre, and led by a quarterback who can't handle pressure and has no scary wide receivers. The Pats, with two weeks to prep, would handle them easily. The Colts would run the score up like mad.
Now it would be funny to see the Bears get smacked on international television, but as a Packer fan, I have to say that their mere presence in the game would be a bit terrifying, because it would make it mathematically possible for them to win the game. Brady could break his coccyx taking a bath, after all. If you think Bears fans are obnoxious now...
A loss against the Saints would be far preferable, because the team would fall apart, and loyal Bear fans would start eating their young, specifically Charles Tillman and Gross Rexman (aka Mex Grossman, according to the elder fool, for reasons having to do with the desirability of the Bears QB position). That's always very amusing to watch. Go U.S. Saints!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"Champaign is Like the Confederacy"

So said a native Chicagoan to me on Friday. No joke. He was talking about how he's confused by the Chicago-area's support for the University of Illinois' athletic programs because the city seems more culturally attuned (and is about as close) to Ann Arbor and Madison. I'm not going to plumb the depths of that comment, I'm just putting it out there.

Both this game, Wisconsin's 71-64 victory over Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (hereafter known as Shampoo-Banana), and the Northwestern victory last week, were very lose-able games. On the road, stuck in an ugly, sluggish game in an embarrassing venue against a persistent and organized but untalented foe (in Evanston), or playing in a 1980's space-ship, surrounded by thousands of pumpkin-clothed under-entertained downstate Illinoisians, where the home team is making absurd bank-three pointers and getting a career game from one of its main scorers (in this case, U of I's PF/C Shaun Pruitt). But somehow, this season (so far) we've been pulling stuff off. Today's game, for example.
We're down one with two minutes left, and we end up winning by seven. In order for that to happen, things need to break your way (get lucky) and people on your team need to step up (you need to be good).
Maybe we can break it down bit by bit.
(1) The Stiemer makes two free throws (stepping up, especially for someone who hasn't played much).
(2) The Fibs take nearly 35 seconds to miss a jump shot (stepping up defensively as a team). (3) That utterly crazy possession: Kam's three is blocked by Randle, so Alando jumps up and grabs the misdirected shot but a Illinois player is jumping with him. Alando falls to the floor with the ball in front of him, facing away from the basket. He either slides the ball along the floor to Kam, or the force of him falling just sends it that way. Kam grabs the ball, realizes all the conundrum has distracted the Illinois defenders and immediately drains a 16-foot jumper. Ridiculous. (Final verdict: lucky and stepping up, Alando was in the right place at the right time but both he and Kam made great plays.)
(4) Flowers gets called for an off the ball foul on the already spear-bald McBride. (unlucky) McBride makes only one free throw. (Lucky).
(5) Landry scores but gets called for the offensive foul immediately after shooting--basket counts, but Fibs get free throws at the other end. (Good but also unlucky)
(6) Randle makes one free throw before missing the other. (Lucky)
(7) After the miss, there's a scrum for the rebound, Alando grabs it, pirouettes along the baseline while being swarmed by Fibs, then makes a wonderful jump and pass around the defenders to get the ball to Kam, who is fouled while sprinting to the other end. (Another example of stepping up and making important plays.)
(8) Kam makes both free throws. (good.) We're now up five with 30 seconds left.
(9) Frazier (whose name I can't say without hearing Mohammad Ali say "Fraaay-Zhaaa!"), misses a relatively rushed three. (good and lucky)
(10) Flowers makes both free throws (good)
(11) Jamar Smith airballs his second three of the night, and the game is basically over.

In review, we got lucky in that they missed shots that they had made at earlier points, and missed two free throws. We made a bunch of heady plays, put the ball in the hole when he could, didn't turn the ball over, and made our free throws. Plus, Illinois got a bit lucky with both of its foul calls toward the end of the game, meaning we were unlucky in that regard. But players kept their cool, played smart, stayed intense defensively, and hit their free throws. That's what it takes to pull out a win sometimes. In this case, when Alando was struggling from the field, when Pruitt was having a career night, when McBride was rediscovering his 3-point shooting, and when Illinois (home court advantage at play?) was shooting more free thows. Huge.

Other things:
- We finally shot free throws well! Even down the stretch. Hooray!
- Another tough night on offense for Alando, but he still made huge contributions, and ended up scoring 17 points, and getting 8 boards.
- Butch was working well down low on offense in the first half, but I think they went away from him because they were worried about defensive match-ups. It was either Carter or Pruitt for Butch-- both tough assignments for Brian.
- I guess that's why they went to Stiemsma. That and because Chappell got into foul trouble. Way to hit your jump shots, Greg. He played pretty well on defense, though no one did that good of a job on Pruitt. Career highs in minutes and points-- hitting those free throws at the end. Well done. You'd expect a 6'11" guy who played at Randolph High School and won multiple state championships probably must have a decent free throw stroke, because when you're 6 inches taller than everyone else you must have gotten fouled a lot.
- Kam's three-point shooting stroke sort of returned, but everyone else's is still AWOL.

Anyhow, wee haw! We beat the Fibs deep in the heart of Fib-dom. First time since 1997. Hell, yes. And we don't play them against this season. Now I can relax, and watch the Bears crap the bed tomorrow with my mind at ease.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Funny how change changes your perspective. Back in the day, when the most awesome looking coach ever (Gene Keady) was patrolling the sidelines, everybody would have been ecstatic to sneak out a five point victory over Purdon't. But when you win at home (a lot), oftentimes by comfortable margins, you start to expect a beatdown when you play a home game against a team, that, I don't know, has lost 27(!!) straight road games.

From that perspective, the performance of the UW men's basketball Badgers, in beating Purdue 69-64 last night, was disappointing. Our two leading scores shot 27% from the floor, missing nineteen total shots, and shot a middling 65% on free throws. The team also shot a woeful 17% on their three-pointers, many of which were solid looks since Purdue was sagging heavily towards Tucker. Given those statistics, winning the game was actually an impressive accomplishment. It depended in large part on the oft-underappreciated Chappell, who played solid and frustrating defense on Carl Landry and started knocking down jump shots after realizing he was being purposely left open by Purdon't; and Flowers, who chased Purdon't's second leading scorer, Teague, all over the floor, and made some smart and/or impressive drives to the basket. In contrast to Tucker/Taylor, Chappell/Flowers shot 69% from the floor, 80% from the line, scored a total of 28 points, gathered 13 rebounds, laid out four assists (all from Chappell, often on high-low passes), and garnered 2 steals. A fine performance from those two, who must have grown concerned about the perfomance of T/T as the game inched along and the bricks piled up.

Other observations--
- Carl Landry is an excellent college player, but will probably not make it in the NBA. He's got a great power forward's game-- great strength, good post moves, a fine turn-around from within 15 feet, a decent mid-range jump-shot. But athletic 6'10" forwards like Robert Horry or P.J. Brown will make him look bad in the league. Chances are better he ends up in Europe.

- Purdue is not a bad team-- if they win a few road games this season they could make the tournament. And even though Teague and Landry are seniors, the team's future looks bright: most other guys are underclassmen, and bizarrely, Purdue has the 7th ranked recruiting class in the country coming in next season (according to That puts them ahead of Duke! Painter looks to be a solid in-game coach as well. The Makers of Large Containers in which Water is Boiled look like a tough out for years to come.

- A big reason for the close game was the play of Gordon Watt, number one for Purdue, a redshirt sophmore transfer from Boston College. He repeatedly owned Butch, facing him up and driving right by him for slashing scores. (See photo above.) And Watt is a 6'6" small forward, making you wonder why the hell was Butch guarding him in the first place. Center guarding Small Forward, unless in the post, equals a poor defensive match-up. When Landry or the Hoft guarded him, he got shut down. But him on Butch was a total mismatch, and it kept happening again and again. I figured that this was due to Butch not being able to guard the elder Landry either (thus forcing him to guard Watt), and Landry the First's guy not wanting to leave him to help Butch out when Watt started driving. Since Butch played decently on offense, maybe Bo thought it was worthwhile to have him in there, overall. That wasn't the case-- Watt scored 18, the majority of which came against Butch.

- Is Chappell our only decent low-post defender? Besides drawing a charge on Landry, Stiemsma did not look particularly good against him (a bit slow of foot), and they didn't even seem to want Butch to try. If that's the case, it'll be really funny if we start getting beat up in the low-post again (like in our Elite Eight year two seasons ago) after Chappell graduates, since no one appreciates Chappell now. Is it because of the sleepy-eyed, "where's the intensity?" look?

- You'd think we could have gone to the bench a bit more. We only played 9 guys last night-- Pop Hughes and Gullickson didn't see any time, and Bohannon and Stiemsma played minimal minutes. With Tucker and Taylor struggling, why not give the other guys some more time? Kam played the ENTIRE GAME, and shot 0-6 from 3-point land. I don't know if those things are related (especially since he missed most of the 3's early in the game), but why not give Bohannon and Hughes more minutes and let Kam get his legs back? Bo seems to choke up on his bench as the year progresses, playing the starters and main bench guys more. It's hard to complain about the results. But with our team being as deep as it is, I don't see the point in letting your leaders get exhausted. Give 'em a rest and let the younger guys contribute.

On Saturday-- Illinois deep in the heart of Fib-dom. Weber has given us trouble since he's been there (has Bo beaten him more than once?), and Illinois is coming off a serious bludgeoning of the 'Sota. They're still having some health problems, but they're a solid team. Pruitt is a good low-post scorer, Smith and McBride are streaky outside shooters, Frazier (if he can play-- he has a groin problem) is a decent point, Carter is a long small forward, and Randle is actually a very talented player (he was injured for the first portion of the season). We can definitely lose this game, especially if we shoot as poorly as we did against Purdon't. I hope the guys are rested up for this one. Maybe we can buy the team a hyperbaric chamber?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Oh - Zone

We struggled against their zone. They mostly played a 1-3-1. In the future, I would like to see Trevon Hughes get more playing time against a zone. Aside from Flowers twice (2 tough finishes) and Boyanyon once, our guards never got to the rim. They barely even got past the key. Trevon Hughes is from New York City. He doesn't care about Northwestern's zone. Tell me Trevon Telfair wouldn't have broken someone's leg in that ridiculous gym. He could've scored 40 points dribbling the ball behind his back. PLAY HIM! We definitely need to make some changes against zone defenses. It didn't look like Ryan even practiced for it. Not that it should change our offense, but can we please get a ball handler out there that can penetrate. Trevon Hughes. I don't think he touched the floor.

Thank Goodness

We managed to beat a cursedly boring Northwestern team in that bizarre high-school hybrid hell of half-assedness, Welsh-Rarebit arena. So I, the other poster to this website, and a bunch of other assorted Wisco alums/leaners attended the game on Saturday, as did about 4,000 other Bucky fans. Observations:

- At first glance it seems sad and pathetic that Northwestern is basically an extended home game for every team in the Big Ten, as it was at this game (at least 60% Wisconsin fans). But then it starts to make sense. First off, population. Every other Big Ten school has more graduates living in the Chicago area than Northwestern. Yep, even Minnesota and Penn State have more alums. Northwestern only has about 2,000 undergrads per graduating class, and the kids come from (and go back to) all over the country. Second, unlike Madison, which tends to embrace the school, its students, and its athletics as a source of fun and culture and as a proud symbol of the state, many non-Northwestern affiliated Evanstonians dislike NU and its students. Evanston has always been a fussy town (a bastion of the temperance movement), and residents resent NU's property-tax exempt status, which shunts larger and larger tax bills on local land-owners with every new university acquisition. There have also been some well-publicized and unfortunate encounters between delicate Evanston residents and intoxicated students. The end result: the city does not give a lot of support to the school or its athletic program (unless they're winning the league in football). But third, and perhaps most importantly, "Northwestern Basketball" is a horrible thing to watch. The Princeton offense, as run by Carmody and his epic hairstyle, is designed to limit the number of offensive possessions in a game. That is, slow the pace and keep scoring down. NU's various zone defenses work to stifle passing and penetration and create silly turnovers, while giving up offensive rebounds. In short, a terribly boring and ugly style of basketball is played in Welsh-Rarebit. Plus, besides the random influx of an occasional decent player (Vukusic or Jitim Young were both solid), Northwestern's players are far from compelling. Whether this is due to poor recruiting, unrealistic academic standards and/or their intensely unattractive style of basketball is up in the air. The end result of all this-- there is little demand for a Northwestern basketball game unless you are a fan of the opposing team. So no one goes, except for folks looking for a free babysitter for their five-year old, young alums who haven't figured it out yet, bored faculty/staff (they get a discount), and retirees who have no idea what good basketball looks like. Oh, I forgot about their 90 person student section.

-- TMCC duly noted that the dress de rigueur by the elderly retirees/staff/faculty set is purple sweater over a white turtleneck, with the white turtleneck folded over once. Seriously, those must be on special somewhere. We were surrounded by this.

-- Worst non-ironic national anthem ever. Not joking. Wisco fans started singing over her at the end to try to stop the disgrace of our nation and to bring her interminable rendition to an end. The woman was apparently a Northwestern "student" according to the PA announcer. I hope she wasn't a student at the music school, because if so, somebody in admissions should get canned.

-- I'm not sure if we would have been much better with Flowers not in foul trouble, but without him, we sure looked like crap. He may be far more valuable than typically thought. See here.

-- TMTCC got bitched out by a turtlenecked retiree in her seventies for shouting "YOU SUUUUCK!" at this-one-goes-to-eleven volume during the game's quiet moments (TMTCC was directing his comments toward Vince Scott whilst Scott shot free throws at our end of the stadium-- I think I'm going to give TMTCC credit for one Scott miss, by the way.) We couldn't really understand what exactly she was saying in her various squawkings, but it appeared that she was wearing a purple and white boa and that she didn't like the heckling. (Lady, if you get your season tickets in a section right next to opposing fans, you're going to have to learn how to deal.)

-- Butch and Landry kept us in the first half with their offensive rebounds and put backs. Not sure why we weren't able to make decent entry passes to Butch in the second half. No one on their team could stop him from putting in lay-ups, he just had to get the ball near the basket.

-- Alando's dunk, step back three and circus off the glass lay-up ruled. His mom claimed he started playing decently after she showed up (she arrived late).

-- Dear Kam, if you're going to be the guy we get open to receive inbounds passes when we're protecting a lead late in games, you have to make your free throws. Get it together. (G.I.T.)

-- Everything about Tim Doyle screams YMCA-- the knee bands, the number (00), the absurd/constantly traveling post-ups, the complaints about lackluster fan support (last year he complained about fan attendance at their home upset win over Iowa). Hmm, where and when would I want Doyle on my team. Pick up game at YMCA on Saturday morning, yes, good. Starting in Big Ten, ummm, no.

-- Carmody's hair is ridiculous.

-- General comments on the half-assedness of Welsh-Rarebit:
(1) Why does Northwestern darken the vast majority of the stands during most of the game? Are they trying to hide the fact that the "arena" is mostly opposing fans?
(2) What is up with the safety mat underneath the cheer squad? If you need a mat, maybe you shouldn't be doing the air toss, flip move. Also, NU cheer squad/legal staff-- the cheerleader was getting caught well off the mat, so if/when you drop her it's not going to do any good. She's still going to break C-1 through C-7.
(3) Worst organization of concessions lines in any stadium I've ever been at. The line at the counter forms to prevent people from getting to the bathroom.
(4) NU AV guys-- way to try to drown out the "Lets Go Badgers" cacophony that drowned out the NU band by blasting that "whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa" techno song. Great retort. That totally made me forget that the place was 60% Badger fans. Much less embarrassing.
(5) I think the most central seats have purple backs so it looks like there are NU fans sitting in them when they're empty.
(6) I'd complain about Willie the Wildcat not wearing any pants, but Bucky doesn't wear any either.
(7) Unsurprisingly, Northwestern knows how to treat the media. They have the whole bank of courtside seats on the south side. Wisconsin moved them to the upper-deck this season.
(8) The retaliatory booing of Landry to our booing of Scott was so typically Northwestern. (Scott and Landry fell down and got their legs tangled and it appeared Scott kicked at him or tried to do some Royce Gracie leg lock maneuver on him while he was standing and Landry was on the ground. Since Landry is the Precious, tensions were raised and booing ensued.) "You're doing to our guy so were doing it to your guy!" Umm, our guy didn't do anything, morons. This is like Stanford students yelling "sucks" after the Badger fans at the 2001 Rose Bowl called out "Ron Dayne" after each of Ronnie's carries. No, the NCAA career leader in rushing doesn't suck. You're wrong.

That's all I got. We should be able to take Purdue at home this week (not playing them on the road this year is a serious plus, since we've one there precisely once in the last twenty years), and the first Landry/Landry match-up could be neat.

As a current Chicago resident, I was amused to see the overly-jubilant reaction to the Bears barely beating an injury-riddled Seattle team. They would have lost to Dallas and they are so NOT winning the Super Bowl. I think Bears fans probably think they'll walk all over the Saints next weekend because they're a warm weather dome team and the game's in Chicago. Uh, the Saints kicked the crap out of Dallas in December, and put up 31 points in a November game in Pittsburgh. The Bears will probably be favored, but if I were a betting man, I'd take the Saints with the points.

p.s. TMTCC-- happy birthday. You will be missed in the Chiccy-G, my friend.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Apology in Advance

To the father that had the good sense to raise his child in the comfortable, verdant, approachable surroundings of Evanston IL. You and your son are adorable. I congratulate you sir. What a handsome son you have and what an exciting afternoon you've planned for him. Nothing enriches the relationship between a boy and his father like going to see the game. And you sure did choose the right game to get tickets to. The badgers are quite entertaining this year. Actually you probably have season tickets. Anyway, i'd like to apoligize in advance for swearing and screaming and cursing the color purple, and ridiculing the arena that you bring your boy to on a regular basis. I feel like i might not be what you had in mind when you invested in those basketball tickets. i feel like i might not complement the competition and excitement you are looking to expose your son to this weekend. i feel like my language might interrupt your afternoon of bonding, and for those things, i am sorry. But... you see... I hate Northwestern. I didn't used to. Back when the badger basketball program was terrible and the football program didn't exist, i adored Northwestern. They were such a safe and accomodating opponent. Which, for the most part, they still are. But i can't count on them like i used to. And recently, i've experienced severe disappoinment, live and in person, at the hands of your wildcats. I don't blame you for this sir. My anger and obscenity laden hecklthons are in no way directed towards the lovely people of Evanston. Unless you work at Northwestern University. Which, if you do, then forget about this whole apoligy. I hope your son cries all the way home.
I will have fun being loud and rude. Which is uncalled for, i know. The loudness, the rudeness, enjoying the loudness and the rudeness. I'm sorry. Yes, it shouldn't mean so much to me. Yes, my team will be 17-1. Yes, they're ranked #3. Yes, none of the players in your team's starting line-up would crack my teams 10 man rotation. Yes, i am thirty years old. But I don't care. I came here 2 years ago and saw your crappy little intramural basketball team beat up on my badgers, and i'm coming back for a reason. I want your Wildcats to feel pain. I want your fellow Wildcat fans to feel sadness. The same sadness I felt the last time I tried to enjoy a game at that place you call home.
Your student section is the nerdiest bunch of nerdballs i have ever seen. I consider them an affront to all that is cool, and since i am cool, i consider them an affront to me personally, and since you contribute to and support the athletic department which facillitates this disgusting nerdtatholon, i consider you and your offspring a direct attack on my person. You know what... how about you come up with some words of consolation for me. Who should be apoligizing to who here?! Shut that kid up i'm talking to you! You're the one responsable for this crap. Yes i bought 10 tickets to this game, but its my birthday, and they were cheap. Real cheap. It would've been more expensive to not go to the game. The ticket money for me and all my friends wont pay for 5 basketballs. But you probably give a couple thousand dollars a year to Northwestern, don't you? Shitty little crap hole. I hate this place. Full of Nerds. Watchout or your son will grow up to be a Nerd. So close to Nerdwestern and all. Unless he pays close attention to me tomorrow. Then he'll just grow up to be a degenerate.
Seriously though, I'm sorry. But not if we lose. If we lose I'm not sorry. If we lose screw you. I hope your kid drops an F-bomb in church. Go badgers.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ohio A&M and Friggin' Welsh-Rarebit

So yea, we beat the Ohio State University. I think there's little doubt that the Ohio A&M College has a lot of talented players and good three-point shooters. Oden, as his easy six blocks demonstrated (did anyone see six blocks? That was the quietest six blocks I've every seen) is an outstanding defensive player. Alando's interior game was definitely stymied, that is, not even really attempted, and except for Chappell's two little moves (his spin for a lay-up and his infant baby hook), all of our other baskets in the paint were on offensive rebounds or fast breaks. We also seemed to get a bit lucky on our run to go up sixteen, since a lot of it was us taking advantage of their carelessness with the ball and pushing the turnovers for easy points.

That said, this was a team win that's due to a bunch of guys. I thought Flowers played very well, even though he was called for a foul on a clear charge, and got called for a questionable offensive foul where Conley flopped. Cook did very little, and Conley, despite some fine play at the end of the first half, was also quiet. Kam kept us in the game at the beginning with his 3-point shooting, and made heady moves to go to the line throughout the game. (If he had hit two more free throws down the stretch, I'd have felt far more comfortable about the win). His on ball defense left a little to be desired, but it's hard to complain about 25 points. The Hoft had nine boards, helped our guards comfortably deal with tpress, and made nice heady moves around the basket. Landry had a wonderful game, and seems to step up in big games like Alando. Those help blocks on Oden were friggn' awesome, as were his timely 3's. Chappell's position defense against Oden was great, and he played solid offense, even though he probably should have pulled the trigger on a few more jump-shots to lure Oden out of the paint. The Stiemer's one block was awesome, he made a great pass to the Hoft for a layup and I think I remember him drawing a nice charge at one point. But once again, every time he moves, the refs call a foul. Weirdness.

Butch was not much of a factor, similar to his performance against another quick, athletic team (see Marquette game). Interesting. Perhaps I'm seeing a pattern. (Pitt is an exception, but they played man-to-man and Aaron Gray is not the greatest defender.) I also expected to see Pop Hughes play a bit more, ala Marquette and his defensive work against their athletic backcourt. But it looked like Gullickson actually got more floor time than him or Boyanyon. Interesting. Flowers and Kam both played a lot.

Finally, A-Tuck didn't shoot well, especially from the free throw line (an air ball?), but he made good passes (four assists), finished several difficult shots in the lane, and drew the defense's attention. Anyhow, thank goodness, we won. The game in Columbus at the end of February may be a different matter.

The men's basketball Badgers next game is in friggin' Welsh-Ryan arean, better known as Welsh-Rarebit (a highly appropriate moniker coined by my illustrious father), on the northern fringes of the persnickety socialist bastion of Evanstonia. UW has lost two straight games there, despite the facts that Northwestern men's basketball team is typically mediocre, that we usually pound them in Madison, and that the half-assed "arena" is typically chock full of Bucky fans. (Or the fans of any opposing Big Ten team for that matter-- during the Big Ten season the place is a means for Big Ten grads who live in Chicago to watch their alma maters.) Thus, our losses in Evanston have been very frustrating. (Example--we lost there by 16(!) in Devin Harris' last season.) The UW football team has had similar problems, losing at Northwestern the game after ending Ohio State's winning streak (that was the Lee Evans-bomb/Sorgi strangling game), and giving up 51 points there in the fall of '05. Yick. Plus, these contests are never good games where both teams play well, and where UW just gets outclassed by the Wildkits. Instead, we seem to play stupidly, turning the ball over, and not taking advantage of our natural strengths (basketball), falling for ridiculous trick plays (football), or allowing ourselves to be chimp-motized by Northwestern's gimmicky offense (both sports).

Complicating this for me personally, I've attended three of the aforementioned debacles, and (sigh) I also attended Northwestern's Chicago-based law school. Naturally, I assumed that I was a jinx, something that the other writer on this site, the Man they Call Craig (MTCC), eagerly agreed was the case. After the last basketball pants-shitting, I swore that I would never give money to the Northwestern athletics department ever again, and to date, I have stuck to that vow.

Now the MTCC has acquired a bunch of tickets for Sunday's game, and it's his birthday, and he's demanding I come. I was strongly resisting this, citing my vow and my status as a jinx, but I also thought that if I don't pay for the ticket (yes, I know it's lame to take a free ticket from a guy on his birthday), and refuse to buy any concessions, I'll be able to at least avoid directly giving the Wildkits any of my money, and thus can uphold my vow.

So, yes, the MTCC, I'll attend the damn game and submit myself to the torturous environs of Welsh-Rarebit arena. If the Badgers lose, I apologize in advance. And know that not only will I not buy anything in or around that terrible high school basketball stadium, but I will seek to actively subvert Northwestern's income by sneaking in beverages and foodstuffs.

As far as their team goes, I'm not all that familar with this season's squad. They have a winning record, but haven't played many tough teams, and have had some poor perfomances (almost losing to D-III Wheaton College in Evanston, and losing to Ivy League Cornell in the first game of the season). That said, they have had some decent wins too (absolutely bombing Utah at a tournament in Puerto Rico, for example). They lost several solid players from last season's team, including their own Croatian sensation, Vukusic, and their Middle Eastern/Quebecois guard, Hashad. They still have this quasi-forward Tim Doyle, who looks unimpressive but is a great passer; and a 6'10" freshman named Coble, who is actually decent, one of those multi-skilled-but-not-that-athletic guys.
I imagine the keys, as usual, will be to deal with their weird zone defense, rely on our natural advantages, and stay intense defensively. On offense, they generally slow things way down, try to limit the number of overall possessions, and wait until the other team makes a lapse defensively. On defense, they play solid zones, and make the other team get frustrated and turn the ball over. (Their coach recently said that they have to get turnovers in order to win.) They play zone because they don't match up well individually. Perhaps because of this, they're not a good rebounding team, and have very few players who can score one-on-one. They rely on their "Princeton Offense" of lots of movement off the ball to get them open lay ups and three-pointers. And they are good, albeit streaky shooters. Northwestern also seems to play better at home (like most NCAA teams) with their tiny student section seeming loud in equally tiny Welsh-Rarebit arena. UW will have to stay intense and communicate well on defense, and not get frustrated on offense. That's been our undoing in the past. Given our current team, I also think we should push the break whenver we can, on long defensive rebounds for example. They don't have the athletes, besides Sterling Williams, to keep up with us on the break, and that may be the way to get the easiest baskets. When those opportunities aren't available, so far this season we seem to be doing a good job of being smart and patient with the ball. I was really impressed with how players handled Ohio A&M's traps in the second half. Northwestern will definitely do some of that, so hopefully we'll keep taking care of the ball.
If it wasn't apparent already, I really don't want to see UW lose this game. With Ohio A&M so talented this year, we really need to put the hammer down when playing iffy teams on the road. Lets do it on Saturday in friggin Welsh-Rarebit. A departing plea: please, please, please let us beat Northwestern in Evanston. For the love of all that is just and good, please let us win. Go Bucky!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

THE Ohio A&M College

So the time has come for the early season showdown pitting Wisconsin against the poison nuts of Ohio A&M and their one-year wonders. Actually, that's not fair. Ohio State has several talented players that aren't freshman. Othello Hunter, a junior juco transfer, has been a very effective big man off the bench. Jamar Butler, their starting point guard last season, is a fine three-point shooter. Ron Lewis, a senior, is a versatile two-guard. Ivan Harris, also a senior, is a fine outside shooter at the three. Then there's the freshman triumverate of Oden, Cook, and Conley. Conley is the classic, "I can pass and get to the hole but can't really hit jump shots yet" point guard--he's currently leading the Big Ten in assists. Cook is awesome-- a great defensive rebounder, hitting half of his 3s, very athletic. He's averaging 15 points a game, off the bench. He should (I hope) be gone to the league by next year, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars as a starting two guard. If it wasn't for the next guy he'd be freshman of the year, hands down. Finally, there's the all-seeing Oden, the 18-year-old who above the neck looks like a divorced, 42-year-old bus driver, who's depressed about his child support payments. Unfortunately, below the neck he's a sick seven foot defensive presence with athleticism to spare. With one still recovering hand, his offensive game is limited to free throws, dunks, and close-range left-handed jump hooks, but he is a fine rebounder and leads the league in blocks. Yeesh.
Ohio State, despite their talent, is relatively thin. They only have 9 scholarship players. And they're realtively inexperienced-- four freshman and one first-year juco transfer get heavy minutes, and Oden is only on his ninth collegiate game.
So once again, experience and maturity (to some extent, since we do play a fair number of underclassmen, like the Hoft, Landry, Hughes, and Boyanyon, or a guy like Stiemsma who really has only now played in one full season), versus youth and a bit more talent (to some extent again, because OSU does play several upperclassmen, and UW has some very talented players).
As far as specific things to look for, if UW can keep O A&M off the offensive glass, that will be a huge plus. But unless Butch (our best rebounder), plays a lot, we may have serious problems with this, considering how many offensive boards we gave up to an athletic Georgia team. I've also seen several bits about how UW should look to draw Oden out to the perimeter with Butch or the Stiemer or Chappell threatening to shoot, and thus open up the interior for other players, like Alando. That would be positive, I guess. I'm dubious about the ability of any of our post players to score in the low post against Oden, so it'd be good to avoid one-on-one confrontations with him. I also know that we'll have to contain their three-point shooting. Lewis is on a cold streak but Butler, Harris and Cook are all fine long-range bombers. Conley's an excellent penetrator (rated about 30 players above Hughes coming out of high school), and will look to dish to any of their bigs if we give too much help on his drives. (I anticipate Flowers trailing him most of the game). Also, someone will have to deal with Cook. He can score without much help, and I don't know if it's wise to use up A-Tuck's gas on trailing Cook around. Maybe the Hoft or Landry can take the task. Anyway, it's going to be a tough game. Tougher than Pittsburgh, I think. Ohio A&M just waxed the Fibs at home, giving them their worst beat down in Shampoo-Banana since Weber has been there. If we lose any game in Madison this season, this could be it. And it's true that if we lose, there are still a lot of games to play-- this is only the second game of the Big Ten schedule. It's not the season. But goodness, it'd be a big win, and unless Oden is revealed to actually be a 42-year-old bus driver, you know it'll only be harder to beat Ohio A&M when we play them in Columbus in February. Plus, it would be morally rewarding to beat these guys. Bo's built a upperclassmen dominated team that relies on keeping players around for several years, helping them improve and develop into leaders. How much better is Alando now than his freshman year? How much has Butch improved in the past two seasons? Based on this past year, Ohio A&M has signed onto the one-year wonder extravaganza, where you chase the uber-talented shooting stars and hope to ride their magic for a season or two.
I'll go with the method that keeps kids in school. Go Bucky!

Monday, January 08, 2007


Though it's coming a week late, the Bears/Packers game must be discussed.
The offense didn't play particularly well and the win served to reduce our draft status, as I predicted, to the mid-teens, but I actually thought that this was a good game for the team. That's because it was in large part due to the efforts of younger players, some of whom have the potential to be excellent. Nick Collins had his best game as a professional with two picks, nearly a third, and six solo tackles. The pick in front of Desmond Clark that he returned for a touchdown was beautiful, except for the dancing bit at the end. (Get in the endzone already!) Unfrozen Caveman Linebacker (Hawk) had a pick in the second half. Corey Williams had a sack and batted down several passes, including tipping the pass that Dendy returned for a touchdown. Ruvell Martin (!) had a big game. This was all quite encouraging.

Now despite this solid individual play from our younger guys, we did give up a 100-yard game to Cedric Benson on less than 15 carries, only scored one offensive touchdown, and allowed the Bears converted a fake punt on us. But at least we sent the greater Chicago area into a fuss over their quarterback play. Sexy Rexy actually finished with a "Mr. Blutarsky" 0.0 rating for the game. Hysterical. And despite throwing that bomb against us, Griese also managed to look terrible. Have you ever seen a quarterback (Griese) "improve" so much over the course of the season by doing so little? I have no idea about what's going to happen in the playoffs, except for this--there's no friggin way the Bears are winning the Super Bowl. God it's fun watching the Bears perform terribly.

What made the game doubly fun was watching it during the wind-down of a New Year's Eve party in London with two of my old friends who are Bear fans. The UK's Channel 5 started showing the game at 1:30 a.m. A brillant way to cap off the evening, and reminiscent of the rain-soaked MNF Halloween game back in 1994-- a night I also spent harassing those same Bear-fan friends.

As far as Favre and his future, I think this might be it. We'll have to do some analysis of what it'll look like either way at some future point. But boy, the announcers sure know how to beat a subject to death, don't they? Remember the pre-season MNF game against the Bengals? During the entire game there were only two subjects of commentary: Favre returning and Palmer's return from his knee injury. Similar to Sunday night-- is it Favre's last game? Hasn't he been awesome? Should we pay any attention to the game? Where are my pants? I guess they needed something to talk about since the Giants won the previous evening, essentially eliminating us from the playoffs, and the Bears had nothing to play for. But man, give us something, please.

Anyhow, congratulations to fans of the Eagles, Patriots, Colts and Seahawks, whose teams triumphed in the first round of the playoffs. (Sidenote-- I hate the way the NFL doesn't draw up a finished bracket until after the first round games have played; just let the first seed play the winner of the 4/5 game already). I have no idea what's going to happen from this point on, except chances are very strong that an AFC team will win the Super Bowl, chances are 100% the Bears won't, and that no journalist will ask Shawne Merriman about his suspension for steriod use. I wonder if the same guys who voted him third for defensive player of the year this season, and voted him rookie of the year last season, also voted to exclude Mark McGuire from the baseball hall of fame?

Seriously, I can't believe how easily Merriman's positive test and suspension blew over. Why is steriod use quickly overlooked in the NFL while everyone decries its use in MLB? Is it something to do with expectations-- football players are supposed to be loutish, oversized man-children but baseball players should be lithe and graceful, like Joltin' Joe? Is it because steriod-era players shattered Ruth/Maris' season home run records like they were nothing after years of no one coming close? Is that record, single-season home runs, due some special honor or protection? I don't get it. I think people should be shunning Merriman, but instead they're breezily fellating him during 15 minute halftime interviews (as they did during CBS' Sunday playoff telecast). Bizarre. At least with baseball, the sophisticated dopers probably weren't breaking any laws or league rules-- MLB had a utterly primitive steriod ban in the 90's and any half-dilligent player could get drugs through a doctor (read, legally) that weren't on the banned list. In contrast, Merriman explicitly broke the NFL's rules. You all better hope that the Chargers don't win the Super Bowl because I may go spastic.

I still owe everyone a formerly known as Citrus Bowl review. That should be coming soon. Tonight, I think I'll root for Ohio A&M, because I'm tired of all the SEC whining, and it would make three Big Ten teams over three SEC teams in the Bowls (PSU over Tennessee, Bucky over Whoo Pig Sooey, and O A&M over UF). That'd be a fun stat to throw around. I'm also hoping for a sloppy, unimpressive game that makes people yearn for a playoff. Way to blow helping the cause, Michigan.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

1 Seed

The win at Georgia was a big one. It would have been an ideal game for Wisconsin to choke on; a tough road match-up against a decent team (that they should beat). As the #4 ranked team in the country, there aren't many teams that the Badgers shouldn't beat. Anywhere.
As Bo Ryan's team took to the court on Sunday, their fresh #4 ranking still drying on Jay Bilas' prompter and New Years Eve in "Hotlanta" providing an even bigger distraction than the "Girls Gone Wild Invitational" in South Padre TX, they provided a perfect opportunity for the Bulldogs to rebound from back to back road losses vs. Georgia Tech and Clemson. Georgia had however, outscored Gonzaga a few weeks earlier in Athens, and Wisconsin, a team whose only convincing road win was a home game against Marquette, would've been a quality win for a tournament resume.
They didn't. The Badgers hit key free throws and played solid defense to hold on and put themselves in a position to begin conference play with a near perfect record.
I'd like to believe that this years Badgers will handle such a high ranking differently than their predecessors. Not that they've ever been ranked #4, but it is a long standing Wisconsin sports tradition to handle any and all pollster praise with a sloppy and unnecessary loss. Basketball, football... even hockey (except when they win national championships).
This Georgia win, although not too impressive, was huge. I was certain they would lose. I was pleasantly surprised when they won. If it hadn't been for Nick Collins' "freaknik" in the south end zone at Soldier field Sunday night (and the 3 bottles of champagne I drank early Monday morning), I might have actually remembered it before Wednesday.
Aside from having his team playing at a high level early in the year, it seems as though Bo Ryan has found a way to focus this team. Maybe all he has to do is remind them of last year’s disappointment and squandered opportunity. Or, maybe he's pointing out the fact that we are playing for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and have been since October. Hopefully both. The Big Ten sucks this year and we have a real shot at a #1 seed. The Badgers don't need to choke. The #4 ranking shouldn't really mean that much to them (outside of national coverage). The real focus should be making it to March with no more than 3 losses.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but its what they need to do. The "tournament selection committee" won’t be handing any 4 loss Wisconsin team a #1 seed. Not when the Pac Ten has already received 2 of them in early January (AZ and UCLA). We should lose to Ohio State on the road and maybe someone else. If we have more than 3 losses, one of them better be in the conference tournament, and even then the committee will probably screw us.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

First things first

Much has happened in the past two weeks that is worth discussing, too much for one post. (Sorry for the absence-- Christmas with family and New Year's in London with old friends, where I apparently picked up the Black Plague.) I shall approach things in proper chronological order. That begins with the UW Men's Basketball team, and their exploits over the holidays.

First, Bucky managed to beat a relatively underperforming University of Pacific team in Madison on the 23rd, in a game I managed to attend. That was a pretty serious beatdown. Wisconsin managed an absurd 1.4 points per possession in a 36 point victory over a Pacific team that had qualified for the NCAA tournament the past three years, and was picked to win its conference this season. While Alando was relatively off, missing the intermediate shots you now expect him to make, the scoring got spread all around, with Kam, Bohannon and the Hoft hitting a few 3s each, and Butch and A-Tuck both reaching the low teens in points. Pacific never looked comfortable offensively, and we held them to an extremely low 35% from the field. The rebounding stats, including .46 offensive rebounding and .80 defensive rebounding, are both totally absurd, in a good way. (The highest these stats were for the Big Ten season last year were .36 and .72 respectively).

Then the Badgers laid down a complete and absolute beatdown on Gardner-Webb, a young (just four upperclassmen) and struggling team (only two wins), winning by the absurdly lopsided score of 98-40. Put into persepctive that's a little over what you would have expected. Wake Forest beat them by around 30, UNC by about 50. What was fun about this game was that we weren't reliant on Alando or on our bigs inside dominating. No, here we let it rain--shooting 60% on three pointers, making 12 of 20. Rain dance! Butch was 3/3, Bohannon 2/3, Kam 3/5, Flowers 2/3. It will be interesting to see whether people start coming out on Butch more, pulling the other team's big men away from the paint and thus opening up the post for guard on guard match-ups for guys like Flowers. (Wait, that happened the next game with less than quacktastic results, see below).

Finally, UW played Georgia in allegedly lovely Athens, Georgia on New Year's Eve, getting out of town with an ugly and hard fought 64-57 win. I managed to Tivo this game, and after watching it live, was underwhelmed by UW's victory. First, Georgia has not been a good defensive team this season, but managed to hold us to 41% shooting. Second, Georgia is noted for being a perimeter-oriented team, but they outrebounded us badly, getting 19 offensive rebounds out of 43 chances. If the other team is able to get their own misses almost half the time, that's not good. Third, I think they played the most effective style of defense I've seen against us this season, which other teams may very well duplicate. It was man to man with quick double teams on the inside (pretty typical), but they didn't play off anyone anywhere. Instead, they'd play tight defense on whoever had the ball, pressing that person and looking for steals. They even got right up in the faces of our big men when they had the ball on the perimeter, preventing them from being the typical fulcrum in our ball movement. This is sort of what I thought might happen when people figured out our big men are good passers and shooters. You'd think that we'd have been able to take advantage of this tight pressure defense, maybe by exploiting the space left inside or driving to the hoop more, but instead we just looked uncomfortable and turned the ball over an inordinate amount of times in the first half. Thus, Georgia was actually beating us at the half, was up one with four minutes left, and the game was tied two-and-a-half minutes left. (To be fair, the closeness of the game wasn't all due to their style of defense; for some reason, they played some zone in the second half, maybe to conserve energy).
Toward the end of the game, we got some clutch play from Alando and Landry, who Kam found all alone by the basket on a half-break for an "and one" dunk, to pull out a more comfortable than it looked seven point win. All in all, the performance was kind of worrying, although it was great to see Alando and Kam play like seniors--stepping up on offense on a night when the team ball movement simply wasn't there.
I fear we're going to see a lot more of that type of close-up mam to man pressure defense, throughout the Big Ten season. It definitely seemed to throw off our typical ball movement. Must learn how to deal. Perhaps Bo should show the team the Mandy Moore movie of the same name. (Not her best work).

Anyhow, the Big Ten Season is now upon us! Michigan has already beaten the FIBS in that dirty whore Ann Arbor, Ohio A&M beat Indiana, and Sparty lost to Iowa in the City of Iowa. Bucky is apparently seeking delayed gratification-- our first conference game is Minnesota on Saturday afternoon in Madison. I know very little about the Gophers this season, except that they've changed coaches in mid-stream. Not a good sign for their season, although, quite surprisingly, they did just manage to beat Purdue, though the game was in Dinky Town. They're currently 7-8.

Then, on Tuesday night, the first match-up with Ohio A&M. It's probably best that we're getting one game against them early, with Oden, with his eyepatch and ravens on his shoulders (sorry, until he declares there are going to be a lot of Norse mythology references when THE Ohio A&M College is mentioned), still playing one-handed, and the smackdown against Florida still relatively fresh in their memories. That'll be a tough game, regardless.

After that, in about a week, we play the Wildkits in Evanstonia, where we (meaning both UW and myself) have had terrible luck in recent years. The quasi-existential crisis involving myself, potential attendance at said game, and the Man they Call Craig, will have to be discussed sometime next week. Until then, represent, les Badgers.