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.

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