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!

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