Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Disappointing End...

It's hard to put down how I'm feeling. Just a few hours ago, the University of Wisconsin Men's Basketball Team lost its final game of the season, falling six points short against UNLV in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

My first emotion is a sort of empathetic sadness for Kam, Alando, and Jason. Though I don't have the stats at hand, I'm quite sure they have the most combined wins of any Wisconsin senior class ever. None of the three had good games today. Kam finished with a bunch of points, but shot poorly from the field until the last few minutes when we were desperately trying to come back. He finished 6 for 16 from the field. I'd say at least a third of his shots were free throws (he was a perfect 9 for 9), and we stopped getting those in the last quarter of the game. Alando was 4 for 11, and 8 of 13 from the line. He hit his first five, and then shot poorly from thereon. A few should be added to that total, as I believe he missed the front ends of one-and-one's twice. He hits one more jump shot, and makes a few more free throws, and it's a very different game. Jason played decently, but was part of the offensive rebound shutout in the first half. I think he had two close baskets, one off of a nice pass from Alando. He missed badly on the lone jump shot he took. So sadly, none of the members of the most successful class in school history went out on top, or in a blaze of glory.

I did what I could at the event, yelling "Noonan" when UNLV shot free throws, working the rally caps, putting on every piece of Wisconsin paraphernalia I could get my hands on. It seemed to help us rally, but I couldn't keep us above water. Also, crowds at NCAA tournament games suck. It's like the mixed crowd at a bowl game, but with a way large number of random, unaligned fans who are bickering about the spread and their picks. My personal opinion--people who audibly complain about the spread or the over under should be arrested. You're fretting about what's happening in the game, and some douche behind you is rooting against your team, not because he likes your opponent, but because he wants to make twenty bucks. It's not a pleasant environment when your team is trailing, as Wisco was throughout the weekend.

I'm going to try to lay out went I think went wrong in this game, but I have to say, that over the entire weekend, UW never looked comfortable. Bo's citation to Steve Martin's character in The Jerk seemed appropriate. There were stretches where we played good, stiff defense, and fed the post or pushed the ball on offense, but they didn't seem to last. Who knows if it was nerves, or missing Butch or what? But UW looked off all weekend, and it caught up with them today.

So, back to what went wrong. First, we either were way too aggressive on defense, or we never adjusted to the way games were being called. Both today and Friday, we committed an atypical number of fouls, and UNLV went 80% at the line. And due to our desperation at the end, both Flowers and Krabbenhoft (who had a poor game) fouled out. I can't remember the last time when a Wisconsin player fouled out. Can anyone else?
Second, no one had a good day on offense. Alando's shot weren't really falling, and he kept pressing late in the second half. UNLV usually did a great job of doubling or tripling him when he'd get near the paint, and preventing him from passing out and taking advantage of the switch. I guess it's hard to pass out of double teams in the post when you're 6'6". Also, there was a stretch of several possessions when they did a fine job of denying him the ball. Kam missed ten shots. Flowers had some good drives, but not enough. Landry had some nice plays in the post, but missed jumpers and we didn't go to him down low enough. Joe struggled. J-Cheezy and Stiemsma were their usual offensive non-factors, except for a nice pass that the Stiemer made to Bohannon. J-Bo played ok, but we didn't look for his shot enough to make a difference.
Third, UNLV's best player, White, a big guard, had a fine day, scoring 22 points, shooting 66% from the field, and going 8 for 8 from the line. No one really played him well. Landry got shook and baked, Flowers was a little too small, and Joe wasn't able to keep up. Alando did ok, I thought, but didn't stay on him.
Fourth, the coach's son, the Kruger klone, had, I believe, three 3's down the stretch, the first to rally his team, when we went up 5, and the second and third to put stakes in us down the stretch. He also drew a foul when attempting a three in the last few minutes, and made all three from the line. He's a senior too, and he played big when it counted.
Fifth, I think we missed Butch a bit. We tried to go small in the first half and got approximately zero offensive rebounds while giving up several. Also, Stiemsma and Chappell were either uncomfortable or unaccustomed to playing with their backs to the basket. I think we could have used an additional post threat, besides Alando and Marcus, and Butch would have helped in both facets--potential providing some interior offense, and grabbing more rebounds. Also, Butch, with his random big games, gave teams another person to prepare for on the defensive end. Without him, I think teams may have been able to focus their scouting report on stopping Alando and Kam.
Sixth, we started too slowly for the second straight game. UNLV hit several threes in the first few minutes, and Kam turned the ball over twice (the first, a charge, was B.S. I thought). We're not a team that's built to come from behind, with our goal being high quality (and sometimes lengthy) offensive possessions. Also, in order to avoid fouls, we don't go for steals as often as other teams. Coming back thus requires patient intensity on both ends of the floor. Our comebacks in the past two games (from 12 and 18 point defecits) have felt exhausting just to watch. I'm sure they were even more exhausting to direct.
Seventh, I was confused about our substitution pattern. I felt we were playing our best with Stiemsma in the game. He was pulled with about six minutes left and never came back in. Why, I couldn't tell you. I'm sure this is Monday morning quarterbacking, but I'm curious as to why Bo went with Chappell (even less of an offensive threat, and a less imposing interior defender, especially on help plays) instead.
Eighth, problems with the charity stripe. That is, missed free throws, especially by Alando in the second half, and failing to get to the line in the last ten minutes. I don't know if we didn't get calls (Kam had some awkward-ending drives where nothing went called), or if we just became passive with UNLV's shot blocker in. But drawing fouls kept us in the game in the first half. Failing to do so, and missing the shots when we did, moved us out of the game in the second.
Ninth, comparative three point shooting. We shot 5 for 21, and two of those were late in the game when we were trying to come back. UNLV hit 10 for 20. That's a huge difference. We haven't been a vey dangerous outside shooting team this season, and it, like the iffy free throw shooting, caught up to us.
Tenth, you have to hand it to UNLV. They defended well, made smart adjustments, kept feeding White, who we had trouble defending, hit big shots, and played well down the stretch. They're a good team, and they outperformed UW.

There's more to be said about the team and this season, but that'll have to be addressed later. I'm now torn about who to root for in the tournament. I'm tired of UNC and Florida. I think Oden will be more likely to go pro if OSU has a nice tournament run, so it would be fine with me if they made it to the Final Four. But I do not want them to win it all. Self and his semi-pro team are irritating, so no to Kansas. I'll pull for Pitt to get past them. I'd root for UNLV in the Midwest, since they beat us, but I heard reports of Runnin' Rebel fans being obnoxious after the game, so I think I'll root for Oregon to beat them and Florida, should the Gators get past Butler. On the other side, I think I'll pull for Georgetown. They're kind of like UW with different (ok, I admit it, larger and more athletic) personnel. They value the basketball, play intense defense, and take high quality shot on most possessions, so play a bit slower pace. But on a PPP basis, they have one of the best offenses in the country. Plus, I think their players tend to graduate. Yes, I know it's a Catholic school, but I've heard that Jesuits believe in science.

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