I feel quite sad for all you Big Ten Network-less folks. The Wisconsin men's basketball Badgers start a three-day "tournament" tonight, with games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, all of which are on BTN. Tonight at 8 central BTN airs the epic showdown with Savannah State, so intense and dramatic a contest that none of the major Wisconsin newspapers have any pregame coverage. Aww yeah. Then on Friday night at 7, the Badgers have another showdown with A&M, Florida A&M that is. Capping it off, the Badgers play a slightly bigger named opponent-- the Colorado University Buffaloes, the alma mater of Chauncey Billups.
Since the mainstream media is letting you down, here's my analysis of the various match-ups tonight and this weekend. Savannah State is 2-1, having delivered a beatdown on Carver Bible College, lost to Jacksonville (not the NFL team), and then won a close victory over SC Aiken. I truly have no idea what SC Aiken is. Anyhow, Savannah State is an oddly small public school, with an enrollment of less than 2,000, and is one of D-I basketball's few independent teams-- not a member of any conference, and thus, sadly, generally without hope of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. Savannah State is coached by the point guard on the Ewing Georgetown teams, Horace Broadnax, who has had some success coaching at Bethune-Cookman. Last season Savannah State was a decent defensive team, but was poor offensively, at least according to the raw stats. They turned the ball over a bunch, committing the second most TOs of any team in D-I. They return three starters, but they lost their top two scorers and their top rebounder from last season. Their best player may be their former point guard, who is now being moved to shooting guard. Ummm, he's only 5'9". They only won one road game all of last season. I don't mean to sound obnoxious, but this could get ugly.
Florida A&M is a member of the MEAC, a conference which includes several other traditionally black schools like Hampton, Howard and Bethune-Cookman. So unlike Savannah State, they at least have an annual shot at qualifying for the NCAA tournament, and did in fact make the Tourney last spring. Kudos to them. Unfortunately, their coach was fired after reports emerged about him stalking his ex-girlfriend, and their new coach was hired less than two months ago. (See this for details.) And they only have 11 scholarship players, and only one starter returning. That's tough stuff to deal with. Their best player, again, seems to be their point guard, Leslie Robinson, who made about three three-pointers a game last season. They also have a 6'10" transfer from Alabama, and several decent sized juco transfers. This team is a bit of an unknown, given the new coach and all the player turnover. It could get interesting.
Colorado, the final team UW plays in this three game ride, is also in a weird spot. Their coach of last season, Ricardo Patton, (who tutored Billups many years back) announced last October, before the '06-'07 season began, that he would be quitting at season's end. That basically flew the white flag for CU last year-- they went 7-20, and 3-13 in the Big 12. In his place, the Buffs hired Air Force's coach for the past two years, Jeff Bzdelik, who did quite well at the academy, going 50-16 overall while running an idiosyncratic Princeton-esque style. Last year, Bzdelik's Air Force team started out 17-1, beating Stanford, Wake Forest, and UNLV (ugh) in that run. They cooled off and missed the tournament, but made it to the NIT semifinals. Bzdelik also coached the Denver Nuggets to the NBA playoffs in the 2003-04 season. So he's an experienced and pretty successful coach. However, the horses, or buffaloes as it were, don't seem to be there yet. CU's best player is likely shooting guard Richard Roby, an explosive 6'6" athlete. But he's not a great shooter (26% on his threes last season), and plays iffy defense. He also appears to be having some difficulty adjusting to the new regime-- he scored just 1 point in CU's only game so far. Three other starters return, but the questions are: how are they going to adjust to playing in Bzdelik's style, and is having them back even a good thing? CU was dreadful last season, and among the worst defensive teams in the country. They also have five incoming freshman-- a pretty sizable class, and one that likely indicates some serious retooling, both in schemes and personnel. Plus, they lost their first game of the season, at home, to New Mexico, and only put up 47 points. It's good to remember that New Mexico is now where Steve Alford is coaching, but still.
Put it all together, and it looks like three transitional teams, who will be playing in a tough road environment. You have to hope, despite the three games in three straight days, that Bucky can sweep this weekend.
Finally, Basketball Prospectus, at long last, put up the second half of their Big Ten Preview, which has a pretty lengthy discussion of Wisconsin. It's interesting, but I found the discussion on Trevon Hughes to be deficient. You can find the preview here. Cheers.