Monday, November 19, 2007

What We Learned on Saturday

- Despite their awful record, the Minnesota football team isn't that bad. Consider the evidence:
(A) They're clearly improving, despite their horrific record. They only lost at Iowa by 5, and they gave UW a serious run for the money, taking an early lead, and coming back to make the game close at the end.
(B) They have a fair amount of young talent-- the Gophers' quarterback is a player, and he's only a redshirt freshman; sophomore wideout Aaron Decker burned Jackie I. repeatedly, and "decked" him in the crotch; and their entire starting D-line, which performed decently at times, is made up of sophomores.
(C) They appear to have a fair amount of talent coming in, and in fact have outrecruited UW for some talented guys, including Chicago receiver Brandon Green. In fact, according to, it looks like Minnesota has a better recruiting class coming in next year than UW, though that may be due to the team missing wide receivers coach Henry Mason this year. (Heal up, Henry!) The point is, UW fans should enjoy this victory now because it looks like the rivalry between the schools will become more closely balanced quite soon.

- The Metrodome remains a terrible place to play football. The morbid lighting, the unnatural color of the crappy artificial turf, the lingering smoke from the fireworks, the poor air quality, the overall dimness. That place just stinks. Hubert Humphrey must be rolling over in his grave, and Minnesota players and coaches must be counting the days until their new, open-air on-campus stadium opens.

- Jack does not look ready to go pro. No offense to Ikegwuonu, who's a very good player and seems like a smart guy. But if you get burned repeatedly by some sophomore from Minnesota that no one has ever heard of (the aforementioned crotch puncher, Aaron Decker) you probably won't be a first day draft pick, and if that's the case, you're probably better off taking out an insurance policy and staying in school another year. And Jack may need to focus on his legal problems. The fact that his case goes to trial on a felony burglary charge in January is not at all good. As a UW fan, I call for the DeKalb County State's Attorney to dial it down a notch already, and offer a plea deal for a reduced misdemeanor charge and probation. (Note to the DeKalb ASA handling the case-- Jack is a nice kid from a good family and has no record whatsoever, and he's accused of stealing an X-Box, a property crime, not a violent crime.) And if I'm Jack, I take that deal rather than risk my liberty on a trial, regardless of my innocence. The risk is just too high.
Getting back to football, Saturday was a downer of a day for both of the Badgers' potential early entrants-- Beckum hurt his shoulder stretching out for a touchdown on a nice play, and dropped some catchable passes before that. I may be a greedy UW fan, but I don't see how a 220-pound tight end makes it in the NFL. Beckum needs to start power lifting and eating a lot of grass-fed beef. If he could muscle up a bit more all over, and not lose his speed, I could totally see him being a very high draft pick. But at 220, strongside NFL linebackers are going to blow right past him, and I don't know if he's fast enough to be a pure wideout. Maybe he should have a talk with Owen Daniels about taking on NFL blockers.

- Zach Brown has improved. He was noticeably tougher to bring down in this game than in previous outings, and he's decision making, particularly deciding when to cut back, has gotten better. At the start, it seemed like he would always go where the play was supposed to, regardless of how the defense responded or how the blocking worked. This made him a stark contrast to Lance Smith, who looked to freelance at every opportunity. But Zach seems more comfortable, and thus more judicious-- he's seeing backside cuts and taking them. It looked like he was doing that against Michigan as well. That really enables him to take advantage of his best attribute, which I think is his ability to accelerate. He sees a hole, cuts, and shoots right through at top speed. Now if he could only learn how to finish long runs . . . Nonetheless, a good game against a fired-up Minnesota defense.

- Trevon Hughes is a talent. I continue to feel sad for all you Big Ten Network-less folks, as you missed another dominant performance by the UW basketball team in their twenty-six point depantsing of Colorado. And again, Hughes put on a show, nailing several threes, playing harassing perimeter defense, snatching rebounds and taking off on the break, drawing fouls, and throwing out precision passes for assists and drawn fouls. It's highly unlikely that Trevon will continue to shoot 57% from the floor or 53% from beyond the arc, as he did in the past three days. Indeed, the four teams they've played so far were so unimpressive that UW's RPI is only 155th, despite their 4-0 record. And Trevon will definitely face better backcourts in UW's consecutive games against Georgia, at Duke (why couldn't this game have come last season?), and against the hypocritical papists of Marquette. (Didn't you love the dual announcements by the U.S. Bishops Conference that (1) the increase in pederast priests was really not an epidemic because it was in line with increased molestation rates nationwide and (2) that if you don't vote pro-life you're going to hell?) And I'm sure Trevon will go through tough times, whether in those games or later. But regardless, Hughes has star potential, and has been playing up to that potential so far this season. As Ricky Bobby says when he catches another guy looking at his package at the urinal, "Yeah, it's the real deal down there."

- UW men's basketball could surprise some people this year. UW totally shredded the two-three zone of a pretty athletic Colorado team, racking up 21 assists and making only 8 turnovers. Unless a guy is deep in the post, every player looks to pass, a remarkable and "Hoosiers"-like quality. They're very patient, but opportunistic when a good option opens up. And if the shot clock gets low, Hughes or Flowers will drive, or Bohannon will look for a runner. Those are solid options. And they resulted in UW averaging a astoundingly healthy 1.27 points per possession against CU. In fact, UW improved offensively as the tournament went along, going from 1.17 PPP to 1.23 PPP to the aforementioned 1.27, even though CU was easily the most talented team that UW faced in that series. That bodes very well. Plus, most of the time, the team played excellent help defense-- Stiemsma had five blocks, including four in quick succession, Flowers and Hughes were harassing perimeter opponents and cutting off passing lanes, even the Hoft cracked open his head by drawing a charge.
I'm not saying the team doesn't have things to work on. CU did run a give and go play that worked repeatedly, but things look very good so far. They've got talent, they're motivated, they're unselfish, and they seem to work well together on both defense and offense. I think the team should handle a Georgia squad that is missing its two top returning scorers due to off-the-court issues, and just suspended a replacement starter. (See this, this, and this.) As for Duke three days later, well, we'll see. At the least, it should a learning experience and an interesting gauge for where they're at.

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