Alas, what happened in the UW men's basketball team's defeat to the Golden Eaglets of Marquette was somewhat predictable. That is, the script to beat UW, as described by the former Big Ten Wonk here, and as demonstrated in the loss at Duke, was followed quite closely. Far as I can tell, the script is--
- Look to penetrate and dish when the help comes, as it always will.
- Press, press, press the ball whenever you can.
- Push the ball and look to fast break as often as possible.
This script works against Wisconsin defensively because UW players, as Randy continues to note, are a bit timid with the ball. They are a pass first team, and are trained to be that way. Teams are exploiting that by making every pass difficult, and making UW dribble by them, and thus taking them away from what they're comfortable doing. I think the confidence will come, but it, unfortunately, will just take awhile. (It may never come for some guys, like the Stiemer, who basically never dribbles. His two forced passes/turnovers in the second half were just awful.) Simply put, there's no reason guys as heady and skilled as Hughes, Bohannon, Flowers, Landry, Leuer and Krabbenhoft can't go past defenders. The thing is, they just haven't been asked to before. I'm guessing that taking guys off the dribble has been sort of a last-minute offensive option for UW-- something that was initiated only after the regular offense failed. Well, it needs to become more of a primary one until they start burning teams for pressing them defensively. There's certainly no reason why Hughes, Flowers, and Bohannon can't imitate James and drive and dish other teams to death. Maybe they just need to prepare for it more.
What was worrying about this game was that Wisconsin had to know what the script was, but they still looked somewhat unprepared for it-- to the tune of 18 turnovers. (They did respond better than they did at Duke, true.) Defensively, UW had to know that Marquette was going to look to penetrate. And they appropriately started Flowers. But our backcourt must have played theirs too tightly, because James was constantly in the lane in the beginning of the first half and then again the second, when it counted. Was Hughes just looking for steals too often? James and McNeal are not great three point shooters, so the way to play them is to give yourself room for recovery. Bo must know that, so what was going on? Either James is the new Allen Iverson, or UW's guards weren't following the scouting report. Also, Michael got into foul trouble, which was something that just couldn't happen if UW was going to come out on top. No surprise, Marquette would slowly pull ahead when he was out of the game.
What was encouraging was that UW made it close, and for a while did what they should have done to win against a pressing team-- draw fouls and make them be chippy. They did that really well for the first ten minutes of the second half. Butch was especially been aggressive, dribbling and going to the basket. (Way to dunk, Brian!). Then Wisconsin went away from it. Maybe Marquette realized that a bunch of guys were in foul trouble, because it looked like they went to a zone for a little while. If UW had drawn a few more fouls, and thus maybe pushed some of Marquette's key guys (McNeal especially) out of the game, it could have been huge. But they seemed to lack that aggressive offensive push in the second half, until it was too late. Marquette did a good job of denying passes to Butch, who had been UW's most effective offensive threat. Of course, hitting the free throws they did get would have helped tremendously. UW must be able to count on its guards, especially Hughes, to make their free throws.
Ah well, so a mini-win streak against the papists (it had been two in a row), and a 28 game win streak at home comes to an end. Bummer. Time to move on. I'm hopeful that UW will improve as the season progresses. They're an old team at parts (Butch and Flowers) but young in certain areas and ways. As has been much discussed, no one on this team has been asked to be the offensive sparkplug before. Hughes is a huge key, and he's made a lot of mistakes against good teams-- bad passes, overaggressive defense and forced shots. He's also looked really impressive at times. I'm confident the team will evolve for the better as the season moves along. I just hope this evolution translates into conference wins and a solid tournament showing.