Sunday, February 03, 2008

Minnesota Minneapolians

The Wisconsin Badgers' men's basketball team plays at Minnesota this afternoon, at 1 pm Central on BTN. Looking over the ratings for Minnesota, one thing jumps out at you-- the way Minnie plays defense. Namely, they foul like crazy, but that comes from forcing tons of turnovers and snatching loads of steals. That is, they force more turnovers and snatch more steals (on a percentage basis) than any other team in the country. Two members of their regular rotation, frosh guard Al Nolen, and sophomore forward Damian Johnson, are in the top twenty in steal rates. Nolen is fourth in the nation. That is awesome, and I use that word reluctantly these days because it's getting thrown around far too easily. Another frosh, guard Blake Hoffarber, rates as the team's most efficient offensive player, largely because he's taken a ton of threes and nailed 47% of them. Get this-- he's taken three times as many threes as twos. Wild stuff.

The king of the neckbeards, Spencer Tollackson, is back, and he's been surprisingly ineffective on offense, mostly because he's having a terrible season from the charity stripe. Kam Taylor's nemesis, Lawrence McKenzie, is still there, and is doing fine-- hitting about forty percent of his threes. But the main beneficiary of Tubby Smith's new reign is senior Dan Coleman, one of those guys who always struck people as an impressive talent, but one that, until this season, had disappointed. He's 6'9", very athletic, and quite skilled. Smith has made him into the offense's focal point, and it seems to be working-- the team is definitely improved from last year, though the two aforementioned frosh are making solid contributions.

Anyhoo, given Minnesota's strength-- causing turnovers-- and its associated weakness-- fouling a lot-- the formula for a Badger victory is probably pretty simple. Don't let them do what they hang their hat on. Hold onto the ball, and make them foul you. Get key guys like McKenzie and Coleman into foul trouble, maybe by having Flowers and Hughes drive and Butch post up, respectively. If the Badgers do that, they'll have a good shot, even though the game is on the road in Minnesota's funky raised-floor arena, where the crowd will be super-psyched to get a win. Minnesota gets a lot of baskets off assists, so try to disrupt the passing. Maybe Flowers and Hughes could look to jump the passing lanes a little more than normal. The defensive key may be who's going to guard Coleman. He may be too big for Landry, and he's certainly too mobile for Butch. A tough game in a raucous environment, but one that the Badgers can win, if they play smart.

Also, there's some football game Sunday evening, right? It's annoying to think about, given how close the Packers were, but I have to say I'm sort of glad it's won't be them getting exposed tonight. Yes, I'm joining the legions in predicting a Patriots beatdown/coronation. I'd love to be surprised though. And I'm loving how additional scuttlebutt on the Patriots videotaping exploits is coming out. Just enough to really peeve Boston sports fans . . . .

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