So the Wisconsin men's basketball team took down Coppin State in a mostly middling performance last night. Maybe after finals week and all that the team was a little out of it. There were stretches of good defense, generally solid rebounding, and some possessions with excellent passing, but there were a few too many turnovers (10) for how slow paced a game it was (53 possessions), and the Badgers seemed to run out of gas in both halves, scoring few points in the last five minutes or so of both periods. But they were generally in control the whole way-- working a double-digit lead early and milking it for the rest of the game. Although you would have liked to see them really put the pedal down and blow out a 1-6, now 1-7 Coppin State team.
Anyhow, the reason Coppin State is wiley is the following. They play in the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) wtih teams like the traditional black universities Hampton and Bethune-Cookman (where the Packers' Nick Collins went to college). When you play in that small of a division, you know that you're not going to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. And thus, the only way to make the tournament, and, really, the only part of your season that matters is your conference schedule, and, in particular, your conference tournament. Knowing this, Coppin State volunteers to play one of the roughest non-conference schedules in the country. They've played 8 games so far this season, and 7 have been on the road, against teams like Wisconsin, Dayton, Kansas, Purde, and they have games coming up at Missouri and Oklahoma. Yeesh. The idea is obvious though. Play against tough competition early and the games that matter, the conference games, will feel easy in comparison. So these tough early losses (if the team's psyche can withstand all the losing) help prep them for the conference season. And it's worked! Coppin State made the tournament out of the MEAC several times in the last dozen seasons. (Last year, they lost in the play in game to Mount St. Mary's.) Plus, playing the patsy to all these big schools early in the season results in Coppin State getting a ton of money. In fact, the first ten or so games of the men's basketball season funds the rest of the athletic department. That's a wickedly smart set-up, and one any small conference D-I coach would be smart to emulate.
Anyhow, random stats and analysis follows. The Badgers were efficient, despite the turnovers, scoring roughly 1.09 points per possession. And they held Coppin State to a dour .87 PPP. So it was a pretty solid performance, it's just that the pase was so darn slow (largely due to the refs calling all of two shooting fouls on both teams combined--- they must have made a pact to try to get home before 8), the game seemed closer than it was. And it didn't help that Coppin State's various zones lured Wisconsin into a throwing up too many three pointers-- and the Badgers made less than a quarter of their attempts. (Pop Hughes was guilty of several especially heinous long range shots.) However, the lack of foul shots and the not-so-hot three point shooting was overcome by complete dominance on the boards. Wisconsin rebounded superbly on both ends of the floor, pulling down 86% of the available defensive boards and 44% of their own misses. Both superlative percentages.
Anyhow, Tuesday night's game in Madison against the Texas Longhorns is now looming. They're probably still pissed about Michael Flowers' ridiculous clutchness stealing that game from them last year. And I can't tell whether it's a good or bad thing that they lost a close game to Sparty (in a weird not really very neutral game in Houston) yesterday. It should be a tough one, and Wisconsin is going to need to show that the team that got beat down by UConn and lost its cool at Marquette (and nearly lost to Idaho State) has grown and matured into a better squad. The dominant win over UW-Green Bay sure made it seem like they had. Last night's game makes you wonder a bit though. Should be a fascinating match-up.