Illinois has never been an easy place to play for Wisconsin. For the most part, that has been due to great coaching and recruiting on the part of (most recently) Lon Kruger, Bill Self and Bruce Weber. Three exceptional coaches. Last year Illinois was 5-13 in conference & 16-19 overall. Horrible by anyone's standards. Seemingly bad enough to leave them vulnerable for at least a year or two. But alas, quite the job has Bruce Weber done over the last year, and on Saturday, quite the hand did Bo Ryan lend him. The results, for Badger fans, were agonizing to watch.
We out-rebounded them (29-28). They had way more turnovers than us (5-12). They got called for just as many fouls as we did (15-13 [which is a bit misleading because we were fouling @ the end of the game*]). So what was to blame for this latest chapter in Wisconsin's momentary lapse of a season?
Was it the TWO shot clock violations in a 3 minute span, down by 10 with 8 and 5 minutes left in the game respectively? yes.
Was it the worst missed lay-up i've ever seen (courtesy of Joe "chained to the floor" Krabbenhoft)? yes.
Was it the garbage that Chester Frazier was getting to go in the basket? nope.
Was it the fact that with 3 minutes left, our best shooter had been on the bench for 3 minutes, replaced by Kevin Gullickson? absolutely.
But it was another moment in the game, that forecast all of these:
Down by 2, under 4 minutes into the game, Trevon Hughes used his quickness to take the ball from Illinois' latest bird boy center, "Mike" Tisdale. The result was a 2 on 1 break where Hughes had super sopht Keaton Nankivil in space over the 1 defender back. However Nankivil stayed away from the rim like it was covered in small pox, and Hughes was forced to continue his 3 year streak of alley-oop-less basketball, in favor of the, not-always-the-best-idea-but-usually-our-only-option-trevon-hughes-pull-up-jumper. He made it.
For the rest of the game Wisconsin seemed to be out of sync, not trusting each other enough to make crisp aggressive passes, and bogged down by the oppressive :35 second collegiate shot clock. Illinois sucks. This game, to me, was way worse than the Minnesota game (the one where people seem to have forgotten, Minnesota needed 2 bombs to force overtime), because we looked like we had nothing. Leuer was gone. Bohannon was gone. Landry got punked like he does often. Jarmusz and Nankivil continued to look ready to go back to high school. We fucking sucked. And Illinois had waay too many defensive breakdowns for me to listen to talk about how tough they are. We had plenty of space to work with, we just didn't know what to do with it.
I grew up watching Wisconsin basketball. I am eternally grateful for winning as often as we do in recent years. But the Big Ten is about to get real good. We will win a lot less, and we will be a perennial bubble team if we keep touting the "character" of our recruits, instead of the basketball skills that are paying their way through school. I don't want to watch Keaton Nankivil.
This year, the Big Ten is full of great coaches. Matter of fact college basketball in general, is full of ambitious, personable, respectable coaches with great records and accomplishments. I love Bo Ryan. I love his demeanor and I love his record. But we went to the Final Four before he got here. The Kohl Center is a state of the art facility and Madison is a beautiful place to live, play or coach. At a certain point, expectations will and should, move past quiet grumblings about how thankful we should be. Bo Ryans style of play keeps us off TV. I care about that.
What worries me most though, is the arrogance i've recently witnessed from Ryan regarding the players (HIS players). At the press conference following the Golpher game, Ryan was asked the following question:
"Coach their press gave you quite a bit of trouble down the stretch, what were you guys missing getting the ball up to half court?"
After a long pause, he asks to have the question repeated. It is. And he replies:
"The fact that the other team got their hands on it".
Oooo k. I appreciate protecting his players from criticism, be it about their decision making, or lack of quickness and ball-handling skills, but I'm worried that Bo is under the impression that the "bit of trouble" they had getting it over half court was not directly attributable to his players' lack of quickness and ball-handling skills. Anyone else?
I really do appreciate that Ryan takes character guys. However, to be a character guy, you don't have to be slow. There are smart, responsible athletes in California. I understand that they tend to be the ones getting offers from Duke and UCLA, but I feel like Ryan is hell bent on protecting his players' weaknesses from criticism, (in part, because he has given up on getting a higher caliber athlete?) to the point that he simply wont allow the question-'were your players good enough to win tonight?'. Which sucks. Because sometimes they aren't. And I see no reason for that to be the case. Especially as the program continues to be solid, and Devin Harris prepares to (eventually) put on an Eastern Conference All-Star Uni for the NEW JERSEY Nets, a team with a tremendous presence in the biggest market in the country. That wouldn't give us access to better players? Guess it doesn't matter because we've given all our scholarships away through 2022. Fuck it.
*It's real boring to me that it's just a given that the home team gets fewer fouls called on them. By a lot. Even when it happens for us. It's totally gay and might be my least favorite thing about college basketball. It rarely doesn't happen.