Apologies for a late update--the website was really slow this morning for some reason...
What can I say about the Illinois-Wisconsin game that hasn’t been said. Except for an occasional lapse, that was one of the best played games that I’ve seen this year. If I wasn’t sure about the ability of Wisconsin before, I am now. And Illinois really does have the look of a great team—something that I hadn’t completely taken the time to notice before. To have that many superstar guards in one place, working together, is incredible. I certainly enjoyed it, along with a couple of friends, from the comfort of my living room. My points:
1) You can’t be a Wisconsin fan and not have noticed Ray Nixon’s performance last night. I’ll certainly remember his first half when he got hot and drained three 3-pointers nearly in succession, but I’ll also remember him jacking up two of the most ill-advised 3-pointers of the game. I’ve also seen him defend better. Nonetheless, there were flashes of brilliance, and I can’t help but think of how great it would be if he hadn’t refused to take a redshirt his freshman year.
2) Similar to Nixon stepping up, where did Jack Ingram come from? Does he normally shoot threes? I didn’t expect the Badgers to have their hearts cut out from behind the arc by a backup forward. I guess that’s what players on great teams do, though. Even the non-superstars.
3) Memo to ESPN announcers, since you didn’t get my first one: We get it—Mike Wilkinson has an attractive girlfriend. We don’t need to see her every spare moment in the game. Move on.
4) It was frustrating to watch the Badgers uncharacteristically miss foul shots. I used to watch a lot of that with Dick Bennett, but the times have changed. And Clayton Hanson was the biggest offender. If Clayton Hanson isn’t there to shoot 3-pointers and sink foul shots, why else is he there?
5) Much like Travis Diener, who I think should sit tonight and the next few games for Marquette to heal, Bo Ryan should shut down Alando Tucker for a few games. He re-injures himself every game that the Badgers play, and it’s painful to watch him impact his health like that. I know it’s tough to shut down what should be your top offensive threat, but Tucker needs to do something to get himself healthy. Of course, I also have a sneaking suspicion that Tucker my never again be truly healthy, which also saddens me. I wouldn’t wish Bill Walton-feet on anyone. Not even Bill Walton himself.
6) I would like to officially apologize to Deron Williams. I don’t know that I ever said it publicly, but I never understood people touting him as the Big Ten’s best player. I get it now. Illinois seems to have a new team best player every year, with the title shifting from Dee Brown in 2002-3, to Williams in 2003-4, to Luther Head this season. With all due respect to Brown and Head, if I’m picking teams, I’m taking Williams before them. Weaknesses are hard to find on that guy.
7) Speaking of Williams, it was nice to see Bo Ryan toss Michael Flowers in the game to slow him for a bit. Though I thought Flowers got abused (well, if you can be abused in 2 minutes) against Michigan State, he gave some nice relief last night, and generally seemed to stay with Williams. I still think we Badger fans are going to love Flowers in 2 years. Even if he’s inept on offense right now.
8) I don’t like to see the Badgers lose, but I have to admit that it was cool to see James Augustine make a tremendous cut for a dunk in the final minutes of play, and then follow it up with a dunk off of a gorgeous assist to him under the hoop the next time down the floor. I’ve always liked watching Augustine’s game, and after seeing him seem to lose all confidence in the closing minutes against Iowa last week, it was good to see him put in a position to regain confidence. I just wish it wasn’t against my team. In any event, could the Illini have asked for a better scenario? Their guards stay strong and their solid forward regains his lost confidence. I can’t ask for a much better win than that.
9) Memo to Nick Smith: Next time you play the Badgers, don’t be afraid to shoot more.
10) Normally I’m a lot more critical of the Badgers when they shoot a lot of 3-pointers, but it was okay with me in the first half. Most of them came within the flow of things. And of course, I still love having one guy, Sharif Chambliss, who has no conscience and may fire one up at any time.
11) The thing that I like most about Illinois is that they play like champions. They got down 8 with less than 10 minutes to go in the second half. Did they panic? No—they just kept coming up the floor and doing their thing, like great teams do. When North Carolina is on its game, I’ll still take them over Illinois, but Illinois isn’t going down easy to anyone this year.
Television is packed tonight with good games, as Marquette heads to Louisville (okay, this might not be good, but it interests me), UWM heads to Purdue (I am officially intrigued), and Duke and Maryland face off in the ACC. And with nothing on my slate tonight (we’ll have to delay my next trip to Sam’s Club), I should be able to get 2 of them under my belt without a problem.