Monday, January 17, 2005

Wisconsin-Michigan State: The Streak Continues

Saturday morning I headed from Milwaukee to Madison with my friends Brian and Ferd to take in the Wisconsin-Michigan State game. Ferd had tickets with his brother, and Brian and I ended up buying scalped tickets that, despite their location behind one of the baskets (the scalper lied and told us they were at halfcourt, but neither of us were truly shocked by the real location), actually gave us a pretty good view of the action. As a Badger fan, it was truly a magnificent game. When you can beat a team as good as Michigan State 6 straight times, something is definitely going right. My thoughts:

1) Since Brian and I arrived at our seats 15 minutes prior to the game, we got to take in the pre-game spectacle. There was a video montage that was somewhat reminiscent to the ones that I have seen at Marquette games. However, unlike Marquette games, there was no historical footage—it was all from last season. Given Wisconsin’s lack of a historically good program, it would have been a bit awkward to show footage from 1941, and then gloss over the next 50 years. I generally liked what they had, though Marquette still produces a better pre-game video experience.

2) Mike Wilkinson and Paul Davis are probably very, very sore this morning. Their wrestling in the post was exactly what I expected, though, since that’s generally what happens when they’re playing one another. With the energy that Wilkinson spent trying to front Davis all game, I’m surprised he was standing upright at the end of the game. It was a fun battle to watch, though, with two of the Big Ten’s better players.

3) Speaking of Paul Davis, how good is that guy? I was a little down on him because he doesn’t seem to square up on his turnaround jumpers, but everything he shot early on seemed to go in. Turnaround jumpers, hook shots, and even a three pointer. I think I even saw a good Sikma move out of him. Again, I know that next week he’ll probably go out an have a 6 point, 5-rebound performance against someone, but when it happens, I doubt I’ll see it.

4) Now we get to the section where I slam guys that I like. Let’s start with Brian Butch. Ouch. I love the guy, but he looked terrible yesterday. His best move all day was his shoestring tackle of Paul Davis, which resulted in an intentional foul. I recognize that Michigan State doesn’t play a game that’s real suited to Butch’s style, but he’s got to be able to adjust. I saw an occasional glimmer of hope with regard to his defensive game, but overall, Butch took a bit of a step back on Sunday.

5) Continuing on, I’m as big of a Michael Flowers advocate as there is. In the pre-season he seemed likely to develop into the best lock-down defender that the Badgers have seen since Mike Kelley. That said, he didn’t look so hot in the 3-4 minutes he got. In particular, he was inserted as a defensive sub with 10 seconds left in the first half and Michigan State with the ball. Chris Hill began circling the floor, and was well ahead of Flowers at points. Hill did that to him a lot at other points, too. Flowers will still be good, but he was a step or two off on Sunday.

6) The halftime show alone was almost worth the price of admission. I commented to my friend Brian on the way in that I was hopeful that we would see the gymnastic team billed as “North Dakota’s Official Goodwill Ambassadors,” a team that performs at Badger games each year. Well, Sunday was the big day for the girls to show up. Some of my favorite memories of my days in the student section were sitting in the second row for these performances, and as the human pyramid that the girls would vault over got bigger and bigger, screaming at them “No, don’t do it! It’s too dangerous!” Those 14 year old girls thought my friends and I were hilarious.

7) With the new scoreboard in the Kohl Center this year, they were able to break out an arena staple: the kiss cam. Perhaps the best kiss cam moment of the day was the appearance of Governor Jim Doyle on the scoreboard with his wife. Doyle looked so reluctant to participate in the stadium hijinx that for a moment, I gave question as to whether he was there with his wife, or some other mystery lady. In the end, though, the governor sucked it up and kissed whatever woman was sitting next to him.

8) Getting back to the game, it bears noting that Michigan State really impressed me. Their ability to get the ball downcourt quickly (a staple of Michigan State basketball) was the best I’ve seen since the Spartans won the 2000 national title. I feel like Tom Izzo finally has enough players that aren’t overrated head cases to make his system work again. They may have lost Sunday, but it’s not going to become a regular thing for the Spartans.

9) Okay, let’s talk about the final two minutes. Is Michigan State cursed? All I could think about was what must have been going through Tom Izzo’s head during that time. He was up 59-51, and closing in on an end to his 5-game losing streak and a chance to beat his arch rival, Bo Ryan, a man he has never beaten before. Then the wheels began to fall off. Michigan State missed two front ends of one and ones. They traveled while being lightly pressed. They missed shots. They gave Kammron Taylor (who had a nice game, by the way) perhaps his easiest path to the basket all season. Meanwhile, Wisconsin sank clutch shots. They played hard-nosed defense. And they snuck back in and stole the game. Michigan State largely gave this one away, but the Badgers did everything correct to receive the gift. Wisconsin played as well as Michigan State played poorly. As great as it feels to have this win as a Badger fan, I can’t even imagine what a punch in the gut this was for Spartan fans.

10) And finally, the crowd was great at the Kohl Center yesterday. There will never be an atmosphere for a game like I used to experience when the Badgers played in the old Fieldhouse, but the Kohl Center was as loud as I’ve ever heard it yesterday. And the team certainly deserved the enthusiasm.

And with the win in hand, the boys and I drove home. Exhausted from another weekend of basketball, and carrying heavy objects, I went to sleep early, thinking about the UWM game that I would attend the next day.


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