Wisconsin vs. UW-River Falls: Welcome Back to the Kohl Center
Okay, so we’re going to break my rigidly planned schedule today, and push back my personal pre-season All-American and All-Big Ten teams to whenever I can fit it in. The reason? I just ran out of time over the weekend. I’ve still got my standard bullet-point recap of the Wisconsin-UW-River Falls exhibition game, but that itself was a struggle. Sunday afternoon my friend Jim invited me to the Green Bay Packers game, and as a Wisconsin resident who does not have access to Packers season tickets, I am required by law to attend any games to which I am invited. Since I’m a law-abiding citizen, I sucked it up and spent the day in Green Bay. Thus, I barely had time to get to my game recap. Thank goodness I’m primarily a basketball fan, though, because it was a rough weekend for people who like football in my home state. In any event, on to the recap:
1) First things first, thanks to my friend popularly known as "Boo Yah" for hooking me up with tickets to Saturday night’s exhibition game. Because I’m typically a cheap man, I seldom sit in seats as nice as those that I had the opportunity to enjoy on Saturday night. From time to time you need to treat yourself, though, and when Boo Yah’s offering you a chance to buy some seats, you don’t turn that opportunity down. So thanks for the chance to see a game in style.
2) I think I was officially the only man in Wisconsin who might have been more excited about the Wisconsin-River Falls game than the Wisconsin-Penn State football game. Given the constant rain beating down on Southeastern Wisconsin on Saturday night, I’m just happy that my friend Jim was not only to still make the trip to Madison with me, but also volunteered to do the driving.
3) Upon first walking to my seats, I got really excited that Wisconsin’s warm-ups now appeared to include Indiana-style candy-striped pants. Then I quickly realized that River Falls had the cool pants. So much for a sweet retro look.
4) Continuing on in the style corner, Wisconsin’s got new uniforms this year. I was not a proponent of the uniforms worn over the past couple of seasons, but I think I’m going to like these new ones even less. There are two primary problems. First, while the home uniforms were predominantly white the shoulders of the jerseys are red. Essentially, they look like WNBA jerseys. Not a particularly flattering look for a division one men’s team (or for a man with a physique like Brian Butch). The second, more egregious problem, though, is that there’s a horizontal red stripe running across the back of the shorts. This stipe makes it look at all times like each of the players’ shorts are falling down. Frankly, I don’t want to spend the entire season hoping that Alando Tucker’s pants don’t fall down and injure him during a dunk.
5) I was very excited to see Marcus Landry take the floor as a Badger after several years of watching him in high school. Two things stuck out to me. First, it was jarring for me to see Landry, who was always the most impressive physical specimen in high school games, looking comparatively slight next to his college teammates. He definitely needs to bulk up a bit. Second, he’s going to be a player. Once he adds the bulk, he’s going to be very, very good. As it stands, this year he will just be very good.
6) Seeing as I did my roster breakdown on Friday, I’m a tad upset that I need to point out a number of glaring inaccuracies that I can already see in my assessments. First, Michael Flowers is going to be more than the somewhat minor role player that I made him out to be. Partly that’s because the Badgers only have two guards who are ready to play (not including Ray Nixon and Joe Krabbenhoft, who are not guards, per se, but are guys that can play guard), and partly that’s because he seems improved in some of his general point guard skills.
7) Glaring inaccuracy #2: almost everything that I said about Jason Chappell. I owe that man an apology for many things that I’ve said about him over the years. I still think he’ll eventually get passed by if Greg Stiemsma and Marcus Landry keep working hard, but he actually looked good on Saturday night. (Yes, that was hard for me to say). He got the start, which surprised me right away, but more surprising than that, he rebounded well, and was the most active of any of the big men in trying to get post position on the offensive end. Could my ongoing dislike of Chappell end? Let’s see, as the season progresses.
8) I’m not ready to call it a glaring inaccuracy just yet, but Greg Stiemsma showed a surprising shooting touch on the offensive end, canning 15-foot jump shots on successive trips down the floor. He also nearly had an impressive blocked shot on the defensive end, but Marcus Landry blocked the ball just seconds before Stiemsma would have. (Yeah, it was a tough night to be from River Falls).
9) There was a guy sitting in press row just down from where my friend Jim and I were sitting, and his television monitor vacillated between hockey and football for the entire evening. Maybe I don’t understand how covering a game works, but if I was reporting on a basketball game, I might try to set my DVR to record the Miami-Virginia Tech game, rather than watching it at the event that I’m covering.
10) So, Wisconsin jumped out to a 36-6 lead to start the game. The walk-ons all got in during the first half, and the team somewhat coasted in for the rest of the evening, though the line-up was played with a bit. The second half was much closer to an even game, due to much better shooting by River Falls, and a zone defense that made Wisconsin work a bit more for its shots.
11) UW-River Falls guard Nick Hall had an odd look to him. He didn’t have a real athletic build, and you could tell that he was just beginning to bald. He reminded me of a guy who’s been cast to play a guy who plays high school basketball in a movie that’s not really about basketball. He’s a little too old for the gig, and he’s not athletic enough to totally sell that he’s a jock, but since it’s only about 1/10 of what the film’s about, and he’s sort of the type that the casting director is looking for, he’s got the role. (For the record, I could have just said that Hall looked like one of the cast members from Porky's. This, however, would have entailed me admitting up front that I've actually seen Porky's.)
12) Highlight dunk of the night: Kammron Taylor streaks down court on a fast break and tosses it off the backboard to DeAaron Williams, who slams it home. I haven’t seen one of those in a game since the final play of the 1995 Wisconsin high school championships. There would have been a second one on the next trip down court, but Taylor decided to take it himself this time, and completely blew a dunk on his own. Stick to passing, Kam.
13) Comment of the Night: About 15 minutes into the first half, my friend Jim, who’s not an avid Wisconsin fan, looks at me and says "Hey, that one guy playing for Wisconsin looks a lot like Chris Rock. Do you see what I’m talking about?" Because Jim clearly didn’t see a game on TV last year, and he’s a pretty good guy, I cut him some slack on bringing up the biggest cliche possible with regard to Kammron Taylor. Had Jim been a normal fan, I would have punched him in the mouth.
14) Freshman guard Mickey Perry didn’t show me much. I’m willing to overlook (unlike Bo Ryan) his difficulty in getting his warm-ups off prior to getting in the game. However, he really didn’t look comfortable handling the ball. I think he’s going to take some time before he’s a contributor.
15) Biggest crowd reaction of the evening came when Tanner Bronson scored on a reverse layup. Earlier in the game, my friend Jim and I had the following exchange with regard to Bronson as he entered the game:
Me: That’s Tanner Bronson. He’s a former walk-on that looks like he’s 14 years old.
Jim: Is that why he’s wearing the number 14?
Me: Wow, I never though of that. Maybe...
16) What’s my take on what the rotation for Wisconsin will be this year? I assume that, at least for the immediate future, the starters will stay the same as on Saturday (Kammron Taylor, Ray Nixon, Alando Tucker, Brian Butch, Jason Chappell). For subs, I think that the regular rotation will include (in order of most to least minutes): Michael Flowers, Marcus Landry, Greg Stiemsma, Joe Krabbenhoft. The rest of the team will be sitting down a lot, with DeAaron Williams being the one guy on the fringe of being able to steal some minutes.
So, with an unsurprising Wisconsin victory in hand, Jim and I returned to his car and faced the harsh November weather on the way home. I’ll spare everyone a November Rain joke, but don’t fool yourself–it would have been an easy way to end the recap.
Oh, and one quick bonus point today: On Wisconsin’s website, assistant director of athletic communications, Brian Lucas, is doing a daily blog regarding the goings on of the Wisconsin basketball program. It’s only four days old, but it seems to give a nice look into the daily lives (beyond the court) of the members of a division one basketball team. And November 4th’s entry has already brought out a classic tale of Devin Harris showing up to Big Ten media day without pants. Don’t worry, it’s not as disturbing as it sounds.