Monday, January 09, 2006

Wisconsin vs. Michigan State: How Does Wisconsin Always Win This One?

Sunday afternoon I looked to complete a relaxing basketball weekend by plunking myself down in my chair and watching the Wisconsin-Michigan State game. As if UConn visiting Marquette earlier in the week wasn't enough, Wisconsin was now hosting another top-10 team. I was sort of anticipating a Michigan State win given Wisconsin’s youth, Michigan State’s need for a win following a loss to Illinois, and the fact that MSU finally got over the hump last year, taking its first win from Bo Ryan since his arrival at Wisconsin. Game thoughts below:

1) The Wisconsin-Michigan State game was the first game that I’ve ever seen that involved one of my home teams and was broadcast in high definition. All I can say is that we need to move forward with this new era of entertainment, because HD is phenomenal. Right now my father’s most persistent question to me is his constant inquiry of "Are you getting the game tonight in high definition?" I look forward to the day when I can answer more often than not "Yes Dad, I’m getting the game it was intended to be viewed."

2) Kammron Taylor had an excellent game, scoring a ton of points against the Spartans. Sure he had some low-scoring games heading into this one, but if you were to say that no one was anticipating this performance coming into the game, then you’d be wrong. I direct you to my answer to a question from my exchange with Ryan of Hawkeye Hoops last week. Yeah, that comment was meant to apply to the Iowa game, but it’s pretty much a warning for any game going forward. Taylor has the ability to go off at any time (or conversely, limp his way to 5 points any time).

3) Marcus Landry had a breakout game today, and seemed to be playing at the level that his early-season play indicated he would be capable of. He’s splitting my irrational fan adoration this year with Michael Flowers, so feel free to take my view with a grain of salt, but by the time all is said and done, I believe Landry will be one of the best ever to put on a Wisconsin uniform.

4) It finally happened–I finally saw a bad game by Paul Davis. I knew this was something that had happened at a decent frequency during Davis’ career, but until today I was one of only a handful of people that had seen numerous Michigan State games without seeing a particularly rough game from Davis. I still think the guy’s a wonderful college player, though, and thank him for picking this game as one where he’s have a rough day. As a Badger fan, I appreciate it.

5) Much has been made of Michigan State’s uncharacteristically poor defense this year. Indeed, Wisconsin did have a solid offensive game against the Spartans. Nonetheless, I think that Michigan State could be a good defensive team by the end of the year. My untrained eye still saw lots of the ball-pressure and physical inside play that has defined Tom Izzo teams, but the Spartans simply were unable to defend for a full possession, as in years past. Unlike last year’s squad, which at one point early on was called soft (as directly as I’ve ever heard without actually using the word) by Izzo, I don’t think this is a soft team. I fully believe that this team will learn to defend, and will be tough to score on by the end of the year.

6) Much like Marcus Landry, Greg Stiemsma had a breakout day for the Badgers, showing his worth as a shot-blocker and looking much more comfortable on the floor than I’ve ever seen him before. Early foul trouble sent him to the bench, but if he’d had some more floor time, we might have seen a repeat of Stiemsma’s five block Iowa performance. I was always more excited about Stiemsma than I was about Brian Butch when they were recruited. While I might have underestimated Butch a bit, Stiemsma’s looking more and more like the player I was expecting a few years back.

7) He didn’t have a particularly incredible day, but I absolutely love Michigan State’s Matt Trannon. Okay, maybe I don’t love Trannon, per se, but I love his role. The Spartans always seem to have that one massive, ridiculously strong guy who takes care of business inside. I want one of those someday. They’re good to have.

8) Even though I watched the game from my living room, word is that this was the day for the group of young gymnast known as "North Dakota’s Goodwill Ambassadors" was performing at halftime of the game at the Kohl Center today. I did not see the performance, since I was at home, but having seen it before, I can still say that I’m feeling nothing but good feelings towards North Dakota right now. Nice work, ladies.

9) Like him or love him, Tom Izzo's brand of basketball is impressive, and even if the Badgers have a great record against Michigan State in recent years, it's always an accomplishment to beat the Spartans. The Michigan State win is one that I'll never take for granted.

My happy feelings about North Dakota quickly were replaced by good feelings about the Badgers knocking off the pre-season Big Ten favorite in an exciting game. Some would say that this puts Wisconsin in a great spot for winning the Big Ten, and while I would generally agree, Wisconsin’s still a young team that’s going to slip up here and there as the season progresses. Particularly in a tough conference like the Big Ten is this year. And while I retain the caution in my optimism, one can’t help but love the fact that Wisconsin has two of it’s tougher games out of the way, and a schedule that sets them up about as nicely as possible for a good Big Ten run. Now they just need to keep taking care of business.


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