Wisconsin vs. Illinois: The Slide Continues
After the high school game (as recapped below), I returned home with my friend Gus to watch the Wisconsin-Illinois game, which was on my DVR box. Due to us both taking remarkable care to not find out what had happened in the game (and let’s face it, some luck, as is always required when you’re sitting amongst basketball fans and hoping not to get a score update), we were able to watch the drama unfold as if it were happening in real time. Turns out that was really only useful for about the first 32 minutes of the game, but 32 minutes of Illinois-Wisconsin drama is always pretty fun. Though it ended up being another setback for the struggling Badgers, there’s no such thing as a boring Wisconsin-Illinois game these days. My thoughts below:
1) I’ve made some comments in the past about Brian Butch having just about the softest shooting touch that I’ve ever seen. And I’d like to reiterate that I think that’s still the case. Of course, that’s only helpful when he manages to aim the ball so that it gets remotely close to being in the cylinder. These days, it seems like Butch’s sweet touch only comes into play on about half of his shots. The other half completely miss the rim.
2) Sweet move by Bruce Weber letting James Augustine stay on the floor through most of the first half despite picking up two early fouls. It was a minor gamble, but it definitely worked, as the starting unit’s big run on Wisconsin at the end of the first half is in large part why the Illini won the game. Augustine didn’t light the world on fire while he was out there, but he did the little things, and kept continuity on the floor. And the best part about the whole thing was Weber’s comments about the move while leaving the floor at halftime. He noted that he had done the exact opposite by sitting Augustine with two early fouls the previous year, and didn’t like how that worked out. Here’s a guy that learns from his mistakes (even when his mistakes don’t even cost him the game).
3) Speaking of Augustine, I feel that I should take a time-out to note that he’s one of those opposing Big Ten players that I’ve loved to watch from day one. His freshman year I thought he played with the maturity of a senior, and in his senior year he continues to play heads-up basketball. In fact, there’s probably only one thing that bugs me about Augustine, and that’s the fact that we’ve never seen what he looks like with hair. One hopes he won’t regret his dedication to the bald look someday when he actually can’t grow hair. (It’s fear of this regret that keeps me from sporting a shorter, more manageable head of hair, myself.)
4) Tuesday night my friend Boo-Yah called me up to make a few salient hoops points during the UWM game, and left me with a standard-issue "Look for me on TV tomorrow night–I’ll be the one in red" joke. I laughed it off, and I didn’t see Boo-Yah last night, but his wife did make an appearance on screen during the game. He was cut just out of the frame I guess he just chose the wrong seat this time.
5) I’ve already explained in the past that I don’t gamble on sports (aside from NCAA tournament pools) since the act would pretty much ruin the basic joy of watching sports for me. Of course, nights like last night also help explain why I don’t gamble on sports. It seems to defy logic that Illinois, the 6th ranked team in the country, was an underdog to an unranked Wisconsin team that’s in its second game of getting significant minutes from a previously unused walk-on. That said, I sort of understood why Wisconsin was favored, even if to the naked eye it made no sense. I think my head would explode if I spent more than two nights a year thinking about these things, though.
6) Let it be known that I sort of like the Steve Lavin-Brent Musberger-Erin Andrews team, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think that Steve Lavin was on top of his game in terms of remarkably cheesy comments last night. Here’s my top 3:
a) Early in the game, Lavin noted that Alando Tucker heading to the hoop is sort of like a bloodhound, always with his nose to the ground, getting to the hoop. I was a bit worried that Lavin was about to deem Tucker "The Bloodhound" for the rest of his career, given his past with nicknames for the Wisconsin squad (i.e., decreeing that Brian Butch be known as "The Polar Bear," and requesting fan suggestions for a nickname that he could give to Joe Krabbenhoft). Thankfully, whether it was Lavin thinking that Tucker’s junior standing wouldn’t give him enough time to properly work such a name into his bag of tricks, or just realizing the non-sensical nature of the name, Lavin did not utter the word "bloodhound" for the rest of the night. One has to wonder if Lavin is doing this ESPN gig not because he wants to, but due to the fact that he can’t get a coaching job because word is out that back in his tenure at UCLA his players quit on him after tiring of him referring to Earl Watson as "The Kansas City Strangler," and Jason Kapono as "The Gila Monster."
b) Lavin at one point noted, in a totally serious tone, that Bo Ryan bore a "striking resemblance" to a badger. I don’t even completely know what that means, but Lavin’s analytical voice made it seem even more delightfully absurd.
c) Highlight of the night, without question was when Lavin noted that the communication of Dee Brown and James Augustine while connecting on plays was like that of dolphins. Again, not totally sure what exactly he was trying to express, but obviously it was meant to be a compliment to the remarkably in sync Brown and Augustine. Maybe once I get my masters degree in marine biology like Lavin I’ll be able to decipher this comment.
7) I've seldom seen a game where Wisconsin was so inaccurate from behind the three point arc. It was maddening to watch them toss up shot after shot that just wouldn't fall.
8) In addition to being my two favorite coaches in the conference, Bo Ryan and Bruce Weber also have the best reactions to referees when things don’t go their way. Ryan, of course, takes the approach of putting on a demonic face that makes it seem as if he wants to murder someone. Weber on the other hand has a whimsical, almost feminine look of shock on his face. Frankly, though both approaches are totally opposite, and are probably nothing more than each man’s natural reaction to a given situation, I think they’re probably equally effective. And that’s why I love these guys.
9) Because, as I note, Bo Ryan and Bruce Weber are my favorite Big Ten coaches, I feel it worthwhile to note my earliest memory of Bruce Weber. It came back at the Final Four in Minneapolis in 2001. A friend of mine who had an interest in coaching, and a handful of minor connections, came up with the idea of sneaking into an event or two at the NCAA coaches convention (which as it turned out, didn’t really involve any sneaking, and definitely wasn’t a challenge). So I sat with him through a seminar on how young coaches could develop their careers. Two coaches spoke–Bruce Weber and another guy whose name escapes me at the moment. At the time, I remember thinking that the guy whose name I can’t remember was probably the more interesting guy to see, and that Weber was just some random guy who had ridden Gene Keady’s coattails at Purdue for almost 20 years before being forced to get his own job at a small school (Southern Illinois). As we now know, I was, as usual, horrifically wrong in my assessment. Of course, I also pretty clearly remember Weber noting the fact that his path as a division one assistant wasn’t the only path to becoming a division one head coach, specifically referencing Bo Ryan, whose success at the division three level had led to his hire earlier in the week by Wisconsin, and his earlier hire at UWM. Little did I know that five years later, I’d be relishing every meeting between Weber and Ryan. Ah, memories...
10) A feeling of horror came over me at about the 11 minute mark in the game (as the Badgers pulled within 2 points) when I realized that I had made the rookie mistake of only DVRing the game itself, and failing to record the program after the game. Thus, had this gone on to be the most exciting game of the year, as it still had a chance to at that juncture, I would have missed the ending. Perhaps the one fortunate thing about Illinois winning big was that I didn’t miss any action due to my stupid error. Well, that and the fact that I can still honestly say that I’ve never had any of those stupid-ass X-Games events taking up space on my DVR box.
And with the game in hand for Illinois, Gus went home and I went to bed (after jotting down a few thoughts for today). I suppose there’s never any shame in losing to a team like Illinois (which looks like it has worked out some early season kinks), but it has still been a rough slide for the Badgers. Hopefully Wisconsin can work things out on the road against a downtrodden Purdue team that has lost roughly 14 players to injury this year. Whatever happens, I’ll be there to document it on my road-trip (itinerary for which will be pushed back a day, due to my unexpected trip to a high school game last night).