Wisconsin vs. Indiana: Hanging On For Dear Life
Ah, a Wisconsin win. It’s nice to come out way on top of a game where a loss for either team meant a horrific downward spiral would continue. No niceties today, though, I’m just jumping into the points that I gleaned while watching this one from my living room:
1) It’s rivalry week on ESPN. We’ve seen some great rivalries in the past two days–Duke vs. North Carolina, Syracuse vs. UConn, and Tennessee vs. Kentucky. But Indiana vs. Wisconsin? Where did that come from? As a Wisconsin alum, I’ve never thought of Indiana as some sort of a fierce rival. In fact, and I could be wrong on this one, but wasn’t Wisconsin stuck in one of those ruts where they hadn’t won on the road at Indiana in something like 25 years? And if I’m to believe last night’s broadcast crew, Indiana hasn’t won at Wisconsin in eight years. That’s not exactly the hallmark of a rivalry to me. Not that I would know who to classify as Wisconsin’s Big Ten rival (maybe Michigan State, since there seems to be some blind hatred between the programs), but it’s definitely not Indiana. Nor, would I guess, does Indiana think of Wisconsin as a rival.
2) Speaking of rivalry week, one of the first things that I saw on the broadcast, as I got home late from work, was sideline reporter Erin Andrews stumbling over the words "Welcome to Wisconsin. It’s rivalry week," as she began a story of some sort. She attempted to joke about her inability to spit out the words afterwards by saying about the earlier phrase "Try saying that three times fast!" Well guess what–I did. And it wasn’t tough. You see, it’s not a tongue twister. Next time, Erin, don’t lie to me and tell me that you’re trying hard to enunciate a difficult phrase. I’m just going to forget about what happened if you keep going and don’t draw attention to your error.
3) Great reference during the game to Alando Tucker’s shoe collection, which can only mean that Brent Musberger is reading the blog of Wisconsin’s assistant director of athletic communications, Brian Lucas. Though somewhat sporadic in its updates, it’s always a good place to get lighthearted stories about the basketball team, so check it out if you’re not doing so already.
4) I’m still not sure where I stand on Kevin Gullikson filling in for Wisconsin, due to its depleted roster. On one hand, I love Gullikson’s confidence (yes, I’ve probably stated this about 800 times already), and willingness to shoot the ball when he has a good look. He’s not tentative like a walk-on, and if more players were willing to step in like Gullikson, I doubt that Wisconsin would have the scoring issues that it does. That said, Gullikson’s shooting is not good. I guess I’ll take the energy, but he’s still limited in a lot of ways. Which I suppose is the best you can ask for when dealing with a walk-on.
5) When talking about the Big Ten Tournament, Steve Lavin got creative with his pronunciation of "Conseco Fieldhouse" and referred to it in a manner that made it sound like he was saying "Canseco Fieldhouse." God help us if Jose Canseco ever has a sporting venue named after him.
6) I’ve got a new theory about how Wisconsin will perform in any game. I just came up with it last night, so it may or may not be valid. Here’s how it works: If Ray Nixon plays well, the Badgers will play well, and probably win. If Ray Nixon does not play well, the Badgers will lose. Last night Nixon had one of his games where he was making great decisions, playing energetic defense, and taking exactly what the defense was giving him when he was on the offensive end. That’s certainly not always the case, and when Nixon isn’t firing on all cylinders, his task of giving the team a boost must be picked up by someone less physically talented. That’s when the problems start. It’s a frightening theory, really, since Nixon isn’t known for his consistency, but I think that’s how things are going to work from this point forward. Of course, I’m too lazy to actually back this up with stats from the past few games, so I’m just going to wait to be proven wrong in the future.
7) Last night I officially got excited about the Joe Krabbenhoft era at Wisconsin when he drew a fourth foul on Marco Killingsworth with 14:30 to go in the game. It was an aggressive, heady play from an aggressive, heady player. I can’t wait to see this guy and Marcus Landry as seniors. It will be a special year. Actually, given Marquette’s freshman class, it could be a special year all around in Wisconsin.
8) Thank goodness that Marco Killingsworth managed to get himself into foul trouble, because his box-score line of 14 points and 8 rebounds in just 20 minutes is pretty scary. And seeing how Indiana plays without its star big man, I think any opposing team would be foolish not to take the ball right at Killingsworth early and often to try and get him out of the game quickly.
9) I fully expect Wisconsin fans to get too excited about this win. Right now my fellow Wisconsin fans are probably saying "But Chris, why do you have to be such a downer? Can’t you just enjoy a win?" No, I can’t–and here’s why. The fundamental problem that the Badgers have had to this point, which was hashed out nicely in the newspapers recently, is that Wisconsin can’t win if Alando Tucker or Kammron Taylor isn’t offensively carrying the team. Ray Nixon’s 13 points notwithstanding, Tucker had 29 points last night, and was in classic his classic "putting the team on his back" mode. Sure, Wisconsin’s defense last night was improved from what it was during the four game slide that it was on, but I don’t feel like much has changed about the offensive problems. I doubt this problem is even solvable, which is what makes it so maddening. I love watching Tucker score 30 points, but I’m aware that in the future there’s going to be some night where neither he nor Taylor scores more than 11 points apiece, and no one else will step up. That’s still hard to swallow.
10) And finally, the Bo Ryan halftime interview with Erin Andrews was classic. Brent Musberger rightly kept commenting on how entertaining Ryan’s answer to Andrews’ question about what he was saying to the refs at the end of the half. Ryan’s answer, that it may have looked like he was talking to the refs, but that he was really talking to his players was indeed, a hilariously blatant lie. But even better than that was Ryan’s initial silence and blank stare when confronted with Andrews’ question about the refs. You could almost see inside Ryan’s head as he thought "If I say something critical of the refs, the Big Ten will reprimand me. How do I respond to this question without getting myself into trouble." The lie afterward was just the icing on the cake.
And with the end of the Wisconsin game, I glanced from time to time at UConn-Syracuse before doing a few errands around the apartment. Not sure what tonight holds for me (I’ve got the week off from bowling, and can therefore use the night for basketball purposes), but there’s a good chance that I’ll be sitting at my computer watching UWM play.