Michigan State-Wisconsin: Jockeying For Big Ten Position
In a lucky turn of events, half of my bowling team fell ill last night (okay, so it wasn’t lucky for them), and half of the team that we played failed to show, so my normally long evening of pseudo-sport ended early and I had tons of time to get home and watch my recording of the Michigan State-Wisconsin game. In a similarly fortunate turn of events, my threats to break people’s legs if I heard a score of the game were taken into account (well, aside from my friend Brian telling me that the score was tied 75-75 at the half), and I returned home to watch the game plausibly live. Game notes below on this always-entertaining match-up:
1) I loved Tom Izzo gambling by putting Paul Davis back into the game not long after he picked up his two early fouls (his second foul, by the way, was a gift to the Badgers). As he explained at the half, his reasoning for doing so was that "It’s just that time of year." Indeed, the move paid off, and Davis had a stellar game, leading a Spartan comeback from a 10-point deficit. While ultimately that hurt the Badgers, as a fan it gave me one more interesting subplot to watch. So kudos to Izzo for not only making a coaching decision that worked, but also for making the game even more entertaining.
2) Actually, let me continue my Izzo love-fest. While I know as a Wisconsin fan it is my duty to hate Tom Izzo, I just can’t. His style of play, and typically hard-nosed teams (though one could argue some of the toughness has disappeared in recent years) force me to respect him. His 2000 national championship team, though not the greatest college basketball team that I’ve ever seen, is definitely the college basketball team that I have the most respect ever for. They played the game with a toughness and speed (yes, despite their grinding style, they could get the ball from one end of the floor to the other as fast as any team out there) that was beautiful to watch. And Izzo was the architect. As my friend Josh always notes, it’s sort of weird how Wisconsin fans hate Izzo, but if he were coaching the Badgers, we’d love him every bit as much as Bo Ryan. I’ll still stick with Ryan, but you’re never going to find me laying into Izzo’s coaching ability. (Though I will gladly question a thought process of his in my next point.)
3) At one point in the game Brent Musberger noted that one of the items on Tom Izzo’s blackboard with game points read before the game "Stop Brian Butch from patrolling inside." This begs the question–has Izzo actually seen Butch play? I know a lot of people make the mistake of seeing a 6-11 guy and thinking that he must be a key post presence, but I would hope that an accomplished coach like Izzo would see that Butch is more effective on offense when he’s 10 feet from the hoop than he is when he’s on the blocks, and that he’s not among the more talented interior defenders in the league.
4) At one point in the first half Erin Andrews did a short piece on the mask that Matt Trannon will be wearing as he hopefully makes his comeback from a broken jaw for the Big Ten Tournament. Did this device scare the hell out of anyone else? It was a plastic mask that fit over his entire face, and a good portion of the rest of his head. Had I not known of Trannon’s injury beforehand, based on the protective mask that he was getting, I would have assumed that he had gotten hit in the head by a train or something. Trannon’s an intimidating guy already, but he’s going to be even more frightening when it looks like his head is entirely encased in lucite. I won’t even get into his mouthpiece, which apparently will keep his teeth in place in the event of a nuclear attack.
5) In another key moment of the broadcast, Erin Andrews (she did a lot of interesting things last night, didn’t she?) reported that Alando Tucker had informed her that he’s sticking around school another year. Apparently he noted that he’s doing so on the advice of his mother, who despite financial hardships for the family, advised her son to stay in school because she could see how happy he was there. Yeah, I guess that’s better than Tucker sticking around another year because he’s an undersized forward with ball handling skills that aren’t at an NBA level, which consequently means that he’s not guaranteed of being a high draft pick and sticking with an NBA team. (Just to be clear–I still love watching Tucker play in college, and find him to be a great player–I just don’t see where he plays as a pro.)
6) Great dig by Steve Lavin on ESPN’s coverage of the Duke-North Carolina game which will be shown from various points on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN360 (I don’t even know what this last one is) on Saturday night when he noted that one of the channels will be featuring coverage of the concession stands. Because, as Lavin noted, you can’t get the true feel of a game if you don’t actually see the popcorn popping. Great line, though honestly, he’s not that far off in his assessment of ESPN’s over-coverage of this game. While it may be overkill, though, I’m still kicking myself for making plans on Saturday night that won’t allow me to fire up multiple TVs for the game.
7) At the end of the first half, Marquise Gray looked like he turned an ankle or something, and refused to ask out of the game, despite the fact that he was clearly in pain and moving much more slowly than usual. Luckily for him, he didn’t get beat on the next play down the floor, but I still think he should have taken a breather and recovered a bit before heading back to the floor.
8) Worst point of the game for Steve Lavin came in the second half when on a fastbreak he praised Drew Neitzel for pulling the ball out on a fast break that wasn’t ready to be converted. It would have been an astute point, had Neitzel not been partly responsible for the scoring opportunity not being there, due to his inability to handle a slightly errant pass on the fast break. I guess you can still praise him for pulling the ball out, but it has a lot less impact if he’s the guy who made it necessary to pull the ball out in the first place.
9) As Musberger and Lavin noted while watching Alando Tucker rack up free-throw attempts near the end of the game, Tucker has over 200 foul shot attempts this year. That’s an astounding number. I seem to recall hearing (and I could be wrong on this) during a Marquette game earlier this year that Steve Novak just hit 200 free-throw attempts for his career (notable because it game him enough attempts to make him eligible to hold the free-throw percentage record at Marquette). It’s hard to believe that two players so stellar, and so similarly situated with games that don’t quite transfer to either of the traditional forward positions, could have styles that are different enough to cause such a vast difference in free-throws taken.
10) Part of me wants to continue on with my Nixon theory (Ray Nixon’s play determines Wisconsin’s success or failure in any game), however this game isn’t on him, no matter how rough a night he had. Michigan State just out-played Wisconsin, with special nods going to Shannon Brown, who looked even more impressive to me than leading-scorer Paul Davis, who was his usual impressive self against the Badgers. Even if Nixon had stepped in and played a phenomenal game, I’m afraid that Michigan State just looked like they would have stepped up their play further. Even though I’m not pinning this one on Ray Nixon, though, he was tough to watch last night. At various points he was so uninvolved last night that I forgot that he was even on the floor. And it pained me to watch him stand in the same place a couple of times for extended periods of time on the offensive end while being guarded by Drew Neitzel. When you’re being guarded by Neitzel, a guy who you have you have an 8-inch advantage on, it might be nice if the offense could find a way to work you in.
And as the game ended in defeat for Wisconsin, I stopped my recording of the game, and landed upon the DePaul-Syracuse game on ESPN. And while the nine point loss to Michigan State was rough for a Wisconsin team still trying to end the year near the top of the Big Ten, I could take comfort in the fact that at least the Badgers were never down by 40 to a team with a sub-.500 record. What the hell happened to Syracuse?
And with that, the weekend is upon us. There’s way too much good basketball to watch on Saturday, and unfortunately I’m going to miss a good portion of it due to evening plans, but it should still be a solid basketball weekend. Enjoy!