Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wisconsin vs. Georgia: All In the Family

Saturday night was another one of those nights where there was tons of basketball to watch. I had tickets with some friends to the UWM-Drake game. Wauwatosa East and Milwaukee Pius, probably the two high schools that I’ve watched most over the past few years, were playing in one of the more intriguing early-season high school matchups around. I made it to neither of these events, instead opting to head to Madison for the Wisconsin-Georgia game. While UWM or a stellar high school game would be enough to make me happy most nights, this was a special occasion, as my grandfather was in town from New York. While most of the people in my immediate family apprciate sports, my grandfather is really one other person in my family who’s as insane about sports as I am. And because I had been able to secure excellent tickets to the Georgia game (thanks again to my friend Boo-Yah for the hook up), it seemed the perfect time to show off the Kohl Center to a Syracuse fan. With that in mind, I set off for Madison, and began listening to my grandfather talk about games at small colleges and high schools in upstate New York that I had never heard of. That’s right—the love of watching and talking about low-level sporting events apparently runs in my family. Game thoughts below:

1) The first half of the game was a definite struggle for the Badgers, who went into halftime with a 9-point deficit. While they started the game off solid defensively, they seemed to have trouble scoring with Georgia extending its defense out beyond the three-point line. The extended Bulldog defense disrupted the things that are normally second nature to the Badgers, like passes to swing the ball on the perimeter. Sometimes it’s the little things that take you out of your comfort zone.

2) Georgia appeared to be one of the few teams that Wisconsin will see all year that could match them in size. It’s a bit odd to see a game where 4 of the 10 guys on the floor are at least 6’10”. And it’s not as if there was a huge drop-off after the gigantic guys—there were plenty of 6’7” guys roaming the floor as well. That many big guys in one place almost numbs you to their height.

3) Wausau West grad Dave Bliss was one of those big-man starters for Georgia, which would seem to indicate that Georgia and Bliss taking a chance on one another (Bliiss was a project, as was the post-Jim Harrick Georgia program) a few years back. However the best part of seeing Bliss play the Badgers was that it was readily apparent that a good number of seats behind the Georgia bench ended up going to buddies of his. One has to appreciate that upon his homecoming, Bliss hooked up a bunch of his goofy friends with great seats, just as one has to appreciate a row of guys who were probably from Wausau taunting the home team during foul shots in support of their old pal. Very entertaining.

4) As well as the extended defense of the Bulldogs was working, it sort of perplexed me to see Georgia switch up to a zone, which allowed the Badgers to stick around a bit during the first half. Oddly, the Badgers’ success against the zone came more from their ability to get the ball inside than their ability to knock down open looks from outside, as they came in just 1-11 from three-point range during the first half.

5) Georgia’s coach, Dennis Felton, sure wasn’t shy about using his bench. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to be able to say for sure, but I suspect that nearly every guy on the Bulldog bench checked into the game at some point before the half. I only began noticing this after what seemed like Georgia’s 30th foul of the half occurred, and I noticed that no one on the team had more than 2 fouls. Oddly, the bench shortened a bit during the second half, and Geogia may have run out of steam a bit.

6) Much like myself, my grandfather seems to carry great angst over the possibility of cheerleaders falling out of the air and seriously injuring themselves. It’s mostly an issue for me at those first few Marquette games of the year, since slip ups happen early and often for a squad that hasn’t been honing its skills all throughout football season. But wherever you are, the lingering thought of a spine-chilling cheerleader injury is always lurking in your head.

7) Some of the more humorous moments of the game came when 6’1” Wisconsin point guard Trevon Hughes got caught in mismatches and ended up guarding 7’0” Georgia center Rashaad Singleton in the low post. Hughes was pretty physical with Singleton, and actually ended up getting called for an off-the ball foul battling with him in the post. But other than that, Hughes generally held his own, even eventually blocking a Singleton shot while playing help defense at one point. It’s nothing to get too excited about, because Singleton wasn’t exactly what you’d call an offensively gifted post player, but it was pretty amusing to see a tiny guy harrassing a huge guy on the blocks.

8) In contrast to Georgia, Bo Ryan continued to use a short bench for Wisconsin, going basically 7 players deep, save for the occassional cameo by Kevin Gullikson. After hearing about the ability of the Badgers to go 9-10 deep this year, I’m left wondering a bit why the bench is so short right now. But either way, I suspect that this won’t be a season-long thing. In time, they’ll have to work some more bodies into the mix, particularly since most of the guys sitting on the bench seem to be game-ready.

9) Brian Butch is having a great start to his year, and has been a rebounding machine so far. But it’s still entertaining to see the times when he still seems like the skinny, weak kid that came in five years ago. Twice during the game referees bent down to check on him after hard falls. During one of those incidents, the referee checking up on him nearly helped him up before catching himself and realizing that such assistance while the clock was running would be inappropriate. It’s a pretty good deal when you’re one of the best rebounders in the Big Ten, but you can still appear frail enough to make a referee forget the job he’s doing and make him just want to help out another human being in danger.

10) One of the amusing things about watching a game with my grandfather is that while he’s got a pretty good basketball mind (he made tons of great game points to me during the contest), he still has that irrational and unconscious bias in favor of the scrappy little white guy. He came away from this game talking a lot about how impressed he was with Jason Bohannon. Bohannon’s stat line? Sixteen minutes played, 2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover. I like Bohannon, too, but nothing stuck out about him on Saturday. Meanwhile, Trevon Hughes was draining three-pointers and dishing out behind-the-back assists, while Michael Flowers was making things happen everywhere he went.

11) The final score is not at all reflective of this game. Wisconsin won by 19 points, but this was no easy 20-point win. Save for a great 3-minute run at the start of the second half, and a strong close (led by Michael Flowers in perhaps 5 of the best minutes he’s ever played), it was a tight game. That was a little discouraging, since Georgia didn’t impress me much (in particular, no one in their frontcourt did much for me), but I guess I’ll always take a 19-point win that doesn’t seem that resounding.

And with the surprising 19-point win in the books, I hopped in the car with Grandpa Bob and hit the road back to Milwaukee. After all, the game was over at 7:30, and I had to get him home to watch some football. You can’t expect a man like that to subsist on basketball alone…


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