Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wisconsin vs. Michigan: Better Than Expected

Ouch, a 6pm Badger game! After rushing home from work to fire up my TV, I put my trust in my DVR to help me out, as yesterday my laziness had led to me being the only guy on my block that hadn’t yet shoveled out of our recent snowstorm in these parts. While my neighborhood has no sidewalks, and I was only really hurting myself with my laziness, I still didn’t want to be thought of as that slacker guy down the block, so I got my work done before enjoying some hoops. Knowing that I’d just cleared the path to my mailbox made sitting down in front of the TV even more sweet. Thoughts below:

1) I don’t totally understand why, but despite his overly-intense pin-stripe suit and signature over-gelled hair, something about the fact that ESPN’s Steve Lavin was wearing glasses made him seem completely trustworthy and legitimate last night. I hope when he was coaching that he wore glasses on recruiting trips.

2) I assume the banter that Brent Musberger threw out about traffic in Madison being bad was true, because at tip-off the Kohl Center crowd looked just slightly larger than the crowd at an average D-League game.

3) I want to go on the record saying that I do like Jason Bohannon, and think that he brings plenty to the table for the Badgers. And he played well last night. That said, it has been gnawing at me for some time that he’s not exactly the three-point specialist that so many people want him to be, and if he is, the Badgers have a weak go-to shooter. I don’t have that Steve Novak-type of confidence in him (and frankly, I’ll probably never have that level of confidence in anyone else from outside the arc), and actually probably feel a little more comfortable watching Trevon Hughes or Michael Flowers shoot the ball. So let’s stop trying to make Bohannon into something that he’s not. Fine player, but J.J. Redick he is not.

4) I can’t say enough great things about the taped bits where the ESPN crew went out ice fishing with Greg Stiemsma. Pure fun. Why can’t we see more bits where ESPN’s talent enjoys unusual hobbies with players. Tell me you wouldn’t be entertained by cut-ins of wood carving with D.J. Augustin, or the opportunity to see Steve Lavin go curling with Maarty Leunen. Because I know I would. ESPN has really hit on something with this statement.

5) Speaking of Stiemsma, has anyone had a more improbable week? He doesn’t get in the game against Northwestern, and in the week following, the Journal Sentinel does an article about his cooking and basketball prowess, and ESPN decides to send its on air talent to go fishing with him for an afternoon. How many guys ringing up zero minutes get this type of attention? And to top everything off, Stiemsma had one of his best performances of the year against Michigan last night. I guess there is something to be said for being patient.

6) Michigan’s Manny Harris scares me in the same way that former Michigan guard Daniel Horton did. That is to say that he’s a freshman, he’s really good, and he’s probably just a notch below the guys that will be leaving right away for the NBA. So we’ll have to get used to seeing him for awhile.

7) It was totally cheesy, but I greatly enjoyed how Steve Lavin and Brent Musberger beat to death the “Polar Bear” nickname that Lavin randomly and inexplicably gave to Brian Butch a couple years ago. There were two high-water marks for polar bear talk on the evening. One was during the Stiemsma ice fishing segment when Lavin actually said about Butch, had he been out fishing with them, “He would have just put his head in and pulled the fish out with his mouth.” The other great moment was, of course, when ESPN put up the on-screen graphic comparing Butch to an actual polar bear. Turns out, Butch is quite a bit smaller, but both like to fish.

8) I’d like to personally thank the ESPN crew for referencing Kevin Pittsnoggle while talking about John Beilein’s style of play.

9) Great three-point shot by Marcus Landry to ice the game for the Badgers last night, but the most interesting thing about the shot, from my eyes, is that he was maybe the last guy on the floor that you’d want to see taking a three. This is not so much an indictment of Landry, who shoots the ball well, as it is a statement about the fact that basically everyone in the Wisconsin rotation can handle shooting the ball in big spots.

10) I had to rewind at the end of the game when I realized that Brian Butch hadn’t been in the game for some time. Turns out, he wasn’t injured as I had feared, but Bo Ryan just ended up going with a smaller lineup. But it was sort of jarring to see one of the Badgers’ most prolific players leave the game, never to return, with 4:51 to play.

11) While some are likely upset by the fact that and 11th ranked Wisconsin team struggled at home facing a Michigan team that they handled easily at Ann Arbor, it didn’t bother me for two reasons. One, Michigan played a much better game than they did the last time these two teams met, and it looks like the Beilein system is closer to kicking in and working a bit. And two, while I love the Badgers, they’re a tad over-ranked at this point, due to a Big Ten schedule that’s been allowing them to ramp things up before they face the big guns. We’ll know a lot more after the Indiana game next week.

Post-game I stayed put for the Tennessee-Kentucky game, which I’d been looking forward to despite telling my dad earlier in the day that it could get ugly, given Tennessee’s stellar play of late, and Kentucky’s rough start to the year. Shows what I know. But I still got to see a second great game, and Bruce Pearl wearing an orange blazer before I went to bed. Is there anything else out there more likely to ensure a sound night of sleep?


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