Wisconsin vs. Michigan: The Real Fun Begins
Finally, conference season is here! I’ve still got three half-written reflections on things that happened last week, which I may or may not finish at some point (I’ll probably at least finish the my Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout thoughts, since it was such an insanely fun day), but for now it’s time to get back into action and get excited about basketball again. Tonight I get to check out Marquette and Providence in person, but last night marked the opportunity to plunk down on the couch and watch my first Badger game of the year at Michigan. It also marked the first night that lots of people I know realized just how much the Big Ten Network impasse is going to suck, now that meaningful games are upon us. But I lucked into the channel, so all is well for me. Thoughts on the game, etc. below:
1) Earlier in the day, before the game, my dad asked me “This should be a pretty easy win for the Badgers tonight, right?” Generally, he was right, and save for a few mini-runs by Michigan, there was no doubt who controlled the game. But playing Michigan sort of reminds me of playing poker with my friend Peter, who just bets insanely on every hand. Eighty-five percent of the time, you know you’re going to beat Peter, but you always feel a little bit uneasy because he is so crazy. Just as there’s only a small chance that Peter really has a straight flush, there’s only a small chance that the current Michigan team will get hot as they hoist three-pointer after three-pointer, but the possibility’s still in the back of your head.
2) Seeing the lack of attendance at Crisler Arena last night reminded me of my one trip there a few years back, and how underwhelming it was. As a kid, television really built that place up in my mind. Watching the Fab Five (and their epic early to mid 1990s regular season battles with Duke–maybe the best regular season series ever), I had it in my mind that Crisler was a palace. It was clearly not. Aside from the generally stale feeling of the building, the thing that bothered me most about the place was that someone actually made the decision to install maize colored seats. Did no one stop to consider that it would take all of 3 months for maize fabric in a public arena to appear utterly filthy? Last I checked, Michigan was a pretty darn good school, so I don’t see how this went unnoticed.
3) I love moments on TV like the shot of DeShawn Sims at about the 8:30 mark in the first half jogging back on defense, clearly trying to shake off the pain from taking a shot to the groin. I’m glad there’s never been a camera there to catch me in moments like that.
4) In a span of about two minutes in the second half, Greg Stiemsma made an excellent defensive play, threw one of the better passes that I’ve seen a big man throw in some time, and used one of the least smooth post moves that I’ve ever seen to create an overwhelmingly awkward low-post shot while falling down. I’d say that two minute period pretty nicely sums up the essence of Greg Stiemsma.
5) I love watching Jon Leuer shoot the ball--less because he couldn’t miss last night, and more because he has that entertaining semi-awkward shooting form. He’s not at Marty Conlon level or anything, but he does make you wonder how he can be so deadly while looking so goofy.
6) Watching Leuer’s fourth three-pointer of the first half, I was embarrassed for Michigan. Leuer basically just jogged back from the other end of the court, stood wide open in the corner, and someone passed the ball to him. Color analyst Tim McCormick attributed this to Michigan packing the lane on defense to counter Wisconsin’s strong scoring in the paint. Fair enough, but if you’re Michigan, I’m thinking maybe you should pay a little bit extra attention to the guy who’s scored the opposing team's last 6 points by tossing in long-range bombs. It’s not like he hasn’t put you on notice.
7) Loved the new year's resolutions that they showed for each coach and his team in an on-screen graphic. Bo Ryan’s was to improve fundamentals, which was about as shocking as O.J. Mayo making a new year’s resolution to take more shots. As for John Beilein, I was pleased by his resolution to stay positive. Rough as the Wolverines are right now, Beilein’s system has to take some getting used to. So if they can stay focused and positive, they could be a much tougher out later in the year. And I’m genuinely excited to see where Michigan is in two years.
8) I have the utmost respect for Gene Keady as a coach, and despite his gruff sideline demeanor, I hear he’s supposed to be one of the nicest guys around. That said, he needs some work if he’s going to be competent in his role as a studio analyst. He’s not the most attractive guy in the world to begin with (thankfully, my dish isn’t high-tech enough to get the Big Ten Network in HD), so he’s got one strike against him to start, but he’s also completely awkward in the studio. At one point, it appeared that he was reading from a teleprompter, even though I’m pretty sure there was no time to get his thoughts written down and fed into such a wondrous machine prior to him sharing them. After that, the close-up shots of Gene mysteriously stopped.
9) I appreciated Tim McCormick’s praise of Badger football player Travis Beckum, but it was painful to listen to in two ways. First, he initially compared one player’s rugged play simply to “Beckum,” only tossing out the last name. If you don’t pay attention to Badger football, do you even know who this mysterious “Beckum” is? I could see some Michigan fans (and Badger fans who don’t follow football) wondering why McCormick was comparing someone to David Beckham. Of course, a few seconds later, it became evident why McCormick only used the last name, when he started talking about “Cameron Beckum.” Love the attempt to bring other Big Ten sports into the mix (particularly on the Big Ten Network), Tim, but if you’re going to go there, please at least be rock solid in terms of the accuracy of the comparison.
10) When Michael Flowers fouled out with about a minute to go, the Badgers clearly had the game in hand, and I had a student section flashback. The opposing team’s starting guard fouls out, and your team has no chance of winning at this point. Do you taunt said fouled out player? I say yes. In the grand scheme of things, his team may have won the game, but I believe that five fouls always entitles you, the fan, to some taunting. No matter how bad things are for your team.
And with the first conference win of the season, I headed off to bed (I Tivo’d the game, so don’t worry--it wasn’t 8pm when I rolled into bed) pleased not only that Wisconsin was off to a winning start, but that Marquette would also be finally playing a meaningful game the next day. My only disappointment is that there’s no way to see both Marquette and UWM play tonight, but it at least looks like I’ll get a chance to see the newly scrappy Panthers at home on Saturday. Life is good.