Thursday, October 30, 2008

Heading To a Fake Game

I needed to see some basketball yesterday. It had simply been too long, and I was going crazy from not having seen any college basketball kick-off events this year. So I decided that I needed to head to the Kohl Center to check out Wisconsin’s public scrimmage last night. As I walked into the Kohl Center and met my old college roommate Nick, it felt good to be back home. We took our seats in a section that neither of us could afford during the regular season and enjoyed the action.

A few general notes about events like this before I get to my thoughts below. First off, pre-season scrimmages are not the time to look at known entities, so I won’t be talking a lot about guys like Trevon Hughes or Marcus Landry. We generally know what they can do, so why watch them when you’ve got five new freshman and a handful of other young guys competing to take over the minutes of departed players? I want to check out the unknowns, rather than the knowns. Second, any direct or indirect predictions that I make after last night are likely horribly wrong. I know what I saw last night, but I can’t see things that the coaching staff can see. After all, I’m the same guy that thought last year there would be no way that the coaching staff could keep Keaton Nankivil off the floor. So temper your expectations, as I have mine, when I get super-excited about Nankivil and Jared Berggren, and express hope that Jordan Taylor sees some playing time. Notes from the evening below:

1) Keaton Nankivil, with 24 points, was clearly the star of the night. A good performance from Nankivil, who's a likely candidate to step into the starting center job, was probably the thing that most Badger fans with an eye towards the future were looking for. And Nankivil gave the us what we wanted, showing a nice touch, some sneaky post moves, and simply looking more confident than he did last year during the rare moments that he saw court time. I'm tempering my excitement somewhat, since he did a lot of his damage against the Badgers' lesser post players, but tonight was definitely encouraging.

2) I also sensed that Nanikivil may have trimmed down a bit, but some of that may just be my mind playing tricks on me due to memories of Nankivil early in his high school career when he was the most massive wide-bodied 15-year-old that I’d ever seen.

3) Some things never change. Near the end of the game, my friend Nick looked up at the scoreboard, then looked back at me and said "When the hell did Joe Krabbenhoft score 13 points?" As always, Krabbenhoft continued to do excellent things in a non-spectacular way. He's like a metaphor for a Bo Ryan team.

4) Ian Markolf was wearing a white jersey last night, but I hope he likes wearing red, because that should be the color of his shirt for the rest of the year. Lowlight of the night was when he struggled to complete a dunk. I guess with Brian Butch gone there needs to be a new 7-foot guy that can’t dunk with ease. No complaints from me about this, though, because Markolf was everything that was advertised–very raw, and amazingly huge. And taking a chance on a guy like that is always a reasonable risk.

5) At one point during the first half, Nick and I found ourselves discussing what role, if any, Kevin Gullikson would have this year. It occurred to me at that point that I had not yet seen Gullikson playing, despite ample substitutions to that point, asked if Nick knew why he wasn't playing. It was then that Nick pointed out that Gullikson was actually in the game at that moment. When I saw him, I realized why I hadn't spotted him--reports of his weight loss were not overemphasized, and I simply failed to recognize him. Gullikson definitely spent some time reshaping his body this offseason, and it shows. I haven't seen a change this drastic since Mike Wilkinson started going in the opposite direction and adding weight.

6) I finally put my finger on it this offseason--doesn’t Gullikson bear some resemblance to the University of Nebraska’s masoct Lil’ Red?

7) Despite the informal nature of last night’s proceedings, there was a halftime contest where a fan was to win a prize if he could shoot, in order, a layup from the right side, a free throw, and a layup from the left side in 35 seconds. It was one of the most mind-boggling displays that I’ve ever seen. While the chosen fan actually had better shooting form from the line than 75% of halftime basketball contest contestants and handled the free throw on about the fourth attempt, he kept stumbling around while shooting layups, and time ran out before he could complete the task. It was probably the first time that I’ve ever seen someone who’s not completely inept blow a contest on the easy shots.

8) Jordan Taylor didn’t blow me away with any one thing that he did, but his confidence level was such that I wouldn’t have identified him as a freshman out there had I not known who he was. Time will tell how many minutes he’ll see this year. Joe Krabbenhoft seemed to be handling the ball quite a bit last night, which leads me to believe that he will again be used to take pressure off the more traditional guards, but after that, Taylor would appear the most likely guard to get sub minutes.

9) There's no getting around the fact that Jared Berggren physically resembles Brian Butch, right down to his haircut. The first nano-second that I saw him, my gut reaction was to think "hey, I thought we graduated that guy." It's unfortunate for Berggren, because he's going to have to endure a season where everyone unfairly compares him to Butch. And it's unfortunate for fans because we're going to have listen to tons of not-so-clever comparisons. I'm already guessing at how this will play out. I'm predicting that Brent Musberger and Steve Lavin will call Berggren "Polar Bear, Jr.," and that internet message board posters grasping to create a nickname will annoyingly attempt to refer to him as "Butchggren."

10) Speaking of Berggren, I think that he might have been the guy, other than Nankivil, that I came away most impressed with. I hope he gets minutes this year. While he’s not a bulky guy, he looks comfortable down low and isn’t afraid to bang, not exactly what I was expecting from a guy who’s supposed to be a typical Bo Ryan inside-outside, multi-talented threat. His comfort down low, combined with that of Nankivil, has me very excited about the Badgers’ inside game this year. While I obviously liked Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma last year, it always felt like the coaching staff was working hard during their careers to make them okay with playing on the blocks. Nankivil and Berggren already like spending time there, so no coaxing is needed. In a couple of years, this has the potential to be a phenomenal tandem.

11) Wish I could say something about Robert Wilson, but I barely noticed him. But as Joe Krabbenhoft illustrates, sometimes it’s not a bad thing if you don’t notice a guy.

12) Ryan Evans might take a year or two to develop, but he flashed some impressive quickness. For a guy who’s recruitment began with sending a highlight tape to the Wisconsin staff and who wasn’t heavily recruited by other programs, I was pleasantly surprised. I doubt we’ll see much of him right away, but he could be pretty useful in a year or two.

13) If you’d told me before the game that one of the teams would have Trevon Hughes, Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft and that they would lose, I’d have looked at you a bit funny, but that’s how things played out as the White team fell to the red. I’m not reading too much into this, positive or negative. After all, it was a scrimmage, and while the red team looked good, the white team stars also won’t be playing with J.P. Gavinski and Ian Markolf too much in regular season games.

14) Things to look for on the Badgers’ excellent basketball poster, which they were giving away at last night’s scrimmage: a) Jared Berggren looks like he’s about to fall asleep, b) J.P. Gavinski looks like a 30-year-old guy who snuck into the back of the photo, and c) Jason Bohanan’s stern look, small stature and youthful face give him the appearance of a high school nerd who’s standing up to a bully.

15) The 8:25pm end time for the game served as a reminder of how much time television time-outs add to a college game. I always notice this when I’m at division three games, but somehow it’s more jarring when you see division one guys wrapping things up in an hour and a half.

And with the scrimmage in the books, I big farewell to my buddy Nick and got on my way back to Milwaukee with a big smile on my face. Not only is basketball back, but for yet another year, things are going to be good in Madison.


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