Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wisconsin vs. UW-Whitewater: An Actual Challenge

I’ve vowed to get to more Wisconsin games this year, and last night I got off to a good start on that, taking in the Wisconsin vs. UW-Whitewater game at the Kohl Center (thanks, as always, to my good friend who I shall refer to only as Boo Yah for the ticket hook-up). It was a bit of a struggle getting there, as a car fire on I-94 closed down both lanes for a bit and delayed my arrival at the Kohl Center by about 30 minutes, but eventually I made it to the game. I missed the pageantry of introductions, which is typically one of my favorite things to see at the first game of the year, but after a quick jog from my parking ramp, I made it in with about 14 minutes to go in the first half. I’ll just have to look forward to seeing intros at the next game I make it to. Thoughts on the night below:

1) Credit has to be given to UW-Whitewater for giving Wisconsin all that they could handle in this game. There are likely plenty of Badger fans who walked away from the game last night wringing their hands over how some division three team posed a challenge to Bo Ryan and his boys. And while I understand that sentiment, and also expected a bigger win from the Badgers, the fact is that Whitewater played one hell of a game, defending well, and refusing to back down against the bigger Badgers. Whitewater's #4 national ranking in division three makes this not totally unexpected, however the past few years have seen some highly ranked division three teams play in exhibition games against the state's division one teams, and none has fared as well as the Warhawks did last night. A few years back, UW-Stevens Point (ranked #1 in division three at the time) lost by 13 to Marquette, which was a reasonable margin, but Marquette essentially controlled that game from the start. And when Lawrence was near its peak, they played UWM and got utterly destroyed, looking remarkably physically overmatched in the process. Whitewater, while smaller than UW, didn’t look physically overmatched and definitely didn’t let Wisconsin control the game last night. The Warhawks performed on a level that I’ve never seen by a division three team in an exhibition before. Looks like I’m going to have to make that scary and annoying drive to the Whitewater gym once or twice this year...

2) I think assistant coach Greg Gard put it best in his post-game show interview when he said that Joe Krabbenhoft’s head is “like a magnet for elbows.” It wasn’t an elbow last night, but it appeared that he got poked in the eye at one moment in the first half, when he fell to the floor in pain, and retreated to the locker room for a good portion of the rest of the half. At least that explained why he had his head down when he shot the ball just before he fell to the floor.

3) Whitewater’s Matt Goodwin might be the Warhawks’ all-American, but I think Whitewater’s big guys were the most notable players on the floor for the Warhawks last night. They didn’t quite have the size of Wisconsin’s bigger players, but they weren’t intimidated in the least, and their fearless play paid off, keeping Whitewater in the game all night.

4) I think I’ve made this point before, as it’s been a few years since I noticed the original problem, but kudos to Whitewater for finally springing for a mascot costume that doesn’t involve sweatpants.

5) If I had to blame Wisconsin’s difficulty in securing a victory last night on something other than Whitewater being a formidable roadblock, I’d blame a lack of intensity in the first half, and a number of confusing passes. It’s rare that I’ve seen a good team try to weave as many passes across two defenders in the lane as the Badgers did last night. The intensity definitely returned in the second half. Let’s hope that the smart passing returns by the next game.

6) Whitewater’s Kori Vernon is a guy that I’ve always noticed since his days at Madison Memorial, partly for his steady, solid play, and partly because of his trademark headband which always sunk below the hairline on his shaved head, resulting in an odd look. Vernon’s headband was nowhere to be seen last night, leaving him to be noticed only for his steady play. Luckily, his play made him stand out last night, as without the headband, he just sort of looks like another guy on the floor.

7) One of the things that’s frustrating about a close exhibition game is that you don’t get to see the players that are buried deep on the bench of the host team. I was looking for a few awkward, goofy plays last night, but it was not to be. So, so long J.P. Gavinski. I look forward to seeing you again next November.

8) I had never noticed it until it was pointed out to me last night by my friend that joined me at the game, but the picture of players’ eyes that is shown on the lighted ring around the Kohl Center just below the second deck during foul shots is maybe one of the 10 creepiest things that I’ve ever seen.

9) I don’t know what’s going on with the mouthpiece of Whitewater’s Dustin Mitchell, but it looked like he was letting it hang out of his mouth all night. Either that, or it was the biggest mouthpiece of all time. I’m theorizing that it’s the latter, and it’s due to some gruesome dental injury that I don’t even want to know about, since that’s more interesting than Mitchell simply lacking the self-discipline to keep his mouthpiece in.

10) The big question that people will be talking about today is which, if any, of the freshmen will be redshirting for the Badgers. Neither Jared Berggren nor Ian Markolf got into the game last night, which should fuel speculation about each of them redshirting. I would assume that only one will, with the other getting very occasional minutes, and generally hanging around to make sure that the Badgers never have to put J.P. Gavinski on the floor. And from the little that I saw at the scrimmage a few weeks back, Berggren looks most ready to play right now, so I’d expect to see Markolf wearing a red golf shirt for the rest of this year. Ryan Evans would be the other possibility to redshirt, since he’s buried behind lots of other guys, and looks like a guy that could really turn into a player with an extra year of seasoning. But ultimately, I think he’ll go the way of Ray Nixon and have a nice career where we end up wishing he had another year left at the end. So that’s my official prediction–Markolf’s the only redshirt this year.

11) The drive home last night was excellent, as Wisconsin has an elongated post-game radio show with interviews and callers. This is one of the things that I love about the culture in Madison surrounding the University of Wisconsin. In Madison, you are a Badger fan–there’s no other game in town. Thus, the coverage of everything UW is as abundant as can be. Last night’s post game coverage of a meaningless exhibition game spanned nearly an hour, and I’m guessing that plenty of people were listening. In Milwaukee, Marquette usually wraps things up in half that time, if not less, and UWM gets off the air at lightning speed. It’s great that there are more sports distractions in Milwaukee, but sometimes the hegemonic sports world of Madison is comforting to be around.

So it was a good night. The 64-47 final score doesn’t paint an accurate picture of a game that was close throughout. With my first live game (well, most of it anyway–stupid cars on fire backing of traffic!) in the books, I made the rainy drive home and called it a night. Only another couple of weeks until I can be watching something this fun every night.


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