Monday, December 01, 2008

Feast Weekend In Madison: Wisconsin vs. UWM

I saw a lot of basketball over Thanksgiving weekend, though not as much as I had anticipated. I found myself amused by Michigan State, disappointed by Marquette, amazed by North Carolina, and impressed by Gonzaga. And in the midst of all the TV watching, I had the opportunity to make it to Saturday’s Wisconsin-UWM game. After a solid start by UWM, Wisconsin adjusted, UWM got out of its game, and the Badgers rolled to victory. It was a similar story to the Panther's trip to Marquette last week. Thoughts on Saturday's game below:

1) I made the trip to Saturday’s game with my good friend Samip, who lived next door to me when I was a freshman in college and probably sat next to me during more Badger games during my academic career than anyone else I know. This fact is well documented by a prominent clip of us being included in a Big Ten commercial that ran for three years, and a random photo that we found our way into that appeared in a couple of Wisconsin media guides. The lesson here? If you want to appear in promotional materials for the University of Wisconsin, it’s helpful if one of your friends is a non-white student that doesn’t need to be Photoshopped into being at the event.

2) It was a quick offensive start on the day for Joe Krabbenhoft, who took advantage of the fact that he was being guarded by players much smaller than him. I’d be okay if Krabbenhoft decided at this point in his career that he wanted to altogether abandon shooting three-pointers, but in general, he finally looks to be shooting the ball with confidence.

3) I was sort of disappointed that UWM big man James Eayrs didn’t have a better day. Eayrs is always noticeable when he comes into games due to the 300+ pounds that he packs onto his 6'7" frame. However, Eayrs does have some skill, and shoots the ball much better than he showed in three horrific attempts from the perimeter. So unfortunately, after Eayrs rough shooting day, Wisconsin fans who only see him once this year will just think of him as a big goon who tossed up crazy outside shots whenever he had the chance. Hopefully a handful of people will see UWM play a game or two later this season and realize that Eayrs is something other than a big joke.

4) After finally getting a close look at him this season, I’m not a big fan of UWM’s Deonte Roberts. UWM was shorthanded at guard after Ricky Franklin’s drunk driving arrest earlier in the week, but Roberts looked like he was trying to take all of Franklin’s responsibilities and put them on his shoulders. Rather than letting the game come to him, he was constantly forcing action, and looked to be playing a different game than his teammates. In short, he looked like the entire UWM squad did in the second half against Marquette, when they seemed to immediately forget that they had played almost even during the first half and decided to abandon their game plan and play one-on-one for stretches.

5) I know holiday games aren’t usually well attended, but I was really disappointed with the crowd on Saturday for a non-televised game against an in-state rival. Wisconsin sells out every game before the season even begins, so it’s sort of annoying when there’s several thousand empty seats that can’t seem to find their way into anyone’s hands.

6) It was nice to see Trevon Hughes and Jordan Taylor getting into the lane at will against UWM’s defense, though it was a bit upsetting early in the game when that penetration seemed to be Wisconsin’s only way of setting up a decent shot.

7) I’m still sort of torn on how I feel about Jon Leuer. On one hand, it always sort of bothers me to watch his super-mechanical way of shooting a jump shot. On the other hand, there are few things that I enjoy more than seeing him shoot a reverse lay-up. As the story goes, Leuer wasn’t even close to being 6'10" until a sudden growth spurt late in high school, and you can really see that when he shoots the reverse, since he attacks the lane like a 6'1" guard, but then you suddenly notice that he has ridiculously long arms.

8) Was there really nowhere else that they could find to stash the visiting UWM cheerleaders on Saturday? Because I can’t think of a more awkward place for them to be than sharing the half of the baseline that the Wisconsin cheerleaders usually use, right in front of the Wisconsin student section. Fortunately, despite the opposing squads being separated by only about 4 inches of air, a cheerleader fight didn’t break out. I can’t imagine the insults that must have been hurled by the student section, though.

9) I used to laugh at Marquette halftime fan shooting contests for how absurdly difficult they were to win (they’ve since become remarkably more reasonable), but I got a similar chuckle out of the underwhelming value of the prizes in the contests at the half of the Wisconsin game yesterday. The first contest offered up to $50 in Quaker Steak & Lube gift cards if the contestant could make five shots, and the second offered $200 in cash if the contestant could sink one of two three-point shots. Sure, the $200 prize was part of some promotion where the jackpot doubled at the next game if the shot wasn’t made, but the fact remains–there was a grand total of $250 at stake on Saturday, which feels like sort of a lowball offer in a sold-out 18,000 seat arena.

10) The only player not to see the floor for the Badgers on Saturday was J.P. Gavinski (Jared Berggren also didn’t take off the warm-ups, but the assumption would be that he’s still likely to redshirt). I felt sort of bad for the big fellow, as it had to be sort of frustrating to watch every one of his teammates log a couple of garbage minutes while he kept his seat on the bench. Garbage time’s got to be a bit difficult for Bo Ryan to manage, though, with two guys on the squad who see limited minutes during games (Kevin Gullikson and Rob Wilson) and four guys who don’t see the floor at all (Ian Markolf and the three walk ons, Morris Cain, Brett Valentyn and Wquinton Smith). If you factor in Gavinski, that’s seven guys. Tough to get time for seven guys in two minutes.

11) Being at a game with Samip and knowing some of his favorite Madison spots, I figured that it would be tough to get out of town without a quick stop for a slice at the ever popular Ian’s Pizza, just up the street from the Kohl Center. I was happy to make the stop, though. I was always more of a Casa Bianca man during my days in school, but with its downtown location since closed, Ian’s macaroni and cheese pizza is the best thing going and is an adequate substitute in the absence of Casa’s spinach slice. An added bonus is that a crew trained to handle the rush of students at bar time was more than up to the task of handling a sudden rush of fully sober basketball fans in prompt fashion.

12) The most amusing sight of the day came as I was leaving Ian’s and saw Ian Markolf (no relation) heading away from the Kohl Center on his moped. It’s not every day that you see a 7'1" guy riding a moped, and it was the most amusing moped sighting that I’ve had since about 10 years ago, when I happened upon 400-pound Badger football player Aaron Gibson working his way up a hill on a moped that sounded as if it wished it was dead.

So that’s one more game in the books. As always, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge has snuck up on me, but I will have predictions up tomorrow morning. As for tonight’s first game between Wisconsin and Virginia Tech, I think it should be about as close as they come, but see Wisconsin eeking out the victory in the end, perhaps in overtime. This would be a helpful way to start things, as the Big Ten isn’t exactly known for its great performances in this annual throwdown.

Back tomorrow with my predictions and some game thoughts.


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