Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wisconsin vs. Arizona: A Late Night Affair

So I’m staying up late and watching the Badger on TV at the Maui Invitational tonight. Those crazy Hawaiians are making things tough with their time zone, which I'm told is four hours behind my life in central standard time. Technically, I suppose I’m not live-blogging, since I’m not posting these thoughts in real time–I’m just planning on throwing them up after the game. Two reasons for this approach: 1) no one’s hanging on my every thought at midnight on a Monday and 2) Making 25 or so separate postings in an evening causes lots of clutter. But given that this thing’s going to be over at 1am or later, I’m not going to realistically have time to process my thoughts and type them up post game. So I’m going to try something that I never do and type things up as I’m watching the game. I’ve always figured that writing out thoughts while trying to watch a game would make both tasks less fun. We’ll see how that works out tonight. At the very least, I suspect I’ll have a lot more stream-of-consciousness action, and fewer solid big-picture points. And I’ll probably get a bit punchy near the end, given that I’m usually heading to sleep right about the time of tip-off. This could be a festival of typos...

Texas and Iowa are wrapping up their evening on ESPN (wow, that wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected for Iowa), so I guess we’ll begin this evening’s experiment:

–First three things of note when the game is joined after the end of the Texas-Iowa game: a) Wisconsin is up by two points, Arizona just missed two fouls shots, and Nic Wise has two quick fouls. I’m officially glad that I’m staying up for this one.

–Jay Bilas–I love you, and you’re my favorite commentator. But really, you’re at the Maui Invite and you’re too good to wear a Hawaiian shirt with a floral pattern? Weak. Though not as weak as the Arizona coaching staff for completely foregoing the Hawaiian shirt and going with polos. Aren’t Hawaiian shirts like 35% of what Feast Week on ESPN is all about?

–Difference between the chubby guy behind the Arizona bench who’s wearing an Arizona jersey with nothing underneath it and me wearing my old Mike Kelley Wisconsin jersey with nothing underneath it? I’m in my living room alone and no one can see me.

–Five minutes in and still no points for Arizona. Meanwhile Wisconsin has made two shots that had no right to go in. So far this is the opposite of how I felt the last time that Arizona and Wisconsin met, in the 2006 NCAA tournament. I’m waiting for the Chaminade gym to start piping in Jon Bovi songs.

–Ryan Evans for three Make that three shots that had no right to go in. (Not that it was a terrible look, it’s just, Ryan Evans jump shot is going to make me cringe all year long.)

–In his first 30 seconds of meaningful action, I think Mike Bruesewitz just made a lot of people happy that he didn’t redshirt. Can you get an assist for causing a teammate to get a rebound?

–The good: Arizona didn’t manage to score a field goal in the first nine minutes. The bad? Even with that dry spell, somehow Wisconsin is only up by 10 points.

–Nice move by Solomon Hill to get to the line (perhaps the first good thing I’ve seen out of a Wildcat). I knew he was going to take advantage of Ryan Evans the moment that he got the ball on the block. Time to put Hill on my list of players to pay attention to this year.

–Three fouls apiece on Ryan Evans and Keaton Nankivil just 13 minutes into the game. I’d be a bit more worried about depth if not for the fact that Mike Bruesewitz has been playing like a man possessed tonight.

–I noticed this at the last game that I was at, but think I failed to mention it to anyone other than my friend at the game–Jon Leuer looks like he had some sort of revolutionary neck length reduction surgery during the offseason. Either that, or his past three years in the weight room are finally allowing his 6'10" frame to fill out.

–Nice of Trevon Hughes to dish off to Mike Bruesewitz on the fastbreak. With most of his night so far being about Krabbenhoft-like toughness, I’m sure he’s pretty pleased to get the opportunity to toss down a dunk and do something kind of flashy.

–Leuer has three fouls now, with five minutes to go in the half? I hope Bruesewitz is in good shape. Bo Ryan wasn’t lying in a pre-trip interview when he noted that he needed to be able to use every player that he brought with him on the trip. Speaking of Bruesewitz, he just took a charge. This might be one of the best Badger debuts that I’ve ever seen. (Assuming that we’re willing to just forget about his two minute, two turnover performance against Oakland.

–Three Wisconsin forwards with three fouls, and now Jared Berggren goes to the bench with a shoulder issue with two minutes left in the half. That’s Wisconsin’s top four big guys (though Bruesewitz is making a case to move up a few notches tonight) that are probably done for the half. This might be the perfect storm, but somehow I think J.P. Gavinski still knows that he’s not going to be checking into the game tonight.

–A few thoughts on the brief stoppage of play near the end of the half where the referees took time out to review the blocking call on Rob Wilson a few plays earlier, due to Bo Ryan apparently complaining about an Arizona player intentionally dribbling the ball off of Wilson’s head. One, what was Ryan looking at? Not only was there nothing intentional going on there, but after reviewing the replay, I don’t even think the ball hit Wilson’s head. Two, can the officials really stop the game to look at this? If so, that’s terrible. Stopping the game a minute after an alleged incident to look for a retroactive technical foul just seems like an awful way to use replays.

2nd Half

–Does Trevon Hughes actually practice drawing fouls on people, because he’s been completely brilliant at it tonight.

–Great shot of a Wisconsin fan wearing a 1994 Rose Bowl t-shirt and a cheesehead, doing his best to reinforce stereotypes (I did not see a Miller Lite in his hand, but I trust this is a function of unavailability in the Chaminade gym). Actually, I’ve never minded cheeseheads so much, but dude, it’s been almost 16 years–I loved the ‘94 Rose Bowl too, but buy a new t-shirt. Joe Panos retired from the NFL years ago.

–Four fouls on Leuer, and now a dumb fourth foul on Nankivil challenging a Derrick Williams dunk. I think I just saw J.P. Gavinski stretching. Thank God Jared Berggren seems to have been able to shake off his shoulder issue.

–On the bright side, Nic Wise is now on the bench for Arizona with four fouls, joining the Wildcats’ starting center (the tall blonde guy who’s not Chase Budinger), who also has four. I’d be bitter at the refs for trying to tack an extra hour onto my late night with all these fouls, but I honestly can’t blame them when the players keep hammering each other like they have been.

–I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel good or bad about the fact that Nic Wise beat Jason Bohannon in their matchup in the Maui Invitational’s X-Box tournament. I like my school and want us to win at everything, but I think if there’s one thing that it wouldn’t hurt much to be considered bad at, it’s video games.

–And I continue to have less confidence in Jason Bohannon from three-point range than any player considered his team’s top three-point threat that I can remember. (Get used to this comment, I’m going to be using it a lot this year.)

–Leuer’s done with 10 minutes to go. Rough night, and though I’ve always been sort of down on Leuer due to him disappearing from time to time, tonight’s not really what I’m talking about. He never did find his groove, but it’s tough to find a groove in 12 minutes, or whatever Leuer played tonight.

–The irony of Rob Wilson taking a charge is pretty sweet.

–Trevon Hughes strikes again, drawing two very questionable fouls on Arizona players to get to the line in the final three minutes.

–Sweet steal by Trevon Hughes to essentially seal the game. I suspect his sneaky play has been annoying Arizona players all night.

Final thoughts:

–Keaton Nankivil still doesn’t have much in terms of offensive moves, but he does have a knack for getting points off of put-backs and finding just the right time to roll to the basket and accept passes from the guards. He made himself look really good on national TV tonight, even though most people with jobs were in best

–Sean Miller is going to need a little bit of time to beat some of the recent Arizona habits out of his current Arizona team, but I suspect that by the end of the year he’ll be coaching more basketball players than athletes, rather than visa versa.

–Sure, this isn’t a banner year from Arizona, but they’re still Arizona, and I’ll always take a win over the Wildcats.

–Wisconsin continues to impress me, particularly with its frontcourt. First it was due to the play of their starting big men, but tonight they showed depth. This isn’t going to be the best Wisconsin team that we’ve seen in the past few years, but at least so far, its appearing that the roster isn’t quite as untalented as many people (including myself) were expecting. I remain encouraged.

–Wisconsin’s playing Gonzaga tomorrow in Maui, and also has Duke in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Thus, in one season, the Badgers will manage to play ESPN’s favorite team to televise, as well as ESPN’s go-to late night, west coast team. I think you’ve arrived when both of those teams are on your schedule.

And with that, I’m off to bed. I’m going to be paying for this game for the rest of Feast Week....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wisconsin vs. Oakland: The First Good Game

Last night I got another chance to take in a Wisconsin game. Thankfully, we’re still in the part of the non-conference season when there’s something exciting about every game. My first look at the Badgers in their exhibition against UW-Superior was fun because it was my first chance to see the new team. Over the weekend, IPFW provided my first televised Wisconsin game of the year. And last night brought my first chance to see Wisconsin play against a decent opponent.

Oakland is the type of team that tends to pop up on Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule a couple of times each year. The Golden Grizzlies were picked to win their conference this year, and have a couple of extremely talented players on their roster. However, no casual fan really knows or cares that Oakland is the class of the Summit League. They just see a mid-major team that Wisconsin should pummel. That makes games like this sort of tense, because while a loss to a team like Oakland shouldn’t be embarrassing, a lot of people will see it that way. So the added drama of a game like this makes things really fun, particularly since prior to this, Wisconsin hasn’t played any teams that you would classify as “good.”

Fortunately, Wisconsin continued its strong start to the year, and notched a 16-point win in a game where it never quite felt like the opponent was going to mount a real challenge. It’s probably unfair to Oakland that most of the folks in the stands still see them as a small school that could never compete with a Big Ten team. However, I’ll take that disrespect for the opponent if it means that the Badgers could avoid a falsely embarrassing loss. Game thoughts below.

1) I’m not sure why it took me until I actually saw Oakland warming up before the game, but at the moment that I saw them wearing their warm-ups I instantly remembered that Oakland is the team that puts player names below numbers on the back of their jerseys, a truly unique move. It was glorious when the warm-ups were removed and my memory was revealed to be correct. I think I remembered their uniforms being a bit more hideous than they were, however I want to say that’s because I saw the Golden Grizzlies play at Marquette a couple years ago with non-matching shorts and jerseys due to some sort of mishap with the equipment during travel. I’d link to my recap of that game, but I’m currently too lazy to go back and try to find it, if it even exists. (On a side note, when you’ve got a mascot as awesome as the “Golden Grizzlies,” how do you not put that on the front of your jersey instead of the name of the school?”)

2) In the cursory reading about Oakland that I did prior to the game (and trust me, my pre-game inquiries are far from comprehensive), I’d read that their point guard Johnathon Jones was supposed to be fairly talented and capable of handing out assists at will. While he had a nice enough game last night, I won’t remember Jones so much for his play as for his propensity for getting knocked to the ground hard and often last evening. To his credit, he kept getting up, but I hope the Oakland trainer had plenty of ice for him on the trip home, because getting knocked out of mid-air and onto your butt that many times had to leave Jones sore.

3) It’s official, Mike Bruesewitz is not redshirting, as he entered the game for two uneventful minutes last night. I have no strong feelings about this either way. On one hand, Bruesewitz is one injury away from logging minutes at the bottom of the rotation, and it’s a rarity for a team to go through a season without at least one key injury. On the other hand, if everyone stays healthy, he could be on track to log 50 minutes the entire year, as Keaton Nankivil did as a freshman two years ago. Ultimately, I suppose I like having the depth this year in case someone goes down, even though the way that Nankivil is starting to play this year sort of makes me wish that he could have that first year back.

4) Low moment of the evening was during the fan contest in the student section where they took two guys and had them go back and forth naming players on the Wisconsin roster. The first one to miss a player lost, and the other guy won--Stump the Schwab style, if you will. The first contestant started off by naming Tim Jarmusz, followed by the second guy naming Marcus Landry. Ouch. Afterwards he tried to make the excuse that no one indicated that it had to be the current Badger roster, but this excuse was simply met with boos (as it should have been). Simply awful.

5) A big thumbs up to the Wisconsin student manager wearing the vertical striped shirt with white and various shades of red. That garment took guts to pull off, and I’m pretty sure that other than working a Badger basketball game, there’s nowhere else he can wear it.

6) I feel a lot better about Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer after tonight. In the two prior games that I’d seen them play in, they were impressive inside and out, and largely did what they wanted to on the floor. Of course, a big part of that was due to the fact that the interior players that they were matched up against were a) smaller, and b) muss less capable players. Last night Keith Benson and Middleton’s own Will Hudson provided a considerably more formidable challenge (indeed, it was not until a post-game visit to Oakland’s website that I learned Benson is projected by NBAdraft.net as a potential first-round draft pick). Leuer and Nankivil both continued to do their thing, with Nankivil in particular finding a way to pick up garbage points off of rebounds and short passes around the hoop. I was worried about the inside this year with the departures of Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft (admittedly, only a part-time interior player), but it appears that Leuer and Nankivil have the potential to equal or surpass their former teammates over the next two years. I’d say it’s the most solid spot on the floor for Wisconsin right now.

7) Apparently there was a sign making station located outside the student section last night where students were encouraged to make creative poster board signs in hopes of winning a prize for displaying the best message. There were many marriage proposals from female fans to players, and several references to Ryan Evans’ circa-1991 haircut. The winners of the contest, however, ended up being two young women who made a pair of signs the said something to the effect of (I don’t remember the exact wording) “Take us to Hawaii” and “We’ll fit in a suitcase.” Not a bad choice, and I liked that it rewarded the two fans’ awareness of the Badgers’ upcoming trip to the Maui Invitational. However, I would have to say that my favorite sign of the evening was one that was directed at the evening’s opponent and read simply “You’re not even from the good Oakland,” a reference to the fact that Oakland University is located in Rochester, Michigan, not Northern California (apologies if you knew that–75% of the people that I come into contact with don’t). Of course, the makers of that sign showed no artistic ability, choosing simply to write the sentence in plain black letters on their piece of poster board. Wit without flair will only get you so far.

8) Last night was a game that I was lucky enough to see from what I would argue are the best seats in the Kohl Center, compliments of my friend Boo-Yah, who’s nice enough to grant me access into the world of the high class once or twice each season. There are many benefits to sitting in a spot that is not tucked away in my normal cold, damp corner of the arena. The obvious ones are the outstanding view, and the chance to marvel at the local people of note that are occasionally sitting nearby. But an underrated one that I enjoyed last night is the opportunity during early season games, when the place isn’t yet packed and it’s somewhat more quiet, to actually hear Bo Ryan yelling at the refs. No matter how good your seats are, you’re never going to get as good a view as you would on TV of Ryan’s facial expression of disbelief after an arguably bad call. But hearing him make his case sort of makes up for this. As always, thanks to Boo-Yah for this opportunity.

9) That’s two games attended, and two winners of the Culver’s three-point shootout so far. Is there anything more excellent than watching random people win money in a down economy?

10) It was a solid defensive contest, and I give Oakland credit for pressuring the ball and extending its defense, a plan that has tended to work well against Wisconsin in years past. This time around, Trevon Hughes was able to work through some of the pressure by driving on his defenders, however I can think of a few occasions where he was cut off in the lane and found himself dribbling in traffic and miraculously not losing the ball. There were definitely some scary moments. It will be interesting to watch if Hughes’ stellar ball handling skills will hold up against future teams that learn from Oakland’s tactics.

11) I’ve said it before, but one of the underrated things about a drive back to Milwaukee from a Wisconsin basketball game is the extended radio post-game show. I assume part of the reason that there’s always at least an hour of post-game coverage is that it’s clear that people drive from many areas of the state to come to games, and the range of the AM station covering the games is about an hour’s drive from Madison. Whatever the reason, though, I always appreciate the chance to pick up a few more tidbits on my drive home.

With another one in the books, I hopped back in my car and managed to get home at a very reasonable hour. Have I mentioned that I love 7pm games? More updated to follow, perhaps on Friday, or perhaps on Monday. One random thought below before I go, though.

–A couple nights ago, I was having a really bad day when I sat down at the end of the night to try and find a game to watch. I stumbled on Arizona State and Texas State on one of the ESPNs. Instantly, my day was made, as I remembered immediately that former West Allis Hale star John Rybak plays for Texas State (seeing ASU play is never a bad thing, either, of course). One of the best high school shooters that I’ve ever seen, I was excited to finally get to see Rybak play on TV as a senior for his school, which I didn’t even know existed until he got there. My excitement grows, though, as UWM has drawn Texas State in the consolation bracket of the preseason NIT next Monday night. Something tells me that this one will be tough to find on TV, but rest assured that I’ll be watching or listening to the whole thing, no matter what lengths I have to go to (aside from actually driving to Texas).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wisconsin vs. IPFW: Opening The Year on My Couch

Finally this weekend we got to the basketball games that count. And finally, we had the last Wisconsin home football game of the year. The latter fact would not be significant for basketball purposes, save for the fact that I have Wisconsin football season tickets, and not having to wake up at 5am anymore to go tailgate will leave me a lot more time and energy for watching basketball. This weekend, my early wake-up time led me to decide not to head downtown on Friday night for either the Marquette or UWM season openers. Thus, I’m still looking to get my first look at the Golden Eagles, and I’m still waiting to see the Panthers in regular season action (and with Ricky Franklin). Fortunately, I was able to take in Wisconsin’s season opener on TV last night. It was a bit of a struggle, since I was freakishly tired last night, and had to wait until 8pm to cue up the game on my DVR due to dinner plans interfering with my ability to watch things live. But I sucked it up and stayed awake until 10pm to finish the game. My thoughts below:

1) I’d made it my goal to write all of my game thoughts without referencing IPFW coach and former Indiana standout Dane Fife, who most of us only know from his time as a player. But here we are in the first point, and I’m referencing him already. If you have this year’s Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook (and if you don’t, you really should buy one), it’s worth giving IPFW’s profile a read just for Fife’s candor about playing prominent programs on the road. Long story short, he doesn’t like getting repeatedly pummeled at the start of the year, but is required by the school to bring in money for the program through games like this. Granted, anyone with half a brain knows that this is how most coaches of mid-major programs feel, but most other coaches in Fife’s role would say something like “The challenging early schedule will really help prepare us for our Summit League schedule.” Fife simply comes clean, and I like that. (FYI, his thoughts on his former coach, Bob Knight, were mildly amusing, too, though they were brief.)

2) I’m not a fan of the design of the IPFW uniforms for one reason–the front collar that had one side that was white and one side that was blue. I don’t know what they were going for there. Perhaps because the team mascot is the Mastodons, the pointy end of the white side was supposed to imply some sort of tusk (though even that hackneyed attempt at an explanation makes no sense, as a mastodon would have two tusks, one on each side). I’m certainly not a guy that has the expertise necessary to design a good uniform, but I feel like those that do should have learned by now that abandoning symmetry seldom results in a good looking uniform.

3) Perhaps just a bit of an exaggeration when the announcing team referred to Tim Jarmusz as “one of the greatest high school players in Wisconsin state history.” Of course, if you were paying attention to the broadcast, you later on realized that this was an exaggeration when they revealed that Jarmusz is a business major. In Wisconsin basketball-speak, “business major” means a guy that already realizes that he’s not going to play pro basketball and has gotten an early start on the process of preparing to get a good job that doesn’t involve throwing a ball through a hoop.

4) I enjoy watching a good defensive mismatch, even when it’s a situation that does not benefit my team. And last night contained an entertaining mismatch situation where Trevon Hughes had to defend an IPFW post player on one of the blocks. Normally, this results in the little guy either getting completely dominated, or him making scrappy moves that ultimately just end up resulting in a foul. Either way, it’s amusing to watch a small guy defend a huge beast. But last night, Hughes actually showed off some legitimately good post defense on a guy much larger than him. I suppose this should come as no huge surprise, given that a big part of Wisconsin’s system involves guards knowing how to post up on offense, but I can honestly say that I haven’t seen a point guard look as comfortable on the blocks as Hughes did last night since Travon Davis improbably turned into the greatest 5'10" post threat ever during his senior season.

5) Despite plenty of fine things about his game, I’m undoubtedly going to complain a lot this year about how I have very little confidence whenever Jason Bohannon puts up a three-point shot. So in the interest of fairness, I have to note how impressive it was when he calmly sank his three-pointer at the buzzer to close out the first half. Nice job, Mr. Bohannon–hopefully we can make this begrudging praise thing a more regular thing.

6) Nice work by the announcers working in the tidbit that the father of IPFW forward Oleg Kovalov was a former captain of the Soviet water polo team. If you’ve ever wondered why I love media guides so much, it’s randomly amusing factoids like this one.

7) That’s two early-season games, and two contests where I’m feeling good about Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil. I wasn’t sure what to make of Leuer and Nankivil coming into the year. Nankivil was a guy that started for much of last year with little impact, and Leuer was a guy who was occasionally brilliant, but generally never saw much more than 20 minutes per game. So far, both are looking like the most efficient players on the floor, and the guys that I’m most confident in when I see them putting up a shot (curiously, Leuer seems to be logging noticeably more minutes than Nankivil, though). This early in the season, part of that is undoubtedly due to the fact that they’ve been defended by players that are smaller and less skilled than they’ll see as things go on, but at this point I feel like both are taking a leap forward this season. So far, so good...

8) Best random exchange of the night between play by play man Jay Wilson and color commentator Shon Morris: Morris proclaimed that he had seen Lynard Skynard in concert 37 times. Wilson then asked very appropriately and very simply “Why?”

9) Was that a random Wquinton Smith siting with about 9:30 left in the game? I have no idea what that was about. Did Bo Ryan misread the clock?

10) Shon Morris was pandering to either Wisconsin fans or guys that like watching the movie Hoosiers when he proclaimed how much fun it is to watch “solid, fundamental basketball.” While I appreciate that Wisconsin’s emphasis on fundamentals helps them consistently be a winning team, even I must concede that it’s often a bit more fun to watch guys who have a slightly less solid handle on fundamentals, but who can dunk over two defenders in traffic.

11) I’m happy that Jon Leuer had a great game last night, but I’m also sort of bitter that he registered four blocks on the evening. Because had he not, I’d have been able to say “It’s official–Jason Bohannon leads the team in blocks so far this season.” Mark that down at the last time Bohannon records three blocks in a game.

12) No Mike Bruesewitz last night in the blowout win, so let the speculation that he’s redshirting begin.

So that’s one game down. So far, the Badgers look encouraging, I’m falling in love with every player that I thought I wouldn’t like, and I’m seeing nothing of interest from any of the players that I was most excited about heading into the year. Right now, though, I’m not complaining about how wrong I’ve been about things so far. Here’s looking forward to a good first week of hoops, and here’s hoping I can get some rest tonight and beat down the budding illness that seems to be attacking me. I’m going to need some stamina if these rumors about ESPN showing 24 straight hours of live basketball tomorrow are true.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wisconsin vs. UW-Superior: The First Look

As alluded to earlier, last night was my first chance to get a look at this year’s Wisconsin team. With Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft gone and leaving big holes to fill, it was finally interesting to see a Wisconsin team that needed to mix in some new blood. So with the best tickets that I’ll get to enjoy this year, I headed to the Kohl Center to get a look at some of the fresh faces and see how they mixed in with the holdovers.

1) Usually, I like to work in a few thoughts about the opposing team in exhibition contests. However last night’s opponent was UW-Superior, projected for 7th in the WIAC this year and located in a region of the state that I have no familiarity with. Thus, I knew none of the players in advance, and didn’t feel the need to learn much about them last night. So last night I focused solely on the Badgers. Given the play of the Yellowjackets last night, I’m okay with that decision.

2) During the last couple of years, Wisconsin has shown a highlight video just after player introductions, when both teams are getting ready to start the game. It’s maybe a minute in length and is set to high-energy music. Last night my friend Todd and I both felt old when he commented to me that he thought the music was too loud, and I responded that I simply thought the song used was not all that great. In my defense, I think part of my dismay was due to the fact that the prior versions of the pre-game music were so well done. It’s tough to match the excitement of a Brian Butch fist-pump that’s set to the Black Eyed Peas.

3) Trevon Hughes was sporting a mohawk similar to the ones worn by a bunch of UWM players when I went to the Panther game last week. Hughes has gone with this look before, and it’s generally not a great one. I will give him credit, though, as his mohwak actually looked pretty cool in the video shown during player introductions, during which he seemed to be sporting a fresh haircut. I guess it must just be a hair style that starts out awesome, and begins to look ugly after about 3 days of growth.

4) There were a few things that I was pretty wrong about when I wrote yesterday about things that I was anticipating. The most glaring thing was my caution with expecting too much from Ryan Evans. He was the first guy off the bench last night, and brought tremendous energy, his best moments coming on an alley-oop dunk and two impressive blocks. His shot is one of the ugliest that I’ve ever seen on a division one basketball player, but it doesn’t matter–he does enough good things that he will see the floor plenty this year, and will definitely be better than the 9th man. He, not Rob Wilson, may be the guy that brings the “wow” factor this year. The fact that Evans’ high-top fade haircut makes him look the same height as Keaton Nankivil is just the icing on the cake.

5) During a break in the action, I happened to catch an announcement about the greatest promotion ever, being put on by the women’s hockey team: Snuggie night. Wear your Snuggie and get $1 admission to the women’s hockey game on whatever night they were promoting (Though it’s a great promotion, there’s still no chance I’m going to be able to squeeze in a women's hockey game anytime soon. Hence the reason that I don’t know when Snuggie night is.). I’m hoping that they do this for other sporting events throughout the year, as it just so happens that my Snuggie is red. I never thought that choosing the right color on that thing would be important.

6) My excitement over Jared Berggren is still there, but there wasn’t much to tell about him last night. He failed to finish once amongst a bundle of outstretched Superior arms, but remained ready and willing to face contact, as expected. Mostly last night he simply wasn’t needed, as Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer both pretty much had their way whenever they were on the floor. If both of them play like they did last night all year long, I won’t be complaining if Berggren doesn’t see as much time as I’d been hoping for.

7) It was a rough shooting night for Jason Bohannon, who’s always inspired less confidence in me than most guys who are the go-to three-point shooters on their teams. Overall, I imagine Bohannon’s numbers from beyond the arc are better than I’d expect, but I sure don’t get that feeling when he’s open that his shot is probably going to fall (as I did with a guy like Steve Novak).

8) I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen the pace of a Wisconsin game go as quickly as the first half did. And that’s not just taking into account game clock–when I looked at my watch on the way out of the game, I found that the game had wrapped up by 8:45pm. You don’t see a lot of college basketball games staying that far under two hours.

9) Trevon Hughes wasn’t spectacular last night, but he was probably the most interesting player to watch. His demeanor in the second half reminded me of the first time that I saw him in high school, when similarly, his team was significantly better than its opponent. In that high school game, you could almost see a moment where Hughes got bored simply winning the game, and looked for a challenge to make things interesting. He then proceeded to repeatedly break a full court press without passing the ball. Last night, he got that same look in his eye in the second half when he knew that Superior was outclassed. You could see his eyes surveying the floor with more intensity, looking for great pass opportunities (one of which was a bounce pass that connected with Keaton Nankivil in awe-inspiring fashion). I’m hoping that opponents this season aren’t so dreadful that Hughes finds himself getting bored very often, but even if there are some blowouts, at least I know that there will always be entertainment to be found in watching Hughes challenge himself.

10) I don’t take too many lessons away from this game, because Superior was not amongst the better division three teams that I’ve seen play in exhibition games like this, but it was tough not to enjoy the Badgers’ passing and hustle last night. I knew that the ball was moving well, but at one point in the second half I saw on the scoreboard that 20 assists had already been handed out. That has to make a coach happy, regardless of who it happens against. And as for the hustle, I can’t recall too many times that there was a loose ball and a Wisconsin player didn’t come up with it. It was a desire for the ball that I more frequently associate with Marquette, and it was nice to see from a Badger team.

11) And as anticipated, I enjoyed the end of the game last night, as Bo Ryan went with a twin towers lineup down stretch, allowing J.P. Gavinski and Ian Markolf to see action in the final two minutes. Nothing much to say about either, other than that it appears that Markolf appears to be putting in his work in the weight room, as he looked slimmer and had stronger arms than I had remembered. (Then again, there’s not much to remember from last year, so I could be totally wrong in that assessment.) Here’s looking forward to getting another look at both guys a year from now.

With my first Wisconsin game of the year in the books, I headed on out and used my extra free time from the game letting out so early to head to Woodman’s on the east side of Madison and clean them out of sparkling water as I returned home. Why? Because I had the time, I’m a cheap, cheap man who likes sparkling water, and Woodman’s sells Klarbrunn at a remarkably reasonable price. All in all, I’d call that a good night.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wisconsin Pre-Game

Tonight I’m heading to see my first Wisconsin game of the year, their exhibition against UW-Superior. In lieu of doing any sort of preview this year (let’s face it–if you’re reading this, you probably know just as much, if not more about the Badgers than I do), I’d like to take this opportunity about some of the things I’m excited for and that I’ll be looking out for this year when I’m watching Wisconsin games. So here are my thoughts, to this point untainted by actual observation of the current team:

1) Probably the thing that I’m most excited about this year in all of my basketball watching is seeing Jared Berggren suit up for the Badgers. I have seen Berggren play all of 20 minutes, all of which came in last year’s intra-squad scrimmage, so I recognize that I’m not working from a totally rational place here. However, my excitement is genuine–I loved him in that scrimmage. Berggren physically resembles Brian Butch. However, unlike Butch, who had mind-boggling difficulty finishing shots at short range (I always felt way more comfortable watching Butch shoot from 15 feet out than 3-feet away), Berggren looks like he’s totally at home on the blocks, able to bang with defenders without issue and to score from the paint with regularity. Bergrren may not be a star just yet, but he’ll be something that we see less and less of each year–a big guy that knows he’s big. I’m making the role of my favorite player his to lose this year.

2) I like Jordan Taylor a lot. There will never be anything great about him, and most of us probably won’t truly appreciate him until about halfway through his senior year when people are complaining that he’s another one of those Wisconsin players that seems like he’s been around for a decade. Tim Jarmusz gets a lot of attention for being the solid, but unspectacular guy (probably because he’s so incredibly unspectacular) for Wisconsin, but let’s not forget that Taylor fits that bill, as well.

3) It bothers me that I don’t like Jon Leuer as much as most other people. I totally understand why people are nuts about Leuer–I’ve seen him when he’s on his game, and even I can’t help but sit back with my mouth agape and watch in awe. But I feel like those moments when he takes his game to another level are too few and far between for me to be truly excited. He still strikes me as a guy that’s just as likely to score 2 points as he is to score 20. To be fair, some of that’s probably a function of his limited playing time during the last two years, a problem that won’t exist now that Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft have used up their eligibility. But count me as someone who’s not ready to pencil Leuer onto an NBA roster or the all-Big Ten team just yet. The talent’s there–it just needs to be displayed more consistently.

4) How do I think the Badgers’ season is going to go? I’ll show my complete lack of creativity and agree with every analyst who’s said that logically, you have to pick Wisconsin seventh or eighth in the Big Ten, but that at the end of the year, they’ll probably finish higher than that somehow. His roster’s not overwhelming this year, but Bo Ryan’s not an eighth place kind of guy.

5) I was generally less than excited about Keaton Nankivil when I saw him in high school, until his junior year hit and he took a big leap forward. I’m hoping something similar happens to him in college.

6) I’m hearing a lot of good buzz about Ryan Evans. When I saw him at last year’s scrimmage, he looked like exactly what he’s being described as: an athletic guy who could potentially develop into something. Bo Ryan’s comments about him during the post-game show following the exhibition against Bemidji State echo the comments that I got from a college buddy who happened to teach a middle school-aged Evans a few years back: he’s a good kid that does his work. I’m not buying the hype that he’ll be an big contributor to this year’s team, but then again, I haven’t seen him yet this year. But the fact that he seems to be progressing is a nice sign that even if he’s the ninth man this year, he’s working towards being an even more integral part of the team. Not too bad for a guy that essentially recruited himself to become a Badger.

7) My greatest hope this year is for a breakout year for Rob Wilson. Wisconsin’s guards this year are an unexciting lot. I’ve already noted that Jordan Taylor and Tim Jarmusz are essentially the definition of “solid, but unspectacular,” and Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon have less of a “wow” factor than most senior classes that I can remember. Rob Wilson brought the wow almost the moment that he stepped on the floor last year when he attempted a dunk over Hasheem Thabeet at the start of last season. I can accept it if Wilson isn’t the best man for the job at times this year, but it would sure be fun if his game has gotten to the point where he can see a bit more floor time.

8) It is appropriate that J.P. Gavinski is pictured on my tickets to tonight’s game, because I’m looking forward tonight to getting my one glimpse of Gavinski playing in a game this year. Gavinski looks like he’ll never be a guy that ever plays a meaningful minute for Wisconsin, but he still seems like the Badger that would be the most amusing to hang out with.

And with that, I’ll let things rest until I get my first look at the team tonight. Here’s hoping for a complete dismantling of UW-Superior, and perhaps enough time for a post-game stop at Ian’s for a slice of some ridiculous type of pizza before the drive home.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

UWM vs. Cardinal Stritch: Opening the Season With My Old Friends, The Panthers

Ah, it’s finally here. I suppose I sort of kicked off basketball season a few weeks back on the opening evening of practice, but last night was my first opportunity to go to something resembling a game. Both Wisconsin (vs. Bemidji State) and UWM (vs. Cardinal Stritch) were playing their first exhibition games of the year last night. I neglected the Badgers last night and headed downtown to see the Panthers instead for a handful of reasons. First, I’m headed to next week’s Badger exhibition, so I thought I’d try to get an early look at the Panthers to cover all my bases. Second, I neglected UWM so badly last year that I’m not sure if I even made a trip down to the MECCA (or U.S. Cellular Arena, as the kids are calling it these days) last year, and needed to make up for that. Third, we’ve got a recession going on, and the half-price ticket deal that UWM had going on for the game, combined with the general unpopularity of a UWM exhibition game meant that I could attend this one for $5 and park on the street downtown for free. Now that’s a deal if I’ve ever seen one.

It turned out to be well worth my hard-earned $5 to see this one, which saw UWM escape with a 2-point victory when Cardinal Stritch’s Kody Haddix rimmed out a shot from just inside the top of the key as time ran out. If this is any indication of how the season is going to go, it’s going to be a fun year. As always, thoughts below. (Apologies for the lack of fanfare to start this year–I’m just jumping into things this time around, though I’ve already got some random pre-season thoughts and predictions prepared for tomorrow).

1) There’s a certain logic to putting an opposing team’s fans directly behind their team’s bench. However, it wasn’t necessarily a great idea to put the Cardinal Stritch students behind their team’s bench last night, given that sitting right next to them on the baseline was the UWM student section. Was there any question that such a seating arrangement would lead to lewd and insulting cheers being hurled between the student sections all night? Surprisingly, I don’t think that I heard the UWM students chant “Stritch is bitches” until after halftime. However there were plenty of off-color remarks made beforehand, many of which were noticeable only because the low attendance allowed for everyone to clearly hear individual students hurling insults. Of course, it was amusing to hear UWM students run down another school for having lower status than it, as Horizon League teams are usually on the other end of that situation.

2) As I shamefully alluded to earlier, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get to a UWM game last year. I’m not sure how that happened, and I’m just starting to realize how much I punted on basketball in general last year. So you’ll have to forgive me if the things that I talk about in this point are nothing new to this season, but I was very impressed with some of the improvements to the arena experience since the last time I’d been to the MECCA. Black and gold tarps covering the banks of seats behind the baskets (save for the UWM student section) are a brilliant idea, given that there are maybe two games per year when these sections of the arena have any potential of being used. It definitely makes the size of the arena feel more appropriate. And the fact that the players now run out of the locker room through a giant inflatable panther head–who couldn’t love that? The Panther Pit behind the basket on the end of the court opposite the student section looked sort of like a sad place to be last night, and the bartender at the back looked lonely all night, but it’s still a big improvement over the low-rent VIP tables that used to sit at that end of things. And I can’t complain about the UWM bookstore’s are manned by two people who looked like they were actually interested in being there, rather than the old booth that was usually staffed by someone who looked as if they would have rather been in jail. All in all, things continue to move forward at UWM.

3) In addition to UWM using its arena better, they’re also putting on a better show than they have the last few years. Rob Jeter is never going to be a guy that brings the minor league baseball-type promotion and feel that Bruce Pearl did to the MECCA, but the UWM athletic department has found a smart way to keep things fun–by stealing ideas from a place that puts on a good show. Tonight when I saw my first ever UWM halftime basketball musical chairs competition, I couldn’t help but think of all the fun that I’ve had over the years watching Marquette do the same thing at halftime. And trotting out some chosen “Season Ticket Holders of the Game” at the 16 minute timeout in the second half? That’s a Marquette staple, too. Some may find it tacky that UWM is taking these simple ideas from a school across town that they don’t exactly like, but I find it inspired. If you’re going to steal ideas, you might as well steal from the best, and Marquette consistently puts on a good show.

4) Jerard Ajami, who some may remember from his days at Madison Memorial a few years back, was among the most notable newcomers tonight for UWM, coming off his year of sitting out following his transfer from Northern Michigan. Ajami is looking to challenge for playing time this year. Based on last night’s performance, I can definitely say that he’s not a shy player, managing to get up six three pointers in his time on the floor last night. Tough to say what Ajami’s role will be, given the number of lingering questions about the Panthers’ backcourt (more on that later), but for now, he looks like a solid enough option.

5) Last night was the Cardinal Stritch coaching debut of former Fond du Lac star Drew Diener (yes, one of those Dieners). While you’d have to deem his first night a success, based on the fact that his NAIA team was one rimmed-out shot from taking a decent D-1 team to overtime, it was not a night without its challenges. Two technical fouls were assessed against the bench (seemingly both against Diener, but there was no ejection, so I can’t say for sure what went on there), and four of his players fouled out, forcing in a player outside of the rotation at the end of the game.

6) One of the first things that I noticed upon taking my seat in the arena (I arrived about a minute after tip due to some poor planning on my part) was the hair on UWM players. Several had mohawks, most notably Tony Meier and Jason Averkamp. The mohawk also seemed to be the choice of style for most of the players not in uniform last night. I get the goofy hair style if it’s a team unity thing, or a weak attempt to draw more attention to yourself individually. But if only five of the eighteen or so guys on the team do it, you just look kind of confused and dumb. As for Meier and Averkamp, the sides of Meier’s head looked so pale that I’m not sure they’ve ever seen the sun (and they never should again), and Averkamp’s failure to commit to shaving down the sides of his head made him look somewhat hobo-like (his excellent final five minutes of play notwithstanding).

7) Cardinal Stritch’s Kody Braddix was the game’s high scorer last night with 28 points, which was obviously impressive, as were the seven steals that he collected. Because of his great game, Braddix’s name came up on the post game show, when play-by-play man Bill Johnson noted to assistant coach Brian Bidlingmyer, who was handling interview duties for the night, that Braddix looked like a Horizon League caliber guard to him. That led to perhaps the most awkward moment of the night, as Bidlingmyer responded with comments that were entirely neutral with regard to Braddix’s ability. Bidlingmyer failed to even give a generic “He’s an excellent player, no doubt about that.” Instead, he talked about how Braddix definitely had the green light to shoot, and failed to ever assess his skill level. My question–why? Even if you don’t think Braddix is all that great a player, why not just lie in this instance? You’re never going to see him again, and saying that he’s a great player doesn’t hurt anyone. Instead, I’m left today thinking that the UWM coaching staff doesn’t think Kody Braddix is all that great. And even if that’s true, it doesn’t help me to know it.

8) Really, they thought it would be a good idea to break out the kiss cam at the first UWM exhibition game of the year? Predictably, finding couples to put the camera on in a minuscule crowd was not easy, and things wound down with shots of small children and pairs of people that clearly weren’t couples, none of whom were interested in kissing, or even paying attention, really. Maybe we could wait until a game that people actually attend to bust that feature out. It’s just a thought...

9) It was tough to get a read on UWM’s team last night. Sometimes when you watch an exhibition game, you get the feeling that even though the host team is struggling to gain the lead, they’ll ultimately destroy their competition in the end. I got the opposite feeling last night–that no matter how hard UWM tried, Cardinal Stritch was going to hang around until the end. Normally I’d be a bit upset to see UWM struggle so mightily to beat a team from a school that I sort of thought only existed as a place for local teachers to get their masters degrees, but this was not a typical game for UWM. The bench was used liberally and went 12 deep. Most of the players saw only 20 minutes of floor time, so Rob Jeter was definitely mixing things up. And most importantly, star guard Tone Boyle was out with and injury, as was the Panthers’ other likely starting guard, Ricky Franklin. There are some questions about whether Boyle or Franklin will play this year, as rumors surrounding Boyle’s injury make it sound fairly daunting, and I’ve yet to read a report that definitively notes that Franklin has regained the year of eligibility that he initially lost when coming in as a freshmen (though I may just be derelict in my research and such a report may be out there). With Boyle and Franklin (particularly Boyle, who can be a game-changer), this is a much different return, and all UWM fans should be hoping for the prompt return of each.

10) While the guards could clearly get better, James Eayrs was his usual magnificent self last night, putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds and generally physically over-matching Stritch’s smaller players. Fellow bulky forward Jason Averkamp did little of note until the last five minutes when he strangely took over the lane on offense and arguably became the key force in leading the Panthers to victory. There may be better frontcourts in college basketball, but I challenge you to find me a bulkier pair of forwards than this dynamic duo.

11) On an important note for the season, UWM seems to be in the process of re-branding their teams to be simply known as "Milwaukee." I kind of like that move, and hope that it catches some momentum. Nonetheless, as someone who lives in Milwaukee, everyone that I know refers to the school and its teams as UWM, and it just feels totally unnatural for me to start calling the Panthers "Milwaukee." So at least for now, I'm still going with "UWM." Anything else would feel forced right now. (And yes, I recognize that it's completely illogical that I support the re-branding, but refuse to go along with it in my blog. Sometimes I don't make sense, even to myself.)

With the game in the books, I made my drive home flipping between Wisconsin and UWM post-game interviews on the radio and made note of the construction roadblocks on the various routes back to my place from the MECCA this year. I’m going to be making the trip a few more times this year, so I might as well know the easiest way in and out of downtown.

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