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 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).


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