Monday, November 15, 2010

Wisconsin vs. Prairie View A&M: The Season Begins

The real action finally got underway this weekend with all of the state’s division one teams playing their first regular season games of the year. I had the opportunity to get a few glimpses of Marquette’s Friday night game against Prairie View A&M on TV and to listen on the radio to most of the second half of the Golden Eagles’ come-from-behind win against Bucknell yesterday. However most of today’s thoughts will be about my trip to the first Wisconsin game of the year, as I actually attended and paid full attention to that one. Weekend thoughts below:

1) I had forgotten until I was making the drive to the Badger game on Sunday that 100.5 FM in Madison is now broadcasting Marquette games. Being able to listen to the Marquette game and post-game show made the drive to Madison much more enjoyable. I’m sort of jealous that there’s now a way to follow Marquette in Madison, as during my days there, there was so little coverage that Marquette might as well have been a school located thousands of miles away on the west coast.

2) A final note on last night’s Marquette game before I go all-Badgers for the rest of this entry: How amazing is it that Marquette’s 24-0 run to close out yesterday’s comeback win against Bucknell was largely led by three freshmen (Davonte Gardner, Vander Blue and Jae Crowder)? With Buzz Williams recruiting guys like that, the future looks very good at Marquette.

3) As I alluded to in my pre-season notes, I’m a thrifty guy when attending hoops games, so you can imagine my delight in finding free street parking on my way to last night’s game. That’s $3 sliding right back into my pocket.

4) The story of Sunday night was obviously Josh Gasser’s stellar debut as a Badger. I can’t recall a better first game by any Wisconsin player. His stats–21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists are what leap off the page. But in watching the game, his aggressiveness was perhaps the most notable thing about him. Gasser’s hard cuts and ability to get into the lane are what led to his point and rebound totals, as well as his ability to constantly get to the free throw line. While I obviously am not expecting a performance like this from Gasser every night, it’s immediately apparent after one game that he’s not going to be tentative as a freshman.

5) Sometimes I don’t know what I’m talking about. One such instance is my proclamation during my pre-season thoughts on the Badgers that Wquinton Smith would be little more than a solid guy to throw into a game during an emergency. So of course, he opened the season as a starter, proving that Bo Ryan wasn’t just trying to mix things up by giving him an exhibition start. In my defense, Rob Wilson’s injury has impacted the number of guard minutes available. And let’s face it, it’s pretty surprising that a 5'10" walk-on (and not even a preferred walk on–Smith found his way on to the roster via an open tryout) is starting and playing significant minutes.

6) I might as well keep talking about things that I’m wrong about. Here’s one that I never even explicitly stated on the blog–prior to the huge buzz about him in the pre-season, I wasn’t expecting to see Josh Gasser giving the Badgers important minutes this year. He struck me as the kind of guy that would be very solid by the time that he was a junior, but wasn’t necessarily going to be someone to be relied on immediately. I only had the opportunity to see Gasser once during his high school career, and didn’t come away from the game particularly excited about him. (Here’s my entry from that game last year. I’ll let you in on a secret–I have a general rule against saying negative things about high school players on the blog. So it’s a pretty good bet that when I say very little about a star high school player after a game that I’m a bit underwhelmed. Note that I don’t spend a lot of time talking about Gasser in last year’s entry.) As I’ve long said, I have great respect for actual coaches, as they can see the things that I can’t. Mark this down as one instance where I’m pleased to have been completely clueless.

7) Kudos to the creative team at Wisconsin for coming up with the “Mike Bruesewitz Hair Cam” as a timeout entertainment feature. The general concept is that the scoreboard video screen shows people from around the arena and then superimposes Bruesewitz’s big red mop of hair onto their heads. And while it was pretty much a home run of a concept to begin with, the arena camera people nailed the execution of it, as well, appropriately focusing mostly on children and middle-aged bald guys. Those are clearly the most entertaining people to toss a giant red hairdo onto.

8) It’s official, Duje Dukan won’t be redshirting, as he checked into last night’s game. I doubt he’ll see much playing time this year, which is more a reflection of the Badgers’ frontcourt depth than anything about Dukan himself. I’m not too worked up about this either way. While it’s probably likely that Dukan would see more floor time as a fifth year senior than as a true freshman, it’s hard to get worked up over a guy wanting to play.

9) Prairie View A&M played Marquette on Friday night and Wisconsin on Sunday evening. (As a side note, I was impressed at their ability to lose badly to both teams in distinctively different ways.) Because of this scheduling situation, I’m assuming that the Panthers’ had some free time to play around with on Saturday. This left me wondering what a basketball team stuck in Wisconsin for a weekend does during their down time. I want to believe that after a short practice on Saturday morning, the team banded together and begged their bus driver to take them to the House on the Rock. However, I suspect that the day was probably a bit more mundane than that and involved watching college football in a hotel room.

10) It was a weak showing by the Wisconsin crowd on Sunday evening, as the attendance was about as low as I’ve ever seen it for a Badger game. The student section didn’t come close to filling its lower-level seats (in contrast to Marquette, who appeared to have solid early-season attendance for its student section on Friday night), and there were plenty of empty red seats around the rest of the arena. I assume part of the low attendance can be attributed to the bizarre 5pm Sunday evening start time, but it was still a bit jarring. When I’m sitting in the last row of the arena I expect there to be enough people making noise that I’m not able to hear the opposing team’s coach yelling instructions to his players. That wasn’t the case last night.

11) The hoops team scored 99 points last night, so can we now put a moratorium on lame jokes about the football team outscoring them on Saturday?

12) Mike Bruesewitz again looked like the best of the reserve forwards on Sunday night (followed closely by Jared Berggren, who really has developed an outside shot), even looking briefly dominant during a five minute stretch in the second half. The difference between Bruesewitz last season and this season seems less about his skill level and more about his comfort level. Last year when Bruesewitz got into a game, he did things correctly, but his movements were deliberate, precise, and you could tell he was thinking about them. This year, he just looks like he’s in the flow of things and that the basics are second nature, which makes him markedly better.

13) The only guys not to have great games? Ryan Evans and Keaton Nankivil–and even they had some very good moments on the floor (Evans’ athletic lay-in on a back door lob pass comes to mind). Evans was slowed by early foul trouble again, and I thought Nankivil had a few defensive missteps. But Evans and Nankivil’s less-than-perfect nights revealed what’s so great about Wisconsin having six capable frontcourt players this season–when one person is having an off night, it’s a pretty good bet that someone else will be able to step in pick up his teammate for that game.

14) Last night was the first game of a four-pack of tickets that I purchased with my friend Ferd. We were in the last row in a corner of the Kohl Center. And you know what? The view was actually pretty good. I’m probably a poor guy to ask, as I’m willing to sit just about anywhere at a basketball game, but I’m impressed that even the worst seats in the house at the Kohl Center are pretty good. It’s comforting to know for future game that I may scalp tickets to that no matter how much a scalper lies to me about seat location, I’m pretty much going to be okay.

15) Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the games played by Josh Gasser and Wquinton Smith last night was their ability to rebound down low. I actually watched Smith, a 5'10" walk-on guard, grab four rebounds in the paint last night. I don’t expect to ever see this again (indeed, Wisconsin out-rebounded Prairie View 45-15, which is about as lopsided as it gets), but it was nice to see guards that were able to make a strong effort down low. Not since Kirk Penney and Travon Davis have I seen Wisconsin guards so willing to commit to playing well near the blocks.

16) No minutes in a 44-point win for J.P. Gavinski, J.D. Wise or Dan Fahey. I guess they know their roles all too well.

17) The lingering question for Wisconsin? What will happen when Rob Wilson is fully recovered from his injury. Wilson is more experienced and athletic than Josh Gasser and Wquinton Smith, but has also generally been less consistent than Gasser and Smith have looked in their two exhibition games and initial regular season game (of course, that’s a pretty small sample size). I can’t say that I have any idea what the distribution of minutes at the guard spots will look like, other than that Wilson will play some sort of role and Jordan Taylor’s minutes won’t be impacted at all.

With my first real game of the year in the books, I headed back to Milwaukee with Ferd listening to foolish callers on a the radio post-game show. Now that the fun has begun, I’m excited to begin watching games in earnest. Hopefully I’ll find something to see tonight, but if not, I suppose ESPN will come to my rescue tomorrow with it’s 24-hour hoops marathon. Who’s with me for a little 3am Central Michigan vs. Hawaii action?


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