Saturday, January 26, 2008

Wisconsin-Purdue thoughts

One day this week after basketball two of my buddies were talking about college hoops. One of them is a big North Carolina fan (way to cheer for the underdog, dude), and they were talking about how superior ACC ball is to Big Ten ball, mocking games with 23-20 halftime scores.

You know what? That's called defense, not putting together 10 McDonald's All-Americans on the court and letting them run around. You can argue about the aesthetic merits of each conference, point to the ACC's dominance in the annual challenge, etc., but if you want to see a well-rounded game, you're more likely to see it in the Midwest than out East.

There's beauty in watching a big guy hedge properly on a pick and roll, or watch weakside help in the post. Three years ago our "offensively challenged" team played Carolina's collection of future professionals recruited by Matt Doherty and scored 80 points - Clayton Hanson had a big game, for crying out loud. So don't tell me Big Ten kids don't have skills.

This is my way of leading into today's Wisconsin-Purdue game, which was not an exercise in offensive futility, but in well-executed defense.

No shame in this loss. Purdue's legit, and if they don't factor in the conference title race this year, they will next year. Those are freshmen who are going to be around for four years, and they've got good sophomores, too - probably not a dominant group, but a very good one.

Don't know about you, but I'm just tickled that we are now a team that students storm the court for. Last year Indiana, this year Purdue - beating Wisconsin is a huge deal for these storied Big Ten powerhouses. I could get used to that.

-Free throws, free throws, free throws. If we hit the same percentage at Purdue, we're ahead in the last minute - maybe with a cushion if we hit the front end of one-and-ones. You knew it was going to cost us at some point, and it did today.

-A good indicator of the job Purdue did defensively: we dribbled the ball way more than usual. This led to people like Pop getting caught in tough positions, like along the baseline, and turning the ball over. Still, we found good looks. Really liked the job Leuer did passing, although the rest of his game left something to be desired.

-On a similar note: is it just me, or does it seem like television broadcasters are always talking about how seldom we turn the ball over, then point out how we're trending ahead of that average in the game? Tonight that happened, although we came in at the 13 per game average.

-Stiemsma was very weak in the post on offense tonight, as happens too often. This is odd, because on defense his personality is strong and aggressive.

-Speaking of Stiemsma, he hung on the rim once to avoid landing on a Purdue player and the PU student section went nuts. This happens way too often, and indicates a low basketball IQ in the crowd. It reminds me of freshman year, when our varsity was playing Milwaukee North at the West Bend Fieldhouse, and one of their players dunked on us. One of our guy's dads, who had probably never seen a dunk in person before, started hollering for a technical foul to be called, and looked like a real rube in the process.

-Butch played really well tonight. If he can start hitting 3-pointers on even a 25 percent basis (he was shooting 9 percent heading into this game), our offense is much more dangerous, and Landry will have more room to operate down low. The Sporting News college hoops column this week made note of his nice senior season, and noted that he had redshirted during our run at a national championship in 2003-04. Really, national championship? I mean, we had Devin playing at the top of his game, and Wilkinson, but Alando had gotten hurt early and robbed us of that third dynamic player you need to make a serious push.

-In about a two-minute span in the broadcast, the announcers referred to Bo Ryan as one of the most underrated coaches in the country, and Krabby as the most underrated player in the Big Ten. I appreciate the sentiment, but again, this seems to be noted in every UW broadcast, so who's underrating them anymore? It reminds me of when I was in Ohio covering Fremont Ross, and I wrote in the paper that Ross point guard Robb Ritzmann was the most underrated player in the Great Lakes League. Mike Pidanick, ever the smartass, said "You're the only one who covers this league and you're always raving about him, so who else other than you would be underrating him?" Good point. At some point that "underrated" tag is a cliche and you need to come up with a better way to describe someone.

-Thought the officiating in this game was subpar, lots of iffy foul calls, out of bounds calls, and resulting makeup calls.

-Did you hear Doris Burke call Hughes a "next level" player? What do you think? The potential is there.

-I like Matt Painter and he's doing a great job rebuilding that program. But he's too demonstrative for my taste, constantly running up and down the sidelines, arms wildly gesticulating. Not to say that Bo doesn't get emotional and let refs have it, but he's steadier. When Landry hit that big shot against Michigan the other night, Bo clapped twice, pointed at him, and said "nice shot." Not that anyone heard him. Leave it to the kids and the fans to get emotional - I want our leader to be in control of his emotions at most times.

-Landry had a tough game, 2-for-10 from the field. He had trouble finishing in close, and threw up some bad-looking shots.

-On ESPN today Doug Gottlieb, explaining why he didn't hate Wisconsin as an emailer from Florida opined, called the loss to Marquette at the Kohl Center a bad loss, and denigrated the Big Ten. Gottlieb's smarminess is his shtick and he's looking for outrage, but I respectfully disagree. Also: in the midst of praising Kansas for running roughshod over its competition, a "very good Big 12." Really? Outside of Kansas, only Baylor has less than four losses, and they aren't for real. Back to the lead of this post - people have their beliefs and biases and it's going to be awhile until the Big Ten is admired nationwide.

-Indiana in Madison and Minnesota at the Barn - we could be looking at a three-game losing streak heading to Iowa. But I'm optimistic we won't be.