You know what the best thing about tonight's game was? Watching our kids' smiles. Not grins, or smirks, not chest thumping self-congratulation. Ear-to-ear smiles when their teammates made a nice play, or when their play set up a teammate's nice play.
J-Bo beaming after a 3-pointer rattles in from the corner. Greg Stiemsma smiling - an on-court career first? - after a terrific pass setting up Joe Krabbenhoft's dunk - a college career first? Michael Flowers going crazy after Stiemsma's follow-up dunk. Every last person on the team (in Wisconsin?) smiling when Tanner Bronson made that 3-pointer. It's like kids playing around at the Y, just having fun.
It's nice to know that they're enjoying it, because these guys have given me thousands of smiles this winter. It's also nice to know that we may not be done smiling. LePay and Lucas were just commenting as the game wound down that with last year's team, you had a sense they had hit a wall at season's end; with this year's team, you have a sense that they're getting better every time out.
I've got some more thoughts that I'll get to after Saturday's game, win or lose, but wanted to make one more observation:
Our opponents' student sections rush the floor when they beat us. Our students rush the floor when we win championships. As recently as my years in college, this would have been a pipe dream.
Bo has built this program to unforeseeable heights. Here's hoping we haven't seen the peak yet.
-As for the game, it reminded me of the Michigan game in 2002 where we wrapped up our first Big Ten title in 55 years. Or like the football game against Iowa in '99, the Dayne Game. The opponent was almost invisible. The outcome tonight was never in doubt, nor should it have been. Poor Penn State, losing Cornley on top of Claxton.
-Tim McCormick and Wayne Larrivee kept talking about how good our bigs' footwork was, and it was a great point. Landry and Stiemsma in particular got themselves some great looks tonight by not just getting in the right spot, but getting there ready to go up strong. Love how we pounded the post.
-Stiemsma is picking the perfect time to be playing the best ball of his career. As much as Butch is still clearly our starting 5, it's nice to know he can get more rest, play more aggressively, or team with Stiemsma against teams playing two traditional bigs.
-Dunks tonight: Stiemsma, Butch, Krabby, Gavinski. Gavinski? Stiemsma's follow-up dunk gave me goose bumps.
-Pop looked quick and strong tonight, hopefully the six-day layoff helped his ankle get better.
-When Tanner hit that 3, I felt awful for previously suggesting he shouldn't be playing, even in garbage time. What a great crowning moment for the young man and his family after putting in so much hard work on behalf of the program over the years.
-Was it me, or did Gene Keady list one of our second half keys as "keeping Cornley off the boards"? If so, mission accomplished.
-My one complaint is that we still switch to quickly defensively on pick and rolls. Tonight, it didn't seem like our guards even made an attempt to get through the screen, and Penn State's bigs weren't exactly wide bodies. PSU's decent guards capitalized a couple times, and you'd have to believe we're going to run into better guards who will hurt us more.
I'm so excited, think I'll go to the Kohl Center tomorrow ... to watch Iola-Scandinavia play Eau Claire Regis at the state tournament. A freaking 9 a.m. start - hope these kids drink coffee!
Let's make this thing ours alone Saturday in Evanston.