Saturday, February 28, 2009

Where would you rank Bo?

On the Journal Sentinel's Badger Blog the other day I saw a post talking about Forbes' assessment of the top college basketball coaches in the country. Bo Ryan was ranked ninth, three spots behind Tom Izzo, the only Big Ten coach in the top 10. Probably because Bo let Alando Tucker throw down that dunk at the end of that game in 2004, major deduction for that one.

Here's the criteria Forbes used:

To identify the country's best college basketball coaches, we measured recruiting class rank, win-loss percentage, NCAA Tournament invites, Final Four trips and, the ultimate goal of every coach, a championship.

Seems reasonable, except for recruiting class rank. What should that matter where your recruiting classes are ranked if you win? Stupid.

Also stupid is Roy Williams' #1 ranking. Come on, you could put any one of 100 different coaches in Chapel Hill and they would still be one of the sport's top programs most years. He's coached at Carolina and Kansas -- big challenges building those programs. At least Bill Self started at Tulsa.

If I were doing these rankings, recruiting rank wouldn't matter, but your program's tradition would -- the less yours has, the more impressive your success. If you've won at lower levels, even better. I'd also give much less weight to Final Four appearances, which can be fluky, and championships, which are not reasonably accessible to many coaches; and more weight to conference success, a truer gauge of long-term performance over the course of a season.

My less formula-based rankings would go something like this:

1. Ben Howland
2. Billy Donovan
3. Rick Pitino
4. Bo Ryan
5. Rick Barnes
6. John Calipari
7. Jim Calhoun
8. Coach K
9. Herb Sendek

10. Tom Izzo

11. Bruce Weber
12. Bill Self
13. Jim Boeheim
14. Mark Few
15. Tubby Smith
16. Trent Johnson
17. Kevin Stallings
18. Bruce Pearl
19. Mike Anderson
20. Roy Williams
21. Jamie Dixon
22. Matt Painter
23. Thad Matta
24. Bob Huggins
25. Oliver Purnell

Laugh if you want at me ranking Bo so high, but what he's done at a football school with almost zero basketball tradition is astounding. I probably missed wildly on one of these guys or forgot someone altogether, let me know.

Friday, February 27, 2009

You saw Devin's shot, right?

Should've made this post when I was home sick Tuesday, since Devin Harris's amazing buzzer-beating halfcourt shot to beat the 76ers happened Monday night and ESPN devoted about 10 minutes of SportsCenter to it.

You don't see halfcourt shots that win a game, period, but have you ever seen a halfcourt shot like that? The concentration to grab the ball after the initial poke-away was amazing. Having watched it about 150 times I think it was a legitimate play -- no travel, in 1.8 seconds, and beat the red light.

Keep amazing us Devin ...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Illinois vs. Michigan State

Sorry for not posting for a couple days, been sick. No, not over the Badgers' late collapse Sunday, but that was still pretty awful. I still can't get over how much Michigan State fans hate us. Regular readers of this blog know that my emotions reach this range in football for teams like Michigan and Ohio State, who I see as the Yankees of the Big Ten, but in basketball no other Big Ten team makes my blood boil to that level.

If one did, wouldn't it be Illinois? After all, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan State have been the undisputed top teams in the Big Ten since Bo Ryan came back to Madison, and without crunching the numbers I think the Illini has beaten us more than anyone else in that time. Cripes, Illinois is even in a bordering state (unlike MSU -- we're not going to count the UP, sorry Izzo and Jana), and Wisconsinites even have a catchy little acronym for its residents.

My initial thought was that our series was more even than ours with MSU has been, and with far fewer dramatic or emotional games. Let's look:

UW vs. Illinois
UW 72, UI 66
UI 80, UW 48
UI 69, UW 63
UW 60, UI 59 (Devin Harris hits free throw to give us Big Ten title)
UW 76, UI 56
UI 65, UW 57
UW 70, UI 53 (Big Ten Tournament championship game)
UI 75, UW 65 (breaks our long Kohl Center winning streak)
UI 70, UW 59
UI 54, UW 43 (Big Ten Tournament championship game)
UI 66, UW 51
UW 71, UI 64
UW 53, UI 41
UW 70, UI 60
UW 71, UI 57
UW 61, UI 48 (Big Ten Tournament championship game)
UI 64, UW 57
UW 63, UI 50

UW leads series 10-8 under Bo, we lead Big Game series 3-2. Thing is, of those five games, only one of them -- the one with Devin's free throw -- was dramatic. So 27% of our games have been big, and 5% of them dramatic.

UW vs. Michigan State
UW 64, MSU 63 (snapped State's long home court winning streak)
UW 64, MSU 53 (an otherwise ordinary win, but Alando Tucker's late dunk scars Izzo's brain to the point where he's still talking about it six freaking years later! The nerve! Izzo's reaction to this makes it a Big Game.)
UW 77, MSU 64
UW 68, MSU 64 (keep that banner rolled up fellas; per Deuces' request, I believe this is also the game in which Paul Davis was crying on the bench with cramps)
UW 68, MSU 66 (Big Ten Tournament semifinal)
UW 62, MSU 59 (we rally late to pull off an improbable win)
MSU 77, UW 64
UW 82, MSU 63
MSU 74, UW 65
MSU 64, UW 55 (we get to #1 for the first time and Drew Neitzel immediately knocks us off)
UW 52, MSU 50 (Kammron Taylor hits a late 3-pointer to sort of, but not quite, atone for that #1 loss)
UW 70, MSU 57
UW 57, MSU 42
UW 65, MSU 63 (Michael Flowers' late steal and layup steals victory from jaws of defeat, after about 14 State players foul out)
MSU 61, UW 50

UW leads series 11-4 under Bo, we somehow lead Big Game series 7-1. Of those, I'd say six were dramatic. So 57% of our games end up qualifying as Big, 40% dramatic.

The purpose of this exercise was not just to rehash our success against Michigan State -- which, I'm told, is ending -- but to point out just how rare it is to play so many dramatic, important games against a single opponent in a relatively small period of time. And how unlikely it is that one team would prevail in so many of these games. And how it is logical that these results would build enmity in the hearts of the defeated.

Here's hoping we keep showing up on the left-hand side of the ledger in these matchups.

Hey, Andy North's on ESPN and the Badgers aren't even on ...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

UW-Michigan State thoughts

Talk about a blown opportunity. We had that team dead to rights about halfway through the second half but couldn't make a layup and couldn't block out the Big Ten's leading crybaby, Goran Suton.

I had this game pegged as a loss coming in, but that doesn't make the outcome any less disappointing. A win and we're definitely in. Now we have to sweat out these last few games and leave it up to a committee.

Plus, seeing State's runt coach, who according to the linked story above challenges his center for the crybaby title, scurry around and pump his fists is never fun to watch. (Had my wife, like Tom Izzo a Northern Michigan alum and Yooper, seen me type that last sentence, she'd have slapped the back of my head. She seemed to be relishing our late-game collapse and Izzo's smug grin.)

-For my moaning about our inability to hit a layup, credit State with making a lot of big shots late and for kicking our ass on the boards. No excuses, they are the better team and it came out in the end.

-Today was another case of us not trusting ourselves to make decisive plays against a superior athletic team. Many times we had a sliver of an opening to get off a 3-pointer, or to make a pass for a layup, but double-clutched or held onto the ball. The result was, once again, overly safe play and an abundance of Trevon Hughes buzzer beaters that had no chance of going in.

-For as well as Krabby has played lately, he had a stinker of a game today. One blown layup later on really sticks out in my mind as a crucial play we didn't make.

-Conversely, Timmy Jarmusz seemed up to the challenge today. He seems poised to step into Krabby's role next year.

-Also good to see Nankivil starting to get more minutes, productive ones at that, he had to play today against State's height. If he's able to continue providing 15-20 minutes of solid play a game we're a lot tougher in the postseason.

-It was fascinating to see how many times State was able to set up their offense where we were fronting their posts but were not able to get adequate weakside help. I can't remember our defense being attacked like that this year. Fronting was probably the right move, as Suton and Roe could shoot over us if we played behind them and allowed easy catches. As it was they got a lot of good looks and drew a lot of fouls.

-Travis Walton has played some good games against us in his career, hasn't he?

-Kalin Lucas has some electric talent. Seems that he's struggled with his shot a bit, but stroked it pretty well today.

-As much as I needled Suton earlier, he's a really nice player and his persistence on the boards kept State in it while they were misfiring. I had to chuckle at his quote about us in that story, "They push, they hold." Sums up the whole Big Ten, doesn't it Goran? Dirty? Come on, that's the residue of a lot of losses talking. He likes Michigan better? That's because they beat Michigan all the time.

Now we've got a week off before Michigan, who has to play Purdue on Thursday. They're playing for their tournament life, too, and as much as we handled them easily in Ann Arbor I expect a tight game.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday morning thoughts

A lot of people wanted to talk to me about the Badgers on Friday, which isn't all that unusual, but their expressions when they approach me are different than they were several weeks ago. Instead of an arched eyebrow and sympathetic demeanor, they are now eager and excited.

And why not? Five wins in a row will do that. Hell, even Will was excited when I told him Friday mornin that the Badgers had won the night before. I told him they had lost six in a row prior to that, and won three in a row before that. Flexing his new math skills, Will concluded that the Badgers had won eight Big Ten games.

Which puts UW in position to finish third in the conference ... right about where I and many others picked them prior to the season. For that to happen, the Badgers have to win at either Minnesota or Michigan State. Tough sledding.

More realistic is we split these last four games and finish fifth, sixth, or seventh in the Big Ten. Our overall record would be 19-11. Conventional wisdom says we'd want to finish fifth and avoid playing Thursday in the conference tournament.

But think of it this way: if we finished sixth, we'd get Indiana on Thursday, as close to a sure win as there is in this conference. Beating them, while not a quality win, would give us 20 wins, and ensure no worse than a 20-12 record to place before the selection committee. There's something about a 20-win team with a winning Big Ten record that would seem to be impossible to keep out of the Dance.

Probably overthinking things ...

-Now we know what it's like to be an Indiana fan. Over the past year the Big Ten Network's house ads have regularly featured highlights of Brian Butch's game-winning bank-shot 3-pointer against the Hoosiers, which I imagine makes their fans dry heave every time they see it.

Now we have to relive J-Bo getting his ill-advised layup blocked and Lawrence Westbrook throwing up prayers that went in from our stomach-turning loss to the Gophers last month. Every time I've thought about that game in the past month it's really pissed me off, and now we'll be reminded of it on a regular basis. Great.

-Over lunch Friday I read Sports Illustrated's tribute to the Big East, and it bugged me. Yes, there are a lot of great, really good, and good teams in that conference, more than any other. But part of that is because they have sixteen freaking teams!

Talk about the Big East's urban flavor and TV savvy and storied history all you want. But you put that many teams together in a BCS conference and of course there are going to be a lot of good ones.

And look at how many bad teams there are: St. John's, who we saw more of than we wanted to Thursday night against Duke, is 12-14. South Florida, which somehow beat Marquette, is 8-17. Rutgers is 10-16. DePaul is 8-18.

The Big Ten has one team this bad, Indiana. Iowa is close (boy that loss in Iowa City chaps me). The rest of the teams are respectable or better, capable of beating anyone on any given night, even Northwestern. That's why we have so many teams hovering around .500 in league play.

The Big East talks about eating its own -- so does the Big Ten. Still, we could conceivably get seven teams into the tournament, which would be a more impressive feat than the Big East getting eight of 16 teams in.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

UW-Indiana thoughts

The first half tonight left me appalled -- terrible defense. Allowing the worst Indiana team ever to shoot 54.5% in any half is inexcusable. We were very lucky to be ahead.

The second half was a thing of beauty. That team had no business being on the court with us tonight, and we showed why in the final 20 minutes.

Krabby had another stellar game, as did Pop. Krabby was always in the right spot, and how pleasantly surprising is his scoring? The back cuts, jumpers, bank shots. Big Ten Player of the Week repeat?

Pop penetrated at will, like a knife through butter. He also shot well.

It's funny, because nobody else stands out in my mind -- Landry was virtually invisible for most of the game, J-Bo struggled with his shot, Leuer only took a few shots -- yet we won by 17.

Why didn't Rob Wilson get any minutes in this one? I guess it'll have to be next year for him. (After I wrote this he got in and dunked.) Jarmusz did play well, knocked down some shots.

That was a long 1.2 seconds at the end of the first half, wasn’t it? That homer clock operator didn’t start the clock until after the initial shot hit off the rim. Embarrassing, Tan Cream, get rid of that guy.

Indiana had a lot of turnovers that will likely be attributed to their youth, but I think it’s because they just aren’t good players, period. At one point a Hoosier caught the ball standing out of bounds. You learn pretty early on that this is not legal.

One rant for the night:

Few things bother me as much as missing the beginning minutes of my team’s game because the previous game is slumbering through an excruciating finish. Case in point was this Duke-St. John’s game tonight, a good Duke team playing down to the level of one of the Big East’s many bad teams in front of an indifferent crowd. Because Duke couldn’t put them away, they kept fouling, and Duke kept fouling, and the friggin’ game just would not end. Yet at no point was the outcome in doubt. So we're subjected to another 15 minutes of Bobby Knight talking about what it was like to know Coach K as a teenager. Someone needs to have the balls to pull the plug and move on.

So we've got Michigan State, Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana left. We hold court at home, split and we're 10-8 in the Big Ten. In fifth place for the time being, which means no Thursday game at the Big Ten Tournament, which is good. All these things are considerably better than I would have imagined when I left for Germany 2-1/2 weeks ago.

Don't blow this one, guys

Tonight's game gives me the creeps. It's a game we should win easily, as Indiana is the worst team the Big Ten has seen in quite some time. Plus, their best player won't be playing because he's dirty.

But a decade of seeing Tan Cream frenetically pace the Bradley Center sidelines clapping and stomping his feet have me foreseeing a nightmarish loss. I just saw a Big Ten Network commercial in which Crean slaps the floor with both hands, a la Wojo in his Duke playing days. Please, please guys don't let it be close tonight.

It's strange watching Big Ten games in this stretch run. Watching the Penn State-Illinois game Wednesday night, it felt natural to hope Penn State won. But in reality, they are closer to us in the conference race than the Illini; but we also beat them twice. So who do you pull for?

I suppose you just hope the Badgers win every time ou and trust things will take care of themselves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Recruiting wins vs. actual wins

Here's the other interesting thing from the Sporting News, actually more compelling than the draft notes. SN's college football writer Matt Hayes, better known for smart-alecky quips designed to encourage hate mail than for actual in-depth research and analysis, did something cool. For all 66 BCS schools, he determined the average ranking of each school's recruiting classes from 2004-2008, the total number of wins from the past five seasons, and the difference.

The purpose: to see what teams do the most with the least, as it were. Turns out we're the best in the Big Ten at this.

Over the past five years, our average recruiting rank is 42nd, and we're ranked 11th in wins. That's a 31-poit spread, which is tied with Wake Forest for fourth-best overall, behind Cincinnati, West Virginia, and Louisville. Following us were Boston College, Texas Tech, UConn, Georgia Tech, and Oregon State.

Not bad company, and really the sort of programs we do resemble in terms of recruiting rankings and overall success. The rank of the rest of the Big Ten, in order:

14. Northwestern
18. Indiana
18. Iowa
22. Penn State
23. Minnesota
23. Ohio State
27. Purdue
49. Michigan State
53. Michigan
63. Illinois

So this implies that Michigan and Illinois do the least with the most? Sounds about right, too.

This study is an interesting answer to all the fans who complain that we're not bringing in enough talent. We have brouht in enough talent to win -- when the guys are properly developed. As has been discussed, that is the huge -- HUGE -- question mark surrounding Bret Bielema and his staff going forward, as the roster becomes completely full of their guys: can they develop the guys they bring in, from one-star recruit to starter, from three-star recruit to all-conference, from four- and five-star guy to All-American?

ADD: Thanks to Toohey for uncovering this link to the SN story.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Draft notes

A couple interesting Badger-related tidbits in the latest Sporting News. The first are related to the NFL Draft:

-Travis Beckum is the second-ranked tight end, Kraig Urbik the third-ranked guard, and Chris Pressley the fourth-ranked fullback.

-P.J. Hill is ranked 36th out of 49 early entry candidates.

-There is a pretty interesting profile of Matt Shaughnessy. The last concert he attended was Van Halen in Milwaukee, with David Lee Roth fronting (Burch approves). answering "I daydream abou my first sack being called by ..." he answered "For some reason, Dick Vitale. I don't know why. He just has a great sports voice."

Dick Vitale doing football is absolutely frightening.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Devin Harris: Guiness record holder

Devin Harris had a fairly forgettable All-Star debut performance last night -- by official hockey-style accounts he was a minus-31, meaning his team was 31 points in the hole while he was in the game -- but he still came away with something cool from the weekend.

He established a Guiness Book of World Records mark for fastest time dribbling a ball from baseline to baseline on an NBA court, 3.93 seconds. The above video shows it, although it's really not all that remarkable. Also, during last night's broadcast they said the Spurs wouldn't let Tony Parker try to match it, for fear of injury.

Devin's one of the fastest guys on the planet with a ball in his hands, and he could probably beat 3.93 seconds with practice and more tries, but I have to imagine there are faster guys out there. Whatever, good for him.

Even if the on-court experience wasn't perfect, at least Devin had the experience of rubbing elbows with the best players on the planet, and knowing he deserves to be among them. Hopefully he'll be an All-Star regular for years to come.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Good for Owen Daniels

Wasn't around for the Pro Bowl, and in all likelihood wouldn't have watched it anyway, but I did make a point of checking the box score and saw that our very own Owen Daniels scored a touchdown in it. Good for him!

What a rise from being a heralded quarterback recruit to yet another former heralded quarterback recruit who moved to tight end to being a standout tight end to being a Pro Bowl tight end. It would be great to see Travis Beckum joining Owen in this game in a couple years.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

UW-Ohio State brief thoughts

Full disclosure: I missed the first three-quarters of this because Jana and I went to see Slumdog Millionaire tonight. So I made it back for about the last eight minutes, and my dad filled me in. Hopefully I'll get a chance to watch the whole deal tomorrow, but here are some brief thoughts:

-Thought the defense looked pretty good at the end. Yes, we allowed 55% shooting. But forcing 19 turnovers offsets that. Six steals for Krabby? Mike Kelley reincarnate!

-You tell me J-Bo goes 1-for-8 and Pop goes 1-for-9, and we shoot 36%, and I tell you we lose by eight points.

-Fifteen offensive rebounds, that's partly great effort, partly the challenges you face when you play a 2-3 zone. I can't imagine the athletes Thad Matta has assembled aren't conducive to playin man-to-man, but whatever, not my team.

-Seventeen points and seven boards for Marcus, very nice for him to shoulder the scoring load today.

-Evan Turner sure would have looked nice in cardinal and white, no? Apparently he helped us recruit Diamond Taylor, which is nice, but it was down to us and Illinois and he went to Ohio State. It seems to be working out for him. He did have six turnovers.

This is another nice resume builder, but also a game we definitely should win. With our RPI and strength of schedule, a couple more wins should do it. Off until Thursday at Indiana, which is a game we absolutely can not overlook and come out flat for.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A coin-related Badger anecdote

You probably didn't think I could squeeze a University of Wisconsin-related story out of my trip to Germany, but here it is:

The director of the U.S. Mint is a fellow named Ed Moy. A few months ago I read in our alumni magazine that he is a UW graduate. The U.S. Mint is the largest manufacturer of coins, medals, and numismatic products; you may be familiar with its products -- quarters, dimes, pennies. Ed is the guy in charge.
In Berlin we held our annual Coin of the Year awards, and the U.S. Mint won awards in three categories. I had the chance to meet and talk with Ed a bit before the ceremony, at which time I brought up the UW connection. He asked here I lived and I told him Lakeshore freshman year, and he said he did too, in Sullivan Hall, first floor.
Small world! I'm guessing the painting of Paul Ranheim on the wall across from Room 129 wasn't there when Ed was in school, but still a cool connection to make in Germany.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

UW-Iowa thoughts

I'm back, and the Badgers are back! Good to see the boys take care of business against a team that has no business staying in the game. This is how it should go. This makes our loss to them in Iowa City that much more galling.

-Nice to see J-Bo heating up, I understand he shot really well against Illinois as well. It goes without saying that if he's making perimeter shots everything else goes better for this offense.

-Also nice to see Pop getting his groove back. His last multiple-spin move and layup was simply beautiful.

-Landry didn't do a whole lot, but I love the play where he missed a free throw, got his own rebound, then scored and was fouled on the ensuring layup. Congrats to him reaching 1,000 poins in his career. Illustrates what happens when you're consistent.

-Not having seen it occur, how bad was Keaton Nankivil's ankle injury? Did it happen in practice or a game? I noticed he didn't play against Illinois and just two minutes against Penn State. Too bad -- after the breakout game against Purdue then gets Hightowered at Northwestern before hurting himself.

-I've never seen us get anything like that seven-point run at the end of the first half. What a bonehead move by Gatens.

-That Devan Bawinkel really bugs me. That jumper he made late in the game was his first made two-pointer of the season. Of the season! The kid is obviously a tremendous shooter, but is such a one-trick pony that he could go 20-plus games without making a shot inside the 3-point line. Bo would never let his guys be that one-dimensional. Look at J-Bo -- think he couldn't fill that Bawinkel role of standing in the corner shooting 3s? But he has a nice little dribble penetration game, and can make tough runners in the lane. Bawinkel shouldn't settle for being such a simple player.

-It seemed like Krabby was playing well, but I didn't realize how well until I saw the box score -- 16 points, seven rebounds. He's really having a solid senior season.

-Didn't realize Ohio State was ranked. Should be a good game Saturday, but I'm feeling pretty good about our chances the way we're playing. Isn't ESPN going to be in Madison?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Definitely staying here

Wins over Illinois and Penn State since I stopped watching (involuntarily). Renewed defensive prowess. Two games with Indiana left on the schedule. Maybe there's hope for these guys yet!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


The Badgers' recent play has me so distraught, I left the country.

Actually, my travel plans were made months ago, but it doesn't disappoint me in the least that I'm going to miss probably losses against Illinois and Penn State. I should be home and my body clock almost adjusted by the Iowa game, but by that time our NCAA Tournament hopes might be shot.

I'll be in Germany at the World Money Fair for the second straight year. We have a full schedule set for Berlin, and will be meeting with representatives from mints around the world.

When I heard that Brian Butch and Michael Flowers were playing professionally in Germany, I did a search to see if it would be possible to catch them in action, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen.

So Badgercentric will be partially shut down for the next week. Hopefully when we start it up again in earnest things will be looking up. They can't get much worse than they are now ... right?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fire Ed Hightower

True story from the Wisconsin-Northwestern game Saturday night:

A man was sitting behind us with several young boys. At one point, he says to one of the boys, "That's Ed Hightower, he's on of the best referees around."

Then, after one particularly emphatic call, in which Ed almost hit the poor Northwestern kid being whistled for the foul, the guy says "See how much he's waving his arms? That means it was an especially good call."

No, it wasn't a drunk college kid making these remarks tongue in cheek. The guy was serious.

(Thanks to my brother for catching these side conversations.)

Ed Hightower is a horrible referee, and Saturday night's game was a prime example why. Hightower and his cohorts, Dennis Bracco and Dan Chrisman -- who deserve at least as much blame as Eddie -- were the stars of the show for much of the game, which is precisely what refs should not be.

They called a piss-poor game, both ways. Both teams were on the short end of bad calls or non-calls. In the end, Northwestern made the plays it had to make to win, and we didn't.

But you have to wonder how the game might have been different if these bozos hadn't called 45 fouls. Or if they would have called Kevin Coble for traveling on one of his ridiculous prayers that happened to fall in. Or if they hadn't saddled Marcus Landry and Keaton Nankivil with fouls that were borderline at best.

What really bugs a Big Ten fan, though, is how Ed grabs the limelight on plays where nothing is really going on. On one play, after a dead ball, Hightower made a big show of bringing Jordan Taylor and Michael Thompson together to tell them to cool it ... when neither of them appeared to be doing anything remotely unsportsmanlike.

On another play, Hightower stopped the game to yell at Northwestern's Luka Mirkovic, clenching his fists together and pulling in opposite directions. What was he warning against? Swinging elbows? Overly aggressive screens? Mirkovic didn't seem to have done anything to warrant a lecture.

These are the times when Brent Musberger typically starts raving about Hightower.

After the Coble non-travel, I was 98% certain these idiots were going to tee up Bo, who has been on a roll with those lately. Thankfully they didn't, and if memory serves they probably made up for it with a terrible call against Northwestern quickly thereafter.

I imagine every conference has a ref or crew like this who fans of all teams shudder to see working their games. The Big Ten appears to be on an upswing again, and if it was serious about improving its product all the way around, it would find a way to replace guys like Hightower, Chrisman, and Bracco, and get competent refs in there.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Welsh-Ryan Arena

Upon entering Welsh-Ryan Arena for Saturday's Wisconsin-Northwestern game, this is the first thing my brother-in-law Nick said:

"Evanston Township High School's gym is bigger than this."

Nick, who lived with my sister across the street from Northwestern's athletic complex for a couple years, would know. But he didn't know that it would be about 80 degrees in side the glorified high school gym for the Badgers-Wildcats game.

Take a look at how big this "arena" really is. It sort of reminded me in size of Neenah High School, where my sister's volleyball team played for the state title. About half the fans there were Badger fans, and the chants of "Let's go Badgers!" were loud and enthusiastic. And, ultimately, in vain.

In many respects the place reminded me of the Field House, only better lit. Between this place and Welsh-Ryan Stadium, it is a clear indication of what happens when universities don't invest in athletics. Fifteen years ago, our facilities resembled theirs. Now, ours are modern and classy, and theirs are inferior to an Indiana high school basketball program or Texas high school football program. Whether that's right or wrong is up for debate -- Northwestern is still a hell of an academic institution, one of the best around -- but facilities like this do not typically play host to winning teams in BCS conferences.

All that said, the atmosphere for our game was great. It reminded me of a Fremont Ross-Sandusky game back in Ohio, where the gym was packed, standing room only, and it was hotter than an oven with fans from both sides yelling back and forth. I'd go back next year in a heartbeat.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

UW-Northwestern thoughts

Of all the individual moments that combined to make this yet another frustrating loss, let me submit this one as the one that sums up the season:

With about 20 seconds to play and the Badgers down three, Tim Jarmusz has a wide-open 3-pointer. Instead of taking it, he passes to Marcus Landry, who drives, misses, but puts the rebound in to cut the lead to one. UW then fouls Craig Moore, who makes two free throws. Something similar like this happens a few more times. The Badgers never actually attempt a game-tying shot.

This play is so representative of the season because the player in question -- who had a pretty decent game up until then -- did not have the confidence or courage to step up and take a big shot. The end result was close, but not enough.


This is getting redundant. Other notable head scratchers from Evanston.

-Northwestern makes its first four shots of the game, all 3-pointers.

-Northwestern shoots 57.1% from the field. If ever there was a game that showed just how bad the Badger defense has gotten this year, this was it.

-Someone named Jeremy Nash had nine points for Northwestern, including a 3-pointer and a prayer driving scoop shot. Looked like freaking Steve Nash.

-Moore, a nice complementary player on any Big Ten team, scored 26 points. The worst came when he grabbed a rebound off a missed NU free throw, over Landry, and was fouled and made two free throws. Inexcusable.

-The Badgers looked completely befuddled against Northwestern's 1-3-1 defense. It was almost as if they hadn't seen it ... three weeks ago, when they completely shredded it! I'm all for patience, but UW's patience last night was more passive than anything. You beat zones by swinging the ball quickly and exploiting gaps that form when defenders don't shift in synch. Our perimeter players would catch the ball, wait two seconds, then do something, inviting traps that necessitated a jump pass or an awkward wrap-around bounce pass, often stretching near midcourt.

What was absurd was that at times, Northwestern had three defenders on Hughes at least 25 feet from the basket, and we were unable to do anything to exploit the 4-on-2 that existed around it. A couple times we got the ball to the baseline, which led to nice passing and a layup, but those instances were rare.

-How many games have we lost where we shot 52% from the field, 16-of-19 from the line, and held a 27-13 rebounding advantage? Before this year, anyway?

-In another story-of-the-season subplot, J-Bo and Leuer got back on track last night, but Landry was non-existent until the final minute, and Hughes was 3-of-10 from the floor.

-I have a special post ready for the officiating, led by the incomparable Ed Hightower, but let me just point out the key Kevin Coble basket where he took two large steps after establishing his pivot foot in the lane. How they missed that one, after so many other ticky-tack calls, astounds me.

Overall, still glad we went, always a fun experience to see Wisconsin on the road. Badger fans made up about half the crowd and we made ourselves heard. Unfortunately the only sound we made leaving Northwestern's glorified high school gym was muttering about the NIT and playing on Thursday of the Big Ten Tournament.