Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'm sorry

Guys, this has been a crazy couple weeks. Of the last 13 days, I've been home for two. Missed all but the last two minutes of the Wofford game, and all of the Cornell game (may have been a good thing).

And my laptop died. This is yet anothe painful BlackBerry post.

So that's why there's not much going on here.

I thought life might catch up with me like this at some point, bummer it happened during the tournament. Hopefully I can catch up later.

Probably not going to happen now. Most of my free time is spent creating and selling Wisconsin-themed shirts on Our first big hit was the Worst Call Ever shirt inspired by the Packer-Seahawks debacle that spelled the end of the NFL/officials standoff. My personal favorite: Wisconsin Pass the Salt, which was designed by my 8-year-old son Will. Check it out, buy a shirt.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Greetings from I-94 just north of Chicago. (Don't worry Mom, Dad's driving.)

Still on the BlackBerry, no computer, and tomorrow is super busy at work, so I'll try to squeeze a thought or two in here.

Like the matchup, though admittedly know nothing about Wofford. Like the Temple-Cornell second round potential, would be great challenges. Kentucky in the sweet 16? Awesome. Play Marquette for the Final Four? I might have a heart attack.

Of course, if we play like we did Friday we won't be around long. But I'm optimistic.

FYI: if you ever get a chance to watch an important Indiana high school basketball game, do it. We went to a thrilling game last night, best one we saw all weekend.

In dire need of basketball detox ...

Friday, March 12, 2010


I'm a silver lining type of guy, so in the little bit I can type on my BlackBerry I'll acknowledge our frantic, entertaining comeback effort.That was fun to see.

When I get at a laptop, I'll vent over the god-awful first 35 minutes. That was disgusting.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

UW-Illinois thoughts

Today's win was bittersweet. Sweet, for obvious reasons: dominating Illinois in Champaign doesn't happen often. This one was nice payback for our one home loss this year, a truly disappointing performance several weeks ago.

Bitter, because it became all too apparent today that if Jon Leuer hadn't been hurt, Wisconsin would have won at least a share of the Big Ten title. Wait! you say. All four of the top teams in the conference had their best player miss time because of injury. But here's the difference: Leuer missed nine games. Robbie Hummel missed three (asterisk to Lewis Jackson); Evan Turner missed two Big Ten games; Kalin Lucas missed one.

I'm not saying the Badgers are better than Ohio State, Michigan State, and Purdue, although we did beat all three at home, State without Leuer and Purdue with Leuer playing hurt. I am saying that the Badgers are as good as anyone in the league, and are playing as well as anyone in the league heading to Indianapolis, which is more than I expected from the team this year.

-Where was Leuer missed more in the home loss to Illinois: guarding the pick and roll, or contributing scoring from a variety of spots on the floor?

-Wow, what a game for Jordan Taylor. When am I going to stop being surprised when he makes tough shots? He's been doing it all year. And eight rebounds today for the little guy.

-But wait! Trevon Hughes with 11 rebounds! Of those, seven were offensive! So in the last two games, Hughes had 11, J-Bo had nine, and Taylor had eight.

-This afternoon's biggest: free throw shooting. After a year in which I have seldom felt nervous about our charity stripe work, today it felt like we were going to miss every single one.

Here's another: we're up 16 points, cruising, when Pop comes down and takes a quick, bad shot, then gets himself too close to the Illini ballhandler and picks up his fourth foul. Our offense sputters, they make some shots, and gradually cut the lead to five. If they weren't playing so poorly today, that could have been fatal. He's got to be smarter than that.

-Remember a few days ago when I said we should play only five guys barring foul trouble and injury? Today we got both! Let's hope it's the last we see of that for the year. Will remarked that Hughes looked like he was hurt pretty bad, but I was reminded of his sophomore year, when he went down like that several times and only once really missed a game, the landmark win at Texas.

-One other thing to note: J-Bo was very quiet today, only took six shots while playing the entire game. It seemed like Bill Cole was guarding him, a 6-9 guy. If we're playing three guards most of the time, and the other team has a traditional 3 man that's sort of tall, J-Bo might have a tough time getting shots off.

-When they beat us in Madison, Illinois looked like a team that could make a run at the top. McCamey looked like a superstar, Tisdale was a great-shooting big man, Cole a good role player who can make 3-pointers. Today McCamey was absolutely awful, and when he got into it with Weber after his intentional foul it seemed to reveal underlying tension. Mike Davis, who I thought might become a star this year, seems to have regressed. Paul and Richardson are too inconsistent. They should have been hungry -- starving -- for a win today. But they sucked. I think they need to win at least two games in Indy to even get on the bubble.

We're heading to Indy on Thursday, the sixth straight year we've gone to the Big Ten Tournament. Really looking forward to it!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

UW-Iowa thoughts

Always enjoy Senior Night, a chance to honor kids who have devoted themselves to a program for four or five years, remember how far they've come.

I remember Trevon Hughes as a freshman, playing great defense in a surprising win at Marquette, but mostly playing out of control and making you hold your breath. I remember Jason Bohannon as a freshman, going off in a big game at Ohio State, but mostly seeming like a one-dimensional kid tethered to the 3-point line.

They've come so far. Pop is one of the best point guards in the country, and a top pickpocket. J-Bo has mastered the jab step-stepback jumper, and threw a sweet pass to Bruiser tonight -- and did you see he had nine rebounds?!? More than anything, these kids are winners. Just like the kids in every senior class that passes through nowadays. Makes you smile.

-Obviously the story line tonight was Jon Leuer's play, he was outstanding in a variety of ways. His dunks were the highlight, but I was more heartened by his turnaround jump shot, which he had struggled with since returning from the wrist injury. And he's blocking more shots now.

-Speaking of Leuer's dunks, Keaton Nankivil had a sweet one himself. I would argue that Leuer and Nankivil are the most athletic pair of true big men -- 6-8 and taller -- we've had at UW at one time.

-Wayne Larrivee was talking about how Leuer's absence was a blessing in disguise for the Badgers, since it forced other guys to fill the void. That's true to an extent, as guys like Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson have played a lot more important minutes than they otherwise might have.

But here's the thing: we lost three games without Leuer, and another one in his return where he was rusty and ineffective. If we win just one of those games -- not a stretch -- we're playing for a share of the Big Ten title on Sunday. So yeah, if we win the Big Ten Tournament or go to the Final Four because of the growth our guys showed without Leuer, then it was a good thing. But otherwise, I would have rather his wrist never been broken, he kept playing, and Jordan and Rob waited until next year to grow all the way up. I like winning the Big Ten more than personal growth.

-Here's another thing: when we had Leuer, Nankivil, Hughes, J-Bo and Taylor on the floor, I found myself thinking that barring foul trouble or injuries, Bo shouldn't use his bench much from here on out. I don't mind when Evans, Jarmusz, Wilson or Bruiser play, they all have their moments. But our starting five is by far the best combination we put out there, offensively and defensively. If Taylor can guard a guy like Gatens, using his strength to offset his lack of height, then there aren't many teams that are going to use combinations those guys can't handle.

I heard someone talking about this the other night in regards to Ohio State, which is playing its starters almost the entire game. The guy said that in the postseason, where TV timeouts are longer, fatigue shouldn't be much of a factor. So barring foul trouble, why not severely tighten the rotation?

-Wilson only had four points tonight, but I'm really looking forward to seeing him play major minutes next year. Mainly because he's shown more aptitude for the post-up game than any other guard we've had recently. He had a nice post move today to get himself a layup, and if he does that on a regular basis next year, that'll give us two bona fide post scorers.

-Iowa is awful, and it doesn't look like it's going to be getting better any time soon. Fuller and Gatens are nice players, and Cole looks like a player. But Cully Payne? Brennan Cougill? They should only be playing in televised basketball games in a movie like Teen Wolf. There were times tonight that I thought Gatens was going to hit one of his teammates for their awful play.

-You know who else had a good game tonight? Tim Doyle on the BTN. He annoys me every so often, but he did a really good job tonight. It always helps when your team is on the right side of a blowout, but he made a lot of good points tonight. In particular, he talked about Leuer's tendency to shoot his turnaround post jumper spinning to his right.

Let's finish strong at Illinois, could be seeing them twice in a week.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

UW-Indiana thoughts

You know, I thought Indiana would be a tough out tonight in Bloomington. Boy was I wrong. They were awful, and the Badgers played pretty well.

With the exception of Jon Leuer, who missed a few layups and other assorted bunnies, our shooting was exceptional. J-Bo did it from a variety of spots on the floor. Pop had his deep ball working. Taylor penetrated well. Nanker's jumper was pretty as always, and tonight it fell. All five starters in double figures. It's the way things are supposed to go.

Just a good all around game. It's nice to absolutely destroy a conference opponent on their home court, for your own confidence and for reference in future games.

The thing I didn't really get was Tom Crean's planned ejection. I hope, for his sake, that it was a ploy to fire up his team and not overheated disgust with the officiating. Because really, officiating had nothing to do with the outcome of this game. Indiana was absolutely horrible, missing jumpers, missing free throws, turning the ball over, playing loose defense, committing silly fouls.

And yet, after Tan got tossed and did a flying kick into the locker room door, the crowd went crazy, chanted his name, and mock cheered calls that went Indiana's way -- as if he had stood up in protest of gross miscarriage of justice. IU's kids are trying hard, they just don't have the horses yet. But I thought their fans were more sophisticated than to scapegoat the referees.

(If anything, a number of iffy calls went against the Badgers, not that it mattered at all.)

Then again, Hoosier fans now seem to get fired up by holding up posters of various famous people. Lame. What would Bobby Knight think about that? What would Branch McCracken think about that? What would Gene Hackman's character in Hoosiers think about that? This is Indiana, for Pete's sake, the holy land of college hoops.

(Speaking of Knight, if Tan was going to get tossed, why didn't he get his money's worth and chuck a chair?)

I remember when we never beat Indiana. Ever. Now it's the other way around, and it's nice.

A couple other notes:

-Northwestern set a school record with its 18th regular season win tonight. Eighteenth. Nothing more to say about that, really.

-My thoughts go out to Purdue and its fans in the wake of Robbie Hummel's season ending injury. Purdue is one of those rare Big Ten schools whose sports teams don't rub me the wrong way at all, and if we weren't going to win the Big Ten, I hoped the Boilermakers would. They might still, but their postseason chances are obviously greatly diminished. It's not just a blow for Purdue, but for the Big Ten as a whole. Plus, Hummel just seems like a good kid who didn't deserve this.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

J.P. Tokoto, in person

Where was Bo Ryan on Saturday night? Like me, my dad, my brother-in-law and his dad, we were at the Menomonee Falls gym to watch Falls play Wauwatosa East. Or, more accurately, we were there to watch J.P. Tokoto.

Sorry to say, but I don't have much original analysis to add to what has already been written about J.P. But here's my take if you missed the others.

-Tremendous, tremendous athlete. A legit 6-6, thin, but should be able to add weight and strength without losing his leaping ability. When he strides he gobbles up the court.

It was senior night, so Tokoto, a sophomore, didn't start. He came off the bench a couple minutes in, but didn't really do much until halfway through the second quarter. Then he made his presence felt. A Falls guard made a scrappy steal, missed a shot, and Tokoto followed with a monster putback dunk.

-He had, I think, three more dunks and several more layups. Against a team with decent size, he still showed enough discipline to stay close to the rim, where he was most effective.

-He was also dominant on the glass, and made his presence felt as a shot blocker.

-I liked his demeanor on the court -- not cocky, good hustle, seems humble.

-On the other hand, his shot is not good. Someone sitting nearby said the rotation on his jumper looks like a tornado, which was an apt description. I only remember him taking one jump shot, a stepback elbow jumper, which he missed. The ball ricocheted off the front of the rim at an odd angle, definitely not the way a pure shooter's misses bounce. He also missed a free throw attempt the same way. He didn't take any 3-pointers, which I thought was a good thing, showed discipline.

His ball handling also needs work, but the jumper should be his priority. It's probably not possible, but I'd like to see him spend all summer just doing skills work. Working with a shooting coach, someone who could help him refine his ball handling, do strength and conditioning work.

There is no need for him to play on the summer AAU circuit. His status as a top recruit in his class is solidified, and he has scholarship offers from all the nation's top programs, and Marquette. If he's going to be a dominant college player, he'll need to be a better shooter and ball handler.

It's self-serving to write this, obviously, but I think he would thrive in the Swing. He's like a more athletic, not quite as strong version of Alando Tucker. He's probably a long shot to end up in Madison, but he could do worse with his college choice.

On a related note, Falls has another springy 6-6 player, Jonathan Phillips. I'm told Phillips is Tokoto's cousin, and that he has an offer to be a preferred walk-on at Wisconsin.

Oh, and Bo appeared to have brought his wife along to the Falls. Guess that's part of the deal of being a coach's wife, but imagine Bo selling Kelly on that trip: "Hey honey, wanna go watch J.P. Saturday night? Valentine's Day? Couldn't we see that after the game Sunday? I swear, we will. We can eat at Saz's ..."

Monday, February 22, 2010

UW-Northwestern thoughts

Early in the second half of the Badgers' win over Northwestern Sunday, I was thinking that my prevailing takeaway from a UW win would be something like "Twenty wins, they've already exceeded my expectations. Everything from here on out is gravy."

But then we almost pissed the game away against a marginal team at home. This coming off a poor defensive performance against Illinois, a laugher against a bad Indiana team, and a pathetic showing at Minnesota. So yeah, we won, but right now I'm feeling glass-half-empty about this team.

In particular, I don't think this is a great defensive Badger team. Good? Sure, we'll never be below average with Bo around. But the stellar points-against numbers we yield are more a product of tempo and limited possessions than lockdown defenders. Like today: we only gave up 63 points, but:

-Northwestern shot 22 free throws, and got into the double bonus before we did in the second half. Coming into today we had shot just four more free throws than our opponents, a dramatic departure from the norm. This can be attributed to Jon Leuer's absence, the resulting lack of post touches and tendency to settle for jumpers, and perimeter defense that just isn't quick enough all the time to contain penetration.

-John Shurna had a big game for Northwestern today. No shame in that, he's a good player. But we had no one to slow him down. Tim Jarmusz wasn't exactly doing the job, but as Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas said on the radio, who else were you going to put in at that time? Ryan Evans? Mike Bruesewitz? Evans at least had some success against Kyle Singler earlier this year.

-Leuer had those big blocked shots today, which is an element we've been missing the last two years. Better shot blocking could cover up for some of our perimeter defensive deficiencies.

No Joe Krabbenhoft. No Michael Flowers. No Greg Stiemsma. We just aren't as good defensively as our reputation.

Also not to like today:

-On the topic of reputations not being lived up to, Jordan Taylor had four turnovers today. Is it just me, or has he seemed shaky with the ball lately?

-Leuer, Pop and Jarmusz missed free throws in the waning moments.

On the plus side:

-Jason Bohannon has quietly become exactly the player we hoped he'd be. His step-back jumper is a beautiful move, a nice go-to move that has made him something other than just a 3-point gunner.

-Leuer seemed more comfortable out there.

-Taylor continues to score more than I ever expected him to.

-Give Northwestern credit, they were playing desperate. Of the middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams, they deserve far more credit this year than Michigan or Minnesota, considering the relative talent levels and what Northwestern lost to injury.

We'd better watch out for Indiana, they're going to be a lot tougher out in Bloomington than they were in Madison.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

U-S-A! U-S-A!

Watching Olympic hockey is great. Not only is the U.S. winning, including tonight's epic win over Canada. (An awesome game that I'm guessing a lot of people didn't see because it was on MSNBC, while NBC showed bobsledding. Is it any surprise the Winter Olympics are by far the less popular of the two in our country?)

Brian Rafalski has been huge, scoring two goals for the second straight game and adding an assist tonight. He's the oldest and probably most decorated player on the U.S. roster, but he's been the best player in the tournament. And he lives in Waupaca in the offseason.

Dany Heatley scored for Canada tonight, second straight game that's happened. And Joe Pavelski and Ryan Suter had assists in the last U.S. game.

What other college hockey program can boast of success like this in these Olympics?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

UW-Minnesota thoughts

Man, that was pathetic. No Badger played well tonight, although at least Pop and J-Bo made some shots.

Our Minnesota kids must have made the home fans think they aren't really missing anything at all. At least Jon Leuer had the rust excuse for his 2-for-12 showing. What was Jordan Taylor's excuse? That's 15% shooting from those two. Keaton Nankivil was non-existent.

Yeah, we got killed on the boards, but if you look at the offensive rebounding numbers, each team had 10. Minnesota had 16 more rebounds because we missed 17 more field goal attempts than they did.

Minnesota's defense was nothing special, we just missed a lot of shots that we make much of the time.

The officiating was absolutely horrible. I really liked Bo taking a technical in the first half, the foul on Ryan Evans that preceded it was just the worst call in a series of progressively worse calls. That said, the Badgers once again did nothing to be aggressive and draw fouls; Minnesota was clearly the more aggressive team, penetrating and touching the post, and deserved the benefit of the doubt on calls. And I'm guessing that opposing teams have had the same view of the officiating after visiting the Kohl Center.

Nice show of team solidarity by the Gophers in supporting Paul Carter's sister as she battles cancer. So what do you make of Blake Hoffarber declining to shave his head all the way? If I'm Paul, I'm looking at him funny. And I was only half-watching at times, but according to Dave O'Brien and Steve Lavin it sounds like this season Hoff has become the second coming of Chris Mullin, and not just a guy who makes shots from his ass. Good for him.

Minnesota isn't nearly as good as I thought they'd be this year; they weren't really that good tonight, we were just horrible and they tried harder. Some of it is probably because of the off-court problems, but that's what you get when you rely on players like that.

Disgusted with our game, I watched the end of the Marquette-Pittsburgh game, which was even uglier. It was just guys running up and down the court throwing up wild shots, turning the ball over, committing offensive fouls, missing free throws. I can see why Vander Blue wants to be a part of that Big East magic. Sheesh.

This one effectively ends our chances of winning the Big Ten, remote as they were. I'd like to just make sure we finish in the top five and once again avoid playing on Thursday in the conference tournament.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hey pizza boy

As you've probably heard by now, Brian Butch was named MVP of the NBDL all-star game over the weekend, congratulations to him. What I don't get is why the leading scorer in the league needed another guy's NBA call-up to be named to this game?

And it's not quite Gatorade or Nike, but Brian has scored an endorsement deal, check this out:

Monday, February 15, 2010

UW-Indiana thoughts

Word is that Jon Leuer is practicing with the team again, status for Minnesota uncertain. Even if he doesn't come back for another week, that means he should have plenty of time to round into shape before the postseason.

I did notice that against Indiana there was more of a concerted effort to touch the post, and for guys to actually make scoring moves once they got the ball in the post. They looked awkward doing it -- moves by Keaton Nankivil and Ryan Evans come to mind -- but good things happened when they did -- Nankivil was fouled and Evans scored.

Having "watched" the second half online and monitored the box score, I assumed Jason Bohannon was the big story of the day, but that 46-point first half only happened because Trevon Hughes found his shot again. Only good things come from that.

Funny thing: against Illinois we got burned by switching to easily on pick and rolls, and we did the same thing to Indiana. Their 1-3-1 wasn't very effective, either. Michigan and Northwestern didn't exactly kill us with that zone variation, either.

Mike Bruesewitz was obviously impressive, but besides his offensive rebounding, did you notice the plays he made off the dribble? Haven't seen that before.

Nankivil had another monster dunk in the halfcourt, which we have seen before. Is he the best dunker the Badgers have had in the Bo Ryan era? Better than Alando Tucker?

Larrivee and Jackson talked a few times about how Indiana was taking its lumps now but were bound to come around and be a force in another year or two. That may just be Big Ten Network announcers being polite, or maybe they really see something. But I see a team that looks like the kind that usually visits the Kohl Center in early December, takes a 30-point loss and a check, and flies back to Louisiana or California or wherever. Some of their guys have talent, and Tan Cream will probably recruit well enough, and they are sure to be much tougher to beat in Bloomington. But that program has a long way to go after the mess created by his predecessors.

Speaking of messes, did you catch Illinois's performance against Ohio State? McCamey, who was all-world against us, couldn't throw a rock in the ocean yesterday. Why couldn't they have uncorked that stinker against us?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

UW-Indiana -- didn't watch it

I'm at my mother-in-law's house, and she doesn't get the Big Ten Network, so I didn't see the game that just ended. Will watch it Monday.

But the best possible result of today's game, following Tuesday's tough loss, would be for the Badgers to blow out a team they should blow out.

It's nice for Jason Bohannon to have such a breakout game. As I was watching the game on the CBS Sports Game Tracker, Will asked me to quiz him on addition and subtraction. I just kept giving him J-Bo's scoring line: "What's 16 plus 3? What's 19 plus 3? What's 22 plus 3? ..." Can't wait to see the smile on his face while he's knocking down all those 3-pointers. In his last four games he's gone for 19, 18, 15 and now 30. Keep it up Jason.

The other guy who sticks out on the box score is Mike Bruesewitz. The other day at hoops someone commented that he should have redshirted, but he's had moments of big contributions. Other time he's been stuck on the bench. According to the CBS box score, Bruiser had six offensive rebounds in 17 minutes. He could be a wild card contributor in the postseason, especially if Jon Leuer is exceedingly rusty coming back.

At Minnesota and home against Northwestern next week, feels like a split but we could sweep.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

UW-Illinois thoughts

You know what I hate? Shoveling snow.

You know what I really hate? Shoveling snow after the Badgers lose a home game.

You know what I really hate? Shoveling snow after the Badger lose a home game to Illinois.

But hey, Illinois deserved to win tonight, nothing cheap about it. They played great. Or, more accurately, Demetri McCamey played brilliantly, Mike Tisdale played very well, and the rest of the team knew enough to get those two guys the ball.

The box score says McCamey missed six shots. That must have happened when I was changing Charlie's diaper. When he shot tonight, did you think there was any way on Earth he was going to miss? Our defense on him wasn't the best I've seen a Badger guard play, but it wasn't terrible, either. He was just making everything.

And he had seven assists too? Good lord. Great player, what are you going to do?

Offensively, these are the types of games that are bound to happen when you have no post presence. At some points those jump shots don't go in every time.

As pretty as Keaton Nankivil's jumper is, wouldn't you like to see him try a post move or two every game? Pop got shots shots inside the arc but they were under duress. Jordan Taylor missed a layup with the Badgers down four late, that was huge. Rob Wilson missed two free throws with the game tied or close to it. J-Bo played well again.

The home court angle aside, this isn't a bad loss at all, Illinois is good and has a chance to win the Big Ten. UW just has to snap out of this and take care of business Saturday against Indiana.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

UW-Michigan thoughts

As you know, I play basketball at the local fitness center every day, a hodge podge collection of players who like to get together and run around. Afterward while cooling down we break down the day's proceedings, trying to decipher why one group was successful and the other wasn't. More often than not it boils down to something along the lines of "They made their shots, we didn't" or vice versa. Really deep analysis.

This is what happened in Ann Arbor today, in a nutshell. In the first half we made our shots and they. In a way it was the exact opposite of what happened during our game in Madison, only in that game Michigan couldn't establish any separation in the first half like we did today.

Ever since Jon Leuer went out, it seems that the Badgers' fortunes ride on how well they shoot jump shots. And really, there's no reason they can't shoot well on a consistent basis. Obviously it would be best if Leuer returns before the regular season ends, but even if he doesn't we can still make a run in the postseason if the shots keep falling.

-Jason Bohannon is playing the best basketball of his college career, right? There's no reason he can't ride this wave all the way to the end -- when you've got a stroke like his, success really comes down to confidence, and he's got it. Two J-Bo moments stood out to me today. One, after a shot clock violation, he barked at Keaton Nankivil to shoot the ball; Keaton had passed up a jumper that would have been contested, putting Jason in a tough spot as the shot clock expired. Two, after he made that first half buzzer beater, he was demonstrative in pumping his fist. Love the emotion.

-A key moment came early in the second half, when Bo Ryan took a timeout with the Badgers up 12, playing poorly, and Zach Novak about to shoot two free throws. After the timeout Novak missed both free throws and we went back to building the lead. Bo usually doesn't take timeouts unless things are really getting out of hand, which I typically appreciate, but sometimes it's the prudent thing for a coach to do, like it was today.

-Did Jordan Taylor really have 13 points, five rebounds, four assists? They were quiet, which tells you something about his game. Given his assist-to-turnover ratio, he might be having the best pure point guard season any Badger has had under Bo. That's not to say he's better or more valuable than Trevon Hughes, Kam Taylor or Devin Harris, but he's playing like a traditional point guard.

-Pop had 14 points on only six field goal attempts? That has to be one of his most efficient games.

-Nankivil and Rob Wilson were solid again, and since Manny Harris was 4-for-12 from the field you can draw that Wilson, Ryan Evans and Tim Jarmusz did a good job on him. Everyone contributed today.

-Boy, outside Harris and DeShawn Sims, Michigan is garbage. When Sims is hot, like he was in Madison and in the first half today, they are competitive. Same with Harris, although he was bad against us both times this year. But the fact that the Wolverines were a preseason top 20 team is laughable.

-Speaking of garbage, Ed Hightower and Ted Valentine were at their worst in the second half. One blocking call on Taylor guarding Harris was particularly ridiculous. Thankfully the game was close and Michigan missed most of their ill-gotten free throws. How they've stayed employed by a major conference all these years is beyond me.

Earlier today Will and I debated heading to Madison for the outdoor hockey game. It's not that cold, after all. But I've been traveling a lot lately and we'll be on the road the next two weekends ... and it's not that warm, either. Should be fun to watch.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

UW-Michigan State thoughts

I'll remember that.

Great win for the program -- three over top-five teams in the same year, pretty cool. Michigan State is still comfortably in the driver's seat to win the Big Ten (pending the status of Kalin Lucas's ankle, obviously), but this puts us in great position in the battle for second place and really helps our NCAA Tournament seeding.

-So we can win with Jon Leuer ... and now it looks like we can win without Trevon Hughes. That was a real stinker of a game by Pop, but kudos to everyone who picked up the slack around him. he did have seven assists.

-Full disclosure: due to DVR scheduling conflicts (thanks, Lost!), I really only saw the second half. So I didn't see the better halves put in by Jason Bohannon and Jordan Taylor, and the half in which we established control. But even just watching the second half it was apparent that State's defense was not dictating anything Tuesday night, not to the extent that they did in Lasnsing. But we didn't let them dictate, either.

-Taylor is shooting more of a true jump shot lately than he did before. Up until recently, it seemed like he only took jumpers where he had a lot of room and was able to shoot more of a set shot. Now he is releasing at the apex of his leap. One in particular came in the second half near the end of the shot clock and Jordan drained a 3-pointer. Running back downcourt he had a smirk on his face, a cross between cockiness and apology. It was cool.

-During the part of the game I watched, State's biggest defensive deficiency was guarding our high screen and roll. Their guards just seemed to not be mentally sharp, a step slow, or a bad combination of the two. At least twice when Hughes handled the ball in these situations and the guy checking him ran into his teammate after Keaton Nankivil's screen.

-Brief aside: I'm watching Illinois play at Iowa right now, and Illinois fans have populated an entire section of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, behind the basket Iowa is now shooting at. It's almost like a home game for the Illini. That is just embarrasing if you're an Iowa fan. Is there a deeper story behind this, like a wealthy alumnus bought out the section? How could Iowa let that happen?

-With all due respect to Lucas and hopes for a speedy return, god forbid a Big Ten team lose a really important player to injury: Leuer, Evan Turner, Kevin Coble, et al. I hope those guys all got flowers from Brent Musberger and Steve Lavin, as I'm guessing Lucas did this morning. Erin Andrews' report on Leuer's status was not exactly reassuring, quoting Jon as saying, "I just hope I can come back this year." At least he's lifting and shooting.

-Nankivil really picked his spots well in the game, as did Rob Wilson. Wilson has really done a nice job of not forcing things, probably because he knows he's getting more playing time and doesn't feel like he needs to make something happen in his limited minutes.

-In the postgame Bo Ryan got fairly choked up telling Erin what a great job Greg Gard coaching the scout team in practice, preparing our kids for what State was going to run. This came about 30 seconds after Musberger and Lavin took a break from talking about Lucas's ankle to rave about Gard, Gary Close and Howard Moore. Assistant basketball coaches rarely get the credit they deserve, at least in relation to their football counterparts, so that gushing was nice.

Bo owns Izzo. Still.

Jet lag

Walked in the door at the office just now and the first thing I heard was "Hey Scott, you like the game last night?"

And I said "Didn't see any of it. Fell asleep reading to Will at 8!"

This is what happens when you leave Berlin at 8 a.m. Monday, travel 23 hours to arrive in Scandinavia at midnight, then get up and put in a full day's work.

Wisconsin-Michigan State will have to wait until tonight for me. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to it, if for no other reason than to see close-ups of Izzo.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

UW-Penn State thoughts


I spent a good portion of this afternoon trying decide if this would be Wisconsin's worst loss of the Bo Ryan era, or simply one of the worst. The verdict: this was the worst. (Charlie, on the other hand, voted for the North Dakota State loss. Agree to disagree.)

Against an inferior opponent with a confidence deficit, we played lazy defense, got killed on the board, and once again missed a ton of open shots. We played inspired ball for about three minutes and Penn State played along, but then relaxed and let Taylor Battle dictate things.

Interestingly enough, Jordan Taylor was the one Badger who drew my ire more than the others. He was shooting terribly, not playing particularly well offensively. Then ...

What happened? Taylor played like an All-American for about four minutes, Penn State played about like you'd expect them to, and we pull out an improbable win.

The Badgers got outshot 51.8% to 43.3%; outrebounded 34-22; jacked up an obscene 33 3-pointers; and yet ...

For all its ugliness, this was a win that makes you smile. Why? Because it's a testament to the program's strength. Coming into the Kohl Center and winning is just really, really hard to do. It's similar to, say, a Miami being up 16 points in the second half at Duke: Miami might be doing everything right, and Duke might be laying an egg, but you know they're not going down without making a run, and Miami's going to have to play perfect for 40 minutes to go home a winner. More often than not they'll have a rough stretch and open the door enough for Duke to win a game they probably shouldn't.

That's what happened today. Penn State was the better team for 36 minutes of regulation, and it wasn't enough.

-Are you worried yet about all the 3-pointers the Badgers are shooting? My brain says yes, because it's not the formula that has worked so well under Bo. We're not touching the post, and we're not getting to the free throw line as much as we should. But ... for the most part the 3-pointers are not bad looks, and shooting 30% on 3-pointers, like we did today, is the equivalent of shooting 45% on 2-pointers.

-Look at Taylor's game. He missed a ton of 3-pointers early in the game, then makes two at the end to get us close enough. But his better shots were the game-tying short one and a nice jumper in overtime. Jon Leuer only became an elite offensive player when he developed an inside-the-arc game. His shorter teammates should remember that.

-I'm really going to miss Trevon Hughes when he's done. Where does he rank on your list of Badgers you want taking a big shot under Bo? Somewhere among Devin Harris, Alando Tucker, and Kam Taylor, maybe even #2 on that list.

-How awesome was Jason Bohannon's block on the weakside help? A pretty weak move on the Penn State guy's part, but still. J-Bo's third on the team in blocks, would you have guessed that? Oh, and he went over 1,000 career points today, good for him.

-Everyone's going to remember Taylor, but Keaton Nankivil had a really efficient game, 7-for-9 from the floor, only one 3-pointer. It was a Leuer-esque performance. Stop me if you've heard this before, but he's a really nice shooter, and also probably our most athletic player -- how about that putback dunk?

-I'm glad Rob Wilson is getting minutes and contributing, but all this four-guard lineup stuff doesn't feel right to me.

OK guys, I'm heading off to Germany for a week. The Badgers are in much better shape than they were a year ago when I traveled over the pond; at that point we'd lost six in a row. We're in much better shape now. But even though we're 3-1 without Leuer, I don't think anyone would say we've played well. It's going to be tough to win at Purdue, unless we shoot about 50% on 3-pointers.

Auf wiedersehen!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UW-Michigan thoughts

Wow. What just happened there? I hate to say it, but the only way we won that game is because Michigan is a flawed team. They have two really good players, and ... what else? Nothing. And they're short. They're really a lot like Northwestern -- they'll play well and beat some good teams, but they're too shallow and short to finish in the top three in the Big Ten.

Stilll, they just beat UConn convincingly and we'll have a tough time beating them in Ann Arbor. If we play anything like we did tonight we'll get blown out there.

No sense dwelling on that, though, so how about giving out game balls:

-Rob Wilson, well done! With Jordan Taylor and Jason Bohannon looking completely lost out there tonight (1-for-14 from the field combined? Are you kidding me? Those weren't bad looks.), someone had to make perimeter shots. This was one of those deals where usually someone, anyone from our top seven is going to make some shots, but tonight we needed points to come from #8.

We've always expected a clutch performance in a critical situation was something Wilson had in him. Ever since he tried dunking over Hasheem Thabeet in last year's loss to UConn I liked his aggressiveness, but it seems like it's been in hiding ever since. It was back tonight. Trevon Hughes joked after the game that Wilson brought his scout team game tonight. Thank god he did.

-Other game ball goes to Tim Jarmusz. We haven't exactly been complimentary of his play lately, and after his two shots from the corner early on Wednesday -- a bank of the side and an airball that fell about three feet short -- I was working on some snotty comments. But he played Manny Harris very well, moved his feet, stayed in front of him, and didn't give him many good looks. I'm not sure anyone else on the roster could have done that tonight, so nice job Tim.

-My only criticism of Pop tonight was that he didn't exploit his defender early enough. Really, who on Michigan could check him? No one. Their guards match up well with our other guards, but not Trevon.

-Keaton Nankivil didn't shoot well tonight, but I'm glad he shot. He needs to. Of course, had we lost I'd be saying "Set more picks, Keaton!!"

-I thought we scrapped well on the offensive boards tonight, kept possessions alive. It didn't pay off until we made a few shots at the end, but it's a good sign -- even when the shots aren't falling, our kids are still trying.

-DeShawn Sims is awesome, or at least he was tonight. I've always been an admirer of his game, but he's disappeared during our games in the past. He should touch the ball in the post on every one of their possessions.

On the other hand, Harris was a non-factor tonight. Shon Morris praised him for not forcing things, which I guess is praiseworthy. But Michigan lost the game in the first half when they couldn't get real separation. They missed a ton of close shots that, had they fallen, could have pushed their lead to 15 or 17 points, and I'm not sure we can come back from that. Maybe he should have forced things rather than letting Zack Novak jack up bricks.

Happy to get a win, but I'd like us to play better. That home winning streak against unranked opponents is pretty impressive, indicative of a top-notch program that wins games it should. Keeping that streak going tonight, when we didn't have our fastball, was a great sign for the program.

How about shooting better than 34% against Penn State?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stretching is Essential

A couple years ago Schwalbach let me know about Mark Titus's blog, Club Trillion. Titus is a benchwarmer for Ohio State, and is out to prove that he's got some game. Schwib forwarded us this clip Wednesday, it's hilarious. For those of you who know me and my friends, this brand of humor is right up our alley.

Read Titus's blog if you get a chance. I don't regularly, but the few times I've checked in I've laughed my butt off.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

UW-Northwestern thoughts

That was a very gratifying win, one that for about 30 minutes I didn't think was going to happen. At one point, didn't you get the sense that the Badgers weren't going to make another jump shot all night?

But Pop heated up before it was too late, Northwestern played to its talent level and we pulled it off. As I said Monday, losing Jon Leuer for an indefinite period of time pretty much eliminates our outside shot at a conference title. But to get a road win the day after his surgery, when morale could have been in the gutter, is a great testament to this team's leadership.

The best part? Watching Pop celebrate after he made those 3-pointers. He is usually a cool customer, so to see him bust out the corny celebration -- rubbing his hand past his face and miming dice rolling -- really brought a smile to my face. Did you see the little handshake he did with Keaton Nankivil after the game? Who'd expect that from Nanker? They're having fun.

The second-best part? Our offensive rebounding. Granted, Northwestern is not a strong rebounding team, but you had to love the way our kids crashed. Fifteen offensive rebounds on 32 missed shots. I can't believe Bruiser only had four boards, they must have all been offensive. And did Pop really have eight boards?

J-Bo had another strong game, not so much from distance but on pull-up jumpers and a few times on penetration.

We played great free throw defense for the third straight game, let's hope we can keep that up.

I don't know if this is the Northwestern team that's going to break their NCAA Tournament drought. They have no bad losses thus far, but no really good wins. They will probably pull some upsets, but they seem to be about one player short. Like a Kevin Coble type. Too bad for them he's hurt.

But as we know full well, injuries are part of this, and we took a good step forward tonight. I figure we lose at Ohio State on Saturday, but if we can hold serve at home against Michigan and Penn State we're 6-2 in the conference. Not bad.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Fresh off yesterday's Packers loss, word comes this morning that Jon Leuer has a broken wrist and will be out indefinitely. Great. Sources are saying he'll miss 4-6 weeks, or 7-10 games. Could be more, that's a finicky injury.

Let's be honest: this just about kills our Big Ten title chances. They were probably a long shot anyway. It was nice to daydream.

OK, enough of that, glass half-full time.

Health: We haven't had too many bad injuries in the past few years, have we? Brian Butch at the end of the 2007 season and Alando Tucker in 2004 come to mind immediately as two in-season injuries to key players that really hurt. Pop hurt his ankle before that memorable Texas game. Sharif Chambliss hurt his knee in offseason workouts. Krabby had a lower body injury. My point is, we've been fortunate in the injury category, and should be thankful for that.

Keaton Nankivil: You have to shoot more now, big guy. You have to! Now! You are a really good shooter, particularly when you're looking for your shot. You're not going to do the same moves Leuer does, like shooting off the dribble, but you are better taking a pass and shooting off a guard's dribble penetration. You will replace Leuer's perimeter game. (Of course, you will also have a better defensive player checking you now.) You're also very good hitting the offensive boards. Now is the time for you to become the double digit scorer you can be.

Mike Bruesewitz: We've been impressed with your athleticism and active game in limited minutes. You will replace Leuer's rebounding and some minutes. You'll also be called upon to take Nankivil's minutes when he gets in foul trouble. (In the locker room at hoops today someone remarked that Nankivil has become Greg Stiemsma for refs' tendency to call fouls on him the minute a play comes near him. This is also known as Dave Mader Syndrome. It's not fair, but it's true.)

Ryan Evans: We've been impressed with your knack for scoring. You will replace Leuer's low post game, and become the quick trigger guy in the frontcourt. We love your confidence, even if your shot isn't everything it could be and will be.

Jared Berggren: You are now the only guy on the roster over 6-8 who is capable of playing against Big Ten post players. You're going to need to play double digit minutes some nights, if only because Nankivil's going to get tired or in foul trouble.

Like most injuries to star players, there's no way one guy can replace Leuer. But I am really excited in seeing what these four kids can do with their opportunities. Additionally, you would expect the guards to assume even more of the scoring load, like in the Purdue win. They're capable.

We've won games recently with limited minutes and production from Leuer. We ought to be able to tread water without him, and emerge a deeper, more experienced team.

But I don't want the Badgers to tread too long -- get well soon, Jon!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

UW-Purdue thoughts

When I first saw Jordan Taylor last year, my initial thought was that he looked like a physically mature kid who would be a solid defensive player and game manager but never a particularly dynamic offensive player. Certainly not a scorer.

So then he goes for 23 points against a really good defensive team as a sophomore? Granted, he made a bunch of free throws as Purdue had to foul near the end of the game, but he made seven field goal from a variety of spots on the floor. His shot creation really isn't anything like Trevon Hughes' or Kam Taylor's, but he knows how to create space for himself. And as has been well-documented he has a great assist-to-turnover ratio, most likely far better than Pop's or Kam's. The point is in good hands with Jordan.

Great win, by the way. This morning I told my dad that I didn't expect us to win this game, and it wasn't just my usual set-the-bar-low strategy to mitigate disappointment. Purdue's the #4 team in the country, was unbeaten, playing really well. This win may not resonate as much as the Duke win, but in the bigger picture it's more important for this season. The optimist will say it keeps us very much in the Big Ten title race. The pessimist will say we have no shot at winning the Big Ten and this will just help ensure an NCAA bid. Either way, it's all good.

-The officiating in this game was atrocious, both ways. I just got done watching the game (recorded), and my ears hurt from the constant sound of whistles. Way overofficiated, although that may have played into our favor. Let 'em play, guys.

-Let's talk about the technical foul on Rob Wilson. First of all, as Bo explained it in the postgame if blood is drawn, it's automatically a technical, regardless of intent. If that's true, that's a BS rule. So if Rob had bent over to tie his shoes and Hummel had tripped over him and split his lip, that would have been a technical?

Second, if, as the refs told Bo, intent is meaningless and it's only blood that matters, why did the refs check the video? All they had to do was look at Hummel's face. I would be much more upset about this if we had lost. That whole sequence was just ridiculous.

-Wilson had a nice game. I'm happy to see him getting double-digit minutes lately, although I wish it weren't because Pop was in foul trouble. He deserves to play. After seeing the way some guys have entered and left our program after one year because they weren't getting starter's minutes, I feared Rob might do the same, but he's stuck it out and is reaping the benefits. With Pop and J-Bo gone after this year, Rob's in position to start next season. Not all kids grasp the concept of delayed gratification nowadays.

-Jon Leuer had an absolutely atrocious shooting game, but his rebounding and interior defense were very important in the effort. Nice that we can beat an elite team without him scoring.

-Larrivee and Morris were comparing Mike Bruesewitz to Joe Krabbenhoft. Seems like a pretty superficial comparison to me -- white guys with funny names. Both are good rebounders, but Bruiser is a better athlete than Krabby, and Krabby was a better ball handler than Bruiser. Also, Bruiser has a way to go before he's a defender of Krabby's caliber, yet Bruiser seems to be more confident in his jumper than Krabby.

Bruiser had five rebounds in six minutes, played great at the end of the first half.

-I hate to bash Tim Jarmusz, a great program guy, but he really shouldn't be getting many minutes as we go forward. Wilson, Bruiser, or Evans would all be better options to get the bulk of those minutes. That airball he had from 10 feet was pretty bad, and if he's not sticking the good 3-point looks that come his way, we're pretty much playing four on five offensively.

-Ryan Evans shooting mid-range jump shots looks like me shooting mid-range jump shots: he look surprised and goes sort of slowly. But he makes a lot of his, whereas I miss almost all of mine.

-And oh yeah: Jason Bohannon had a really good game, and Pop made every shot he took and grabbed five rebounds with three steals in just 23 minutes. Somehow J-Bo's 20 points seemed quiet, didn't they?

-That's two games in a row in which we benefited from our opponent shooting free throws poorly. Purdue missed 11. Take away Hummel and they were seven of 18. Hummel's free throw style is really strange, but obviously really effective. My dad always said that the key to free throw shooting was to do the same thing exactly the same way every time. Hummel certainly does that.

-It feels like I've said this before, but I love E'Twaun Moore's offensive game. He's got such a repertoire of short- and medium-range shots, and he knows how to create just enough space for himself. Hummel and Johnson are really good too, and as much as I can't stand Kramer, he's a great defensive player. (Have you noticed how Kramer runs with his arms at his side? It's like how the Molly Shannon character on Seinfeld walked. He still manages to move pretty well, but it look funny. Imagine how good he'd be if he waved his arms around like the Raquel Welch character from that episode.)

After watching both Purdue and Michigan State this week, they would still be my choice as the two best teams in the Big Ten, but I can't decide who's better. Comparing personnel, I like Moore, Hummel, Johnson and Kramer more than anyone on State's team, save for maybe Lucas and maybe Green. But it's not that decisive over Summers, Allen, Roe, Morgan, Lucious, et al, and those guys are much better than anyone past Purdue's starting five. Quantity versus quality? Guess it depends on fouls and health when they play.

Why did our students do the "overrated" chant near the end? Aren't UW kids supposed to be smarter than that? It appears we are rated about where we should be, and I would hope we're still a top 20 team on Monday after splitting games against two very good teams. Two tough games on the road next week, too, so we've got to stay sharp.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

UW-Michigan State thoughts

Midway through the second half, after another feckless Badger possession, Jana remarked "They're playing scared." Ding ding ding! It was so obvious even my half-alseep wife saw it.

Wisconsin came out tentative/scared/slow/whatever from the opening tip, that was the really disappointing thing. It's not like they came out and were overwhelmed by State's defense then retreated into their shell after a few minutes -- it was from the start. The ball movement was terrible. Knowing that we weren't going to be able to penetrate off the dribble as much as usual, passing, cutting and screening had to be better, and it definitely wasn't. The result was 34% shooting and more airballs than a fifth grade girls game.

Give Michigan State credit, they played really good defense. But jeez, our offensive effort was pathetic.

-At least Jon Leuer showed up. He scored on a variety of nice moves. I absolutely love his pull-up jumper. It was interesting: State guarded him with Raymar Morgan, who I thought was their best defender for him, but Jon was still able to use the three extra inches he has on Morgan to get shots off.

-Other than that, Jordan Taylor had his moments, but not enough of them. Jason Bohannon did a little bit here and there, but with Trevon Hughes having a bad game he needed to do a lot more.

-Pop looked a step slow tonight. Maybe it was just good defense by Kalin Lucas and the other guards.

-Why did Bo have Nankivil on such a yo-yo tonight? State didn't play that short, and they absolutely killed us on the offensive boards. Couldn't he have helped more? Or was he the problem?

-I thought Ryan Evans would fare better coming off his strong showing at Penn State, but he was a non-factor. Mike Bruesewitz grabbed five rebounds in four minutes, he was active. Why didn't either of those guys get some of Tim Jarmusz's minutes? One rebounds, one assist, one steal, no points in 27 minutes.

-With six or seven minutes left, Gus Johnson and Steve Smith kept saying over and over how Wisconsin needed to run a play for J-Bo and get him shots, that he had only taken three shots. On one hand, I agree; running more set plays would help get us over offensive droughts like we experienced during that losing streak last year. On the other hand, it's like these guys have never seen a Badger game or looked at a Badger box score before. There are a lot of games where Jason only takes five shots -- not desirable if you're us, but it happens regularly. And his jumper isn't quick, meaning that athletic, long guards like State's are going to make it really hard for him to get his 3-point shot off.

-Speaking of Steve Smith, it would help his non-partisan announcing prospects if he didn't yell "Nice!" when Morgan makes a mid-range jumper and "Come on!" when Derrick Nix steps to the free throw line (Did you see he's 4-for-32 on the year? My mom could do better than that blindfolded.)

-Lucas was absolutely horrible offensively tonight. Something looks wrong with his game. Chris Allen really bailed him out, although Durrell Summers didn't have the game I thought he'd have.

-They really miss Goran Suton, for his true post presence, but they seem to have adequately replaced Travis Walton's defense. At the moment they don't seem as good as they were last year, and after this weekend we'll know better how they compare to Purdue.

-I love Draymond Green, that kid's a warrior. He's aggressive, versatile, and best of all he's a leader. I'd take him on my team any day, man boobs and all. Not Nix, though, he needs to lose his man boobs before he's useful.

Green was also part of the worst call I've seen all year, when he was laying on the baseline and the ball clearly hit off his hand before going out of bounds right in front of the ref, who promptly signaled Michigan State ball. Green was laughing about it with Lucas running down the court.

-Does it getting any worse than watching Tom Izzo coaching against your team? When asked heading into halftime about his team, he accurately moaned about his team missing a lot of free throws, but threw in a little jab about our guys falling down when his players drove the lane. Well, maybe they were falling down because your kids were running over them, then walking to the free throw line. Izzo seems like a decent guy off the court, and I'm sure fans of other teams feel the same way about Bo, but Izzo is just over the top on the sideline sometimes.

-But what's worse than Izzo? Michigan State's end-of-the-bench guys! It was like watching Marquette when Jerry Sichting's kid was riding the bench. Several times during the game I paused the action to point out to Will that these guys are not being good teammates, but doing these things to draw attention to themselves since they will never see the court.

After one shot one of the kids -- best I can tell it's a kid named Mike Kebler, but that's an educated guess -- ran up and down the bench giving high tens to his teammates, coaches, trainers, Sparty, cheerleaders, Plaxico Burress, Kirk Gibson, Tony Mandarich, Steve Smith. Hadn't seen that since watching a girls volleyball game, or maybe a girls softball game. Don't embarrass yourself kids -- your fans are laughing at you, not with you.

They got us convincingly today, but I think we can win the rematch in Madison.

Less Cooks in the kitchen

Sounds like Kerry Cooks is going to leave Bret Bielema's coaching staff to take a job at Notre Dame. Apparently a former college teammate of Cooks' will be the defensive coordinator for Brian Kelly.

While Cooks was a member of Bielema's original staff, this doesn't seem like a mammoth loss. Our defensive backs haven't been a particularly strong unit for the past three seasons after a stellar 2006. On the other hand, he's coached up guys like Allen Langford and Chris Maragos, and his unit was hit by dismissals and an overreliance on youth.

With most assistant coaches, the bigger issue is their value recruiting. Cooks recruited Texas, Iowa and Maryland for us. Texas hasn't netted us much recently beyond Jay Valai and Devin Smith. Florida is the better southern state for us. We haven't gotten many kids from Maryland, although that's changed with Frank Tamakloe and Robbie Havenstein in this year's class. Top kids from Iowa go to ... Iowa.

So without doing a deep dive through the roster and checking every guy Cooks was responsible for, it doesn't appear we'll take a big step back here.

I see this as an opportunity for an upgrade both in position coaching and recruiting. Also, word is this is Bielema is being strongly urged to get someone else to coach special teams. Hey, great idea. If only 100,000 Badger fans hadn't suggested it a year ago.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Goodbye, Erik Smith

Looks like Erik Smith is going to transfer from UW. Illinois State will be his new home. Thanks to Schwib for mentioning it in a comment; I looked into it (Smith is a prolific Tweeter), and Smith did indicate that he's done in Madison.

From the bits we saw of Smith this year he looked promising, although if everyone stayed healthy next year it was hard to see him climbing any higher than fourth on the tailback depth chart. With guys like James White coming in, seems like Smith is making a good move for his football future.

Best of luck, Erik!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nice pick-ups

What was looking like a ho-hum football recruiting class for Wisconsin got a lot better around the holidays, with commitments from Beau Allen and Sherard Cadogan. Both guys figure to have a shot at playing right away, given our losses at their positions.

Allen is a 6-3, 292-pound nose guard/defensive tackle from Minnetonka, Minn. Not only did we steal him from the Gophers, but Allen had offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Stanford and UCLA. Looking at pictures and video, his size look legit, although he appears to have lots of room to improve the nature of his weight.

Most people, my included, figured defensive tackle would be a weak spot this year, but Jeff Stehle, Dan Moore, Patrick Butrym and Jordan Hein played well enough that our run defense led the Big Ten. Four of our top five DTs are out of eligibility, so Allen will get a shot to play if he's ready.

Cadogan is a teammate of quarterback recruit Joe Brennan, and my favorite thing about them is that they're from New Jersey. We've done so well there historically and went away from the Garden State for awhile, and I'm really happy with the inroads we've made with this class.

Cadogan was named New Jersey's defensive player of the year, but while he has said Wisconsin coaches will let him play both ways, it's likely he'll play tight end, or at least start there. We've got a lot of promising young defensive ends, and an opening to be the #2 pass catching tight end behind Lance Kendricks, so either he or Warren Herring could play as true freshmen. He picked UW over Michigan State, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

One last thing I like about these kids: their GPAs. Cadogan's is a 3.8, and he wants to major in engineering; Allen has a 3.3 GPA.

James White has a 3.5 GPA and plans to major in accounting, but I'm guessing he won't play much right away. White is a running back from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas who committed to us yesterday over Michigan State, North Carolina State, and Clemson. If that high school sounds familiar, it's because freshmen Conor O'Neil and Dezmen Southward are also from there.

Also, if you're a high school football geek, you'll recognize Aquinas as the team that won the mythical national championship last year and is annually chocked-full of college prospects. Establishing a pipeline to that high school would be a very good thing. Linebacker Vinnie Mauro and tackle Jermaine Barton are teammates of White also considering UW.

A good few weeks on the recruiting front ...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

UW-Penn State thoughts

You might look at me funny for writing this, but this was my big takeaway from today's easy win over Penn State: If Rob Wilson played for PSU, he'd be their second-best player, but for us he's no higher than the third guy off the bench.

This isn't meant as a knock on Penn State, which lost a lot after having a really good year a season ago. It's more of a reflection of the quality depth on the roster Bo Ryan has assembled. We basically have two great players, four or five good players, and another couple players who aren't going to embarrass themselves if they get minutes. That's why we can win going away when Jon Leuer plays 14 minutes or Trevon Hughes turns the ball over five times.

Leuer was a non-factor in today's game, but Ryan Evans scores 10 points and Keaton Nankivil grabs 11 rebounds in his absence. Pop's playing loose and Jordan Taylor comes in and shows a confident shot.

-In high school when we were watching tape our coach would point out instances where a guy didn't make a crisp flex cut or set a firm screen. He was always right; you run an offense so many times that it becomes second nature, but that can be a good and a bad thing if you go through the motions.

Right after Wilson got in today he made a really crisp flex cut and his defender, Jeff Brooks, doesn't go hard with him. Wilson gets open and Pop finds him for an easy layup. In an otherwise ho-hum game, that execution from Wilson was the play that stood out.

-Good to see J-Bo stroking it from distance today, but my favorite play of his today was a nice crossover dribble that led to a shot clock-beating layup. Efficient game for Jason.

-How big is Keaton Nankivil's wingspan? Today it looked well over 7 feet. There was an offensive board he seemed to snare at the foul line from underneath the basket for an easy put-in, and a blocked shot.

At Michigan State on Wednesday, a game we shouldn't win, but you never know.

Friday, January 1, 2010

More post-Champs thoughts

After a few days of reflection, I've got some more thoughts on what the Badgers' win over Miami the other night means. It's mostly good. Here goes.

Speed vs. power
National media types oversimplified our matchup and boiled it down to this, and when we won credited power winning out. Perhaps, but I'll submit that while Miami had the speed advantage among perimeter/skill players, our defensive line's speed advantage over Miami's offensive line was the deciding factor.

Jason Fox's absence at left tackle for the Canes was absolutely fatal for them. O'Brien Schofield and J.J. Watt lived in Jacory Harris's face and never let him get going. If he had time, chances are their receivers would have been more open, or Harris would have hit them when they were open.

It reminded me of the national championship game where Ohio State came in as a big favorite against Florida, and Florida's D-line just killed Troy Smith by running right around the tackles. OSU had fast, skilled perimeter guys who just couldn't get the ball.

Tight End U
If you're from the Midwest, or from any other area Big Ten teams recruit, why would you not go to Wisconsin? Since Paul Chryst's arrival, we've had Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham, and now Lance Kendricks. What's interesting about those successful guys is that only Graham started out as a tight end, the others switching from quarterback, linebacker/defensive end, and wide receiver.

Next year we've got Warren Herring and now Sherard Cadogan coming in, two of the better prospects in our next recruiting class, and both true tight ends in the 6-3, 230-pound range. By all accounts they'll fit in nicely and maybe even get a chance to play right away. We've also got a kid named Manasseh Garner, who made his name in high school as a linebacker but appears headed toward an H-Back role in Madison; he's only weighing 205-210 right now, so you'd think he has to put on some weight first.

But we were also in the running for very highly-rated tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz (who backed off his early commitment and went with Iowa) and Alex Smith (who went to North Carolina). How could either of those two possibly thought those schools were better fits for an aspiring professional tight end?

We have oranges here, too
As much as I'd like to see us play bowl games in states other than Florida, putting together a nice showing like we did the other night has to help our standing in the eyes of high school players in that state. Still, we need to be picking the right ones, not just taking anyone from Florida.

We had 11 Floridians on the roster this year. Two of them, Jae McFadden and Culmer Ste. Jean, were starters. Zach Brown, Antonio Fenelus and Aaron Henry are key contributors who've started at times. David Gilbert shows promise. The rest of the guys are freshmen or sophomores. So not a lot of Florida stars on the roster now, but not bad, either.

Finish them
Ask Jana, Graham's fumble in the fourth quarter when we were going in for the game-salting touchdown sent me through the roof. Time after time after time this year we had an opponent on the ropes but let them escape with new life: Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana, and Miami were instances where it happened late; we were controlling Iowa in the first half of that loss, and we had chances to beat Northwestern. Next year we need to do better stepping on our opponents' necks when the opportunity presents itself.

From the glass-half-full vantage point, the cases presented above showed a remarkable improvement in the "stealing defeat from the jaws of victory" department, we showed resolve in not letting any of those first five result in losses. But with our offense, we should be putting teams away early and giving Badger fans' hearts a break.

(On this subject: How many times did Auburn let Northwestern back into the Outback Bowl? Fumbles, penalties, you name it, if that was Wisconsin I would have had a heart attack from all the miscues. Great game, by the way, I was totally wrong on that one.)