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.