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.

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