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Monday, December 31, 2007

Hook'em Bucky


It's been a few days since the Badgers shocked the 9th-ranked Texas Longhorns and I'm still giddy. Just the type of win Wisconsin needed to validate the non-conference portion of the schedule. Not only did the Badgers get their first road win against a top ten opponent in 27 years, but the team inspired a great new one-liner from Jay Bilas: "Bo Ryan is a thief!"

It was a thrilling game that was tight the entire 40 minutes. If I had to categorize the upset, I'd apply two labels. First, the Most Pleasantly Surprising Finish Ever. Losing arguably the team's most talented player the night before a game in which UW squared off against the quickest point guard in the nation, no one expected the Badgers to hang with the Longhorns, let alone win on the road. Secondly, I would call the performance Wisconsin's Best Executed Game Plan of the Year. Bo out-coached Rick Barnes and effectively set the tempo in Wisconsin's favor. What a breath of fresh air to see Wisconsin pound the ball inside to its best scorers (Butch and Landry) with smart passes (14 assists) and few turnovers (10 total). [box score]

While the ending was historic, none of it happens without Brian Butch. The Polar Bear dominated the post, using shot fakes and a deft touch around the rim. He tallied 21 points, 11 boards and three assists to lead UW in each category. Even so, when Butch missed the front end of a bonus opportunity -- part of another poor showing at the free throw stripe -- I thought the Badgers were sunk. But that's where the hometown boy come in ...

The last 30 seconds contained three of the most important plays of Michael Flowers' career. Saying he stepped up is more than a huge understatement. It started with his hustle for an offensive rebound in the corner after an absolutely pathetic possession in which J-Bo fired up an off-balance prayer with the shot clock winding down. Bo's decision to go for a quick two-pointer out of the timeout was perfect; the execution by Marcus Landry was priceless.

A missed free throw by A.J. Abrams (Texas was equally awful at hitting freebies) was all Wisconsin needed to complete the coup. And there are hardly any words for that ... as Bo proved by choking up in the post-game interview.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Enjoy a Merry Christmas tomorrow and do not dwell about the stink bomb Wisconsin threw out against Valparaiso on Saturday night, which included the following lumps of coal:

-a season-high 20 turnovers
-shooting 17-of-36 from the FT line, including 7-of-19 from UW's starting guards
-a puzzling over the back call on a monster Butch put-back slam

In light of those blemishes, pulling out a win could be viewed as a gift from God. In reality, lock down second-half D provided the Badgers with the backdrop for a few minor Christmas miracles:

-an ill-advised Trevon Hughes 3-point attempt from 23 feet that hit nothing but net to give the team its final lead
-Kevin Gullickson's surprisingly swift running bank shot in which he was temporarily afforded gazelle-like speed
-the interception/prayer/and-1 shot by Michael Flowers to ice the game

And with Michigan State's victory over undefeated Texas this past weekend, there is hope for a great Badger contest next Saturday afternoon in Austin.

: : :

Congratulations are also in order for Illinois. The Illini escaped with a one-point win on rival Missouri's home floor and got word that former Michigan commit and now ex-Kentucky guard Alex Legion will transfer to Illinois. Legion will have two and a half years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the next two semesters. Bruce Weber has a stockade of good clay to mold in his backcourt over the next few years.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Where Are They Now? (Part 2)

Two years ago, the infamous Gregg Doyel previewed the Wisconsin-Marquette game with a column detailing how successful the two programs had been in keeping state prospects at home. One school or the other had snagged every consensus Top 100 recruit in Wisconsin since 2000. In the two subsequent classes, Wisconsin signed two out of three such recruits while one fled the state (Jerry Smith).

The perception here is that more players than ever are being offered scholarships to D-I schools. More top-flight talent is sprinkled in the growing pool of middle-tier prospects, but no more D-I programs are springing up, which means more Wisconsin athletes find their niche outside of their home state. Based on who I was able to track down, the perception appears correct.

We started with players from the 2004 and 2005 classes. Only the earliest results are in for the two most recent harvests, but let's look at what they've yielded thus far ...

: : : Class of 2006

Jerry Smith, G, Louisville [stats]
This one hurts. As mentioned on Friday, Bo Ryan has made in-state bigs a priority. So with J.P. Gavinski wrapped up in red 'n white since 10th grade, only two spots remained for three fantastic guards in last year's incoming class. Smith, a blue-chip recruit out of Wauwatosa East, probably would have chosen Louisville anyway, but when J-Bo and Hughes verballed, the fat lady sang on Smith coming to Madison.

Smith logged an impressive 20 min/g in his rookie year, but now starts and is playing 30 min/g as a sophomore. He was hardly heard from in a recent loss to Dayton, however. Known as a powerful, athletic guard in HS, Smith has become a reknowned sniper from behind the 3-point arc.

Steve Gruber, G, Brown [stats]
Gruber is a sophomore from Whitefish Bay who must be getting an excellent education in the Ivy League. He is not playing much basketball from the looks of it.

Mitchell Carter, C, South Carolina [stats]
Sophomore Mitchell Carter never was a star at Milwaukee King, but always a college prospect due to his enormous size. Unfortunately size has not translated into playing time yet at South Carolina for the 6'10", 260 lb. wide body. Despite rarely seeing the floor now, schools like Iowa, Notre Dame and Marquette offered Carter a scholarship.

Andy Polka, F, Loyola [stats]
Polka teamed with Tim Jarmusz to win a state title for Oshkosh West two season ago and is now progressing nicely in his second year at Loyola. The Ramblers play a decent non-conference schedule, but Polka was a borderline major conference prospect who played a smart, hard-nosed brand of basketball. He led the team in rebounding in 2006-07, becoming only the second freshman in Loyola history to do so. Polka will be a four-year starter.

Adam Koch, F, Northern Iowa [stats]
This Ashwaubenon product has a bright future with the Panthers after playing in every game last year as a freshman. Koch is averaging around 8+8 this season in 26 min/g. He was a first-team all-state pick last season on a one-loss state tournament team, so he is the real deal. Northern Iowa run a fun system as well.

: : : Class of 2007

Diante Garrett, G, Iowa St. [stats]
Freshman from Milwaukee Vincent has the body and quickness of Devin Harris. I'm disappointed he is not suiting up in Badger Red, despite his 0-for-12 FG shooting the last three games. Still needs work on his outside shot. Garrett started versus Minnesota and more often than not is the first player off the bench for the Cyclones.

Matt Dorlack, C, Eastern Illinois [stats]
Standing tall at 6'11", Dorlack is easily EIU's tallest player. Apparently he had started a few games this season before missing time recently with a knee injury. Best of luck on a quick recovery to this freshman from New Berlin Eisenhower.

Will Hudson, F, Oakland [stats]
Middleton's Will Hudson was the only area player to match Keaton Nankivil's brawn last season. Despite struggling in those Big 8 conference tilts, the WBCA named Hudson first-team all-state as a high school senior. He is the protoypical size for a D-I power forward at 6'9" and started two games so far this year. His statistics say he's still learning the college game, but you cannot ignore 68% FG shooting!

Andrew Zimmerman, F, Santa Clara [stats]
Zimmerman was a pretty well-regarded F/C recruit out of Oostburg this past year. His playing time has recently skyrocketed for the Broncos, including his best outing of his career this week against Pacific in which he nearly notched a double-double. If he can keep improving the way he has been, he'll be a tough player in the West Coast Conference by the time he's done.

Conor Smith, F, Richmond
I believe Smith is redshirting as a freshman this season for the Spiders, but played his high school ball at Waukesha Catholic Memorial. He mans the small forward spot, but like most of these 6'7" to 6'10" guys, he needs to add weight and strength.

James Haarsma, F, Army
Haarsma led Racine St. Catherine's to a D-III title last year and opted for the armed services. You will likely see him on the Army basketball team after a year of prep school. (4/22 - ed: Haarsma will attend Evansville on a basketball scholarship)

: : : Other players with a Madison/Big Ten connection : : :

Jerard Ajami, G Northern Michigan - Unbeknownst to me, Northern Michigan is not a D-I school but Ajami has had some pretty good games so far this year for the team. And by pretty good, I mean very good. I'm a little surprised, but he is straight out of the Madison Memorial factory.

Mickey Perry, G, Dayton - Perry left the Wisconsin program last season and will be eligible to play in Dayton's game on December 19th. I think he'll prove his worth there if he can stay on top of his studies.

Tyler Smith, F, Tennessee - Arguably Iowa's most talented player as a frosh last season, Smith moved closer to home to be with an ailing family member and happened to be welcomed with open arms by Bruce Pearl and the elite Volunteers. He is a big-time player now on a big-time stage. He is third on the team in scoring right now and will be needed even more now that Duke Crews is out with a heart condition.

: : :

In addition, Indian Hills C.C. has three players from Wisconsin high schools on its roster this season, including Dwight Buycks. Madison Memorial's Dan Brown and Milwaukee Washington's Chris Vines are also listed as freshmen on the team.

Buycks, a tweener guard, had originally committed to Bradley but either couldn't qualify or had other off-court issues that kept him from attending. He was an unstoppable scorer for a good Milwaukee Bay View team last season and is putting up 20-point games on the JUCO circuit as well. Look for Buycks to land at a D-I school as early as next season. Hopefully. It's a shame to see so many of the talented Milwaukee city conference players held back by academics and off-court issues. There is really a lot of misdirected talent in that public school system.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Chopping Up Green Bay

On a snowy Saturday, I made my way to the Kohl Center to cheer on the Badgers from the student section for the first time as an alum. In front of a mainly subdued home crowd, Wisconsin started a 17-0 run with 13 minutes left in the first half to erase a 15-7 deficit and bury UW-Green Bay, 70-52.

The biggest ovation of the evening wasn't for the team, but for Scott Van Pelt, who was spotted in the crowd with Andy North. He was gracious and bowed to the students, who returned the gesture. Beyond that, only a selection of the sparsely-populated student end of the arena got riled up for much of anything on Saturday. Unless you count the halftime performance by the Bucket Boys -- right up there with the gymnastics routine in my book!

As for the game, I was happy to see Marcus Landry dominate the first half by posting up, but disappointed that he was not utilized in the second half. Trevon Hughes was invisible. Jason Bohannon got plenty of open looks and struggled from 3-point land, as did his teammates. [box score]

Count me officially frightened by Hughes' poor free throw shooting. He plays more minutes than anyone on the team and handles the ball twice as much as the next guy. Shooting 5-of-12 on freebies just doesn't cut it. It got to the point where sinking both attempts was a genuine surprise. His misses are not "near misses."

So where did the victory come from? With the exception of Butch and Krabbenhoft, the Wisconsin bigs shot incredibly well. Krabby did make his mark on the offensive glass, with several one-handed rebound and put backs clustered together in the second half. He finished with six offensive rebounds and led a balanced scoring attack with 12 points.

The story, though, was Kevin Gullickson. He played a season-high 20 minutes against the Phoenix in light of Jon Leuer sitting out the game with an ankle injury. The former walk-on from Stillwater, Minnesota did not miss a single shot all night (4-4 FGs, 1-1 FTs). While Gullickson has had his ups and downs as well as plenty of fan criticism, what I love about him is that he wants to score. When he has an opportunity to take a shot, he gets himself into position and makes it happen. If the rest of the team shared Gullickson's approach, UW would be much better. I see too much passive play from Badgers not named Hughes or Butch.

In a related note, the most irritating storyline of the season continues: Tanner Bronson running out the clock at the end of the game. It is bad enough that he is the first scrub into the game at garbage time and that these players never get any burn. But what is so annoying is that he acts like he is the "good sportsmanship steward" who maintains order by not passing the ball to anyone else in the last 30 seconds, lest they -- gasp! -- find an open shot to take. All I ask Tanner is that you remember back a few years when you were the little fan favorite who everybody went wild for when you got to take a shot. That's all we want in the closing seconds, for someone else to get a chance.

: : :

In other Big Ten news:
-Michigan's basketball program is in disarray. Michigan (4-7) lost to Central Michigan (4-5) at home and you cannot even find a story about the fiasco on the Detroit Free Press website.
-Young Purdue stops slumping Louisville.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Where are they now? (Part 1)

Seeing how some of the ex-Badgers are doing overseas prompted me to finish looking into how some former Wisconsin high schoolers are faring outside of the Badger State. With few exceptions, most of these players were not really recruited by Wisconsin or Marquette, but landed safely at other Division I universities on basketball scholarships.

You will not see any players on UW-Milwaukee or UW-Green Bay listed because those rosters are usually full of names from around the state. As the two other D-I programs in the state, they are easy to keep track of for those following the Badgers.

Notice the majority of the success stories and more highly sought-after players that I describe are guards. Wisconsin clearly places an emphasis on keeping its big men at home first, little fellas second. Sometimes that comes back to bite you. The Badgers seem to have gotten the best of the big men, but wouldn't having one or two more quality guards be nice? You will find a few on this list -- a list that turned out long enough to be split into a two-part series.

So without further adieu, let's begin way back when with the ...

: : : Class of 2004

Kyle Weaver, G, Washington St. [stats]
The Cinderella story you've all heard about, on a Cinderella team. Weaver is having another solid year and undefeated Washington State is perched in the Top 5. Nice way to close out a career, huh? His shooting percentages are up so far this season, especially from 3-point land. This was Dick Bennett's last (only?) recruiting gem; Tony has turned Weaver into a star. How good would this formerly wiry Beloit Memorial grad have looked next to Tucker and Taylor on the wing last year?

Draelon Burns, G, DePaul [stats]
"Dre" Burns was named Big East Player of the Week after back-to-back 32-point games before stumbling against Kansas last weekend. This senior guard started the year slow, but seems to be back on track to exceed his very good sophomore and junior numbers at DePaul. Burns put up big numbers at Milwaukee Custer, although he spent his last HS season at the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina.

Mike Nelson, G, North Dakota St. [stats]
Another feel-good story, this time from the Badgers' own backyard. Nelson played his prep hoops for Steve Collins at Madison Memorial and was Wisconsin's Mr. Basketball in 2004 despite being overshadowed at times by a few of his highly-touted teammates. Nelson averages about 15 ppg in a high-scoring offense, but has also nearly doubled his per-game rebounding totals of a year ago. While the Bison are hovering around .500 this season, this redshirt junior will always have bragging rights thanks to N.D. State's January 2006 upset of Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. Nelson's head coach is former Wisconsin assistant Saul Phillips.

Dave Bliss, C, Georgia [stats]
Wisconsin saw him first-hand earlier this year and he was largely a non-factor. However, Bliss has started nearly every game for the Bulldogs in his four years there, the only exception being the first month or so last year. He was even the valedictorian of his senior class at Wausau West in 2004. What a swell guy. By the way, Georgia's only loss so far was to Bucky.

Jermyl Jackson-Wilson, F, Colorado [stats]
This guy has really bounced around. He came to fame as a smooth, shot-blocking big man for the Milwaukee King powerhouse. He spent a post-graduate year at Fork Union Military Academy in New Mexico. Jackson-Wilson then signed with Ohio State in 2004 and played in a handful of games there as a freshman. He sat out last year upon transferring, but was a bright spot for Colorado on the floor. Now, as a redshirt junior, Jackson-Wilson is struggling to find his offense, but did post a 13-rebound game in the America's Youth Classic tourney hosted by Wisconsin earlier this year. He will continue to block shots, regardless.

Shae McNamara, F, Marist [stats]
Now a senior, McNamara's playing time has been amazingly consistent for three years before seeing a modest uptick in 2007. He's stands a lanky 6'8" tall and was actually a McDonald's All-American nominee during his senior season at Milwaukee Marquette University HS. Though he'll never put up significant numbers, he seems to be a well-rounded, integral part of Marist's program.

Tom Levin, F, Loyola [stats]
Levin started the Oshkosh West pipeline to the Windy City and now enters his final season at Loyola. He was a part-time starter in his first two seasons, but has battled injuries over the last couple of years, grinding his minutes to a near-halt.

: : : Class of 2005

J.R. Blount, G, Loyola [stats]
Walter "J.R." Blount put up historically good numbers for a freshman and sophomore and is continuing that trend this season. Blount it easily pacing the team in scoring with almost 18 points and 2 steals per game. The junior point guard also leads the Ramblers in assists.

In high school, Blount propelled Whitefish Bay Dominican's undefeated romp to the state championship in Division III for what might have been the state's best team overall that year regardless of division. Obviously, Wisconsin-made products will be leaving their mark all over the Loyola record book.

Jacob Baryenbruch, G, Drake [stats]
I don't know much about Baryenbruch except that he is a 6-foot junior from River Valley HS near Spring Green. He is starting to see more playing time in a very good conference (Missouri Valley) but is not producing as of yet.

David DuBois, G, Western Illinois [stats]
Speaking of bouncing around, you are not alone if you lost track of former Madison LaFollette athlete David DuBois. He began his career in the WAC in 2005-06 by leading the Idaho Vandals in rebounding. Not bad for a freshman. Perhaps seeing his opportunity to move upward and onward, he played his sophomore season for the famed Indian Hills Community College before landing at Western Illinois this year.

While the Summit Conference is a step down from the WAC, at least DuBois is close to home. Many of his high school comrades have joined together to make Winona State a D-II powerhouse up north. DuBois is quietly leading the Leathernecks in minutes and rebounding this year and should be very proud of what he's accomplished in 2+ years.

John Rybak, F, Texas State [stats]
Transferred from Akron after two non-productive years and will sit out the 2007-08 season to regain his eligibility. At 6'5", Rybak was a pretty good producer out of West Allis Hale in Milwaukee. He'll be a decent shooter on the wing Texas State if he can get on the floor.

: : :

Look for the 2006 and 2007 classes in part two. And in between, I will be attending my first live Badger game of the season, versus UW-Green Bay.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advantage: Madison

In the second of three consecutive games against in-state opponents, Wisconsin handled a smaller, more "athletic" team. Finally.

No, UW-Milwaukee is not good. However, the Badgers imposed their will on the Panthers last night and I, for one, could not be more delighted. Wisconsin pounded the ball in the post time and time again. So it is no surprise that Marcus Landry had his best game of the season, finishing with a game-high 16 points. And what's even better, the team took only seven 3-point attempts -- I only counted one being forced (by Trevon Hughes, no less). Torre Johnson was the only Panther to crack double-digits (10) in scoring.

Overall, Wisconsin shot the lights out in every aspect versus UWM [box score]. The Badgers forced the tempo all night long, resulting in a lower score than anticipated. Of course, the low score also pointed to the astounding 18 (!)turnovers the Badgers surrendered yet again. Just as ugly as ever, including four by Landry.

Hughes was guilty of several bad passes too, but I must say that he played very well. He was magnificent -- yes, magnificent -- at drawing defenders in the lane and making a tough pass look easy. I think the scorekeepers screwed Hughes by only giving him credit for three assists. I saw him drop a minimum of five dimes.

Finally, UW owned the glass. As it should. Brian Butch looked dominant at times inside and Mike Flowers appears to be all the way back after starting his second straight game.

: : :

If you've watched high school sports in this state over the last decade or so, you've probably seen a number of teams adopt Wisconsin's "Motion W" logo. Well, if you are a college or university that did so, look out. A week ago, the University of Wisconsin filed its first trademark infringement lawsuit regarding the now famous emblem.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

On and Off Campus ...

I'm linking to the BadgerNation message board for a neat thread about a number of ex-Badgers playing professional basketball overseas.

So even though Alando Tucker got sent down to the D-League recently, it could be worse: he could be struggling in Austria. Yes, Kirk Penney is still the mack, but you have to wonder about the quality of a league in which J-Cheezy averages 12 ppg.

: : :

ESPN's Scott Van Pelt will be delivering the winter commencement address this term at the University of Wisconsin. Van Pelt, a Maryland grad, was flattered and astounded by the honor.

Not too scholarly or ambitious a choice by the selection committee, but fun all the same. For comparison sake, my commencement speaker was an investment banker of some sort who had played for the Chicago Bears. Trust me, that was a boring speech. Jerry Zucker, of Airplane! fame, blew them all out of the water the following year with a hilarious address.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Fighting For Bragging Rights

The home court winning streak is over. And the Badgers just gave it away.

Wisconsin gave the intrastate title belt away by missing free throws. The Badgers shot only 60% from the line, but the statistic cannot do justice to how critical each of those 10 misses were in the game [box score]. Not only could the Badgers have kept the game tight, but they could have extended their lead on repeated occasions while the outcome was still in doubt. Being in the bonus for the last 12 minutes of clock, it was inexcusable that Wisconsin did not make Marquette pay dearly from the charity stripe.

The Badgers went 3-of-8 from the free throw line over a four-minute span in the middle of the second half, including missed front ends of bonus opportunities by Hughes and Leuer. The botched 1-and-1 by Hughes came on the heels of the double technicals he and Dominic James earned for their main event stare down with UW leading, 50-46. To be fair, the extracurricular activity hardly deserved technicals. Nevertheless, Hughes had a chance to extended a 9-3 Wisconsin run that had his team seemingly in control. Yet, the missed freebies completely stifled that momentum and gave a talented opponent hope and heart.

Wisconsin gave the game away by giving the ball away. Marquette brought tenacious pressure defense, as expected. However, the 18 turnovers by UW included many unforced turnovers in the second half. Greg Stiemsma in particular had a terrible game, throwing away three consecutive passes with dumb decisions. Those 18 turnovers matched the season-high set at Duke, another team with good guards and pressure D. The blueprint has been laid out for how to defeat these Badgers.

I think this was clearly Wisconsin 's game to lose, being on their home court. Even down three points with a minute to go, I don't think anyone was truly fearful of losing. That is, until Marcus Landry's awful foul 70 feet away from the ball before an inbounds pass. Trade those two free throws in for one stop and you could be looking at a tie game rather than a Golden Eagle free throw parade. But, not everything was simply given away ...

Marquette took this game with excellent passing. Marquette is eons ahead of Wisconsin in terms of seeing the court and delivering the basketball near the hoop. I'm not a big fan of James' wild approaches to the basket, but he was superb at drawing defenders in this game and had a few dazzling dishes. He really outplayed Hughes.

I've got to give credit to the Marquette coaching staff. The passing lanes and dump-downs on the baseline were exploited to no end. Meanwhile, this Wisconsin club is clearly a step below past incarnations defensively. Say what you want about Tucker, Taylor and Chappell individually, but they appear to have been, at the very least, much better at team defense than their successors.

Marquette took this game by rebounding harder. The Golden Eagles out-hustled the Badgers for loose balls several times and their hunger on the boards showed that they valued the ball tonight much more than the players in Red and White did. It's a rare sight to see a three-guard offense get as many offensive rebounds as Marquette did, resulting in a 37-29 advantage cleaning the glass.

Overall, this was a scrappy, entertaining, hotly-contested rivalry games. The visitors were the higher ranked team in this one and they showed why. Wisconsin's lack of guard depth was exposed again with Flowers and Hughes in foul trouble. Brian Butch disappeared after a truly fantastic first half in which he shot 6-10 from the floor for 16 points. He finished with 17. Flashes of brilliance in the post by Landry continue to convince me that the coaching staff is wrong in trying to move him to the wing. Landry also doubled as the team's best passer tonight.

But it all comes down to Hughes. He was not the passer, shooter, defender or playmaker this team needs him to be. The missed free throws and untimely technical show how far Pop has to go to become "clutch."

Monday, December 3, 2007

12/3 - Wofford at Kohl Center

It's either a shocking upset or an angry, gut-check bounce back game.

Running Diary? I think so ...

7:56 - Will the game really get bumped by a women's game? Geez, I hope not.

8:03 - Yup. We've been treated to three timeouts, numerous fouls and an atrocious flop job that fooled an incompetent ref into awarded three free throws.

8:08 - Now we're looking live at Madison, Wisconsin. Luckily for ESPN, the coaches kept UW ranked #23 in this week's poll, so there's at least a smidgen of promotional value. Since we missed the tip, I have to consult the web to see if Bo Ryan indeed made his first starting lineup change of the year. Bohannon and Flowers are in for the senior redwoods, Butch and Stiemsma.

8:11 - Since nothing is happening, it seems like a good time to mention the Badgers are wearing throwback uniforms from the 1941 NCAA Champion squad. Someone forgot to tell UW that they don't have to play like it's still 1941.

8:13 - First basket for Wisconsin comes at the 15:32 mark on a J-Bo trey, bookended by two traveling violations by Wofford. Brutal on both sides right now.

8:21 - Though it's been slow, the Badgers are now outscoring the New England Patriots! A steal and layup by Trevon Hughes sparks a mini-rally from the team. Some good defense underneath stymies some reckless, aggressive play by Wofford, then Butch scores on a nice post move. I hope to see a lot more of that tonight. Jon Leuer, getting inserted early this game as expected, looks especially skinny in the striped throwback socks.

8:27 - Wisconsin is already in the bonus with more than 11 minutes to play. Ah, business as usual. Hughes sinks two. UW 13, W 5.

8:28 - Nice up and under drive by Flowers. That's the way I like to see him play -- need more of it for the Badgers to be successful.

8:31 - J-Bo like butter over an outstretch defender's hand. Nothing but net. The Badgers feed Leuer in the post and he abuses his man and gets the roll. The kid has up, Up, UPSIDE! UW 23, W 10.

8:36 - As soon as I type it, Leuer gets himself into a bad position on defense and pretends to hold his ground while shuffling, arms raised, into a defender. The result? A three-point play, of course. UW 25, W 13.

8:37 - Flowers again gets into the lane and delivers a bounce pass to Landry for the two-handed flush.

8:38 - Facing no resistance, Butch puts up a weak flailing miss with one hand instead of a drop step and dunk. Color analyst Stephen Bardo of Flyin' Illini fame actual calls him on it. Nice work. Stiemsma immediately checks in for first time.

8:41 - Wisconsin settles for a 3-pointer from Krabbenhoft. The shot looks slightly forced and rims out but J-Bo swoops in with a gentle tip-in for the score. He is playing really well, with 10 points so far. Looks like a different player.

Wisconsin is shooting A LOT of threes in the first half. Stiemsma finds himself all alone with the rebound after a Flowers miss from long-distance and decide to bank it home. C'mon Greg. In the words of the immortal Bill Walton, "Throw it down big man!"

8:49 - And now, the Steamboat totally redeems himself with a picture-perfect bounce pass from the top of the key to Krabby for a back-door layup. He continues to impress me as a passer; he may be the second-best on the team behind Hughes.

On the other end, Stiemsma swats a shot from behind, but then fails to call for the ball on offense when he was miles from anyone other than his puny defender. Unacceptable. The Badgers need to enforce this will on all teams, let alone Wofford, by identifying and exploiting those few seconds of a clear mismatch. He didn't even put his arms up, in defense of the ball handler, but perhaps Stiemsma figured he'd never get that pass anyway.

Bonus Bardo: He just suggested that Kansas State's Michael Beasley be renamed Michael "Beast-ley." I've heard him made that reference three times already during different Big Ten games this young season. I guess we know Bardo's 2008 campaign platform.

9:53 - Drew Gibson nails a 28-footer right before the buzzer to bring Wofford within 38-20 at halftime.

At halftime, we're informed that Indiana's Eric Gordon injured his back today and sat out the second half of another Hoosier victory. Hopefully nothing serious, because we only have a year to watch this kid before he bolts to the Association.

: : : Second Half

9:09 - Butch is still O-fer from 3-point land but breaks toward the hoop hard and gets the ball back from Krabby for a moster slam.

9:11 - Wofford's leading scorer Corey Godzinksi fouls out!!! The second half is only a minute and a half old! Honestly, it was a very weak call. At least he sandwiched a 3-pointer in between his fourth and fifth hacks.

9:13 - At 17:58, Junior Salters of Wofford runs into and knocks over Stiemsma, who was trying to cut off Salters' progress to the hoop. Stiemsma tries to subtly scissor lock Salters legs while still on the floor and a broo-haha ensues. I know Salters made a movement or two to antagonize the big guy in the whole ordeal, but the replays were not kind to Stiemsma and the elbow shove he delivered at the end. It results in a double foul and a technical for Stiemsma. In a related piece of trivia, which Badger appeared as Hulk Hogan at the team's Night of the Grateful Red introduction? You guessed it.

9:23 - Because of the score, the announcing team has the time to detail how Wisconsin's 1941 team only had to win two games to win the NCAA tournament. Great, thanks guys. Really. Kick us while we're down.

9:25 - Hughes hits the deck hard after a blocked shot attempt that result in a foul and Pop leaving the game. He looks like he'll be fine luckily. Noah Dahlman from Wofford has the ugliest free throw form in the nation this year. The wind-up is underhand (with the right hand), the rest is straight out of the Bill Cartwright handbook. Somehow, this guy is Minnesota's all-time leading prep rebounder.

9:30 - The crowd is noticeably restless as Wofford cuts into the lead. Luckily Krabby goes baseline for a contested reverse with 12:33 remaining that puts Bucky back up, 48-31.

After a Landry bucket in the post, again we are subject to comments about the switch from power forward to small forward. Who cares?! This is supposed to be the swing offense. If Landry is a small forward now, that's an even bigger reason to feed him the rock in the post. No small forward can handle him there.

Broadcast Bonus: The Boston Celtics/Hoosiers commercial. Still not getting old, because Jeff Van Gundy is an all-time classic.

9:35 - Another good vs. bad sequence: Leuer is defending a guard and even though he gets beat, is long enough to recover and alter the pass, resulting in a Wofford turnover. Landry winds up with the ball, but opts not to pass to Krabbenhoft on the fast break. Therefore, Landry gets caught from behind, fouled and cannot convert.

9:43 - The crowd is crowing loudly whenever Wofford's #23 (Marcus Jackson) gets the ball. Not sure why, but it's good to hear something original coming from the student section.

9:37 - Leuer misses three bunnies in rapid succession, padding his stats in a Charles Smith/Lance Wade type of way. The next trip down, he is blocked by a guard at point-blank range after a no-look dish by Hughes. Ouch ... baby steps ...

9:40 - There is 9:07 left and the Badgers have 55 points. There's no reason UW shouldn't have posted 90 in this one.

9:46 - Salters ends a 13-0 Badger run with a 3-pointer. UW 61, W 34.

9:49 - With about six minutes to go, Gully is getting some run ahead of of Keaton. Frustrating.

9:51 - Interesting attendance stat shown on the tube: Wisconsin's sellout crowd tonight (17,190) is larger than last season's total home attendance at Wofford, by about 2,000.

9:53 - Garbage time begins with 3:17 remaining. Bo calls a timeout to get Tanner, Gavinski and Jarmusz in to join Nankivil and Leuer. Four from the freshman class and one senior. Whitewash alert!

Notes: Wisconsin gets outscored in garbage time. Gavinski is soooo S - L - O -W ... Jarmusz with a hoop, but misses both of his FTs ... Tanner pounds the dribble to wind down the final seconds. C'mon ...

Wisconsin wins, 70-43
, extending the nation's third-longest win streak to 28 games. The Badgers shoot 3-of-13 on 3-pointers, but still shoots 47% [box score]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Morning After

I have a Duke hangover.

Let's start with the bright spots of Wisconsin's 82-58 drubbing at the hands of the Evil Empire:

(1) The Badgers were only outscored by one point in the second half.
(2) Jon Leuer earned himself some more playing time by putting the ball in the hole, and finishing at the hoop in limited minutes.
(3) Brian Butch was UW's most effective player when he was on the court.
(4) Jason Bohannon, who seemingly cannot get off his own shot from the perimeter, actually created his own shot by putting the ball on the floor.

The bad? Wisconsin's worse game of the season showcased deficiencies far too similar to those of years past. The last time I was this hopeless watching a game was ... the Ohio State loss in last year's Big Ten Tournament. As a team, Wisconsin is not nearly as good as other schools when it comes to making open shots.

This game was characterized by too many turnovers and terrible passing -- I guess playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time was a factor.

First and foremost, I am going to stop referring to Wisconsin as a premier defensive team. This team was scrambling all over on defense, slow to recover to wide-open shooters who were draining 3-pointers all night long. That phenomenon is a result of playing too much help defense because the players cannot stay in front of their own defensive assignment in the man-to-man set. Again, it's not the first time we've seen this either.

The Duke game also proved that Trevon Hughes has a long way to go before he can be mentioned alongside former Badger greats at his position. TOO MUCH DRIBBLING!!! The Blue Devil pressure had him reverting to the freshman Truh-von, not the supposedly new and improved TREY-von that we saw against the creampuffs. He needs to learn to recognize times when making a shot would be really nice, but missing a quick shot badly will absolutely kill the team's chances of clawing back into a game.

Trevon was not the only one without an A-game. I'm holding to my earlier statement that we need to give Marcus Landry another month or so to show up, but in the meantime, give Leuer some of his minutes. At least offensively, a freshman is showing the kind of aggressiveness that fans were expecting out of a junior starter. One of UW's immobile big men (Butch) was saddled with foul trouble and the other (Stiemsma) was practically MIA. In fact, the Wisconsin height advantage meant nothing since the big men were getting blocked by guards and defensively, the big men aren't agile enough to block a guard's shot in the paint without crashing into them.

Bo Ryan is not above criticism here either. Coach K outcoached him last night. Talent disparity aside, the Duke staff had its team executing far better than Wisconsin's staff did. Some people vehemently defend the type of players that Bo recruits and in the same breath never criticize his coaching either. But you cannot have it both ways. Either Bo needs to step up the recruiting to get more players who "get it" and can execute at a high level within his system or Bo just isn't that great at coaching top-flight talent.

I think Bo's strict adherence to the swing offense is detrimental to the team occassionally. The system is great for having big men pop out and shoot, but what happens when they are no good at shooting? Which of Wisconsin's guards can post up? And is there anyone capable of getting them the ball if they did? In any case, it appeared as though Duke did an excellent job of keeping the ball out of the post, which is a death sentence in the swing. Bottom line is Duke looks like a Top Ten team. The Badgers are don't even have directions to that ballpark.

Hey, at least I didn't make a big deal out of this game or look forward to it for months or anything ... call me a glutton for punishment, but I already can't wait for these two teams to play each other again.

: : :

Challenge update: Thankfully Indiana pulled through against Georgia Tech, so I'm still barely alive on my modest 4-7 prediction. Considering I was picking UW only out of principle, I'd say chalk is going all the way this year. A young Purdue team looked like they were going to help me out, but they folded at the worst possible time against Clemson, like a poker player chasing a flush.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Prelude to a Showdown

It will be the Badgers against the world tonight at Cameron Indoor Stadium. If the players can block out the noise that is going to fill those seats by game time, they've got a shot.

The picture comes coutesy of Brian Lucas and the men's basketball blog, a good spot for a behind-the-scenes look at the trip to N.C.

Durham's local media is discussing Wisconsin's brawn, but I don't get the sense that the comments made by Coach K and the players is anything more than lip service. And why should it be? The Dukies are the favorite playing at home.

- Duke preparing for big challenge
- Blue Devils fix focus on measuring up to Badgers

In honor of my least favorite player in tonight's game, here are two highlight-worthy plays from Greg Paulus:

And if you so please, an inappropriate but funny YouTube musical experience ...

Monday, November 26, 2007

2007 Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Less than 24 hours until tip-off: No. 7 vs. No. 20

Wisconsin fans have to wait one more day to lock horns with one of the most storied college basketball programs ever, but this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge began tonight. It got off to a pretty rough start, I might add, with Iowa dropping a dreadful game at home to Wake Forest. The Hawkeyes missed 11 of their 18 free throw attempts, halting any possible comeback from the 16-point halftime deficit.

The ACC teams get four out of five at home tomorrow night. Unfortunately, the one Big Ten host is Indiana, already a heavy favorite versus Georgia Tech. Before I prognosticate, keep in mind that the Big Ten has never won this challenge. No matter how confident I am going into the week, the ACC always wins the majority of the swing games and pulls a minor upset or two. The fact that I have little hope for the conference to reverse the trend this year can only mean good things.

The one game that I think might surprise some people starts at 6:30 CST. Is the Tubby revolution for real in Minnesota? The Gophers will have to go on the road to prove it, but Florida State is a beatable foe.

As for Wisconsin ... coming into the season, I really liked how the Badgers matched up with the Devils. I would have predicted a victory in October. However, after getting to see each team play a couple of times, I give Duke the edge by virtue of the greatest home court advantage in the nation.

If I had seen a little more out of Landry, Butch and the freshman so far, I would be more at ease. Landry still could have a breakout game, though, because he will be challenged from the start. He cannot disappear. I really want to see how he responds on both ends of the court to facing a younger player like Kyle Singler. A big game from Landry gives UW a good chance at winning.

As I see it, Duke perimeter players have a distinct advantage as shooters and playmakers, with Hughes being an exception. Pop will definitely eat up Greg Paulus. Duke is playing more aggressively and explosively, however, so Hughes has to be focused from the onset and avoid getting rattled by pressure and his first road test of the year. This should be his coming out party nationally, possibly in the same way that Tucker dominated Pittsburgh last season. The game is one of two gems in ESPN's challenge lineup, so it doubles as a good recruiting tool for Bucky.

Wisconsin cannot afford to get behind by very much at any point. The bottom line is that every Badger needs to play well to pick up the victory in a hostile environment against Duke. As I've said before, I think Michael Flowers will be the catalyst. Can he guard Gerald Henderson or DeMarcus Nelson and still be efficient offensively? He hasn't been very effective for a full game yet.

But I'm contradicting myself anyway and picking Wisconsin to beat the Evil Empire out of principle. Counting the Iowa game, I see the Big Ten posting a 4-7 record and retreating to the Midwest with its tail between its legs yet again. *Sigh* ...

(predicted winners in bold)

Wake Forest @ Iowa - LOSS
Georgia Tech @ (15)Indiana
Northwestern @ Virginia
Minnesota @ Florida St.
(20)Wisconsin @ (7)Duke
Purdue @ (18)Clemson
North Carolina St. @ (13)Michigan St.
Boston College @ Michigan
Illinois @ Maryland
(2)North Carolina @ Ohio St.
Virginia Tech @ Penn St.

Yes, that's the road teams winning 5 of 10 ...

: : :

Not sure what ultra-young players are grabbing the UW staff's attention recruiting-wise, but a couple of youngsters are already making their mark for Milwaukee Bay View. Freshmen Darnell Harris is a 6'6" forward who teamed with Johnnie Lacy to beat defending champion Oshkosh West last week.

Monday, November 19, 2007

America's Youth Classic Recap

It was a whirlwind weekend, so not much could be written on my end about the Badgers cakewalk through the round-robin tourney at the Kohl Center. All I have to say is, that is the kind of butt-kicking you like to see to begin a new year. As we've already seen this season, a lot of talented teams play down to their competition. But not this crew -- it has too much to prove.

Bo would have you believe that the threat of Wisconsin's running game is leading to a manhandling of the opponents on the boards. However, statistically, the Badgers are pretty efficient offensively and fantastic defensively -- but not any faster paced that usual. It's hard to tell whether or not that is due to opposing teams guarding against the fast break when Wisconsin has such a gargantuan size advantage. Maybe those three teams just figured they weren't going to be able to compete on the glass, so why bother.

I think it's just further evidence that the most important part of running the fast break is rebounding. The rebounding feeds the speedy point guard, who in turn changes defensive philosophy of the guy sitting on the other bench.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jarmusz Will Play

It's garbage time at the Kohl Center where Wisconsin is blowing Savannah State out of the water in the waning minutes. Trevon Hughes had another solid game, but the real news is that Tim Jarmusz has just checked into the game, thus forgoing a redshirt this season. Probably a good move in the long run.

The matchup was the opening game of the America's Youth Classic, hosted by the Badgers. Wisconsin tips off against Florida A&M tomorrow night and then plays Colorado on Saturday to conclude the round-robin tournament.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Addressing Landry and a Banner Day

Thus far, Marcus Landry has been praised and criticized. Both stem from his metamorphosis as a player from supporting cast member in the post to the mantle-bearing replacement for Alando Tucker on the wing.

Landry has earned praise for letting the game coming to him and not forcing bad shots or making bad decisions, but also downgraded for appearing to be even less of an impact player than he was last season. Obviously, its too early to grade the transition. He has already slimmed down and one would imagine he spent the entire preseason continuing his improvements on lateral quickness now that he doesn't have to leave town to see his family anymore.

I've been quick to critique Landry for disappearing in games before, but I'm going to give him a temporary reprieve for a couple of reasons. It is probably for the best that he let the offense come to him while the team continues to adjust to a first-year starter at point guard. His splash of a debut notwithstanding, Trevon Hughes is still in his first year playing significant minutes, let alone leading a college team. Furthermore, we all know Brian Butch plays extremely well during the non-conference portion of the schedule, but seems to struggle late. Butch's much-improved conditioning should help him look more like a fifth-year senior than a polar bear during Big Ten play. Even so, once the conference season begins, Landry must have his bearings set, his body fit and his intensity brimming for the Badgers to enforce their will on foes.

We know Landry will get up for the Marquette game -- that's his game. But I won't be too surprised if he's still sluggish in a few of the other tilts. Let's hope that if the learning curve is steep for Landry, it's worth the wait. He's got six weeks until Big Ten play begins.

: : :

It's official. Four high school seniors signed their names on Bucky's dotted lines today, completing the 2008 recruiting process for Wisconsin. Bo got good balance in this group, although both big men are HUGE. No superstars, but plenty of room for development by the top-notch staff.

Big men are always projects to some degree, but it sounds like Ian Markolf has a high ceiling and I have always liked the Jordan Taylor catch -- a poor man's Hughes to this point. Like Pop, Taylor has very good passing skills and doesn't chuck up shots. The more I hear about Robert Wilson, the more I think he might be the next unheralded UW recruit to produce some real numbers. has the Big Ten ranked fifth among conferences for 2008 recruiting, with Wisconsin's class coming in at 29th. The site lists Milwaukee native Korie Lucious (Michigan State) as the Big Ten's top incoming point guard and former UW recruit Iman Shumpert (Georgia Tech) as the ACC's top incoming PG.

Monday, November 12, 2007

First Looks Around the Country

Rather than watch an awful football game, I tuned into ESPN2 tonight to happily find a full slate of college hoops. It just so happens that a total of three Wisconsin opponents were on in back-to-back games. So it was time to scout.

First up was Duke, which hosted New Mexico State. This game was a route early on. Duke looks much more athletic and aggressive at guard, pressuring the opponent into an endless amount of turnovers. Point guard Greg Paulus had a bad year in 2006, but he looked much more in command of the team tonight. Still, he's the latest in a long line of easy to hate Blue Devils.

As I've said before, I think the Badgers match up well with the Dukies, but they will need to contain the damage done by guys like DeMarcus Nelson and Jon Scheyer (22 points). The media is all over freshman Kyle Singler, a highly-rated recruit, but I didn't see much of him. For UW, I think Marcus Landry and Brian Butch can both have as good of a game as they want to in Durham. I can also envision Hughes and Flowers frustrating Paulus into a bad game.

In the next game, Ohio State downed UW-Green Bay, 91-68. The Phoenix played some heady basketball early, but could only hang tough for so long. Jamar Butler is back at the point for the Buckeyes and he was unconscious from 3-point land tonight, hitting on 5-of-7 treys for a total of 17 points.

Freshman gem Kosta Koufos is legit. He's incredibly athletic for a 7-footer and impressed me with how well he moves. Of course, Green Bay's lineup is so slight and/or short across the board, it would be hard not to dominate inside. Major problem. Also, Koufos and Othello Hunter wear the largest shorts in college basketball history -- are they sweatpants?!

In other news, another Big Ten freshman had an even more impressive debut than Koufos. As you might expect, it was #23 -- Indiana's Eric Gordon -- who exploded for 33 points in his first game on a variety of slick moves. There are a number of ridiculously talented frosh this season, just like last year, and many of them made their mark tonight. UCLA is on now and I'll be watching rookie Kevin Love in the post. I think Derrick Rose of Memphis may be the best of them all, but I'll have to wait to get a look at the Tigers.

In other news on state teams:
- Marquette is not exactly clicking on offense.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Halftime, Game 1

After a sluggish start, Bucky zoomed back to carry a 38-32 lead into the break against Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW). The school name is a mouthful and the team is poor, but it has a fantastic nickname (Mastodons). Trevon Hughes played the entire first half and scored 14 of UW's last 22 points to reverse a 27-16 deficit.

Hughes needed to get into a rhythm with his shot before Wisconsin could get back into this game. Pops is more of a scorer than a shooter obviously so I wouldn't be surprised if this is the norm. Taking a look at the halftime statistics at the break, you see some expected things, like the foul situation (UW 3, IPFW 11) and 3-point shooting (UW 14%, IPFW 42%). The pleasant surprise is free-throw shooting, where the Badgers are 11-13 (85%) in the first half. This should be an area in which this year's team is superior to last year's team, if only because of the Tucker effect.

Even though I'm forced to listen to this one over the radio (*sigh*), the energy and playmaking that Michael Flowers brings is again evident. I fully expected Flowers to step back in to the starting lineup -- mostly because Bo Ryan starts his seniors -- but it doesn't look like that is a given. The Badgers trotted out the same five that began both exhibition games.

Lepay and Lucas are toeing the company line and mildly giddy about Flowers coming off the bench. As I've mentioned before in this space, there have been rumors connecting Flowers' earlier absence from the team as much to his spot/position in the lineup than any medical issue. His cryptic comments to the media (check the odd quote in the seventh paragraph) did not dispel any such thoughts either. But if Flowers was upset about Hughes and Krabbenhoft getting the starting nods over his head, he should rest assured that he'll be on the floor as much as anyone this year. It's worth noting that the crunch time lineup so far this game has been Hughes, Flowers, Bohannon, Landry and Butch. Krabbenhoft has two fouls while Stiemsma and Gullickson have provided remaining minutes up front.

Wisconsin should cruise in the second half. I can't wait for Keaton Nankivil to check in to the game.

: : :

- Addedum: Well, Leuer beat Nankivil to the floor and Tim Jarmusz did not play. All signs point to him redshirting this season. That would leave the team with a three-man class graduating in 2011 and the following year's senior class possibly five guys strong.
- Bo's postgame comments reinforced that Flowers might continue to come off the bench, saying "it doesn't matter" who starts.
- Hughes is simply the best player on the team and one of the most talented players to come through the program in some time. The stat line he put up tonight was sick: 25-5-5-6-1, with only one foul and two turnovers in 35 minutes. He is our sophomore point guard folks. Think about that ...
(By the way my standard line goes pts-rebs-assts-stls-blks)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Exhibition Opener

The first starting five of the year consisted of Trevon Hughes, Joe Krabbenhoft, Marcus Landry, Brian Butch and Greg Steimsma versus Edgewood College on Sunday night. Michael Flowers came off the bench quickly with Jason Bohannon though, and made an immediate impact. One would guess that Flowers will be in the starting lineup in place of Krabbenhoft to start the regular season.

Rumor has it (alarm!) that Flowers has been upset about being placed at shooting guard while he really desires to play the point this season. That's not likely to happen with Hughes impressing enough as a floor general to justify starting him and Krabbenhoft ready to reprise his sixth man, jack-of-all-trades role from last year.

Unfortunately, I was not able to see any of the exhibition game with Edgewood, but people are already drooling over Jon Leuer, who used a meaningless game against a Division III opponent to catapult himself from the team's most obscure freshman baller to its most hyped.

Poor Leuer is already on the short list of Badger players fighting an uphill battle for my admiration and respect. In my opinion, Leuer needs to improve dramatically to see much floor time as a first-year player. In fact, I even suggested after the Red vs. White scrimmage that he should think about redshirting. I still see a funky, slow-developing release on his shot and a perimeter-oriented game. His perimeter focus is not bad (in fact it will come in handy down the road), but Krabbenhoft and and Landry have a lot of minutes at the small forward spot already wrapped up.

As Leuer continues to fill in his tall frame and confirm his early reputation as a nice shooter, I am able to admit I was wrong ... about the reshirting. You just cannot sit a guy who can explode and exploit a matchup like Leuer has the potential to do. I really want to be wrong about this kid.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Flowers Back With Team

Nothing to add here, just a heads up via the Wisconsin State Journal since details are still fuzzy at best: Flowers Returns to Practice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Backcourt Depth

The loss of Michael Flowers, however temporary it may be, brings to light the issue Wisconsin has in recent years with players (primarily guards) leaving the program. It is a problem that every school faces from time to time, but one which had not bit the team in the butt yet. Until now.

Currently the team has one (!) active scholarship upperclassman capable of playing guard: Joe Krabbenhoft. Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon are good, but only sophomores slight of stature. Tim Jarmusz is fresh out of high school. Mo Cain and Tanner Bronson are former walk-ons. Even with Flowers, the Badgers aren't exactly deep here.

Yet I hesitate to throw up the white flag this early because time and time again, Bo Ryan has led Wisconsin to heights it has never seen before even after losing a scholarship athlete. In the recent past, this situation occurred three years in a row. I have wondered how the departures have truly impacted the current make-up of the program, so I took a closer look at each situation to refresh my memory.

In doing so, two lines of questioning surfaced. The first goes like this: (1) Was there a problem with the program that pushed unhappy players away? Does it still exist? Did this atmosphere and the decisions of the troubled players derail one season already and endanger the potential of this year's team? Then, the contrarian in me thought maybe (2) these recruits couldn't hack it -- either on the court, in the classroom or at home in their personal life. How did they wind up on campus to begin with? Did the staff just have a run of bad luck or simply whiff on guys in the recruiting game several years in a row?

Case #1 :: 2004-05
As a freshman, Boo Wade played in every game for arguably Bo's most talented team, which won the Big Ten title outright in 2002-03. Wade averaged 20 min/g the following year but missed two games due to legal and personal troubles that would cause him to take a leave of absence before leaving the university for good in January '05. His value as a defender and even a 3-point threat was undeniable.

Was Wade worth the six points that separated Wisconsin from North Carolina in their Elite Eight match-up that year? Possibly. He could have slowed down Ray Felton. With Sharif Chambliss, Clayton Hanson and Kammron Taylor at guard, though, the problem that game was stopping Sean May down low. That season that wound up wildly successful in most people's eyes anyway. Wade would have been a senior two season ago on a team that also lost Landry and Stiemsma midseason to academic and psychological issues. So while Wade would have been very valuable, again, his absence was not the biggest factor that derailed the Badgers' season.

You can play the what-if game for a long time on this one, but Wade was a good player and his loss a big blow to the program. Wisconsin survived.

Case #2 :: 2005-06
The DeAaron Williams story is not as tragic, but just as sad. He was not a proven commodity on the court for the Badgers, having redshirted in his only full year on campus. Personally, I thought he looked improved to start the ensuing year; decent enough in 8 min/g against mostly subpar opposition.

One newspaper famously labeled him the "10th man in a nine-man rotation." Leapfrogged for minutes by freshman Krabbenhoft and stuck behind veterans at guard, Williams lost his patience. When the hammer came down on Landry and Stiemsma, the Williams defection hurt a bit more. Though the team made the tournament without those three players, it was easily Bo's worst season as head coach.

In retrospect, Williams appeared to be a kid who came to play ball, had to wait around to get started and in the meantime, had no interest in being a student. After leaving UW, he played well for a JUCO back home, but bounced around because of his academic standing.

Wisconsin didn't seem to miss Williams last year en route to a number one ranking and a school-record 30 victories. You never know what could have happened had Williams chosen to stick it out. He was a slashing scorer and a former state high school dunk champ -- I don't see anyone close to that on UW's current roster. Provided he remained eligible, he could have filled a role for the Badgers this year. Unless ...

Case #3 :: 2006-07
Williams would have had to endure another season behind Tucker last year and beat out a new recruit, Phillip "Mickey" Perry.

If Williams was more level-headed, perhaps he would not have viewed the signing of Perry as being "recruited over." Perry took a redshirt in his first season, but was a better shooter than Williams and may indeed have gotten more PT. It would be interesting to know what kind of relationship Williams and Perry had in their short time together, and if the attitude of the former had an influence on the latter.

Like Williams, Perry had his own issues with academics. It's common knowledge that Perry was ineligible the second semester of his redshirt season in '05-'06. And like Williams, he absolutely could have helped this year's team at guard in the absence of Flowers. But it's not fun sitting behind freshmen when you know you can play. Keep an eye on Perry starting in January.

So while I think Bo simply faced a little bad luck (Wade) and even worse luck (Latrell Fleming), the fact that the coaching staff whiffed on Williams and Perry consecutively and hasn't missed a beat yet points more toward the progress the program has made in terms of national respect and perception than Wisconsin having problems that push players out the door.

Last year's two talented freshmen guards and the team's overall success turned Perry's departure into little more than an afterthought. Wisconsin's basketball program has grown into a national power that is capable of attracting more talented players than it did even two or three years ago when Bo's boys were winning Big Ten titles. That kind of sustained excellence gets most recruits excited, but others simply value playing time more than winning.

These days, when UW is off the mark with a recruit, there is an even better player anxious to take his place. A good season, with or without Flowers, will prove it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Still In The Dark

No official updates on Michael Flowers, but it has not even been a week since the announcement. Perhaps we'll hear something before the weekend. Flowers was spotted at the red/white scrimmage for the team photo.

The bogus rumor that Mike wants to join brother Jonte at Winona State has resurfaced, but no one's buying it since it makes no sense whatsoever. The word on the street is that this situation is more similar to Stiemsma's depression issues from a few seasons ago. Take all the time you need, Mike. Get right.

Although I have a good feeling about his return, losing Flowers for an extended period of time would be devastating. Last year, I felt his success drove the Badgers to another level. He was successful when he was getting in the lane, forcing teams to get out of their comfort zone on defense, playing on emotion and creating turnovers. Obviously I feel the same will be true this year on a team that lacks clear leadership.

Even if/when Flowers does rejoin the team, Trevon Hughes is the key to this year. Hughes has as much potential as any player on the team and his development is vital to the program. The local papers hit the issue hard last week, so it's safe to say the pressure is on the sophomore to produce.

: : :

Wishing the team wasn't in such a predicament led to thinking about the reasons why Wisconsin is lacking quality guard depth. It took research to refresh my memory, but I came to some conclusions that I hope to have posted later this week. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Glimpse Into The Present

There's nothing like a sloppy Red/White scrimmage to derail the confidence you have in your favorite team. As far as scrimmages go, it was not even that sloppy. I was just hoping to see something, well ... more, something better.

What I saw was a team that at this point still doesn't know its identity. Minus last year's top two go-to guys and leaders, you wanted to see Marcus Landry step up and dominate. Minus Michael Flowers, who I hope can still be this year's emotional leader, you didn't see enough players making you get excited just by virtue of their energy.

That being said, there were plenty of bright spots. One was definitely seeing Joe Krabbenhoft leading his team in scoring. He had about 18 points. Technically, the Red vs. White scrimmage was a tie, thanks to some creative score keeping at the five minute-mark and again under a minute. The Red team (Hughes, Krabbenhoft, Gavinski, Keaton Nankivil, Gullikson, Valentyn, Cain) appeared to be a decided underdog, having only two players from last year's rotation, yet they led by around 20 points for over half of the game. I attribute most of that to the fact that Hughes controls the tempo, especially in a looser setting. His team got much easier baskets. Yet when the score was "reset" to 71-71 with five minutes left, the White team (Butch, Bohannon, Landry, Bronson, Stiemsma, Leuer, Jarmusz) took control. The fact that the experienced players came alive when it mattered eased some of my discomfort, but the fact that Hughes & Co. folded with several turnovers was a little worrisome.

The Badgers are also sporting new jerseys this year again. Not bad. Thankfully, nothing crazy, nor resembling women's jerseys. The closest comparison is the Houston Rockets. Not sure what you can glean from the pics.

I am operating under the assumption that the scrimmage provides at least some value in anticipating what how the team will function this season. Get on board with me. Here's the rest of what I saw, player-by-player:

#1 :: Marcus Landry
Very disappointing in my opinion. It took about 15 minutes of play to realize that he was even in the game. To me, this is a bad sign, even in scrimmage. It's not a sign that he's a bad player or even not a leader. I feel it does indicate he's not ready to make The Leap this year like we all had hoped. Landry brought the ball up court several times, but he still seems more comfortable down low on offense. To fill Tucker's vacated role, Landry will have get better penetration, which will only come as he gets more experience handling the ball. He picked up four fouls early and seemed frustrated with the play of Leuer on a couple occasions.
HIGHLIGHTS: Landry posted one alley-oop dunk and a fantastic pass in the paint for an assist.

#3 :: Trevon "Pop" Hughes
Best player on the floor. A couple of shots didn't bounce his way on some nice moves to the hole, but did hit several jumpers. Overall he looked ready to lead the team, although I would have liked to see him draw some fouls. Still gets caught in the air a few times without a real plan, but he got bailed out each time.
HIGHLIGHTS: Pop rebounds very well as a lead guard, which is great because the transition to the other end of the floor is then instantaneous. It's just fun to watch him run end-to-end with the ball.

#12 :: Jason Bohannon
Not much to write about. I wish he would have put up a few more shots, but I really wish he could have played along side Hughes to see what kind of open shots he'd get. J-Bo seemed content to distribute the rock.
HIGHLIGHTS: A deep step-back two with his foot on the 3-point arc.

#14 :: Tanner Bronson
Went to the bench when the five minutes of "serious" play began. 'Nuff said.
HIGHLIGHTS: He did manage one bucket.

#15 :: Brett Valentyn
I doubt this guy will be an In-Game Asset (IGA) for Wisconsin. Wisely used his redshirt last season and has some height at 6'4".
HIGHLIGHTS: Took advantage of a size mismatch to score in the post on Bronson and drew a foul down there on a separate occasion.

#21 :: Morris "Sugar" Cain
I predict Cain will see significant minutes this season. He seems to make open shots, is a fairly good athlete and plays guard. I think that will be enough this year, given Flowers' status. But he will have to fight Jarmusz for those minutes, judging by Bo's comments.
HIGHLIGHTS: Blocked a Butch layup from behind, off the glass. Sunk the first basket of the game, a baseline J from about 10 feet. Truly a lost art.

#22 :: Michael Flowers
Did not see him in attendance. I suspect he was supposed to suit up for the red team originally.

#24 :: Tim Jarmusz
Did not play. No explanation for why he relaxed on the bench the whole time, although some fans claimed to see him holding his ankle.

#30 :: Jon Leuer
Struggled with turnovers and decision-making. Not uncommon for a freshman, but unless Flowers does not return, I think a redshirt year would benefit Jon. He got whistled for a five-second call and his turnovers get the White squad out from putting a few runs together. I don't see how he would get minutes down low and he won't be helping on the wing much until his ball-handling improves. I know he was recruited more as a small forward than anything, despite the fact that he's 6'10". The White team threw three near 7-footers out in their front court for stretches when Leuer joined Butch and Stiemsma. That's fun.
HIGHLIGHTS: The nifty pass from Landry went to Leuer, who used a great, if unnecessary reverse to lay the ball in. Rest assured, Leuer can convert when given the ball near the basket. He scored in double figures.

#32 :: Brian Butch, "The Polar Bear"
Butch will be the 2007-08 team's leading scorer. If he did not still have the knack for pivoting with the ball directly into the double-team on the block, he'd be a great offensive player. Along with Hughes, Butch stood out (as he should) as a clearly superior player. He has to be Wisconsin's go-to guy and I think he's finally ready in his fifth season. As reported, he is in the best shape of his career.
HIGHLIGHTS: In the five-minute drill, Butch attacked. And scored. And got to the foul line. I want to see this all year in meaningful games. People realized how valuable Butch was when he got injured last season, so it's time to truly enjoy him. He also had a couple of Shaq-like dunks where he pulls his knees way up and hangs on the rim a bit in addition to an "and-one" dunk over Gullikson (or Gavinkski, I can't remember).

#34 :: Greg Stiemsma
The Steamboat impressed me quite a bit. He showed a nice touch around the basket and relatively good footwork. I don't think he gets credit for being the good athlete that he is, no longer awkward at all in his huge frame. And he is having a lot of fun while he's at it.
HIGHLIGHTS: Swatted two consecutive shots in the same possession near the beginning of the game.

#43 :: Kevin Gullikson
Hard to believe he's "only" 6'7" -- he truly looks like he belongs on Bret Bielema's defensive line. At this point, you know what you're getting out of this guy: hard work and a banger to body up on bigger foes.
HIGHLIGHTS: Nothing stands out.

#44 :: J.P. Gavinski
Looked winded immediately and threw up several airballs from 10-15 feet. Not a good omen. Also got abused on the defensive end. He will get minutes backing up Stiemsma, but mostly by virtue of his height. I would expect Nankivil to get more PT (hopefully). When J.P. does something good, let's just say it's a pleasant surprise.
HIGHLIGHTS: As the game wore on, he actually showed a few decent post moves and a softer touch from within five feet.

#45 :: Joe Krabbenhoft
Krabby is one of those players I don't expect too much from. People go overboard criticizing his lack of offense and others go overboard defending his all-around game. The fact is he is always around the ball and he hit nearly every shot he took this afternoon. Now, come the regular season, do you really care whether that's a spinning pull-up jumper or another garbage five-footer because he got himself in good position? Me neither.
HIGHLIGHTS: I was extremely pleased watching Krabbenhoft. He crashed the board for a sky-high one-handed rebound at one point and sank a couple of pretty, close range bank shots -- reminiscent of Big Fundamental himself. A bit more willing to shoot, but we'll see how that translates to real game action. I have my fingers crossed optimistically.

#52 :: Keaton Nankivil
True player. I've said it a million times, but this guy is going to be a workhorse for the Badgers. There is reason the ACC was after this kid. He is fundamentally sound, with good range, athleticism and a Big Ten body. He looks like he belongs.
HIGHLIGHTS: Executed a sweet three-part up and under move on Butch that got a big cheer out of the crowd. Nailed an open trey early in the game while others were still finding their rhythm. Keaton can match up against the trees on either end because he can front the post well already, which Bo will absolutely love.

Wisconsin could be hard to handle down low this season. There is a lot of experience at the post positions, but Nankivil will crack the rotation. Butch and Stiemsma will be a nice duo and if there was ever a year to employ some zone defense, this is it. Imagine Hughes, Flowers and Krabbenhoft hounding the perimeter and Nankivil and Stiemsma in the paint. The offense will struggle at times, but I can't wait to see which guys emerge to help Butch out.

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