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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.

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