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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Big Ten Opener: Wisconsin @ Michigan LIVE

To commemorate Wisconsin's Big Ten opener on the road against Michigan (10-2), live blogging will make it's debut at Hoops Marinara on Wednesday afternoon. The game tips off at 1 p.m. CST.

Pregame notes courtesy of UWBadgers.com.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rewinding Wisconsin-Texas

The first thing that came to mind as I left the Kohl Center a week ago was something my friend Mike said during the game -- that Texas got its points so much easier than Wisconsin did.

While the Badgers strained to get more of their baskets, the Longhorns made things look easy. Pulling down 38 rebounds (15 offensive) to UW's 22 rebounds was the primary culprit. Of course, the silky smooth jumpers that A.J. Abrams dropped over, around and through tight Badger coverage seemed like a dream too. But the combination was a nightmare for Bo Ryan's club.

The game's flow was stilted by too many whistles from Ed Hightower. On the Wisconsin side, both Marcus Landry and Jon Leuer were saddled with foul trouble. However, Texas was just as affected, if not more. Enormous center Dexter Pittman and skilled big man Connor Atchley both sat the majority of the second half after picking up their third and fourth personal fouls, respectively. What a shame too -- I thought watching Atchley and Leuer go at each other would have been a great comparison.

Damion James picked up the slack, notching his second straight double-double (18 pts/15 rebs) against the Badgers. Gary Johnson added 16 & 8 in 33 minutes to Abrams' game-high 21 points as Texas dominated Wisconsin in the front court matchup. [box score]

No one other than Abrams impressed me from the Texas back court. Trevon Hughes was superb for the Badgers, but his 18 points, 4 rebs, 3 assts and 1 steal were not enough by itself. That stat line will always be overshadowed by Hughes' ill-fated drive for two points when Wisconsin trailed by three points on its final possession. The whole state is still shaking its collective head on that one ...

The remarkable thing really is that Wisconsin was still in the game at the end. The Badgers shot the lights out in the first half, finishing 9-of-19 behind the three-point line (compared to Texas' 3-of-16). Yet the team still trailed at the break thanks to an"alley-oop" by Texas that could have easily been offensive goaltending. Add that to Johnson's banked jumper late in the shot clock after a great defensive stand by UW and you have a game where the luck was simply on the side of Texas. The Badgers only turned the ball over once after halftime, but the game came down to free throws. Texas was unconscious, missing only one freebie the entire game (15-of-16); Wisconsin was only average (14-of-21). The result, a five-point loss as predicted, could have been reversed with a swing of a few free throws on each side.

Looking back, UW got nice games from Jason Bohannon and Hughes, but nothing from the bench, the seniors and little in the paint. Landry was a non-factor and Joe Krabbenhoft had a terrible night. His bad pass at midcourt right out of a timeout in the latter stages of the game was a huge shift in momentum at a crucial spot and was one of four Krabby turonvers in the game. Bo's Badgers can only go as far as those two seniors take them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Anticipation: The Wisconsin-Texas Rematch

Forgive my posting absence of late. The day job and the approaching holidays have taken up most of my time. Since my last appearance, Wisconsin has posted one of it's better performances of the year against an allegedly frisky UW-Green Bay team and followed up with a ho-hum dispatching of Coppin State last Saturday.

While the win over the in-state Phoenix was a decent "pick-me-up" I did not see anything at Saturday's game that indicates the Badgers are prepared to knock off an elite team. The question is this: Is Texas elite?

Despite losing D.J. Augustin from last year's squad, Texas (9-2) still has the uber-quick A.J. Abrams and Damion James. James, if you'll recall, dominated UW last year to the tune of 21 points and 15 rebounds. If your memory is really good, you will also remember that the Longhorns played without Gary Johnson in last year's tilt because of the heart condition he was dealing with. Well, Johnson is now healthy and playing well.

Texas looks elite, by virtue of its depth and wins over UCLA and Villanova. It's two losses are pretty good ones too -- to Notre Dame, 81-80, and just a few days ago to Michigan State, 67-63.

Incidentally, the Longhorns lost to the Spartans last season just prior to hosting Wisconsin. Hopefully the Badgers can make tonight's game déjà vu ... all over again. This is one of two or three games that Wisconsin fans have had their eyes on all year. However, the trip to Madison has probably been circled on the Longhorns' calendars since last year. I think we learn as much about Texas tonight as we learn about Wisconsin.

From the Red and White's perspective, will Jon Leuer still be able to thrive as UW's lone dynamic offensive player when the lane is populated by redwoods from Texas? I'm not sold on that. Can Trevon Hughes rise to the occasion and show the Longhorns what they missed when he was injured last season? Perhaps, but I think what it will take is solid -- not necessarily great -- efforts from every other player.

Just for fun, keep in mind that the two players I predicted to be Wisconsin's most consistent scorers this season were Landry and Jason Bohannon. Just like everyone on the team not named Joe Krabbenhoft, consistency has not been either player's calling card yet this year. That is why we have no idea what will happen against Texas. But over the last three games, both Landry and J-Bo have averaged around 13 points on decent shooting (51.6% by Landry; 44% by J-Bo). Add a nice game from Leuer or Hughes to mistake-free basketball from the bench and you have the recipe for a great game.

Wisconsin always has a chance to win when at the Kohl Center, but I think the Longhorns have to much for this year's Badgers. Texas by five.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lethargic Badgers Need To Fight Fire With Fire

Imagine you are in a college town at the tail end of a snowstorm in the middle of the holiday season. The local basketball team is playing host to a virtual unknown from somewhere, who knows where, out west that you would normally deem a cupcake. Before the game tickets are being given away outside the arena.

How would you expect the atmosphere to be indoors?

Yes, terrible. I knew that ahead of time, of course, so I had nice 100-level seats for last night's Idaho State game at the Kohl Center. The place seemed about 65-75% full and the only excitement in the air came on the game's final play after Trevon Hughes' lane violation on a missed free throw. As inconceivable as it would have sounded an hour earlier, the Bengals (2-6) had a chance to beat the Badgers (7-2) with one simple 3-pointer in the final seconds.

So the crowd stood and cheered. Finally.

Forget about Saturday's loss to Marquette. A three-point loss to a senior-laden, bonafide Top 25 team on its home court I can live with. But letting a Big Sky team from the land of Napoleon Dynamite hang around for the entire 40 minutes? That gets on my nerves.

Yes, Idaho State beat Utah and lost narrowly in overtime sessions to three other teams. But those teams stink. Is Wisconsin no better than Long Beach State, Boise State and Hawaii? The Badgers were ice cold from the field and needed a last-second trey from Jason Bohannon to sneak into the locker room up 29-27 at the half. When the team came out flat yet again to start the second half, Bo Ryan called a timeout to rip into his players a bit.

The Badgers seemed to heed the guidance, as they immediately started hitting the post and forcing action inside. It's unfortunate that it came to that, though. And even then, I noticed several times down the stretch where either Marcus Landry or Joe Krabbenhoft had their defenders sealed as big targets, but did not get more than a glance from their perimeter teammates.

What I was looking for during the game was some energy and aggressiveness from Wisconsin. Were they "playing down" to their home crowd's level? That's no excuse. Maybe the team misses the leadership of Michael Flowers and Brian Butch more than we would like to admit.

I began to wonder if any aggressiveness would show up without Bo's prodding. The team took too many 3-pointers (22) and let Idaho State's zone defense dictate what the Badgers wanted to do, instead of taking back their house. Fortunately, Wisconsin's typical advantages -- rebounding and free throw shooting -- bailed out the Badgers.

Stats by StatSheet.com

Yet, Wisconsin looked pretty silly closing out the game against the full court press, just like it did the entire game against Marquette's pressure defense. I think the argument that Wisconsin struggles on inbounds plays is valid, however, it is simply an extension of the team's struggles against any type of pressure.

You have to attack aggressiveness with aggressive action yourself. On one particular inbounds play, Bohannon simply expected to be fouled and did not even try to dribble out of the pressure. Well, sure enough, he found himself in a nice little Bengal trap and Krabbenhoft had to burn a timeout. It was pathetic. Wisconsin's ballhandlers must improve against pressure in the half-court offense too if that is what is causing trouble getting the ball inside regularly.

None of this would be the difference between winning and losing if it were not for the growing pains on defense, where this year's team is not up to snuff. Wisconsin allowed Idaho State to shoot over 53%. [box score] While perhaps more inspired against the Golden Eagles, Wisconsin held Marquette closer to 40% shooting, yet fouled too often and lost the offensive rebounding battle, swinging normal advantages into disadvantages that resulted in a tough loss.

Stats by StatSheet.com


On the bright side it's still early. On the downside, there is a lot to work on, because Texas and A.J. Abrams are just around the corner.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wisconsin Attempts to Cap Big Ten's Big Day

Perhaps building on its decent showing against the ACC last week, the Big Ten posted a number of impressive victories on Saturday, highlighted by two humongous upsets.

Michigan's shocking win over Duke at Crisler Arena took the cake, but was followed minutes later by Ohio State hanging on to topple Notre Dame (in Indianapolis with Luke Harangody). [box score]

Now the stage is set for Wisconsin to complete a nearly flawless day for the conference. Minnesota stayed undefeated in a blowout, Illinois crushed Georgia and Northwestern nearly doubled-up DePaul. Those three teams won by a total of 78 points! Just ignore woeful Indiana's unsurprising loss to Gonzaga. In fact, just ignore the Hoosiers until next year.

I had to chuckle the other day reading on Inside The Hall about an obscure ACC rule that brought the Wake Forest-Indiana blogging to a halt during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Wisconsin's trip to Marquette would be the perfect time for a live blogging event, but alas, I do not get ESPNU and will have to find a stool at a local establishment. Rather than rehash a "cable or satellite" vent, I started thinking about the these two teams that are usually polar opposites in terms of style.

However, there are eerie similarities as well. Both Wisconsin and Marquette like to go small (one by preference, one out of necessity). Both teams have four entrenched upperclassmen in the starting lineup, with one big man starting almost by default. And when looking at individual matchups--for entertainment purposes only--you see four of the important players really mirror each other.

The Tale of the Tape:
Trevon Hughes vs. Dominic James
... even down to the lowly centers:

There are eerie similarities between Pop and James, both in stature and production. James is a better distributor statistically, especially this year, and also registers more steals. Hughes shoots a far greater percentage for the Badgers and is less turnover-prone, exemplifying the different coaching philosophies.

Landry and Hayward is a fun comparison because their career progressions have gone in opposite directions. Landry began as strictly a post player who moved his game out to the perimeter (with moderate success) to try to fill Alando Tucker's shoes. Marquette, on the other hand, has been forced to use their athletic swingman down low more and more because the Gold lack any size.

Regardless, Hayward scores more in fewer minutes than Landry, probably due to his prolific rebounding ability and Marquette's faster pace. While Landry needs to improve his free throw shooting, he vastly outpaces Hayward when it comes to blocked shots and 3-point percentage. Hopefully the two will guard each other during the game.

Cracked Sidewalks has compiled a nice list of game previews in its pregame coverage post. Check it out for the Marquette perspective of Buzz Williams' first game against Bo Ryan.

: : :

If Friday night is any indication, UW recruit Vander Blue could be a huge beneficiary of high school defenses geared to stop Marquette recruit Jeronne Maymon this year. Blue torched Madison West for 27 points on six 3-pointers in Memorial's season opener.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another Brick In The Wall

My dream will have to wait another year. Not only did the ACC display its superiority again, but Duke emerged unscathed. The Big Ten improved overall to five wins this year, but eight of the 12 ACC teams still have a .500 or better record in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Now, sure most of the games were close and there were positive moments. Unfortunately, the marquee teams from the ACC lambasted the "best" teams from the Big Ten. Purdue laid an absolute egg. That performance will have people drooling over Duke for weeks, fair or not. Kyle Singler is very good though and he shut down Robbie Hummel.

Top-ranked North Carolina sealed the deal by running away from Michigan State. Will a home team win at Ford Field at all this year?! The game was entertaining at the start, however, the Spartans simply do not stack up inside -- especially without Goran Suton. I am still waiting to be impressed by Raymar Morgan with my own two eyes.

Other thoughts, with the help of the Big Ten blogosphere:
Minnesota looked very aggressive Tuesday and could definitely be a player in the Big Ten. The Gophers have been trained to hound the perimeter and try to swat every shot attempt. This enabled them to control the tempo. Two players stood out. Damian Johnson is long and athletic. Freshman Colton Iverson is not a looker but looks real good in the post. Iverson is a player I imagine most Badger fans can respect. If you were looking for the next big man in the conference to worry about, see this kid in two years. Minnesota should be scary at that point with Royce White and Rodney Williams also on the roster.

Obviously, Ohio State benefited from the ejection of Jack McClinton and thus, turned the tables on Miami in the second half. McClinton made his first four 3-pointers before he got the boot with about 10 minutes left int he first half. Ho hum, another road win, one of six in the challenge.

After seeing the pathetic finishes by Illinois and Iowa, all you could do was vomit. For the Illini to not get a shot off is unforgivable and the Hawkeye freshman missing (badly) on the front end of a bonus situation is pure heartbreak. If either of those finishes flipped, the Big Ten would have a big smile on its face right now. Penn State added another very weak finish on Wednesday but still managed to escape Atlanta with a nice win over Georgia Tech. The Nittany Lions made some minor mistakes in press break mode, like passing up an easy basket that would have put them up six points, and looked terrible form the charity stripe. Part of the problem was failing to get the ball to their best free throw shooters each time.

The fans back in State College probably chewed their nails off, but they have a reason to be optimistic about their backcourt. I really like is PSU's sophomore point guard Talor Battle, who teams with senior Stanley Pringle to form a quick, offensive-minded pair. Former Badger recruiting target Iman Shumpert posted a nice line as well.

In other Wednesday action, Indiana lost big to Wake Forest as expected, and Michigan proved me wrong by getting shell shocked to the tune of 46 points in the second half. Luckily, Northwestern picked up the slack with a convincing romp over Florida State. Could that be a spark towards something more for the Wildcats?

That put me at a paltry 5-5 on my predictions. There's always next year ... for me and for the Big Ten.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Big Night Ahead for the Big Ten

Just one more thought on last night's game before I make some picks for the remaining ACC/Big Ten Challenge games:

When an opposing player simply goes "en fuego" like A.D. Vassallo did, you can play all the great defense you want after he gets the ball and it just won't matter. In those rare times, the defense must shift to denying him the ball. I understand why Wisconsin did not, considering Vassallo was merely keeping the Hokies in the game for most of that time. It wasn't until the lead shrank in the final minute that he could actually win it for Virginia Tech.

What scares me is a combination of two things. One, I don't Wisconsin has a smart shutdown guy on the roster right now that could chase a taller shooter around if the Badgers really needed to cool a guy off. Secondly, Bo Ryan is far too stubborn in his straight-up, pack it in man-to-man defense to ever try something like that, even if it is completely logical.

On to the picks ...

With the Big Ten leading 1-0, Tuesday's games feature a few toss ups that the conference must win heading into the final five games on Wednesday if it hopes to topple the ACC. Enjoy the great college hoops feast, with all games being broadcast on ESPN's family of networks.

: : : Tuesday (Predicted winners in orange)
7:00 ET - Ohio State @ Miami. I think if this game was later in the year, I would pick the Buckeyes and the upset, but the youngsters at OSU have only played three real games together and a road win in the Challenge is too much to ask.
7:00 ET - Iowa @ Boston College. The Hawkeyes are bad -- I cannot believe freshman Anthony Tucker is Iowa's best player. Home team takes it.
7:30 ET - Clemson @ Illinois. A must win for the Big Ten. Clemson (7-0) started out hot last year too and of course it did not mean squat. In a clash of styles, I'd like to give Bruce Weber the benefit of the doubt, but the history of this series causes me to reconsider.
9:00 ET - Duke @ Purdue. Can Purdue out-Duke the Blue Devils with perimeter feistiness and outside shooting? I like the Boiler defenders better (Kramer, Jackson, Moore and Johnson inside) and there is no way Duke is the fourth-best team in the country.
9:30 ET - Virginia @ Minnesota. This is the only game I truly expect the Big Ten to win.

: : : Wednesday (Predicted winners in orange)
7:00 ET - Indiana @ Wake Forest. Blowout city. Sorry Crean!
7:00 ET - Michigan @ Maryland. Great matchup between two teams who are hanging their hats on big upsets in the early season. The Terps are reeling after two straight losses and John Beilein's funhouse offense and zone defense might be the ticket to a huge Big Ten win on the road (against my better judgment).
7:30 ET - Penn State @ Georgia Tech. I had this game earmarked for an upset alert until I realized that GT's "bad wins" (Mercer, Jacksonville) weren't all that bad. I think the Nittany Lions will give the Yellow Jackets tough run in a battle of two-word mascots.
9:00 ET - North Carolina vs. Michigan State @ Ford Field (Detroit). Every one is handing this game to UNC and I feel like a lemming today.
9:30 ET - Florida State @ Northwestern. Home court doesn't mean much in Evanston.

My count is another 7-4 win for the ACC, but there are few that can go either way for sure. Counting Wisconsin's victory, I am forecasting five wins by road teams. As long as Purdue can give Duke their first-ever loss, I will be happy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Meeting the Challenge

The current joy of being a Wisconsin basketball fan is being able to see your team silence a turbulent home crowd with a game-winning shot in a big road game for the second year in a row. In a scene vaguely reminiscent of Michael Flowers' game-changing final sequence against Texas last year, Trevon Hughes calmly glided down the floor in a tie game and nailed a tough floater in traffic with less than a second left to beat Virginia Tech. The basket struck an opening blow for the Big Ten in its annual quest for national respect against the big, bad Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Badgers had been unable to corral VT's A.D. Vassallo during the second half as he single-handedly dismantled a fairly comfortable Wisconsin lead down the stretch. Vassallo's 3-pointer with seven seconds left sent the home crowd into pandemonium, yet distracted the team from organizing its full-court pressure and anything else other than token defense. That same pressure had given Badgers like Hughes, Joe Krabbenhoft and Jason Bohannon fits for the previous minute, allowing the Hokies to chip away.

Virginia Tech's momentary lapse (or more likely, a deliberate strategy) proved to be serendipitous, as Hughes was unimpeded in his progress down court. He even appeared to get fouled prior to his release. Following a brief celebratory reaction themselves, Krabby gathered the team quick enough to ensure VT got no easy looks at a half-court heave.

First and foremost, this was a great college basketball game. At last, I think even non-Wisconsin fans could agree that it was truly enjoyable to watch. All the elements were there: star power heating up at the right time (Vassallo), a valiant comeback by an underdog, a slighted team with a possible chip on its shoulder (UW), and both teams shooting the lights out.

It is time to embrace the Badgers as a team of shooters; last year was no fluke. Virginia Tech hit 11-of-15 from behind the arc and 26-of-51 (51%) overall from the field. Yet Wisconsin one-upped the Hokies by connecting on 12-of-18 3-pointers en route to 51.1% overall shooting. [box score]

Vassallo was the great Hokie hope in the end, striking from 30-feet out on a few occasions as he posted 24 of his game-high 30 points after halftime, thanks to six treys. I kept yelling at the TV that #40 was the only guy the Badgers needed to guard, yet he kept getting great looks. Oddly, he was best guarded on his final shot that tied the game.

UW really needs to tighten up its perimeter defense before league play starts, but the problem seems to be that guys like Bohannon and Tim Jarmusz have to allow quicker players a cushion so they do not get blown by off the dribble. This is where the development of Rob Wilson comes into play. Wilson, by the way, provided a great early spark for the team in this game.

Jon Leuer gets my nod for UW's player of the game. He sank both of his shots from long distance and showed the offensive versatility and aggressiveness that has had fans (and coaches) salivating for about a year now. Even his attempted put-back dunk that rimmed out had me out of my seat. Leuer finished with 17 points on 11 attempts to go along with six rebounds and two blocks.

Landry missed only one shot and finished with another studly line: a team-high 18 points & 4 assists, plus two more blocks. Lo and behold, J-Bo knocked down three treys after missing his first couple of open looks. A great night all around.

The elephant in the room of course is the "Big Donut" put up by VT's Jeff Allen. Hampered by a few ticky-tack fouls (and some even dumber, obvious fouls), Allen played only 15 minutes and had two points.

Had Allen not fouled out, I think the dynamic of the game changes and as crazy as it sounds, it may not have been as close. With Allen in the game, maybe Vassallo wouldn't have gotten a chance to catch fire. Marcus Landry was holding his own -- and more -- offensively with Allen doing all he could to slow the goggled one. Landry went wild from outside, hitting all four of his 3-point attempts. He did not have to worry about guarding Allen himself, though, as Keaton Nankivil picked up the assignment to begin the game. But no doubt, Allen's absence allowed guys like Leuer a reprieve on defense.

Savor the flavor: replay of the last 12 seconds [video]

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Hokies

Monday night's ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown at Virginia Tech seems a fitting finale to last week's Thanksgiving festivities. I give the school credit for having a unique nickname and mascot like the Hokies, but I do not envy it one bit. Did you know a hokie is a castrated turkey? What kind of a fight do they expect to give a ravenous Badger? And you VT fans out there who might want to set me straight on the original meaning of the term, I don't think calling your sports team the "Hoorays" is any better.

One thing we can all agree on is that a win in this game will not come easy. Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen shed 20 pounds in the offseason and has shredded opponents in his first six games. He will be an interesting foe for Marcus Landry. The 6'7", 240-lb. Allen is averaging a double-double this season, one of three Hokie starters scoring at least 16 ppg so far.

The Hokies (4-2) appear to go to only about eight players deep in meaningful games. Besides scoring guards A.D. Vassallo and Malcolm Delaney, one name to keep an eye on would be freshman forward Victor Davila, who will probably be quick off the bench in the post. Thanks to Doug Bowman of Hokie Haven [subscription] for the heads up. Doug and I exchanged notes on this one and both think it's a very even match on paper. Virginia Tech's only two losses have come by a combined five points.

Badgers tune up with win over Panthers
I was able to catch the second half of the UW-Milwaukee tilt and actually had pretty decent success with the Big Ten Network's live video stream. I did notice the occasional lags that others have complained about, which seemed to increase in length and frequency as the game wore on, which probably would end up being a major problem over the full course of a game.

As for the game action itself, it seemed to be a continuation of what we've been seeing from Wisconsin recently. Trevon Hughes hit all four of his 3-pointers and is stroking the ball perfectly right now. Hughes led the team with 16 points. Conversely, J-Bo still can't buy a bucket. [box score]

Joe Krabbenhoft had his way against an over matched Milwaukee team and posted a double-double (12 pts, 10 rebs). I miss the days when the Panthers were tournament darlings and gave the Badgers a bit more of a battle in this game. Oh well. At least Jon Leuer seems to be finding his niche in the offense right now. I am counting on Hughes and Leuer to power the Badgers offensively Monday night, but Bohannon looms as the X-factor.

And finally, if you cannot see the floor in a game where your team's lead stretched to 26 points late in the game, you might want to redshirt. It is increasingly apparent that Jared Berggren will end up going that route. He and J.P. Gavinski were the only two Badgers stuck to the bench all game. Ian Markolf appears to have passed Gavinski on the depth chart.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trouble In Paradise

When a team, like Wisconsin, counts its coach as one of its usual advantages over the competition, not getting any traditional practice time in before a big game should be cause for concern.

Such is life in tropical early season tournaments, I suppose. Trying to squeeze four games in on the final day immediately after the semifinals on Sunday night meant neither Wisconsin nor Connecticut hit the floor in preparation for the Paradise Jam title game. Left more to instinct and natural athleticism than normal, Bucky's first loss of the season was no surprise.

Connecticut is really good. They have the top shelf athletes at guard that traditionally give the Badgers fits. Bo's youngest team in years really showed their inexperience on Monday, hounded into 22 turnovers by the Huskies. Freshman Kemba Walker led the way with four steals.

Not all of the turnovers were forced by Connecticut though. Regular rotation players like sophomores Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz and freshman Jordan Taylor simply had some very lazy passes picked off. You might be able to get away with that against teams #20-300, but not against a top ten team. It was amazing how many easy fast break points the Huskies got in the game. They had 31 points off turnovers overall.

It did not help matters that UConn center Hasheem Thabeet intimidated even the most experienced Badgers in the paint. Seniors Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft looked tentative most of the night. My favorite part of the game was Rob Wilson coming in without a care in the world and going up for two dunks on Thabeet and drawing two fouls (never mind that one was a clean block). That turned into four easy points from the line for the Badgers just because one player believed in himself.

These are the types of games where Krabby's offensive limitations really bother me. An extra pass is usually nice, but two or three extra passes is too much, especially right under the basket. You can attribute Wisconsin's 32% shooting inside the 3-point line to Thabeet's presence and the Badgers decision-making around the rim. It is no longer a surprise when UW shoots well from long distance (8-of-17), but those bombs merely kept the Badgers in the game. [box score]

In the end it was just a few sequences like the one at the end of the first half that doomed the Badgers. Wisconsin had held a slim lead through the first 10 minutes or so, but UConn closed on a 19-4 run to go up 10 points at the break thanks to their pressure defense. Jon Leuer and Trevon Hughes keyed an 11-3 run that had the Badgers right back in the game at 45-43, but the Huskies quickly turned momentum with a three-point play and a dunk by Jerome Dyson.

When Jason Bohannon missed both of his free throws and Thabeet responded with two freebies of his own, the lead was back to nine and UW's spirit was seemingly sapped. Though Bohannon appeared to be on track for a nice shooting night when he nailed two early treys, he soon reverted to his previous island form and finished 2-of-9 from the floor.

At least we got to watch this one on TV, right?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Paradise Jam Continues

Wisconsin survived some choppy waters this weekend, but is on course to win another Paradise Jam tournament title. The team's reward for winning two straight on the island is a game with #2 Connecticut on Monday night.

The quest began with a knock down, drag out nail biter on Friday night when UW barely escaped the matchbox gym with a 60-58 overtime win against Iona. The Badgers were lucky to survive their 19 turnovers, but were never able to get into a good flow due to tons of physical defense by the Gaels and terribly inconsistent officiating. Winning a game like that has to give you faith in UW's ability to close out games under adversity. [box score]

Tonight, Wisconsin toppled San Diego, 64-49. Topping the Toreros seemed easier thanks to much better Badger shooting (48.8%). Without DirectTV's Sports Pack, I followed the game via Patrick Herb's live blog at uwbadgers.com. Herb's blogging during the Iona game also probably was the best source of info on the opening round action too, where UW shot only 27.3% in the second half.

Trevon Hughes has been the engine for Wisconsin so far in the Virgin Islands. He led all scorers with 21 points against Iona, hitting 11-of-12 free throws. Against San Diego, he again paced both sides with 22 points (8-11 FGs, 2-4 3s). [box score]

The tourney appears to be a coming out party for Tim Jarmusz. Foul trouble plagued Jon Leuer and Marcus Landry on Friday, but Jarmusz put in 30 minutes of great work. His best attributes continue to be hitting timely 3-pointers, drawing fouls and diving for loose balls -- which provides UW with some very important extra possessions. It is uncanny how Jarmusz is always "mixing it up." It was good to see Keaton Nankivil bust loose a little with 8 rebounds in the first game and 10 points tonight.

There were a few concerns, of course. The statistics do not really reflect the struggles at the charity stripe, as several different players missed front ends of bonus opportunities. Jason Bohannon has really struggled with his shot, shooting a combined 5-of-22 so far. And as a team, the threes are not dropping: 5-of-21 vs. Iona, 5-of-16 vs. San Diego = 27%.

Landry bounced back to lead the team in rebounds (7), assists (6), and blocked shots (5) versus the Toreros.

Moving on, the championship should be a great game to watch. This will be the fourth time under Bo Ryan that the Badgers have faced a team ranked second in the AP poll. My expectations are lower than the ones I had for last year's Duke game, but now that the match up is set I am definitely stoked. The Huskies have a phenomenal freshman point guard, Kemba Walker, to add to senior A.J. Price this year. Even though Pop is hot right now, he will need a lot of help.

I love the matchup between Jeff Adrien and Landry, but am not sure how we will play Hasheem Thabeet. The guy's offense is spotty, but he will be altering every shot in sight. Thabeet already has 12 blocks down there in two games! Bo could try giving some meaningful minutes to one of his own aircraft carriers, like J.P. Gavinski or Ian Markolf, but it probably wouldn't be pretty. I think Leuer is the key offensively and containing UConn's guards a must on defense.

Landry's block count: 8 + 2 (Iona) + 5 (S.D.) = 15 total/79 career*
*Moves into 9th all-time, passing Michael Finley

Friday, November 21, 2008

Redshirting and Player Development

Forgive me if I merely gloss over the recent blowout of SIU-Edwardsville, which was hardly more than a glorified exhibition. Marcus Landry still looks like a beast. He set a personal best for the second game in a row, this time by virtue of his five blocked shots. That gives him eight on the young season, good enough for 72 career blocks (look out Stiemsma). And it was good to see Jon Leuer (19 pts, 8-10 FGs) come alive. It seems like whenever Jordan Taylor finds someone for an alley-oop, the recipient is headed for a banner day.

Since I was not able to watch all of the game, the most interesting tidbit of the night was Ian Markolf getting off the bench for the final two minutes. Jared Berggren was the only eligible Badger to not see the floor, so he remains the final freshmen left to cement his plans to redshirt or not. Was Bo Ryan trying to send a message to the lad in a game where even Morris Cain made two buckets? [box score]

At the very least, we got the answer to the question of whom Bo would turn to first in a pinch for a big body. It is obvious that Berggren would get more out of an extra year of physical seasoning than Markolf. Numerous references have been made to the simple zone defense that Berggren played in at his high school. And look at it this way if you must: if you know only one of the bigs will redshirt, don't you theoretically want your higher-rated recruit in the system for five years, rather than four?

On the flip side, just because a player rides the pine without redshirting (Markolf) does not mean the guy won't end up being a big contributor in a Wisconsin uniform. Last year was the first time in the last five seasons that the Badgers did not have a player using a redshirt. As a result, two post players played less than 4 min/g. Keaton Nankivil averaged a lowly 2.4 min/g in 19 appearances, while redshirt freshman J.P. Gavinski averaged 2.1 min/g in only seven games. The jury is still out on Gavinski but Nankivil is already starting for Wisconsin as a true sophomore.

Including Nankivil, I count three times in Bo's tenure that a scrub big man has gone from a non-factor to major contributor, regardless of redshirt status. The Greg Stiemsma Experience began with a disastrous 2.7 min/g average in 10 games his freshman year. Jason Chappell played a grand total of 11 minutes in eight games in 2002-03, took a medical redshirt the next season and again played 3.4 min/g in 14 appearances the following year. Both Stiemsma and Chappell were valuable pieces in their final campaigns.

This issue rarely raises its head with guards. Because every team is desperate for bigs, you don't find any walk-on big men. Eventually, some program will offer that behemoth a scholarship, so schools offer full rides to pivot projects "just in case" (see Gavinski, J.P.). Only once has a full scholarship guard started out with less than 4 min/g and seen his star rise. That was Kammron Taylor, who struggled through 2.3 min/g of PT in 18 games as a true freshman in 2003-04. Mickey Perry redshirted in 2005-06, but transferred out the next season when he was averaging 3.3 min/g in seven games played. Would he have played eventually? Most likely.*

The bottom line is that guards are naturally inclined to adapt more quickly to the college game. They are more coordinated on average, as many big men are still adjusting to their bodies from crazy growth spurts during their high school careers. Wisconsin is not getting any superstar one-and-done centers, so the staff grabs post players with potential and guards who are ready to play for the most part. And in the event that backcourt depth is needed, the program seems to have decent luck with walk-ons. Clayton Hanson should be an inspiration. Once a member of the dreaded 4 min/g and under club, the Reedsburg Rifle worked his way into 30 min/g his final two seasons, even earning a schollie as a senior, when he helped UW reach the Elite Eight.

*Once again, the departure of DeAaron Williams was the more damaging loss in my opinion. He was definitely in the rotation, albeit the low end, as a redshirt sophomore (2005-06), playing 7.9 min/g.

: : :

Paradise Jam Prep
The Badgers are in the Virgin Islands preparing for their first game in the Paradise Jam tournament against Iona. Wisconsin will play at 7:30 CT tonight and Sunday night, win or lose. You can watch poor quality streaming video right from the tourney's website or wait until Sunday (semifinals) and Monday (finals) which will be broadcast by Fox College Sports and Fox Sports Net respectively.

Only six people voted in the most recent poll for a possible Paradise Jam game being their most anticipated game of the regular season. For one thing, a match up with Connecticut in this tournament is far from guaranteed, given the strength of this year's field. Plus it is still early in the season. Maybe it also has to do with how hard it is to actually catch the games live. By the way, the Texas game at the Kohl Center on Dec. 23 took honors, with 42% of the poll's vote, edging out this year's Marquette game (38%).

I have to give another shout out to Landry, who took the time before the trip to counsel the team's youngest players on the importance of keeping focused on their grades even while taking a business trip to the beach. He knows from personal experience. As predicted, there has been no shortage of ink and copy devoted to Landry's story so far this season.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Landry's Actions Speak Volumes

You hear the term "statement game" from time to time and it is often hard to define. But you know one when you see one. Marcus Landry made a loud statement Sunday afternoon during Wisconsin's season-opening roller coaster of a win against Long Beach State.

Landry's 23-point, three-block performance at the Kohl Center said, in essence, "You can count on me." This was not the same Marcus that got out to slow starts the past two years and traditionally starts out games innocuously. Long Beach Marcus was not laid back, with his mind on his money. He was fired up.

The senior from Milwaukee was money from three-point land though, hitting 3-of-5 smooth-looking shots behind the arc, including the backbreaker off a Trevon Hughes dish with 30 seconds left. Landry beat his chest and flexed occasionally to provide some Tucker-esque leadership. Somewhere, Alando was smiling.

The game will not land on many defensive highlight reels, except for Landry's clutch blocked shots. Overall, it was played at pretty slow pace that seemed to favor the Badgers. However, Wisconsin's defensive efficiency was only 103.2 for the game. Last season, UW went just 5-4 in the nine games it allowed the opponent to post an offensive efficiency over 100. After a hot start, LBSU cooled off from 3-point land (5-for-18 overall), where UW actually had an advantage (8-for-18), which would have you expecting a Badger rout. [box score]

But Wisconsin's entire team gave up too much inside to the relentless 49ers. Eleven of LBSU's 13 second-half field goals were either a lay-up, tip-in or dunk. Landry carried his weight offensively and defensively, but once Keaton Nankivil started to get a little offensive rhythm going, he was back on the bench, presumably because of something he was not doing defensively.

Joe Krabbenhoft had trouble in the second half bottling up guard Donovan Morris, who single-handedly brought his team back to within two, 57-55, with seven minutes remaining. Apparently Jon Leuer, who flew down the lane for an aggressive lay-in earlier on, was not an acceptable answer inside either.

Nope, Tim Jarmusz rounded out the crunch-time lineup. To me, this was an oh-uh moment for Nankivil and Leuer fans. Then again, Jarmusz was the only true freshman that Bo Ryan felt comfortable inserting into close games last season. TJ was his typical, chippy self contributing to another Badger win. Bo admitted after the game that he planned to send Nankivil in, but just couldn't:

"[Jarmusz] was hustling so hard that the guy had to tackle him to keep him from getting to the free throw line. I was going to put Keaton in there right before that but the way Tim was playing and their small line-up and they were running guys off of those screens ... He played big and with that kind of drive and hustle, I couldn’t take him out.”
As for this year's freshman, Bo did not hesitate to insert Jordan Taylor when he saw Hughes make a few wrong moves. Taylor's 15 solid minutes included a beautiful alley-oop pass to Landry right before halftime. It underscores again the faith this coaching staff already has in its freshman floor leader. The knock on Taylor has been that despite being Big Ten-ready right now, he somehow has a limited ceiling. If he proves people wrong on that point each year, Taylor could wind up being one of the best pure point guards Wisconsin has ever seen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Late Bloomer Chooses Red Shirt

Ryan Evans is the first and possibly the only Badger freshman to announce that he will be taking a redshirt season in 2008-09. A smart decision by Evans if you ask me and this move surprises no one.

The announcement does not rule out any further redshirts from one of the big men. Ian Markolf certainly has a college-ready build, so would not necessarily need the year to bulk up. Conversely, bulking up would be about the only reason I can see for Jared Berggren to redshirt, as he is more skilled at this point. Ultimately, the player makes that decision for himself.

I hope to revisit the topic of redshirting big men very soon ...

: : :

Turning to the NBA for a few 'graphs, Yi Jianlian is lighting it up from the outside with the New Jersey Nets this season. And he's shooting over real people, not just chairs! This is the type of thing you have come to expect if you are a Milwaukee Bucks fans (see Nowitzki, Dirk). The grass is always greener in another town for many former Bucks. Will Milwaukee be more patient with Joe Alexander? I hope so.

Regardless, Milwaukee is probably fine with Jianlian's development. Milwaukee's record is only 4-5 right now, but New Jersey is a smelly mess at 2-5. Michael Redd has a legit running mate in Richard Jefferson, with Bogut anchoring the lineup down low. While the team still has serious depth issues in the frontcourt, LRMaM has supplanted Charlie Villanueva in the starting lineup at least temporarily. Mbah a Moute has shown signs of being an excellent defender, something the Bucks have lacked for years. It will be interesting to see how the traditionally lackadaisical Villanueva responds.
In the backcourt, Ramon Sessions slowly easing his way into his rightful place atop the muddled point guard heap in Cream City. It is only a matter of time before his potential outweighs Luke Ridnour's "heady, veteran leadership."

Speaking of the Nets ... since popping off for a career-high 38 points the other night (shooting a ridiculous 20-of-24 on free throws), former Badger great Devin Harris has missed several games because of a twisted ankle. Tough sleddin' for the Nets without him. In Phoenix, Alando Tucker is still waiting to make his season debut. He had his left knee scoped last Tuesday, so he will miss 2-3 more weeks of action.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wisconsin Survives and Adds Signees

Wisconsin 64, UW-Whitewater 47
In last night's final exhibition, Wisconsin overcame a frisky UW-Whitewater squad in the final 10 minutes to post a deceptive 64-47 victory. The Warhawks made the Badgers earn it.

Keaton Nankivil got the start again, with Jon Leuer first off the bench. The ensuing substitutions went like this: Tim Jarmusz second, then Jordan Taylor ... *long stretch of no subs* ... Rob Wilson, Kevin Gullikson ... and finally Ryan Evans got in during the last minute. There is a solid 8-man rotation being set here, with Wilson, Gullikson and one of the bigs (hopefully) getting playing time as the situation dictates.

I am almost 100% sure that Ian Markolf will redshirt, but not as certain about Evans. He could use one since Wilson and Jarmusz seem equipped to get the extra PT on the wing. Based on some of Bo Ryan's comments after the game, I am hoping that Jared Berggren sees some action this year. Bo mentioned that as far as freshman go, "Jared is not that far behind," which seemed like one of Bo's typical sly, half-compliments. Redshirts must be determined by Sunday's opener.

Looking at the statistics, it was hard to tell why Wisconsin had such trouble with Whitewater. The Badgers dominated the rebounding department in the second half, which is usually how such games go. The 12 turnovers was a bit too high for an exhibition game and that total including four traveling violations. Ick. Taylor struggled early with three TOs, but settled down. Leuer had four TOs as well and was seemingly benched after his last one.

Besides the turnovers, I noticed that Trevon Hughes still does not appear to be 100 percent healthy. A glaring weakness last night was the ability to penetrate the defense, which Hughes usually provides. Only Jason Bohannon accomplished this with much effectiveness. Conversely, however, J-Bo had trouble sticking with his man on defense. It was not all his fault, though, as the team defense left a lot to be desired at certain points. I think it goes without saying that this team will not be as tough defensively as last year's edition. Bohannon logged a ton of minutes because Hughes sat with some questionable foul trouble. J-Bo's mark, Warhawk guard Miles McKay, sprung for a game-high 16 points. Bohannon eventually fouled out, though he was also on the raw end of some calls in terribly over-officiated game -- thanks Ed Hightower!

: : :

Wisconsin adds two on signing day
Today Mike Bruesewitz and Diamond Taylor signed national Letters of Intent to play for Wisconsin. Now that both are officially in the fold, Bo Ryan is finally allowed to comment on each of these players from the Class of 2009.

Rivals.com tabbed Bruesewitz as the Big Ten's top incoming power forward for next season. While not on many people's radar when he verballed, Badger fans have warmed to the idea of having a successor to Krabbenhoft running around the court. It sounds like Bruiser's game is a perfect match for the swing offense. Bo on Bruesewitz:

"While always possessing a competitive fire and desire to win, he has recently made huge strides in his perimeter game out to the 3-point line. His improving perimeter ability combined with his post skills and work ethic make him a more complete player that will allow him to continue to excel when he gets to Madison."
The staff clearly views Diamond Taylor as a combo guard. Bo on Taylor:

"It has been neat to watch Diamond develop from a camper who attended our basketball camps when he was first entering high school to the great young man he is today. His versatility and knowledge of the game will allow him to play multiple perimeter positions at our level."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Second Badger Named to Watch List

Trevon Hughes was among the 31 players recently nominated for the Bob Cousy Award*, which goes to the nation's top point guard. Honestly, that's quite an honor considering the struggles Hughes went through last year.

Committee members must have been watching the three gems Hughes delivered against IPFW, Illinois and at Minnesota (the exception being the four turnovers against the Gophers). Taking care of the ball was a central problems in Pop's sophomore season. If you notice, the games in which Hughes was able to limit his turnovers, he was also virtually non-existent offensively -- neither scoring nor assisting others.

Improving on last year's subpar 1.17:1 assist-to-turnover ratio will be the barometer for success with Hughes. If he can turn in more performances like he did last February versus Michigan State, and harness his explosiveness, Hughes will live up to and maybe even surpass the modest preseason hype he has received.

The good news for Hughes came on the heels of Marcus Landry's inclusion on the preseason Wooden Award watch list. Landry and the rest of the big, bad Badgers will take on "lowly" UW-Whitewater in their exhibition finale tonight at the Kohl Center. No one is expecting a stunner like the one UW-Platteville delivered to Bradley this past weekend, but the Warhawks are a legit D3 powerhouse. I guess it's not a bad time to be from Whitewater, eh Stanley?

*Ed. note: The deadline for schools to nominate players for the Cousy Award is Jan. 10, so you will see this list grow quite a bit. Marquette and Michigan State fans can back away from the ledge now ...

: : :

Wednesday is national signing day, which means high school seniors Diamond Taylor and Mike Bruesewitz will officially pledge themselves to the Cardinal and White. Speaking of which, Rob Schultz of the Capital Times digs into the recruiting practices of Wisconsin under Bo Ryan. The article leaves you with an impression of an efficient coaching staff, especially when you see the fiscal comparisons that Schultz uncovered. Of the five Big Ten programs that responded, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue and Iowa have all spent more than double the dollar amount that Wisconsin has in recruiting for men's basketball over the past two seasons.

With regards to recruiting, the bottom line when discussing the "Wisconsin way" is that Bo would probably rather be a distinguished turtle than a tainted rabbit. Slowly and steadily, Ryan has built the Badger program, avoiding the large character risks and maintaining program-wide morale and camaraderie. He does this by focusing--right away--on players who want to be Badgers; those who don't let their own agendas get in the way of the team's agenda. So while other programs can currently tout better tournament records and Final Fours on their resumes, I have faith that Bo is building for the long haul. Some day, UW will wind up on top of the whole heap, if only for one shining moment.

Cheesy right? Well, this is Wisconsin. Enough rah-rah for now ... I'll save it for tonight's game.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wisconsin Record Watch

The two seniors from the Class of 2005 each enter this season with their eyes on team goals. But both Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry have a chance to creep into the Wisconsin record book [pdf] by simply keep up the pace at which they have been producing over the years. Here's a look at a few potential milestones.

Joe Krabbenhoft
With a repeat of last season's performance, Krabbenhoft will place third in all-time offensive rebounding and approximately sixth in total rebounding. Needless to say, Joe's board work has been stellar. The ever-versatile Krabby needs only 87 assists to pass Michael Flowers for ninth place on the all-time assists ladder. Krabbenhoft will probably crack the Top Ten list for most minutes played as well.

Assuming another postseason bid this year, Wisconsin is guaranteed to play 31 games (success in the Paradise Jam, Big Ten Tournament or NCAA Tournament will increase that number). Even though games played is reflection of team success more than any other statistic, it's worth mentioning that if Krabbenhoft plays in every game this season, he will at least tie Alando Tucker for the most games ever played in a Wisconsin men's basketball uniform.

These are but a few reasons why "Dakota Joe" gets the loudest applause from Badger fans.

Year: Off-Def-Total Rebs
'05-06: 45-85 = 130
'06-07: 53-120 = 173
'07-08: 73-160 = 233
======================
Totals: 171-365 = 536*

Assists:
'05-06: 44
'06-07: 58
'07-08: 90
============
Totals: 192**

Minutes played:
'05-06: 505 (16.3/g)
'06-07: 724 (20.1/g)
'07-08: 1118 (31.1/g)
=====================
Totals: 2,347***


Marcus Landry
The academic problem in Landry's sophomore season puts a damper on his chase for a few milestones. Therefore, it is a real tribute to Landry's athleticism that he is knocking on the door of the Top Ten in career blocked shots. Greg Stiemsma finished in 5th place all-time with 96 blocks and Marcus can take a run at that total as a senior since he may be asked to defend the interior more again. Landry also has 132 offensive rebounds so far. If he duplicates last year's total (65) he will place sixth all-time, behind Brian Butch, though his final resting place will depend on Krabbenhoft's totals.

Blocked Shots:
'05-06: 6
'06-07: 31
'07-08: 27
============
Totals: 64****

Year: Off-Def-Total Rebs
'05-06: 22-28 = 50
'06-07: 45-71 = 116
'07-08: 65-129 = 194
======================
Totals: 132-228 = 360*

* Claude Gregory holds the career rebounding record with 902 total career rebounds; Tucker's 314 offensive rebounds are a career Badger record.
** Tracy Webster holds the Badger record with 501 career assists.
*** Tucker also holds the Badger record with 4,247 career minutes played in 4+ seasons.
**** Rashard Griffith holds the Badger record with 124 career blocks in only two seasons.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Decision '08: The Kool-Aid

Michigan hoops blog UMHoops has been running a Big Ten season preview for each conference team with the help of fellow bloggers. I was happy to lend my thoughts for the site's Wisconsin preview.

Being a natural pessimist, I was trying to think of reasons why the Badgers would not win another Big Ten title. Purdue, Michigan State, injuries, youth ... bad luck ...

The times, though, they are a-changing. I have made a decision to be optimistic this season. I have sipped the Kool-Aid and poured myself another. Marcus Landry, Joe Krabbenhoft, Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon are as experienced a foursome in Bo Ryan's swing offense and defensive concepts as one could hope for.

The performances of Keaton Nankivil in the scrimmage and Jon Leuer's bounce back in the first exhibition game were encouraging. It's important not to overvalue their play in meaningless games, but what I realized is that Wisconsin's Big Four will not need too much help to be successful. They need capable support. The team as a whole has shown glimpses of continuing the strong outside shooting that I feared might have been a blip last year. The conference schedule is kind. The team can and will get contributions from capable freshmen. Can Wisconsin go 16-2 again? Yes they can!

: : :

Check out the new poll and let us know which non-conference game who are most looking forward to this season. To view the Paradise Jam bracket for UW's potential opponents, click here.

: : :

Removed the following prospects from the recruiting sidebar:
: : : Class of 2009
F Jamil Wilson, Racine WI [v]
: : : Class of 2010
F Harrison Barnes, Ames IA
F J.D. Weatherspoon, Columbus OH {Xavier}

Thursday, October 30, 2008

First Taste of the 2008-09 Badgers

Seventeen players. One set of eyes.

Those would be my eyes. At the annual Red/White Scrimmage, I wanted to keep an eye on all the players, attuned to both their ability on the court and their demeanor on the sidelines or in between plays. Easier said than done, however.

After attending the event last year, I knew ahead of time to temper my enthusiasm. With so many relatively new players though, I was holding out hope that at least of few of the newbies would bring a lot of energy to the scrimmage. In that sense, I was not disappointed. In a 72-67 win by the Red, there were some lulls in the action but enough to get excited about.

Seeing the team breakdown at the tip, I did not expect a win by the Red team (more on that below). The White team consisted of Landry, Krabbenhoft, Hughes, Gullikson, Jarmusz, Gavinski, Wilson, Evans, Markolf. Perhaps I am naive. The Red squad included Smith, Bohannon, Cain, Leuer, Nankivil, Berggren, Taylor and Valentyn.

I was impressed by the long-distance shooting by both sides in the first half. Some players forced shots as the game developed, but overall I would say 3-point shooting was over 40% for the scrimmage.

Before I delve into the player-by-player breakdown of the night, I had a few "badges" I knew that I wanted to hand out, including:

Most impressive: Keaton Nankivil
Most disappointing: Jon Leuer
Best moment: J.P. Gavinski blocking Jon Leuer's dunk attempt
Worst moment: By default, I'm going with the very end of the game when Nankivil could have capped off a Red victory with a fast break flush, but bobbled the ball, leading to a loose ball melee.
Most aggressive: Nankivil
Best defender: This is a biased opinion because I watched Jordan Taylor for most of the night, but he stuck with Trevon Hughes almost every step of the way.
Likely to redshirt: Tough call ... I really think Ian Markolf should take one, though Ryan Evans would not surprise me.

Seniors:
Marcus Landry :: #1
Compared to last year's scrimmage, Landry was much more active, which is great. He has good chemistry with the guards in the open floor. Getting Marcus out to a fast start this year would be a huge boost. Landry really runs the floor well for a "post" player, though he cannot be taller than 6'6". Quick decisions and overall aggressiveness were encouraging. Had a sneaky 20 points.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: Converted a steal into a fast-break dunk to start the second half.

Morris Cain :: #21
In light of Flowers' absence, I though Cain would get minutes last season, but I was wrong. I will not be misled again. Cain did not do anything to stick out in my mind, except for getting a little chippy with Tim Jarmusz. He's the only current Badger who is left-handed.

Kevin Gullikson :: #43
Gully looked legitmately quicker, as we have heard. It did not translate into much during the competition, but he looked okay.

Joe Krabbenhoft :: #45
The things I noticed most about Krabby were not really basketball-related. We have heard about him taking Jordan Taylor with him to an elementary school, but he even slapped Taylor five on a missed free throw -- from the opposite team -- and wears the same shoes as Jordan. It's great to see a senior bond with a freshman that way.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: You know what you are getting with Krabby, but Joe did follow up his 3-point Shootout title with two treys. Ugly, but effective ...

Juniors:
Trevon Hughes :: #3
I am still concerned with his shot selection at times. I think Pop notched two airballs on the night. There was a point where Taylor was shaken up and Hughes smelled blood. He attacked by draining a 3-pointer and driving to the hole mercilessly, which I liked. On a positive note, I did not see turnovers from Trevon.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: One behind-the-back pass on a delayed break, that was not converted unfortunately.

Jason Bohannon :: #12
Got into a shooter's rhythm at least once during the night and drained several jumpers, finishing with about 13 points. Got picked off trying to split the D in a clock-winding-down situation. good facilitator as the lone scholarship upperclassman on the the winning team. That should tell you something. He did have trouble sticking with some of the wing players on the White team, which is actually a good sign for Wisconsin as a whole.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: I don't remember the occasion, but he had at least one sick feed inside for an easy hoop.

Sophomores:
Wquinton Smith :: #2
Quick, but very tentative with the ball. Walk-on for a reason.

Brett Valentyn :: #15
This guy is really a nice player. But he's a step or two slow.

Tim Jarmusz :: #24
Made a couple of the worst turnovers of the night ... and he knew it. Not afraid to get physical as his episode with Cain proved. Nailed a trey as expected, but did not do much else.

Jon Leuer :: #30
As mentioned, Leuer had a tough night. At one point, he was shooting 2-for-13 and 0-1 on free throws. He is tall and long enough to get boards underneath, but had trouble finishing once he grabbed the rock. Leuer still looked fairly aggressive, but I think he has been a bit overhyped. Of course, that is judging just two practices basically. Leuer exhibited a soft touch from the paint. He misfired on several attempts from long range though. He is nowhere near ready on defense, but I still like his potential on offense.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: See Gavinski.

J.P. Gavinski :: #44
I cannot see Jared Berggren getting minutes over Gavinski this season. That's not to say I'm sold out for J.P, but he looked more comortable out there. He lacks quickness, but has two years now under his belt. Capable of banging home the 17-footer.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: Best moment of the night was when Leuer streaked down the lane and went up for an insane dunk from 3-4 feet inside the free throw line. J.P. rose up at the last second and totally denied the jam. Then he had the nerve to talk junk to Leuer, to which Jon responded by shoving J.P. out of his way. Stats credit Gavinski with a couple blocks, though he appeared to deserve credit for some of the blocked shots from the messy scrums.

Keaton Nankivil :: #52
Star of the show. Right off the bat he drilled a 15-footer and then went to work inside. Even made Landry look foolish on D by getting position and exploding to the rim. I have always been a Nankivil fan (even a "homer" after last year's scrimmage) but tonight he looked more confident than ever. When Bo Ryan alluded to some of the youngsters making a name for themselves in practice, now we know who. Keaton and Jordan are not afraid to challenge the juniors and seniors. They are the reason the Red team won tonight.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: Nearly everything, no joke. He converted three-point plays with a soft touch, he pivoted around the senior into monster dunks, he played solid defense ... but the icing on the cake was when he caught a pass gliding to the hoop from the left side and Gullikson chopped at his arm. Nankivil was not deterred and threw down a two-handed slam that would have been an "and-1" in the NBA. Also notched a big-time rejection of someone's shot attempt in the first half.

Freshmen:
Ryan Evans :: #5
Played the least; that does not necessarily mean a redshirt though. I noticed one nice move to the basket, but mostly a lot of pine time.

Jordan Taylor :: #11
Rock solid. Very impressive to see a freshman hold his own out there. Gave Hughes fits at times. Taylor is clearly not capable of scoring in the same way Hughes is, but knows how to post up in the swing offense. His defense was formidable and he played through what might have been a rolled ankle, that caused him to get burned a couple times. Notably, he recognized speed mismatches, burning J-Bo once and trying to take advantage of Krabbenhoft at another point (though nothing came of it).
HIGHLIGHT REEL: Taylor zipped a pass through traffic to a cutting Morris Cain to get an easy backdoor hoop. JT also locked up the game with a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left.

Rob Wilson :: #33
Showed a bit of defensive intensity. Did not get a lot of PT, perhaps due to the White team having nine players. Got to the hoop once from the wing for a nice easy basket.

Jared Berggren :: #40
Berggren did not appear to play with a ton of confidence, but he was able to run the floor effectively for a big man and finish some plays. I honestly do not expect him to play much this year, with Gully and J.P. ahead of him. But what do I know ...
HIGHLIGHT REEL: Used his quickness to get a baby hook over Gavinski in the second half. Looked like a go-to move towards the baseline that he has had for ages.

Ian Markolf :: #50
I'm seeing red. This classic big man appeared classicly gassed after one first-half stretch. Markolf made a couple buckets, but does not elevate at all. Dominated the Gatorade bottle during stoppages.

If you needed a reminder as to how competitive these guys are, look no further. From Hughes-Taylor and Nankivil-Landry to Gavinski-Leuer and Cain-Jarmusz, the new breed of Badgers showed a feistiness that can only mean good things for the future of Wisconsin basketball. Overall, I was much more impressed with this year's scrimmage than 2007's.

Of course, back-to-back 30-win seasons will bring out the optimist in anyone.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Update on Badgers Abroad


With the signings of Josh Childress and prep baller Brandon Jennings by European league teams, playing overseas was a hot topic this summer. Dozens of former college stars continue to pop up in professional basketball leagues throughout the Old World, in countries like Italy. It would make sense that former Badgers would get these same opportunities, now that the program is churning out quality players each year.

It was nice to see fan favorite Mike Wilkinson get mentioned in DraftExpress.com's preview of the Russian League as he tries to remain with Khimki despite an injury. As you might recall, Wilkinson gained Macedonian citizenship after college, which makes him potentially valuable in leagues where a limit is placed on the number of American players a team can have. Wilkinson has previously played well in the Greek leagues.

Since many of us will be checking out a new generation of Wisconsin players tomorrow night, how about a quick look at where last year's seniors are playing professionally this season:
  • Brian Butch - Jiangsu Nangang Dragons (China): After initally signing with a Spanish club, the Polar Bear is allegedly the highest-paid rookie in CBA history. Not bad. See what a master's degree can get you?
  • Greg Stiemsma - Oyak Renault Bursa (Turkey): Stiemsma seems to have landed in a nice situation with two other rookie Americans on his team. All three are playing significant roles for this Turkish team that moved up to D1 two years ago.
  • Michael Flowers - New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig (Germany): Not sure if Mike is still on the team or not. He has played in four games this season, with minimal impact. Flowers is not listed on the team's "current roster" anymore.
A couple of former Badgers are still going stronger than others overseas. I thought I would see if there were any new developments since some of those previous reports came out:
  • Jason Chappell is lighting it up in Austria, where is is averaging a double-double early in the year for the Gussing Knights.
  • It does not appear that Andreas Helmigk is still playing hoops in that league.
  • Kammron Taylor has moved on from Spain to Turkey and plays in the same league as Stiemsma now, with Kepez Bld Antalya.
  • Zach Morley didn't latch on in Spain for another season either. His whereabouts are unknown.
  • Same goes for Ray Nixon in the German Bundesliga, who does not appear on his former team's roster this season despite winning the league's slam dunk contest last year.
So while not everyone can have the good fortune or incredible talent of the NBA's Devin Harris or Alando Tucker, Kirk Penney is living the dream as well as any former Badger. As you probably know, Penney is a kiwi hero after playing for his homeland in Olympic and World Championship competitions since leaving Wisconsin. He was an All-NBL first-team pick in 2008 and is currently leading the New Zealand Breakers -- and the entire league -- in scoring at 28.3 ppg.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Media's Preseason Picks Are In

Wisconsin's Marcus Landry was named to the Big Ten's preseason all-conference team by the media this weekend, joining Manny Harris, Raymar Morgan, E'Twaun Moore and preseason POY selection Robbie Hummel.

It appears that Landry's Most Outstanding Player award from last season's Big Ten Tournament has helped distinguish him from the three other heralded upperclassmen returnees in Madison. Landry himself agreed. I am interested to see if the Goggled One can rise to the occasion.

Meanwhile, the media projects UW to finish third in conference play this season, behind Purdue and Michigan State. All three teams should be very solid this season, while the young'ns at Ohio State and Minnesota will determine whether the Big Ten begins its return to glory this season or next.

: : :

The people have spoken. The majority of Hoops Marinara readers prefer Keaton Nankivil over Jon Leuer to start for the Badgers. Nankivil earned 51% of the vote, compared to 35% for Leuer. Nankivil has been getting a lot of attention lately as the one who will fill Brian Butch's shoes initally as the fifth starter. Even Bo Ryan had a few encouraging words about Nankivil in his Wisconsin media day press conference [video] last week.

It will certainly be a group effort, however, including both a more fit (sober?) Kevin Gullikson and J.P. Gavinski -- like it or not. I would not be surprised to see Leuer end up with more minutes played than Nankivil either, as long as Jon can keep his back healthy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Things That Go Clang In The Night

The Night of the Grateful Red returned for its second incarnation last night at the Kohl Center. From missed layups and dunks in the first warm-up drill to a painfully developing slam dunk contest, the session looked every bit like the "first practice of the year" that it is.

Every year, I know this going in. Yet I still get that occasional twinge in my stomach, thinking "shouldn't these guys be better at this?" That is, until I get home and see similar contests across the league via the Big Ten Network's Midnight Madness special [highlights]. The fact is that all of these dunk contests are hard to watch.

This year's event did not include a scrimmage, so I was disappointed that we did not get to see any of the new players in action for the first time.

So on to the recap ...

This year's dunk contest field grew to five participants, including newcomers Ryan Evans and Rob Wilson. Keaton Nankivil got a nice dunk in after a try or two, but it was Morris Cain leading the way in round one. Rumors persisted that Evans was freaky athletic and that proved true as he topped Cain in the finals and capped the night off with an East Bay Funk-style dunk between the legs (after three or four tries, admittedly).

Prior to that, the seven contestants in the 3-point shooting contest displayed their skills behind the new white 20'9" arc. Jon Leuer struggled and his form still looks incredibly goofy. Frosh point guard Jordan Taylor handled himself well in his first performance on the new floor of the "Herb Garden." It was a great move to put Joe Krabbenhoft in this contest and believe it or not, he won it! We can only hope that is a sign of things to come. Maybe that has been the problem all these years -- Krabby is just too strong for the shorter 3-point line. Yeah, that's it ... too strong.

There was no way for Bo Ryan to top last year's dance video and I think they knew that. They tried to spice it up this time with an old school vs. new school dance-off between Bo and Marcus Landry that fell flat.

Despite adding cheerleaders, the whole dance concept is a little tired. However, it does give some individual flavor to each player as they are introduced. For example, Wquinton Smith is by far the best dance man on the squad. He could do Dancing With The Stars easily. I thought Jared Berggren, Tim Jarmusz and Brett Valentyn were awful. But then I saw J-Bo attempt to dance. Not pretty. Too timid. He is going to get grief from Bo all year long for that.

Final thoughts: Nankivil still looks like he should be able to pack more muscle onto that big frame of his. But after two seasons of waiting, maybe it's not going to happen ... While Wquinton was the same height as his dance team partner, Ian Markolf showed he was a legit 7-footer by kneeling next to his cheerleader and still edging her height-wise ... The cowboy hat during player intros might become an annual tradition. Last year it was Trevon Hughes, this time it was Krabby.

: : :

Links:
- This running the hill business has taken on a life of its own. At any rate, I look forward to seeing the Bo Ryan's best-conditioned team yet.
- Mike Wilkinson is out of action due to a knee injury, so back in town for the Penn State game, he explained how fanatic Greek basketball fans are compared to Wisconsin football fans. The craziest part of the article is wife Alexis telling how she used to get death threats from Michigan fans. Ah Wolverines ... stick to football.
- One of my favorite new blogs is Jerry Tarkanian's Shark Bytes for the Las Vegas Sun. If you followed college hoops in the late '80s or early '90s, this will be a hilarious retreat.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Adding New Features

I am trying out some new features on the website, as well as reminding everyone of some older content:

  • I just added the new 'Followers' widget from Blogger. So if you read Hoops Marinara, do me the favor of adding yourself via the Readers section in the right-hand column. Hopefully it adds some value to the blog. Thank you kindly ...

  • The first poll has been added along the right-hand side as well, an enhancement that was looooong overdue. Predictably, the first question I pose to you involves Bo Ryan's starting lineup this season.

  • The recruiting sidebar has been cleaned up. As the Badgers officially welcome their freshmen quintet, so too must the Class of 2008 give way to the Class of 2009 atop the recruiting front. The Roster Origins Map that resides there has also been updated for the new season. (Now with more Wquinton!)

  • If you think the UW Video Spotlight shows the same videos over and over, you are wrong. I update the search criteria every week or two to showcase a different past or present Badger baller. So keep checking in.

Consider this a call to arms for those casual readers out there. If you know of a good link that is relevant to Wisconsin, the Big Ten, college basketball or recruiting that you think would be a good addition to the blog roll, go ahead and suggest it, either through an email or a comment on a post. Hopefully the new polls will push the site to become a little more interactive as well.

: : :

"Retired" prospects from the recruiting sidebar:
: : : Class of 2008
Signed Letters of Intent: 5
PG
Jordan Taylor, Minneapolis [v]
PF
Jared Berggren, Princeton MN [v]
SG
Robert Wilson, Garfield Hts OH
C
Ian Markolf, San Antonio TX
SF
Ryan Evans, Chandler AZ

Do you like the NCAA tournament's new 8-team "first-round" format?

What should Wisconsin do with the newly vacated scholarship?

Poll: Who will win the Big Ten?

Poll: Who was Wisconsin's first-half MVP (thru 16 games)?

Poll: How Many Regular Season games will wisconsin win in 2009-10?