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Monday, March 31, 2008

Elite 8: The Storybook Closes

Davidson, 2008's Cinderella story, needed to hit one more shot to advance to the Final Four but could not get a clean look for Stephen Curry at the game's climax. Instead, four #1 seeds will battle in the Final Four for the first time.

But the Wildcats proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were one of the top ten teams in the country this season. Likewise, Kansas proved that it has the defensively capabilities to get an important stop in crunch time, which could be the difference in slowing down the Carolina machine.

What a phenomenal display of team defense by the Jayhawks on that final play. I think everyone was shocked that Curry didn't choose to just force the last shot up himself, as it took a lot to force the ball out of Curry's hands. Although Brandon Rush struggled offensively, he recovered nicely after stumbling to the ground and stuck with Curry. After he jumped in the air, anticipating a shot, it was Sherron Collins who slid in with an air raised high in Curry's face that ultimately forced the pass. Well done.

The UNC-Louisville game was the one I was most anticipating this weekend, though, and it nearly lived up to the hype. However, Louisville's carelessness with the ball denied them another win.

Wauwatosa native Jerry Smith provided the early spark for the Cards and finished with a team-high 17 points. His shot was looking very good from deep range, but he was held scoreless for the final 11 minutes of the contest. It's not worth comparing Smith to Hughes or J-Bo at this point, but I like Smith's energy in the Louisville's pressing scheme and his shooting has really improved. Obviously, he could have helped the Badgers much more than J.P. Gavinski has thus far.

Round 4 data
How the #3 seeds fared: 0-2 (10-4 overall)
(1)North Carolina 83, (3)Louisville 73 [box]
(1)UCLA 76, (3)Xavier 57 [box]

My picks: 37/60 (61.6%) overall | Round 4: 3/4 (75%)

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Washington State's Tony Bennett has turned down the offer to coach the Indiana Hoosiers. According to Hoosier Scoop, Indiana will spare no expense to get Xavier's Sean Miller to fill the vacancy. Former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery will also be a top candidate.

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The future Badgers from the Land of 10,000 Lakes went one for two in capturing state championships this weekend. Benilde-St. Margaret's won the Class 3A, 58-52, over last year's champs, Senior point guard Jordan Taylor made a strong case for Minnesota's Mr. Basketball all week long. Taylor capped off a great all-around tournament with 20 pts, 10 rebs & 6 assts on Saturday night. At State, he averaged 27 pts, 7 rebs, 5.6 assts, 2.6 stls, with over a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. I'd say Taylor's ready for college.

Mike Bruesewitz's Henry Sibley team ran out to a big lead on favored Minnetonka in the Class 4A final, but faltered under pressure, losing 68-59. The junior commit had another nice all-around game, but struggled from the free throw line in the second half. Bruesewitz finished with 39 rebounds in three games at the state tournament.

Now that Royce White has transferred to Hopkins, both the champs and Sibley will be chasing Minnetonka's rival next year.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reflecting Back On Wisconsin's Exit

After getting a good night's rest, I feel better equipped to make more rational statements about Wisconsin's season coming to a close.

I want to give some props to Jason Bohannon, the one player that seemed determined to create something out of nothing when all seemed lost for UW. He scored 11 points, dished a team-high three assists and added one steal. An unfortunate year-long trend for the team has been the lack of assists. Assists can be viewed as a subjective statistic at times, but I think passing is one area in which the Badgers can be a better team next year.

The typically reliable Joe Krabbenhoft only tallied three rebounds and had three turnovers as well. If that weren't bad enough already, Stephen Curry was caught guarding Krabby many times, but Joe did not post him up successfully at all. That's inexcusable. He needs to take a big step forward offensively next year as a senior. And he will be needed inside with the departures of Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma.

Being upset by a 10-seed was another terrible ending to a great season, no matter how good Davidson really is. Luckily, the Badgers were truly playing with house money at this point, despite their lofty top-ten ranking. If you would have told me to start the year that Wisconsin would be Big Ten regular season and tournament champs, go 31-5 and make the Sweet 16, I would have been ecstatic. That is the only thing that can comfort Badger fans at this point. Try it, it works.

As you might expect,the initial reaction by a few other Badger bloggers was much like mine--one of despondence, frustration, and surprise at seeing a totally different Wisconsin team out on the court. The Wisconsin Sports Bar actually broke down the six losses that Davidson has suffered this season and determined that a shift in the ratio of Stephen Curry's 3-point attempts to the team's 3-point attempts as a whole has made the Wildcats a better team. The other trend in Davidson's losses were foul trouble for Curry or an advantage from the line for its opponent. Last night, Wisconsin did not get Davidson into any foul trouble and therefore did not have a significant enough advantage in that area (14/21 vs. 9/12) to make up for Curry's supporting cast hitting 6-of-13 from long-range.

The play of the "other players" did not escape Davidson head coach Bob McKillop. Point guard Jason Richards played flawless basketball, but the rest of the team is talented too. In fact, Davidson was ranked higher than Wisconsin in those all-important preseason polls. With the Big Ten clearly experiencing a down year, Davidson may have been just as battle-tested as Wisconsin thanks to their pre-conference schedule.

On UW hoops message boards, expressing the usual mix of hopeless doomsday theorizing or stoic, blind support of the program. Many posters are simply giving Davidson a lot of credit. I plan on rooting for the Wildcats from here on out. My pool brackets have already flat-lined anyway.

Redemption for the Flowers family
Things looked bleak for Winona State in the first half against Augusta State in the NCAA Division II Championship game. But the Warriors (38-1) did something in the second half that the Badgers could not do in their game: play with confidence. Winona State punched back and with 10 minutes left in the game, had completely erased what had been a 16-point deficit. Led by Jonte Flowers, Winona State then extended the lead and held on for a 87-76 win.

Flowers, the tournament's MVP, pulled a mini-Curry, exploding for 25 of his 30 points after halftime, compared to Augusta State's 32 second-half points. He hit some timely 3-pointers and stepped up his trademarked defensive pressure even in the face of foul trouble. He would have been a nice addition to UW's program, but I doubt he would trade his experiences in Minnesota for anything. I did notice that Flowers missed two fast break layups off of his own steals. Mike Flowers had some trouble finishing on the break this year also -- do small hands run in the family?

Congratulations to the whole Madison LaFollette crew (Flowers, Quincy Henderson, Curtrel Robinson) at Winona State that captured its second national title in three years.

Sweet 16: Admit One To Dumpsville

Right around the five-minute mark, Jason Bohannon drove the lane and found Brian Butch for an easy lay-in. Bo Ryan immediately called timeout. As the camera cut to him, you could clearly see Bo tear into his team, "That's what we needed. Not any of this ..."

The words became unclear, but as Bo waved his extended hand out over the court, the television audience got the message. Friday's meltdown was one of failed execution. Several Badgers passed up opportunities to drive to the hoop, even turning 180 degrees at times to double back toward the midcourt area to deliver another meaningless hand-off pass. In particular, Joe Krabbenhoft (no surprise) and Marcus Landry did not look for their shot, while Butch didn't seem to make much of a concerted effort to get good position in the post at any point. The offense looked pathetic, the rebounding position was inadequate, the effort was listless ... the tentative Badgers were simply outplayed in almost every way.

I have not felt so wrong about a prediction since I boldly proclaimed in the student newspaper that the Wisconsin football team would upset Michigan in 2001. Not only did Butch fail to show up for this game, but it did not resemble a close game in any way after halftime [box score].

ESPN's Pat Forde wrote the following in a forthright column after the game:
"This was a basketball lecture rapped into Wisconsin's knuckles. The Badgers played most of the game a man down after the injury to guard Trevon Hughes, but that's no excuse. They were the inferior team."
Harsh words to swallow. I'd like to refute the statement eight different ways, but it would just be grasping at the runaway loose end of a long season's rope. Abysmal second-half shooting (23.8%) led to the most embarrassing Badger loss since the infamous Southwest Missouri State game. It will be an entire year before Bo has another chance to prove he can beat a team with a single-digit seed, that he's not prone to postseason upsets and that Wisconsin can hang with unfamiliar and up-tempo teams.

The sad thing is that you could see this coming. Wisconsin recently began shooting more and more 3-pointers, attempting 17, 18, 16, 22 and finally 23 shots from behind the arc over the last five games. As the Badgers became more proficient as shooting the trey as the season wore on, you could see the players become more willing to settle for that type of outcome. When threes are going in, they were in the first half Friday night, you can stay close in games and win them down the stretch. However, an intelligent coach might see those postseason 3-point shooting percentages (34.7, 40.9, 18.7, 50, 29.4) and build a game plan designed to limit interior looks and take his chances with the outside shooting.

But the Badgers seemed to keep banging their heads against the proverbial wall. It is hard to dictate a slower pace in a game against a superior transition team when you are missing long shots, not recovering the rebound and then compounding the threat by not getting back on defense quick enough. Curry's freeze-and-fire that saw Krabby sailing through the air was not only a very heads-up play by a smart player, but also a microcosm of the game as a whole: Wisconsin was never in the right place at the right time.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is seeing another team apply consistent defensive pressure and see your own team fail to do two important things in return: (1) respond aggressively on offense to draw fouls on the pressure defense and (2) man up and increase your own defensive pressure in return. Wisconsin could not score to keep up with Davidson and did not make the Wildcats work very hard to get their buckets. After dominating the glass in the first half, seemingly every bounce went Davidson's way in the second half as the rebounding totals shifted completely back to even by the end of the game.

Davidson possessed the X-factor. Stephen Curry. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's lack of a go-to scorer finally caught up the team. Not even the senior leaders, Flowers and Butch, could muster the emotion or confidence to help get UW's mojo back after the Wildcats had stolen it. The Badgers were out-gunned and they acted like they knew it before anyone else.

Two minor subplots would be the continued inefficiency of the Badger inbounds plays and the lack of depth. With Hughes shelved for what looked like poor performance, but was later revealed to be the gimpy ankle flaring up, Wisconsin went only six players deep. Not to sound like a broken record, but it would have been nice to pull a more seasoned Keaton Nankivil or a third shooter off the bench to shake things up a bit.

At least Michigan State got blown out by a #1 seed. Big Ten down? I think so ...

Round 3 data
How the Big Ten fared: 0-2 (5-4 overall)*
(1)Memphis 92, (5) Michigan State 74 [box]
*.556 winning % is sixth among conferences with more than one team

How the other #3 seeds fared: 2-1 (10-2 overall)
(2)Texas 82, (3)Stanford 62 [box]
(3)Louisville 79, (2)Tennessee 60 [box]
(3)Xavier 79, (7)West Virginia 75 [box]

My picks: 34/56 (60.7%) overall | Round 3: 3/8 (37.5%)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Beat Those Wildcats ... Again

Davidson College famously offered free transportation for the 648-mile trip to tonight's game in Detroit, along with paid tickets and lodging, but only about 350 students will be making the bus trip due to the short-term logistics. Conversely, the Kohl Center is 406 miles from Ford Field, so you've got to hope for a large UW contingent to make up for all the Kansas, Villanova and Davidson fans cheering for the Wildcats in what could be one of the largest crowds ever to see an NCAA Regional game. Diverted traffic will be wreaking havoc on Motown's motorists this weekend, but the thick, unwelcome snow that fell last night hopefully has not kept the Badger faithful from arriving safely in town.

Much has been made of the cavernous atmosphere of Ford Field. Incidentally some have speculated whether something similar is a factor behind Wisconsin's success within the Kohl Center. Much ado about nothing I say. There will be a few constants in this Badger game: Flowers will D up and Curry will still get his shots off (although, didn't you notice, he is on a downward scoring trend? 40, then 30, now ... 20?!)

When it comes down to the strategy, you know Bo is sticking to his plan. Touch the post. It should be Brian Butch's world tonight, with everyone else just a guest. The truly remarkable story will be if Wisconsin can win the game and Butch doesn't have his national coming out party tonight. In that case, one of the other Badgers will have stepped up at the game's tipping point, because without Butch blowing up, this one is going down to the wire. But my money is on Butch; I just feel it. The state will be giddy to advance one its favorite native sons to the Elite 8 in his final trip around the block.

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After reviewing the highlights of Benilde-St. Margaret's quarterfinal victory, I can see why Jordan Taylor nailed so many treys: no perimeter defense. Without seeing the whole game, maybe his attacks to the hoop were so devastating that the other team laid off, I dunno. Taylor did shoot 16-of-18 from the charity stripe and fouled out his defender after all. It was more of the same Thursday night as BSM advanced to the Class 3A championship game with a 100-70 waxing of Minneapolis Patrick Henry.

"We wanted to put our foot on their throat and not let up," Taylor said.

With the win, the Red Knights earned a Saturday rematch with St. Thomas Academy in a repeat of last year's final game.

Mike Bruesewitz notched an impressive 18/16 double-double to lead Henry Sibley into the Class 4A title game on Saturday. He also won the match of wits with uber-talented Rodney Williams. I don't think the Warriors will be intimidated at all by Minnetonka in the championship. This should be a nice comparison of prep hoops between Wisconsin and Minnesota since Madison Memorial spanked Minnetonka earlier this year. Needless to say, I was not that impressed with the Skippers at the time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Life At The Top

A lot of people say they do not care about how high their team is ranked during the season, but I disagree. I think it's a really big deal to make it to the top ten and stay there. Think about ESPN's Bottom Line: no matter what programming is on at the time, you know when the college hoop scores scroll by, they are going to show results from top ten teams. It's free, extraneous publicity.

Free pub is also a benefit of making it to the second weekend of the tournament. To be able to stay on people's minds, even if it's not by choice, enhances the brand. In this case, Wisconsin's brand. When you lose as a high seed, especially on a Thursday or Saturday, people are rehashing your unexpected demise over and over. Advance to the Sweet 16 and every sports website around is digging up stories on your team--The Sporting News, ESPN, SI, Fox Sports ... even the Washington Post. (Oops, I guess the Badgers aren't familiar to entire nation quite yet.)

But some national love is coming UW's way. On Tuesday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram discussed the obvious turning point in Wisconsin's season, the Badgers' gritty win at Texas without Trevon Hughes' services. Since then, the Badgers have gone 21-2. Their 12-game winning streak is tied for the second-longest in the nation with UCLA. Wisconsin will try to end the longest winning streak in the land, Davidson's 24 in a row, on Friday night.

Gary Parrish at CBS Sports gives another great example of Bo Ryan's sense of humor as well. The article dovetails well off of my comments the other day about being able to accept winning ugly or playing "boring" basketball. The program is really starting to get its due as a winner.

Locally, both UW's future has been discussed from two different angles. The UW assistant coaches shed some light on the progress Wisconsin's freshmen class has made and what to expect in the future. The legacy that the current senior class will leave is significant also. The loss of Alando Tucker and Kam Taylor last season could be spun as a step toward a more cohesive and balanced team, but I think the void left by Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma inside is glaring no matter how you look at it. Add Mike Flowers to that mix and the losses are every bit as significant as last year. Then again, look where that got the Badgers.

Update: Minnesota Recruits
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune named its Metro Player of the Year this week, selecting Minnetonka's Anthony Tucker over Badger recruit Jordan Taylor. That must have gotten Taylor fired up because he tore into Como Park for 43 points tonight in the opening round of the Minnesota Class 3A State Tournament. Minnetonka. Benilde-St. Margaret's is the top seed in their division and will play Minneapolis Patrick Henry on Thursday in the semifinals.

The paper also released its All-Metro teams and named Taylor, Tucker and Jared Berggren to the first team. This might sound familiar, but Taylor and Tucker appear to be very close (even though Tucker will be a Hawkeye). Again, it sounds like Jordan comes from a solid family and will no doubt be a great addition for Bo next season.

Another UW recruit, Mike Bruesewitz, also picked up a win tonight in the Class 4A tournament. Bruiser's Henry Sibley team advances to face Rodney Williams and Robbinsdale Cooper tomorrow. Williams was a second-team All-Metro selection while Bruiser was a third-team pick. Speaking of which, someone tracked down some video highlights of Bruisewitz and John Millea says Bruiser talks to himself.

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Lost in the shuffle of the NCAA tournament hype was the firing of Milwaukee Bucks GM Larry Harris, who had manned the position since July 2003. This might have been strategic timing by Sen. Herb Kohl to allow Harris to slither out of the limelight without much attention. That would of course assume anyone is still paying attention to the Bucks at all.

The draft picks of the Larry Harris Era have been hit-or-miss, with no uncovered gems. Even though a couple of big free agent blunders (Jamaal Magloire, Dan Gadzuric, Bobby Simmons) have left the Bucks in an undesirable salary cap situation for the near future, Harris will probably be remembered for the inane shuffling of inexperienced head coaches that took place on his watch. I wonder if he'd take Terry Porter back now. You have to wonder if that rumored trade for Zach Randolph nixed by Sen. Kohl could have save Harris.

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Assorted Prep Links:
- (3/25) Jeronne Maymon didn't sound too eloquent in the Wisconsin State Journal's Q &A last Sunday when he was named area POY, but apparently, former Badger Hennssy Auriantal has a plan to get the junior's grades up.
- (3/1) Catching up with Rodney Williams at
- (2/22) An older article on Texas giant Ian Markolf landed him on the cover of RISE magazine [requires login]

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Round 2: Two Down, Four To Go

There is a large measure of satisfaction in this Wisconsin team (31-4) making the Sweet 16 after last season's collapse. Setting a new school mark for total victories in a season stands on its own merit too. The team is soaking it in, but has its sights set on bigger things. To loosely quote a great video game, "Congratulations Bucky, but our princess is in another castle."

Wisconsin is one-third of the way through the national championship journey. The Badgers now hold the Omaha belt, but need to win two more "mini-tournaments" to claim the prize of an undisputed champion. Thankfully, next weekend's venue has a Big Ten flavor (Detroit) rather than being in Davidson's home state, where second-seeded Georgetown ran into quite a partisan crowd. That was actually the last game I filled out on my personal bracket. I knew Davidson could scare the elite teams as they had North Carolina, UCLA and Duke early in the season, but didn't have 100% faith in Stephen Curry and Co. to actual knock Georgetown out. Although Davidson might be a better matchup for Wisconsin, I couldn't help but want the Badgers to get a shot at the Hoyas.

Davidson has a recent history of losing to high-ranking Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament, but it's safe to say this is not your father's Davidson Wildcats. Sophomore Stephen Curry has been the breakout star of the tournament, scoring 70 points in the 10th-seeded Wildcats' two NCAA victories. Davidson will undoubtedly be another en vogue pick to upset Wisconsin. The university has revamped their home page to center on the phenomenon. Most people are probably excited to see Mike Flowers match up with Curry, but I think Curry will be a different assignment than a player like Drew Neitzel. Curry does not have to work nearly as hard to get his open shots -- heck, he doesn't need to be open at all to get a look. As we've seen, even from the Badgers, the team that hits its 3-pointers will most likely win. Good thing Wisconsin has outscored its last three opponents 107-76 in the second half. Nice adjustments Bo.

While some teams like UNC blow out the opposition with hundreds of points, the Badgers have shifted into another class. Along with Washington State, Wisconsin has been one of the most impressive teams in the tourney because they are systematically choking their opponents over the course of the game. If Bill Simmons is right that this year "the best MacGyver team is going to win" than Wisconsin is in great shape. Apparently, the Sports Guy doesn't know that Wisconsin is one of those teams he's talking about, since he picked USC to beat the Badgers.

Greg Stiemsma proved his worth in shutting down Michael Beasley (along with Butch and Landry) and giving him fits on the offensive end as well. The Stiemboat's efficiency numbers were off the chart (14 pts/7 rebs in 14 mins) and his body control on the 3-on-1 fast break finish that led to an old fashioned three-point play was my favorite play of the game [box score].

Like Stiemsma, Trevon Hughes had a phenomenal and efficient game as the Badger guards completely outclassed Kansas State's guards. Even though Hughes led the team in scoring, I was surprised to see that he had scored 25 points ... I'm too used to everyone chipping in their 8-12 points I guess. Do you think the announcers will start to acknowledge that Wisconsin has developed into a very good outside shooting team? They act so shocked when UW's shots start to fall. Wisconsin actually had their fifth-best offensive efficiency performance of the year, posting its second-highest effective field goal percentage (62%).

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's nemesis Michigan State got the benefit of some terrible officiating down the stretch in its win over Pittsburgh. A highly questionable moving screen call on Gilbert Brown was followed by an outrageous charging call on Levance Fields in the final minute. It may not have mattered, but Kailin Lucas was nowhere near having position on Fields as he drove, not to mention a clear-cut swipe by Neitzel that caught all arm. Please Sparty, no more complaints to Badger fans about officiating, huh? Nevertheless, Saturday was another great round of games, particularly because Duke, the nation's nemesis, lost. Sunday's round of cakewalks left something to be desired.

Round 2 data
How the Big Ten fared: 2-1 (5-2 overall)*
(5)Michigan State 65, (4)Pittsburgh 54 [box]
(3)Xavier 85, (6)Purdue 78 [box]
*.714 winning % is best among conferences with more than one team

How the other #3 seeds fared: 3-0 (8-0 overall)*
Xavier (see above)
(3)Stanford 82, (6)Marquette 81 [box]
(3)Louisville 78, (6)Oklahoma 48 [box]
*only the #1 seeds are also undefeated; #2s: 6-2, #12s: 4-2

My picks: 31/48 (64.5%) overall | Round 2: 9/16 (56%)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Round 1: Defense vs. Excitement

Wisconsin is boring.

There. I said it. The thing I notice watching the first two days of the tournament is that all of the exciting games feature pretty poor defense. In a couple of these overtime thrillers, there has been no reason to believe that the team holding the ball in the end cannot just come down the court and make a basket. Connecticut needed one stop and couldn't get it. Drake needed one stop and couldn't get it. Both teams went home.

So when critics call Wisconsin boring, we get upset. But deep down we know it's true. However, Badger fans have been conditioned to value a slower tempo that wins and gets critical defensive stops over a faster pace that does not get those stops and may not win those games that are there for the taking. I think we all agree that the trade-off is a good one. That has been one of the more gratifying parts to the season for me. Except for the game at Purdue, UW has seized those victories that were up for grabs. Now I just need Wisconsin to keep rolling along and getting those stops to prove me right.

It only gets tougher from here though. Wisconsin was too big and too strong for Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, evidenced by its 47-20 rebounding advantage. Despite not clamping down on the Titans for the first six minutes or so, the Badgers held the Big West champs to 36% shooting. Offensively, at least the Badgers made it to 70 points. Purdue did its part in trying to shed the "plodding" conference perception that is so rampant by throwing up 90 points. The Big Ten started out 3-0, winning by an average of over 12 points.

Joe Krabbenhoft was quite impressive with the ball. He looked eager to shoot and was fairly accurate, even sinking a 3-pointer. The threat of Krabbenhoft is one of the few missing ingredients to this team's ultimate success. After firing some ill-advised threes in the first few minutes, the team settled down and got better shots. Wisconsin finished only 3-of-16 (18%) from behind the arc after appearing to be on pace to shoot 25 or more in the game [box score].

Greg Stiemsma gave the Badgers some very good minutes as well. Hopefully he is well-rested enough to face man-child Michael Beasley on Saturday afternoon. Kansas State, only 143 miles from its Manhattan, KS campus in Omaha, are the fourth-closest to home of any team in the tourney.

Round 1 data
How the Big Ten fared: 3-1*
(5)Michigan State 72, (12)Temple 61 [box]
(6)Purdue 90, (11)Baylor 79 [box]
(9)Arkansas 86, (8)Indiana 72 [box]
*tied with ACC for third, behind Big East (7-1) and Big 12 (5-1)

How the other #3 seeds fared: 3-0
(3)Xavier 73, (14)Georgia 61 [box]
(3)Stanford 77, (14)Cornell 53 [box]
(3)Louisville 79, (14) Boise State 61 [box]

My picks: 22/32 (69%)

Top moments:
1. Western Kentucky tops gun-slinging Drake on Ty Rogers' buzzer-beater in overtime. Ultimately, the Bulldogs needed one more of their 42 3-point attempts to go in. While Adam Emmenecker was spectacular (14 assists) without making a single field goal, Hilltopper point man Tyrone Brazelton was even better -- 30 points and the game-winning assist.
2. Stephen Curry dropping 30 of his tournament-high 40 points in the second half of Davidson's upset win over perennial underachiever Gonzaga. Curry hit 8-of-10 3-pointers even though the entire stadium knew he was going to get the ball and try to shoot on each possession.
3. Belmont takes Duke to the limit. Gerald Henderson's drive to the hoop in th waning seconds helps the Dukies avoid perhaps their most embarrassing loss under Coach K.
4. Point guard A.J. Price leaves the game on crutches in the first half and then watched from the bench as his UConn teammates fall to 13th-seeded San Diego in overtime.
5. Top seeds dominate. UCLA holds Mississippi Valley State to a record-low 29 points on Thursday, followed by North Carolina hanging 113 points on Mount St. Mary's.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hoops Marinara Celebrates 100th Post With Unimaginative Tournament Picks

How appropriate that the 100th post drops on Hoops Marinara the day before the 2008 NCAA Tournament begins. But there is no time to sit and reflect on the blog's modest introduction to the world over the past year. With apologies to the Super Bowl and Mount St. Mary's, which won the play-in game Tuesday night, tomorrow is the greatest day in sports. It kicks off a roller coaster weekend where coaches' job security, players' legacies, fans' dangerously high blood pressure and gamblers' house payments are all on the line.

Inevitably, some first-round games will be clunkers. Those #1 seeds will be blowing some poor opponent out by halftime and CBS will switch to a different game. How do you know when one team has the game in the bag? Well, consulting The Bill James Lead Calculator would be a start. James created an easy formula for determining when the comeback ship has sailed and it becomes officially safe to leave the building at a college basketball game. It's so intriguing that I already have it memorized! Read the full article to get the full enjoyment, but in a nutshell, here's how it works:

1. Take the number of points one team is leading by and subtract 3.
2. Add a half-point if the team in the lead has the ball, otherwise, subtract a half-point if the trailing team has the ball.
3. Take that resulting number and square it.
4. Now compare it to the time remaining: if the number is greater than the number of seconds left in the game, the lead is 100% safe, set in stone, locked-in.
For example, a 12-point lead with one minute left in the game is statistically insurmountable according to James. That seems like pretty common knowledge, but at what point does a 25-point lead mean you don't have to worry about your team screwing things up? With 7:44 remaining, that's when. I think it will come in handy ... or at least improve my quick math skills while hoping someone proves James' formula wrong.

Now for the picks. I cannot justify any of the standard 5/12 or 4/13 upsets this year. And the upper tier of teams are too superior to get booted out very early either. The middle rounds will be where this tourney earns its keep. But I do love the 10-seeds this season ...

Round 1 winners:
(1)North Carolina, (8)Indiana
(5)Notre Dame, (4)Washington State
(6)Oklahoma, (3)Louisville
(10)South Alabama, (2)Tennessee
(1)Kansas, (9)Kent State
(5)Clemson, (4)Vanderbilt
(6)USC, (3)Wisconsin
(10)Davidson, (2)Georgetown
(1)Memphis, (8)Mississippi State
(5)Michigan State, (4)Pittsburgh
(11)Kentucky, (3)Stanford
(10)St. Mary's, (2)Texas
(1)UCLA, (9)Texas A&M
(5)Drake, (4)Connecticut
(6)Purdue, (3)Xavier
(7)West Virginia, (2)Duke

Sweet 16:
(1)North Carolina, (5)Notre Dame
(3)Louisville, (2)Tennessee
-Possibly the most exciting, highest-scoring regional final games of all-time. Even with Wisconsin on, I might sneak a peak at one of these games. UNC and Tennessee are destined for a classic collision.
(1)Kansas, (5)Clemson
(3)Wisconsin, (2)Georgetown*
*These two games would be the opposite of clashes in style. But the UW-G'Town contest would be interesting as a matchup of experience (Butch, Flowers, Landry, Krabby) versus tournament experience (last year's Final Four run for the Hoyas). Gotta vote the alma mater through.
(1)Memphis, (4)Pittsburgh
(3)Stanford, (2)Texas
-I don't trust Texas or Memphis. Even though I know nothing of Stanford besides the Lopez twins, I'm picking Texas to lose because I already have too many top seeds advancing. Pittsburgh is finally healthy and they have good players at every position. Same as Memphis, only better disciplined.
(1)UCLA, (5)Drake
(6)Purdue, (2)Duke*
*Very excited for this matchup. Very similar teams here (both Badger killers) and Big Ten could really earn some bragging rights here. I had Duke picked, but I will go with my heart, not my head.

Elite 8:
(1)North Carolina vs. (2)Tennessee
(1)Kansas vs. (3)Wisconsin
(4)Pittsburgh vs. (3)Stanford
(1)UCLA vs. (6)Purdue

Final 4:
(1)North Carolina vs. (1)Kansas
(3)Stanford vs. (1)UCLA

I like UNC over UCLA in the championship game. The Tar Heels have Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough on the inside, a great point guard in Ty Lawson and plenty of athletes in the stable. UCLA conters with phenom Kevin Love on the blocks, Darren Collison running point and great finishers in Westbrook and Shipp. The difference is Wayne Ellington for UNC and UCLA's lack of consistent outside shooting. They've gotten too many breaks already.

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Those "Minnesotan Badgers" are proving themselves to be winners. Jordan Taylor and Armond Battle both scored 20 points as Benilde-St. Margaret's advanced to the Minnesota Class 3A State Tournament for the second straight year. Mike Bruesewitz led his team to a Section 4A Championship as well, scoring 11 of his game-high 19 points in the second half. (Not a bad game for Rodney Williams either).

On another prep note, the Illinois Associated Press announced their All-State teams recently. For Badger fans, note junior Diamond Taylor earned honorable mention in Class 3A. Tons of D1 talent at the Class 4A level too. The Big Ten has already claimed eight players from the first and second teams in those divisions, including four headed to Illinois. Up to three additional players may wind up in the conference as well. The lower classes (1A & 2A) feature some names you might recognize as one-time interests of the UW staff.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Are We There Yet?

I am already sick of people breaking down the seedings. None of it matters; teams executing what they do better than the opponent is the only thing of consequence in the upcoming games. Turnovers, free throws, execution ... these things matter now more than ever. Not even playing close to home makes much of a difference in my opinion. Sticking to a routine and being rested is important, but that can be done away from home if a team is well-prepared. Will Wisconsin perform better in Omaha than it would a few more states away? Doubtful. I want the games to get here as fast as possible, so that the actual stories of competition are the topics of discussion again.

As it is, even those far more intelligent than I are breaking down bracket winners and losers and bemoaning this year's lousy matchups. What I find more interesting is actual statistical analysis in regards to seeding, like the Performance Above Seeding Expectations (PASE) values calculated by Peter Tiernan. Tiernan used PASE stats to identify the top indicators of overachievement in the tournament. It's useful for the brackets that award bonus points for picking upsets I suppose.

I plan on releasing my official picks tomorrow night. Just remember that when picking your national champ this week, choose a team ranked in the RPI top 10 with a winning percentage of at least .850 which has played 10 or more games against the RPI top 50 (and won). And try not to get distracted by those piddly graduation rates.

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Bucky was ranked fifth in the final regular season ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. While only sixth in the AP Poll, I think talk of getting no respect should all but disappear at this point. The ranking is actually an honor considering Duke, which embarrassed the Badgers, is ranked three spots behind them in both polls.

Wisconsin simply is not as battle-tested as it needs to be at this point. The Badgers have only played one decent team (Michigan State) in their past five games. You can only beat the teams you play, but that can mean very little once you reach the final 65. Let's hope Wisconsin can stay healthy then and avoid last year's results, when a 30-win team wound up 11th in the final postseason coaches poll, behind luminaries such as Pittsburgh and Southern Illinois.

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Two more conference teams, Ohio State and Minnesota, continued their seasons via NIT invites. To emphasize how poor the bottom of the Big Ten was this year (as if the committee didn't do enough of that), no additional conference teams were invited to the awful CBI tournament.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Big Ten Champs Grab A 3-Seed

Wisconsin will ride a 10-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament as a 3-seed in the Midwest region. The Badgers will play Thursday versus Big West champion Cal-State Fullerton (24-8) in Omaha, NE.

I think the Badgers had a legitimate argument to be a #2 over either Duke or Texas based on performance in the last 10 games, but I'm not surprised that the Big Ten seedings were down in general. Wisconsin's thorough domination of Illinois to capture the Big Ten Tournament title did not come into play during the seeding process of course, thus Georgetown's loss to Pittsburgh and Texas' loss to Kansas could not drop them below the Badgers.

Still, UW fared better than other Big Ten teams. CBS' Seth Davis felt fifth-seeded Michigan State was a likely upset candidate, while Purdue fell to a 6-seed. The crumbling Indiana Hoosiers were given an 8-seed and Ohio State saw its bubble burst Sunday afternoon.

Looking ahead, I hope Michael Flowers has the chance to shut down freshman phenom O.J. Mayo. For the record, Wisconsin should advance to the Sweet 16 against either USC or Kansas State in my opinion, but first they will have to get past the 14th-seeded Titans, who have a shutdown defender of their own.

I'm still a little bummed about not getting third shot at Purdue this past weekend. As a consolation, UW has captured both conference championships in the same season for the first time ... hopefully the first of many conference trophy sweeps. More importantly, at 29-4, Wisconsin has every opportunity to win 30 games for the second year in a row and break the school record set last season.

The game also featured a couple of plays that are quickly becoming Wisconsin trademarks. Just as Jim Nance and Billy Packer were discussing the early days of NCAA basketball being financed by NCAA boxing income, Krabbenhoft laid out an Illinois guard with another vicious pick. It was the very same kind that knocked Eric Gordon down and temporarily made thousands of Illini supporters become Badger fans. Secondly, inbounding from under the opponent's basket against full-court pressure, Michael Flowers threw the ball off of the back of unsuspecting Calvin Brock to start an unlikely fast break.

The Badgers, Flowers in particular, routinely proved Packer clueless during the game by burying 3-pointers. Wisconsin hit 9-of-18 treys and only shot two free throws [box score]. Marcus Landry was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the all-tournament team by Flowers, who added three more steals against Illinois.

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Off-topic, today was my first exposure to the very sweet new Pontiac G8 GT commercial which recreates the old Spy Hunter video game. Two thumbs up!

Wisconsin Owns The 26th State

Even from Indianapolis, Wisconsin drinks Michigan's milkshake. And whatever Tom Izzo is drinking these days.

With two more wins this weekend, Wisconsin ran its record to 8-1 over the neighboring state's flagship programs in the past two seasons (and 5-0 this season).

Bo Ryan's crew made headlines with its plodding 51-34 demolition of Michigan (10-22) Friday, holding Big Blue to the lowest output in Big Ten Tournament history. The top-seeded Badgers started the game with a 10-0 run and added another 10-point spurt in the final minutes of the half to lead 26-18 at the break. When Brian Butch picked up his first foul immediately, with only 10 ticks gone by in the second half, I'll admit I panicked for a split-second. Luckily a 9-0 run ensued, powered by six straight from Marcus Landry, including a punctuating one-handed throwdown off a J-Bo behind-the-back pass that prompted a Wolverine timeout. Greg Stiemsma was able to pick up Butch's slack with relative ease, finishing with 7 boards and 2 blocks. [box score]

A big key to holding Michigan to 20% shooting was Michael Flowers shutting down Manny Harris. In the post-game interview with Erin Andrews, Flowers mentioned the previous Harris explosion as a possible reason he did not win conference Defensive POY, but he was more politically correct in the press conference afterwards.

Michigan managed only two points over the final eight minutes. No disrespect to the Badger defense, but that is simply an atrocity to the game of basketball. I don't mind commentators claiming that Wisconsin "won ugly" if the Badgers have a lot of turnovers and a low shooting percentage. The pace they like to play at will not cover up those things with a bunch of points. But whatever the pace, scoring 50% more points than your opponent is impressive. It's comparable to winning 90-60 in a faster-paced game. Glitzy television analysts will never acknowledge this.

The best thing I can say about Wisconsin's win over Michigan State is that I have full confidence in the Badgers winning any close game in which they are involved. Even though the team lost its best leader ever in the offseason, UW still starts two juniors and two seniors. Those two classes have racked up plenty of experience and will probably end up with the most victories of any two groups in Badger history.

Two such players, Brian Butch and Marcus Landry, paced UW with 19 and 18 points respectively; they teamed with Joe Krabbenhoft to grab 26 of UW's 34 rebounds [box score]. Butch shot 6-of-10 from the floor while Landry struggled -- although the begoggled one sank nine of his 13 free throws after missing four of his first five attempts.

My longstanding rule is that no matter how poorly Wisconsin plays the first 36 minutes, if it is within five points with four minutes remaining the game is theirs to lose. Such was the situation after Michigan State's bizarre parade of big men fouling out that started in the 35th minute. And much like the Texas game, Wisconsin played terrific basketball with Trevon Hughes out of the lineup. Watching the game, Hughes didn't really seem to be adding much to the offense prior to the umpteenth tweaking of his ankle. So the 24-10 run that Wisconsin used to close out the game really was not much of a surprise.

Izzo is not taking it well [audio]. Bo now owns an 11-3 record all-time versus MSU's headmaster.

In other Big Ten Tournament news, I said Minnesota would upset Indiana, but I sure did not predict the frantic finish to that contest. With a nice tourney run, Minnesota could have realized the promise of Tubby Smith's early-season boost. But alas, Illinois was the true Cinderella of this tournament, snipping the Gophers in another low-scoring affair. I would say that Illinois has no chance today versus Wisconsin, but sometimes dreams come true.

- Alando Tucker is headed back to the D-League: Tucker's blog
- Mike Bruesewitz scored 18 points to lead Henry Sibley to victory in the MSHSL Class 4A boys playoffs.
- Princeton will not continue in Class 3A after losing 73-71 to a Monticello team it had already beat twice in the regular season. Jared Berggren scored 18 points.
- Jacob Jenkins, a Class of 2009 "person of interest" talks about why he would love to play for Wisconsin.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fine-Tuning the Tourney Machine

The goal for the Badgers during the Big Ten Tournament is to get another shot at Purdue and avenge their only two conference losses. Doing so would provide a most valuable boost of confidence for Wisconsin and display real improvement in adjusting to a quality opponent's more aggressive style. Proving themselves to themselves in such a scenario is even more important than impressing any selection committee.

Sure, this mostly worthless weekend is good for working out the kinks in a tournament setting, but there is no reason Wisconsin should slip up as in years past. Bucky's first victim, the Wolverines, have warmed up already, though they certainly did not get hot. Wisconsin and Michigan begin a busy Friday for the tournament and unfortunately the game is at 11 a.m. Central, which means Big Ten Network or not, most people won't be seeing this game live.

With the field pared down to eight to start the day, I see the only possible upset being Minnesota over Indiana. I know, I know ... that is crazy talk, considering Minnesota had to come from behind to beat Northwestern. But Tubby's team just needs to continue the play on both ends of the court that led to its 34-18 second half yesterday. It's tough to beat a team three times and Indiana has lost two of its last three games. The toll of the Kelvin Sampson saga is sneaking up at the worst possible time for the Hoosiers.

Plus, Minnesota has something to play for. If they win the Big Ten tourney, they're in! More realistically, the Goofs are jockeying for a position in one of the other postseason tournaments. Something that hasn't gotten any mention around Madison (and hopefully never does) is the brand new postseason tournament that will compete with the NIT for the bubble scraps. The College Basketball Invitational will be a 16-team field featuring a three-game series for the final round. Despite it's ugly stepchild persona, the NIT could always claim the bright lights of Madison Square Garden in its corner when it came to drawing teams after the NCAA selections. The CBI hopes to counter this lure by allowing teams to host up to five home games in the tournament. Fox will broadcast the games through its three college sports outlets (FCS Atlantic, Central and Pacific).

Update: Recruits, state tournaments, etc.
Jordan Taylor and Jared Berggren both notched big wins last night. Taylor blew up with 29 points for BSM in a 74-57 win over Washburn. The Red Knights will play second-seeded Academy of Holy Angels (notable alum: Larry Fitzgerald) next Tuesday in a sectional final. The two teams played a nailbiter earlier this season that BSM won thanks to another big game from Taylor. Princeton beat Annandale 62-41 in the Section 5 quarterfinals behind 24 points from Berggren. The Tigers play again on Saturday.

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Diamond Taylor's team was eliminated fairly early in Illinois's IHSA playoffs but Lenzelle Smith, Jr. is a name Badger fans might be hearing more very soon. Smith is a very athletic 6'3" shooting guard that Hoops Marinara has been tracking on the recruit list for 2010. His team, Zion-Benton, has advanced to the final four of the 4A state tourney. I guess he opted to skip the slam dunk contest, in which Isiah Nunn participated. Ah, few places do high school basketball better than Illinois.

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It looks Royce White might not have any trouble playing next season after all, according to speculation by Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

"Look for 6-foot-7 Royce White, considered the top high school junior basketball player in the state and recently dismissed from DeLaSalle for behavioral issues, to switch residences with his mother and become eligible for his senior season at a suburban Twin Cities school. The Gophers, who have offered a tender, remain in the recruiting hunt."
Even so, it was a somber moment when I officially removed White [Rivals :: Scout] from the list of UW's 2009 prospects. From the game recaps I have read this season, White seems to excel more in the AAU environment than a structured team scenario. (3/14 EDIT: Cooper, Hopkins and St. Bernard's are the basketball powers being mentioned now as likely destinations)

And if you think I've lost my mind with all this recruiting nonsense, something called Midwest Future Hoops Report is ranking 8th graders!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Land Of A Thousand Hoops

Once again I got caught up in the March Madness of the WIAA boys state tournament even though there were no surefire Badgers competing this year. Therefore, it's safe to say I am interested in the results from the Minnesota (MSHSL) boys state tournament, which kicks into high gear over the next two weeks.

As you know, three prep standouts from our neighboring state have already committed to play their college hoops in Madison: Jordan Taylor, Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz. The two seniors, Taylor and Berggren, are both leading teams playing at the 3A level. Bruiser and Co. play in the largest school division, Class 4A. Two lower classes began preliminary rounds last week, but the big boys started Tuesday.

Benilde-St. Margaret's (BSM) is the top seed in their Section and hosted a first-round game against Mound-Westonka last night. With 63 first-half points, the Red Knights (24-3) cruised to a 90-42 win. Taylor scored 16 points and Tulsa-bound Armond Battle added a game-high 25. BSM, which lost in the Class 3A championship game last season, plays Minneapolis Washburn on Thursday.

The Warriors of Henry Sibley HS feature Bruesewitz and several other key players in their lineup. The firepower will be needed as the team was awarded a 2-seed in probably the second-toughest 4A Section, next to the Section 6, featuring metro-area #1 Hopkins, #2 Minnetonka and #4 Wayzata. Bruesewitz, a junior forward, was held to five points in a 69-42 victory over White Bear Lake last night. Sibley (22-5) plays again Friday versus Woodbury, who pulled out a first-round upset.

On Thursday, Berggren's second-seeded Princeton Tigers (17-9) host their opener, versus Annandale (5-20).

All this out-of-state info and I haven't even mentioned a pair of junior forwards that were offered scholarships from Bo Ryan's staff. Royce White's former school, DeLaSalle in Minneapolis, opened with an upset win over Jon Leuer's old high school (Orono). It is tough for a young man to see his dreams start to circle the drain, but hopefully White can learn from the past few weeks and land on his feet somewhere after his dismissal. Unfortunately it will not be at Wisconsin. Likewise, Robbinsdale Cooper's Rodney Williams reportedly is in an academic quandry similar to Jeronne Maymon. If the Badgers are still going after Williams, it will not be for much longer. Cooper, a 3-seed, also advanced to the section semifinals last night behind Williams' 21 points.

Monday, March 10, 2008

All-Big Ten Awards Announced

Butch named first team; Bohannon wins Sixth Man of the Year
The Big Ten Conference announced its 2007-08 awards live on the Big Ten Network Monday afternoon, a first in college basketball. Wisconsin's Brian Butch was the lone Badger named to the All-Big Ten first team. He was selected by both the coaches and the media.

D.J. White and Eric Gordon are the Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, respectively. Purdue's Robbie Hummel was a first-teamer on both ballots also, while Matt Painter was named the Coach of the Year. The coaches chose Marcus Landry for the second team and Michael Flowers for the third team; the media flip-flopped Flowers (second-team) and Landry (third).

It's a little surprising to see a conference champion with such little representation overall, but understandable. Not a single Badger was honored as the conference's player of the week throughout the season. You will notice quite a contrast in the statistics between Wisconsin players and Wisconsin as a team.

Despite naming Drew Neitzel to the first team, the coaches did get one thing right and that was naming Jason Bohannon the Sixth Man of the Year unanimously. Bohannon is a true representative of the "sixth starter" concept, much like a Jason Terry has with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA.

Before you go ballistic about Michael Flowers being passed over for Defensive Player of the Year laurels, remind yourself that it is a good idea to not take such awards too seriously. History could have predicted that scoring average would be a big indicator of what players are picked for first team recognition. It seems the same can be said for steals and the Defensive POY. When the award went to Purdue's Chris Kramer, it was not completely unexpected, but still highly disappointing for Badger fans who have seen how good Flowers really is for four years now.

Kramer was tops in the Big Ten season with 2.6 steals per game, while Flowers was only seventh with 1.6 spg. But Mike averaged fewer fouls than all but two of those ahead of him in steals per game and plays better position defense in my observation. Flowers will have to take pride in knowing he clearly is a superior all-around player.

As for other Badgers, Trevon Hughes was a honorable mention pick on both ballots. Joe Krabbenhoft joined Flowers on the coaches' All-Defensive Team. Krabby strikes me as the type of guy that might laugh when informed of the news and then point towards his new Big Ten Championship hat and t-shirt.

The Big Ten still has some integrity in this process though. Elsewhere, the awards are getting out of hand. As we saw with the high school All-State team selected by the WBCA and now the All-Big East Awards, these designations are nowhere near exclusive anymore. There were 11 players named First Team All-Big East -- that doesn't make any sense!

This just reminds me of children's leagues like YMCA flag football where everyone gets a participation trophy. Enough coddling ...

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Jeronne Maymon has been named the AP's state Player of the Year; Jamil Wilson was also named to the first team.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Badgers and Diamonds and Preps, Oh My!

UW now the undisputed champion; Top Big Ten teams falter
Without exception, Wisconsin is the best of the Big Ten again. The Badgers did not want to share that recognition with any others and as expected, took care of business at Northwestern to ensure this title was all theirs. Anticlimactic? Yes. Trite? Not in the least.

It was a banner day for multiple reasons, in front of a crowd of red in Evanston. Jason Bohannon set a UW record by making his 39th consecutive free throw. With the 65-52 win, Wisconsin also lowered their nation-best scoring defense average (54.4 ppg coming in). Seniors Brian Butch and Michael Flowers added to their career totals in rebounds and steals, respectively. Butch led the Badgers with 20 points and a career-high 14 boards [box score].

With a trophy on the team's resume, it seems the Badgers are even getting more recognition for the talented players they are. Northwestern coach Bill Carmody referred to them as "big, strong guys who overpowered" the Wildcats.

Although it does not diminish UW's accomplishment, the Sunday performances of some other top conference teams may give detractors more fuel for the anti-Big Ten fire. Eric Gordon could not save Indiana as Penn State shocked the Hoosiers in overtime at Happy Valley and Ohio State added to its postseason credentials with a big win over Michigan State. These two losses didn't exactly buff the image of a couple of Wisconsin's signature wins. Before Purdue righted the ship against Michigan on the road, it appeared as though the Big Ten's second, third and fourth place teams would all lose on the same day.

On the bright side, the Buckeyes seem to have bolstered their reputation enough in the last week to get a NCAA bid. Just keep in mind that while getting five bids would be nice for the conference, getting actual wins in the tournament is way more important for dispelling the national perception that the Big Ten is weak.

Vote for Flowers for the Pontiac Game-Changing Performance of the Year. The other candidates pale in comparison. To not get a mention in the CBS 's corny dialog would be a slap in the face if it was not so expected.

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Do not bother searching around for videos of Diamond Taylor on the Internet. I don't think there are any yet, except for this low quality one featuring his entire AAU team. Taylor has worn #30 for the Illinois Wolves in the past and is planning to play for them again this summer.

Although Taylor might want to develop into a Devin Harris-type of player, from what I have read, his ball handling will need some work. At least we know that he is a smart kid who apparently really wanted to be a Badger.

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Bridesmaids once again: Madison Memorial takes second
We have beenhearing words like "monster" and "beast" a lot this weekend and it has not been in reference to Kansas State frosh Michael Beasley. I guess people don't bother to think of any new adjectives to describe Madison Memorial's Jeronne Maymon because the existing ones fit too well already.

Maymon averaged 30 pts, 14.6 rebs,
4.7 blks, 3.7 stls & 3 assts over the course of three games at state, the obvious choice for tournament MVP. The junior forward was also announced as the only unanimous selection to the WBCA's Division 1 All-State team on Saturday. Not even 2008 Mr. Basketball DeMarcus Phillips can say the same.

It is a shame that Maymon's teammates and coach did not offer him more support in the championship game against Wauwatosa Eas
t [audio]. To see that talented squad make the same defensive mistakes over and over again seemed to be an indictment of head coach's Steve Collins ability to make and respond to adjustments. The second part of the equation was the youth and depth of the Spartans.

A couple of moments stood out that could have swung the game in Memorial's favor, mistakes that can be chalked up to inexperience. First, I recall toward the end of the first half a possession where the Spartans forced the Red Raiders into an awful shot, but simply did not break to get the rebound. The lack of hustle backfired as a red jersey sneaked inside a circle of white and grabbed the rebound. On the reset, 'Tosa East hit one of its five first-half treys, part of a splendid overall shooting performance.

Secondly, Vander Blue's bullheaded drive to the basket on a 3-on-1 fast break with 1:12 remaining in the game was an error in judgment, plain and simple. Instead of passing to one of his open teammates
or pulling the ball back out, the charging foul was a critical turning point. But in the end, Memorial's complete inability to shoot from the outside was the simplest explanation for the loss. Fortunately, many of the Spartans have a chance to redeem themselves next season.

Oddly, I've never thought of Memorial's uber-talented teams as having much depth. In Saturday's game, there was no doubt that Maymon would play all 32 minutes -- there was simply no substitute for his presence. The rotation only seemed to go about seven deep at most throughout the entire weekend, which is odd for a team that specializes in full-court, manic defensive pressure.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Kings Are Dead

Live stats :: Streaming audio (ESPN 1070)

Three defending champions bit the dust in WIAA State Tournament play during another round of great games on Friday, meaning there will be no repeat winners this year. Four new champions will be crowned today as the tourney concludes.

Divisions 2 & 4 got underway yesterday, with the Division 1 semifinals afterwards. The underdogs had their day in D2. Adams-Friendship halted big bad Plymouth on a 3-pointer by Ben Pease in the final 10 seconds. Then New Berlin Eisenhower knocked off defending champ Monroe, 53-49.

In D4, Suring and Eleva-Strum advanced, with the latter easily dispensing of traditional Randolph It will be a clash of the only two unbeaten teams remaining in Wisconsin. Both teams are 26-0, but the player to watch is Suring's Josh Regal. He and Jeronne Maymon have been generating the biggest buzz this weekend as far as individual players are concerned.

A final defending champion, Oshkosh West, engineered a valiant comeback before succumbing to Madison Memorial, 61-58. The well-groomed Spartans were hitting shots left and right as the game began, overwhelming the Wildcats with their athleticism. Memorial had leads of 12-0, 26-9 and ultimately 49-24 after a lay-up by sophomore guard Tre Creamer with just under seven minutes left to play.
At that point, West implemented tenacious pressure of it's own. They forced the young Spartan guards into some of the worst decisions I have ever seen on the basketball court. The Wildcats picked off pass after pass that resulted in 21 unanswered points. And no, this was not a football game. However, Memorial's star remained unfrazzled. Maymon took over the ball-handling duties with few problems and was able to extend the lead back to a comfortable level by sinking enough free throws in the final two minutes.

Right now, Maymon is a man among boys. Both of West's huge post players eventually fouled out, but it warrants mentioning that 6'8" sophomore David Anderson looked pretty impressive. Anderson seemed much more coordinated and well-built than you might expect for a player his age and size. Senior John Benkoske, who will follow several Oshkosh West alumni and play NCAA ball for Loyola (Chicago) next year, had a quiet night but Anderson shot 6-of-12 with three blocks [box score].

Memorial (23-2) will play a deep Wauwatosa East (25-1) team -- which defeated rival Brookfield Central in the other D1 semifinal -- around 8:30 p.m. tonight. A loaded LaCrosse Aquinas squad goes for it's first title at the D3 level against Iola-Scandinavia as well. The WIAA website has box scores and schedules for all tournament games. Dennis Semrau of The Capital Times made some predictions this morning and I tend to agree with all his picks, except for D4 where I am pulling for the 5'9" Regal and his Suring teammates. They currently lead Eleva-Strum 14-8 at the end of the first quarter. (Ed. note: Thanks to a Blogger service interruption, this post didn't appear as soon as I would have liked; Eleva-Strum now leads in the 3rd Q)

More tourney links:
JSonline's Preps Plus | Cap Times' Prep Work | Wishoops's March blogness

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Diamond In The Rough

Wisconsin secures a second 2009 recruit in Taylor
Diamond Taylor, a 6'3" guard out of famed St. Joseph's High School in Chicago has verbally committed to Bo Ryan's Badgers.

True to form, this process was completed without flash and no fanfare (yet), as word leaked out on the Internet late at night in the middle of a pretty crazy week. The euphoria of clinching a share of the Big Ten title is still lingering and the state is now full swing into the WIAA boys state tournament as well.

Taylor will bring more athleticism and a bit of size to the Badger backcourt in about 17 months. He is known to be a good shooter, but sounds like he needs to hit the weights. Not a problem though; he's got another year of high school left. You cannot overlook the importance of coming from a quality program like St. Joe's as well, which has served as a launching pad for several current Big Ten players and the infamous Isaiah Thomas. The only downside of the deal is that UW fans will have to get used to having two different Taylors (Jordan and Diamond) on the roster starting in 2009.

I'm happy for Howard Moore, whose persistence really paid off finally (Wisconsin beat Illinois to the punch on offering a scholarship). Moore nabbed his first recruit from his home turf and the first recruit out of Illinois for Bucky since "the DeAaron Williams Experience." Taylor should fill a big need for Wisconsin in this class.

The commitment leaves the staff with one more scholarship to work with in the meantime. Wisconsin can use that on another player yet for 2008 or go full bore after the apple of their eye for the following season. A bigger wing or versatile forward would be ideal. I'm holding out hope that the urgency of snagging UW's final schollie might persuade Jamil Wilson to warm up to the Badgers more rapidly, but Wilson's recent decision to announce his college destination next March makes that seem unlikely. Add to this the academic troubles of some other talented power forward prospects and Royce White's continued difficulties, and you realize the final piece of Wisconsin's next recruiting class could just as easily be big man Kyle Rowley, shooter Jacob Jenkins or another unknown.

Unlike Mike Bruesewitz, Taylor was a well-known commodity and it is good to have him in the fold, albeit unofficially.

Taylor's Internet rankings among the Class of 2009:
Ranked #67 (4 Stars) nationally by
Ranked a 3-Star recruit by Scout
Ranked #3 in Illinois by Chicago Hoops blurb
Ranked #8 in Illinois by

Prospect Profile: Diamond Taylor

Diamond Taylor, G
6'4" :: 175 lbs.
Class of 2009
Bolingbrook (IL) HS [team site]
AAU: Illinois Wolves

Scout: 4 Stars (#20 SG) >> 3 Stars * * * (NR > #41 SG)
4 Stars (#14 SG/#67 > #15 PG/#82 > #23 SG/#86) > 3 Stars * * * (#27/#118 > #30 SG/#130 overall)
ESPN/Scouts, Inc. grade: NR >> (#40) >> 89 (#41 > #43 > #41 SG)

2009 IBCA All-State Second Team (Class 3A/4A)
2009 Joliet Herald News All-Area MVP

Recent Press
3/28: No rough Diamond: Taylor sparked Raiders - Joliet Herald News
3/15: Taylor's Big Ten training has area roots - Naperville Sun
3/11: Redhawks' Ondik on target vs. Bolingbrook - Joliet Herald News
1/10: Taylor, Bolingbrook on another roll - Joliet Herald News
11/26: Bolingbrook Opens With a 78-68 Over Peoria Central -
11/18: Taylor, Snyder lift Raiders to state's elite - Joliet Herald News
6/24: Diamond Taylor's Transfer Could End Up Benefitting Many - Illinois Prep Bullseye
6/20: Wisconsin-bound 2009 Star to Play His Senior Year at Bolingbrook -
3/7: More about Diamond Taylor - JSOnline

The Verbal
St. Joseph's Taylor chooses Wisconsin - Chicago Sun-Times (3/6/08)
Diamond Taylor commits to Wisconsin - JSOnline (3/7/08)
Badgers find a Diamond - WiSJ (3/7/08)
Chicago prep basketball star verbally commits to Badgers - Cap Times (3/7/08)

The Hype
Diamond in the rough - Locker Room Prep Talk (12/13/07)
Illinois Offers Diamond Taylor - MidStateHoops (8/31/07)
Diamond Taylor shoots to top of '09 class - City/Suburban Hoops Report (6/21/07)

Promo: 2009 Chicago High School Classic (3/18/09) - YouTube
Interview: College Bound with the Illinois Wolves (8/26/08) - Mouthpiece Sports
Highlights: Pingatore Earns 800th Victory (12/14/07) -
Highlights: OrangeKrushEm 1's collection (2007)* - Vimeo
*Taylor is wearing white shirt, shorts and shoes in the St. Joe's clips

AAU: Reebok Summer Championships (July 22-26, 2008) - Illinois Wolves 17U


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?