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Saturday, March 29, 2008

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%)

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis. I think Hughes is the only possible dynamic scorer on this team, especially against an aggressive, pressy defense.


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