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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.

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