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Sunday, March 16, 2008

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.

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