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Friday, March 27, 2009

On the Stove Top: 3/26

Six members of the Wisconsin men's basketball team were named Academic All-Big Ten this week: Joe Krabbenhoft, Jon Leuer, Tim Jarmusz, Kevin Gullikson, Morris Cain and Brett Valentyn. That's four rotation players and three non-walkons. Nice job.

Only days earlier, the wide range of graduation rates among this year's NCAA tournament participants was also released. Connecticut came in at a sterling 33 percent. Ouch. On average, though, the Academic Progress Rates are up across the board, which are the statistics that dictate the loss of scholarships for programs who are not graduating players.

: : :

After only two seasons, Iowa's rebuilding project under coach Todd Lickliter is collapsing from within. As many as four players may transfer in the offseason, in addition to 2010 recruit Chanse Creekmur decommitting. The fans who still care are calling for Lickliter's head.

Losing Jake Kelly would be a huge blow. Kelly nearly single-handedly kept the Hawkeyes competitive when he switched over to point guard. He was one of the Big Ten's rising stars and if/when he winds up at Indiana State, the conference as a whole suffers. The possible defection of two more guards and a fourth big body makes Iowa the new conference doormat for the foreseeable future. Good for opponents' records? Yes. Good for league quality? No.

I would argue that Creekmur changing his mind ranks as the second biggest loss. Iowa needs to bring in a higher level of talent to be more competitive and this is a huge red flag to all potential recruits.

: : :

With Iowa City devolving into a madhouse, Indiana moves up half a notch by default. Since coach Tom Crean had already signed more new players (6) for next season than he had room for, apparently it was time to convince one of his existing players to transfer. Again.

The winner was Malik Story, a freshman guard who played in all 31 games this year, averaging 6 pts & 2 rebs in 18 min/g. Story shot a horrible percentage and was the fifth guard in a rotation that will be adding two or three more Top 100 prospects to the backcourt.

Just in case Story did not accept his new mission, two possible backup plans may have been for Georgetown transfer Jeremiah Rivers to pay his own way or to strip big man project Tijan Jobe of his free ride after one year. See, that's why taking away J.P. Gavinski's scholarship would be a bad idea, image-wise. Bo Ryan would be copying Crean.

Thad Matta always has the opposite problem at Ohio State. Now that frosh B.J. Mullens has officially thrown his hat into the NBA Draft ring, Matta will need to scramble to find a big body to comprise his previously empty 2009 recruiting class. Until now, the Buckeyes had no available scholarships. Although Matta has the ability to pull it off, the pickins' are slim these days. So Ohio State may bank it for 2010 and continue to load up one of the greatest recruiting classes in history: a Buckeye six-pack?

Though Ohio State will lack depth in the frontcourt, their powerful perimeter game should keep them in the upper half of the Big Ten next season. Evan Turner, William Buford, Jon Diebler all have one more season under their belts and David Lighty will return from injury.

: : :

Wisconsin recruit Mike Bruesewitz saw his prep career come to an unexpected end on Wednesday as Bloomington Jefferson upset Henry Sibley in the Class 4A quarterfinals, 60-56. Though Bruiser had another nice game (21 pts, 16 rebs), he was tied up by a defender with a chance to tie the game in the final minute and deferred to his cold-shooting guards on the final meaningful possession.

The Warrior's only outside threat, Maurice Hernandez, played on a badly injured ankle and shot only 1-of-11 behind the arc, making the shocking loss a bit more understandable. Even Bruesewitz was not quite 100% physically, according to his father. It seemed like a foregone conclusion to everyone that Sibley would earn that anticipated rematch with Hopkins. Welcome to the real world kids ... I feel for ya.

Though Bruesewitz will not take any consolation in his individual accolades, he was named the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year and also succeeded Jordan Taylor as Minnesota's Gatorade Player of the Year. Germantown's Ben Averkamp won the Gatorade award for Wisconsin.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Vander Blue's Coming Out Party

The energy surrounding Wisconsin's short run in the NCAA tournament was nearly matched by the buzz surrounding Vander Blue's dominance in the WIAA state tournament this weekend.

The Madison Memorial junior guard who has already verballed to play for Wisconsin averaged 22.6 pts, 6 rebs, 1.3 blks & 2.6 stls per game in three wins en route to the Division 1 state title. Blue exploded right away for 35 points (24 in the second half) in a semifinal win over Germantown. He continued to erase memories of his subpar championship game last season as Memorial rolled over Racine Horlick on Saturday night for its second gold ball.

In addition to being a unanimous all-tournament team selection, Blue was named to the Division 1 All-State team by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association. Teammate and soon-to-be Marquette freshman Jeronne Maymon was named Mr. Basketball and was a unanimous selection to join Blue on the All-State team.

Badger fans have already gone through one round of rumors regarding the stability of Blue's verbal commitment. It appears those rumors are only going to resurface and intensify. After a similar tourney run last season, Maymon saw his recruiting stock explode, which he then validated with a solid AAU session. I expect the same to happen with Blue.

I suspect Wisconsin's staff knows this and believe they will remain vigilant in keeping close ties with the 6'4" prospect. The recruiting scene is ruthless, so no one can rest on their laurels. Personally, I subscribe to the "where there's smoke, there's fire" mantra, but there still has not been any substance to the whispers yet. About the only thing you can know for sure with all the rumors going around is that Blue says he is very close to Maymon:

"That’s my boy. I love him to death. Blood could make us no closer.”
Beyond that, it is not worth worrying about unless an official announcement is made.

Another unanimous WBCA all-state selection was Horlick's Oregon-bound senior Jamil Wilson, who struggled in the championship game. Wilson was bottled up by Memorial freshman Junior Lomomba in the early going and then got into terrible foul trouble, picking up number four in the second quarter. It will be fun to see Lomomba develop over the next few years, provided he stays enrolled at Memorial rather than going the prep school route. I am sure the Badgers will be knocking on his door if he keeps his academics in order.

As for Wilson, he still looks like an extremely talented wing player who I've mentioned could develop into a Scottie Pippen-type player. He had strong performances before running into Memorial, showing off nice range on his pull-up jumper and a special knack for blocking shots. Though any athletic leaper in high school with a wingspan approaching seven feet should be pretty decent in that department.

- I missed this before, but the Wisconsin State Journal's George Hesselberg did a humorous video breakdown on how to pick a team to root for in the state tournament if you lack any ingrained allegiances. A classic in my book.
- Mike Bruesewitz and Henry Sibley play Wednesday in the Minnesota Class 4A quarterfinals. The Warriors are fighting to earn a rematch with No. 1 Hopkins. The Twin Cities Hoops Czar thinks he might have a plan of attack.

Wisconsin Gets X'd Out

The Xavier Musketeers gave the Badgers a harsh reminder about what elite defense looks like when they put the clamps on Trevon Hughes and company in the second half of Sunday's battle, thus denying Wisconsin a return trip to the Sweet 16.

Wisconsin's apex in the game was the 16-6 run by Hughes and Marcus Landry over a six-minute stretch that spanned the halftime break. However, the 33-26 lead disappeared slowly over the subsequent seven-minute scoring drought.

Even though Wisconsin already finished behind three of the other top defensive teams in the nation during the Big Ten season (with a combined 1-4 record), it had the distinct displeasure of running into two more of the season's best in back-to-back tournament games. Contrast that to last season's run as a higher seed where UW (the second-best defensive team according to Pomeroy rankings) got to play against three teams more known for their offense.

The Badgercentric blog sums up a few other thoughts on Wisconsin's demise. The Badgers missed far too many makeable shots, despite Landry's best efforts. Wisconsin shot 28.6% on the day and only 3-of-20 from long distance. Xavier was suffocating, especially to Jason Bohannon.

I give Xavier a lot of credit, but I still think Hughes and Keaton Nankivil need to finish better near the rim that they did against the X-men for this team to advance any further next season. I absolutely loved Pop's aggressiveness going to the hole and would love to see "NCAA Hughes" show up for the entirety of his senior season. Hughes finished 11-of-13 from the line for a total of 17 points, despite missing all seven 3-point attempts and hitting only 3-of-16 from the field (some of those were garbage shots in the final minute).

To keep the theme going, the X-factor in the game might have been Xavier's freshman center Kenny Frease. The seven-footer scored Xavier's first three points after four minutes of spinning its wheels. Then down the second half stretch, Frease twice drew "and-ones" at crucial moments to reverse any semblance of Badger momentum.

Frease is still pretty raw, but it was a blatant tragedy that the 6'6" Landry had to guard that giant. Not too many teams have the personnel to match those 265 pounds in the post. The shame is that Wisconsin is one of those teams. But both of the aircraft carriers on UW's bench lack either skill or experience ... or more frightening, both.

Landry held his own otherwise, as predicted. He completed his excellent Badger career quite respectably with 18 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and one block. [box score] The Goggled One finishes fifth in career blocked shots with 99 and tied for eighth with 181 offensive rebounds.

Things probably could not have gone worse on the court for Joe Krabbenhoft. Krabby fouled out with zero points and was pretty invisible. Despite a forgettable final game, I look foward to seeing Joe on the sidelines someday for a college team that visits the Kohl Center, or even better, on the UW staff. Krabbenhoft was a great leader and one of the winningest Badgers of all time.

In the end, Xavier out-Badgered the Badgers. The Musketeers were deeper and more skilled and it will be easy to cheer for those guys to win out.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

From Now On, Everything Is Icing

More than 24 hours have passed since Wisconsin's most gratifying win of the season. Beating 5-seed Florida State was not an improbable victory, but at halftime it sure seemed like it. And considering the team's hot and cold resolve in late-game situations, I don't think anyone really expected a repeat of the Virginia Tech finish.

But that's what Trevon Hughes gave us. He is an ACC killer. Pop showed the ultimate level of toughness by hanging in over the course of 45 minutes in a game where he made decisions (4 TOs, two critical missed FTs) even he termed "bonehead plays."

"He was really strong with the ball on that particular play," said Marcus Landry. I agree.

In the locker room after the game, footage shows a mix of youthful excitement and flat out relief from some of the players.

For me, Wisconsin missing the tournament would have been confirmation of a disappointing season. By winning one in Boise already, the season is officially a success in my eyes. A fine line isn't it? Not only did the team give Bo Ryan his first coaching victory over a better seed, but the Badgers may have gotten a bit of their end of the game mojo back.

Toney Douglas is a heck of a player. Wow. But Florida State turned out to be just a two-trick pony.

After leading the team with an impassioned halftime talk, Joe Krabbenhoft got a steal and a big 3-pointer to start an incredible 13-0 run. Following Krabby's lead, Wisconsin came out to start the second half as a team. Keaton Nankivil rose from anonymity again. His eight straight points capped the run to give the Badgers a 32-31 lead with 14:40 remaining. At that point, it was a brand new ballgame and a breath of fresh air. [box score]

Nankivil finished with 14 points off the bench and thankfully Bo stuck with him despite some foul trouble. Besides the ankle injury, defensive consistency and overall intensity is what has kept the sophomore off the floor even as fans have been clamoring for him to get more playing time.

"He was tough. Knocked down some shots. Got some confidence going," Ryan said of Nankivil after the game. "I think he was even talking to himself when he went down the court a couple times. Did you see the lips moving? He wasn't trash talking, that's Keaton getting himself going. We knew we had him ready then."

Even so, Wisconsin needed clutch outside shooting from Jason Bohannon to make up the seven-point deficit it faced with five minutes to play in regulation. Again, an impressive display of mental toughness and persistence by the team. Then, when J-Bo hit the first shot of overtime form behind the arc, we started to believe.

Thanks to UW and Michigan, the Big Ten more than held it's own in round one despite Illinois and Ohio State losing. The conference posted a 4-3 record despite having four teams seeded 8th, 10th, 10th and 12th. Since then, Purdue won a second-round game as the Big Ten creeps closer to topping postseason expectations. A sweep by Michigan State and Wisconsin today would guarantee it.

As I expressed earlier, any more wins at this point are gravy. Xavier is a tough, well-coached major conference program stuck in the "mid-major" Atlantic 10 conference. The Musketeers will not be as long along the frontline as the Seminoles were however, which is why I have a feeling Old Man Landry will be a key factor in any success the Badgers have. He needs to rediscover that baseline spin move that served him well through his first three seasons at Wisconsin.

Speaking of Landry's senior season, he needs four more blocked shots to tie Kurt Portmann for fourth place all-time in Badger history. He needs three more offensive rebounds to pass Patrick Tompkins on the career offensive rebounding list.

As we update the seniors' progress on Record Watch, congratulations are in order for Hughes also, who sneaked onto Wisconsin's top ten in career steals in the past few games, passing Wes Matthews. Pop should be able to climb several more places next season.

Player - Career Rebounds (Season Total)
5. Kim Hughes - 806
6. Alando Tucker - 769
7. Joe Krabbenhoft - 753 (217)

Player - Career Off Rebs (Season Total)
2. Mike Wilkinson - 311
3. Andy Kowske - 240
4. Joe Krabbenhoft - 231 (60)
5. Sean Daugherty - 227
6. Brian Butch - 222
7. Michael Finley: 205
8. Patrick Tompkins: 181
9. Marcus Landry: 179 (51)

Player - Career Blocks (Season Total)
3. Mike Wilkinson - 117
4. Kurt Portmann - 102
5. Marcus Landry - 98 (34)

- Madison Memorial makes good on Jeronne Maymon's vow to win a state title.
- Talk about bad timing. Officials wait until the state tournament to let a Chicago high school powerhouse know about their "illegal" uniforms, which may have cost them a championship.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Where Are They Now Revisited: 2008-09

As the season has wrapped up for multitudes of teams across the country, it is an ideal time to see how the recent high school standouts from Wisconsin that have gone outside the state for college basketball have been doing.

When the WIAA boys basketball tournament comes to Madison this week, we will be reminded again that the state is churning out more good players each year. Some are excelling beyond the prep scene, while others still are finding their niche. You will find a wide range in the level of competition these guys face but all of the following players snared Division I scholarships, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

: : : Seniors
This year's seniors include a couple of fifth-year players originally from the high school class of 2004. As you will see, I grouped the players into four categories of success based solely on the average amount of minutes they logged.

30+ min/g:
Mike Nelson, G, North Dakota St. (Summit) [stats]
Though Nelson's numbers have plateaued or dipped slightly since his breakout sophomore campaign, his team's star has continued to rise. North Dakota State (26-6, 16-2) clinched an NCAA tournament bid in it's first year of Division I eligibility by winning the Summit League championship game. Along with three other redshirt seniors, Nelson led the Bison to the outright regular season league title as well. Nelson posted averages of 12 ppg, 4 rpg and 2.5 apg this season, good for second or third on the team in each category.

David DuBois, G, Western Illinois (Summit) [stats]
The Madison LaFollette grad found a home in his third and final collegiate stop, winding up opposite Nelson in the Summit League. He has transformed himself into a quality guard and the unquestioned leader for the Leathernecks. Despite enduring a tough season with Western Illinois (9-20, 6-12), Dubois averaged just about 18 ppg and 6 rpg as a senior to earn a second-team all-conference nod.

J.R. Blount, G, Loyola (Horizon) [stats]
Blount left Whitefish Bay Dominican a champion and will leave Loyola four years later as the ninth-leading scorer in Ramblers history, just two points shy of #8. He led Loyola (14-18, 6-12) in scoring and assists yet again as a senior. Blount's 42 points against Rockhurst (who?!) set a Loyola record for season openers ... but his team still lost!

20+ min/g:
Jermyl Jackson-Wilson, F, Colorado (Big XII) [stats]
Jackson-Wilson rebounded from a sub par junior year to finish with improved shooting percentages from the field and free throw line in his final season. The same 6'6" player who was a force inside for Milwaukee King some six years ago was a bit small to thrive as a mere shot blocker in a BCS conference. Jackson-Wilson just missed cracking the top 15 for career blocked shots at Colorado (9-22, 1-15) even though he began his career at Ohio State.

John Rybak, F, Texas State (Southland) [stats]
After sitting out the 2007-08 season due to transfer rules, the 6'5" Rybak has made an instant impact from the wing for the Bobcats. The sharpshooter hit threes at a 39.5% clip and scored 10 ppg for Texas State (7-9, 14-16) this season.

10+ min/g:
Jacob Baryenbruch, G, Drake (Missouri Valley) [stats]
A Spring Green native, Baryenbruch suffered through a pretty dreadful shooting year for the Bulldogs (17-15, 7-11) with numbers pretty similar to his junior season across the board.

: : : Juniors
The best players to escape the state might be from the Class of 2006, where three guys in particular are playing either at a very high level, in a very tough conference, or both.

20+ min/g:
Jerry Smith, G, Louisville (Big East) [stats]
This Wauwautosa East product has regressed statistically in his third year, but is still deadly from deep (39.6%) and boasts an impressive effective field goal percentage overall (59.5). Let's keep in mind that Louisville (28-5, 16-2) is the top overall seed in this year's NCAA Tournament, so a drop in production is not a big surprise.

Adam Koch, F, Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley) [stats]
Koch's impressive season continues after holding off Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament's classic overtime final. Koch leads a balanced scoring attack at just over 12 ppg while chipping in 5 rpg. Thanks to Koch's improvement, Northern Iowa (23-10, 14-4) shared the regular season conference title with perennial MVC powerhouse Creighton also. Koch was selected First-Team All-Conference in addition to being named to the 2009 all-tournament team.

Andy Polka, F, Loyola (Horizon) [stats]
The former Oshkosh West standout had been a rebounding force in the Horizon League throughout his first two seasons, but suffered a severely sprained ankle on December 13 which basically wiped out his junior campaign. Polka tried to return eight games later, but only manages to play four minutes before the dreaded "out indefinitely" tag. It's a shame he played in enough games that a redshirt season is not a possibility. Even so, Polka currently sits two rebounds shy of 500 for his career.

10+ min/g:
Devron Bostick, G, Minnesota (Big 10) [stats]
After playing a couple of great years of junior college ball, Bostick is back on the radar with Tubby Smith's Gophers. Bostick, a product of the Racine St. Catherine's machine, has battled inconsistency in his first season of power conference hoops with Minnesota (22-10, 9-9), but did explode for a season-high 19 points in 16 minutes against Penn State in January.

Under 10 min/g:
Mitchell Carter, C, South Carolina (SEC) [stats]
Though he is playing for a pretty good South Carolina team (21-8, 10-6), Mitchell still does not get his huge frame off the pine much. Mitchell has played in more games (19) than before, but clearly the highlight for him will be the NCAA tournament experience if the Gamecocks squeeze into the field of 64.

Steve Gruber, G, Brown (Ivy) [stats]
The junior from Whitefish Bay is sticking with it at Brown (9-19, 3-11) and playing some ball, though he appears to reside in Scrub City.

: : : Sophomores
It is interesting to see where some people who dropped off the radar actually wind up and this current group of sophomores is a great example of that.

30+ min/g:
Diante Garrett, G, Iowa St. (Big XII) [stats]
Garrett earned a dramatic increase in playing time at Iowa State as a full-time starter. Accordingly, the skinny soph also improved on his assist-to-turnover ratio (1.71) and his rebounding, much to the team's delight. Garrett averaged almost 10 ppg, 5 apg, over 3 rpg and 1 spg in over 1,000 minutes for the young Cyclones (15-16, 4-12); he still prefers to drive and dish than pop 3-pointers.

20+ min/g:
Will Hudson, F, Oakland (Summit) [stats]
The Golden Grizzlies fell to Nelson's North Dakota State Bison in a nail biter and but still will be dancing in the new CIT postseason tournament. Hudson has progressed nicely and starts for Oakland (22-12, 13-5) while posting just over 21 min/g. The Middleton grad is still 6'9" and a bit more chiseled at 225 lbs. He made 100-of-147 shot attempts this season, good for over 68%. Hudson appears to be headed toward a fine career.

10+ min/g:
James Haarsma, F, Evansville (Missouri Valley) [stats]
It has been almost a year since Haarsma was offered a free ride by Evansville, but two since he led Racine St. Catherine's to a WIAA state title as a high school senior. Haarsma did not play ball last year. He is entrenched in the Aces' rotation already in his first season, however, and sports some fairly robust shooting percentages (.542/.691/.444). The top three scorers for Evansville (17-13, 8-10) are all seniors, so Haarsma will have every chance to step up even more next season.

Alex Davis, F, Tennessee Tech (Ohio Valley) [stats]
After finishing his high school career at Milwaukee Lutheran in 2005, Davis spent a year at a prep school and popped up as a sophomore at Tennessee Tech (12-18, 6-12). He sat out the entire 2007-08 season after playing sparingly the year before. Davis was averaging about 20 min/g until February when he missed two in a row and struggled to get back after that. Though the Golden Eagles were not very good, Davis' two best games (13 pts, 10 rebs versus Eastern Illinois & a 21-pt outburst against Tennessee State) both resulted in wins.

Under 10 min/g:
Matt Dorlack, C, Eastern Illinois (Ohio Valley) [stats]
The 6'11" established a career-high back in December, but is still fighting to contribute for Eastern Illinois (12-18, 8-10).

Scott Christopherson, G, Iowa State (Big XII) [stats]
This former Wisconsin Mr. Basketball (2007) sat out the 2008-09 season upon transferring from Marquette, where he appeared in 18 games as a freshman reserve.

*Former Bay View star Dwight Buycks is returning to Milwaukee. He signed with Marquette after dominating the JUCO circuit the past two seasons at Indian Hills Community College. Buycks was named First-Team All-Region XI for the second straight season.

Andrew Zimmerman, a 6'9" forward out of Oostburg, will presumably end up at Stanford
at some point. He left Santa Clara in February 2008 after some shuffling in the coaching staff, despite some promising play as a freshman.

: : : Freshmen
This year's freshman class has a chance to produce a couple stars, even though it is tough for nearly all of them to get much court time right away.

30+ min/g:
Kwamain Mitchell, G, St. Louis (Atlantic 10) [stats]
Another Whitefish Bay Dominican player who has made a major impact for his team from day one. First of all, Mitchell kept his assist-to-turnover ratio above 1:1 right off the bat while scoring nearly 11 ppg as a freshman starter. Secondly, he leads St. Louis (18-13, 8-8) with 3.7 apg and adds over 3 rpg too as a freshman starter. Lastly, the former all-state selection laid in the winning basket in the Billikens' opening round victory in the conference tournament last Wednesday.

Under 10 min/g:
Korie Lucious, G, Michigan St. (Big Ten) [stats]
Michigan State did not need Lucious much as the Spartans (26-6, 15-3) romped through the Big Ten. The rookie didn't look half bad though. His first-year highlights included handing out 12 assists against Alcorn State and scoring 12 points on four 3-pointers against Iowa.

John Benkoske, C, Loyola (Horizon) [stats]
Benkoske is the latest Rambler from the Oshkosh West program. He played in 25 games this season but still needs to build a lot more muscle. Benkoske did averaged 12 min/g over the final seven games of the year.

Conor Smith, F, Richmond (Atlantic 10) [stats]
Smith wisely redshirted last season and began the year logging over 17 min/g. However, he did not play in many games during the conference season for the Spiders (17-14, 9-7). He has good length for his position at 6'9" and can step out to hit the trey.

Jake Gollon, F, Mercer (Atlantic Sun) [stats]
Stevens Point native Jake Gollon is a 6'6" wing who appeared in only two games this season for Mercer (17-15, 11-9). Hopefully he takes the redshirt since the Bears are a young team that loses only one senior.

*Last year's Mr. Basketball, DeMarcus Phillips, was also named First-Team All-Region XI as a freshman at Marshalltown Community College. Marshalltown plays in the same conference as Indian Hills and Buycks: the ICCAC.

**Meanwhile, two other top-rated Wisconsin players from the Class of 2008 -- Jake Barnett and Johnny Lacy -- are holding their own out east at famed Notre Dame Prep, which also features Class of 2009 prospect Calvin Godfrey. EDIT: Barnett will attend Toledo next fall.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bucky, Meet Bubble

The 2008-09 Wisconsin men's basketball team in all likelihood will be remembered for one thing: being painful to watch in the last five minutes of games.

As the Badgers fell to Ohio State on Friday afternoon, not only did they fail to defend their Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship, but they also placed their NCAA tournament fortunes in the hands of a committee rather than removing all doubt. With the loss, Wisconsin dropped to 4-10 against RPI Top 50 teams.

For the record, I expect Wisconsin (19-12, 10-8) to get into the tourney on Sunday. A bid would extend the nation's sixth-longest current streak for NCAA tournament appearances to 11 years in a row. This equals current streaks by Texas and Gonzaga, although all three will move up a few notches if both Arizona and Kentucky fail to get in, as anticipated. Ohio State's win over Michigan State puts the Big Ten Tournament loss in perspective too.

But that 20th win would have looked nice. There are no guarantees of reaching that plateau now, meaning the spectacular back-to-back 30-win seasons might be bracketed by two 19-win seasons.

We should have seen it from the start though -- this is the same team that needed overtime to beat Iona and one of Marcus Landry's best games to bail them out at home against Long Beach State. Trevon Hughes' off-balance jumper was the only thing keeping UW from a total collapse at Virginia Tech (a team unlikely to get in). In that game, the Badgers let a 10-pt lead with less than seven minutes remaining slip to three points and then saw the rebuilt nine-point lead with under a minute left disappear completely. That scare might have been the Badgers' highlight of the season.

To be fair, Wisconsin has won a few games in the closing minutes, as it did with Idaho State. And to their credit Hughes, Landry and the defense closed out Penn State at the Kohl Center to begin the new year. Wisconsin swept a pair of bubble teams in Michigan and Penn State to get it's best road wins of the year. Wins at home against Illinois and a now solid Ohio State team -- plus a winning Big Ten record -- are the linchpins of UW's résumé. The Badgers beat (most of) the teams they should have, but consistently came up short at times they could have gotten marquee wins.

The chances were there. Marquette pulled away after trailing Wisconsin by double-digits several times in the first half in early December. Against Texas, a costly turnover by Joe Krabbenoft turned the tide in the final three minutes of a five-point loss. The Badgers battled on the road against a poor Iowa team, but got outplayed in the extra session. The first Minnesota debacle goes without explanation. A 13-4 Purdue run starting at the three-minute mark was the icing on another painful home loss. In yet another close game, Wisconsin led by a few points at Northwestern nearly the entire second half until -- you guessed it -- the Wildcats took the lead for good with 2:26 left.

All of that brings us back to this team's lack of execution when it matters most. Wisconsin completely breaks the needle, beyond empty, at crunch time. Even as the team improved down the stretch, the Badgers squandered a 12-point second half lead at Michigan State. They went the final three minutes without a field goal at Minnesota using the infamous "stand around for 30 seconds and then miss a long jumper" offense. Wisconsin made zero field goals in the final six minutes yesterday.

In that time, Wisconsin barely touched the post at all against Ohio State's zone, underscoring the need for better passers on the perimeter that can initiate offensive movement. Hughes has some explosive ability, but has proven unreliable in the facilitator role. Combine that with the lack of a true slasher to break down defenses and it is easy to see why the team struggles at the end of games. In the end, Wisconsin's defense is not as solid as the previous two seasons and cannot cover up for the offensive lapses.

What happened versus Ohio State was something you see in the NBA. Instead of turning the ball over, Evan Turner took over. He was the best player on the floor and neither Krabbenhoft nor Landry (especially with four fouls) could keep up with him. When a coach like Thad Matta exploits a favorable match up, Bo Ryan has had nothing to counter with this year.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Brackets and Award Winners Set in Stone

Wisconsin secures a fourth-place finish, thanks to tiebreakers
Playing Indiana was a fitting conclusion to the regular season, akin to Wisconsin going out and buying a snazzy new suit before the Big Dance. The Badgers looked great.

Wisconsin posted a season-best 140.5 offensive efficiency rating against Indiana, which is great since the Badgers allowed the Hoosiers to shoot 54% from the field. For once, the scrubs even extended an already sizable lead. Eleven different Badgers scored, including senior walk-on and secret blog favorite Morris Cain. Kevin Gullikson also played one of his best games ever. [box score]

Joe Krabbenhoft finished up his Kohl Center strongly, with a career-high 19 points and nine boards. Thanks for being a rebounding machine for the past four years Joe! Fellow senior Marcus Landry suffered four turnovers, but grabbed seven rebounds of his owned and tied a career high with six assists. Trevon Hughes added five steals.

But the snazzy suit UW dressed up in on Sunday didn't cover up all the pimples. A pair of freshman guards from Indiana (Verdell Jones and Nick Williams) torched the Badgers for 43 points on 13-of-19 shooting. Driving the lane and getting off good shots was just too easy a task for those two. I guess we should expect that sort of thing from UW at this point, but I was a little surprised how easily Jones burned Pop at times.

More importantly, though, the win wrapped up a "bye" into the Big Ten Tournament's semifinal round, thanks to Iowa's weekend upset of Penn State (which, oddly enough, also put an end to the craziest of the final week's conference standing scenarios). Wisconsin will play as the #4 seed versus Ohio State on Friday at 1:30 p.m. CDT. If they win, the Badgers would play either Michigan State (1), Minnesota (8) or Northwestern (9).

Minnesota has tortured this particular fan enough for one season and I want nothing to do with the Gophers as a potential Saturday foe. Assuming Wisconsin is a lock to make the tournament, a chance to upset the Spartans and improve its tourney seeding would be a great opportunity, especially since the Badgers gave one away earlier in the year to Tom Izzo & Co.

All-Big Ten picks revealed
Izzo was named Coach of the Year by the coaches as the Big Ten Network unveiled the conference's postseason awards. I thought Penn State's Ed DeChellis deserved the award and apparently the media agreed.

Beyond the coaches, the all-conference selections appeared fairly on point. I thought Krabbenhoft could have gotten a third-team nod, but Marcus Landry was the only Badger to be named to the all-conference second (coaches) or third (media) teams. I agree that Landry was the most consistent of the four Badger leaders.

Krabby and Hughes managed honorable mention nods from the media, but Joe was conspicuously absent from the same list by the coaches.

It was a foregone conclusion that the Wisconsin+Bo Ryan streak of consecutive first-team All-Big Ten selections was going to end after such an up-and-down season. In my opinion, it will be tough for Wisconsin to start another streak like this seeing as all five of the first-teamers were sophomores. In all, nine of the 15 players named all-conference were in only their second season of Big Ten play. Sure Hughes or Leuer could blow up next year, but it will take some major improvement. All in all, this is a huge positive for the conference though.

Michigan State cleaned up the awards, with Kalin Lucas winning a well-deserved Big Ten Player of the Year trophy. However, if I had a vote, I would have given Damian Johnson the defensive player of the year award over MSU's Travis Walton. Remarkably, Johnson was in the top 30 nationally in both steal % and block %.

: : :

- Binghamton's top player gets blackballed by America East coaches in all-conference voting. Yet the coaches and athletic directors protested Coach Kevin Broadus' recruiting methods by naming him Coach of the Year?
- St. Mary's -- even with Patrick Mills back -- lost big to Gonzaga. But thanks to some heads-up scheduling, the Gaels get one last tune-up before the NCAAs.
- If you missed it, enjoy Wisconsin's video Senior Salute to this year's four-man graduating class.
- Mild Racine-Oregon connections lead to mild upset in the Jamil Wilson sweepstakes.

Blog Poll - Week 5

Here is my Top 25 for the end of the regular season. You can check out the weekly BlogPoll analysis here. I will check in with some Badger-specific thoughts later tonight.

1Pittsburgh 1
2North Carolina 2
4Michigan St. 1
5Oklahoma 4
7Memphis 1
8Duke 1
9Kansas 1
10Villanova 1
11Wake Forest 1
12Washington 2
13UCLA 4
14Missouri 1
15Marquette 4
16Gonzaga 2
17Louisiana St. 2
18Purdue 2
19Xavier 2
20Florida St.
21Butler 4
23Arizona St. 4
24Texas A&M
25Ohio St.
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: West Virginia (#22), Clemson (#23), Illinois (#24).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Running diary: Wisconsin @ Minnesota

7:30 - We are still watching the final seven seconds of the Northwestern-Purdue game. Purdue is playing for nothing. A Northwestern win coupled with a Wisconsin loss tonight makes these two teams' tournament resumes more similar than Badger fans would like to admit.

7:37 - Marcus Landry loses a rare opening tip. Some changes to the Minnesota starting lineup tonight and frosh point guard Devoe Joseph proceeds to sink the game's first bucket. This crowd is in it to win it tonight.

7:40 - Keaton Nankivil is in early and it pays off with the first two points for Wisconsin as he uses a nice kiss of the glass. With the ball now in Minnesota's hands, get this ... wait for it ... two missed dunks in one possession! Thanks Goofs!

7:42 - All the Badgers' shots have been short thus far. Nerves? Nah. However, they don't look entirely comfortable yet. Despite missing his next two shots, I think Nankivil is playing pretty well. He is looking for his shot and wisely called a timeout during a scrum for a loose ball. Out of the timeout, Hughes is back, along with Tim Jarmusz, meaning Bo Ryan has gone eight deep in the first five minutes of play. Ugly game so far -- Minnesota leads 6-2.

7:49 - Trevon Hughes gets bumped and falls to the floor trying to draw a whistle. Pathetic. There is no way that contact should have sent Pop to the floor. It results in another Badger turnover.

The Gophers off of Tubby Smith's bench: Lawrence Westbrook, Al Nolen, Paul Carter. Not bad. I like those three a lot better than the first three UW reserves.

7:51 - Minnesota 11, Wisconsin 7. After Jon Leuer nails a deep three from the sideline, Carter responds with a trey of his own since Leuer decided not to guard him at all. Leuer then throws the ball out of bounds on offense. Getting uglier ...

7:55 - 10:29 left in the half. Landry is having a tough game. He has not been on the floor much and his best play has been drawing an offensive foul from Jonathan Williams. Hughes launches one.

7:59 - Jordan Taylor with a great effort to hold big man Colton Iverson at bay on a mismatch. Taylor then skied for a key rebound on the Nolen missed layup. This may have contributed to Iverson using his arms a bit too much posting up Gullikson; I think it was a weak call if you ask me.

8:01 - Krabby is krafty! His lay-in ends a grueling scoring drought for both teams. Wisconsin has not been able to get into any kind of comfort zone on offense, perhaps due to the more frequent substitution pattern that Bo has gone with. I think he is trying to keep his key players fresh considering Minnesota's deep bench. Wisconsin has six turnovers already and must be shooting about 20%.

8:05 - Terrible traveling call made on Nankivil. Not sure which play the refs were dreaming about there. Seven TOs now. Two minutes later another BS call on Leuer made by Ed Hightower to bail out the Gophers on a bad entry pass. Minnesota extends their run to 10-2 on this possession.

8:10 - Minnesota 21, Wisconsin 13. Landry answers with a much-needed 3-pointer after getting burned by Iverson on the other end. The Badgers are getting crushed inside. The early-season struggle with offensive aggression is rearing its ugly head. Only Hughes is taking it at the Gophers.

8:13 - Johnson's fall away jumper epitomizes the first half. His dribble was dead and then Krabby knocked it loose, allowing Johnson to reset and fire. Yes! Landry with another three ... well, if you can't do squat inside, take your chances outside I guess. Minnesota 23, Wisconsin 16.

: : :

Key Halftime Stats:
The score remains Minnesota 23, Wisconsin 16 at the break. All you need to know is Wisconsin has eight turnovers and is shooting 5-of-20 (25%) from the floor. Leuer is getting all sorts of looks and clanging them all off of the front of the rim for the most part. Jason Bohannon is a complete non-factor, though he D'd up Westbrook to some degree.

Wisconsin played all 10 rotation guys in the first half. Bo spoke about the "chemistry not being there" for his guys. Interesting. For the Badgers to win, Hughes must step up his game and an offensive threat on the blocks must emerge. The need to keep Minnesota off the boards goes without saying.

New show coming out on the Big Ten Network: The Big Ten Quad, hosted by Eddie George. Not sure how I feel about this, but apparently Ron Dayne is an early guest. Look s like he's still rocking the fuzzy beard/shaved head combo. Nice.

: : :

8:40 - Minnesota 23, Wisconsin 21. Hughes drives down the middle of the lane with the shot clock running down and throws a wild no-look pass over his head to the left corner where Leuer sticks the landing with a 3-point splash.

8:42 - Fronting the post is simply not working tonight. Since we know Bo is not very flexible in his strategies, this may be the team's downfall tonight. Minnesota is spreading the floor such that the Badger defender will not have any help defense in sight. Iverson sinks both free throws since he cannot seem to make a layup. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is racking up fouls at an alarming pace. JT has to burn a timeout due to the Gopher press after the made FTs.

8:46 - Out of a timeout, Wisconsin suffers a shot clock violation. Unbelievable. Either none of the coaches mentioned this in the huddle or every UW player on the court is brain dead. Nobody remembered the 7-9 seconds that they burned trying to bring the ball up the floor before the timeout.

8:50 - Bo is right. That was technically an intentional foul on Damian Johnson trying to keep Leuer away from the loose ball. By the way, Ed Hightower is heating up ... he may yet take over this game.

8:51 - Great hustle by Hughes to run down the Gopher fast break and steal the ball. Wisconsin needs to stifle the momentum. Krabbenhoft hits one of his two free throws at the other end.

8:53 - Ring it up! Landry making a living from distance. After Iverson answers inside, good ball movement results in a Hughes 3-pointer. Minnesota 29, Wisconsin 28.

8:59 - Fun fact: Wisconsin has already put Minnesota in the bonus. If Taylor would have made that trey, I would have screamed, Braveheart-style, from the couch.

9:01 - FREEDOM! Landry with another 3-pointer. All tied at 33.

9:02 - Brutal charging call goes against Westbrook. Landry lucked out there, as he was not completely set. This leads to a prayer by Leuer going in off the backboard off his own miss by virtue of a gritty offensive rebound. Westbrook then gets redemption with an "and-1" drive on J-Bo. He sinks it to put the Gophers back up by three, 38-35.

9:08 - A Jason Bohannon sighting -- he blocks a Johnson bunny! Wow. This after a pair of free throw to give Wisconsin its first lead at 39-38.

9:10 - Nice sequence leads to a Minnesota timeout with 5:21 left to play. Badgers complete a nice 6-0 run, highlighted by J-Bo and Hughes getting past their men on the bounce and delivering great passes. Nice ball handling by J-Bo after the rebound too.

Hightower needs to let these guys play. It's so unenjoyable to see touch fouls called. Landry has to sit with his fourth foul and Minnesota hits two FTs to pull within one.

9:14 - Hughes with two freebies for the Badgers. Wisconsin 43, Minnesota 40. Now with 4:14 left in the game, Minnesota is in the double bonus after another pretty weak call goes against Nankivil. Johnson splits the two attempts.

9:16 - Following the Krabbenhoft's pick with "extra sauce" on it, Wisconsin puts its best defensive showing of the night perhaps. Nankivil steps up on help defense and stuffs a pass attempt. The team forces a traveling violation seconds later with only a few ticks left on the shot clock. If Wisconsin can come out of the media timeout with a basket, that could be the key play of the game.

I would enjoy nothing more than to pull out a last-second win in this game, but I would feel a lot better about this team if it didn't come down to that. However, I see no other way.

9:20 - Hughes at will to the rack. Follows with a rebound and a foul drawn on Nolen. Pressure is on the Gophers right now. They just missed a W I D E O P E N 3-pointer and the crowd has been taken out of it. Pop sinks one of two FTs. Wisconsin 46, Minnesota 41.

9:24 - Shades of Game 1 when Westbrook took over in overtime. His two runners have made the score 46-45. Jordan Taylor cannot handle him. Need a defensive switch. Timeout Wisconsin with exactly one minute remaining.

This is infuriating. The Wisconsin offense the last three times down is to run down the clock and let Hughes try something on his own when the shot clock winds down. Really? This is the best we can do guys? Wisconsin got the lead by being aggressive and making plays at the hoop. Of course, they wouldn't want to try putting someone else on Westbrook. Minnesota leads 47-46 after two Westbrook FTs.

Minnesota wraps this one up with free throws and a brutal turnover on an inbounds play where it looks like Hughes was not totally focused on holding onto the ball before heading up court. Wisconsin only trailed 49-46 at that point with three seconds left. But Westbrook iced it with a pair from the charity stripe.

: : :

Final score:
Minnesota 51, Wisconsin 46. [box score]

I thought Bo's strategy of resting the key combatants early was going to work as I watched Wisconsin makes its run. Unfortunately, out of my halftime keys to victory, UW failed to achieve two of them. Wisconsin won the battle on the boards (27-25, excluding "team rebounds"), but the guard play did not improve and neither did the post-up game. Landry, who had a game-high 18 points, kept the Badgers in this game through his outside shooting alone. Hughes and Bohannon, on the other hand, only showed glimpses of what the team needed from them.

- The Badgers weren't the only Wisconsin team to lose their way tonight. Pittsburgh went on an 18-0 run to pummel Marquette.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Badgers Marching Forward

Watching Wisconsin come out with guns blazing had me on the edge of my couch last night even though I was catching the Big Ten Network replay of the game. I already knew which team had won. Regardless, Marcus Landry was dishing to a cutting Trevon Hughes and Jon Leuer was looking like Hakeem Olajuwon inside as Wisconsin built and maintained an eight- or nine-point lead in the game's first 13 minutes.

Then the Wolverines switched out of the 2-3 zone that the Badgers had shredded and into the 1-3-1. Wisconsin started throwing the ball out of bounds at times. And not only was Manny Harris active, but he was opening things up for his teammates offesnively. DeShawn Sims and C.J. Lee combined to score 14 points in a short span that saw Michigan take a 34-32 lead into the locker room.

So when UW put the clamps on Big Blue (only two points in the first 9:58 of the second half), my body decided it was lights out. Yeah, I missed out on how tight the game ended up. I missed Landry's continued clutch play, whether is be his passing (5 assts) or hard-earned 3-point plays. On the bright side, catching some shut-eye on the couch allowed me to bypass the shaky free throw shooting and an infuriating foul by Hughes.

Missing the drama of the 60-55 final just brought me back to earth. It was a game Wisconsin (18-10, 9-7) was supposed to win anyway. The Badgers have now won six of seven games since Leuer supplanted Keaton Nankivil as the fifth starter.

After getting shut out of the rebounding column in the loss to Michigan State, Joe Krabbenhoft was a man possessed against the Wolverines, hauling in 11 boards to pace the Badgers. [box score] Thanks in large part to Krabbenhoft's efforts, Wisconsin held a significant advantage on the glass over Michigan. Wisconsin simply matches up well with Michigan since the Wolverines are a perimeter-oriented team that lacks the inside fortitude to turn UW's lack of true height into a negative.

Besides the foul, Hughes somehow finished with zero assists and three turnovers. But Pop was an ultra-efficient 7-of-11 from the field in accumulating a game-high 19 points.

The win sets up one of the more anticipated rematches of the Big Ten season. When Minnesota ripped a win out of Wisconsin's grasp at the Kohl Center in mid-January, it sent the Badgers into a tailspin the likes of which Bo Ryan has never experienced in Madison before. The Gophers were riding high at 16-1. How times have changed.

Minnesota is only 4-7 since that fateful Thursday night, while Wisconsin has gone 6-5. Oddly, even with 20 wins, Minnesota may need this win more than Wisconsin. The victory over Louisville and at Wisconsin are the marquee feathers in Minnesota's cap, tempered by the team's soft non-conference schedule.

On Sunday, Krabbenhoft passed Larry Petty and likely cemented his place (7th) on Wisconsin's career rebounding ladder. Likewise, Landry surpassed Greg Stiemsma in career blocked shots at Wisconsin. I actually thought Landry should have been credited with one more block, but oh well. Goggles is only six blocks away from moving into fourth place all-time in school history. Both Krabby and Landry will move up a spot or two on the all-time offensive rebounding list before season's end.

Player - Career Rebounds (Season Total)
5. Kim Hughes - 806
6. Alando Tucker - 769
7. Joe Krabbenhoft - 719 (183)

Player - Career Off Rebs (Season Total)
1. Alando Tucker - 314
2. Mike Wilkinson - 311
3. Andy Kowske - 240
4. Sean Daugherty - 227
5. Joe Krabbenhoft - 223 (52)
6. Brian Butch - 222
7. Michael Finley: 205
8. Patrick Tompkins: 181
9. Willie Simms: 176
10. Marcus Landry: 173 (45)

Player - Career Blocks (Season Total)

3. Mike Wilkinson - 117
4. Kurt Portmann - 102
5. Marcus Landry - 97 (33)

Prospect Profile: Nnana Egwu

Nnana Egwu, PF
6'9" :: 210 lbs.
Class of 2011
Chicago (IL) St. Ignatius College Prep [team site]
AAU: Illinois Wolves

Scout: 4 Stars * * * * (#9 C/#76 overall) Previous: 2 Stars > 3 Stars (#16 C) > 4 Stars (#10/#77)
Rivals: 4 Stars * * * * (#9 C/#75 overall) Previous: #39 > #5/#48 > #6/#57
ESPN/Scouts, Inc. grade: 92 (#12 C/#95 overall) Previous: NR

Recent Press
5/4: Race for #1 spot in Class of 2011 in Illinois is wide open - Prep Bullseye
3/3: Payback time for Fahey, Wolfpack - Chicago Sun-Times
1/16: Wolfpack's defense shuts down Fenwick - Chicago Sun-Times
11/26: Egwu sizing up the Big Ten -

Egwu chooses Illinois - Chicago Sun-Times (10/9/09)

The Hype
Class of 2011 Stars Randle and Egwu named Co-MVPs - (8/1/09)
Egwu drawing Illini interest - (2/26/09)
Egwu gives a sampling of what the future holds - (12/15/08)
Egwu sizing up the Big Ten - (11/26/08)

Highlights: Nnana Egwu of Illinois Wolves (8/6/09) - YouTube
Highlights: Nnana Egwu #1 (7/8/09) - YouTube

Sophomore: 2008-09 (St. Ignatius) *Results only* - no individual stats at this time


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

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