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Monday, March 23, 2009

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.

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