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Monday, November 30, 2009

2009 Big Ten/ACC Challenge Tips Off

It's time to wake up basketball fans. Maybe you find yourself still sleeping off the tryptofan that you gorged yourself on over the Thanksgiving holiday, stuck in football mode and awaiting the bowl matchups. If that's the case, your missed a slew of great season-opening tournaments on the hardwood.

Even though the Big Ten did not fare as well as expected in those tourneys, the conference gets an immediate mulligan starting tonight. Virginia hosts Penn State in the first game of the 2009 Big Ten/ACC Challenge at 6 pm CT. ESPN is advertising the Challenge on air, but there has been no hype for it online. And I don't blame them since the Big Ten has never won the event.

This is a stretch of games that can change national perception. Though the Big Ten is traditionally viewed as a plodding conference (especially when compared to the ACC), its teams have actually been playing at a fairly average pace through the first weeks of the season.

Tonight's game is one of the toss-up games that most people feel needs to swing the Big Ten's way in order to snap the ACC stranglehold on the challenge. Virginia (4-2), who played uptempo last year, is now coached by Wisconsin's favorite son Tony Bennett -- who has been known to lead slow-paced teams. By early indications, Penn State (4-2) is playing slower than average yet again.

The Challenge's marquee matchups begin in earnest on Tuesday, with the Wisconsin-Duke contest slated for 8:15 pm CT on Wednesday to help conclude the event.

So if you still want to sleepwalk through the college basketball season until March Madness, watching the Big Ten embarrass itself again in a BCS bowl and sobbing over Brett Favre's success, you can check online football odds at BetUS.

If you'd rather watch potential history in the making, check out ESPN for the next three nights. Even though it's still early, we will learn a lot about how the Big Ten can live up to its preseason hype and starting making some definitive statements about what problems each team will face this year. I am holding out hope for the conference, but don't have the best feeling about this one. On the bright side, if I go under .500 on my picks, there's a 50/50 chance the Big Ten pulled this thing out:

: : : Monday (predicted winners in orange)
6:00 CT - Penn State @ Virginia (ESPN2). Virginia might be rebuilding, but Penn State is the type of team that a Bennett-coached club will beat.

: : : Tuesday
6:00 CT - Wake Forest @#4 Purdue (ESPN). Purdue is carrying the Big Ten's banner right now. They have the talent and experience to get the job done. Wake just has Al-Farouq Aminu.
6:00 CT - Northwestern @ N.C. State (ESPNU). No Coble, no problem. The 'Cats are playing well and play their throwback style well, while the Wolfpack's resume is pretty weak.
6:30 CT - Maryland @ Indiana (ESPN2). Maryland is ripe for the picking, but Indiana is not quite ready for prime time.
8:00 CT - #9 Michigan State @ #10 North Carolina (ESPN). This one will hurt the most. If MSU can win the battle behind the arc, the Spartans can win, but UNC's front line is special.
8:30 CT - Virginia Tech @ Iowa (ESPN2). No words necessary.

: : : Wednesday
6:15 CT - Illinois @ Clemson (ESPN). Déjà vu? The Illini are reeling right now and Clemson is always playing well at this time.
6:15 CT - Minnesota @ Miami (ESPNU). Minnesota's 4-2 record is not as bad as it looks, since they fell to two decent teams. I believe in Tubby's guys to quiet the rising storm in Miami (6-0).
6:30 CT - Boston College @ Michigan (ESPN2). Big Blue must bounce back.
8:15 CT - #6 Duke @ Wisconsin (ESPN). I reserve the right to change my mind come Wednesday. Who guards Kyle Singler?
8:30 CT - #21 Florida State @ #15 Ohio State (ESPN2). This should be a nice game. Having at least one big man will help OSU slow Solomon Alabi, and the home court pushes the Buckeyes over the top.

ACC 6, Big Ten 5 ... miss it by *that* much.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bucks Break

Eying the return of Michael Redd from injury, I have witnessed both rookie sensation Brandon Jennings and the Milwaukee Bucks as a whole hit a mini-skid (coinciding with higher quality opponents). Jennings is hitting 29% of his shots since Redd reappeared and the Bucks are 0-4 in that span.

Could it be that the team is having trouble integrating Redd back into the flow in the aftermath of BJ's ascension as the team's top dog? Or maybe Andrew Bogut is actually a very valuable piece of the puzzle after all.

Fortunately, if the season ended today, Milwaukee would still be good enough to earn a 6-seed in this year's NBA Playoffs thanks to the ghastly Eastern Conference. Until they clinch an actual spot, I suppose I will keep flipping by the games on TV only to be disappointed by the sight of Luke Ridnour playing instead of Jennings. I have had little luck in catching Jennings play this year.

Despite a good start to the season that has increased their chances of advancing to the playoffs, the Bucks are still far from a favorite, odds-wise. When browsing a sports book online betting site, I see that Milwaukee (+15,000) is still behind 20 or so teams when it comes to odds of winning an NBA title this year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maui Invitational: Game 2

Gonzaga coasted to victory over a slower Wisconsin team Tuesday night to advance to the Maui Invitational championship game. The Bulldogs proved they were an underrated team, one which will probably be ranked for much of the year.

Even though the Badgers avoided the foul trouble that plagued them the night before, they still got beat up on the inside. And not just by big man Robert Sacre. No, it was Gonzaga's penetration that manhandled Wisconsin. None of Wisconsin's guards could stay in front of Steven Gray or Demetri Goodson. In fact, the Zags' three starting guards combined for 42 points with only one 3-pointer among them. [box score]

Overall, way too much scrambling on defense throughout the contest. And more subpar shooting. Wisconsin shot under 40% for the second straight night and is hitting threes at a dreadful 24% clip (18-of-74!) through four games. The Zags made 33% more free throws (21) than the Badgers attempted (14). The unlikely trend gains momentum ...

The game commentators hit it right on the head when they were discussing how Wisconsin's offense comes within the confines of the system because the team lacks playmakers besides Trevon Hughes and perhaps Jon Leuer. Guys like Tim Jarmusz and Jason Bohannon can only take what the defense gives them. When the opponent gives nothing, those players give the Badgers nothing.

Even last night's stars had bad games. Hughes failed to get to the free throw line and had zero assists in 30 minutes. Keaton Nankivil had a tough night from the floor, including another missed dunk that may have brought down the house. My conclusion is that he must have small hands; I'm not sure how else he keeps clanking these.

The stats will show that Leuer shot under 50% from the field, but watching the first 35 minutes of play, you would have thought he hit everything. Leuer, who scored 18 points, found a real rhythm inside, especially with the short baseline jumpers. I would not mind if he stopped shooting treys altogether.

Early on, you could see bits and pieces of Hughes' style in Jordan Taylor's moves to the hoop. He continued to build on some those successfully drives and wound up with a career high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Pretty impressive and encouraging considering how much the team will need him to fill that role next season.

Tomorrow's title game matchup between Robert Sacre and Cincinnati's Yancy Gates should be fun to watch. Wisconsin will play Maryland in the 3rd place game at 3:30 pm CT. Three quality opponents to start the season in my opinion. By the way,'s Luke Winn wrote a good article about the recent evolution of the preseason tournament scene and how it has been influenced by the Worldwide Leader.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maui Invitational: Game 1

Wisconsin's 65-61 opening round victory over Arizona in the Maui Invitational was hard to watch, but watching Keaton Nankivil finish made it worthwhile.

Nankivil was looking plenty aggressive with a couple of dunk attempts gone awry in the second half. But he converted with authority when it counted -- the final two minutes. Even though I'd have traded the aggressiveness of the missed dunks for four points in a heartbeat, those plays set the stage for his strong finish, when Wisconsin absolutely had to have a big man on the attack. The junior is averaging 10 points and 7 boards through three games.

It was great to see the senior point guard seal the deal in the end also. Trevon Hughes seized the moment with his fourth steal -- off a missed free throw -- to regain possession with four seconds left and ensure victory. He paced the Badgers with 24 points and overcame some shaky free throw shooting and questionable shot attempts to make another big play. Even more encouraging was the chemistry he seemed to have with Nankivil in this whistle-fest that is now typical of the tropical early season tourneys. [box score]

On the very same day that a report about biased officiating hit the media, 55 fouls were called in this game. After one half, Wisconsin would probably agree with the researchers findings that referees call more fouls against the team that is leading. Fortunately the calls evened out in the second half. (Amazingly, the Wildcats lost three players to fouls in the end while only Jon Leuer fouled out for the Badgers.)

Last, but not least, freshman Mike Bruesewitz made a huge impact in covering for the decimated front court. Wisconsin had the best player on the court in Hughes, but the toughness that Bruesewitz brought to the table was the second-best thing to happen to the Badgers. He tore up the boards (6), tipped rebounds to others, took two charges and got on the floor for loose balls. I love the way he sets screens. In general, he just got you excited that he's playing this year.

My favorite play of the game was when Hughes picked up a deflected ball, accelerated to get in front of his man and then handed the ball off to Bruiser for a two-handed jam. It was a very smart move by Hughes to get the youngster an easy bucket to reward his hustle and get him involved on both ends of the floor after his rough debut back in Madison last Wednesday.

The second best play of the night for me was when Hughes found himself in a mismatch guarding Arizona's post player, yet stole the entry pass with a clean deflection.

Wisconsin came out with a lot of energy, opening a 13-0 lead, while Arizona lacked direction. But after building the lead UW lost its focus. The Wildcats got back into the game when the Badgers started running too much and taking quick shots. Arizona frosh Derrick Williams owned the paint for the majority of the game, putting both Leuer, Nankivil and even Ryan Evans into foul trouble from the start. His parade to the charity stripe led to a game-high 25 points.

The dark side of this win is that last season's reversal of free throw fortunes continues. Arizona nearly made as many freebies (26) as Wisconsin attempted (29). Even these numbers are skewed because Arizona had to foul in the final minute.

Outside shooting is another concern. Wisconsin needs a third shooter since Nankivil's 3-point shooting has come down to earth this season. Neither Tim Jarmusz nor Jordan Taylor look capable yet. Inside, Jared Berggren still looked out of place. Uncomfortable. Plus, he missed a box out that lead to one of the Wildcats' few first half buckets. Although, with all the bricks being thrown up, Wisconsin really did a great job of rebounding in the first 20 minutes, considering their true bigs were both on the bench.

Wisconsin faces Gonzaga tomorrow night in round two of the tournament.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Grizzlies Come Calling In Early Test

Wisconsin Hosts Another Summit League Foe

As a part of ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon that concluded Tuesday night, No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Michigan State both survived challenges by unranked non-BCS heavyweights Memphis and Gonzaga. Prior to that, UCLA lost to Cal-State Fullerton to begin the event.

The takeaway is that the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies will be a good early season test for the Wisconsin Badgers at a time when anything is possible.

Oakland returns five starters this year, including one from 2007-08 who took a medical redshirt last season. The Grizzlies beat Oregon and UW-Green Bay on the road a year ago, but in general struggled away from their home court where they were undefeated.

Local fans anticipate a Big Eight reunion between UW's Keaton Nankivil (Madison Memorial) and Grizzlies forward Will Hudson (Middleton) in the renewal of a match up in which Nankivil usually excelled in high school. Hudson set an Oakland school record for field goal percentage (68.2%) as a sophomore.

The Grizzlies have some strength inside, but I like the inside-outside-midrange games of Nankivil, Jon Leuer and Jared Berggren in this game. If the Badgers can make the extra pass, Jason Bohannon could find himself some open looks from deep.

Once again, the only way to see the game is by paying the Big Ten Network a $2.99 fee. Bah humbug.

Big Ten: Land of Triple-Doubles?
The Big Ten has suffered some serious blows to its supremacy this year, chiefly the complete collapse over in Iowa City and Northwestern losing Kevin Coble to injury for the entire season. On the bright side, two Big Ten players -- Michigan's Manny Harris and Ohio State's Evan Turner -- have posted triple-doubles already. I can see both players duplicating that feat at some point, but who else has a shot at this feat?

At Wisconsin, the official x-factor, Ryan Evans, appears to be the closest thing to a stat-stuffer we have. The Badgers traditionally do not block a lot of shots, nor do they get credited with many assists.

In my mind, that leaves these potential candidates in the following order:
  • JuJuan Johnson, Purdue (he almost had one last season)
  • Robbie Hummel, Purdue
  • Ralph Sampson III, Minnesota
  • Demetri McCamey, Illinois
  • Damian Johnson, Minnesota
  • Dallas Lauderdale, Ohio State
  • Verdell Jones, Indiana
: : :

In a refreshing bit of recruiting news, Wisconsin appears to be full-speed ahead going after guards in the 2011 class. The word on the street is that Bo Ryan has offered Traevon Jackson, son of ex-OSU star Jim Jackson. It is the second offer reported this week, after George Marshall's offer over the weekend. While this means Wisconsin has probably seen the writing on the wall with Chasson Randle, there are plenty of talented youngsters in this class that can help the program.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Prospect Profile: Traevon Jackson

Traevon Jackson, SG
6'2" :: 205 lbs.
Class of 2011
Westerville (OH) South HS
AAU: West Virginia Wildcats / All-Ohio Red

Scout: 3 Stars * * * (SG) Previous: 1 Star
Rivals: NR (PG)
ESPN/Scouts, Inc. grade: 87 (#77 > #79 SG) Previous: 88 (#54 SG)

2010 Second Team All-State (Div. 1, AP)
2010 First Team All-Metro (Columbus Dispatch)
2010 First Team All-Central District (Div. 1)
2010 Ohio Capital Conference Player of the Year (Cardinal Division)

Recent Press
6/21: Westerville South's Jackson bound for Wisconsin -
4/6: All-Ohio Red gets it done in Wisconsin -
2/13: Like dad, the son shines -
1/30: Westerville South holds off Jerome - Columbus Dispatch
1/23: Jackson stars for Westerville South - Columbus Dispatch
1/6: Wildcats' guards come up big - Columbus Dispatch
12/9: Westerville South's Jackson packs the stat line -

The Verbal
Jim Jackson's son among two commitments for Badgers - WiSJ (6/12/10)
UW basketball receives two oral commitments - JSOnline (6/12/10)

The Hype
Who are the state's top players by position? - (6/9/10)
Action Jackson leads Westerville South over North - High Major Scoop (1/6/10)
Son Of Ohio Legend Making His Own Mark - RedHawk Insider (8/27/09)
The Real Jacko! - High Major Scoop (8/14/09)
South shares the load - Columbus Dispatch (1/24/09)
South poised to improve on last year - This Week (12/3/08)
He's Jackson's boy, all right - Columbus Dispatch (1/29/08)

Highlights: Traevon Jackson (2009-10) - Future Gems
Highlights: Traevon Jackson Higlights - Westerville South - Class of 2011 (2/19/10) - YouTube
Game: Westerville South 71, Westerville North 55 (2/11/10) - YouTube
Interview: Jackson Discusses Play-by-Play Classic Win and Recruitment (1/24/10) - YouTube

2009-10: Area Leaders - Columbus Dispatch (updated 2/9)

Additional Info
2009-10 Schedule :: Columbus Dispatch


Monday, November 16, 2009

Prospect Profile: George Marshall

George Marshall Jr., PG
5'11" :: 175 lbs.
Class of 2011
Chicago (IL) Brooks College Prep
AAU: Mac Irvin Fire / Illinois Warriors

Scout: 3 Stars * * * (#22 PG)
Rivals: 3 Stars * * * (#26 PG/#130 overall) Previous: #24 > #25/#112 > #27/#130
ESPN/Scouts, Inc. grade: 91 (#35 > #34 > #31 > #33 PG)

2010 Honorable Mention All-City (Sun-Times)
2010 Honorable Mention All-Area (Sun-Times)
2009 All-City Team (CPLBCA)

Recent Press
2010 Spring Tip-Off Classic - (3/29/10)
Arizona, Wake Forest Interested in George Marshall - MidState Hoops (1/15/10)
Marshall Adds a Big 10 Scholarship Offer from Wisconsin to his Collection - (11/16/09)
Chicago Brooks Star Enjoys a Strong Unofficial Visit to Wisconsin - (10/20/09)
No NU offer ... yet - (7/15/09)

The Verbal
Chicago point guard commits to Badgers - (1/19/10)
Bo Ryan, Howard Moore and the UW Strike Again in Chicago - (1/19/10)

The Hype
George Marshall Among Best Student-Athletes - MidState Hoops (6/16/09)
Grades & Game - 773 Hoops (4/24/09)
Marshall plan: Soph leads Brooks rally - Chicago Sun-Times (3/13/09)
Super sophs carry Brooks - Chicago Sun-Times (12/26/08)
Are these young Eagles ready to soar? - Chicago Sun-Times (6/28/08)
Brooks rolls past Harlan - Chicago Sun-Times (1/22/08)
George Marshall Journal #1 - (1/6/08)

Interview: A Young Man Chi-Town Can Be Proud Of - YouTube (2/1/10)


Additional Info
2009-10 Schedule :: Chicago Sun-Times


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

National Signing Day

Welcome Evan Anderson, Josh Gasser and last-minute commitment Duje Dukan to the Wisconsin family officially as all three signed their national Letters of Intent today. Dukan verballed to Bo Ryan on Tuesday to give the Class of 2010 one ballhandler, one shooter and one big man. The class is not wowing the media, but a classic and balanced group of Badgers.

While in past seasons Wisconsin has been ahead of the curve in recruiting, the team only has one 2011 verbal commitment at this time, with many more scholarship spots to fill. In addition to this year's high school juniors, the staff will be hitting the pavement hard in the 2012 class as well, going after guys like Peoria's Bobo Drummond.

And, oh yeah, Wisconsin spanked UW-Superior in their final exhibition tune-up on Wednesday, 80-47, behind the near triple-double of Trevon Hughes. [box score] I don't put much stock in these exhibition games. Since I didn't follow the game I cannot comment on it, but the regular season is now just a few days away.

I was not able to catch the game since I am in New York all week, but I was able to watch ex-Badger Marcus Landry for the first time as an NBA player. It was also my first trip to the basketball mecca that is Madison Square Garden. The New York Knicks found another way to give a game away. Landry saw action in the final minute or so, and thankfully avoided entry into Club Trillion. He played just enough to commit one foul, corral one rebound and hoist one jumper. It was a good time -- $10 tickets and plenty of room to maneuver courtside after halftime.

On a final NBA note, Milwaukee rookie Brandon Jennings continues to remove all doubt that he will be a star in this league, scoring 32 points in a win over Denver. Most of the internet is abuzz over this early candidate for Rookie of the Year [video], though not all agree. Jennings he may end up being a shoot-first point guard, but so what? He is actually bringing *gasp* excitement back into the Bucks equation. I would buy a ticket to a "Jennings game" any day over a "Michael Redd game."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

So It Begins

A new season is finally underway, as the 2009-10 Wisconsin Badgers step into "real" action for the first time against Bemidji State, a name which hockey fans are already familiar with. In fact, I am listening to the game right now. Wisconsin premiered out a full-court press early in the first half and Ryan Evans is having a personal block party from the sound of it.

The biggest storyline heading into the game was whether fans would pay the $2.99 to watch the game on or just listen to the radio like me. For what it's worth, when you cannot do either, you can always count on the in-game blog at

Duje Dukan, the 6'8" sharpshooter who received Bo Ryan's latest scholarship offer, is supposed to be in attendance tonight. Who knows, maybe Wisconsin will have another verbal commitment by the morning. With future backcourt depth still in flux, the latest 2010 scholarship offer was a curious one. Dukan would be a great weapon to have, but definitely is not the combo guard that many are looking for.

Another option for guard depth next year could be dismissed freshman walk-on Jeremy Glover. According to the Wisconsin State Journal today, Glover could potentially return to the team as a "practice-only" player if he wins his recent appeal.

Big Ten media day archive
In case you missed it, here's a collection of links from last Thursday's Big Ten Media Day in Chicago. There are no new coaches in the league this year. That stability can go a long way in determining how well the conference measures up to all the preseason hype.

Preseason Favorites and All-Big Ten First Team (

Coaches, via Big Ten Network:
Bo Ryan
Tom Izzo
Bruce Weber
Matt Painter
Thad Matta
John Beilein
Bill Carmody
Ed Dechellis
Todd Lickliter
Tom Crean (n/a)
Tubby Smith (not in attendance after recent death of his father)

Complete Coaches Transcript (
Badger Interviews (Sports Bubbler)
Here's the quote that got everone giddy from this News & Notes piece:

"One of things Coach Ryan mentioned to the Big Ten Network that might surprise people is that he's excited to see Hughes and Jordan Taylor get out in transition a little. While I wouldn't expect the Badgers to run-and-gun, the team might have the athleticism this year to push the tempo a bit. The team actually played with a 25-second shot clock when they were playing pick-up ball over the summer. The idea being to look for a shot quicker and remove the tendency to walk the ball up the floor."

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

What should Wisconsin do with the newly vacated scholarship?

Poll: Who will win the Big Ten?

Poll: Who was Wisconsin's first-half MVP (thru 16 games)?

Poll: How Many Regular Season games will wisconsin win in 2009-10?