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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Big Ten Opener: Ohio State @ Wisconsin LIVE

Pre-Game Thoughts
The last day of the decade brings a brand new season of Big Ten basketball to Wisconsin, as the Badgers welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes to town. Join us for the live blogging event that will begin about 15 minutes before the 1 p.m. CST tip time.

Since Evan Turner's injury, OSU junior David Lighty has been needed to pick up the slack offensively. As the team's best defender, it will be interesting to see how that affects the other half of his game. I assume Lighty would be charged with checking Hughes or Bohannon, since "locking up" Tim Jarmusz would kind of waste his skills.

Thad Matta has kept his rotation very shallow even after losing Turner. He only seems to be playing six guys regularly in the last four games. Jon Diebler has missed Turner the most, since he is primarily a spot-up shooter that benefits from someone like Turner breaking down an opponent's defense. Conversely,sophomore William Buford has picked up the slack in many areas. Either way, Matta's key players are playing a ton of minutes.

Jon Leuer will face an imposing interior defender in Dallas Lauderdale. But I am already having visions of Leuer dumping the ball off to a lurking Keaton Nankivil for a dunk. At the very least, one of the two Badger big men should be able to corral a few second-chance opportunities in this contest.

While Leuer and Jordan Taylor continued to excel in the final tune-ups against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Illinois-Chicago, Trevon Hughes faded to the background somewhat. Against the Buckeyes, Hughes will need to turn the switch back on. As I mentioned earlier, Lighty is a plus defender, but I'm not sure P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons are going to stop a locked-in Hughes.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Who Is the New Badger Villain?

While completing my holiday hibernation, I agreed to answer a few questions for the Wisconsin preview that is up now at From The Barn. The impressive Minnesota basketball blog is compiling thoughts from around the league as we prepare for the conference season.

The toughest question for me to answer was an unexpected one about which Badger is most likely to rub Gopher fans the wrong way. It's no secret that guys like Brian Butch, Greg Stiemsma and especially Joe Krabbenhoft have been disliked by rival fanbases over the years. The feelings usually stem from the way the players look and alleged dirty plays to the fact that the guys are successful players who simply seem like they've been on the team forever. Most Big Ten fans would call this the Jess Settles Theory.

A few names are already popping into your mind right now, but you will have to read the preview to find out who I selected. After you do that, send me some feedback on these two questions:

  1. Who is your most despised "villain" on any Big Ten opponent's current roster and why?

  2. Which current Badger player do you see playing the role of villain in other fans' minds?

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As far as the Badgers recent performances are concerned, it was nice to see Jason Bohannon break free a bit against Illinois-Chicago, hitting 5-of-6 from deep en route to 15 points in 31 minutes. I hesitate to say it was his best game of the year because he did more damage against Maryland, plus he was one of several Badger guards who coughed up a possession in uncharacteristic fashion against the Flames on Sunday. Jordan Taylor had one such mental error (a bad pass) that still has me scratching my head. The Badgers need to get serious in a hurry after feasting on a couple of non-conference appetizers because hosting Ohio State on New Year's Eve is an important task.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hughes and Bohannon Leaving Their Mark

Senior Trevon Hughes pushed his way onto Wisconsin's all-time Top 10 for career steals earlier this season, one of two categories in which I expected him to leave a permanent mark before he leaves the program. Right now he is eighth on the thefts list and has a shot to catch guys like Devin Harris, Michael Finley and even Michael Flowers if he excels.

The way things are progressing, however, I could be wrong about Hughes winding up on the all-time assists ladder. It's more likely that he will enter the school's top ten lists in the 3-point and free throw categories actually. When it comes to dimes, Jordan Taylor is this team's leader. Taylor is also well ahead of Hughes' career assist pace and could be headed onto that list in a few years himself.

Player - Career Steals (Season Total)
5. Michael Finley - 168
6. Devin Harris - 164
7. Trent Jackson - 151
8. Trevon Hughes - 141 (19)
9. Hennssy Auriantal - 133

I keep forgetting about Jason Bohannon since he has been pretty quiet this year, but he is obviously one to watch as he rises up the all-time 3-pointer charts. Against Cal Poly, J-Bo drew into a tie in the Wisconsin record books for both 3-pointers made and attempted [box score]. Hopefully he can break free in both categories against Milwaukee.

Bohannon is on pace to finish fourth and third, respectively, on those lists in addition to being a near-lock to hold one of the highest FT shooting percentages in school history when he is done.

Player - Career 3-Pointers (Season Total)
6. Tracy Webster - 167
7. Sean Mason - 166
8. Kammron Taylor - 163
9. Andy Kilbride - 162
9. Jason Bohannon - 162 (18)

Player - Career 3-Pt FG Attempts (Season Total)
4. Tim Locum - 481
5. Sean Mason - 471
6. Jason Bohannon - 430 (46)
6. Kammron Taylor - 430
6. Trent Jackson - 430

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Checking Back In

Returning from a tropical vacation to the same mountain of snow I left was not the only rude awakening I got earlier this week. It was an interesting time to be cut off from the information super highway to be sure.

I followed Wisconsin's shocking first-ever loss to UW-Green Bay on the web (again) before I skipped town, leaving me worried about which group of Badgers would show up against Marquette. Though Trevon Hughes and Jon Leuer willed the team into overtime against the Phoenix, and Ryan Evans seemed to play well, the turnovers and inability to lock down Green Bay's outside shooters were disconcerting. Wisconsin really had no business being in that game.

The worrying was all for naught though. While I was away, Leuer continued to catch fire. The junior forward is averaging 27 pts-per-40 mins in his last three outings, including a 24-point, 12-rebound masterpiece in 38 mins against Marquette. [box score]

Marquette was one of several teams in the region to hit a personnel snag over the last two weeks. The Jeronne and Tim Maymon circus pulled out of Milwaukee in search of greener pastures (Tennessee?) just days after the loss to Wisconsin. Iowa's Anthony Tucker showed he hasn't learned a thing, getting suspended indefinitely after a second arrest involving alcohol. And finally, the Royce White saga at Minnesota took a bizarre twist when he announced in an overly dramatic YouTube video that he was leaving college basketball. I'm sure the last chapter in that story is yet to be written.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten Conference "announced" it was going to consider expansion again. Well, the Chicago Tribune certainly took the bait and went hog wild with coverage of potential scenarios and implications. Count me as one who thinks Missouri is the most logical target due to proximity and an existing rivalry with Illinois. However, I promise not to get too worked up against the Rutgers and Syracuse suggestions since any expansion is pure speculation right now.

With their Big Ten brethren looming, the Badgers will try to avoid taking another dive when they host UW-Milwaukee tomorrow night. After piling on Cal Poly last Wednesday, Wisconsin has risen to No. 14 in the Pomeroy rankings even though it's still on the outside looking in at the traditional Top 25 polls. The Badgers have proven themselves thus far to again be exceptional defensive rebounders who take great care of the basketball, despite the occasional misstep against a Horizon league foe. Wisconsin has delivered an offensive efficiency above 113 for each of the past six games, only stumbling when it surrendered a 118.7 offensive efficiency on the road to Green Bay.

Since Pomeroy's individual ratings are now online, it was good to see that Jordan Taylor has cut down on his fouling while still dishing out the assists. Hughes, on the other hand, is drawing 6.7 fouls-per-40 mins -- good for 68th in the country. That is the most on the team since Alando Tucker's hey-days.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bo Ryan Goes For 200th Win At Wisconsin

Life is good for Bo Ryan's squad. The national media has done the expected about-face and are now gushing over the Wisconsin Badgers after their impressive win over Duke.

Step two was to avoid a letdown, which UW did by beating Grambling St. last Saturday in dominant fashion, 79-46. Trevon Hughes continued his stellar play and was rewarded by being named the Big Ten's Player of the Week. Perhaps more importantly, Jason Bohannon found his shooting touch and Jordan Taylor continued to emerge as a vital cog in the Badger machine (11 pts, 7 rebs, 5 assts). [box score]

Now comes step three: the first true road game. The Badgers might even get some assistance on this task. Thanks to blizzard-like conditions in the area, who knows how many fans will show up in Green Bay tonight at the Resch Center or whether it will amount to any type of home court atmosphere for the Phoenix.

The game will be the first of two important back-to-back contests versus in-state opponents. If the Badgers are successful tonight, Bo will have earned his 200th win as UW's head coach. In his nine seasons at Wisconsin, Bo has compiled a 199-74 record, with a Big Ten winning percentage (71.2) that is better than any other conference coach with at least five season under their belt. He is now approaching 600 wins overall as a collegiate head coach.

Then on Saturday, Wisconsin tries to snap a two-game losing streak to Marquette at the Kohl Center. The Badgers will need to handle possible changes in expectations, adapting from the hunter to the hunted once again. It is yet another chance for Wisconsin to show the nation that it's for real ... potential recruits included.

: : :

Hughes' ascension as an All-Big Ten caliber player is obviously a huge reason the Badgers are back on the radar. In hindsight, Hughes probably deferred a too much to seniors Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry last year, which meant the Badgers lacked that alpha dog on the court. While Hughes has always made a splash in the non-conference schedule, I expect Hughes to play well against the in-state opponents and continue doing so for the rest of the season thanks to his own increased sense of ownership of this team.

When a player like Hughes has success under Bo on a national stage, it only strengthens Bo's credentials and can elevate the perception of the program, maybe even with recruits. Specifically I mention Hughes because he was unique: a highly-touted guard recruit; big city kid with a flashy style of play; starter from day one of his sophomore year. Bo has won with rosters full of guys much different than Hughes.

You could see the growing pains as the head coach broke down his point guard for three years, Bo often kept Hughes on a short leash and the Queens native struggled through a couple of roller coaster seasons. He was hesitant at times, out of control at others. Some folks, myself included, wondered if Bo hadn't hollowed out a talented player by removing his flashy instincts. Meanwhile, some of the better high school recruits in recent years avoided Madison as their basketball home, occasionally citing style of play or atmosphere.

Fast forward to today and the leash is off entirely. Hughes leads the 20th-ranked Badgers as they restake their claim as the premier Division 1 basketball program in the state. Now instead of pointing to Devin Harris, who is sooo five years ago, the coaching staff can show aspiring ballers another lead guard with an A-game. This ain't no fluke, it's a promise: You will win at Wisconsin, you will become the best you can be, and yeah, you can even look good doing it (cue the faux-hawk).

Bo Ryan has built a perennial winner and is working toward a great tradition and legacy. Two hundred wins will do that for you. Recruits beware.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wisconsin Stares Down the Devils

Nearly perfect.

That's the only way I can describe Wisconsin's wire-to-wire, 73-69 victory over No. 6 Duke to all but clinch the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. In fact last night, I could not even articulate the joy when Jordan Taylor's free throw fell true with two seconds remaining.

Sure, I gave the Badgers a chance in this game, but realistically, I did not expect the Badgers to put together the perfect game it would take to beat the Dukies. As it turned out, UW only turned the ball over five times, including once on a shot-clock violation. That is perfection in my book. Wisconsin turned Duke over 11 times with some timely blocked shots and steals, which the Blue Devils (6-1) could not duplicate with their own defense.

Even so, Wisconsin (5-1) didn't need everything else to be flawless after all. For example:

- It's hard to believe Wisconsin, who started the game shooting nearly 70% from the floor, wound up with lower FG, 3FG and FT percentages than Duke, but still won. [box score]

- It's hard to believe that while Kyle Singler scored at will in the first half (7-of-10 FGs) and scored a game-high 28 points, Wisconsin still won. Just as surprising was that Bo Ryan did not hesitate to throw different defenders at him. Even when it seemed Singler was wearing through a new Badger defender, the combinations eventually wore him down.

Bo has an infinitely wiser basketball mind than me, but is often so set in his upperclassmen-centric, man-to-man ways that his fairly short leash on junior Tim Jarmusz was refreshing. The second attempt was redshirt freshman Ryan Evans, who also couldn't slow Singler in the first half. As Jay Bilas pointed out at halftime, Bo's most effective defense was actually the smaller, quicker Taylor at the end of the first half. But to start the second half, there was Keaton Nankivil isolated on Singler. Then Bo switched back to the Evans & Taylor duo that got the job done down the stretch.

- It's hard to believe that even though Jason Bohannon could not buy a bucket from outside (0-6 on 3-pointers) or keep up with Andre Dawkins (who hit three straight treys in a 1:40 stretch) at the end, and Jon Leuer went ice cold in the second half, Wisconsin still won. God bless Trevon Hughes.

Hughes was mercurial in victory. He did not have a single turnover. He took a lot of shots from every range, but hit them (68.7 eFG%) for a career-high 26 points. The threat of his penetration allowed a few 3-point daggers from the bigs. My only gripe is that he didn't demand the ball on the final possessions, when UW got a bad shot from Evans and a lot of dribbling from Taylor.

- It's hard to believe that without the eight free throw attempts that came when Duke was deliberately fouling, Wisconsin was again on its way to attempting fewer free throws than its opponent made. And UW still handed Duke it's first-ever loss in the Challenge.

The most important factor in beating Duke was the 19-9 lead the Badgers quickly built in the first five and a half minutes. Apparently Wisconsin does remember how to play with a lead (unlike last year). Hughes said it best in the post-game when he talked about the team staying very loose in the early going, which enabled the Badgers to hit all their open looks. This was possible thanks to great passing and ball movement from each player, highlighted by the team's season-high 17 assists.

Oddly, the only one of my pregame keys to winning that Wisconsin accomplished was rebounding, where they battled Duke to a 32-32 draw. When you consider that several clutch rebounds to preserve the win came from the inexperienced Evans and the 6'2" Bohannon, you can see even more clearly the total team effort.

An almost unbelievable win.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

T-Minus Duke And Counting

There was a point on Tuesday when it looked like Indiana could pull off a mammoth upset and push the Big Ten out to a 4-0 start in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with a capable Michigan State squad yet to play.

We all know what happened after that. With the ledger knotted at 3-3, it will come down to games like Minnesota-Miami, Wisconsin-Duke, and Ohio State-Florida State to determine if the midwest's finest can claim it's first victory in this 11-year battle. So far, things have gone according to chalk (my own predictions are only 5-1).

Duke brings the nation's 6th-ranked team into the Kohl Center for a game where Wisconsin has nothing to lose. But that doesn't make the task any easier, it just makes failure more acceptable. Jon Leuer played admirably two years ago in defeat and should be the team's first offensive option. The visitors will get an athletic upgrade in their own front court, however, if freshman big man Mason Plumlee can play big minutes in his return from a wrist injury.

In typical Bo Ryan fashion, the Wisconsin head coach is downplaying the significance of UW's rematch with the Blue Devils:

"We've faced a lot of teams with good three-point shooters, and you can't make up a defense just for one game. You know, you get your matchups, you get your tendencies, just like we do against every other team, and you play it from there."
It's refreshing to hear that the players let on a little, though.

"[Bo] is telling us don't overthink the game, that it's just another one on the schedule," senior Trevon Hughes said. "But everyone knows the implications of this game."

The team is probably just glad to get a home game again in this series. To earn the upset, the Badgers will have to get to the free throw line, rebound well and hit their shots. The Blue Devils do not turn the ball over, play great team defense and have been rebounding well. Duke is also one of the most efficient offensive teams in the land. Sound familiar?

But the Dukies struggle to get to the charity stripe, much like the Badgers. Nolan Smith can get to the rim, but is not quite as skilled as other perimeter players who have given Wisconsin fits in the past. Newcomer Andre Dawkins has also given Duke a lift at guard. But I don't think either player can handle Hughes.

For a Duke perspective, check out the Duke Basketball Report.

Sign of Things to Come?

Eau Claire North opened its 2009-10 season with an 11-point victory over undersized New Richmond. Wisconsin recruit Evan Anderson scored 19 pts and grabbed 6 rebs in the win, the first for the Huskies under new head coach Aric Carpenter.

The program has been notorious for winning in a very deliberate manner under Pat Hammond for the past few decades. Badger fans have been interested to see what effect the coaching change will have on Anderson -- in particular what defense the team runs. I have not heard yet if Carpenter abandoned the trademark zone defense, but hopefully Anderson's good outing is the first of many this year.

- Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reviewed the increased viewership of the Big Ten Network during football season. Expect this trend to continue through the basketball season too.
- The New York Knicks had pinned 100 points on Phoenix by the end of the third quarter on Tuesday, which meant plenty of 4Q PT (12 mins) for Alando Tucker. And he put the biscuit in the basket to the tune of 12 pts.

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?