Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The perils of speaking too soon

It was nice while it lasted. The Badgers were in a 59-59 tie with under 5 minutes to go, and despite some late clutch shooting by Kam Taylor, found itself on the wrong side of the scoreboard at the final buzzer. The winning streak ends at 17 games. Time to start a new streak, guys.

Take a look at my previous post. "Indiana lives and dies by the triple?" Well, in the second half they went 5-for-6 from beyond the arc, and that (along with shooting 62.5%) was what finished off the Badgers.

This was a fantastic game, despite the result. Wisconsin shot 50% from the floor in the second half, a good effort. There were four ties and nine lead changes, big runs by both teams, hot shooting, strong defense, everything you could want besides the win. Indiana had the three-point shot working and scored 11 points on fast breaks, and at the end of the game their fans got to rush the court.

Hats off to the Hoosiers. They'll be one of those dangerous 4, 5, or 6 seeds -- the one that nobody wants to see on their side of the bracket.

There are plenty of insults to add to tonight's injury, too. Florida managed to parlay their 11-point halftime deficit to a 17-point win over Vanderbilt and UNC wound up bashing Miami in a gaudy 41-point win. If those teams hold serve through the weekend, the Badgers will almost definitely drop from their program-high #2 ranking. Worse, Ohio State came alive and held off Purdue, so they're now tied with the Badgers for the Big Ten lead. Indiana is now one game back. But with Iowa's win over Michigan, I think it's safe to call this a three-team race for Big Ten title contention.

(Bonus note of petty bitterness: A. J. Ratliff has stupid Dumbo ears! Go get some Ear Buddies, dummy!)

Halftime score: Wisconsin 28, Indiana 26

Despite a turnover-heavy half, the Badgers are in the lead as the teams head to the locker rooms. Alando Tucker already has 14 points, but it looked like he was walking off the court with a limp. Hopefully just cramping or other temporary soreness; time will tell.

The Hoosiers live and die by the three-point shot, and thus far they've only scored on 2 of 12 attempts. If that doesn't improve, the Badgers will almost certainly leave Bloomington with a win.

The crowd is electric, and the game is turning out to be the battle most of us anticipated. Highlights from the first half include Chappell hustling to catch a Hoosier on the fast break and reject his layup, Tucker making something out of nothing as the shot clock ran out, and Bohannon sinking the last shot of the half to quiet the boisterous crowd.

In other action of consequence, #1 Florida trails unranked Vanderbilt by 11 at the half, and Ohio State has opened a small lead on Purdue at the beginning of the second half. While it doesn't look like UW will be getting that extra cushion that a Boilermaker upset would provide in the conference, a Gator loss might be enough to make Wisconsin the top-ranked team in the nation come next week. Hey, if everyone's looking to get a piece of you, might as well be #1 while they're doing it, right?

And we're into the second half ... Badgers now lead 30-26. On Wisconsin!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Basketball presides over two demolitions

The last couple of wins have been a nice change for the basketball team. The wins against Michigan and at Iowa came much more easily than those that made up the early stretch of Big Ten play, and it was nice to see what this team is capable of even while on cruise control.

The Michigan game looked ugly early, when the Badgers spotted the Wolverines nine points and kept putting up bricks. But then they got their heads together and went on a tear, closing out the half with 33 points to Michigan's 17, and finishing the game with appearances from 5'11" former walk-on and manager Tyler Bronson and walk-on Morris Cain, whose only other Big Ten action came in the trouncing on Minnesota. The game was only as close as it was (13 points) because Tommy Amaker kept some of Michigan's starters in while the Badgers' rarely-utilized bench players (see, I didn't call them scrubs!) got some playing time. Take away those nine early points for Michigan and you can see what a slaughter this game actually was. How a school like Michigan has maintained this protracted period of futility is beyond me. (Not beyond the Wonk, though.) I couldn't believe that the guys they put on the floor were juniors and seniors. It's clear that Amaker has no idea how to go about developing players; they played a sloppier game than almost any other I've seen all season. And on Saturday, they got killed by Indiana, although that was more a function of the Hoosiers draining something like 20 3-pointers. But still.

And the Iowa game ... well, after the Badgers went on a 14-0 tear in the first half, the lead never got smaller than four points. They went on the road and got a home-game performance out of the trip, which was highlighted by UW-Platteville naming their court after Bo Ryan. Alando Tucker had a brilliant game, scoring 27. Good enough for Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Brian Butch is really starting to emerge as a spark for the Badgers; his 13 points and 14 rebounds provided the difference in this game, and his hustle after a ball that sent him into the Hawkeye bench and three-point shooting should be mandatory viewing for every big man who thinks his job is to sit under the basket and make easy dunks.

So, 21-1. Better than even the legendary season of 1915-6. 17 straight wins. #2 in both polls.

But we're only halfway through the Big Ten campaign. Save the "what-ifs" for late February.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Third prize is you're fired

Someone get the Badgers some coffee, because they are most definitely closers.

You ever take a dump made you feel like you'd just slept for twelve hours?

Now, had the Illini made more than half of their free throws down the stretch, we might be singing a different tune this evening. But that's the difference between a great team and a good one. With four minutes left, the Badgers were down by one. They went three for three from the floor and buried six free throws in six tries. In that span, the Illini went 0-for-6 shooting and made two free throws in four attempts.

Illinois stuck around all game long, coming back from eight down halfway through the second half to take the lead on a Rich McBride triple with just over five minutes to go. But then the Badgers did what they've been doing all year (save for one effort in South Padre), and at the end of the day they remained alone and undefeated at the top of the heap in the Big Ten, running their win streak to 15. Suddenly, the Illini are 2-4 in the conference and probably looking at an NIT bid if things don't change.

The Badgers get Michigan next. It's a home game, tipping off at 8 pm Central. The Wolverines aren't as good as their record suggests. I'd be surprised if Wisconsin wins by any fewer than 12 points.

Finally: is Alando Tucker the best Badger ever?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Badgers get by Purdue, visit Illinois tomorrow

The Badgers overcame a slow start on Wednesday to finish off the pesky Purdue Boilermakers, 69-64, at the Kohl Center. The game swung on Jason Chappell's otherworldly 13-point, 8-rebound performance. Wisconsin sniffed out Purdue's gameplan and exploited what they saw. That translated into several double-digit leads for the Badgers late in the game, and that was the difference in the game as the Opossums weren't able to get closer than two scores to UW.

(Speaking of Chappell, here's something that opposing fans are sure to start mocking: his J-Cheezy ... er ... fashion line. More examples here.)

As if we needed another reason to be proud of them: Congrats to the basketball team for posting the highest GPA of any fall sports team at UW.

Tomorrow the Badgers will try to run their winning streak to 15 games as they visit Illinois. The Illini have struggled thus far this year, losing at Michigan, at Michigan State, and at home to Ohio State. The Badgers need to realize that playing down to their competition as they did at Northwestern and versus Purdue simply won't work against the Illini. (Or whatever they're called, if they're not allowed to use the Illini name by tomorrow.)

Misc: hockey has a bye this weekend; the Dance Team got high marks at a competition; and the Badger Herald has a good metaphor for bringing bottom-feeding opponents to a revamped Camp Randall Stadium.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

We must destroy the elder Landry

Truth be told, I'm not too worried about any of the other games the Badgers will have to play at the Kohl Center this year, now that Ohio State has come and gone. Maybe the Indiana game. Maybe. But that's it.

Anyway, Purdue's coming to town, fresh off a demolition of Michigan. They'll be the first to get a shot at the new-and-improved #2 Badgers, and they've got Marcus Landry's older brother on the team, but that's where the interesting storylines begin and end. While any team that manages to beat the Badgers could justifiably point to that win and call it "huge," the Boilermakers would especially be thanking their deities of choice if they could go home with a victory. They're in desperate need of a marquee win; Joe Lunardi currently lists them as one of the last four teams to be left out of the Big Dance, and that loss to Indiana State is going to need to be pushed out of the spotlight by the time the selection committee gets down to business.

Still, the Kohl Center is a fortress and the Boilermakers don't have the talent to overcome what the Badgers are going to throw at them.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fightin' words

The sometimes cliquish, sometimes petty world of blogging occasionally becomes tiresome, but the gems that a certain rare type of argument can produce make sifting through the reast of the average stuff well worth it. Take, for instance, the feud between Georgia-based Braves and Birds and widely-read HeismanPundit.

I've been an anti-fan of HeismanPundit ever since I first ran across his writings for two reasons: (1) his primary focus is on one of the least meaningful awards in all of sports, and (2) his tireless insistence that, even with piles and piles of evidence to the contrary, offense wins championships. Given this, you can imagine my private glee when Braves and Birds wiped the floor with HP's "insight" last Wednesday, and then burned the mop earlier today.

My bottom line is this -- anyone who offers up "offensive scheme" as the deciding factor behind why teams win and lose games must be an unapologetic selective listener. As an example, I offer up the Michigan Wolverines. Did they win 11 games this year because they "outschemed" opponents? I mean, did you watch the Ohio State game or the Rose Bowl? Their scheme was run, run, lob or screen pass, punt. Just as it had been all year long. Michigan's offensive coordinators call a damn boring game, which features "run right" and "run left" with rare inclusions of "bomb it to Manningham" and "set up the play-action screen." But their defense takes the field and stops their opponent from scoring.

Another team that doesn't exactly rewrite the playbook is our very own Badgers, although Bielema and company are more willing to deviate from their tendencies than the Wolverines are. The Badgers did win their bowl game, after all. And who did they beat? Only the schemiest bunch of schemers this side of Urban Meyer, the WILDCAT FORMATION-loving tricksters from the University of Arkansas.

How? Why?

How do these teams that can't gameplan to save their lives wind up in prestigious bowl games? How can these dinosaurs win a dozen games as Wisconsin did, or keep their names in the national title conversation into December like Michigan? To HP, this must be a huge mystery (either that, or he deems these squads "outliers" and as such discards them). To most people, it's not. Good on Michael at Braves and Birds for getting HP's attention ... and getting the better of him.

Badger basketball team ascends to #2

Thanks are due to the Virginia Tech Hokies, who, in upsetting North Carolina, set the stage for the Badgers to continue to climb to heights they've never seen before. They're officially second in the nation, according to the AP, and the target on the team's collective back is getting larger as the weeks wear on.

The Badgers succeeded this week by riding Kam Taylor to victory. His performance was noted by the Big Ten, and he is currently the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week. Congrats to Kam.

The game against Northwestern was ugly. I don't have to tell you that. Basketball's a weird game; the three-point victory over OSU looked a lot more decisive than the six-point victory over Northwestern. The Wildcats just wouldn't go away; they capitalized on a lot of Wisconsin miscues, including a particularly ugly sequence to end the first half. Apparently, some members of the press were trying to call this a "moral victory" for Northwestern, and as this Wildcat columnist says, that tag is just inappropriate when you're close to getting an ACTUAL victory
instead. (And, by the way, Chris West sensed that the Wildcats would mean trouble for the Badgers.)

In hockey, the Badger defense showed up on Saturday, but there was no offense to be found as they split the series with Minnesota on the wrong end of a one-goal shutout. I watched the game half-interestedly at the bar on Saturday ("the sound was off, but I think I got the gist of it") while taking in the Eagles-Saints game. Whether my torpor was a result of the numbing effect the Colts-Ravens game left on me or the libations consumed during the game is anyone's guess. Anyway, the Badger Backer did watch the game, paying close attention, so see what he says right here.

In other news: the House Rock Built is grateful for the Badgers' Capitol One Bowl victory; Forbes says that the Wisconsin football team is the 15th-most valuable college team in the nation; and if you ever wonder why we only hear about the negative off-the-field incidents perpetrated by college athletes, this guy's got the perfect antidote.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Badger Hockey: Wisconsin upsets Minnesota, 2-1

Sounds like it was an exciting one. Ross Carlson of Duluth, Minnesota scored both Badger goals. Must've been extra sweet for them.

The Badgers go for the sweep at the Kohl Center tonight at 7:07 pm.

Here's the report.

Clarifying the "no respect" angle

Welcome to those of you who found their way here from the Isthmus. Unfortunately, the link that brought you here kind of bore a sensationalized title, namely "Sports media "desperate to find fault" with Wisconsin basketball."

I don't believe this is the case at all. The national media has, by and large, given the Badgers their due. The early versions of Joe Lunardi's Bracketology have featured UW as a 1-seed. Luke Winn of has them as the #1 team in the nation in his Power Rankings. They're getting plenty of respect.

What I don't care for are these self-styled maverick columnists who feel the need to do something nonsensical in order to stand out. Take, for instance, the guy who voted Boise State first in his final football poll, ignoring the forty-odd points Florida hung on until-then wire-to-wire #1 Ohio State. Or the jerk from a paper known as the Chicago Southtown, who somehow has the power to help decide whether or not baseball players get into the Hall of Fame. He turned in a BLANK BALLOT when voting time came around. Why? Because he's not sure who used or didn't use steroids. We don't know who's guilty, so let's assume everyone is! Or at least, let's do something ridiculous to drive traffic to our paper's website, right?

So, that's why I took on Jeff Goodman. His logic ("the Badgers beat a team I consider elite, but that doesn't mean they're elite! They only won by three!") did not impress me That's all.

People who are complaining that UW is getting no respect are letting their feelings from football season (well, to be fair, the last fifteen football seasons) run over and give them something to complain about. The national media is on to the Badgers. They like what they see. Simmer down and enjoy.

Friday, January 12, 2007

ESPN takes a step in the right direction

Stephen A. Smith will still be all over ESPN, but he won't have his own show. Cut and paste from the Journal-Sentinel's SportsWatch:

"Quite Frankly" with Stephen A. Smith, a sports interview and talk show on ESPN2, has been canceled by the network.

The last installment of the show is to air today at 10 p.m. on ESPN2. The show debuted in August 2005 in a 5:30 p.m. time slot, Central time. It was moved its current 10 p.m. slot on Jan. 30, 2006.

"Quite Frankly," a one-hour show that aired on weekdays, was hosted by Smith, a sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The show was taped before a live audience at a studio in New York.

The show was created by Mark Shapiro, who was an executive vice president of ESPN. Shapiro is no longer with the network.

Smith remains at ESPN.

According to ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson, Smith is to be featured regularly on ESPN's many outlets.

Desperate to find fault

Much has been made of a blog post by FOX college basketball writer Jeff Goodman, and rightfully so. He entitles his post "Badgers still aren't elite" and then proceeds to inform us that he's "taking nothing away from Bo Ryan's club."

Goodman says that the Badgers beat Ohio State because they are older and more experienced, and they were at home. One gets the impression that Mr. Goodman looked at the ESPN Bottom Line, saw that the Badgers only won by three, and fired off this post. Says he:

Has Alando Tucker's supporting cast improved all that much? Brian Butch is still inconsistent. Michael Flowers is still a good role guy. Sure, they added a couple of solid freshman guards in Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes, but is it enough to warrant a No. 4 ranking?
Well, if you buy into the notion that OSU is the #5 team in the nation, and the Badgers beat them, then the answer appears to be yes.

He then goes on to make this specious argument:
The bottom line is that Wisconsin will probably be the same team in six weeks when the two teams square off again while Ohio State will likely make major strides because of their youth and the fact that Greg Oden will be 100 percent by then.

Thad Matta will have fully integrated Oden into the offense by the time the Big Ten's top teams meet again - on Feb. 25 in Columbus.
At this point, if you're not thinking, "Are you KIDDING me?" then your name must be Jeff Goodman. Let me get this straight: the Buckeyes, led my Thad Matta, are capable of improving as the season goes on. The Badgers are not.

I respect Greg Oden's game, and I think he will be a difference maker, but teams will still be able to shut him down. The Buckeyes' MO is obvious; if you can't heave up a triple, get it inside to Oden. They give up a lot of the court that other teams (like the Badgers) use successfully in order to take high risk, high payoff shots. Get Oden into foul trouble (which -- some people are already grumbling -- is tough to do. I don't buy into the notion that NCAA refs are told to "protect" stars, but if it happens in the NBA, it's formally a possibility at the collegiate level too) and you take away half of the Buckeyes' game. Guard the perimeter effectively and you shut down the rest. This is something the Badgers did successfully for over 35 minutes on Tuesday, but if all you're looking at is the final score (coughcough Jeff Goodman coughcough) you don't really see that.

Bottom line is that before the Badgers intentionally softened their defensive scheme at the end of the game, they absolutely shut down Ohio State. If one of the three-pointers that the Buckeyes put up in the final minute hadn't gone in, or if a couple more of the four free throws the Badgers bricked in the same time period had been successfully converted instead, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. But some people only saw the forty-second ESPN highlight that showed that final OSU triple clunking off the back of the rim, and valorous defenders of the Badgers are forced to defend their team's performance when it was obvious to all viewers that for greater than 95% of the game the Badgers were firmly in control.

As further evidence, I point you to Big Ten Wonk, whose credentials meet or exceed any "real" columnist's as far as college hoops are concerned.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

#4 Wisconsin 72, #5 Ohio State 69

Oh, what a night to have been at the Kohl Center. (Speaking of, why on earth would the UW Athletic Department force students renewing their tickets to go through the same lottery process as first-time applicants? Don't they want to encourage loyalty? What they're doing is alienating future customers. But I digress.)

Anyway, the Badgers looked good in all phases of the game tonight. The slim margin of three points is deceptive; the Buckeyes never got within more than 8 points of the Badgers for a stretch of over ten minutes that spanned from 11:16 to go in the game up until the 0:45 mark, when the Badgers went into a very soft defense that allowed the Buckeyes to get great three-point opportunities. Granted, the last three-point attempt that Jamar Butler heaved up just before the buzzer provided a tense moment for all the Wisconsin fans. But looking at the way the game played out, it is certain that the Badgers were the best team on the floor for 36 minutes. The last two minutes, obviously, is when the Buckeyes gnawed away at the Badgers' lead. The first two minutes provided Ohio State with is biggest lead of the night: 3-0, after their fourth attempt at a triple fell. They held that lead for all of 29 seconds when Kammron Taylor tied it up with a triple of his own. 37 seconds later, a Michael Flowers layup made it 5-3. Once the score ran to 7-6 Wisconsin, the Badgers kept the lead till the very end.

Alando Tucker did his usual big-game thing, scoring 17 points; Taylor had 25. Everyone seemed to make a contribution tonight. Flowers, Chappell, Butch ... they all showed up and added needed blocks, steals, assists, and points. This team needs to maintain its focus, and it can go far.

And Greg Oden should shave his damn beard.

Basketball Mania

The Badgers are now #3 in the AP Poll, a dizzying new height for the team. They've actually picked up a #1 vote, courtesy of one Nick Jezierny. Why a man with this much insight is still at the Idaho Statesman is anyone's guess. Sadly, the polls don't mean all that much in basketball, but the recognition is nice.

They remain #4 in the Coaches' Poll, which is generally the inferior poll. The fact that the AP decided that the Badger football team was #7 (behind Louisville and Boise State) while the coaches had the good judgment to rank them #5 is trouble. But I digress.

About that game tonight: Chris at the Wisconsin Sports Bar reckons that it's Wisconsin's turn to drive the whole state of Ohio to mass suicide. Not swallowing the cyanide capsule just yet was Eleven Warriors, who concedes that the Buckeyes "will need to shoot a much higher percentage [than the 31% effort against Illinois] from deep to steal this game." The news out of Columbus is that Greg Oden's health will force him to be less active which will be a remarkable advantage for the Badgers; the combination of agility and size he possesses is thought to be exceptionally rare. He'll still be a threat under the hoop, but he probably won't be patrolling the perimeter, which plays right into Bo Ryan's offensive scheme. Yum.

Don't neglect the defense, though. The Badgers have been forcing opponents to take bad shots for several weeks now, limiting their last four foes to 36% shooting. Perhaps Michael Flowers will have a momentum-swinging steal and dunk that will ignite the Badgers again tonight.

The Badgers picked up a basketball recruit yesterday. Jared Berggren of Princeton, MN has committed to the team. According to Scout, Berggren is 6'10" and averaged about 10.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game. It seems that Bo Ryan's still getting whatever talent out of Minnesota that he wants, and that's just fantastic. It'll be tough for the Gophers to improve if their state keeps hemmorhaging recruits and sending them to Madtown.

Finally, some hockey: the CSTV Rink Rats rank Wisconsin #17 in hockey this week. Will the big series this weekend against #1 Minnesota change any minds? We can only hope.

If you want to read a great Ohio State-Wisconsin preview

you need look no further than Big Ten Wonk (obviously).

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Big Game is coming up!

It's finally here! Two absolute powerhouses are scheduled to butt heads. An epic matchup looms. One team will celebrate, and the other will suffer misery. The question is: does Ohio State have the talent to get the job done?

I'm a little biased, but I'm going to have to say no. Greg Oden is powerful but raw. They don't have what it takes to get by Taylor, Tucker, and the rest of the Badgers.

Why talk about this game? Because the Buckeyes are going to win the football game tonight. By a lot. Nobody else is in the same class as Ohio State this year. Maybe USC. Maybe.

As far as the Big Ten is concerned, once tonight's football game is over, all eyes will be on the Wisconsin-Ohio State tilt at the Kohl Center. One has to imagine that the winner of this game will be on the fast track to the Big Ten title. Yeah, Michigan and Iowa are undefeated thus far as well, but does anyone really expect that to last the week? (The Wolverines go on the road against Purdue, and Iowa plays at Illinois and a home game against the Gophers.)

Let's go Badgers!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hey Blogpollers

If Florida wins tomorrow, would it be wrong to vote Boise State #1?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Resolution for 2007

Mine is to update this site. How novel!

I've got a million thoughts in my head right now, from how jaw-droppingly excellent this football season was, to how watchable the BCS is this year, to the lofty expectations everyone has for the basketball team. So stay tuned, once I take care of a few pressing matters, this blog will be full steam ahead.

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