Thursday, March 22, 2007

Not with a bang, but a whimper

And that's that. The Badgers bumbled and stumbled their way through the first game in the NCAA Tournament and followed that up with a gag-worthy "effort" in the second round. They followed the same script in both games: run up a huge deficit, go on an improbable run to take the lead, and finish in cruise control. Beating the Islanders of Texas A&M Corpus Christi on cruise control wound up being a simple task. Doing the same against UNLV helped the Rebels win a date with the Oregon Ducks.

For all the highs this season, there were so many lows that the sum of the parts far, far exceeds the whole. Alando Tucker becomes the Badgers' all-time leading scorer? Great. The Badgers pile up the most regular-season wins they've ever had, aided by a record-breaking win streak? Fantastic. The AP dubs the Badgers the #1 team in the land for the first time ever? Let's answer that one with a question -- how many hours did it take for the Badgers to lose after that announcement? Like, 30? Just perfect.

This was supposed to be our year. We don't always get a year, but this one was supposed to be it. The Badgers' 2005-6 season left us champing at the bit; yeah, they got knocked out of the Big Dance in the first round, but they weren't even supposed to be there! This team was going to do special things next year; nobody that big was leaving, Landry and Stiemsma would play, it would be stupendous.

And it was! A lone loss to Missouri State was the only blemish on the Badgers' record for months. Alando Tucker was a beast, and most importantly, it seemed that every night a new role player would emerge with a previously-unknown skill. Flowers would work defensive magic. Bohannon would knock down energy-creating triples. Landry would flip the switch and become superhuman. Everything was falling into place.

Then, we got into February. Drew Neitzel and Greg Oden put down the #1 Badgers in consecutive games, and the Badgers entered a stagnant period that continued right through the end of the season. The Badgers, the team of destiny, watched as the Ohio State Buckeyes -- a team of freshmen -- walk away with all the awards that they knew they had the talent to win. After getting the victory in the first head-to-head game with the Buckeyes, the Badgers lost the next, getting bumped off of the inside track for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and losing the regular-season conference title in one fell swoop. Not long after, the Buckeyes were back -- the only thing standing between Wisconsin and a Big Ten Conference Tournament championship. And friends, that game was not even close.

But in March, the season begins anew. Texas A&M Corpus-Christi figured that out about 12 basketball minutes before the Badgers did; once Wisconsin decided that you shouldn't spot anyone 14 points in the NCAA Tournament, even #15 seeds, things became less interesting and Wisconsin coasted on to the round of 32 by what looked like a comfortable margin.

Then they didn't even make the Sweet Sixteen. That's what the public saw, that's what the fans care about, and that's how this team will be judged. Regular season accomplishments keep things interesting from December to February. Individual honors are a feather in the cap, but ultimately meaningless. But when you're in the Big Dance, you need to samba like nobody's watching, and the Badgers did not do that.

I guess it's football season

Still simmering down over here. Updates tonight/tomorrow. I guess the tournament's officially into the Sweet 16 tonight so basketball posting ought to happen posthaste.

Maybe I ought to shift this site's focus to non-revenue sports; while the basketball team was bricking its way to an early demise, the women's hockey team won its second straight national title and the men's track team won its first ever NCAA Indoor title. Congratulations to both teams.

Much more to come.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chasing down that one-seed

The Badgers did it again yesterday, using stifling defense to hold the Illini to a season-low 41 points in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. So, the Big Ten tournament worked how it was supposed to; #1 Ohio State and #2 Wisconsin advance to the final, setting up a rubber match for the season series.

Obviously, a ton is at stake here; the winner will almost certainly get a one-seed for the Big Dance (although I think that Ohio State will get a one-seed regardless; people seem very high on them and their resume is strong) and will close out the season with 30 wins before the tournament even begins. The loser will fret for a couple hours, then ultimately hear their seeding, destination, and chump first-round opponent.

The Badgers' play in the tournament thus far has been encouraging. Kammron Taylor got his groove back, Alando Tucker's been a scoring machine (and he's become not only Big Ten Player of the Year, but UW's all-time leading scorer; congrats!), and Stiemsma and Krabbenhoft have filled in admirably for the injured Brian Butch. What you're watching is a team that's ready to make a tournament run. If they can go 13 minutes at a time without turning the ball over like they did against Illinois, the Badgers have a shot at going all the way. They just need to snap out of the offensive cold periods that they've experienced recently and they'll be all set.

It was nice to see the Badgers ready for Michigan State on Friday, too. After the first two games, I know most Wisconsin fans were dreading that matchup. Fortunately, Neitzel came out cold (and was remarkably well-defended by Michael Flowers), they played a sloppy, foul-and-turnover-filled game, and the Badgers didn't stoop to their level. I was once convinced that the Spartans were going to be a great sleeper pick for the NCAA Tourney, but after their struggles with Northwestern and their poor effort against the Badgers, I'm picking them to go one-and-done.

Hopefully this afternoon we'll see the Badgers come out with a fury and smoke the Buckeyes. Then we can look forward to that tense matchup with Central Connecticut State.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Spartans again

Three games in less than three weeks. Couldn't we have done this before the Spartans had their act together?

Keep gunning for that #1 seed, gentlemen. Best of luck.

Go Badgers!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

One hour to the Big Ten Tournament

Here's how it goes down:

Thursday's Games
(8) Michigan 68, (7) Minnesota 61
(7) Michigan State 59, (10) Northwestern 44
(6) Illinois 65, (11) Penn State 53

Friday's Games
(8) Michigan 52, (1) Ohio State 51
(5) Purdue 67, (6) Iowa 59
(2) Wisconsin 60, (7) Michigan State 58
(3) Indiana 72, (6) Illinois 58

Saturday's Games
(5) Purdue 63, (8) Michigan 53
(2) Wisconsin 70, (3) Indiana 65

Sunday's Game
(2) Wisconsin 62, (5) Purdue 50

What, who'd you think I was going to pick?

More previews at Penn State's Black Shoe Diaries, Big Ten Wonk, the Final Score, and Buckeye Battle Cry.