Friday, February 29, 2008

UW women's basketball provides you with entertainment

No, weirdo, not actual gameplay. It's all about the postgame press conference. Meet Michigan head coach Kevin Borseth, who you might (MIGHT) recognize as the immediate past coach of the UW-Green Bay Lady Phoenixeses. His team was leading Wisconsin by 20 in the second half, when all of a sudden the Badgers went nuts and wound up beating the Wolverines. As for Borseth, well ... he's a man! They let 'em off the hook! He's gonna make you run till you can't eat supper! PLAYOFFS?!?!?!

(Just kidding, Lady Badgers. We love you and appreciate your recent success. And if you don't like the term "Lady Badgers," I'm sorry, but I just don't care.)

Video link via Michigan Sports Center, M Zone, Sunday Morning QB, SI on Campus, Realests, Deadspin,Big Lead, etc etc etc

Wisconsin 57, Michigan State 42: That's domination

When Trevon Hughes put up a three-pointer with 3:19 to go and the Badgers already up by 14, you have to imagine the only thought going through his head was, "Why not?"

In the early going, the Badgers looked to be in the middle of another tight, competitive game against a strong conference rival, especially since Spartan big man Goran Suton was having a career day. Suton went on a four-minute rampage early in the game during which the Spartans went from a 7-6 deficit to a 16-11 lead -- all points coming courtesy of Suton. He was having a career day, one that almost saw him almost come up with a double-double at halftime (12 points, 9 boards).

Brian Butch ended Suton's ten-point outburst with a three-ball, and everything changed.

You have to give it to the Polar Bear -- a big man who can knock down triples does indeed change everything. Suddenly he's not just a goon waiting to clean up an offensive board or flush a dunk under the rim, he's a sniper -- someone who can pull back, get you three quick ones and sprint down the court to block a shot. That's something that a lot of teams lack and many teams can't defend. The Spartans certainly couldn't.

Tom Izzo said that much of the Spartans' problem last night resulted in missed assignments on Butch. That's no surprise. But the fact that Badgers turned the ball over just ONE TIME -- the WHOLE GAME -- also helped. The Spartans just had six turnovers, so this was a really cleanly-played game. That also helps the Badgers' case: a lack of turnovers means that MSU didn't give the game away, the Badgers won this one through sheer force of will. Tip of the hat also to Michael Flowers, who singlehandedly took Spartan point-generator Drew Neitzel out of this game. (BadgerCentric notes that Flowers has been holding his elbow a lot during the last two games, which could be a source of worry ... or could be nothing. I dunno.)

The Wisconsin Sports Rant pretty well encapsulates my thoughts in this line: "It’s ironic that as good as the Badgers were last year, the 2008 edition might have a better chance at playing deep into March." Exactly! This team is playing much more complete basketball -- strong defense, scoring from every player, lots of steals and blocks, very little fouling, great discipline and clean ball-handling -- than last year's star-studded team. I don't see a slip against the likes of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi this year.

There are a couple of bigger-picture, near-future things to love about this game as well: first, with the game being on ESPN2 instead of the Big Ten Network, there's a chance that more poll voters and (more importantly) NCAA Tournament Selection Committee members saw the Badgers put MSU in the hurt locker. At this point I have to think that Wisconsin is regarded as one of the lower three-seeds, but that dominant performance could well have changed some minds. BadgerCentric makes another astute observation:

We've lost four games, to teams ranked #7, #16, and #21. We've beaten the #5 team in the country, which has the same record as us, at their place, without our point guard. We've swept the #12 team in the country and now beaten #19. You're telling me there's 12 teams with a better resume than that?

The other thing is that the Badgers overcame what should be their final challenge of the regular season and now have the softest, fluffiest schedule of all the remaining Big Ten title contenders. MSU is now officially out of the title picture, so (as suspected) Indiana and Purdue are the other teams coming down the stretch.

The Badgers have a home date with Penn State (5-10 in conference) and close out the season with a road game at Northwestern (1-14). Purdue still has road tests at Ohio State and (to a lesser extent) Michigan, and IU's next game is on Sunday at MSU -- and the Breslin Center has been a house of horrors for the Hoosiers: they've won just once there since it opened. (That, friends, was in 1989.)

Bottom line: you have to like the Badgers' chances at an outright conference title.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Badgers-Spartans TONIGHT

What's at stake: for the Badgers, that top ten ranking and that seat at the top of the conference and a shot at a two- or three-seed for the Big Dance; for Michigan State, a quality win late in the season that could turn the Selection Committee's head, and the chance to play spoiler and take care of one of their particular bugbears of late -- winning against Wisconsin, but at the Kohl Center in particular.

Keys to the game: Wisconsin simply needs to do what it's been doing; whether they're getting half a dozen three-balls from Jason Bohannon, a key block from Brian Butch, or a grinding and consistent effort from Marcus Landry or Michael Flowers, this team has won a different way every night. Hell, even Jon Leuer might decide to score twenty. You never know. Michigan State needs to rebound aggressively on both ends of the court and take care of the ball. Wisconsin is not a mistake-prone team and isn't afraid to slow the pace of the game if they feel they're comfortably ahead or within striking distance of the lead. That doesn't usually lead to complacence, but if MSU works the backboards and takes second-chance opportunities away, the Badgers' game plan can quickly go south, especially if no shooter has the hot hand tonight.

What does a win mean? More of the same. Continued momentum into the conference tournament and the Big Dance. A shot at yet another regular season conference title. The chance to jump to a two-seed if a team like Xavier, Tennessee, or Texas were to slip up a couple times in the next few weeks.

What does a loss mean? An almost definite three- or four-seed in the Dance. A Big Ten title only comes with major shortfalls by IU and Purdue. The first signs of tarnish on Bo Ryan's record against Tom Izzo in Madison.

Prediction? Badgers 65, Spartans 55. Closer game than the final score indicates.

The Big Dance: Crank Dat

It pretty much needs to be up on this site: Bo Ryan does the Soulja Boy. YOUUUUU!!!!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Badger basketball takes on Sparta tomorrow

Wisconsin meets Michigan State for their only meeting of the year on Thursday. The game tips off at 8 pm Central at the Kohl Center and will be broadcast on ESPN2, not the Big Ten Network, so you can actually, y'know, watch it. Speaking of the BTN and MSU, head coach Tom Izzo is a bit nonplussed about the whole arrangement:

"I think it has been a PR nightmare," Izzo said Monday. "And, I think it has hurt all of us."

It has, but we're not ready to write that post again.

Over the past half-decade, the Badgers have positively owned the Spartans, sporting a 9-3 record against the guys in green and white. It's been over seven years since Wisconsin dropped a home game to MSU, despite the Spartans' relative strength during that stretch. Actually, the best summary of the Wisconsin-MSU "rivalry" (such as it is) comes from Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal (link found via the excellent Spartans Weblog). Some of the better bits:

2003: For the second straight season, the teams meet once, this time in Madison. MSU needs it to stay in the Big Ten race. It's a competitive contest but Wisconsin pulls away late. With seconds remaining, sophomore Devin Harris gets a loose ball, pushes it and throws a lob to freshman Alando Tucker, who dunks right before the buzzer. Izzo is incensed as he approaches Ryan for the handshake. I can still see it clearly.
Izzo: "I'll ****ing remember that!"
Ryan (almost shrugging): "OK."
Wisconsin wins its second straight Big Ten championship. Preseason favorite MSU finishes third.

Looks like Izzo's memory hasn't done much to will the Spartans to victory over Wisconsin.

2004: This is where it really gets nasty, and painful for MSU. The Badgers rout the Spartans in Madison in the Big Ten opener, despite a 17-5 start for MSU. That drops the Spartans to 5-7 on the season. But MSU recovers from that low point, going on a tear and setting itself up to win the Big Ten. All it needs to do is beat Wisconsin at home in the regular-season finale. The famed "banner game" (because MSU had its Big Ten title banner rolled up in the rafters, and Wisconsin's coaches spotted it and used it to motivate their team) is also the best game I've ever seen Paul Davis play. He has 26 but sits the final seven minutes with painful cramps. Wisconsin comes back to tie it on a Harris 3-pointer. Chris Hill misses two free throws in the waning seconds. Wisconsin wins in overtime. No championship.

Now THAT is good stuff. Don't expect Bo to have a banner made for this Thursday's game; Indiana is still in the title hunt after downing Ohio State last night.

The Spartans are a talented but error-prone team, and unless both Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan get hot and stay hot with regard to their field goal percentage, I don't see a Wisconsin loss. It's impossible to predict how this game will go as the Badgers tend to win a different way every night, but hopefully we'll come out 14-2 and ready to win out during the season's final week.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Badgers move up one spot in each poll

Wisconsin is now ranked #9 in the Coaches Poll and #10 in the AP. The upward motion was courtesy of Drake, which knocked off #8 Butler over the weekend.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Climbing the ladder: Wisconsin 58, Ohio State 53

And just like that, the Badgers sit alone atop the Big Ten. Sure, they've played one game more than Indiana and Purdue, but the numbers don't lie: while the Badgers are 13-2, the rest of the conference is playing catch-up.

It wasn't an easy victory, nor was it necessarily pretty. The Badgers coughed up a dozen turnovers during the first half and went one-for-seven from the field in the last six minutes of the game. But that one shot was an emphatic dunk courtesy of Marcus Landry with 12.7 seconds to go that put the Badgers up by five and the game on ice, and in the second half Wisconsin took care of its turnover problem, giving the ball away to the Buckeyes just twice.

Even without a true superstar on the team, the Badgers continue to find a way to win. Today, Jason Bohannon came off the bench and scored sixteen points. Brian Butch got in early foul trouble but came back with two tremendous blocks in the late going. Marcus Landry and Michael Flowers scored in the double digits. And -- most importantly -- the team played through its turnovers to keep things even at halftime and made a second-half adjustment. That was enough to win the ballgame.

Up next, what should be the last tough game before the conference tournament: a visit from the Spartans on Thursday.

A new sensation for Bruce Pearl

Last night's feature game between #2 Tennessee and #1 Memphis lived up to the hype, and accordingly, Volunteer fans are loving it. BruceBall says WOW, Fulmer's Belly reminds us that Memphis is the home of the blues, and Gate 21 has a flashy new logo. You really have to hand it to Bruce Pearl. The guy can coach, and he's really made Tennessee a national player.

But for this Badger fan, the remarkable thing about last night's game is that Coach Pearl finally knows how it feels to lead the top team in the state. Unfortunately for Pearl (and many thousands of other people), UW-Milwaukee exists to be second-best. He was fortunate to only have to spend four years in that purgatory.

So, hats off to Bruce Pearl, not just for being the coach of the #1 team in the land, but for exposing the Fighting Illini as filthy, filthy cheaters.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Badger Hockey is playing itself out of contention

With two full weekends to play before the conference tournament, the Badgers had one task in front of them: get a couple points from the faltering Gophers in order to improve upon or maintain their twelfth-place ranking in the PairWise Rankings.

Sadly, the Gophers found their offense again this weekend and blasted home four goals on Friday and on Saturday. The Badgers only managed a pair of goals on Friday (WWWWWW and $nake of Down With Goldy were at the game), but didn't walk away completely empty-handed, coming back from a one-goal deficit four times on Saturday night to force a 4-4 tie. In the end, the Gophers gained three prized points and the Badgers only picked up one.

This is bad not just because it's the Gophers but because, as of this very moment, the Badgers are in a tie for 14th place in the PairWise Rankings with Notre Dame and the Gophers. By scoring that final, game-tying goal, Patrick Johnson kept Wisconsin's PWR advantage over Minnesota alive; had the Gophers won the game, the 2-2 tie in the PairWise would've been broken by RPI, which might've swung things in Minnesota's favor. Incidentally, the RPI tiebreaker is keeping Notre Dame ahead of the Badgers as we speak.

The upshot is that when you're in a tie for 14th place, if you're not the primus inter pares you're out of the NCAA field. The fifteenth and sixteenth slots are currently occupied by the conference leaders from Atlantic Hockey and the CHA (currently Army and Bemidji State, respectively), which means that if the season was over with right now, Wisconsin would be the best team in the nation to watch the NCAA tournament from their couch. (You know, on their laptop via GameTracker. Not on TV, don't be silly; this is college hockey after all.)

The good and bad news is that next weekend's series is at St. Cloud State. The good news is that the Badgers are 2-0-0 against St. Cloud State this year, and since Wisconsin is well behind St. Cloud in the PairWise, a victory or two would go a long way to shuffling the Badgers back into the tournament field, especially with some help. The bad news is that although Wisconsin owns the head-to-head portion of the PWR, St. Cloud tops them in RPI, TUC, and record against common opponents, and all three of those numbers are out of reach for UW, so in order to wrest the PairWise comparison with St. Cloud State, a sweep will be necessary.

The end of the season is a crazy time with the odd mechanism the NCAA uses to include and exclude teams. The Badgers aren't in control of their own destiny, but every win will get them closer to a tournament berth and every loss will hurt more than the one that preceded it. And you can take consolation in the fact that even though this weekend was pretty miserable, the Badgers did just enough to keep Minnesota out of the postseason -- for the time being.

Badger basketball: they could win the Big Ten again

Overall, you have to be impressed with this year's edition of the Badger hoops team: they lost superstar Alando Tucker and sharpshooter Kammron Taylor and have still managed to play their way to a top-ten ranking during the last weekend of February. Currently, they sit atop the Big Ten standings, tied with Purdue and half a game ahead of Indiana. Let's take a look at the five teams that are still in contention for the regular-season crown and show why the Badgers have a great shot at winning it all.

Wisconsin currently 12-2; remaining games are @Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, @Northwestern: The Badgers need to get through the Buckeyes -- a foe that has the ability to make things a little more interesting than the team would like -- and then get to host Michigan State. The Spartans haven't fared well at the Kohl Center, historically, and this year's team is faltering in Big Ten play. A home date with Penn State and a road finale at Northwestern should be a couple autowins. 4-0 to close out the season is probable; 3-1 is a worst-case scenario.

Purdue currently 12-2; remaining games are Minnesota, Northwestern, @Ohio State, @Michigan: The Boilermakers took care of business against the big boys of the conference early, and the reward for that is an end-of-season stretch against middle-of-the-pack teams and bottom feeders. They have just about the same remaining schedule as UW, and the results should be similar: 4-0 is likely, anything less than 3-1 would be a jaw-dropper.

Indiana currently 11-2; remaining games are @Northwestern, Ohio State, @Michigan State, Minnesota, @Penn State: the Kelvin Sampson fiasco has finally reached its end, and while the Hoosiers played some inspired ball for their embattled coach down the stretch, I just don't see them finishing the season strong under interim coach Dan Dakich. I'm predicting 2-3 for what could be a tentative Hoosier team -- they'll bookend a three-game losing streak with wins at Northwestern and Penn State.

Michigan State currently 9-4; remaining games are Iowa, @Wisconsin, Indiana, @Illinois, @Ohio State: you never want to count the Spartans out, even when they're trailing three teams by two full games. Head-to-head matchups with the Badgers and Hoosiers will provide an opportunity to close the gap with a couple of the top teams in the league, but this schedule is grueling. The finale could be the difference between the Big Dance and the NIT for the Buckeyes, so they'll be up and ready. The big issue for the Spartans, though, is that three games are on the road; in conference play, Tom Izzo's team is 7-0 at the Breslin Center and 2-4 on the road -- including a loss at Penn State and an absolute travashamockery of a game at Iowa in which the Spartans gave up 43 points and LOST. Look for this trend to continue; at best the Spartans finish 3-2; they'll lose at Wisconsin and at Illinois or Ohio State (or both).

Ohio State currently 8-5; remaining games are Wisconsin, @Indiana, @Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State: the Buckeyes are still technically in the race, but it would take a lot of surprising losses by top teams to propel them to the conference title. They play each of other top-six teams in the conference one more time. Obviously, there are no gimmes on that schedule. Thad Matta's boys blew a chance to keep pace with the Spartans last weekend when they lost their "easy" game against the lowly Wolverines. If OSU winds up winning the conference title, expect the Big Ten to send a gaggle of nine-seeds to the Big Dance and none to the Sweet Sixteen.

So, as has been the story since they dropped both matchups with them this year, the Badgers will need to rely on a Purdue miscue to win them the outright conference crown. At this point, though, the Badgers are in control of their season and will grab a share of the title if they can win out.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

It's funny to look at the top of the conference

As of this very minute:

Purdue #23 11-1
Wisconsin #14 10-2
Indiana #12 9-2
Michigan State #9 8-3

It's a brutal year for Big Ten basketball and it will continue to be brutal. The 2008 NCAA tournament will probably look like last year's edition, with nary a Big Ten team playing in the second weekend's matchups. Tom Izzo's Spartans look unfocused. Kelvin Sampson's lying, cheating ways will have the Hoosiers spinning out of control in no time. The Badgers have never been consistent performers in the Big Dance, and Purdue has simply played its cards well and risen to the top of a weak conference. Ohio State will probably get a bid but their 8-4 record is built upon wins over Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, and other terrible teams. And nobody else is playing .500 basketball in the Big Ten.

The lack of excitement is palpable, and the conference's prospects have been further deflated by the fact that the Big Ten Network has made viewing the games physically impossible for most people. Maybe that's a blessing in disguise; we won't be subjected to the hideous nature of our conference's teams.