Sunday, March 16, 2008

Badgers overcome Spartans, officiating

49 fouls. 56 free throws. Four Spartans fouling out. Three fouls called on three-point attempts (two of which actually sunk, leading to four-point plays). This is what the Big Ten puts forth when the entire nation is watching? Seriously? Ed Hightower and his gang of whistle-blowing goons ought to be ashamed. LET THEM PLAY, guys. LET THEM PLAY.

49 fouls, and though 30 went against Michigan State, the biggest of the game by far was the first whistle of the second half. That one that sent Michael Flowers to the bench just 32 seconds after intermission. After his departure, the Spartans ran their lead from 29-27 to 39-29, and it looked like it was going to be an ugly afternoon for Wisconsin. With Flowers restricted in his defensive duties, Spartan sharpshooter Drew Neitzel had a field day; the kid that Flowers shut down at the Kohl Center mere weeks ago had every opportunity to pick and choose, and he made good.

On an afternoon when the Badgers shot just 37% from the field, free throws kept them alive, and even those didn't go smoothly; Brian Butch missed four straight, the normally ultra-reliable Jason Bohannon missed both of his in the closing seconds -- shots that would've taken the margin from 2 to 4 in the last possession of the game.

Make no mistake, the Spartans were the number one contributors to their own demise. (And make no mistake: anything that brings on a good old-fashioned Tom Izzo whinefest is a good thing.) It was made clear early on that the officials were going to blow plays dead at every opportunity, and Michigan State failed to adjust their style of play. The end result: all three of their big men -- Ibok, Suton, and Naymick -- fouled out in a 56-second span in the second half, forcing MSU to match smaller players up with the likes of Brian Butch.

An unfortunate consequence of this game was the potential loss of Trevon Hughes, who's now being called a game-time decision. The Badgers shouldn't need him today, but they will absolutely require him through the NCAA tournament. He was spotted wearing a walking boot. As far as I'm concerned, it would be better for the Badgers to lose today without him than risk further injury and bow out early from the Big Dance as a result of his absence.

So now the Badgers get Illinois in the final game. The ten seed in the Big Ten Tournament, doesn't a part of you want to see the Illini win and get the auto-bid? But there's so much at stake here to root for something like that. If MSU had pulled it out yesterday, yeah, I'm cheering for the Illini all the way. It would be much better, though, to see the Badgers put two trophies in the case before the Big Dance even starts, and to cling to the dream that maybe they'll have to make room for a third.