Masters of Works in Progress
So there's a Rose Bowl in Wisconsin's future despite all the Badgers' pre-December stumbles. But before the third straight trip to Pasadena there's an event that's just as big for basketball fans: The annual battle with Marquette for in-state bragging rights.
Each team goes Saturday's game at the Bradley Center with a solid national reputation and two straight appearances in the NCAA Sweet 16. But each also raised questions in November about whether this season will be as successful.
The Observers know two things: 1. The game will be close, and 2. No matter how the season plays out, UW and MU won't give anything less than maximum effort. The coaches won't have it any other way.
Frank: Fans of both teams can agree on this: They've seen enough of Florida for a while.
Artie: The Gators sure had their way in both those games. The Badgers couldn't slow them down and lost by 18 points; the Golden Eagles couldn't out-pace them and lost by 33.
Frank: There's work to be done in both programs, and Bo Ryan and Buzz Williams will make sure it's done. UW plays more methodically, MU more frenetically, but both teams put everything into it.
Artie: You work your butt off or your butt is planted on the bench, ain’a?
Frank: MU hadn't looked bad before Florida. We can't know how they would have done against Ohio State on the aircraft carrier. But in losing to Butler on a last-second prayer and beating Mississippi State and USC, they were a typical Williams team—hustling and relentless, if not always under control. But boy, when they look bad, they can look really bad.
Artie: Same with the Badgers. Florida out-rebounded MU by 14 but really pounded UW on the boards, 40-21. The Gators shot 50% against MU but surpassed 60% against UW. And the Badgers had other clinkers against Creighton in a Las Vegas tournament and at home against Virginia.
Frank: A common factor in those losses was UW's reliance on three-point shooting. They tried 27 threes against Creighton, 24 against Florida, 22 against Virginia. And even in the 25-point win Sunday over California, they shot 21 threes. I know it's a big part of the modern game, but it seems like UW is really unbalanced toward the arc. In Ryan's offense just about everyone rotates out there during every possession, even the big guys like Jared Berggren.
Artie: Against Virginia they shot 36% from long range (8 for 22) but the overall percentage was only 38% (21 for 55). So they weren't hitting much from anywhere else. It was different against California: 33% on threes (7 for 21) but 62% otherwise (23 for 37).
Frank: Last year in many of their losses they shot horribly from behind the arc and couldn't compensate.
Artie: Another problem against Virginia was that they took just five free throws.
Frank: Kind of like MU against Florida, with only nine. But as we said after the Bucks' home loss to Chicago, it's not like we spent the whole game saying, “Jeez, why aren't they getting calls?” It was more like they weren't going inside much, so the opportunities for calls weren't there.
Artie: Marquette's two big men, Davante Gardner and Chris Otule, combined for only five shots against Florida. This is the Davante Gardner who, in Michael Hunt's words, “can score against anybody in the country.” Did Florida secede?
Frank: Not since 1861. In fact, the state went blue again in November.
Artie: You mean they finally got the votes counted?
Frank: But we digress... I'm still not sold on Gardner as an offensive force. Sure, he scores if he gets the ball two or three feet from the basket. But Florida muscled him out, and seven or eight feet from the hoop he looked lost.
Artie: With UW, the departure of Jordan Taylor and the season-ending injury to Josh Gasser hurt the driving game. Even though both are guards they were determined to take it inside too.
Frank: Speaking of departures, MU has to replace a lot of points, boards and leadership in the absence of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. But it's nothing new for Williams; every year there are dire predictions after departures like Jimmy Butler, Lazar Hayward or the “Big Three” of Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews Jr. and Dominic James. But Williams has always made things work.
Artie: I think UW has a real good newcomer in Sam Dekker from Sheboygan Lutheran.
Frank: He seems pretty fiery for a freshman.
Artie: He's got the intensity and decent size at 6-7. I saw him in the high school tournament last year, and now he looks like he's spent time in the weight room. You can see he'll be a good physical guy.
Frank: Another loss for MU was Todd Mayo's departure for messing up academically. But for all his talent, the comments about how he was “aloof” and not a team player were pretty striking.
Artie: MU was fortunate that Vander Blue's leg injury against USC wasn't serious. But he needs to pick up his game from his first two years; I thought he was disappointing after being highly touted out of Madison Memorial.
Frank: He also had some personal problems, that is to say legal. Now with Crowder and Johnson-Odom gone, MU is Blue's team to lead.
Artie: Trent Lockett, the transfer from Arizona State, should be a leader too, but he's only here for his final season of eligibility. The guy I want to see develop is Jamil Wilson, the 6-7 redshirt junior. He was highly recruited out of Racine but somehow spent that first year at Oregon.
Frank: He had a rough night at Florida, shooting 1 for 8.
Artie: But I'm sure they think he can help replace Johnson-Odom as an outside shooter. And there's Jake Thomas, another Racine guy who's back from South Dakota. He's supposed to be a three-point deadeye.
Frank: But he's not anchored at the arc; he's got a nice head fake and can drive, he passes well and he's active on defense.
Artie: Sounds like two guys the Badgers depend on, Mike Bruesewitz and Ben Brust.
Frank: Before the non-game against Ohio State, Williams quipped, “We don't have anybody who can shoot; maybe the wind will help us... We'll probably shoot 32% like we did against Florida” last March in the Sweet 16. In the rematch in Gainesville MU did better at 41% but it seemed worse because Florida was in their faces constantly.
Artie: And if you're not getting rebounds, just about every miss is a one-and-done.
Frank: Through seven games MU isn't shooting badly at 48% overall, 35% on three-pointers. Through eight games UW was at 46% and 35% respectively. But the Badgers were averaging 24 three-point tries per game to MU's 12.
Artie: It'll be an interesting season. They could be tournament teams or they could... I wouldn't say “underachieve,” but fall short of their usual marks for overachieving.
Frank: I sure wouldn't bet against both teams winning 20-plus and making the Big Dance.
Artie: They're works in progress, and these coaches are known for making progress during a season.
Frank: I have huge problems with these guys making upwards of $2 million to coach college hoops, but there's no denying they do it very well.