Tuesday, January 13, 2009
That's right, the Gopher hoops teams heads over the the dirtiest state in the union to take on the hated Badgers on Thursday. The good news is that me, Bogart, and Dawger are taking a road trip to watch the game. The bad news is that the Kohl Center has been a death trap for the Gophers, who haven't won in Madison since 1994. Yes, that includes the most awesomely cheaterful season ever, 1997, which was totally worth the ten years of misery that followed.
Although the Badgers only lost five times at the Kohl between 2001 and 2007, they looked vulnerable earlier this year. Early season wins at home over Long Beach by just seven and Iona and Idaho State by just two made it look like the Badgers might be a pretty poor team this year. The team's leading scorer and rebounder, Brian Butch, had graduated from last year, and the team's defensive leader and fourth leading scorer was gone with him, in Michael Flowers. They've gotten pretty much nothing from any of the freshmen, and returning starters Marcus Landry, Joe Krabbenhoft, and Trevon Hughes and sixth man Jason Bohannon looked like they were the same or worse than last year - basically the Badgers looked to be ripe for a Gopher victory in Madison.
Well then conference play started, and suddenly Wisconsin looks like a whole different team. Wins at home over Penn State and Northwestern aren't anything special, but the win @ Michigan says this team could be a contender. With their only at Purdue in a must win for the Boilers, the Badgers are once again terrifying. It's hard to really say what the turn around is, because Wisconsin has seen several different guys step up to drive them to victory.
The scariest guy on the team is their leading scorer, 6-7 senior scorer Marcus Landry, averaging 12.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. He's been really inconsistent this year. After starting the season with 23 points against Long Beach, he didn't break the twenty point mark again until 13 games later when he tallied 23 again against Penn State; he's also put up six games where he failed to break double-digits this season. His rebounding is also down this year over a full board per game, and he's grabbed more than five just three times in the team's 16 games. His inconsistency, and his ability to disappear from games completely, lead me to believe Damian Johnson will be able to handle him.
I'm supposed to say that the second most dangerous player is their second leading scorer, Trevon Hughes, but I'm not scared of him. Yes, I know he lit up the Gopher guards last season at the Barn and had his best game in their most high-profile win last year over Kansas State in the NCAA tournament, but I don't think he's all that good. He's pretty much the exact same player as last season, but with a better shooting touch, and that means that while he can torch some teams he'll put up some serious stinkers too, and he's on a stinker streak. In the four Big Ten games he's shot 5-12, 3-10, 3-8, and 3-11 and has twelve assists to seven turnovers. He has a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio on the year, which is good, but he only averages 2.8 assists per game, which is bad, and puts him behind 9 of the conferences 10 other team's primary ballhandler. He will be most most effective on Thursday if he can drive and draw the defense, then kick it out to his teammates for open shots. But with an average of just those 2.8 assists per game, and the Gophers tough perimeter defense, I don't have a whole lot of faith in him. Of course, he also shoots 48% from three so if they let him get off that skews everything about this game.
Another guy who doesn't scare me is the Badgers' designated three-point shooter, Jason Bohannon. He doesn't scare me for a couple of reasons. First, because the Gophers defend the three very well if your name isn't Matt Gatens, and Jason Bohannon's name is spelled and pronounced differently from Gatens. Second, because for a three-point shooter guy he's really not that good. In his three seasons (including this one) he's never shot better than 40% from three (36% this year), and never averaged as much as two makes per game. Lest you think he's actually not a three point specialist, keep in mind 65% of his field goal attempts are from behind the line - for reference, Shamala is only at 49%. I don't see any way possible Bohannon hurts the Gophers unless they completely fall asleep. Or Hughes manages to kill the Gophers with the penetrate and kick.
A guy who I am scared of is traitor Jon Leuer, the gay kid from Orono. In case you haven't been paying attention, as a freshman last year Leuer mostly played sparingly, but showed his potential in the game against Michigan, scoring 25 points on 8-9 shooting including 5-5 from three. He's taken advantage of the opening for tall white guy who can shoot the three with Butch's departure and made the most of his opportunity. He's more than tripled both his scoring and rebounding to 9.8 points and 4.2 rebounds and has a very confident look about him. He can score from the three point line to the paint, and Sampson and/or Iverson will have their hands full. I think Ralphie will be able to handle him, but I'm more concerned with Colt. Plus I'm sure Leuer has a bit of a chip, and will want to show the Gophers what he's really capable of.
The last guy I will mention for the gay Badgers is the super annoying, Travis Busch crossed with Brian Cardinal type guy who is senior Joe Krabbenhoft. Describing him as workman-like would be an understatement, but he's a hard worker who is pretty much the only Badger you can count night after night. He averages 8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and you can bet he'll be right around those numbers. What I really don't like here is that offensive rebounding is an effort thing in a lot of cases, and you know Krabby will bring the effort against the Gophers, whose biggest weakness is still allowing offensive rebounds. It's a concern.
Team stats-wise, Wisconsin does two things extremely well: they don't turn the ball over and they don't give up offensive rebounds, two things I probably could have predicted without actually looking anything up. The Gophers are actually pretty good at getting offensive boards - I know, I had no clue either - and excel at turning teams over, so it should be fairly interesting here.
If Minnesota can get Wisconsin out of their tempo (one of the slowest teams in the nation; again) and force turnovers (not bloody likely) they will be in good shape. The Gophers are infinitely more talented than the Badgers, and I honestly think Hughes and Landry are the only guys on the team that would crack the Gophers rotation (real rotation, not the one that includes Busch and Shamala). That being said, this freaking game is in Madison, and as we know it's damn near impossible to win there. With me, Bogart, and Dawger there will things change? No, unfortunately they will not. Hughes will play one of his random good games, Bohannon will go off, and Leuer will step up hugely to prove he's the worst traitor since Marcus Brutus, and the drunken morons will taunt us at the campus bars after the game until Dawg gets in a fight and I get my glasses knocked off (ha-ha, I'm going to wear contacts instead) as the dirty evil stinky faggy jerkstore Badgers win, 63-60 as a Westbrook three pointer clangs off the front rim as time expires.
On the bright side I guess, I fully expect the Badgers to use single coverage on Sampson and Iverson with Leuer and Nankivil, so they'll have their chances to shine. Also with a chance to shine, Wisconsin girls. Holy hell: