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Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010

In Hoops, It's a State of Maximum Effort

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It's time again for the biggest event of the basketball season in our state. The annual Marquette-Wisconsin showdown is Saturday at the Bradley Center, and it figures to be close. Only twice in the last 10 years has the victory margin been in double digits. Whoever wins the bragging rights, both teams look destined for strong records and March Madness. Let's get the ball in the air!

Artie
: MU-UW games are like the Packers against the Vikings or Bears. No matter who's the favorite or the home team, it's almost always extremely tight.

Frank
: The teams have different styles—maybe different tempos is a better term—but they both leave every drop of sweat they have on the court. Marquette's a little more high-risk in terms of pressure defense and running on offense, but Buzz Williams and Bo Ryan get the same total commitment.

Artie
: Which makes their teams a ton of fun to watch.

Frank
: Marquette might take a couple more three-pointers per game than UW because they still don't have a lot of size inside.

Artie
: But Williams bases his offense on driving to the basket, then maybe kicking it outside for a clear three.

Frank
: I saw a Williams quote recently saying his team probably would try fewer threes this season because they don't have as many guys who are real good at it.

Artie
: Lazar Hayward is gone, along with the guards Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, who were both over 40% in threes last year. But he still has Darius Johnson-Odom, who was 47% on treys last season.

Frank
: He hit 5 of 7 of them against UWM, when they needed every one of his 29 points to edge the Panthers. MU tried 19 threes that night, their average from last season.

Artie
: Both teams defend excellently in terms of the opponents' shooting percentage. MU tends to get out-rebounded more than the Badgers, but the Golden Eagles make a lot of steals.

Frank
: Let's look ahead for both teams...

Artie
: And don't forget my Panthers, who have some potential.

Frank
: Last spring MU earned a No. 6 seeding in the NCAA tournament and UW had a 4. Can they do it again?

Artie
: You betcha. It'll be hard work, but these teams know all about that. 



The Value of Positive Buzz

Frank: Marquette has Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler as returning starters, which is a solid foundation. The new guys in the backcourt are Junior Cadougan, who missed almost all of last season with injuries, and freshman Vander Blue from Madison.

Artie
: And here are two interesting additions: the big freshman Davante Gardner, listed as 6-8 and 290…

Frank
: An aircraft carrier, as Al McGuire would say.

Artie
: Although he hasn't played a lot because of a bad shoulder. And the other guy is Jae Crowder, out of junior college.

Frank
: The JuCo player of the year, in fact. That's a big recruiting coup for Williams. He has a pipeline to Texas like McGuire had to New York. Butler and Joe Fulce also came here from Texas and junior college, and Chris Otule and Erik Williams also are Texans.

Artie
: Just like Ryan, Williams finds ways to fill his key vacancies. Bo had to replace Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes this year and Williams had to replace Hayward and a good chunk of his backcourt. But Ryan's teams have a knack for exceeding expectations and Williams...

Frank
: Did the same with the undersized teams he inherited from Tom Crean the last two years. There's no reason to think the Golden Eagles won't overachieve this year, too.

Artie
: Although the preseason expectations weren't all that low. The Big East might be a little down, but there are a lot of good teams, and the Sporting News ranked MU sixth out of 16.

Frank
: Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Georgetown and Pittsburgh are pegged as national powers. UConn is still dangerous, St. John's is on the upswing and Notre Dame beat UW to win that tournament in Orlando.

Artie
: But the Eagles sure didn't hurt themselves in their Kansas City tournament with paper-thin losses to Duke and Gonzaga.

Steady As Bo Goes

Artie: Some people diss the Badgers as being slow, but for me it's great. Yeah, they're not running all over the place, but their pace helps them win because it's against the grain. On defense they're as tough as it comes, but they keep their fouls down. Near the basket their hands are straight up; they don't reach and grab.

Frank
: During one of their Orlando games, ESPN's Dan Dakich caught the Badgers' essence: "They just keep doing what they do." Namely, control the tempo, work for good shots, hit the boards.

Artie
: Methodical, unselfish, take it to the last few seconds of a possession—and force the other team to do the same, which many can't.

Frank
: But I don't see it as a continuation of the Dick Bennett style, which really was the hoops version of "three yards and a cloud of dust." Ryan's guys can run when they get the chance. As you noted last year, Jon Leuer was playing guard in high school when he suddenly grew about a foot. As a result, I doubt there's a more complete big man in the country.

Artie
: Jordan Taylor, a junior, is really solid at point guard and can take it to the basket.

Frank
: And this freshman guard from Port Washington, Josh Gasser...

Artie
: For a freshman to start for Bo Ryan, that's really saying something. He looks like a senior already, he plays so smart. And they'll need that because the Big Ten is, hands down, the top conference in the country.

Frank
: Michigan State, of course…

Artie
: And probably six other teams who are a lock for the NCAA tournament—the Badgers, Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota and Northwestern, which should make it for the first time ever.

Frank
: So the Badgers could finish fifth or sixth in the Big Ten and still do themselves proud.

A Brighter Horizon?

Artie: I've seen UWM—or these days, "Milwaukee"—picked as high as third in the Horizon League, behind Butler and Cleveland State.

Frank
: The Panthers got smoked by Cleveland State at home Saturday night…

Artie
: Cripes, nobody could beat 14 for 22 in three-pointers!

Frank
: But a week earlier I was very impressed with them against Marquette. They lost by only three, the closest they've ever come to MU, and it wasn't like the Golden Eagles built a huge lead and coasted.

Artie
: There were, I think, three times in the second half that MU's lead was at or near double digits, but the Panthers came back.

Frank
: They're benefiting from the return of Tone Boyle, who missed last season with a bad back. Tony Meier is a solid shooter and they have nice quickness in the backcourt with Kaylon Williams and Ja'Rob McCallum.

Artie
: Plus they have forward Anthony Hill, who had 30 points in the Horizon opener against Youngstown State.

Frank
: What they don't have is a lot of size, especially since that surprisingly nimble 310-pounder, James Eayrs, has moved on.

Artie
: Yeah, the Panthers lost their Curly Howard.

Knight and Dismay

Frank: Watching MU's game against Gonzaga, I couldn't get over Bob Knight's quality as a game analyst. It was kind of disappointing: He was such a jerk as a coach that I hoped he'd be a flop—but he's terrific!

Artie
: Especially in contrast to the night before when the MU-Duke game was done—make that performed—by Dick Vitale.

Frank
: Amen. I haven't been able to get through a Vitale game for years.

Artie
: Knight focuses completely on the game and explains everything without making a big deal about whether someone's a superstar. With Vitale it's always about personalities, where they'll go in the draft...

Frank
: "Oh! Oh! Is this kid a Diaper Dandy! He's gonna be a PTP’er!" He gushes over all of ’em—when he's not dropping names or telling us all about himself.

Artie
: It's the Us Weekly version of a game. But I'd love to have a schedule of the games Knight will work. I'd watch ’em all, no matter who the teams are.