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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Looking for Quality Minutes

The Fairly Detached Observers

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Crunch time is here in college basketball and it’s near—well, kind of getting near—in the NBA. That makes every game important for the Marquette Golden Eagles and Wisconsin Badgers, fighting for maximum advantage in the NCAA tournament, as well as the UWM Panthers and Milwaukee Bucks, fighting just to have a postseason. The Observers studied MU and UW onscreen Sunday, but Frank saw the best game of the day in person.

Frank: I took time out from the college games to catch a fifth-grade showdown in Shorewood. My friend Angelina and the St. John Vianney team from Brookfield played the St. Robert Bobcats.

Artie: The Bobcats. Of course.

Frank: Angelina and her fellow Shamrocks played great, but they didn’t have the luck of the Irish. Lost by a point on a shot with two seconds left.

Artie: Makes for a long ride back west on Capitol Drive, ain’a?

Frank: The Shamrocks are good sports, and Angelina left the gym smiling. Then I completed a little experiment in watching televised hoops.

Artie: Keeping the sound off?

Frank: No, that’s for games involving Dick Vitale. In this case, I watched half of each game live and half via my DVR, zipping past all the timeouts and commercials. I wanted to see how much time I could save the second way.

Artie: Your findings, professor?

Frank: Of course the 11 a.m. MU game at Louisville began only after seven minutes of blathering. Then from tip-off to halftime, it took 42 minutes in real time to consume 20 minutes of game clock. In the second half, using the DVR cut things to 36 minutes.

Artie: And you used the extra time well?

Frank: Things were complicated. When I got back from Shorewood I was able to watch the second half of the UW game in real time. That took a whopping 57 minutes! When the Badgers had finally beaten Michigan, 60-55, I went to the DVR and saw the second half of Marquette’s 62-58 loss. Then it was back to the first half in Madison, which took only 28 minutes on DVR.

Artie: And this all proves... what?

Frank: The TV timeouts didn’t take as long as I expected—under two minutes. I’m sure they’ll lengthen out at tournament time. But missing both tedious halftimes saved at least 40 minutes—and I used that time to watch the Shamrocks!

Artie: That second half for UW sure seemed long, even though there weren’t any unusual circumstances. In fact, there was a highly usual circumstance: The Badgers let their opponents get back into the game.

Frank: A week earlier they blew a 12-point lead at Michigan State and lost.

Artie: Sunday I was thinking, “Here we go again.” It’s happened to UW all season, especially during that six-game losing streak in January. Somewhere in the second half something happens, like they almost stop playing defense or they can’t adjust to something.

Frank: On Sunday I noticed something I hadn’t associated with UW: shaky freethrow shooting. There were three times down the stretch when someone only went 1 for 2, and they were 12 for 18 overall.

Artie: At that level, 67% ain’t good.

Frank: They’re only 71.5% through 28 games, and that can kill you in the Big Ten tournament or the Big Dance.

Artie: Brickin’ from the line is something we’ve been seeing from Marquette.

Frank: A valid concern; they’re at 70.9% through 29 games. A lot of that relates to Dominic James, who made only 46.1% from the line before breaking his foot against Connecticut.

Artie: MU fans won’t have nightmares about James going to the line with an NCAA game at stake, but the loss of his defense and leadership is just tragic.

Frank: Of course it puts extreme pressure on the other senior guards, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews, and on their only real inside threat, Lazar Hayward.

Artie: McNeal shot badly against Louisville (3 for 19) and he was only 2 for 5 from the line. It seems like his free-throw shooting is falling off.

Frank: He’s at 71.2%. Not terrible, but not good for such a scorer. Hayward and Matthews are above 80%.

Artie: I think they’re all just wearing down. Even when James was there, those four were playing more than 35 minutes every game. Now McNeal and the others must be thinking they have to pull even more weight.

Frank: And here comes the Big East tournament, when they might play on three and even four straight days. And the NCAA the following week, where you stay alive by winning twice in three days.

Artie: The margin for error was small even with James because MU went only seven deep. But now? It’s just a shame, because they had the potential to go far in the NCAA.

Frank: They still have the defense and heart to stay in any game. And in the modern game so much depends on three-point shooting, where McNeal and Matthews are both over 40%. If they’re hot...

Artie: But can you count on that for five or six straight games? On Sunday they lost by four to a tough team, on the road, and with McNeal struggling. It’s courageous, but in the end Louisville had a deep bench and an inside game.

Frank: First things first. If MU wins one of its last two games, it’ll be 24-7 overall and 13-5 in conference. That should keep them as the No. 4 seed in the Big East, with a first-round bye.

Artie: Just like the Badgers. If they win one of their last two they’ll be 19-11 and 10-8. That’ll make them No. 4 or 5 in the Big Ten and clear of the first round.

Frank: I think the Badgers could take the conference tournament because the top teams aren’t that far apart.

Artie: I’m not so sure. Michigan State is potentially a really, really good team. Yes, the Spartans are beatable, but the Badgers have to figure out what the heck happens to them in the second half.

Frank: We have two other teams to talk about: the Panthers and Bucks.

Artie: UWM was 16-13 in the regular season, 11-7 in the Horizon League. Nothing wrong with a winning record.

Frank: They earned a home game in the league tournament, but after that they’ll play in Indianapolis. And if they win a second game, they’ll face top-seeded Butler in the semifinals on the Bulldogs’ home court.

Artie: Looks like the NIT, perhaps, for the Panthers. But the Badgers’ revival since January probably kills a dream NIT matchup of UW vs. UWM.

Frank: We should, in candor, remind our readers that we consigned the Badgers to the NIT weeks ago.

Artie: Let the readers remind themselves. It’s not our job to remember what we said. We’re too busy saying more.

Frank: Um, now for the Bucks. As we speak, they’re 29-33 and clinging to the last playoff spot in the East, but facing a big week: games against their top pursuers, New Jersey and Chicago, as well as a road game at Cleveland.

Artie: Twelve of their last 20 games are at home, but those 12 include games against New Orleans, Boston, Portland, the Lakers and two against Orlando. Plus they have games at Orlando and at Miami.

Frank: They must be hearing the footsteps of the Bulls and Nets.

Artie: But they could also make some footsteps for Detroit and Philly to hear. It’s amazing that the Bucks have hung in there without Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut.

Frank: I’m sure, in this economy, that the fans would love the chance to pay playoff prices for two first-round games against the Celtics or Cavs.

Artie: The Downtown restaurants sure would love it. The Bucks’ chicken-wings stimulus package!

Photo: Senior leadership down to two.