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Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009

Bo, Buzz Both Own Some Bragging Rights

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The college basketball season has a long way to go, but for many in this state it will peak Saturday when Marquette and Wisconsin have their annual showdown. The game in Madison will match teams that received little national attention in preseason predictions but have knocked off Top 25 opponents already. The Observers were on hand when MU hosted North Carolina State a few days after UW surprised mighty Duke.

Frank: Marquette lost its own version of the ACC Challenge, giving up double-digit leads in the second half to both Florida State and N.C. State. But before that the Golden Eagles got quality wins over Xavier and Michigan, which was ranked 15th at the time.

Artie: Talk about quality wins, wow, the Badgers looked good against Duke—a team that was No. 5 or 6, depending on the poll, and was 10-0 in the Big Ten-ACC series. And the ESPN broadcast was enjoyable because Bob Knight was terrific!

Frank: It must pain a lot of folks to say it, but Knight sure knows what he's talking about. Even if he is one of the world's all-time jerks.

Artie: You'd never know it listening to him. He was so informative and relaxed. It was like sitting at the game with your best buddy who knows everything about hoops.

Frank: The Badgers gutted it out, 73-69, after some late three-pointers put Duke in position to grab the game away. UW won't ever run anyone out of the gym; they're just not that type of team. But the box score had them with just four turnovers.

Artie: That's true Bo Ryan basketball. They don't beat themselves, they have that swing offense that keeps moving the ball around, they're not afraid to use the clock, they play the traditional UW good defense and they rebound.

Frank: You see their starting big men and you're tempted, in a stereotyping way, to think these white guys are plodders. And yes, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil aren't the quickest guys in the world. But they can shoot, and they don't need to be super-quick because Ryan's offense spreads the floor so well.

Artie: Early in high school Leuer was like 6-foot-1 and played guard. Hence his ball-handling and shooting skills, which have carried over now that he's 6-10. Plus he's bulked up this year. And Bo will have him for another season.

Frank: Ryan obviously recruits the right players for the system. Trevon Hughes knows he's not going to average 25 points or 20 shots a game, and he doesn't try to. Same thing last year with Marcus Landry. This is a team!

Artie: Given the departures of Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft, the Badgers weren't thought of highly, especially since the Big Ten is supposed to be very strong. Most people have the Badgers in the middle of the conference at best.

Frank: If the team that beat Duke is middling Big Ten, that's one loaded conference.

Artie: The thing is, UW should never be underestimated. Bo's teams always show up and have a good season.

Frank: They'll get out-quicked some nights, but they'll never get out-hustled. Ryan is just a hell of a coach.

Artie: With four Division III national championships at UW-Platteville to prove it.

Frank: Buzz Williams at Marquette doesn't have those credentials, but I feel the same way about his coaching skills. Last season he had an undermanned, undersized team right in the thick of the Big East title hunt almost to the end. That team had senior stars in Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James, but it earned everything it got by giving everything it had. And that has to have something to do with Williams.

Artie: This season is the same for Marquette because they still have no real height and not much depth. They lost their one big guy with any experience, Chris Otule, for the season with a broken foot. And they lost their expected starting point guard, Junior Cadougan, to a ruptured Achilles'.

Frank: Against N.C. State they used only seven players, with four of the starters playing 33 minutes or more. For the second straight season, Lazar Hayward will have to do that every game against all the "aircraft carriers" in the Big East.

Artie: So will Jimmy Butler, who I think is a really versatile player. We saw him get 19 points and 12 boards against the Wolfpack. I think he can be a major force, and he's only a junior.

Frank: Butler and Hayward are listed at 6-6, which means the Golden Eagles will have to rely on quickness and outside shooting.

Artie: If they're not hitting, how many rebounds will they be able to get? The margin for error will be pretty small.

Frank: Hayward and Butler are pretty crafty at snaking their way to the rim, but in the second half against N.C. State the whole team went cold. None of their returning shooters is as reliable as Matthews and McNeal were.

Artie: Still, the most surprising thing in the N.C. State game was how MU's defense fell apart. The Wolfpack made 20 of 28 shots in the second half!

Frank: Last year's team was utterly relentless on defense and this year's was the same against Xavier and Michigan—and in building an 11-point halftime lead against N.C. State. But really, it was an offensive breakdown by MU that let the Wolfpack revive.

Artie: There were 14 steals by the guys in red. That's alarming.

Frank: I checked the play-by-play, and nine of the steals were in the second half. Four came in the first 2 1/2 minutes after the break, and in that same period MU was committing four other turnovers.

Artie: Maybe they were upset because their fellow student didn't win $10,000 in the "shoot for your tuition" contest at halftime. Still, the Eagles fought back and the final margin was just 77-73. It shows how a few three-pointers can keep you in the game, provided the other team cooperates by missing free throws, as N.C. State did, ain’a?

Frank: Despite the lapses against the two ACC teams, I think Williams will have MU's intensity up as they go into Big East play. They'll need it; two of their first four conference games are against Villanova, which the Big East preseason poll pegged to finish first.

Artie: And of course the intensity will be there against UW!

Frank: Ryan and Williams are quite similar in one regard; they get their kids to play hard. The styles are different; UW is more disciplined on offense and MU gambles more on defense. But those teams will be in each other's faces all night, battling to establish the tempo they want.

Artie: How Sports Illustrated could predict that neither of these teams will make the NCAA tournament is just nuts.

 

Don’t Forget the Panthers

Frank: UW-Milwaukee, or just "Milwaukee," as they like to call it now, had a chance to go 2-0 in the Horizon League but lost at home to Loyola.

Artie: That's rough, since Loyola was dead last in the league's preseason poll. The Panthers' big problem is their shooting.

Frank: Last season they shot just over 39% overall. This year they were shooting 41.5% through nine games, but only 32.8% in their two league games, both at home.

Artie: They've got good senior starters in guard Ricky Franklin and James Eayrs, the Prince Fielder of college hoops who surprised people last year with his versatility. But last year's leading scorer, Tone Boyle, hasn't played yet this season because of a bad back.

Frank: When the Panthers resume conference play in January, they'll face the always-tough Butler and UW-Green Bay pretty early.

Artie: Last year they were 17-14 overall and 11-9 in the Horizon. Improving on that means improving the shooting.