The Badgers: Nagging Concerns?

Who can figure out Jerry Seinfeld?

And I’m not talking about the fact the second greatest “clean” stand-up comedian of all-time (after Bill Cosby) and the co-architect of arguably the greatest sitcom ever has decided on a cheesy reality show as his return to TV.

I’m talking about the fact that Seinfeld, a good friend of Jay Leno’s who was Leno’s first guest on the ill-fated Jay Leno Show back in September, is this week appearing on Late Show with David Letterman. Not a big deal most weeks, but it is this week.

This is the week that Leno returns to The Tonight Show with the hopes of restoring not only his tarnished reputation but that of the venerable NBC franchise as well.

So it’s an important week for Leno and an odd time for Seinfeld to appear on his archrival’s competing show.

Likewise, who can figure out the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team?

What, you say? The team ranked 15th in the country? The team sharing the national lead for fewest turnovers per game? The team with the fourth-best scoring defense in Division I? The only Big Ten team not to lose back-to-back games all season? What’s there to figure out?

Well, when you put it like that, yeah, they’re a pretty good – maybe great – team.

But do the numbers tell the whole story? Or is there, as with the final theatrical version of This Is Spinal Tap, some storylines left out? (Oh, so that’s how Nigel and David got those cold sores.)

Let’s look at a couple of reasons to feel good about the Badgers and a couple reasons to feel not so good.

1. Jason Bohannon. The senior is shooting a ridiculous 62.5 percent from the floor over the last seven games. Although he once possessed the versatility of a brown paper bag, his former catch-and-shoot game has been wonderfully transformed. Bohannon (I refuse to call him J-Bo) is now just as likely to drive hard to the basket or frustrate opponents with solid defense. A joy to watch.

2. Bo Ryan finally benched Tim Jarmusz. Look, I know these are college kids and fans and reporters (not to mention cold-hearted and mean-spirited bloggers) are not supposed to be too harsh. But when Dave “Opie” Revsine unveiled the Badgers’ starting lineup against Indiana and it did not include Jarmusz, I nearly knocked over my Pepsi Throwback in excitement. Jarmusz has been awful shooting the ball this season (averaging under three points a game in nearly 24 minutes of play), and the February 21 game against Northwestern exposed Jarmusz to be the starting lineup’s weak link defensively as well.

3. It’s sometimes boring, but it works. You know when you go to the McDonald’s drive-thru and they have that robotic pre-recorded sales pitch trying to entice you to some obscure menu item (“Hello. Would you like to try a Chili Lime Ranch Filet-O-Fish Pita Wrap today?”)? I swear that the Big Ten Network announcers have a similar pre-recorded rap on the Badgers – “The Badgers love to take the shot clock all the way down.” “The Badgers make you work defensively.” “If you let him get hot, Keaton Nankivil will hit that shot all day” – that they run so Shon Morris can eat an extra hot dog without worrying about dead air. But while it may get tiresome to hear about as well as to watch, Wisconsin’s regimented style works simply because most teams aren’t disciplined enough to maintain the degree of focus it takes to stay with Wisconsin.

4. Push It Real . .. Good? There are things in life that fight back. Your liver when you drink too much. My daughter when I try to get her dressed. Danny Bonaduce. But the Badgers have shown a tendency to wilt in the face of an aggressive opponent. Minnesota intimidated them into terrible shot selection in their sole meeting in late February, and Illinois and even Northwestern in a too-close game showed that they can be run on. Wisconsin’s measured style of play has gotten them far, but sometimes you’d like them to be a little . . . scrappy. They’re going to need a touch of audacity to make a run in March.

5. Long ball. No one is fooled by the success the Badgers had getting in the paint against the truly awful defenses at Indiana and Northwestern. Wisconsin will need to drive the basket more and pull up for long three-pointers less if they hope to survive the NCAA tournament’s first weekend of play. Jon Leuer’s presence should help, but fans have a right to be nervous about the Badgers’ reliance on the downtown life.

Unlike the demise of The Jay Leno Show, the success of the Wisconsin Badgers’ men’s basketball team this year has been a huge surprise. Unfortunately, with success comes greater expectations. (Do you think NBC would expect anything out of The Marriage Ref if it was the brainchild of Jerry Mathers and not Jerry Seinfeld?)

It’s no longer enough that Bo Ryan will lead Wisconsin to a mind-boggling 12th straight NCAA tournament appearance. With the door still open (slightly) for a Big Ten title and hopes for a fifth-seed or better in the NCAA tournament, fans are now expecting good things in March.

Jay Leno will likely regain his title as King of Late Night before too long. But NBC has to have nagging concerns about the hit his reputation has taken over the last several weeks. Likewise, the Badgers will likely have a fine month of March and should – should – win at least two games in the men’s tournament. But nagging concerns remain.


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