Badgers/Cornell: The Day After

Although I still support what people much younger than me probably refer to as “old media,” I have to say that Entertainment Weekly’s Web site ( ewonline.com) has long ago far surpassed its more established periodical publication. Whereas I go to EW‘s site regularly for its episodic reviews of Survivor, Amazing Race, and The Office, I largely ignore the magazine I get in my mailbox every week.

(Hey, if anyone from EW is reading this and needs a hack writer to bang out episodic reviews of Young and the Restless, let me know. I’ve got some things to say about how Nick treats Sharon.)

Anyway, this week’s Entertainment Weekly magazine did catch my eye. Initially for its cover story on Steve Carell and Tina Fey – two of my favorite television stars who insist on diluting their careers by making mediocre movies – but more significantly for its Corey Haim story teaser that referred to the former teenage idol ‘s passing as a “tragedy.”

“Tragedy” is one of our most overused words. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “a dramatic, disastrous event, especially one of moral significance.”

As badly as I feel for Haim’s family, it’s clear that his passing does not warrant that description.

Nor does Wisconsin’s stunning 18-point loss to Cornell on Sunday warrant such a description, although it was as close to a disaster as any Wisconsin Badger basketball game I’ve seen in Bo Ryan’s tenure, matched perhaps only by their opening-round 19-point opening round loss to Arizona in the 2006 tournament.

But that team four years ago didn’t match up to this year’s squad. With the blossoming of Jon Leuer, the maturation of Jason Bohannon, and the steady guidance of Trevon Hughes, who proved an uncanny ability to take over any game he had to take over, this year’s squad played consistently well from the start, in the process withstanding a crucial injury to Leuer that kept him out for nine games. They looked poised for at least a Sweet Sixteen run when the tournament brackets were announced.

And even though Wisconsin tended to go on painfully long shooting droughts, the common consensus was that their solid defense – ranked third in the nation at the end of the regular season – would always keep them in games.

Whoops.

If you could have gotten into your Hot Tub Time Machine and foreseen Sunday’s outcome, not only would you likely have been shocked at Cornell advancing to the Sweet Sixteen (well, unless you are Jay Bilas), you would have been shocked at how Wisconsin lost to the Big Red.

Wisconsin scored enough points – 69 – and shot at a high enough percentage – 49% — to win. But their defense was simply atrocious, allowing Cornell to consistently generate enough spacing to shoot the ball at 61% and 53% from beyond the arc, unheard-of percentages for Bo Ryan’s team.

The Badgers’ 2010 postseason exit was eerily reminiscent to the Packers’ 2010 postseason exit – a highly-touted, highly-ranked, supposedly-impenetrable defense being completely and utterly shredded.

Except the Packers’ game was a competitive affair with the outcome in doubt until the very end. Cornell dominated Wisconsin from the opening tip on Sunday and had the game wrapped by the first TV timeout of the second half.

The Badgers can take some solace in knowing that the game was so lopsided that CBS had long switched the majority of its national audience away from the game, leaving only those in Wisconsin to suffer and those in central New York to celebrate.

But despite the considerable losses of Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes, it is far too easy and far too early to dismiss the 2010-2011 Wisconsin Badgers. Bo Ryan has lost better players before – Devin Harris, Alando Tucker – and come back to launch surprisingly successful campaigns.

Jon Leuer will undoubtedly be one of the best players in the conference next year. Rob Wilson and particularly Ryan Evans could be poised for breakout seasons. Mike Bruesewitz has already begun showing signs of being the next coming of Joe Krabbenhoft, a tough player who is not afraid to play a bit dirty.

But Bo Ryan will need to get more solid play from Jordan Taylor and Keaton Nankivil, two overrated contributors who are as maddeningly inconsistent as the history of Saturday Night Live (both players’ games in the postseason were the equivalent of SNL‘s Anthony Michael Hall/Randy Quaid season).

If Ryan wants to improve on his team’s tournament success – the Badgers have now lost in the opening weekend four times in the last five years – he will have to somehow – and I don’t know how you do this, which is why I’m not paid to try – get his team more comfortable in adjusting to different tempos of play. The swing offense/slow burn/kill the clock method of basketball is fine if you can get away with it, but it is agonizingly unsuccessful when you find yourself needing to come from behind.

The Badgers proved that Sunday.

Quick takes: If I could start my bracket over, I’d have to go with Ohio State, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Duke in the final four, with West Virginia and Syracuse in the final game. I think the downfall of the Big East has been greatly exaggerated.

Despite the Badgers’ day of double defeats – men’s and women’s basketball – on Sunday, all is not lost. The UW men’s hockey team garnered a #1 seed and will play #4 Vermont on Friday night in St. Paul. Can’t make it? The game is on ESPNU with the face-off set for 8 p.m. CST.

Speaking of the Badgers’ women’s basketball team, It was a shame to see them lose in the first round of the women’s tournament, especially since it had been so long – eight years – since they had previously been there. But it’s hard to get too worked up about the women’s tournament, largely since it’s all foreplay to the eventual crowning of Connecticut. I mean, the Huskies have won a ridiculous 73 games in a row. If they don’t win the women’s tournament, it will be the biggest sports upset since, well, since Northern Iowa beat Kansas this weekend and totally screwed up my bracket.

Now that was a tragedy.

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One Response

  1. Listen. Cornell shot 61% from the field and a lot of the majority of those shots were well contested. Wittman was 10/15; Dale was 10/17; Foote (the center) was 4/4; and their two other starters went 8/12 combined. I mean they didn’t miss. Not to mention, 53% from behind the arc and 13/16 from the line.

    You say that Wisconsin’s defense was atrocious but I’ve watched the game twice now. While there were some unaccustomed breakdowns, it was far from ‘atrocious.’ The fact is Cornell shot the lights out (despite most of the shots being well contested) and there was nothing that anyone could have done. They would’ve beaten anyone on Sunday. Very similar to the Davidson game two years ago.

    I also disagree with your assessment that Wisconsin’s downfall (or, more appropriately, Ryan’s downfall) is the inability to come from behind and adjust to different tempos.

    The Badgers have shown they can come from behind. (The Illinois game in the Big Ten tourney just a week earlier comes to mind, among quite a few games against Michigan State in the past, etc.) Their press is effective but you have to pick your spots with it.

    The truth is, this had nothing to do with Cornell’s tempo or anything the Badgers *didn’t* do. No, they lost because Cornell was making virtually every shot, contested or otherwise. Period.

    And big picture wise — you don’t win championships by adjusting to the other team’s style of play. Instead you play your own style and you do it better than anyone else. You make others adjust to what you’re doing. Certainly you have to be flexible and I’ll be the first one to say that I wish Wisconsin would run a little more (especially with the types of kids they have; they would have the discipline to not take bad shots) but none of this had ANYTHING to do with their loss to Cornell.

    I’m not saying Ryan is perfect. You won’t find a bigger fan of his than me but I was disappointed with him in this tournament. (More for the Wofford game, actually.) His refusal to make any adjustments on defending Diggs was beyond me. And he was stubbornly loyal to Bohannon. As much as I like him, he’s worthless on the defensive end and a lot of times worthless on the offensive end as well.

    Look it’s disappointing. I really thought this team would make a Sweet 16 run and then who knows. I really wanted to see them play Kentucky. Ryan is not a perfect coach but I can’t kill him for what happened here. Cornell was spectacular and clicking on all cylinders, and (again) they would’ve beaten anyone in the country on Sunday.

    At the end of the day Bo Ryan is still one of the best coaches in college basketball. Wisconsin just ran into a buzz saw.

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