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First enjoy the ride, then MEET THE WILDCATS

CA0vQbGWgAAOrWLBefore we dive into Wisconsin’s next opponent, who we certainly hope is the first of two consecutive Wildcats, let’s just take a moment to step back and really enjoy what’s happening right now. Are you ready? 3, 2, 1…

Wow.

The Badgers are back in the Elite 8 for the second consecutive year, a feat never before accomplished by Wisconsin since the tournament’s expansion to 64 teams in 1985. Prior to last year, they hadn’t gotten this far since 2005. So, win or lose on Saturday, this has been incredible, and I want you to enjoy it. Because this is sports, and sports is supposed to be fun. Of course we want more, but let’s not forget to enjoy the ride.

Obviously, this is by far the most talented Badgers roster in the expansion era. But more than that…this team is fun. You love them. I love them. Frank, Sam, Nigel…they’re not only bright stars and locks to be first round picks (but maybe, just maybe, not until 2016, in the case of Sam and Nigel), they’re characters. Just, just LOOK at this:

Are you kidding me Nigel? This is the 100% most endearing moment in sports history (no that is not hyperbole). Nigel is just like us! He thinks girls are pretty too! He accidentally tells an entire room and, subsequently, the entire nation about it too! He has to bury his face in his hands in embarrassment too! I LOVE you Nigel. Never, ever change. How about Sam and Frank, you following them on Twitter? How about the rest of the team? WHY THE HECK NOT!?

I think it’s good to be reminded that these guys are just kids. They’re 19, 20, 21 years old, and they are out there on the big stage, and rather than letting the pressure crush them, they’re out there having the time of their lives. I love this team, so much. Thank you, the 2015 Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball team.

Now then, on with it.

#2 Arizona Wildcats62627
34-3 (16-2, 1st in Pac-12)

How did they get here?
Arizona blew through their half of the West bracket with relative ease, cruising past #15 Texas Southern and #10 Ohio St. with 21 and 15 point wins, respectively. Xavier gave them a bit of a scare, keeping up with the ‘Cats in what was a one possession game throughout until about two minutes left, when Arizona pulled away slightly for an eight point win.

Arizona earned the automatic bid from the Pac-12 as a result of winning their conference tournament, which was of course a mere formality. The Wildcats were a top-10 team throughout the season. None of the three teams that beat them this season had winning conference records, so they are obviously very bad and vastly overrated.

Who is their best player?
Freshman forward Stanley Johnson is the guy whose name is on the marquee. But Arizona is very similar to Wisconsin and Kentucky in that their entire starting five is strong. T.J. McConnell is very good at basketball. Brandon Ashley is very good at basketball. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is very good at basketball. Kaleb Tarczewski is very good at basketball. No one in their starting lineup averages less than nine points per game. Additionally, none of them are as good at basketball as Frank Kaminsky III.

Can the Wildcats beat Wisconsin?
Yeah, sure they could. But they just better not.

Just exactly WHAT is happening in that picture up there, Trav?
Oh, I’ll feed you, baby birds. That photo was taken during the 2006 marriage renewal of vows ceremony undertaken by U of A’s mascots, Wilbur and Wilma. They were first married in 1986, just eight months after they met at Wilma’s debut — you don’t usually expect a marriage that is rushed like that to work out, but damn it if they aren’t still going strong 28 years later. Wilbur mainly handles men’s basketball and football, and is normally found wearing the uniform of whichever sport he is actively supporting. Wilma’s main focuses are women’s basketball and volleyball, but she pretty much only wears her cheerleading outfit, because Arizona is filled with old white men who remain unaware that some women like and participate in sports.

What is the best case scenario?
A repeat of last year’s Elite Eight meeting between these two schools when the seeds were flipped, a back-and-forth thriller that the Badgers won in overtime. That game too was in California, though in that case the home-court advantage held by Arizona was actually fair, given the seeding. Kaminsky put up 28 and 11 in the Badgers’ 64-63 OT win last year, but the Badgers will need to have great games from all their stars; both of these teams are improved over last year.

What is the worst case scenario?
Up two with 4.9 remaining in the game, Kaminsky steps to the line to shoot two and seal the game. Both shots miss, with the second agonizingly circling the rim twice before falling off. McConnell grabs the rebound and outlets to Johnson, who darts past half court and sinks a 35-foot prayer with Gasser’s hand down his throat. Wisconsin sports fans are left picking up the pieces as certain victory is replaced with agonizing defeat for the third time in 12 months.

MEET THE TAR HEELS

North Carolina Central v North Carolina

Hey don’t cry, little buddy. The Sweet 16 is still pretty great.

#4 North Carolina Tar Heels
26-11 (11-7, 5th in ACC)

How did they get here?
North Carolina survived a massive scare from Ivy League darling #13 Harvard in the opening round, 67-65. The Tar Heels blew a 16-point second half lead in that game, as the Crimson missed a pretty good look as time expired that would have A) given them the one point win and B) been really awesome. They played a back-and-forth game with Arkansas for most of the way on Saturday until pulling away with about 10 minutes to play.

UNC received an at-large bid to the tournament after being bounced from the ACC tournament by eventual champion Notre Dame, 90-82.

Who is their best player?
Junior guard Marcus Paige forms one half of a talented UNC backcourt along with Menomonee Falls’ own J.P. Tokoto, also a junior. Paige was on the preseason Wooden Award watch list, but missed the mid-season cut when he got worse at pretty much everything after a breakout sophomore season. He still leads the Tar Heels in every major category other than rebounds and field goal percentage, so he hasn’t been disappointing enough to not be the team’s best player, which I suppose is all the more disappointing for Tar Heels fans. But who cares about them, most of them think N*Sync was better than the Backstreet Boys and that yellow is the best flavor of Starbursts.

Can the Tar Heels beat Wisconsin?
Probably not. The Tar Heels are big, and score a lot of points from the free throw line: they rank 26th in Division I in free throw attempts (21.5 per game). Unfortunately for UNC, Wisconsin doesn’t really ever foul anyone: their 10.9 FT attempts allowed per game is so much better than the rest of Division I that the difference between the Badgers and 2nd place San Diego St. is equal to the difference between 2nd and 19th place on that list. That’s bonkers.

The Tar Heels also won’t be able to use their size to bully the Badgers as they have done to smaller teams throughout the year, which is especially true now that starting center Kennedy Meeks is likely to miss Thursday’s game after an injury sustained against Arkansas. UNC can’t shoot threes and the Badgers don’t turn the ball over or foul, so if they get behind, the Tar Heels will basically just be praying Wisconsin goes cold.

Just what the heck is a Tar Heel anyway, huh?
“Tar Heel” is a nickname given to the state of North Carolina and it’s inhabitants that originated around the time of the Civil War. It was originally meant as a pejorative term, but North Carolinians co-opted the term and made it a source of pride, not unlike the way Packers fans hijacked “cheesehead” for their own.

Why are folks from North Carolina called Tar Heels? Well they’ve got a whole mess of tar-producing pine trees in North Carolina, that might be it. Or it might refer to any of a number of stories of legend concerning North Carolina’s involvement in the Civil War. Nobody is really sure and who cares anyway, it’s a stupid nickname and why the heck is their mascot a ram? A ram doesn’t even have any dang heels you jabronis.

What is the best case scenario?
The Badgers clog up the inside in the absence of Meeks and force the Tar Heels to bomb away from outside, where they rank 316th in the nation with 4.6 three point field goals made per game. Wisconsin builds a house with the bricks the Tar Heels lay all night, which they subsequently donate to a needy family living in the poorer part of Los Angeles. Traevon Jackson returns and plays 17 useful minutes, mostly in garbage time as the Badgers mop up a 17 point win.

What is the worst case scenario?
The Badgers three losses this year have come in rather fluky scenarios: Duke shot 65% and 58% from the 3-point line, in their win; Rutgers caught them without Kaminsky and Jackson, who sustained the foot injury that has kept him out for the past two months in that game; and Maryland rode a ridiculous performance from Dez Wells to wins. In this week’s episode, the Badgers follow the same plan as above, but instead of having a nice laugh at Paige doinking threes off the back of the rim, Wisconsin is shocked as UNC makes it rain, shoots over 50% from beyond the arc, and shoots the Badgers out of the tournament. Sam Dekker declares for the draft, and Nigel Hayes joins him.

MEET THE DUCKS

#8 Oregon Ducks brought to you by NikeTMducks
26-9 (13-5, 3rd in Pac-12)

How did they get here?
Oregon out-shot #9 Oklahoma State on Thursday to earn a 79-73 win. They received an at-large bid after being turned into foie gras by Arizona in the Pac-12 title game, 80-52. Oregon was 0-3 against the Wildcats this season and lost those games by an average of 27 points, so that’s pretty funny. They have won 12 of their last 14 games, including a pair of wins over Utah.

Who is their best player?
Senior guard Joseph Young was the Pac-12 Player of the Year, and while that was the subject of some debate, he still most likely the Ducks’ best player. He played all 40 minutes in the Ducks’ opening round win, scoring 27 points including a 15-3 run he went on by himself to end the first half, because teammates are for turbo-nerds. He has missed one free throw this month.

Can the Ducks beat Wisconsin?
Probably not. The Ducks have only two rotation players taller than 6’6″, which is going to be a huge problem, because they’ll have to figure out a way to stop 7’0″ Frank Kaminsky, and The Tank will have at least three inches on anyone that tries to check him. The only team Oregon has faced this year with a talent level that compares to WIsconsin is Arizona, and we covered the results of those games previously.

Is that Donald Freaking Duck?
Yup it sure is. Oregon has had a handshake agreement with Disney since the 1940s to use the exuberant little water foul as their mascot. The reason they did this is because Oregon is filled with very weird people that don’t know how to develop a brand very well, and when they tried to make up their own mascot they came up with this:

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What is the best case scenario?
The Badgers don’t allow Joe Young to get any kind of rhythm going and Kaminsky continues to avoid foul trouble and dominates the game as Wisconsin opens up a sizable lead early that never drops  below double digits after halftime.

What is the worst case scenario?
The Badgers’ shots won’t fall and Young goes off for 40 in a performance that mirrors the game Maryland’s Dez Wells dropped on the Badgers in one of their three losses. Disaster strikes as the Badgers’ dream season ends in Omaha when Keonig’s game-tying three bounces off the back of the rim. Sam Dekker elects to forgo his senior season and enters the NBA draft.