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Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Beauty of Ugly

I'm not much of an NBA fan, I like basketball, not the glorified street hoops it's become. The NCAA tourney, on the other hand, I like. You get to see a ton of teams who never get TV time otherwise, If it's like Friday, where the four lower seeds in Tampa won, you get to see some great upsets.

The big thing, though is you get to see basketball played by a lot more teams on the court than in the NBA. The Wisconsin Badgers are one of the ultimate teams in what many people like to think of as an individual sport anymore with four other guys around the indivdual.

OJ Mayo and Michael Beasley, two great freshmen players are gone from the tourney, OJ because Beasley had help at Kansas State to beat USC. Beasley because he didn't have enough help to beat Wisconsin. They were the talk of the tourney, how far could they take their teams. The answer, not far enough, because they really don't have teams. They have a guy (two in KSU's case) and some roll players out there to fill the roster.

Wisconsin is never a glamour pick in the NCAA Tournament, usually they are the team picked to leave kind of early. But they are in their 2nd sweet sixteen in the last 4 years. Kevin Blackistone on ESPN's "Around the Horn" picked them to lose in the first round to Cal State Fullerton, because they hadn't played such a high scoring team all year, and wouldn't know how to defend them. They held Fullerton to 56 points (26 below average); Blackistone had it backwards, Fullerton didn't know how to play against a team defense, something few teams see a lot of anymore.

Against Kansas State pundits picked Wisconsin to lose because of KSU's one two punch of Micheal Beasley and Bill Walker, probably both going to the NBA in the next draft. Wisconsin has no one following that route according to conventional wisdom; and won again with a defense that frustrated, and an offense that may have frustrated more. They don't take many bad shots, and eat clock like it's candy on Easter Sunday.

KSU players after the game admitted that once they were down they sometimes felt desparate, because Wisconsin didn't give a lot of extra shots. Zero fast break points is a telling stat, so is 0-13 from beyond the arc. That's a lot of 3 point shots to take, and when they don't fall it generally means the other team gets the ball, and more of that clock candy to eat.

Bo Ryan, Wisconsin's coach was asked about how they decided to defend Beasley and answered "Same defense, same everything. If we changed what we did against him, we'd probably lose by 20. We do the same thing we've done every year against every team." The 31-4 record this year, when they were picked to finish 5th in the Big 10, shows that the system is important.

One of the questioners at the KSU post game press conference seemed to get that when he asked Coach Frank Martin what Wisconsin did to them, since they seem to do it to everyone.

That's the beauty of Bo Ryan's "ugly" system. It doesn't matter who you play, you play your game, not theirs. Very few teams have taken them out of that system since Ryan arrived, because he make his players believe in the system, not their own stats in the box score.

The system is not glamour ball, it's ugly sometimes, slow most times, and basketball the way it was meant to be played, with five guys working as one. I love it.

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