When you think about it, the badger is a pretty apt mascot for Wisconsin's sports teams. Badgers are gonna do what badgers do, because badgers are stubborn little bastards. If you're gonna fight the badger, you're gonna have to beat it at its own game. (Or run the heck away. They ain't fast.) So that's what the Hoos did.
There's really nothing pretty about two teams playing fundamentally sound, lock-down defense. When people say they want exciting basketball games, "exciting" is an old Latin word for "no defense." But there is a certain attraction to effort, poise, and baskets that really matter. Thus you have last night's game. On a very hostile court, Virginia silenced the crowd and looked like a veteran team. Even more enjoyably, they looked like a team that never thought they would lose. Nothing - absolutely nothing - that Wisconsin did rattled them. Not the defense they played, not hitting consecutive three-pointers, nothing. They out-fundamentaled one of the best fundamental coaches in all of basketball. I think Tony Bennett, somewhere along the line, figured out how to coach.
Also somewhere along the line, separately but also in the last two years, Joe Harris figured out how to play basketball. Harris plays better defense than he has in the past (or at least, he did last night) and has developed into one of those guys who just scores. 1-for-7 from three and he still racked up 22 points, and frankly I had no idea he was so bad from behind the arc last night. From his freshman year Harris has always had surprising ball skills, but sometimes a guy hits his ceiling and then tries to be the primary scoring option, and the results aren't pretty. Harris has taken to his new role exceedingly well. There was leadership in the huddle and during play, and it was something to see.
If Wisconsin is as good as I thought before the game, Virginia just earned its dance ticket. Basically all they have to do is go 9-9 in the conference, although beating Tennessee wouldn't hurt either. Remember, the committee is likely to discount the CAA losses since they came without a key player. I don't know if Wisconsin is that good any more. First off, their defense wasn't actually all that fundamentally sound after all. Maybe Virginia's just made them look bad by comparison, but they didn't help very well, allowed too many backdoors, and didn't close outwell on threes. And even as we were beating Wisconsin, one of Wisconsin's "good" losses (Creighton) was in the process of getting blown out on their own floor by Boise State. Boise might be pretty good, but it still doesn't speak well of Wisconsin.
Further thoughts in brief:
-- Thank you thank you thank you ESPN for finally hiring a woman announcer because she's actually a good announcer. Thanks to what you have foisted on us in the past, I now associate women with horrible announcing. Doris Burke may just reverse that; she is a smart cookie who knows hoops (how often do you hear any announcer talking about elevator screens?) and doesn't babble about stupid crap or get overexcited. I officially look forward to any game she calls.
-- Teven Jones made almost no impact on the stat sheet, but he really does pass the eye test, doesn't he? "Plays within himself" is the phrase that comes to mind. I don't know what his future is at point guard, since Virginia kind of recruited over him with Devon Hall and London Perrantes, but he'll be a big part of this season and looks like he'll make it very hard for anyone to bump him from the rotation in the future.
-- This combination of Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins looks like a real ace in the hole for Virginia. Everywhere I look I've seen Atkins described as "active." They've both figured out the whole "put the ball through the hoop" thing, and on defense, they almost completely neutralized Jared Berggren in the paint. Berggren was a nonfactor, at least down low where he scored only four points on two-point buckets, and it helped reduce Wisconsin to purely a jump-shooting team. Wisconsin players were credited with 18 rebounds; Mitchell and Atkins combined for 17.
-- I have game highlights! Here.
-- I also have some supplemental thoughts on the coaching staff situation at ITA.
-- I totally forgot, yesterday, to mention the ACC's lawsuit against Maryland, to try and collect every penny of the $52 million owed the conference. This is a smart thing. It's the only thing. There are some who'd say the ACC should just settle, but let's face it: settling is losing. There is no difference between getting zero dollars and getting $15 million; both put the future of the conference in much direr straits. I'm no lawyer, but I think the ACC has a strong case. Maryland's case will be that they voted against the exit fee; the ACC will probably counter with the fact that membership in the conference is an agreement to abide by the decisions of the majority, and no doubt they can point to instances in the past where Maryland benefitted from being on the winning side of a decision. For example, Maryland "forced" Duke and UNC to agree to allow Miami, BC, and VT into the conference.
-- Read ye this excellent article on the TV bubble that is driving the realignment bus. The A-bomb picture is a little overwrought, but still.