Friday, December 22, 2006


we are not in possession of any alibi. And neither are the Vikings, although they have some fine defensive players. Yeesh. As most readers know, the Packers managed to squeak by an offensively pathetic Minnesota Vikings team, 9-7 on Thursday night, with both teams performing terribly on offense. But maybe I'm being overly harsh. As we all should know, when one side of the ball is dominating the other side, oftentimes it's hard to tell how it plays out-- is the dominator (the one doing the dominating) really outstanding, or is the dominatee (the one being dominated) just awful. It's tough to judge, at least for this non-professional talent evaluator. Let's think back over the last game (I know, you may not want to) and see how it plays out.

First, our defense on their offense. Was it our dominating, or their terribleness? The Vikings did almost nothing, gaining 104 yards on 42 plays, a bit over 2 yards a play. They only passed for 27(!?) yards on 20 attempts, but ran the ball with slightly more success, averaging a decent 3.5 yards on 22 carries. Plus, off the top of my head, I can think of several good cut back runs that Chester Tyalor broke for about ten yards a pop. Hmm... So the way it looks from the stats and through cloudy-hindsight, our run defense was ok, nothing spectacular. Now the Vikes' pass offense, with true rookie Tavaris Jackson at the helm, was certainly shut down. But was this all because of us? Al Harris and Chuckie Woodson played solid games, and Kampman and the other linemen did a fine job keeping pressure on the rookie. But how many drops did they have? I can't find a stat for it, but I do remember that bomb earlier in the game where Troy Williamson was behind all of our DBs, failed to adjust to a well thrown pass, and tried to catch it off his left shoulder pad. Instead of a 50 yard pass play, just a standard incompletion. The Saucer (Klein-whatever) had a drop that initially looked like a good play by Hawk. Hawk also blew a great chance for a pick. And lets not forget the 'Queens had 10 penalties for 68 yards. Remember that one that wiped out another deep completion in the third or fourth quarter? I think it was an illegal procedure penalty. Based on this, I think we were a little more lucky than good. That is, our "success" against the 'Queens was more their inability to execute than our domination. I don't want to take anything away from the defense, many Packers had excellent games or made excellent plays-- Kampman, Jenkins, et al getting good pressure; Pickett's fine run defense-- scrambling down the line to grab Taylor on several different plays; Collins' fine tackle of a scrambling Jackson that stopped him from picking up what looked like a sure first down; Poppinga's manhandling of Jackson on a similar play (speaking of which, those plays definitively convinced me that Tavaris is not going to take us back to Dante Culpepper days of yesteryear-- there's no way Culpepper would get handled by Poppinga like that; a rookie Dante Culpepper would have got the first down). All in all, however, it looks like the Pack played a decent game, but against a offense that was clearly struggling. More them being awful than us being great.

How about our offense against their defense? I know our offense wasn't completely awful. We did manage to gain 319 yards, and the O set us up to score 15 points in total. (Rayner hit a field goal off the uprights and his plant foot slipped on another). But we had three turnovers, including two interceptions that looked just terrible, an utterly inopportune fumble, and should have had another fumble lost (the 'Queens player had a toe on the line when he recovered a Franks' fumble). Plus, we were absolutely terrible in the red zone and were completely unable to run the ball. Now, as to the latter issue, I'm willing to give it to the Vikodins on this one. Pat Williams is an awesome force, or at least annihilates our interior offensive line. His second cousin, Kevin Williams, also made our attempts at blocking look silly. Their linebackers, like E.J. Henderson, did a fine job of flowing to the ball. We missed some blocks, and had a down or two where it looked like there was miscommunication about where the play was going. But their run defense is amazing this year. Football Outsiders (this is an informed statistical analysis) has the Vikes with the best run defense in the league by an enormous margin. Even with a leaky pass defense, because their run defense is so outstanding, they still rank as the 4th best D in the league. Given all of this, I'm willing to give it to the 'Queens. Our run offense isn't great, but they made us look bad on the ground; we didn't do that to ourselves.

I think our passing game's struggles were due to our terribleness, however. Jennings and Favre look completely out of sync, and Greg needs a hyperbaric chamber to go with his blessed oil. Except for a blip of positivity against Buffalo, Greg has been out of it since hurting his ankle. Both of Favre's interceptions were on passes to Greg, and the first, returned for a touchdown in the 'Queens only score, was clearly on him. It was an unblocked blitz--Greg has got to be aware of it, and get ready to catch the ball quickly. He kept running his route like it was a normal play. Mr. Double-Headed-Donger, Fred Smoot, kept his eyes on Favre, said thank you very much, and took the ball back all the way. Favre's next interception was just him being pissed off and throwing it up. Even if Jennings screwed up there by stopping on the route and sitting down in an open area of the zone, it was still a dumb throw. Jennings isn't going to outjump Sharper for a bomb. 95% of the time, that's an interception or an incompletion. Jennings also dropped a clear 15-yard gain in the first half. He jumped up, had the ball, and let the covering back jar it out of his hands when he came down with it. We haven't even got to Bubba. Dear God, he looked abysmal. Fumbling twice, dropping catchable balls, only showing good running after the catch on the play where he fumbled as he was about to score a touchdown! Can you get less clutch? Argh!!! Just awful. Only Driver did anything, and they kept an eye on him this game, allowing him to catch short passes, but not break anything long. (He had 9 catches for 99 yards, irritating fantasy owners anywhere). And, he got hurt, going to the locker room dragging his right arm. It was a miracle that Favre was able to lay that nice long pass into Ruvell Martin's arms in the fourth quarter. Without that play, we lose the game, despite only giving up 104 yards on defense. Eeesh. Now Sharper played a decent game, I thought, and that corner of theirs, Antoine Winfield is one feisty midget. Seriously, how good a football player do you have to be to be a starting corner at Ohio State, sorry Ohio A&M, (where Winfield went to college) when you're 5'8"? He's a fine defensive back, who played an excellent aggressive game, and I wish he was on the Packers. But all in all, our passing struggles were our own problems. No one gets open consistently but Driver. When guys do get open, they aren't catching balls. There has to be a defensive breakdown and Favre has to make perfect throws in order for us to get big gains. If David Martin were healthy, that would probably help. But he's not, and hardly ever is. In all, I put the blame for our offensive struggles on us. We knew going in we couldn't run against them-- no one can. We would have to pass well, and as proven previously were capable of doing that, but didn't. We gave them their only points in the passing game, and couldn't hold onto the ball, even though Favre got good time to throw.

Finally, its not even debatable that our special teams problems (missed field goals, lousy punts, dropping downable punts, good punt returns called back on penalites), were our own fault. Bottom line--although the defense has been decent, we have not looked good since the win against the Niners. Our poor performances the past two weeks are not making me enthusiastic for a sneak into the playoffs. Yes, and that's because we'd get killed. (We have yet to beat any winning team). I wonder-- can anyone think of a less-impressive two game winning streak by the Packers?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pro Bowl and Bean-Town College

So the Pro Bowl announcements are in! What's that? There are two games (one/eighth of the season) remaining! What does that matter? They've been voting since the first month of the season. Two Packers made the cut-- Donald Driver at WR and Aaron Kampman at DE. Congratulations to them both.

It's time for some blunt analysis about what being in the a "Pro Bowl Player" really means. My theory is it comes down to two factors--either (1) you are having an outstanding statistical year or (2) you have an excellent reputation. Our selections made it as a reward for having excellent stats. DD leads the NFC in receiving yards, and Kampman is tied for 2nd in the NFL in sacks. Selections based on reputations are evident from other choices-- Tony Romo, for example, starter of only 8 games, made it because of his new reputation as "rejuvenator of the Cowboys."
Sometimes reputations for excellence are deserved, and sometimes they are far more the product of a merely good player being placed in the middle of a good team or a player coasting off of previous accomplishments. Lets consider Romo more closely. Apparently everyone ignored the fact that he stepped into the middle of a loaded offense (two good young RBs, two excellent veteran wideouts, a solid line and an excellent TE), and was merely less terrible than 34 year-old statue Drew Bledsoe. I do think he's a good player--but choosing him over Michael Vick is absurd. Vick will rush for over 1,000 yards this season (at 990 with two games left) and has already broken the season record for rushing yards by a QB. He has 19 TD passes to 11 INTs. Romo has 16 to 10. Hmm... those passing stats aren't comparable at all, are they? I know Romo's completion percentage is higher. But he has far better wideouts (Michael Jenkins vs. TO), and plays on a more talented team. Romo would look terrible if he were the Falcons' starting quarterback. I don't condone people wantonly spreading herpes either, but Romo's selection over Vick is silly.

Simiar to that is the selection of DeAngelo Hall. He's a talented young-ish cornerback, but he cannot shut down receivers like Al Harris. Hell, he's not even having that great a season. TO beat him for TDs twice on Saturday night. He's tied for 14th in the league in interceptions, well behind Charles Woodson. Even comparing Hall to Al via raw stats, Al has one fewer interception but more passes defended. Hall made his reputation last year when he had 6 interceptions, reinforcing his rep as a first-round draft pick, and seems to be coasting off it this season. Al and Vick got screwed, as did many other deserving players, like Roy Williams (the one remaining great player on a terrible Detroit team) and Terrell Owens (who's reputation actually worked against him). Hopefully, someone will get mildly injured, and Al will make it as an alternate.

In addition, I love our guys and I think DD and Kampman are good players and fine teammates, but raw statistics are overrated. DD is our only good receiver (Jennings was getting there until he got hurt), and we don't have a very good running game, so he should catch a lot of passes. Plus, we played a lot of teams, like Detroit and Minnesota, that run mostly zone, allowing players to avoid tough man-to-man or bump and run coverage, but preventing big gains. Hence his high number of receptions (80), but limited number of TDs (7). DD's biggest plays have come against blown zone coverage, when he's been able to take a short pass, find a hole in the zone and blow past safeties. It's these highlight, catch-and-run plays that propelled him into the Pro Bowl. He has not made many big plays when matched up one-on-one against decent cornerbacks. He has good stats beause he's our one solid wideout and we've been forced to throw a lot against teams that play zone. Plus, he's broken a few big plays. Is he as good as TO, or Roy Williams, or even Plaxico Burress? I doubt it.

I'm also dubious about Kampman's stats, although I'd have to go back and see how many came on linebacker blitzs or plays when he chased down a QB flushed by another player, and how many were the product of his individual effort against an offensive tackle. Kampman's got a great "motor"-- meaning he rarely gives up on a play (he may lead all defensive lineman in tackles made 5 yards or more past the line of scrimmage, in the wrong direction)-- but I think he lacks the raw talent to beat a good right tackle on most passing downs.

The bottom line is this: would I trade DD and/or Kampman for players that did not make the NFC Pro Bowl team? In regard to DD, hell yes; Kampman, probably. And if you can say or wonder about that with your own "Pro Bowl players" something's fishy. Now I love DD, especially for his quickness, resilency, and energy. But I'd trade DD for Roy Williams or Larry Fitzgerald in a heartbeat. I'd probably even trade him for Plaxico Burress or Darryl Jackson. And I think I'd trade Kampman for Mike Rucker, Osi Umenyiora, or Patrick Kerney. Those are just guys who didn't make the NFC team, and this is a year when everyone agrees the AFC is the stronger league.
So what I'm saying is, this whole process is flawed. They start soliciting votes far too early, and don't base it on the entire season. Injured players who have great first halves and miss later portions of the season (paging Donovan McSchnabb), get left out, while players who are fresh in people's memory (Romo) get rewarded. Players who are in small markets and don't put up big stats (that's you Al!), similarly get hosed. And unweighed statistics are unreliable.
I guess this is what happens when you get a bunch of players, who only watch tape of their opponents or Sportscenter, and coaches, who ONLY watch tape of their opponents, voting on this stuff. Maybe the NFL could take the additional advertising money it makes from stringing out replay challenges (turning them into intensely inefficient, momentum-sapping commercial breaks-- hey guys, you ever watch college replay? It takes half the time and is just as effective!) and use it to hire a dozen retired scouts to watch every game and select the teams.
I'm hoping the All-Pro team is a better indicator of who the great players in the league are.

The other Packer related news, besides the impending Thursday show-down with the ViQueens that much of Wisconsin will have to go to a bar to watch, is that our offensive coordinator, Jeff Jagodzinski, has been hired to be the head coach at Boston College. It's tough to know what to think about this. The general coverage has been he-was-brought-in-to-teach-zone-blocking-all-that-matters-is-whether-someone-can-take-over-that-role. I guess that makes sense given that McCarthy is an offensive coach who calls the plays, and seems very involved in the offense. And if you consider the output on the field to be indicative of someone's job performance, our offense has not been stellar this year. Football Outsiders ranks our offense 21st overall, and our rushing attack 22nd (the run game appears to be largely Jagodzinski's responsibility). This doesn't take into account lack of talent or experience, or injuries, however. And we're having issues with all three of those categories this season. Also, from my subjective evaluation, I did miss the Arizona game, where we allegedly ran wild. Thus, it's hard to gauge his effectiveness this season or determine what the loss to the team will be. I feel comfortable saying that if we develop into an excellent zone-blocking team in future seasons, Jagodzinski can probably take some credit for providing the foundation.

On an intra-coaching staff level, it was nice that McCarthy supported and encouraged Jagodzinski's career advancement. Specifically, when asked on his TV show about Jagodzinski interviewing for the BC job, McCarthy said "Personally, it's exciting for him. But professionally, I think it's a great opportunity. We wish him luck and we'll help him out any way we can." That's an incredibly supportive stance for a boss to take when one of his key assistants is interviewing for another job. Working for a person like that, who encourages you to follow your professional aspirations even if it means losing your service, is a neat thing. Hopefully, establishing a reputation as a coach who promotes his assistants will help McCarthy attract good coaching talent.

I know this-- I'll be pissed if Jagodzinski starts outrecruiting Wisconsin (Matthew Shaughnessy was down to UW and BC, for example). Back off the Bucky recruits, Coach Jagodzinski.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Neat Article about #4

So, as I undaringly predicted, the Men's Basketball Badgers have surged into the top five in both polls, ranked #4 in the AP, and #5 in the USA Today/Coaches. The Journal-Sentinel did an interesting job of covering this quasi-historic event: by actually interviewing AP voters, focusing on those who ranked the Badgers very high or quite low in comparison to the median. Some voters, it turns out, still have the Badgers below Pitt in the rankings, despite us beating them by 14. One guy gives a legitimate rationale-- Gray was sick, and the game was in Madison, and I think if Gray was well and the game was on a neutral floor, I'd favor Pitt by a point or two. He ranked Pitt one above UW. If you really believe that Pitt was that rattled by the Kohl Center crowd and that Gray would have played better but for his illness, then I buy that. But two AP voters had Pitt six spots above UW. The Journal-Sentinel reporter gets a response from one of these voters. Read it for yourself here, and see if her explanation makes any sense. I have trouble buying it, and upon discussing it with a colleague, he advocated for taking that voter's voting credential away from her. (I'm inclined to agree).

Anyhow, in my previous experience, I've seen lots of articles about rankings where individual AP voters who submitted atypical votes are listed by name and publication. But until today, I'd never seen an article about rankings where these voters were actually asked to explain their votes. Fascinating. Well done, MJS and Mark Stewart, the UW basketball beat writer.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


So I assume anyone reading this watched UW freak out on the Panthers of the University of Pittsburgh. Good lord, that game ruled. As may have been apparent from earlier posts, I was pessimistic. But they did it. Quacktastic.
What a weird game. For a team that usually spreads the scoring around outside of A-Tuck, we operated almost like an NBA team--going with the guy that's hot. A-Tuck, Butch, then Kam, then A-Tuck. The most any other player scored was 5 points-- that was the Hoft, all off of free throws. Flowers- 0 points. Landry- 3 points, off one 3-pointer. Wild. And it worked. Everyone else contributed by playing solid D and not getting demoralized when Pitt was nailing all their contested shots in the first half, and by taking care of the ball and rebounding as well as we could against a big, athletic team. Though Flowers and the Hoft were killing me with some of those free throws toward the end, it was a team effort. Sometimes you have to play your part and let the guys who are feeling it take the shots.
It was also very pleasing to see Butch get quality shots off against Gray; I was dubious about his ability to score against another good big man. (I remain dubious about his ability to do anything against Oden). Also, after plays where A-Tuck would make a very heady maneuver look easy and natural-- cutting by his defender to take a pass for an easy bucket, grabbing a loose ball and throwing in a contested layup without pausing to think-- I found myself thinking about how rare a player he is, and how much we'll miss him next year. Yeesh. Must live in present.
The end result of this: the Men's Basketball Badgers are soon to be ranked higher than they have ever been before. According to various reports, #6 is as high as we've been in the team's history. Since we are currently 7th, and just beat #2 by multiple possessions, likely we'll fly into the top five, ahead of teams like Duke and Kansas. Crazy. Plus, if Pitt performs as expected in the Big East (they're predicted to win the league), come NCAA seeding time, we could get some serious boosts, even if we lose to OSU repeatedly. Knock on wood for everyone's continued eligibility and health, and enjoy the ride that this historic UW team is giving us. (Was that homoerotic or what?).

Alright, now to the Nays. The Packers managed to triumph in a terribly ugly and poorly played game against the Detroit Lions this afternoon. Favre threw 3 picks, taking a large step closer to the career interception record, and actually exceeded Jon Kitna's own turnover-based incompetence. (Favre also screwed me personally by throwing a total of two passes in Greg Jennings' direction-- Jennings is my 3rd wideout in fantasy; he finished with 5 yards on one reception). We also had two fumbles, and committed 9 penalties.
The Pack only managed to win because Detroit outdid us in awfulness, performing pathetically on offense--142 total yards, giving up 6 sacks, coughing up the ball thrice, only giving their best remaining (i.e. non-injured) player, Roy Williams, two touches. (He was also on my fantasy team, and since I got a total of one point from two of my WRs, unless Larry Johnson and Marvin Harrison fumble a combined two dozen times tonight and tomorrow, I will be eliminated from the playoffs).
Favre's poor decision making was quite evident, often gunning the ball into heavily covered receivers, and failing to see much more open targets. Plus, why didn't he throw to Driver more? Detroit's defensive game-plan was apparently to let DD run free through the defensive backfield. As a result of so many poor decisions, McCarthy was visibly angry with Brett, perhaps for the first time.
And what was the end result of this dilapidated double-wide of a game? Pushing Detroit, a division rival, into a tie for the first pick in the draft. And we're now in a tie with 6 other teams for the 9th pick of the draft, which means if it happened today, we could pick as low as 15th. Yick. And our other two games are against a very iffy Vi-Queens team at home, and then against the Bears' second string. We could finish at .500, and be drafting in the late teens. If you find a superstar in the teens of the draft, you've gotten lucky, because most of those guys just turn out to be good, not great, players. And the Packers are in dire need of great players, because the only people on the team who are at all close to that label are in the downslope of their professional careers.
So yea, we beat an absolutely terrible division rival. But nay, say the soothsayers, pack away the party hats: our penchant for winning late in the season, when playoff chances are mathematical delusions, will screw us for years to come. I am such a Cassandra. Don't wheel the horse inside the gates, you morons!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

We Better Not Storm the Court

Yes, i'm jinxing the game, but I don't care. This is bigger than that.
No fans of a team in the top 10 (top 25 really) should be storming the court when they beat someone at home that isn't ranked #1. And even then, it should be a pivotal game in their season.
I remember storming the court after we beat Minnesota in 1997. They were ranked #2 at the time. It was the last game of the season and helped us get the 8 vs. 9 matchup in the first round of the tournament. We lost to Texas. I'm still embarassed about it. Yes it was a big win and an exciting game (Ty Calderwood threw up the deepest most playground three ball i've ever seen to give us a 1 point lead with :04 left. We won 66-65), but it was Minnesota. Of course we should beat Minnesota. Bobby Jackson was good. In your face Bobby Jackson. But they are a conference rival. We should beat them, cheer, and go get drunk. More drunk.
If you're Wisconsin, you should enjoy beating #2 ranked Minnesota (at home), but don't go storming the court. That's a little excitable. A little needy. A little much. Nothing puts storming the court in perspective like a little perspective.
They went to the Final Four, and I don't think Jackson ever asked Calderwood to, "run that one back".
I love college basketball because there are so many great matchups. The teams that you want to see play each other usually do. Rivals play and upsets happen. Actually they happen all the time, all year. This is why the court storming thing is so tired. It seems forced.
Relax, Western Central Foothills Academy, Seton Hall is still trying to figure out where the hell their sleeping tonight.
Who stormed the court for Athletes in Action? Nobody.
And how excited can the Northern Iowa student section possibly get about beating Arizona State? It's December! Oh... your ticket stub's good for free Dilly Bars? Alright then, there's the other teams assistant coach go give him a reason to blast your face with his elbow.
So when we kick the crap out of Pittsburgh (the team that ended our season 2 years ago and beat us last year and that we already owe an ass-kicking) today, i hope our fans don't storm the court. That's the kind of shit the 0range crush does.
Jason Johnsen

Friday, December 15, 2006

Free Jackie I. and the Pitts

First, breaking news. According to the UW itself, the Badger's All-Big Ten cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu has been reinstated to the football team. Now since I currently kind of earn my living in law enforcement, and am a current and definitely future quasi-judicial officer, I should tread lightly here. I am not one to be soft on criminals. In particular, I think the sentences for sex offenders should be far longer than they currently are (then you could avoid involuntarily committing people for "treatment"), and I think "good time" systems-- where someone gets sentenced to 20 years but gets out in ten because they only verbally (not physically) abused the prison guards-- are ridiculous. But if we're going to have a system, we need to let the system work the way it's supposed to. That means the criminal justice process starts with the assumption that you haven't done anything. There is far, far too much trial by media immediately upon arrest. It's basically definitively reported in the papers, that person X did terrible crime Y, and it's all fine because of the magical word "allegedly." That's normally thrown in after some visceral, detailed description of the crime. If I had my way, I'd say a crime was committed, describe the crime, say a suspect has been arrested, but not release the person's name or picture. So when they put out someone's name and picture with descriptions of dastardly deeds and the magic word tossed in, I know it's "educating the public" but lets remember it's also "tampering with the potential jury pool" and "convicting the defendant in the public eye before he or she has been found guilty of anything." Enough venting...
This applies to Jack's situation because of course it was widely assumed, based on his arrest, that he did whatever it was he was arrested for (for the record, the allegations are he and others broke into a house in Dekalb, IL and took a PS2). But he hasn't been proven guilty of anything, and the public defender in his case made, what I thought was, a very strong statement about Jack and his brother's innocence. That, plus his reinstatement upon the University's further review of his situation, bodes very well for his criminal case. I guess what I'm saying is he hasn't been proven guilty of anything yet, and I'm hoping it turns out that he didn't do anything wrong. If he really did it, he should be punished accordingly. But the signs, I think, point to the case being sketchy. (Yes, I have contemplated that his reinstatement may mean nothing except that UW is overly lenient with high profile student-athletes, especially when big games are impending).

Back to the the hardcourt. I'm unsure about what to say about the Pitt/Wisco match-up that will be going down on the morn in the Madtown--tipping off at 11 am Central. Clearly, it's one of the biggest games of the year, a list which includes the Marquette, OSU, Sparty, Indiana and FIB games. And next to the papists, the Pitt Panther (so nice and alliterative) showdown will be our toughest non-conference contest. And, depending on what OSU does against decent opponents, currently #2 ranked Pitt could be our highest rated opponent this season.

But will it be our toughest game this season? We do play at Georgia, OSU, Illinois and Indiana. We also have a fine home record, despite the loss to NDSU last season, and Aaron Gray, the large semi-mobile centerpoint of the Pitt team has strep throat and his status "is in question." I think that means he'll play but probably not have the greatest endurance. Also, apparently one of the players that would usually attempt to guard A-Tuck, Sam Young, has tendinitis in his knees. (I can sympathize). Still, if we're throwing around factoids, Jaime Dixon (that's the coach of the Pitt Panthers, sorry, it rolls off the tongue), has yet to lose a game in December as coach of his team, his team returned 8 of its top 10 players from last season (they won 25 games last year), and is currently undefeated, sitting at 10-0.

How do we compare to the team from the lovely Burg of Pitts? Performance-wise, our non-conference schedule has been slightly tougher. Both teams beat Florida State, Delaware State and Auburn. Pitt's win against Auburn was at Auburn, while ours was in South Father Island, TX, and they beat Delaware State by more. Pitt's other victories are over Western Michigan (3-9), Northeastern (2-6), UMass (9-2 and who just beat Louisville), Oakland (of Michigan) (6-6), Robert Morris (5-3 but 0-2 in their conference the NEC--isn't this a brand of TV?), Duquesne (lousy at 2-6--just lost to West Virginia by 30), and Buffalo (6-4, generally thought of as a solid mid-major).

Most of these victories have been by double digits, though they came close to losing to Buffalo at Buffalo just a few days ago. Whether that close win fires them up, or rather is demonstrative that they can be had, I don't know. As may already be apparent, I actually don't know much about Pitt, besides the facts that (a) they have an enormous white dude, Aaron Gray, who may be even slower than Butch but is bigger with better post moves; and (b) many of their players are from New York, specifically Brooklyn and the Bronx. I think that means they have more of a claim to being from "the Street" and specifically may have more "Street Cred." Joking aside, my general understanding is that they have lots of big athletic folks who play good defense, and that they are, like us, a deep team. Gray is their leading scorer, but lots of other guys (once again, like us) are around 10 points/game. Their second leading scorer is Mike Cook, a 6'4" guard who sat out last season after transferring from East Carolina and who may attempt to guard Alando. Gray rebounds like a fiend, but they actually beat UMass handily (perhaps their best win so far) with Gray only playing 17 minutes. Not sure what else to say, and giving an in-depth match up analysis would require so much computer time that my wife would make me sleep outside.
Thus, I will leave forecasting and in-depth profiling in the hands of other more knowledgeable folks, although many of the quasi-professionals seem ig'nint about the details, too. Is it possible that each team is so deep, no one can do a legitimate preview because it would require too much research? Such a task is beyond me, at the least. I will say that the Panthers have a good inside attack, and thus to counter such things, hopefully the Stiemer will stay out of foul trouble and see plenty of game time. Same for Landry. I bet we see a lot of big lineups from Bo, with the Hoft or A-Tuck playing the 2, and only one traditional "guard" on the floor. Maybe a triple towers look of Butch, Stiemer and J-Cheezy? Or an alternate "big" lineup of Flowers, A-Tuck, Landry, Stiemsma and Butch? One can only dream... We'll need a bunch of folks to have good games, and if we're not moving the ball around well on offense I wouldn't be surprised to lose by several possessions. Hopefully, that won't be the case.
Anyhow, here's what I've discovered out there, and Sconnie represent:
- Brief Sportsline discussion (about halfway down)
- PA coverage
- More PA coverage
- ESPN piece about a 6'10" Canadian senior on Pitt, labeled a "glue guy" (the Hoft also makes the list)
- Best Preview so far: Rivals game of the week coverage (no subscription needed for this one)
- College Hoops Net coverage is solid as well.

Final note, we may not be able to take this game. Pitt is deep, experienced, well-coached, and more athletic overall. They haven't played a ranked team yet this season, however, so they are somewhat untested. I think we can win this game, but certain players, like Stiesma, Flowers, and perhaps Pop Hughes, will have to step up. And no one crucial can have a bad game. Yee gods, I hope we can do it. If we can, it'd be a huge win for this year's team and the program, and vengance for last season's defeat and the loss in Milwaukee in DevI's last game.
I say theme of the weekend: "the legend of the rent was way hard core!"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"In the year 2000..."

Over the past season or two, I've found myself thinking about the future-- specifically, who will replace Bo at UW. Not that I want such a thing to happen anytime soon, it's just that Bo has already had a long career and is in his late 50s.

Last season, my eye fell to Rob Jeter, the current coach at UW-Milwaukee. Of course, this is an easy way out-- Jeter is a Ryan disciple, having played for and coached under Bo for years. Jeter runs "the swing" just like Bo, meaning the team's strategic focus wouldn't have to change. Plus, given their close relationship, it would be akin to Bo naming a successor, Barry-style.

First, purely based on the team's success last season, Jeter can coach. I know he took over a team that Bruce Pearl coached to the Sweet-Sixteen (one game further than they went last season) and that returned a lot of starters. Nonetheless, he put in what appears to be an entirely new system, the team bought it, going 22-9 overall, but going 12-4 in their conference and winning the Horizon League tournament. Plus, their second round tournament exit was at the hands of Florida, last year's national champion, and they beat Kelvin Sampson's Oklahoma team in the first round. Jeter's abilities are currently being put to the test in a different way this year, as the Panthers lost nine scholarship players from last season. They've started the year 2-9, and may be easy fodder for the Badgers this evening. If they rally as the season goes along (hopefully not tonight against Bucky), I think that'll be a good sign in re Jeter's coaching prowess.

Second, and this is the weakest reason, which is why it's in the middle, he's a Wisconsin guy. Though Jeter's from the greater Chicagoland area, he went to UW-Platteville, coached with Bo at Platteville, UW-M, and Madison, and is now back in The Good Land, fronting the Panthers. It'd be nice to have someone committed to the state, like Bo, who views being the Wisconsin coach as, if not the pinnacle of a career, than as a seriously awesome job. Yes, I admit it, I'm afraid of overly qualified coaches like Stu Jackson coming in, having some success and swimming off to feed in higher profile/paid waters.

Third, I believe that Jeter is a good recruiter. Of course, the only way to prove/disprove this is anecdotally, so here goes. Although I love Trevon "Pop" Hughes, Mr. Basketball in the state of Wisco last year was Jerry Smith, a young man who is currently a freshman at Louisville. He explicitly said that he would have come to UW, but Jeter taking the job at UW-M caused him to balk; after Jeter left, Smith looked around some more and then eventually headed down to the birthplace of Cassius Clay. Apparently, Smith and his parents really liked Jeter. Smith is averaging about 9 points a game for the Cardinals this season.
A further example-- the best high school basketball team in Illinois this year is a Chicago Public League team from Simeon High School. Simeon won the state tournament last season. They have the best player in the state, Derrick Rose, who is heading out of Illinois to play college basketball (like many of the best players in Illinois in recent years, knock on wood) . Rose will play one or two years at Memphis before jumping to the pros. Simeon also has two other stars, both of whom have taken over games when opposing teams focused their defense on Rose. Both are going to UW-M next season. One, forward Tim Flowers, had scholarship offers from USC and Temple (the other is Kevin Johnson, a 6'6" forward).
Time will reveal how these players, and others, pan out for Jeter, and whether he's capable of developing them and bringing them together to create a successful team from scratch. But if he can, especially at a commuter school like UW-M, you'd think that would bode extremely well for his abilities. Something to keep an eye on, and another reason to cheer for an in-state school, at least when they're not playing Bucky.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Meaningless Wins...

So I think that when you're a bad NFL team, and you manage to win games toward the end of the season that do not put you in the playoffs or take your opponent out of the playoffs, you hurt yourself in the long run.
People more knowledgeable than me, like Mr. Christl at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who has been covering the Packers since the 80's, feel differently about it. Now he advertises the strong argument in favor of losing games--that the best players are usually taken high in the draft and never become free agents. But Christl and other "football insiders" still believe that a team must try to win every game, no matter how much that lone win might harm their potential long-term success. (One win can make a huge difference--think of the third and fourth picks this year-- Vince Young and D'Brickshaw Ferguson). I think the rationales for winning no matter what go something like this:
(1) winners try to win all the time, and will never, ever not give it their best;
(2) winning any game helps teach younger, developing players how to win;
(3) playing lackadaisically or trying to lose on purpose with an eye toward your draft status is totally unethical and will "kill the soul" of your team;
(4) players have to play hard because they have no job security and are playing to stay in the NFL;
(5) similarly, coaches have to do the best job possible every time out, because they have no job security and are in constant try-outs for other jobs...
And so on and so forth. I understand these rationales, and if I were inside the organization or an assistant coach worried about my livelihood and my family, I'd certainly buy into them. But as a fan, I get to advocate for whatever makes sense to me, personally. If I was on my deathbed and wouldn't live to see another season, I'd root for the Packers to win every game now. Since I think I have at least a few decades left, barring some unfortunate accident involving a bus, a pushcart and several dozen mangoes, I choose to pull for my team to lose because I see that our best players are in decline. The question I find myself asking is: do I want the Packers to be moderately bad now and mediocre in the future, or really bad now and good in the future? I'll take the latter any day.
I especially feel this way because our wins are not coming by way of the efforts of developing young players. No, several guys over or pushing thirty were largely responsible for this win-- Favre, DD, Green, Harris (pushing Gore out at the 2), and Woodson. I didn't see the younger guys making big plays, and although the interceptions by Hawk and Collins are good signs, both looked like they were due more to Smith than their extraordinary efforts.

Unfortunately, my "root for draft status" philosophy may have already be for naught. Here's what I believe the draft order would be if the season ended today:
(1) Detroit
(1) Oakland
(3) Tampa Bay
(4) Cleveland
(4) Houston
(4) Washington
(4) Arizona
(8) San Francisco
(8) Green Bay
(8) St. Louis (if they lose to the Bears tonight)
So we're tied for the 8th pick right now, and could pick as low as 10th. Yeesh. Leinart was picked 10th this year, and the jury is still out on him in a big way. In 2005, Mike Williams, still inactive for the Lions, was taken 10th overall. In '04, the Texans drafted the poster-child for back to basics school reform, Dunta Robinson (he claims it's pronounced Dante), a CB from South Carolina, with the 10th pick. Not that great of a recent track record. And the last medium-high draft pick of the Packers was? Da dum-- Jamal Reynolds. That worked out well.
And our remaining games are the Lions and Vikings at home, and then at the Bears, who might be resting starters. Even if we lose to the Lions at home (a terrible thought), the chances of jumping them in the draft sweep-stakes are thin. With that schedule we could be picking in the mid-teens by season's end! Is the 15th pick of the draft going to replace Favre or Green or Harris, all of whom could be gone this offseason? I doubt it. Trouble ahead, trouble behind.
Furthermore, we're already well below the salary cap, and if Favre, the highest paid player on the team, retires, we'll be even more flush. I'd much rather spend that money on a high draft pick who might turn into a franchise player than some overpriced free agent whose best years are already behind him.
A semi-final note: how amazing did Vince Young look on that run to end the game against the Texans? He's not Michael Vick fast, but he can't be much slower.
Finally, has anyone seen the Pitt men's basketball team play this season? I have not, but based on Worldwide Leader highlights Gray looks thicker, but potentially even less mobile than Butch. I say come Saturday, Bucky gives him the Randoph Stiem(sma)er...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

No Soup for the Papists

Whoop! What a wacky game. And hello Marcus Landry and Trevon Hughes. Way to rumble. Landry was clearly representing mad hip-hop and R&B flavor upon being back in the Good Land and performing in front of his people. 4 blocks in 20 minutes, new-found assertiveness by the basket. Wee haw!So let's discuss what the hell happened...

First off, Alando is the man, and is seriously able to take people to the basket off the dribble. Getting Barro in foul trouble, thus eliminating Moo's main interior defensive presence was likely a serious plus for UW. He had three fouls in the first half, and finished with four. The lanes were therefore open, and A-Tuck took Wes Jr. to the rack repeatedly. Why Crean didn't shift who was guarding Alando, I don't know. You'd think throwing a bunch of different people at him would prevent him from getting into a rhythm of sorts.

Second, when we were deep in the second half, and Bohannon hadn't hit the floor yet, I was certain that he was sick or something. And I thought, why that actually worked out well because Hughes (despite some bad turnovers, like the unnecessary charge against James) is playing great. But it turns out Bohannon was fine. Bo just went with Hughes from the beginning thinking that he matched up better with Moo's guards. Well done, Bo. An astute move that I wrongly believed you'd be afraid to make given Hughes' limited minutes. See this for a more thorough explanation.

Third, it was nice to see that our 3-point defense actually doesn't suck, and that we had just played against a bunch of teams that were on hot streaks. The proof/pudding is that Moo shot 3 of 19 on 3-pointers, in their own building. Even when people got temporarily open, we made a strong effort to fly out there late, at least giving them something to think about. And the "foul" called on Flowers during James three attempt in the closing minutes was Grade A Baloney Sausage. By the way, did anyone else notice that Ed Hightower was wearing patent leather hightops?

Fourth, though we had some lame defensive responses, particularly on tips and Moo's offensive rebounds, our help defense was outstanding. Landry, and his outsize wingspan, played their best game of the season. That's the guy we remember from last year. Stiemsma played well defensively, before starting to lay down the elbows. Goodness, I wish he could stay on the floor longer, but two turnovers (and offensive fouls no less) in six minutes is not a good rate, though he had two blocks as well. Overall, Moo shot 39% from the field, and we outrebounded them by 6. (That's probably an effect of them shooting much worse than we did).

Fifth, we still managed to win despite having a season high 22 turnovers. Looking at that stat alone, you'd think we wouldn't have come out on top, but somehow it happened, even though we only hit three 3s. Very weird. I guess our solid D, and Moo's poor outside shooting played a big part. As did Alando, who 59% from the floor. Moo turned the ball over 16 times, and Wes Jr. and McNeal fouled out, with McNeal and Barro being in foul trouble for most of the game. Since they're a pretty shallow team at this point, that likely helped a lot.

Finally, the papist student section, perhaps suffering from irritability after camping our for the "best" seats, was quite foul-mouthed. Chanting our "f*** the Badgers" at one point, on national television. Not only naughty, but unoriginal, and something that will not curry favor with Disney-owned ESPN. It's things like that that make you wonder whether Marquette is a four year, accredited institution. I'm not saying their not, it just makes you wonder.

Next on the schedule, UWM and then Pitt, both at home. Thoughts on #2 ranked Pitt will come later in the week, but on a purely superficial basis, I think they can be had. Stiemsma can take Aaron Gray.

Packers play at 3 pm this afternoon in the city by the bay. I guess the game will show us whether (A) we'll see whether we were just getting our butts kicked by good teams the past three weeks, or (B) we're just plain bad. As noted before, I am looking for improvement in our youth (that means you Hawk, Collins, Jennings and linemen), but for drafting purposes, will not be upset if we lose. I will not be excited if we pull out a win because of Brett and DD and Al Harris. Those guys don't have much, if any, time left. I won't be seeing the whole game, because the wife is pulling me away to see Moscow Cats. Yeah, not joking.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Papists vs. Secularists

The Jesuits vs. the Jovials, Private v. Public (Pubic?), "The Good Land" vs. the Emerald City, Catholics vs. Agnostics, the Holier than Thous vs. the Hellions, Devotees vs. Divorcees, The Rhthym Method vs. the Morning After Pill, The Affectedly Pious vs. the Effectively Profanatory, yes it's Marquette v. UW time once more.
This one has the potential to be the best game in the series since Devin Harris and Dwy-ane (that's how he spells his name, folks) Wade moved onto the professional ranks.
Both teams are in the top 20. Both have exciting, athletic, dominant players-- Dominic James and A-Tuck. Both have been upset by scrappy mid-majors (although losing to a good Missouri Valley Conference team like Missouri State on a neutral floor is far less emabarassing than losing to North Dakota State at home--yes, I know we lost to them last year) and thus have something to prove. Both have high expectations within their respective conferences, and for the post-season.
So what can we expect?

If you follow the link to the Journal-Sentinel's website to the right, you'll see they do the lamest "preview" that one could imagine, basically saying "here is one player's stats and the stats of a player for the other team who plays the same position." Great, I could have looked that up myself in two minutes. What inquiring minds like me want to know is which team looks like it has the edge. What will the interesting match-ups be, and what should people look for?

The Big Ten Wonk (also conveniently linked to your right), makes some interesting notes about each team thus far. He notes that Marquette has been playing consistent defense, and their struggles (going to OT against Idaho State and losing to NDSU) were due in large part to wildy inconsistent offensive performances. He finds that Marquette, despite being a "guard oriented" team, doesn't take all that many 3s. He also concludes that Jerel McNeal, who has an outrageous number of steals, has been hurting the team overall because he shoots a low percentage and turns the ball over too often.
The Wonk also notes that Wisconsin is shooting well as a team this year, but not taking all that many three pointers. Butch and Krabbenhoft are rebounding machines, while our defense has been solid with the exception of allowing the highest three point percentage in the Big Ten thus far. What's interesting is that MU is allowing an even worse three-point shooting percentage, 39% to our 38%.

Bo was asked about our long-range defense after Withrop shot 60%(!!!) against us from distance, hitting fifteen(15) 3s. He replied that he had looked at the Withrop game tape, and that except for a handful of attempts, we were contesting their shots, meaning people weren't wide open, and that they were just getting lucky, I guess. The same apparently for the guy on Florida Internationl who hit 7 threes last weekend.
What does all this mean? Perhaps our "weakness"--allowing lots of 3s--isn't systematic, but just a product of dumb luck and the permimeter obsessed teams we've played (Delaware State, Winthrop, Missouri State). I predict that this will even out as the season goes along, and we play different types of teams. And for the purposes of this game, since Marquette doesn't shoot that many 3s, they won't be able to take advantage of this alleged "weakness" anyway. Good news.

But Sconnie fans should still be wary.
First off, the game is at the Bradley Center, where the Bucks play but where Marquette rolls out the extra special Al McGuire Court. Note to Marquette, having your own special memorial floor does not transmorgify that hardly-ever-sold-out characterless NBA venue into a charming, on-campus stadium. Regardless of these television-based pretend shenanigans, Marquette has the home court advantage. By my likely inaccurate count, they are 24-3 at home since the arrival of James, McNeal and Wes Jr., including a victory over UConn last year. Further, the home team has won the last five games in the UW/MU (moo?) series. Plus, UW's only loss this season has been on the road, and UW had a bad road record last year-- going 4-11, including tournament games. Hopefully, last season's on the road pants-crapping was a learning experience, and we can now strap on weens, and play with good teams in hostile environs.

Second, the teams have different strengths, but their area of strength may be more key. They have three (or maybe 2, if you think the Wonk's stats are right) fine young guards. In the game against Duke, James looked unbelievable, hitting all sorts of shots, driving, passing, doing a reverse dunk on a fast break (he's 5'11"). He scored 16 straight points against Valpo (Fuzzy Thurston's alma mater; he played basketball there as well). Que ridique. If James declared at the end of this season, I think he'd be a lottery pick. No one in UW's backcourt matches up with him talent-wise at this point (Hughes may well be as good in the long run). McNeal, while he may be a poor shot/turnover machine, is an excellent on-ball defender, who has twice as many steals as Michael Flowers (and doesn't it seem like Flowers has a lot?). Young Wesley, the former Spartan, is a bigger and better athlete than any of our guards. In comparison, Kam is a fine shooter when he's on, but he can disappear, especially against tenacious defense. I like Flowers' intensity, but I don't think he's as good a defender as we'd like to think he is, and I don't trust him offensively. Bohannon's heady, but has been more off than on in his shooting streaks. Bo hasn't "trusted" Hughes, or especially Perry, enough to give them seasoning, and they may both get shut out minutes-wise in this game. It's too bad, because I think had Hughes gotten more experience earlier this season, he could really have helped out against Marquette's backcourt. In conclusion, I would say that UW's backcourt does not match up well with Marquette's.
But Marquette's frontcourt does not measure up with UW's. Who on Marquette will attempt to guard Alando? If it's Wes, he should get posted-up repeatedly. If it's Barro (Marquette's lone athletic frontcourt player), Alando can lure him outside, leaving the middle open for Butch and others to attack the basket. Or Tuck can face him up, drive at him and get to the line. Also, if Stiemsma stops getting screwed by the refs, he could seriously shut down direct access to the basket, and Butch and the Hoft can clean the boards. Marquette's biggest body is hurt, and the other starting frontcourt player, Fitzgerald, is one of those "not that athletic, but can hit open shots" guys. The other two other guys with decent minutes are a true freshman, and senior James Lott, who seems to be more of a designated fouler. Barro did play well against Duke though, defending McChinnuts, sorry McRoberts well. But we should be able to blind them with science and numbers. I give the edge here to Alando, the Hoft, Butch, Stiemsma, Chappell, Landry and Gullickson.
However, the CW is that in college baskeball the backcourt dominates. Thus, with the backcourt advantage to Marquette, and with the game in Milwaukee, Marquette should be favored. UW needs someone to keep James under control-- a job that will probably fall to Flowers. Alas, I don't think Flowers will be able to stop him from penetrating, so he'll need good help defense. The worry is that we overcommit to James, enabling other guys to beat us. That will be the struggle on defense, I predict. If the Wonk is right, then we should funnel the ball to McNeal on offense, have Flowers tightly shadow James and the Hoft blanket Wes, thus allowing McNeal to take bad shots and turn the ball over. Ha, statistically informed genius!
On offense, I expect our guards to struggle, with Kam getting D'ed up hard by McNeal. Despite the Wonk's belief that he's an overall drain, unless we enact my funneling idea and encourage him to go one-on-one against the world, this could be a game where his defense makes up for it. Sadly, I have my suspicions about Kam, especially against strong, aggressive guards. Alando will have to perform well, and he usually does in big games (knock on wood, please). Marquette is a relatively thin team, and getting free throws and putting Moo's players in foul trouble could be huge. If Barro or one of the three guards has to miss time because of fouls, Bucky could be ok. But if our guards take too many bad (read, partially blocked) shots, and turn the ball over before getting it to the bigs, allowing James and Co. to run the floor and ram it home, that's the game. As the former Spartan on North Dakota State related, if our guards can play decently, we can beat them.
So I say keys for Bucky: decent guard play, controlling turnovers, and getting in the paint and getting free throws. Funnel ball away from James to McNeal. Let the depth come through.
Keys for Moo-- harass the guards and prevent the ball from getting into the frontcourt. Look to create turnovers and press the ball whenever possible. Set up James to drive and dish. Keep Tucker out of the paint.

I was hoping to tell you what the line was, but try as I might, I can't find a comphrensible spread. The over/under is 135, though. Marquette's probably favored by about 5. Their victory over Duke was on national television, after all. Nice ranking system by the way. If the 11th ranked team isn't favored at the place of the 20th ranked team, what does that tell you about the rankings? Oh right, they're stupid and uninformed and designed to create news, not to do anything useful.

Anyhow, go Bucky! Down come the papists! Out come the knee pads! We shall dine at the Three Brothers in celebration! Schlitz shall be guzzled, and premarital genital intercourse, with contraception, shall be had!

Links to semi-legitimate previews of the game:
On SI, Seth Davis rings in with an ill-informed opinion that the poor 3-point shooting percentage UW is giving up so far spells trouble against MU because of their guards. As noted above, that theory is stupid because (a) people have been more lucky than open, and (b) Marquette doesn't shoot many threes.
On ESPN, Andy Katz comments about the intra-state rivalry.
The kids at the Badger Herald talk about the Madison based roots of some of the players on both teams.
Mike Lucas traces the history.
Another Madison columnist talks to the Madison born former Spartan who has conquered both teams in the past 12 months.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

60%, Running the Ball & Records

60% is the three-point field goal percentage the UW Men's Basketball team allowed Winthrop University (located in temperate South Carolina) to shoot on Monday night. But we'll get back to that later.

First, I'd like to discuss what the hell is happening with the Packers. Our defense has played terribly over the past three weeks, and it's doubly weird because they managed to get turnovers in each game. Maybe it's because Bob Sanders, who is in his first year of being a defensive coordinator in any capacity, isn't very good at his job. I'm guessing that it's also partly due to having a secondary coach, Kurt Schottenheimer who has been proven to be terrible. In fact, Schottenheimer demonstrated that he was terrible at his job two seasons ago when he was doing a poor job of coaching what was largely the same group of players. It's bizarre he's even on the staff. Football teams are symbiotic creatures though, so much of the fault falls on the offense. If the offense can't hold onto the ball, then the defense keeps getting put back on the field. And during our current three game losing stretch (a stretch where we've also been missing Mark Tauscher, the lineman who was apparently doing the best job of the bunch), the offense has been pathetic. Conspicuous. So everything has gone to shitter.
In the last game, the trip to the facilities included throwing the ball nearly 50 times and running the ball just over 20. This excellent disparity led to a whopping total of 10 points. On TMQ on the worldwide leader's website, Mr. Eastercreek notes that on our 40 plus passing plays, the Packers averaged 4.1 yards and had three turnovers, and on our 20 odd running plays, the Packers averaged 6.5 yards and turned the ball over zero times. He then concludes that the Packers are throwing so often because the coaches are trying to have Favre break Marino's career touchdown record. I emailed him, noting that by calling so many pass plays in obvious passing situations (that is, when you're down 31-0), the coaches appear to be more interested in having Favre break the all-time interception record.
This exchange gave rise to several questions in my mind: (1) why are we passing so much of late, and (2) does the coaching staff care about Favre's career records?
I'm guessing the answers to the first question are: (a) we've been down a lot, and (b) every coach seems to believe that the only way to get back into a game when you're losing is by scoring quickly via the pass. But is that last premise true? You'd think that if you're down by less than two scores and there's more than 10 minutes left you'd be able to, or maybe if you're down a colossal amount of points at halftime (lets say 31, just for fun), you might run the ball and slowly score more points just to make the game less embarrassing. I understand that incompletions stop the clock, so passing takes less time and thus preserves more time for a comeback. But I think people need to stop with the "down more than one score, must pass" mentality.
For example, the Falcons, the best rushing team in the league, never managed to rally to win games because they stop running the ball and have Ron Mexico run 7 step drops play after play. Memo to Falcones coach-- Vick isn't that good of a passer, especially when the defense knows what's coming. If they ran the ball more, even when they're down, I think they'd have at least 2 more wins.
In our case, Eastercreek is just wrong when he states that the Packers run game was effective against the Jets. We had more than 2/3 of our rushing yards in the second half when the Jets clearly had an eye toward the airport. But I think the "don't go to the pass so much when you're down theory" still applies. If we're losing and the other team is in Nickle, screw it, find your gonads and run the ball until they go back to a base defense. Then pass. If you're worried about the clock, run sweeps.
Second, I don't know if the coaching staff thinks much about Favre's career records. It'd probably be nice for them if he breaks Marino's record because it would distract everyone from how bad this season has been and how all of our young players have plateaued or regressed in the past four weeks. And I'm sure they like Brett. After all, if it weren't for him we might be 1 and 11. But I think they're more focused on trying to win, or at least make the bad losses seem palatable. Everyone in the NFL is or should be constantly worried about their jobs, especially at fungible position coaching positions (position, position). Unless you're Matt Millen. Consider Sherman, former GM and Head Coach of the Packers with a career winning record and several playoff appearances, now offensive line coach on one of the least successful teams in the league. The mighty fall quite quickly, and I'm pretty sure that these guys are just trying to stay employed.

Now back to the male basketballing Badgers and their 60%. We're not talking about a game where Winthrop shot five 3's and made three. No, Winthrop shot twenty-five (25) 3-pointers, and made fifteen of them. That's 15 (giving you the numerals for emphasis). This set a record for any team at the newish Kohl('s Department Store) Center. And somehow the Badgers still managed to win. I don't know whether to feel good or terrible. Apparently, our perimeter defense can be terrible, and at times, Flowers, Bohannon, Taylor and the Hoft completely lose the ability to man anybody up. What good teams will we be playing that shoot a lot of 3's? Yes, that'd be Marquette and Ohio A&M (twice). Hmmm. By the way, we haven't won at the Bradley Center since 2001.
Maybe I'm being too gloomy. We beat a team that friggin' hit fifteen 3-pointers on us! Crazy! The stat line shows that we outrebounded them like crazy (40-18), and that, for once, we got a ton of offensive rebounds. And Flowers scored 21 points, potentially establishing him as another guy that can be a legitimate scoring threat. Before the game I'd have said that our only established offensive threats were Kam, Butch, and of course, Alando. Hopefully Flowers will give teams another guy to pay attention to. The first half of last season Landry was also establishing himself as one of those guys. He's got a lot less playing time this season, it seems, and thus had less of a chance to show off his stuff and work on his offensive game. Maybe Bo objects to the Horace Grant goggles. Later in the week-- secularists vs. the papists preview!

Monday, December 04, 2006

J-E-T-S box score

The Jets have a first year head coach. The Jets have recently retired one of the most prolific tailbacks in NFL history. The Jets starting quarterback had surgery on his rotator cuff in the off season. The Jets are a team facing adversity. I mean... they didn't lose their backup QB for the rest of the season with a broken foot or anything, but they are dealing with some difficult circumstances.

How do we get blown apart at home vs. the Jets?! I don't care if we were starting Sage Rosenfels and Lamar Smith, we aren't the Dolphins, we don't get blown up by the Jets at home! We should at least be able to grind out a punt fest.

i didn't watch the game. But i can tell you exactly what happened.

Jets kick. Packers return to the 24.

Packer ball- 1 yd run. Incomplete pass. Fumbled exchange. Jets recover.

Jets ball- 12 yd run. 2 yd. run. 8 yd pass. 2 yd TD run Leon Barlow.

Jets kick. Packers return to the 36 (YAY!)

Packer ball- Interception @ GB 48.

jets ball- 12 yd run. 2 yd run. 8 yd pass. 8 yd run. 18 yd TD pass Santana Moss.

Packers Kick. Packers fumble kick. Jets recover.

Jets ball- 9 yd run. four 10 yd runs. fumble. GB recovers.

Packer ball- interception returned for TD

Jets Kick- Packers return to 29 yd line.

Packer ball- 29 yd reverse D. Driver. 19 yd pass (Driver). Driver donates $50,000 to fight AIDS. Ahman Green Fumbles at the NY 21.

Jets ball- Run. Pass, pass, pass, HB option, Lavernious Coles touchdown. Fakes lambeau leap. Gets Boo'd.

Jets Kick- Field goal is good.


Mike McCarthy interviews Bonnie Bernstein for the defensive coordinator position. Kidding, Bernstein interviews McCarthy about how far apart his eyes are. Kidding, they'd never stick Bernstein with this game.
McCarthy yells at players.

Packers Kick- Jets return to NY 35. run, run, run. TD Ke'van Washington.

Favre plays 500 'till his arm hurts. Driver catches a bomb. Jets catch the rest. i guess we kicked a field goal.

Game Over

We suck.

Blog Over

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Uh Oh

So Wisco looked quite solid in its double-digit victory over Florida State on Tuesday night. It was great to see Taylor shooting well, and Alando and Flowers return from scary-looking injuries. And how about Stiemsma and Chappell? Both of them made great passes, and Stiemsma played his typically excellent defense.
Nonetheless, I'm worried, because I was just watching Ohio State run up and down the floor with UNC. Yeah, we're in trouble. I was hoping that a bunch of their freshman (like Conley or Cook) weren't really that quacktastic, and that without Oden they were a bit overrated. And that still may be true. But their players are ridiculously athletic and skilled-- a bunch of them look like they can make their own offense, and they all can shoot threes. All they seem to be missing is a solid interior defensive presence. Wait, that's Oden. When did 19 year-olds grow full beards? This season's match-ups with them could be serious trouble, and if we want to win the league we may have to beat everyone else.

Luckily, as the "Challenge" proved, everyone else can be had. Minnesota and Northwestern look terrible (can we please, please win at Northwestern?), Penn State and Iowa look passable but not great, Purdue appears decent, Indiana seems talented in part but ramshackle, Illinois is solid but underwhelming, Sparty's best player is Drew Neitzel, Michigan still can't play as a team. We should beat all of them, excepting a few likely slip-ups on the road. But OSU will be serious trouble (and could be two losses) given their talent and solid coaching.
Can some bigger coaching job at a non-football school open up so the unfortunate-looking, but highly effective Mr. Matta can be hired away? UConn or Syracuse, perhaps? Boeheim and Calhoun are old. Sigh... I guess we're in troule seeing as Matta signed some ridiculously long contract extension, and has a good recruiting class coming in next year as well. (Side note-- does anyone have a theory about Matta's sudden recruiting prowess? Are they buying kids with the old Troy-Smith-hundred-dollar-handshakes?)
Barring an NCAA investigation, I'm left with the hope that Matta'll have a lot of one or two year wonders who will abandon Ohio A & M College (the OSU's original name) for the allure of the professional ranks. If this Oden gentleman is anywhere near as good as he's supposed to be, I hope to hell that he only plays half a season. If that happens, and if OSU continually recruits so well that classes are all but gone by the end of their junior years, shouldn't there be some trouble from the NCAA regarding graduation rates and scholarships? I thought there was some sort of new program going into effect. (moment of silence while hunting around the internet)
Right, after poking around, it looks like penalties will hit teams that failt to meet a particular level of an NCAA-created measurement known as Academic Progress Rate (APR). APR is currently being applied to schools, and will gain teeth (schools wil start to be penalized) in 2007. The system penalizes teams with players that flunk out or are ruled academically ineligible. It only slightly penalizes teams who have players who leave during the school year, but were academically eligible when they were there. Get penalized enough, your APR slinks below a certain rate and you lose a scholarship.
Here's an explanation of scoring under the APR from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

So an athlete who stays eligible and enrolled at the institution for both semesters of a given year gets a total of four points. An athlete who was academically eligible but chose to leave the college (to transfer or to play professionally, say) in the middle of the spring semester would get three points, while a player who flunked out in the first semester would get zero points for the year.

So in order for schools to really eat it, players have to be academically ineligible while they're there. Your school doesn't get hurt much if players were academically eligible , but decide to turn pro, so leave school and fail to graduate. Uh oh, again. I'm pretty sure that a Ohio A & M, which also operates a large semi-pro football team, will be able to keep 12 people academically eligible.
And given Wisco's men's academic/basketball meltdown last season, and depending how retroactive the analysis is, we could seriously suck it next year because Stiemsma and Landry were both ineligible and DeAaron Williams was ineligible and left school. That's not many points in the APR calcuation. Trouble.

Maybe the solution to competing with recruiting factories is what I've opined about before(perhaps too optimistically; I hadn't seen Ohio A&M play yet)-- that excellent college basketball teams are usually led by talented upperclassmen. That is, a relatively talented fourth or fifth year senior will be more successful than a more talented but greener freshman or sophmore. That theory likely depends on how wide the gap in talent is. We seem to be recruiting decently, particularly with Trevon and Bohannon this year, so hopefully, if we keep people here and keep developing them, we can compete with the teams that are chasing around uber-talented one or two year loaners. But is an all white, all Wisconsin/'Sota recruiting class (incoming next fall) a little off-putting to anyone? I'm not a prejudiced douchebag, I swear, I just like alley-oops. Maybe if UWM starts to suck, we can rehire Rob Jeter.

Yeah, so I haven't mentioned the Packers. 80 plays on offense for the Seahawks! Four turnovers in the first half, one returned for a touchdown, and we still lose by double digits? Argggh! Who knew that Mark Tauscher was so key to our offense? And don't we have a defensive play that can stop "run left behind Walter Jones"? Hodge's touchdown play was hysterical, and probably made Barnett nervous, which may be why he's trying to play this Sunday with a cast. But he shouldn't worry that much. If Jeremy Stevens could hold onto a ball, a lot of folks would be complaining about Hodge.

And I can't decide which aspect of Favre's play toward the end of the game was more depressing--his terrible "what the hell" interceptions, or the dump-down throws he made after they gave him a talking to. I really do not want him to break George Blanda's record, not only because it'd be embarassing and lead to some coronation of Brett as "the ultimate gunslinger" but also because it's currently held by a Bear. The Bears deserve all the ignominious records they can get. But after his second pick, when he reverted to making meaningless 6-yard passes, he looked like a beaten dog. Maybe without Hasselback and Alexander we could have beaten them. With those two, Seattle's a pretty darn good team, and we're getting pretty thin all over (OL, WR, DB, LB).

Finally, I must honor a request to comment on Greg Jennings' curious habit of anointing himself with blessed oil before games. What can I say here-- it terrifies me when my public officials do this (see John Ashcroft), but for some reason I'm not bothered by rookie wideouts doing it, particularly when their fathers are ministers, and they're doing it as a superstitious injury prevention rite. I'm not certain why, but it seems more logical, and obviously far less dangerous, than child soldiers in the Lord's Resistance Army rubbing themselves with cooking oil in the belief that it repels bullets. And at least he's not charming snakes.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Spring Break in November

So this past weekend, the men's basketball badgers played in a "tournament" in South Padre Island, Texas. According to my older brother, who should know, South Padre Island turns into some insane sex-farm for college students every spring break-- the kind of place where Girls Gone Wild executive producers hang out. Not so bumping in November, however. Why this Texas-based tournament included playing two games against Delaware State and Southern in Madison, I don't know. (I'm guessing it has something to do with giving the Badgers the chance to charge admission to two additional home games).

The two games in Girls Gone Wild-land, played in what appeared to be a community college gym, were an indicator of the two ways this season can head. In the first game against Missouri State (aka Southwest Missouri State, remember that terrible first-round exit under Bennett in 1999?) on Friday, we learned what can happen when no one besides Alando steps up on offense. Mizzou-State bombed us in the first half, with this one squirrely guard shooting the lights out, running up a 19-point lead at one point. Thanks to some timely tenacity, we were able to close the game to 13 points at the end of the first half, and spent most of the second half on one of those typical Wisconsin "runs"-- not where we quickly score a bunch of points in a row, but where we prevent the other team from scoring much, and slowly work our way back in it. At one point, with about 5 minutes left, we had taken the lead, and were up by 5. Then we stopped scoring, didn't make enough stops, and missed key free throws, scoring two points the rest of the game. Despite all that, we still had the ball on the last possession of the game with a chance to tie or win it. Unfortunately, that possession, and the two immediately preceding it, were pathetic. We took the ball, sat around the top of the key, and someone shot a forced jumper as the clock got close to running out. Way to go team.

Bo said something about the team's offense like "one person has the ball, and the other four need to move" meaning, I suppose, that the team wasn't running its offense properly. When that's not working, we're in trouble. It looks like the only guy on the team right now who can consistently score outside the offense is Alando, and after we got back into the game, they did a fine job of taking him away. So the game proves the point--when no one else steps up offensively besides A-Tuck, we lose. Alando is clearly our best player, but against a decent team (and Missouri State is a solid team who may very well make the tournament this year), other people (Butch, Taylor, Flowers, the Hoft, etc) must hit enough of their shots to make the defense respect them in order for us to win.

The next game in the southern tip of the continential U.S. was against Auburn, and was a good example of the reverse. People hit their shots, specifically Taylor (16 points), Flowers and Bohannon (two 3's apiece), and kept the defense honest, although I imagine Auburn is a less disciplined team, defensively, than Missouri State, which won 22 games last season. Regardless, if we can consistently get contributions on offense from people other than Alando, I think we have a good chance to win most of our games.

That said, I'm a bit concerned about two things. One is the short hook. Bo consistently pulls guys who turn the ball over on offense. Once or twice and they're out. Stiemsma was playing well against Mizzou-State, making a serious impact on defense (he blocked two shots and forced several other misses), and helping key our second half rally. But at one point he pushed off a bit with his off-hand while trying to catch a post pass and was charged with an offensive foul. He was pulled, and ended up playing only 7 minutes total. He did have four fouls, I admit, and in 7 minutes that's a fast rate of fouling. But who cares if he fouls out if he's not even playing? His defensive presence was huge, and he made two nice lay-ups. I know possessions are precious, but when players are contributing in other ways I implore Coach Ryan to give Stiemsma a longer leash, and let him play through his mistakes. The same goes with our younger guards like Perry and Hughes.

Second, largely because of our inexperienced backcourt behind Flowers and Taylor, I think we're vulnerable to teams like Missouri State that have experienced guards and run a lot of three-guard sets. You'd think we'd be able to take advantage of that by playing someone like the Hoft or Landry, who are both athletic enough to guard a two, I think, and pushing the ball inside on offense. It looks like we did that a bit against Delaware State, where Butch was the only big guy to get any decent minutes, and Bohannon and the Hoft played big minutes. I guess it worked, although we only won by 12, at home. After watching Marquette ride a three guard line-up to victory over a solid (but relatively inexperienced) Duke team, I'm seriously concerned about not only losing that game, but looking bad. I suppose they'll be ranked higher than us when we play them, and the game's in Milwaukee, so a loss will be excusable, but man I hate losing to those guys. A significant loss would be terrible. Hopefully, James will bolt to the NBA after this season.

In Packer-related news, Tauscher is still out, which means our offense should remain ineffectual. This is bad because I'm counting on Jennings to do something tonight in my fantasy league. Also, all those people who were calling for Abdul Hodge to start after seeing him kill practice squad running backs in the Family Night scrimmage in August, get excited. Barnett is out because of a broken hand, and Hodge will be playing middle linebacker. My expectations for Hodge are some decent play against the run, but some iffy play against the pass, though he should get pulled in the nickel, which means Poppinga (uh-oh) will be running around the field on passing downs. Trouble. Though Seattle's been an odd team this season, very up and down and injury-riddled, and their running game is clearly missing Hutchinson, I think they should be fired up with Alexander and Hasselfront coming back. I predict a double digit loss, alas, although if Moll can shape up we should be able to run the ball on them a bit.

The biggest Packer related story of the past week is losing Rodgers to injury after a half of football. You've got to feel for the guy. He gets a half with a 3/5 rookie o-line against one of the best defenses in football, looks iffy and breaks his foot. Crap sandwich. He didn't get a chance to prove himself at all, and won't get another this entire season. For A-Rodg, I'm sure it feels like an entire off-season of work (he was up in Green Bay a lot, working out with McCarthy) was wasted. For fans and the team, we're both deprived of a chance to see whether he'll actually be a passable replacement for Favre, and the injury raises questions about what the team should do when the draft rolls around. It also highlights how absurdly durable Favre has been. Rodgers got a season-ending injury in his first half of football. Brett hasn't missed a start since the early 90's. Ridiculous.
This injury also makes Favre's health even more crucial. Before Rodgers went out, if Favre had been injured we would have gone to formerly great (now pretty good) player to inexperienced, but potentially good player. If Brett gets seriously hurt now, we'll go from pretty good player to player who shouldn't even be in the league-- a developmental fifth-draft pick from Furman or a player Thompson just signed off the street. Since the team is far from loaded talent-wise, our performance would likely go from "somewhat competitive" to "utterly terrible." I'm talking beyond "Sherman in 2004 against the Titans on Monday Night" terrible. More like, "being shut out by Detroit at home" terrible. Really god-awful. Lets hope that doesn't happen, for the sake of our dignity, the team's and the state's pride, and any chance of being on Monday Night Football ever again.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Don't Hate, Celebrate

So as I noted the other day, some folks out there are disappointed that the football Badgers are 11-1, and not going to a BCS game. Whatever. Lets revel in the fact that they finished 11-1, and all the various forms of glory that resulted. Today is a perfect day to do so, as the All-Big Ten teams were announced.
According to the coaches, the awards were as follows:
First Team--Joe Thomas, OL; Jack Ikegwuonu, DB
Second Team--P.J. Hill, RB; Taylor Mehlhaff, K; Roderick Rodgers, DB; Matt Shaughnessy, DL
Honorable Mention-- Beckum, TE; Casillas, LB; Coleman, OL; Langford, DB; Stellmacher, DB; Stocco, QB; Vanden Heuvel, OL
The Media:
First Team-- Hill and Joe Thomas
Second Team-- Beckum, Shaughnessy, Ikegwuonu, Rodgers
Honorable Mention: Casillas; Jason Chapman, DL; Coleman; Ken Debauche, P; Stellmacher; Stocco; and Zalewski
Bielema was voted coach of the year (not surprising given our record and the fact that it's his first season. Hill was voted freshman of the year in both polls (is this unfair given that he redshirted?).
Interesting, Bielema just noted (at halftime of the UW/Delaware State basketball game) that he was disappointed that Thomas wasn't voted OL of the year by the coaches. Though I'm no expert evaluator of offensive line play, that does seem a bit weird. Jake Long of Michigan won the award. Suspect. He also said that Zalewski was All-Big Ten in his opinion. Zalewski only made honorable mention in the media awards, and got stiffed in the coaches'. There were a lot of good linebackers in the league this year-- all three Penn State players, all three Michigan players, Lauringitis (the OSU middle linebacker), so it's somewhat understandable, and Zalewski was a little inconsistent-- sometimes awesome, sometimes MIA. The mohawk colors were great, in a totally terrifying way.
The big thing to me is Beckum not being all-Big Ten first team in either poll. He was an absolutely dominant receiver this year. The only possible reason for the snub is likely some belief that he's not a great blocker. Fair enough. But no way Chandler (the large, white Iowa tight end), is better than him. Chandler won second team in the coaches' poll, and Beckum was honorable mention. Ridiculous.
As proof, I offer the following comparison. Beckum said at some point earlier in the season that he wanted to be like (Sergant) Kellen Winslow for Miami a few seasons ago.
Here are Winslow's stats:
2002: 57 receptions, 726 receiving yards, 8 TDs (13 games)
2003: 60 receptions, 605 receiving yards, 1 TD (13 games)
For further comparison, here are Jeremy Shockey's stats from his best season:
2001: 45 receptions, 604 yards, 8 TDs (12 games)
Here are Beckum's stats so far this season:
56 receptions, 821 receiving yards, 4 TDs (12 games)
So Travis gained nearly 100 more receiving yards this season than Winslow gained in his best season. Since he did it in fewer receptions, his average yards per catch are significantly higher. He didn't have as many TDs as Winslow had in his best season, but that year Winslow had Andre Johnson, first round draft pick of the Houston Texans, at wide receiver. Johnson had more than a thousand yards receiving that season. Winslow also had Willis McGahee in the backfield, in one of the more talent loaded offenses in recent history (all three of those guys were first round draft picks). During Shockey's best season, Andre Johnson had 800 yards receiving and Clinton Portis was at running back.
Also, Travis has a game left. He could crack 900 yards receiving, dwarfing the best accomplishments of Winslow or Shockey. Now, I'm sure he's not as great a blocker as Winslow or Shockey were. They were both significantly larger than Travis, who I'm guessing is still below 230 pounds. Travis has two more years of eligibility, and should get a bit more muscled, and improve his blocking with experience. I expect him to become a solid, not great blocker, level off around 240 pounds or so, and be a first round draft pick. He is a great, game-changing player.
P.J. gained 1533 yards and scored 15 TDs on 292 carries, and had 197 yards and 1 TD on 18 receptions, toting the ball 310 times in total. That rushing total eclipses the freshman yardage totals of players like Marshall Faulk, Jamal Lewis, and Michael Hart. These are remarkable accomplishments for a lightly recruited 19 year-old who had never played a college game. What's exciting is that four of our five linemen are returning (except for JT, who will be missed obviously), and that everyone seems to believe that Hill can get better. Settle, our running backs coach, went on record saying that Hill should fill out more with a full offseason in the weight room. They've said that he has the lower body of a lineman and the upper body of a wideout, and I used to think that was overstated. But if you look at his arms, that's pretty much right on-- they're quite thin for a D-I football player, especially for a running back. If he gets stronger, the fumbling and assorted upper body injuries should be reduced, and if he can work off some of the jiggle in the middle, he should get a bit quicker. Fantastic accomplishments this season, and more good things ahead for P.J.
Finally, how about the defense overall? In comparison to other Big Ten teams, we were number one in total yards, in passing yards allowed, and pass efficiency defense, and number two in scoring defense (behind OSU). Nationally, we had the Third Ranked Defense in the Nation. We had the Number One pass efficiency defense in the country, and were number two in passing yards allowed. To top that off, we had the number four scoring defense in the country. Yeow! And we're that high up in those defensive stats even though we were 48th in sacks, 75th in tackles for loss, and just 41st in turnovers forced. Certainly, our defensive stats were improved because we led the nation in time of possession! Whoop. That must have given a boost to our general yardage stats on defense (other teams couldn't get yards because we had the ball the whole time), but it doesn't explain our pass efficiency stats. All this, despite the fact that our back seven included four sophmores and one former walk-on. And don't forget that our fantastic time of possession stats are influenced by our defense constantly forcing other teams to punt. An amazing year from our defense, and we return seven starters for next season.
So all over the place, this was a remarkable year. Enjoy the accomplishments to date, and lets plan to kick the pants off of an SEC team in exotic Orlando.

Monday, November 20, 2006

11-1 and the Bowl former known as the Citrus

As most of you already know, that's the 2006 football Badgers' final regular season record. And yes, we're not going to a BCS game. It's too bad that the latter point has drowned out the former, so lets get that out of the way today, and tomorrow I'll extol the extraordinary achievements of the Badgers this season.
We're not going to a BCS game (Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar Bowls) this season, and that's for three reasons: (A) Ohio State and Michigan having great seasons and only two teams from a conference can make it, (B) we lost to Michigan, and (C) we weren't ranked to start the season.
We couldn't do anything about A, we failed to do B because at the time Michigan was simply a better team than we were, but C is worth talking about.
So why were we out of the rankings when the season started? (I think we were in the low 30's, receiving votes area). I suppose people were questioning the obvious-- how things would be post-Barry. Writers also noted the loss of Orr, Daniels, B. Williams, and Calhoun. In response, you could argue that given the defense's play in the bowl game and how everyone good was coming back, we should have been rated higher. It's hard to argue that people underrated our offense to start the season. Certainly we had Joe T. and Elvis coming back, and our line improved by attrition, but our wideouts had a total of one reception coming into the season, and based on the spring game our best RB was a former walk-on who transferred from MATC. All in all, maybe , maybe, we should have been a little higher to start the season. Lets say mid-twenties.
People complain about our non-conference schedule being weak, and it was. But look at Florida's besides its traditional rival games (Southern Mississippi, Central Florida, and Western (not Easten) Carolina). Look at Our Lady doing its typical "these teams sound legitimate but are really terrible" thing, including playing Army (3-8), Stanford (1-10) and North Carolina (2-9). Look at Michigan's schedule besides ND-- directional Michigan, Vanderbilt, and Ball State.
So even if we had played a tougher schedule, for example, if Oregon State hadn't backed out and we had beat them, maybe we'd be a few notches higher in the rankings. But we still wouldn't be ahead of OSU, and we'd still be behind Michigan because they lost to the best team in the country by 3 and they beat us by two scores. So none of the complaints, if our schedule was tougher or if we had been ranked higher, none of them would have made a difference. It was up to us to beat Michigan, we didn't, we knew OSU was excellent this year, so we have no right to complain. If you think about it, pre-BCS, we'd actually be going to the Outback Bowl, because OSU would be going to the Rose Bowl and Michigan to the Citrus. So quit your whining, and get a room at the Epcot Center hotel or something.
All the complaining obscures a better question: why have the two team limitations to begin with? If you have big leagues where every team doesn't play each other, couldn't this (having three teams from the same conference in the top eight of the rankings) happen pretty often? That is, two teams with one loss, and one undefeated team? Getting rid of the restriction would reward the best teams, but I guess they're more interested in spreading it around, except for the Notre Dame exception (they get in automatically if they're in the top 8).
They say the system is designed to match up #1 and #2, and pretty much do nothing else well (except over-reward Notre Dame, apparently). That looks about right.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Wow. I don't know if Sunday was proof that the Patriots are awesome, or just that we are (or at least can be) absolutely ineffectual in every aspect of the game (except for run defense).
That game just sucked. Now Favre was not getting killed, despite our fifth round rookie starting at RT, so, until he got hurt, either people weren't getting open, or his accuracy flew south for the winter already (33% completions). The running game was absolutely non-existent-- every damn running play, some Patsy lineman was right there, waiting to grab Greenbo or Herron or whoever. And while the defense only gave up a handful of big plays-- I was waiting for the typical secondary blow-up, and I was glad to see that they didn't disappoint, thanks again Kurt-- NE methodically moved the ball, racking up first down after first down. Yeah, they had 22, we had 5. All in all, just terrible.
I suppose in large part, it was due to Favre being awful. If he had nailed some throws early when it was still close (and obviously hadn't gotten hurt), it could have been a game, I think. But the absolutely ineffectual offense led to our defense being put out on the field again and again, and exacerbated their struggles. It just goes to show how dependent we are on Brett. If he stinks, we're dead. If he plays well, we may have a chance to win, especially against iffy teams. Rodgers did not look all that great, which bodes very poorly for the post-Brett era, which could be begin at any moment.
And unfortunately, it looks like we're screwed all around. Maybe we can beat the Lions and the 'Queens at home in the next six weeks. Otherwise we play the Bears (who maybe we could beat if they pull their starters to rest for the playoffs), at Seattle (a likely loss, especially if Hasselback has returned), at SF (whom we could beat, but will probably not be favored to beat), and the Jets at home, where we've won one game so far. So lets say, we go 2 and 4 for the rest of the season, or 3 and 3. That leaves us with a 6-10 or 7-9 season. That record's an improvement over last season, but we'd most likely be picking out of the top 10, probably 11th or 12th. That's not a good position to be in if we're looking for an impact player, which we already need, and will need even more desperately when Brett retires. Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson will be long gone by the 12th pick. Ick.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Who Does the Rankings Anyway?

So you likely saw that third ranked Kansas, loaded with the annual "best recruit from the state of Illinois" for the past two years, among other high school All-Americans, lost at HOME, to ORAL ROBERTS. Yes, they lost to a school not only founded by a Christian fundamentalist, but named after him. And it wasn't a last second shot. They lost by 7 points.
And perhaps you saw that North Carolina, the second ranked team in our fair but overcast nation, nearly lost to Winthrop University. Was this in some tiny gym in Rock Hill, South Carolina? No! It was in Charlotte where the vast majority of the crowd was there to support the sweatered rams with tarred feet.
A normal person might look at the make-up of these teams, notice that nearly everyone getting minutes is a freshman or sophmore, and think "that's probably about right, performance-wise." But then why are these teams ranked so highly?
Perhaps it's their previous accomplishments.
Last season, UNC finished with a fine conference record (12-4), and a solid record overall (23-8), winning eight straight conference games at one point. But there were only two other ranked teams in the ACC last season-- BC and the Dukies-- making the power conference to end all power conferences into actually not that much of a power conference. UNC was rewarded for their conference success with a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, only to lay an egg, giving birth to the George Mason, feel-good-but-crappy-basketball-cinderella-story-myth, by losing in the second round to the Colonials. Now, I was under the impression that all of UNC's important players last season, like that Hansbrough kid, were freshman. But looking into it further, that was just wrong. In fact, UNC started a senior and two juniors against George Mason. So the whole "well they were all freshman and they should be dramatically improved after a year under their belt" theory may not actually be true, because they weren't all freshman, and UNC depended in large part on developed upperclassmen last season. Interesting.
Kansas seemed to follow the pattern. Last season, they started out 10-6, played very well in conference, and won the Big 12 tournament. Then they lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Bradley University, located in lovely Peoria, Illinois. (I'm not joking; it's a nice town, especially for Illinois). Skaank. Ah, well. In comparison to UNC, they actually were led by younger players, starting no seniors last season, and having no seniors on the team this year. (Note to Self, Bill--where they hell are all your upperclassmen? Has Kansas started giving associate's degrees? Doesn't the NCAA step in and reduce your scholarships if you don't even get close to graduating anyone?). But once again, skeptics can point to a uncharacteristically weak conference (only one other ranked team-- Tejas), and the upset loss early in the tournament-- the 4th seed losing to the 13th seed.
So why are Kansas and UNC so highly ranked this year, despite their embarassing and early exits in the tournmanet? They both have the "full of young players who got their act together" CW, although that's far more true with Kansas than with North Carolina. I also think the "getting the act together" conference runs of last season, while certainly impressive, are overinflated given the suprising mediocrity of their leagues.
So what else has propelled these two teams to the top 3?
Unfortunately, I think it comes down to 2 culprits, both of which are suspect predictors of success--traditional names, and recruiting rankings.
Kansas and North Carolina are obviously two of the most hyped, and best, men's college basketball teams over the past 50 years or so. Producing lots of talented NBA stars, near the top of their league every year, yada yada. With Roy Williams, the UNC coach, there's actually a record of solid success both in the tournament (thanks for beating the FIBs in the final, Roy!), and in the regular season. Bill Self has a solid career record (68% with Oral Roberts(possible collusion?), Tulsa, the dancing feather headed frat boys, and Kansas), but hasn't gotten his team as far in the tournament. So they are both legendary programs, led by very and quite solid coaches.
But what really drives this season's rankings, I believe, is the increasing tumult surrounding recruiting, and equating a class's success in terms of wins far before they've even done anything.
The past two seasons, Kansas' incoming recruiting class have been ranked 1st and 8th.
UNC's have been ranked 4th and 1st. (This is based on The hoopla over Kansas' freshman last year was especially loud, and if UNC's only seems muted this year, that's because it's been drowned out by the OSU-Oden-athon.
The idea seems to be as follows--talented players attend famous basketball institution where coached by famous coach equals instant success. This is a fallacy. High school basketball is dramatically different (read, easier) than college basketball, especially in legitimate leagues. In the vast majority of cases, it takes lots of time to transmorgify a good high school basketball player into a fine college player. Even exceptionally talented people, like Dwyane Wade for example, often need several years in college to develop. The freshmen who do make big impacts, and by this I mean making their team one of the best in the country, are serious rarities. Off the top of my head, I can think of Carmelo and the Fab Five. Anyone else come to mind?
For the last several years, most of the best teams in college have been dominated by upperclassmen. Think of Illinois and UNC in the championship game two years ago, Villanova the past two years, Duke with give it to me Sheldon and JJ Red-dick. More often than not, it's players who are talented, but have at least a few years' experience who push their teams upward and onward.
Now, the new NBA rules may change things. Because of the league's one-year-out-of-high-school rule, a lot of guys who would have jumped directly will probably head to college. So we should see more impact freshman. LeBron and Dwight Howard clearly would have been Carmelo Anthony-type college players. But if the new rule is driving the ridiculous rankings for Kansas or UNC or Ohio State for that matter (Oden doesn't play until January, guys, and the Bucks lost four starters including the Big Ten MVP), I think people will be disappointed. That's because there's one or two of those special, special guys a year, at the most. This year, people think Oden might be that guy. Next year, it looks like O.J. Mayonaisse will be the man.
But I don't see anybody on Kansas or UNC this year or last, being that guy. Both schools have athletic, talented players. But they need some seasoning--Lawry's seasoning salt is delicious, incidentally. UNC has 6 freshmen. Six! Can they even run an organized practice? Roy Williams will need a masters in ego deflation. Maybe, maybe, Kansas' class from last year or UNC's current class will develope into a group of guys like the starters for UNC's NCAA title winning team of two years ago. Four guys from that class were taken in the first round. Does anyone remember that three of them were upperclassmen?
Yes, that's right-- good recruiting class with good coaching does equals top-level success: three years later.