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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Best Weekend Ever?

So I was in Santa Fe over the weekend, attending a belated wedding reception, which means drinking for free, hanging out with a few old friends, eating a lot of green chilies, and thus having weird experiences in the bathroom. Before I left, I set the generic brand Tivo to record the Packers/'Queens and the Badgers/Idiots Out Wandering Around, and religiously avoided the television during game times.
And hallelujah, come Saturday afternoon, a celebratory text message from my Michigan fan friend arrives. The Dirk Terrentz curse has been broken, with Donovan at quarterback no less. Hell, yes. God, do I hate Iowa. I watched the triumphant victory Monday night, after getting back. It was an odd game. First, we won with a backup quarterback, one that had actually looked terrible during his spot duties this season (he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown against Western Illinois for god's sake). He performed pretty well, I thought, throwing decent short and intermediary balls, and breaking out some very good runs in key situations. His arm seems decent, but Swan saved him on those two deep balls. Swan had one on one coverage, and made great plays to make the catch, but the second deep pass was dramatically underthrown, because Swan had that guy beat. Stocco is undoubtedly a better passer, and I'm certain that defenses would respect the pass more with him behind center. But Donovan is very reminiscent of Brooks with his running. He's confident, shifty, fast enough, and willing to take off pretty much at any point. It'll be interesting how things shake out with him and Alan Evridge (a starter at Kansas State last year who transferred to Madison and is sitting out his season).
But even though Donovan played pretty well, the most surprising aspect of the Badger game was home we were still able to win despite the fumbles and the uncharacteristic and repeated defensive breakdowns. I refer, of course, to Lance and P.J.'s fumbles, the absurdly open short touchdown passes, and the 60-yard pass play to a tight end. So we played a very flawed game, without a starting QB and corner, at another decent team's stadium, and still managed to win.
Excellent. Now enough of this close game stuff. Lets kick the hell out of Turner Gill's Buffalo team this weekend.

Now onto the Packers. It is always, always wonderful to beat the 'Queens, particularly in the HHH Dome, that is, the worst stadium in the NFL. Even under their new, bizarrely named owner and the steely gaze of the new Childress-mustachioed, zero-tolerance regime, they're still obnoxious. What makes that game awesome, is that like the Iowa game, we were nowhere close to playing a complete game. We couldn't run the ball and our secondary continued to have terrible lapses (Billy McMullen?). Hawk also seemed to have his best game. The play where he beat the double team of those two backs was fabulous. And on McMullen's second (??) touchdown, he forced a fumble right on the goaline. Yes, it was recovered for a touchdown, but it could have been important. Whatever.
I think the problem with the 'Queens may be their offense. The have a great rushing defense because Pat Williams is probably the best run-stopper in the league. Their pass defense is, in a word, semi-passable. But there's no one particularly special for them on offense. Their best player is Hutchinson, and he's a guard for god's sake. Did you see Cullen Jenkins beat him for a sack? Chester Taylor is a decent back, but Ahman's still probably better. Troy Williamson has continued to not develop (ha!). Driver is also probably better than any of their wideouts. Brad Johnson is older than Favre and actually looks it. Point is-- 'Queens are going nowhere unless they miraculously draft some fantastic player late in the game. We should beat them at Lambeau, too. Yee haw.

And to finish it all off, the Badgers' basketball team won their first game of the season handily, beating Mercer easily. Taylor shot the lights out, and though we couldn't hit free throws, it didn't matter, and everyone played, Bohannon the most of any frosh by far. I doubt that that'll last, Bo tends to cut back to people that don't do things he doesn't like, that is, turn the ball over or play poor defense. Hopefully, the younger guys will figure out ways to satisfy his various leanings, get back on the court, and let their athleticism glow, as if it were some variety of geri-curl gel.

All in all, a fabulous sporting weekend. Maybe I should move to New Mexico.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Middle Season Review

The first 9 games of this season have been hilarious. They've made me thankful for last year. Because, since we're nowhere near as bad as we were last year, i don't know if i'd be so ready to accept our record if i hadn't just endured a 4-12 (should've been 3-13 and we'd have Vince Young, i'll never stop hating you sugar bear) season. We should be 6-3. The Losses have been agonizing, while the victories have been convincing. But we absolutely should be 6-3. The Rams and the Bills games were wins. How we blew those games was so comical, that you have to appreciate the entertainment value, or your head will explode.

week 1: Bears Rip our bodies apart. We should've cut Marquand Manuel after the first play. I don't care if Bernard Berrian did turn out to be "good" and the Bears are dominating the "league", STOP HIM, MAKE HIM STOP, PUNCH HIM IN THE THROAT! Just, stop falling down. I live in Chicago. I can't handle that shit.

Week 2: "Hey, since we're up 13-0, I'm gonna go watch the rest of the game at Jesse's house, thanks for breakfast mom". And then i switched TV's. Never switch TV's when we're winning. It's not the nineties anymore. I take full credit. Except for the 2 times Nick Collins fell down. Absolutely terrible. He's having a dissappointing season and I'm saying that based completely on Week 2. He flopped like a homeless person guzzling cough syrup. Twice. He is the reason Marcus Colston is good.

Week 3: Hey... The Lions. Sweet. Favre loves domes now. Kind of an ironic twist on the end of his career but i'll take it. The Lions and Vikings play in domes. And Greg Jennings is a stud. Andy and i threw french fries at each other while he stiff armed "Dre" Bly for 30 yards on route to a 137 yard touchdown. It was great. We almost fumbled it away at the end.

Week 4: Eagles on Monday night. This game made me start screaming at Bear fans at the bar i was in. I think I was telling them that I was, "gonna give all their lakehouses back to the Indians". Why would i say that? It doesn't make sense. I was drunk. What did make sense was cutting Ahmad Carroll. Finally. Thank you, Donovan McNabb.

Week 5: St. Louis. We absolutely should've won this game. Favre and our defense played well, we were in a position to win, and then our weak and inexperienced offensive line crashed the party. Not just allowing Favre to get pressured and stripped, but also embarrassing us when a twitchy, nerve-racked Darren Colledge, shuffled the game losing fumble right into the hands of the closest Ram player. Don't they teach offensive linemen how to recover fumbles? They do. In fact they teach them to jump next to the ball, then grab it. He did neither. He dove on top of it like he was a 300 lbs. house cat with an inflatable ball of yarn; Like it was his diary and the Rams were his pesky older brothers; Like he was mauling a bottle of vodka after ice fishing with his fingers for 10 hours straight. That game was the worst this year. But funny. Hah. Heh. Hmm.

Week 6: Bye week. I used to hate bye weeks. Now i like them. Silver lining?

Week 7: Dolphin fans are the worst. They're always in between dying and coming back to life. So's their team. We stomped them. Joey Harrington is robbing people. The zone blocking thing started to work. Finally we don't have to line up a tight end in the back field to help whichever guard sucks the most.

Week 8: Arizona. We won. I was in California. Zone blocking working. That's all i heard.

Week 9: Buffalo. That was the worst team we'll play all year. Losman completed 8 passes. Favre gave them a touchdown. Jennings got hurt, Driver was still Driver. The game was lost when we drove down to there 2. IT WAS 2nd AND 1 AT THE 2! and Favre throws a slant to Driver that gets tipped up and returned to our 40. they throw a bomb to Lee Evans (good work, Lee), 14 point swing, game over. 2 things.

1- Pass interference on Driver. It was inside 5 yards, but also the ENDZONE. Illegal! call that.

2- Every defensive back they had new it was going to Driver because of the way Favre celebrated the first touchdown, (also a 1 yard slant to Driver). Favre just loves to go back to the well. Fine, we only have one well, just don't point it out everytime he scores.

And could we please run the ball there? 2nd and 1 at the 2. Its better than 1st and goal at the 1.

Week 9: Win @ the Metrodome. Driver. End of story. Vikings suck.

Overall, I like Mike Mcarthy. His demeanor. His schemes seem to be taking shape. I don't know the intriquacies of football strategy, but i can tell he has command of the team. I like that i can see him getting pissed. He doesn't whine, he curses and i guarantee he gets cock-eyed drunk. He's cock-eyed sober. I like it.

I think Ted Thompson has Kept the right young players to build with. Our D-line is playing great. Our linebackers are playing great. Our O-line sucks because they're learning a completely new system and Favre has still only been sacked 10 times. So... We're not that bad. Go team. Please beat the Bears.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Intra-Family Plagarism

Like most of you, I have been reduced to reading newspaper reports about the Badgers' exhibition games. I was hoping to follow the progress of last night's game against Carroll College via the miracle of the internet on ESPN, but they pretended the exhibition game didn't exist. The newspaper reports in the Madison and Milwaukee papers, basically said "we were down in the first half, big men not looking good on defense, missing shots, went small, got lead back, stayed pretty close until we went on a run relatively late in the second half to win by 20." This, of course, is not particularly interesting. What is interesting is how different individual players played, who looked decent and in what manner. Articles noted that Flowers played well, that Tucker shot poorly, and that most of our big men did not play all that much. Seeking further information, I consulted the elder fool for a more in depth breakdown. He attended the game, and provided the following (I know you're not supposed to use quotation marks for block quotes, but I'm doing it anyway):

"The two guys who probably looked best were Landry and Flowers, who really seems to have made a serious step forward in his offensive game. I guess the plan is that Flowers is now the starting point guard, allowing Kam to move back to his more natural position of shooting guard. This is also the reason, according to some, why the development of Hughes and perhaps Perry is considered important, so that Flowers needn't be on the court all the time to allow Kam to play the two. Flowers looks much more aggressive on offense, very much under control and confident. He seems to be looking to use his quickness to attack the basket. His shooting remains solid. Landry is going to be a monster before his time at UW is done. He just looks athletic, very physical, and like somebody who is intimidated by precisely nobody. He had a nasty alley-oop dunk last night. He really got up high and threw it down hard. Although he also did miss on another dunk. Kam looked good. Bohannon looked good. He can clearly shoot the lights out and he has plenty of quickness and ball handling ability. Court said he was one of the players in the slam dunk contest at family fun night. Gullikson got some minutes and looked plenty physical and tough. Butch looked fine, looks physically stronger. Bo just seemed to want to stay smaller. Perhaps that's also a function of wanting to get the young guys some minutes during an exhibition game. Hughes looked good, but also young. I mean, he clearly is an excellent athlete, quick, good handle, but sometimes he seems like he makes questionable decisions and gets a little out of control. He attacked the basket a couple times, getting there very nicely but then having to try to finish with some fairly hilarious maneuvers, neither of which worked. But he also hit a three pointer while being fouled and had one very impressive pass in the lane to Alando. Stiemsma looked rugged and tough. His Casillas-esque mohawk is awesome. He, Butch, and Landry all blocked a shot or two, but Carroll was obviously very short. But they have some guys who can do a couple things."

He then related his disappointment and horror at recognizing certain people sitting in the new $10,000 courtside seats, and concluded with the following:

"Overall, the Badgers looked listless in the first half, much more together in the second half. Krabben[*#%!] also looked good. Yeah, most of Alando's shots were jumpers and, like most of the team, he was off in the first half."

Hmm... I hope Alando's develops two-guard skills, but you'd still hope that he'd be pushing it inside against a team who's tallest player is 6'7". Mix the inside with the outside. Maybe exhibition games are the time to practice your outside shooting, though. Also, it seems like any of our guards could be a point (that is, in our offense, the person who brings the ball up the court), so if setting aside those duties leads to Kam getting more points, I'm all for it.
Anyone know where Mercer is? (Ok, it's in Georgia). Was it founded by my seventh grade math teacher?
Finally, in re this weekend's football, death to Iowa and the Viqueens. May Dirk Terentz be whazzed upon from a considerable height by a former Iowa protege, as he has whazzed upon Barry (also a former Iowa protege). May Brad Childress's porn star mustache curdle in disappointment.
An end to the tyranny of Iowa City and the Metrodome!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Death to Stocco

According to an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, not only is Stocco's shoulder hurt (that much was obvious to anyone watching the game on television), but he also has broken ribs. This tidbit was released by an anonymous source. The obvious conclusion is that whoever the source is, he or she wants our sweet Elvis (Stocco) to die.
What other reason is there to leak the fact that his injuries are more severe than previously thought? If Stocco plays, they're going to try to kill him on every offensive down. Mitch King (that manchild defensive tackle who killed us last year) will be sitting on him. Seriously, there's no excuse for this information being leaked. Have the Iowans inflitrated our ranks? Who are the Benedict Arnolds? Punishment!

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Right. Sorry for the absence, but election duty and my sports writer friend called. I decline to talk about the Packers debacle and the football Badgers costly success until tomorrow. But I did attend the first home basketball game of the season, against division three UW-Stout, part of Bo's effort to play his way through the WIAC. Stout was interesting, because it had one player, half of a 7-foot twin tower combination, named Jacob Nanemacher, who is a legitimate Division I player. The rest of the team, yeah, not so much. Nanemacher didn't do much on offense, but he made our big men's post moves look bad. I don't remember Chappell taking a shot in the post, but Butch and the pre-frosh Gavinski did not get off a decent interior shot against him. So that seems to be an area where, alas, our big men have not made significant improvements.
But our man defense looked good, and our outside shooting looked excellent. Bohannon, Butch, and especially Chappell were hitting outside shots consistently. Bohannon looked great actually-- making smart cuts to the basket, giving good help on defense, running intelligent breaks. Hughes, while be didn't dunk, also looked solid. He's a committed on-ball defender, and very fast on the break. Gavinski should definitely redshirt. He didn't look so impressive.
Two players I expected to stand out-- Alando and Marcus Landry-- didn't do too much, though Alando hit a nice looking 3-pointer. Landry has busted out the Bo Outlaw style goggles, in an interesting fashion move.
The starting five was, as predicted, Butch, Chappell, Alando, Flowers and Kammron. And despite my lack of enthusiasm, that group played the best out of any combination on the floor. They opened up a big lead at the start, and controlled the game better than any other group of players. I guess Bo actually does know what he's doing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Portentous Previews

You may have noticed that I'm loathe to comment on games before they occur. This is because I am a silly superstitious man. When I'm at the game, I try altering the various things I shout based on their success. For example, when I shout something non-team specific, like "come on defense!" my teams are generally less successful than when I shout something specific to my team, like "Lets go Pack!" or "Here we go, Badgers!" When I'm watching at home, I switch up my outfits based on the game's momentum-- beanies to baseball caps, putting on/taking off various layers of my all red sweatsuit-- things like that. Given my pre-existing level of paranoia, you can see why I tend to stay mute about the game, especially silencing any impulse to mock the opposing team, which could lead to some weird "My Name is Earl" karma incidents.
What I have decided to do, however, is to serve as a medium to other people's commentary. So below, you'll find a bunch of links to previews of the Badgers/Penn State game. I'll try to have some previews of the Packers/Bills game up tonight or tomorrow as well.
In other news, I will hopefully attend the UW men's basketball home exhibition opener, against UW-Stout, tonight. Did you know UW-Stout was not located in a town called Stout, but rather in Menomonie, which is quite close to the Twin Cities (closer than Eau Claire)? Fascinating. My hope is to see Trevon Hughes dunk. Reports will be forthcoming.
PSU/UW Football Previews:
CBS Sportsline Preview
Centre Daily Times (State College, PA Daily Newspaper) Preview
(Lame) ESPN Preview
College Football News Preview