Sunday, December 30, 2007
But the reason the Badgers were in this game in the last minutes, playing without Trevon Hughes, is that they finally took care of the ball-- committing only 10 turnovers. And they continued to play excellent defense, holding Texas, a team with at least three future NBA players, below their typical shooting averages, both from beyond the arc and overall. I may be overstating the case, but when UW takes care of the ball, they can play with anybody. They are that good of a defensive team.
First game of the Big Ten season is Wednesday Night at six central, at Michigan. Hughes may still be out with the ankle he sprained last Friday. Again, I predict if they can take care of the ball, they'll win. That's a mantra I'll be repeating throughout the basketball season.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Getting swept by the bears is a terrible thing. Over the past few seasons it has happened now twice and the comfortable warm blanket that used to be Favre's domination of said bears, has become damp and full of holes. Holes poked by Charles Tillman's home made shivs and Lovie (hillbilly) Smith's menthol cigarettes.
The bears, or, "chinatown sneakballers" as some have come to know them, are an awful team. They have no weapons and their best player will most certainly be out of the league in a year or two with osteoarthritis in his back. Maybe Favre (hillbilly) just wanted to provide Urlacher (also a hillbilly) with one last prideful moment in a short but prolific career. Even so, it makes no sense to actually lose to these idiots, even if beating us is more important to them than winning the superbowl.
The only significant football played in the whole game was on their opening drive. They ran they ball every time except for two screens and a 3rd and 9 out route to dez clark. we let them eat up the whole 1st quarter, eventually holding them to a field goal- which was big. I thought our defense played well. I thought they kept us in the game long enough to take the lead and then build on it, however due to ridiculous game management (why in the world did we call a timeout at 2:46 with the lead and the bears facing a 4th and 5? then throw three incomplete passes?) and a cold and terrified legend, we made sure Orton (hillbilly #1) and the "7th floor crew" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToDv6_uo27Y) got the ball back at the end of the second quarter with enough time to take the lead and some semblance of accomplishment into the locker room at the half.
Our punter, Jon Ryan, was responsible for two blocked punts, a fumbled snap and a nine yard punt. The blocks were not all his fault (in "professional" football how does anyone go unblocked like charles tillman did on their second blocked punt? I'm beginning to think that the packers root for the underdog even when we're playing against it), but I'm so pissed off about getting swept by the bears that I have no problem focusing my resentment on one player. That player will be Canadian hillbilly punter Jon Ryan of Regina Saskatchewahn.
We played like idiots. We let them dictate how the game was going to be played (which wouldn't have been bad because we can run the ball and were running the ball way better than them but then we didn't stick with it and we started shitting on ourselves and not gashing them for 50 yard touchdowns when we had the lead and a chance to demoralize them) and we apparently don't have gloves? Favre and Ryan needed fucking gloves!! Can't we get our hillbillies gloves??!
THEIR HILLBILLIES WERE WEARING GLOVES!!!
It was the difference in the game.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
Now, what we have learned so far is that when Wisconsin is not playing against a team with top notch dribble penetrators (Duke, Marquette), they play outstanding defense, especially when it comes to preventing easy baskets. The stats bear this out as well, as Ken Pomeroy continues to have UW rated as the most efficient defensive team in the country, and notes that, so far, UW has only allowed opposing teams to 39% of their two-point shots. That's the sixth best two-point defense in the country.
Worryingly, this doesn't match-up well with Valpo's offensive forte, which is shooting the three-ball. As a team, Valpo has been shot over 42% from outside the arc this season, and they get a ton of their points from outside. (For stat heads, this means Valpo is 8th in the country in percentage of points they get from threes.) Wisco's D against three-point shooting has been quite good, even including the Duke first-half debacle, but not as stellar as their interior defense.
What's also troubling is how Bucky's offensive strength is negated by Valpo's defensive one. The Badgers aren't a great outside shooting team, inside shooting team, or free throw shooting team. Instead, UW is a great offensive rebounding team-- rated 7th nationally in the percentage of its own misses that it gets back. (Of course, this stat is padded by the team's big men missing so many bunnies and having to try again and again, but anyway.) I think that's largely due to Butch and the Hoft being excellent rebounders and being on the floor more this season. Anyhow, this stat bears out in real life. As any person who's watched more than a couple of UW games this season could tell you, Wisconsin gets around its mediocre shooting by hitting the boards hard and getting easy put-backs. Alas, Valpo is an excellent defensive rebounding team so far this season, rated 21st nationally in glass-clearing on defense. And if UW can't get put backs, they may have serious trouble scoring. Uh oh.
So anyway, look out for a tough one. Valpo is a team that rebounds well and shoots well from outside, plus they've been very successful this season. This seems like a match-up that's tailor made to punch UW right in the wiener. It's on the Big Ten Network tomorrow night at 7:30 pm Central.
And even though you may think I'm crazy, I'm starting to worry about the Bears. The Chicago defense, with Nathan Vasher finally back with mended groin at cornerback, looked much improved at Minnesota on Monday. Their offense stinks, yes, and Kyle Orton and Adrian Peterson (the Bears' current starters at QB and RB) are questionable "talents." But the Bears will be playing for pride and to disrupt the Packers' excellent season. And the Packers defensive tackle rotation keeps getting thinner and thinner, with Harrell, Corey Williams and Ryan Pickett all now getting nicked up.
Plus, McCarthy just announced that the Packers were, again, going to do squib kickoffs against the Bears for fear of kicking it to Devin Hester. Listen, Hester is an amazing talent. But if you look at his stats, he's actually a far more dangerous punt returner than kickoff guy. Plus, a squib gives the receiving team excellent field position. Hell, the Bears started every damn drive at the 40 when they beat the Packers in October. And the Bears are adapting to squib kicks, by having back-up returners in front of Hester who are ready to take the squib and run. Plus, the Packers' kickoff coverage units have been playing great. Football Outsiders has that unit rated fourth best in the NFL. So boot it out of bounds on punts, yes. But not on kickoffs. This strategy is a bad idea, and it burned the Packers in the teams' first match-up.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Now, I'm sure Michigan and Rodriguez will probably be a fine match. He has a solid record and runs an interesting offense and defense, which'll be a change for Michigan. But like Beilein, he's won at relatively unconventional places through unconventional tactics-- the question will be, will his tactics work at a very, very conventional place where he can get highly touted conventional kids? Or will he just change tactics and become more conventional? Anyhow, I'm not too worried about a guy who's built up his fame by winning the crappiest and smallest BCS conference. Also, I have got to pass along his myspace page. The comments (and the unintentional comedy) from jilted WVU fans are priceless.
Also, relating back to Wisconsin football, the Tennessee offensive coordinator, David Cutcliffe, has just accepted the head coaching position at Duke. While I certainly can't condone anyone accepting such a god-awful job, I do hope that this proves to be something of a distraction for Tennessee in their preparation for the bowl game. In fact, Cutcliffe had a press conference announcing himself as the new Dukie head coach last Saturday. At the same time, Doeren, Hankwitz and Chyrst will probably be busy game-planning. And there's talk that Cutcliffe is going to steal several Tennessee assistants, and a report that Tennessee's wide receivers coach has been offered a coordinator position at Baylor. Looks like distraction central over in Knoxville. Given the Badgers' injury problems going into the game (maybe no Hill, no Henry, no Chapman, no Swan, no Langford), they can use all they help they can get.
If you didn't manage to watch the Packers' 33-14 victory over the Rams yesterday, you might look at the final score and think "sweet- a beat down." But it really wasn't. It was a close game, within one score until the final 20 minutes, and one where the Packers, especially their offense and run defense, looked startlingly mediocre. What led the team to victory was excellent pass defense, especially in the second half, and fabulous, absolutely fabulous special teams play. And I'm talking kickoff returns and coverage, field goals, punt coverage, straight kickoffs, everything.
Consider-- the Packers had three kickoff returns (the Rams scored twice, and once to start the game). They averaged 43 yards per kickoff return, and that's with a dumb Trammon Williams penalty bringing one back an additional twenty yards. That's silly good. They also averaged, with Will Blackmon back there, 10 yards per punt return. Also solid. And Mason "I only look like a serial killer" Crosby nailed four field goals, two from beyond forty yards, and pinned the Rams deep again and again. Consider--after Packer kickoffs, the Rams started at the 23, 16, 5 (after Charlie Peprah forced a fumble that the Rams recovered), 19, 21, 21, 20 (touchback), and 20 (touchback). Folks often say that a team's special teams performance is indicative of its depth. If that's the case, the Packers are pretty darn deep.
Of course, depth is only helpful if you have difference makers to support, and yesterday the Packers' biggest difference maker didn't look right. Although Brett threw two TDs, and broke Marino's record for career passing yardage the team's passing game didn't perform well, even though St. Louis was also stymieing the run. Maybe it was all the exotic blitzes that St. Louis was running, but the offense was sluggish, to the tune of less than 24 minutes of time of possession, less than 300 total yards, and three turnovers. Hopefully, it was the bizarre gameplan the Rams threw at them and maybe lingering issues from Favre's elbow whack. But they'll need to be far better if the team's going anywhere in the playoffs.
Speaking of playoffs and exotic blitzes, it was excellent to see the Cowboys lose yesterday, even if they don't end up blowing their lead in the home field advantage competition. The Eagles played great defense, throwing a lot of exotic, but disciplined blitzes at Dallas. Maybe that's the key to beating those maroons-- confuse them. The Packers have been experimenting on defense more often in the past few games, so hopefully they'll have some tricks to pull out if they meet Dallas again.
What the Dallas loss means in the short term though, is that the Pack will likely not rest its starters against the Bears next Sunday. That's the Bears team starting their third string QB and their second string, career back-up, running back, and that will be coming off a short week (they play tonight at Minnesota). The optimum scenario for the Pack is to smell blood, pummel them good early, and thus be able to rest their key guys anyway, as they did against the Rams with guys like Pickett, Woodson, Clifton, and Collins sitting out the last quarter or so. You'd think they'd be fired up to redeem themselves after the October pants-pooping episode.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The Packers take on the Rams this afternoon in St. Louis. The stupid RCA dome still brings to mind Favre's six-interception typhoon of crap in the second round of the playoffs about five years ago. The Rams are injury wracked, especially with the loss of Orlando Pace, but Marc Bulger is set to play and when healthy he's probably a top ten quarterback in the league. And the Packers pass defense has not really proven it can shut down top flight opposition. The Rams, mind you, still have Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Drew Bennett, and Stephen Jackson in the backfield. So unless the Jolly-less d-line can get consistent pressure on Bulger, the Packers will have to outscore the Rams and control the clock. I think they can do this, as the Rams really don't have any difference makers on defense. But be prepared to see the Rams score some points through the air, especially as the Packers run an informal tryout between Rouse, Blackmon, Frank Walker, and Tramon Williams for the nickel back spot, with Bush missing this game due to injury.
Finally, more gloomy new on the UW football injury front, one of UW's bright young freshman, cornerback Aaron Henry, will miss the bowl game and spring practice with a torn ACL. You may remember he replaced Allen Langford when Allen tore his own ACL against OSU. So UW will essentially be starting its fourth cornerback against Tennessee. Uh oh.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Now, I hate to be mean to Rob Jeter, a former UW assistant under Bo, an apparently nice, smart guy, and a good recruiter, but UWM is not doing well this season. Ken Pomeroy's ratings have the Panthers listed as the 171st most efficient offensive team, and the 256th most efficient defensive team. So it's not super surprising that UW shot over 50% for the game, and outrebounded the hell out of the Panthers, gathering 81% of the available defensive rebounds and, ludicrously, gathering more of their own misses than UW-M did. (This means UW had more offensive rebounds than UW-M did defensive rebounds.) What bodes poorly though, is that UW continues to turn the ball over, committing 18 TOs in a 61 possession game. That means the Badgers failed to even get a shot off on almost one-third (31.7% to be precise) of its offensive possessions. That is awful. Seriously, that is as "not good" as "not good" can be and is something that plagued UW against Marquette (especially down the stretch) and against Duke. In these next two games building up to the December 29th match-up at Texas, that's something to keep an eye on-- can UW turn the ball over less? They play UW-Green Bay at 5 pm Central on Saturday night (Big Ten Network), then have a week off before facing Valparaiso next Saturday (also on BTN). Both those games are in Madison. Valpo is relatively legit this year and has a shot at winning the Horizon league, and UWGB is likely better than UWM. So the competition won't be bad, and certainly far better than the relative patsies the Badgers played to open the season. So, if you have the means to see the games, keep an eye on UW's offense. If the team improves its rate of holding onto the ball, that should bode quite well for the Big Ten season.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Also, the UW men's basketball team plays tonight at UW-Milwaukee in what is sure to be a raucous affair. But unless you live in Milwaukee, the stupid game is only available on ESPN's ridiculous internet channel- ESPN 360. Grade A Baloney, I say. The Worldwide Leader is evil. Fru-eets of the Dee-vil.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
out of all the 10 win teams, our defense is the best.
i support this with no statistics. but i am certain of it.
we're definately the deepest, youngest, hungriest, most spine dislocatingest, ass eatinest, foul, filthy-dirty mud crawlinest, steal your tickets at chuckie cheesenest, angry about our abusive fathersenest nasty bad nasties.
with veteran leadership. if we can stay healthy, our D is going to peak in the playoffs, and that will be fun to watch. we dodged our bullet with favre. now we just have to drop our dicks at soldier and finger bang the lions. then prison rape. when we play the cowboys again, aaron kampman's gonna hit romo with a sock full of batteries.
favre needs a tinted visor.
no, i'm not drunk.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Speaking of whom, the woman and I were having an amusing time this weekend thinking of variants on JaMarcus's name. That means anything replacing the first letters of each "part" of JaMarcus's unique name. Some favorites were CaTarcus Mussell, MaNarcus Bussell, and, of course, QuParcus Zussell.
More making fun of Russell from Bay Area columnist Tim Kawakami (still no picture though!):
"Anyway, the quintessential scene of the day, for me, was watching rookie JaMarcus Russell slowly and reluctantly peel off his parka, then his ski mask, then his wool cap, when there was a thought to get him into the game late in the fourth quarter. I don't mean to pick on Russell, since I do believe he represents most of what's fascinating and optimistic about this franchise's future and he'd never been in cold weather before this trip. But . . . at that moment in the blowout, Russell talked to a coach, bent his legs stiffly and very unconvincingly, then - by my read - very happily retreated to the mask, the cap and the parka once he got word that he wouldn't be coming in. Ever been in cold like that, JaMarcus? 'Not that cold - damn it was cold,' Russell said later. 'It was all right though. If you have to play in it, you have to play in it.' Kiffin said he contemplated putting Russell into the game after giving Andrew Walter a series after taking out the banged up and sick Josh McCown. But Kiffin considered the score, the weather and the pass protection issues, and reconsidered. I wonder if he also looked into Russell's eyes - if he could see them through the mask and the glaze."
The main lines of commentary will likely be Ryan Grant having another big day (over 150 yards rushing and a touch), and Will Blackmon's return from injury-nowhere land to special teams stardom. Both were excellent developments. However, Grant's big day came against the 30th worst rush D in the league according to the raw stats (Football Outsiders actually had them as the worst rush D in the entire league through last week), so it wasn't all that surprising, especially given his other performances in the past six weeks. Blackmon's returns were great, and it's wonderful to see a guy get on the field and produce after struggling with so many injuries in his short career.
What I found interesting was the strategy. The Packers went right at the Raiders' defensive weakness- stopping the run. They ran and ran until Oakland committed a safety closer to the line, and then started throwing the ball. And when they threw, since the Oakland pass defense is quite good, the Packers didn't challenge it directly, it seemed, instead throwing screens and to the tight ends, and looking for holes in the zone rather than going right at individuals, especially the Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha, who is a top-flight corner. The Packers only threw at his man twice. That somewhat short-armed bomb that Jennings came down with was thrown away from Asomugha, and off a play-action where Favre got time, and the Oakland safeties had come up towards the line of scrimmage. A pretty smart-strategy, especially with an injured Favre-- attack their run defense until they overcommit, then take further advantage.
On defense, besides the lack of sacks and the bomb to Curry and the touchdown that Porter ripped away from Al, I thought the team played very well. Fargas is a good running back, and the Oakland line has been blocking solidly in recent weeks. One play that sticks out in my mind is Nick Collins' tackle on Fargas on Oakland's 4th and one try in the first half. The game was still close, the Raiders had fourth and one right around midfield. Oakland fakes an inside run, then flips back to Fargas who runs wide left, away from the pile of bodies in the middle. It looks like he has the first down. Then Collins comes flying down, takes a great angle, and makes an excellent smart tackle-- going for Fargas's ankles instead of trying to engage him up high. Fargas trips and falls for a short loss. Packer ball. I guess that's why Collins immediately jumped back into the starting line-up once he got healthy-- he's just a great athlete. The team made a lot of excellent plays in the running game today, and it showed up on the bottom line. The Raiders gained only 233 total yards. That's the smallest amount allowed the defense has allowed the entire season. And it did this against a team that had won two straight. To me, that was the most impressive aspect of Sunday's game.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
- Look to penetrate and dish when the help comes, as it always will.
- Press, press, press the ball whenever you can.
- Push the ball and look to fast break as often as possible.
This script works against Wisconsin defensively because UW players, as Randy continues to note, are a bit timid with the ball. They are a pass first team, and are trained to be that way. Teams are exploiting that by making every pass difficult, and making UW dribble by them, and thus taking them away from what they're comfortable doing. I think the confidence will come, but it, unfortunately, will just take awhile. (It may never come for some guys, like the Stiemer, who basically never dribbles. His two forced passes/turnovers in the second half were just awful.) Simply put, there's no reason guys as heady and skilled as Hughes, Bohannon, Flowers, Landry, Leuer and Krabbenhoft can't go past defenders. The thing is, they just haven't been asked to before. I'm guessing that taking guys off the dribble has been sort of a last-minute offensive option for UW-- something that was initiated only after the regular offense failed. Well, it needs to become more of a primary one until they start burning teams for pressing them defensively. There's certainly no reason why Hughes, Flowers, and Bohannon can't imitate James and drive and dish other teams to death. Maybe they just need to prepare for it more.
What was worrying about this game was that Wisconsin had to know what the script was, but they still looked somewhat unprepared for it-- to the tune of 18 turnovers. (They did respond better than they did at Duke, true.) Defensively, UW had to know that Marquette was going to look to penetrate. And they appropriately started Flowers. But our backcourt must have played theirs too tightly, because James was constantly in the lane in the beginning of the first half and then again the second, when it counted. Was Hughes just looking for steals too often? James and McNeal are not great three point shooters, so the way to play them is to give yourself room for recovery. Bo must know that, so what was going on? Either James is the new Allen Iverson, or UW's guards weren't following the scouting report. Also, Michael got into foul trouble, which was something that just couldn't happen if UW was going to come out on top. No surprise, Marquette would slowly pull ahead when he was out of the game.
What was encouraging was that UW made it close, and for a while did what they should have done to win against a pressing team-- draw fouls and make them be chippy. They did that really well for the first ten minutes of the second half. Butch was especially been aggressive, dribbling and going to the basket. (Way to dunk, Brian!). Then Wisconsin went away from it. Maybe Marquette realized that a bunch of guys were in foul trouble, because it looked like they went to a zone for a little while. If UW had drawn a few more fouls, and thus maybe pushed some of Marquette's key guys (McNeal especially) out of the game, it could have been huge. But they seemed to lack that aggressive offensive push in the second half, until it was too late. Marquette did a good job of denying passes to Butch, who had been UW's most effective offensive threat. Of course, hitting the free throws they did get would have helped tremendously. UW must be able to count on its guards, especially Hughes, to make their free throws.
Ah well, so a mini-win streak against the papists (it had been two in a row), and a 28 game win streak at home comes to an end. Bummer. Time to move on. I'm hopeful that UW will improve as the season progresses. They're an old team at parts (Butch and Flowers) but young in certain areas and ways. As has been much discussed, no one on this team has been asked to be the offensive sparkplug before. Hughes is a huge key, and he's made a lot of mistakes against good teams-- bad passes, overaggressive defense and forced shots. He's also looked really impressive at times. I'm confident the team will evolve for the better as the season moves along. I just hope this evolution translates into conference wins and a solid tournament showing.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
(An aside-- Marquette and UW operate the only two law schools in Wisconsin. Based on how people talk about Marquette law, I always thought they were about even with UW quality-wise. However, recently I discovered that while UW law is tied for 31st in the prevalent national ratings system, Marquette is 97th! Way worse! That puts Moo behind such academic luminaries as SUNY-Buffalo, Georgia State, and the University of Toledo. Ouch. If you'd be taking an academic step-up by transferring to Georgia State, you know you're in trouble.)
On the basketball floor, however, Marquette appears to boast the stronger, or at least more defined, squad this year. After NBA teams discovered that MU point guard Dominic James was really quite wee and couldn't shoot consistently, the former Big East freshman of the year opted out of the draft and came back for his junior season. He, once again, is joined in the backcourt by dynamo Jerel McNeal and Madison Memorial product Wesley Matthews, each also juniors. This trio is joined by forward Lazar Hayward and guard David Cubillan, both sophomores, and both players who have shown dramatic improvement thus far this season. Some of the usual suspects return in forwards Ousmane Barro and Dan Fitzgerald, and someone I'm not familiar with, a heavyset 6'8" forward named Dwight Burke, is playing a fair amount.
Looking at the individual stats for these guys reveals some interesting tidbits. First, unfortunately for UW fans, Jerel McNeal has cut down on his main weaknesses-- turning the ball over and fouling. His improved turnover rate makes him a far more valuable player for the Gold, and has actually elevated his offensive efficiency above Matthews' and even James'. He also is more involved in the team's offense than any other player. McNeal is fouling less as well, averaging only 2.8 fouls a contest after racking up 3.5 last season. This may explain why, despite his great defensive skills, he's no longer corralling as many steals, having ceded the team's theft lead to James.
Second, despite McNeal's improvement, he's not that an efficient offensive player, and neither is James or Matthews. In fact, Wes appears to have been pretty poor on offense this season, posting an atrociously low offensive efficiency rating due to turning the ball over far too often. Appropriately, he has let the two improved sophomores, Cubillan and Hayward take more shots and get more involved in the offense. These two turks are actually MU's best offensive players so far. Cubillan's been shooting decently (almost always from outside) and hardly ever been turning the ball over, and Hayward's been making nearly 63% of his two point shots. And he's taken 43 two pointers, which is not a small number.
Third, while the team appears to ignore Barro on the offensive end, he is their most effective defensive player. He leads the team in defensive rebounding, and is easily the squad's best shot blocker. Oddly, he hasn't been playing all that much this season, as Marquette appears to be favoring an intensely diminutive line-up with five guys 6'6" or under (McNeal, James, Matthews, Cubillan and Hayward) leading them in minutes. That seems ripe to change against UW, unless Bo decides to match small ball with small ball.
To date, college basketball stat head Ken Pomeroy rates Marquette as a brutally efficient offensive team, with the third most efficient offense in his adjusted ratings. Marquette plays pretty solid defense as well, as Pomeroy's rating has them listed as the twenty-fifth. (These are all available via the Basketball Prospectus website, conveniently linked to your right.) And those filthy team numbers, again, unfortunately for UW fans, were not garnered against an all patty-cake schedule-- the Gold put up its best offensive numbers against Rob Jeter's UW-Milwaukee team, and Oklahoma State. Hmmm... trouble.
However, UW is actually slotted just ahead of Moo in Pomeroy's most recent overall ratings, and that's due to their defensive dominance. Even including the Cameron Indoor debacle, Wisconsin rates as the third most efficient defensive team in the nation. Offensively, as any UW fan would expect, they're fair to middlin', rating 48th nationally.
So this looks like a game where the irresistible force, Marquette's super efficient offense, led by Hayward's and McNeal's twos, James' steals, and Cubillan's steady hand and effective outside shooting, meet the immovable object of UW's defense. Then you throw in other factors, that MU's D has been better than UW's O, and that MU played Duke far tougher than UW, but that game was on a neutral floor, and this game is in Madison, where UW's been very successful both this season and generally under Bo, that UW looks like the deeper team, but MU has more backcourt depth. It all comes out to a bit of a wash. Plus, it's a little early in the season for team stats to tell us all that much.
Looking at individual match-ups, things actually look decent for UW. In the backcourt, Hughes bothered the Warriors' backcourt trio last year with his physical D, and will likely do so again. If he can play under control (against McNeal probably) and avoid turnovers while being smartly aggressive, it'd be a solid boost. Then I think Hughes will be able to take his man to the rack, dish a few passes and draw some fouls. UW could then do it's whole "get the other team's key players in foul trouble" thing. Flowers and James will likely match-up, and the key thing there is for Michael to be smart with the ball and avoid foul trouble. He's been turning it over at an alarmingly high rate so far this season, perhaps out of a desire to do a little too much on the offensive end. James is also caging a lot of steals, and will look to drive on Michael. UW is not thick with legitimate guards right now (I count only three), and will need Michael to play lots of good minutes. The Hoft will probably guard Wes, and I'd call that one a bit of a draw, though Joe's having a better year so far and is far more careful with the ball. Both are solid defenders who are not super aggressive offensively. Joe will have to, as per usual, bide his time and be smart on the offensive end.
The guys I'm really worried about are the relative unknowns-- Hayward and Cubillan. I have little memory of this Hayward character for Marquette, and his shooting from close range is impressive. Landry will probably draw him, and while he's going to have to play a solid defensive game, UW's bigs must look to help out. I don't know who'll match-up on Cubillan and I'm worried he's going to get lost in the three-guard shuffle, and get open to nail timely threes.
Fitzgerald and Barro and Burke will probably rotate around in the frontcourt. Barro will probably defend Butch pretty well, but he fouls a lot too and the game is in Madison. Fitzgerald plays decent position defense and can hit open jumpers. Him getting matched-up on Butch is a bit of a worry for the Badgers' defensively, as I can see MU looking to set him up outside, and Butch and/or Stiemsma (who likes to camp out in the lane defensively) having trouble getting there. But Butch should be able to post him up on the other end (though his bunny missing habit is very worrying).
While the catalyst for MU may be Cubillan and Hayward, the X-factors for UW are Leuer and Bohannon. After not playing a lick agianst Georgia, Leuer played nearly a whole half against Duke, and 17 minutes against Wofford, being productive offensively in both outings. Hopefully, his floor time will continue to increase. MU has no one on their roster who's size and skill set comes close to Leuer's, and I think he'll pose a match-up problem for them. He could take Barro outside, drive by Fitzgerald, or post up Wes or Hayward.
Bohannon, on the other hand, didn't play against Marquette last season, as Bo went with the more athletic Hughes. I doubt that'll happen this year, as Kam is gone and Marquette essentially starts four guards. In the past few games, Bohannon looks to be more confident offensively, taking jumpers when they're there, and has been driving for some nice midrange shots floaters. (I bet he nailed a ton of those in high school with guys pressing him on the perimeter.) J-Bo isn't a phenomenal athlete, but he has a great touch from all over the court. If he could surprise the Gold with some offense, and not be a liability on defense, it'd be a huge boost for Wisconsin.
So, I think it'll be an interesting game, a contrast in personnel and styles. There are a lot of questions to answer: Will UW match MU's small ball line-up or will they try to exploit their size advantage? Can UW's excellent D bottle up MU's terrific offense? (Duke couldn't do it, by the way.) Did the various Duke games reveal anything about either team? Do their various rankings (UW is 23rd and 29th, while MU is 15th and 11th) mean anything? Which players will step up on each team? How much is the Kohl Center homecourt advantage worth? (As a UW fan, I hope it's a lot.) This looks like a tough, dramatic game that will go down to the wire.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
So the board must think he's pretty competent. Seriously, I'm not here to make fun of a fully grown man for looking kind of goofy or never getting braces. And I'll admit to being largely ignorant about what the team CEO does. I assume they run the business side of the team, dealing with stadium, merchandise and branding issues, community relations, charitable events, "shareholder relations," and the team's finances. But all that stuff sort of flies under the radar if you're a Packer fan who doesn't live in Green Bay. Basically, you want the team to make money and stay solvent, treat fans and the neighborhood fairly, and, most importantly, deliver a good product on the field.
Hopefully, new Packers' CEO Mark Murphy will be able to do that. No offense to him, but his previous positions, managing a very low level D-I athletic department at Colgate, and a mid-level (and, in my opinion, mostly half-assed) athletic department at Northwestern, seem quite different from managing the most unique NFL franchise in the country. Despite his homely appearance, Murphy is decently educated, graduating from Colgate, getting an MBA from American, and a JD from Georgetown, and working as an attorney for the Department of Justice. (Total knuckleheads don't usually develop this sort of a background.) Plus, he played for the Redskins and worked for the NFL Players Association, which does give him a decent NFL background.
In his tenure, if Murphy is in Green Bay for a long time, he'll likely face two pressing issues. First, how will Murphy handle the direction and branding of the team when Favre retires? With Brett at the helm, the team has only suffered through one losing season, and the franchise has reaped huge benefits-- a refurbished stadium, tons of national exposure and relevance, increased sales and fan support. Really, being the team's CEO through such a golden era was a pretty plum job. But when Brett goes, the franchise will lose its modern identity and marketing and managing the Packers will become far more challenging. If the team gets worse without Brett, which seems very likely to at least some extent, all the things that a CEO deals with-- ticket price increases, keeping up the team's visibility and popularity, maintaining solid relationships with the Green Bay community-- will get far tougher. I hope Thompson's youth experiment pays off by the time Brett retires-- that some younger players on the team (like Jennings and Hawk, to pick two) turn into bona fide stars who help keep the Packers competitive. But if that doesn't happen, if the team is mediocre or worse after Favre leaves, the CEO job could become very tough quite soon.
And second, if the team becomes consistently mediocre or poor under Ted Thompson's reign, will Murphy have the courage to lay Thompson off, and the erudition to hire a really excellent general manager? More than ever, I am convinced that the NFL is more about players than schemes and strategy. That coaching is a bit overrated and that general managers are vastly underrated. This makes evaluating your team's general manager, and hiring the right one should he prove ineffective, a hugely important task. One reason Murphy was selected as the new CEO, according to outgoing CEO Bob Harlan, was because he has experience hiring and firing people. Deciding whether to retain or fire a GM and choosing a new GM are colossal tasks that affect franchises for years, and potentially decades. If it comes down to that, I hope Murphy's up to the task.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Wofford is UW-esque in its infrequency of committing offensive turnovers, handing the ball over to the other side only 12 times a game last season. That led the Southern Conference. I was going to say that Wofford returns a decent upperclassmen backcourt, in Shane Nichols and Drew Gibson, but in the games they've played so far, those guys haven't been featured much. So Wofford is a bit of an enigma, but since they've beaten three non-Division I teams, and lost to a mediocre Arkansas team (the Razorbacks barely made the tournament last year, lost several key seniors, and fired their coach in the offseason) by a bunch, most UW fans shouldn't be too worried. Let's hope we're able to relax and enjoy tonight's contest. With Marquette on the horizon, the team could use a solid, confidence building performance.
Ah, and here's a preview, proffered by the Cap Times.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Which is-- this game proved that the Cowboys are eminently beatable. Look at all the things that went wrong for the Packers:
- We were missing three defensive stalwarts: Woodson (a huge, huge loss), KGB (another huge loss), and Jolly (a big cog in the D-line rotation). Plus, key backups like safety Aaron Rouse and tight end Bubba Franks weren't available. Dallas had little to no key injuries coming in.
- Favre played his worst half of football so far this season. The ridiculous and incessant bombing in the first twenty minutes (mostly thrown when there were people open underneath)-- those were his decisions. McCarthy calls the plays, but there are multiple options on each play. I don't think one of those guys was open. Thus, at least one interception (couldn't tell if he was going long when he gave up the other) and multiple stalled drives.
- Generally bizarre and ineffectual playcalling for the first half. I kind of liked the unexpected onsides kick, but the flea-flicker? If Favre's making crappy, overaggressive decisions, McCarthy should call plays where the passing options are conservative.
- Favre had to leave the game with an injury after getting whacked on the throwing arm by a blitzing Dallas defensive back. Rodgers then had to play the rest of the game.
- The secondary was mostly terrible. On several plays, Al Harris was too preoccupied with Terrell Owens to even notice the ball coming in his direction. He generally played with his head up his ass all game-- not getting the call on that early strip seemed to throw him off for the rest of the night. Two bombs to a marginal Cowboys' wideout led to two huge PI calls (though the second call was iffy). Bigby and Collins got exposed. Jarrett Bush got benched. The guys who replaced him didn't do much. The end result-- guys were running around open for the majority of the game.
- The secondary got exposed because there was basically no pass rush until the second half. Even then, the team got zero sacks. Linebacker blitzes, led by Hawk, never got home, and just left the secondary more exposed. (Why the hell did we rush five on 3rd and 19 from the Cowboys five? We hadn't gotten home all day.) The defense suffers when it isn't getting at least some pressure from four. KGB and Jolly were missed dearly.
- Generally terrible special teams coverage. Especially on kickoffs. What the hell happened there? Dallas seemed to start every drive on their 40 or better. And Montgomery should have been called for roughing the punter.
- The offensive line played pretty poorly. Tauscher was gimping around ineffectively, they had to bench Colledge for terribleness (that first Favre interception was partly Colledge's fault), and guys weren't picking up blitzers well (see the play Favre got hurt). Several runs and screen plays gained little or nothing because of crappy blocks. Rodgers is far worse than Favre in terms of avoiding sacks, but still, he was sacked repeatedly in less than three quarters.
- All this amounted to a seventeen point lead in the second quarter for Dallas.
But even with all this, STILL the Packers were only down three with less than ten minutes left. Despite all of those screw ups, and being on the road, and having their back-up quarterback playing. That was remarkable.
The Packers are a young team. The younger guys should be improving as the season goes along, so if they manage to meet the Cowboys in the playoffs, I think certain guys (like the guards and the dime and nickel backs) should perform better. And if they win two of their next four, they should definitely have a first round buy in the playoffs. This will allow the older guys to heal up. I like our chances on a rematch.
But that's only IF, Favre stops making stupid decisions, and sticks with what got him here-- getting the ball out quickly to Driver, Jennings (didn't he look great when we got him the ball?), Jones, Robinson and Lee, and mixing it up with runs to Grant (that fourth and one run was brillant). What the hell happened, Brett? It's really simple-- throw to guys that are open.
Speaking of Brett, despite my irritation with him, obviously I hope he's ok. It looked like he whacked the inside bone of his elbow on that blitzing defensive back's helmet. That has to hurt a lot. But the paper today said that he separated his shoulder, apparently his non-throwing one. That sounds far more serious than a severely whacked funny bone, but no one immediately ruled him out for the net game. Thankfully, since this terrible string of Thursday games has come to an end, the Packers have some extra rest before playing at home against the Raiders on Sunday, December 9th. And given Rodgers' play in the second half, I'd feel pretty good about the Packers' chances against the Raiders at home in December even if Brett couldn't suit up.
Anyhow, that's my take. An absolutely atrocious performance in many respects where things went wrong again and again, but still a close game that the Packer's had a chance to win. Like the Bear game earlier in the season, it's a loss that actually bodes pretty well.
Packer fans should be confident in their team's chances.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
First, the way Wisconsin failed to respond to Duke's pressure defense. Duke knew that UW likes to skip the ball around the outside in effort to get a clean feed to the post, and that the team feels most comfortable when it's moving the ball back and forth, making crisp clean passes. So they got their defenders up in UW's face, and prevented them from making those easy perimeter passes. Every pass became contested. When that happens, your players have to be aggressive with their dribbling, and get past their man. Then, when the help comes, make an extra pass to the teammate who opens up. UW usually failed to do this in the first half, and when they did little came of it. Instead, they forced passes and looked flustered. This lead to turnovers, and Duke is an athletic, skilled team, which took the TOs and turned them into points. It certainly didn't help matters that Wisco's best penetrator, Trevon Hughes, got into early foul trouble, or that Hughes was starting his first road game and his first nationally televised game.
Second, the way Sconnie's defense played in the first half. Wisconsin also plays man-to-man D, but doesn't pressure as tightly as Duke because, except for Flowers and Hughes, they don't have the individual quickness to stop good dribble penetrators, and they don't want to draw unnecessary fouls. In this game, it seemed like they were too worried about guys getting to the basket, because they gave up open-three pointers again and again in the first half. They'd collapse to help on dribble penetration (except for Hughes and Flowers Duke was noticeably quicker across the board), and seemed to totally forget about the perimeter. And Dukie loves the three-point shot. How many did they make in the first half? 8 or 9? Ugh. I guess it was short of a pick-your-poison deal with Duke. Either sacrifice the help on drives, or give up open outside looks. That's what a really good team will do to you.
And I think Duke is a very good team. That was probably the best team UW will face all year, a top 5 team nationally. I would definitely put them ahead of Indiana and Michigan State, the two preseason conference favorites. And Cameron looked very loud-- it's probably a tougher place to play than any venue in the Big Ten.
Thankfully, UW is a team that has some serious growth potential. This was only the team's sixth game without Alando, Chappel and Taylor. (Unlike last season, the team didn't go on any international preseason tour.) Maybe Duke eased up its defensive pressure, but in the second half Flowers, Landry and Krabbenhoft all looked far more aggressive. And it was great to see Jon Leuer play some meaningful minutes and contribute, even if it was only because Butch was in foul trouble. I know Flowers, Landry and the Hoft are far from rookies, but they're still learning how to be assertive on offense, and I'd expect them all to improve as the year goes along. And Leuer, Bohannon, and Hughes all should get better as they get more experience this season. This was a heavy blow to UW, but one they can learn from and use as motivation. I'm sure they'll lose more games as the season progresses, but none will be as lopsided as this.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Who do you think he's imaginary strangling?
Anyhow, Duke is smaller than UW, but generally more talented with future NBA wings in Gerald Henderson and pale as hose true frosh Kyle Singler (who tore up Marquette this weekend). If the Hoft and Landry can D those guys up, and frustrate them a bit, I think UW has a solid chance. But it's going to be a tall order. (By the way, UW basketball is now ranked 20th.) This Cap Times article lays out the game pretty well.
Then into the America's Heart of Football Darkness, literally, as the Packers venture to dreary Texas Stadium to face the Dallas Cowboys, headlined by team-killing prankster Terrell Owens, who is also, sadly, perhaps the finest wide receiver in the league. Further disreputable members of the Cowboys include former Bear Tank Johnson, he of the many automatic weapons and pit bulls, former Gopher Marion Barber XXIII, former Notre Domer Julius Jones, temporary and oft-injured Packer Terry Glenn, and former Boilermaker (and thus a member of the Brotherhood of the Inflatable Penis) Anthony Spencer. This parade of stooges is headlined by the curvaceous and incompetent-looking Wade Phillips, who's coaching career is experiencing a bizarre (and hopefully temporary) renaissance. And presiding over all of the shenanigans is the biggest self-promoting owner/jackass in football-- Jerry Jones. Jerry, for once and forever-- Get off the field and back into the shadowy owner's box, already! I have to admit, his chicanery has paid off-- why else would the Cowboys get three home games in a row, including two straight Thursday games, when their biggest opponent (the Packers) has traveled two straight weeks? When I used to think of Jerry, I wondered how pissed off Emmitt and Michael Irving used to be when he'd wander around the sidelines at the end of big wins, drawing camera time like he did something. This season, thinking of Jones makes me want to avoid Pepsi products. Who can explain it?
The only nugget of goodness in the whole Dallas sausage fest is Wisconsin native Tony Romo who went to I-AA Eastern Illinois, went undrafted and by all accounts, worked his butt off to get the starting job in Dallas. (Or maybe he just had to beat out a big bunch of stiffs in now-retired Drew Bledsoe, Qunicy Carter and Drew Henson.) Plus, Romo likely had sex with American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. Burlington should be proud. Although, Tony, I must say, the ribs at your place are not that good.
Tony is a solid QB, but he gets a little too much credit-- he's got a lot of talent around him. As far as I can tell, the team's important players are Owens, TE Jason Witten, and DE/LB Demarcus Ware. The Packers are going to have to hope that Al can hold up against Owens, and the rest of the secondary, whoever is back there, can deal with the other guys. And somebody, perhaps AJ Hawk, maybe a returning Nick Collins, is going to have to deal with Witten. The last time the Pack played a team with a good tight end, Tony Gonzalez owned them. The 'Boys also like to pound Barber the MCLVII and Orange Julius behind their sizeable offensive line. I hope Justin Harrell is ready to do something, because if Jolly, Cole, and KGB are all out, the D-Line may be easily gassed.
On the flip side, Dallas's defense is quite good, although somewhat better at defending the run than the pass. And Phillips runs one of those annoying 3-4 defenses with all sorts of different pressure packages. I'm glad the offensive line (knock on wood) has pass protected well of late. Still, Favre and the wideouts will have to play another great game for the Pack to win.
One of the various papers noted today that the Packers haven't won in Dallas since 1989. Well, the Packers haven't been 10-1 since the 60s. Favre had never won at Arrowhead or in Denver. GB hadn't beaten the Eagles in years. All those things have come to an end this season. Hopefully, the Dallas curse does as well. And hey, we've got ninjas and pirates on our side.
If we win on thrsday, it's because this guy has a coming out party. 3 sacks and a forced fumble. He's going to be a star in the league, I just hope it's for us instead of the Panthers or Broncos or some other expansion team. Corey Williams, texas Stadium, tune in sports fans.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Dream Season week 12.
The best part of the game today besides the GOO GOO Dolls was easily Roy Williams' first down celebration when they were down 24 (?) - 9. He walked ten feet out into the field so that he could let us all know what he had done. I mention the walk because I would think that in that ten feet he would have had plenty of time to just calm down, and think clearly:
'hey, i'm glad I just did that, and I want my team to win, but we are losing badly and it's the only thing I've done today- ok I'm just walking here... Just walking.
Aaron Rouse (featured here on camp lambeau last sept.) should be a starter. Yet another exciting young athlete on our DST (start them on both my fantasy teams, highly recommended). We have the bears D from 3 years ago.
It's hard being snoop d o DOUBLE-D. Donald Driver What! Jesus would i love to see him make Rodney Harrison look old.
Korey Hall has played terrific all year. Pro-bowl good. He has made a play on every single rushing touchdown we've had this year. 3? Seriously, he gets into holes and makes them bigger. He clears lanes. The snow plow. You know a season is going well when you find yourself giving nicknames to the fullback.
I would say that Tremon Williams catching their return at the 20 was the play of the game but it isn't like we might have lost. Actually our D probably could've used the break. Still, great play. Great closing speed.
And there were 20 plays of the game... in a row.
Tony Romo looks like Ralphie May after a stomach staple and Terrel Owens talks like he's reading his first book without pictures. Begrudgingly. Let's exercise some demons.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Detroit is a funny team. They have a former journeyman at QB, two enormous, top-ten pick receivers alongside two diminutive speedy guys, a pretty good defensive line, a relatively talented running back in Kevin Jones, about half of a decent offensive line, one excellent linebacker in Ernie Sims, a good kicker, and a bunch of mishmash everywhere else, including at tight end, the right side of the offensive line, and in the defensive secondary. The Lions also have an offensive coordinator who once took a team to the Super Bowl, and one of the league's best defensive line coaches as their head coach. Marinelli, the Detroit head coach, was part of a Super Bowl winning staff at Tampa Bay, where his team played historically great defense and had a conservative offense. Now they have a boom or bust offense under Mike Martz (who guided the Rams to their Super Bowl loss against the Pats) that leads the league in sacks given up, and runs less than a third of the time. So a weird mishmash in the coaching ranks as well.
The end result is Detroit has a winning record, but has been outscored and outgained by opponents on the season. Also, that 6-4 record was compiled against teams that are currently a combined 47-53. Detroit's remaining opponents, including the Packers twice, the Cowboys and the Chargers, are 40-20. Football Outsiders' stats have Detroit rated as the 22nd best performing team this year. They rate the Lions' defense as 15th, and their allegedly potent offense at only 22nd. The special teams are poor, rated 31st.
The former journeyman QB, Jack Kitna, thought this team would win ten games this year. If they do make that goal, and win four out of their remaining six, that'll be pretty impressive. What may make that more difficult is the Lions seem to be in a bit of a swoon after their encouraging start. They've lost two in row, at Arizona and at home to the Giants. Oddly, this mini-losing streak came immediately after their most convincing win of the year-- a 37 point shellacking of Denver.
They way Detroit's been winning is by creating turnovers. They lead the league in forced fumbles and fumbles recovered. They've snatched 15 interceptions, the second highest total in the league behind San Diego (who was helped out by Manning's 6 pick performance a few weeks ago). They've scored three defensive touchdowns, which is tied for third in the league. The Lions have blocked three kicks, largely because of Shaun Rogers, their mammoth defensive tackle, who is easily the most important player on their defense. They're tied with the Packers for the fifth best sack total in the NFL.
This may bode poorly for Favre. Throughout his career, he's seemed to struggle against turnover-happy defenses, and had problems with dome teams. (Who can forget Favre's own 6 interception debacle against the Rams in the playoffs in the then-named TWA dome?) However, according to Football Outsiders, Detroit's defense is worse against the pass than the run. This does seem to correlate with the bunch of nobodies in their defensive secondary. And in recent years, Favre doesn't seem too bothered by domes, and this season he's exhibited a bit more careful decision making. Plus, the Packers are pass blocking quite well this season, especially since the opening day struggles against the Eagles. That may be the key for the offense, decent protection and patience in the passing game, with some runs to the outside mixed in to keep the Lions honest. I request that they run around Shaun Rogers and away from Ernie Sims, a la the game plan for the Williams brothers and EJ Henderson in the Minnesota game. If the backs and receivers take care of the ball, and if Grant is able to play, I think the Packers can be successful on offense tomorrow.
Defense will be interesting. The Lions have some serious talent at wide receiver, in Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson and slot guys Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald, and another first round draft pick, in Kevin Jones, at running back, although he's coming off a serious foot injury. And Kitna's a decent quarterback. Plus, the Packers are having some depth issues on defense right now, with Nick Collins still out, and Johnny Jolly suffering a shoulder injury against the Panthers. Also, Al Harris looked a bit off last Sunday. With Jolly out, I think I'd look to play four wide receivers, and run the ball to Jones a bit, if I were the Lions. Then look for whatever receiver is matched up against the Packers' fourth corner. But that still requires some holes to run through and some pass protection. Plus, the Lions pass blocking has been bad over the course of the season, and the Packers have a good pass rush, which Jolly is generally not part of. That is, he's usually not on the field on obvious passing downs. Still, I think there'll be some breakdowns. Martz must be excited to go against a rookie nickel back in Jarrett Bush, a rookie safety in Aaron Rouse, and guy in his first year of starting in Atari Bigby. Bush has been doing better, and Rouse has played well so far, but they're both still developing, and Bigby's gotten exposed a bit of late, especially against deep passes. If the d-line can't get home that often, there should be some big plays. Hell, some guy named Drew Carter toasted the Packers' secondary last week.
So here's what I think. The Packers should be able to move the ball decently, particularly through the air. Detroit's secondary is turnover happy, but fundamentally suspect. Plus, the Packers top four wideouts of Driver, Jones, Jennings and Robinson are quite good, perhaps even better than Detroit's group. If Favre can avoid turnovers, the Packers could put up a fair amount of points. But unlike against some teams, time of possession doesn't really matter that much against Detroit. Their offense can move too quickly. So the Packers' offense can't save the defense by hogging the ball. Instead, the defense will have to make some stops and/or force a key turnover. Detroit's offense will do some things, particularly through the air. But a key sack and forced fumble could turn the game. If there's consistent pressure on Kitna, and good bump and run coverage in the secondary that throws off timing routes and gives the line more time to get home, and this could be a solid win for the Packers.
Then there's all the intangibles. Green Bay certainly seems to be the more complete team, both on paper and in the stats. But can they get it done on national television, when Detroit, floundering a bit, is desperate for a win? And when Detroit has a distinct advantage schedule-wise, since Detroit played at home on Sunday and again today, while the Packers are traveling there? I doubt the Packers are overlooking the game, despite the looming Dallas match-up. Also, Detroit's home loss to the Giants was a tough one, while the Packers mostly cruised over the Panthers. Then there's the short week-- I simply don't know how the short turnaround will affect both team's. More turnovers and sloppy play? More injuries? Older players not performing well? Offenses running wild due to defenses lack of prep? You never know what might happen, but I'm sure hoping that the Packers hold onto the ball and help make it a good Thanksgiving.
Monday, November 19, 2007
-The Packers are under investigation by the league! A few defensive backs offered $500 bucks to the defensive line, if they kept Adrian Peterson under 100 yards rushing and the Panthers under 60 yards rushing. This violates NFL rules, apparently. Woodson and Harris are the likely culprits. Since this seems ridiculous, I doubt any punishment will be more than a wrist slap.
- In more troubling news, it looks like the wonderfully named Packers DT Johnny Jolly will be out for a few weeks with a shoulder injury. The woman and I were at Lambeau yesterday, and after Trammon Williams' hilarious squib punt return for a touchdown, I saw him walk off the field and be immediately attended to by trainers. That seriously dampened my celebration of the TD return. He's a very important player to the D-line both on running and passing plays (I believe he leads the team in passes batted down), and losing him for this next stretch is a serious loss. On the positive side, it's a chance for an apparently healthy Justin Harrell to show something. He and Colin Cole will likely get more time in Mr. Jolly's absence.
- Zach Brown was named Big Ten c0-offensive player of the week (sharing the award with the Ohio A&M's RB). A deserved honor and a fine way to cap off his first regular season. Well done, Zach.
- UW men's basketball is on the verge of being ranked. They're 26th in the USA Today Coaches Poll, that is, the first team among the "others receiving votes" and 29th in the AP. If they manage to beat Georgia next weekend, and a few teams ahead of them lose, they'll likely be in the Top 25 when they visit Duke.
(A) They're clearly improving, despite their horrific record. They only lost at Iowa by 5, and they gave UW a serious run for the money, taking an early lead, and coming back to make the game close at the end.
(B) They have a fair amount of young talent-- the Gophers' quarterback is a player, and he's only a redshirt freshman; sophomore wideout Aaron Decker burned Jackie I. repeatedly, and "decked" him in the crotch; and their entire starting D-line, which performed decently at times, is made up of sophomores.
(C) They appear to have a fair amount of talent coming in, and in fact have outrecruited UW for some talented guys, including Chicago receiver Brandon Green. In fact, according to Rivals.com, it looks like Minnesota has a better recruiting class coming in next year than UW, though that may be due to the team missing wide receivers coach Henry Mason this year. (Heal up, Henry!) The point is, UW fans should enjoy this victory now because it looks like the rivalry between the schools will become more closely balanced quite soon.
- The Metrodome remains a terrible place to play football. The morbid lighting, the unnatural color of the crappy artificial turf, the lingering smoke from the fireworks, the poor air quality, the overall dimness. That place just stinks. Hubert Humphrey must be rolling over in his grave, and Minnesota players and coaches must be counting the days until their new, open-air on-campus stadium opens.
- Jack does not look ready to go pro. No offense to Ikegwuonu, who's a very good player and seems like a smart guy. But if you get burned repeatedly by some sophomore from Minnesota that no one has ever heard of (the aforementioned crotch puncher, Aaron Decker) you probably won't be a first day draft pick, and if that's the case, you're probably better off taking out an insurance policy and staying in school another year. And Jack may need to focus on his legal problems. The fact that his case goes to trial on a felony burglary charge in January is not at all good. As a UW fan, I call for the DeKalb County State's Attorney to dial it down a notch already, and offer a plea deal for a reduced misdemeanor charge and probation. (Note to the DeKalb ASA handling the case-- Jack is a nice kid from a good family and has no record whatsoever, and he's accused of stealing an X-Box, a property crime, not a violent crime.) And if I'm Jack, I take that deal rather than risk my liberty on a trial, regardless of my innocence. The risk is just too high.
Getting back to football, Saturday was a downer of a day for both of the Badgers' potential early entrants-- Beckum hurt his shoulder stretching out for a touchdown on a nice play, and dropped some catchable passes before that. I may be a greedy UW fan, but I don't see how a 220-pound tight end makes it in the NFL. Beckum needs to start power lifting and eating a lot of grass-fed beef. If he could muscle up a bit more all over, and not lose his speed, I could totally see him being a very high draft pick. But at 220, strongside NFL linebackers are going to blow right past him, and I don't know if he's fast enough to be a pure wideout. Maybe he should have a talk with Owen Daniels about taking on NFL blockers.
- Zach Brown has improved. He was noticeably tougher to bring down in this game than in previous outings, and he's decision making, particularly deciding when to cut back, has gotten better. At the start, it seemed like he would always go where the play was supposed to, regardless of how the defense responded or how the blocking worked. This made him a stark contrast to Lance Smith, who looked to freelance at every opportunity. But Zach seems more comfortable, and thus more judicious-- he's seeing backside cuts and taking them. It looked like he was doing that against Michigan as well. That really enables him to take advantage of his best attribute, which I think is his ability to accelerate. He sees a hole, cuts, and shoots right through at top speed. Now if he could only learn how to finish long runs . . . Nonetheless, a good game against a fired-up Minnesota defense.
- Trevon Hughes is a talent. I continue to feel sad for all you Big Ten Network-less folks, as you missed another dominant performance by the UW basketball team in their twenty-six point depantsing of Colorado. And again, Hughes put on a show, nailing several threes, playing harassing perimeter defense, snatching rebounds and taking off on the break, drawing fouls, and throwing out precision passes for assists and drawn fouls. It's highly unlikely that Trevon will continue to shoot 57% from the floor or 53% from beyond the arc, as he did in the past three days. Indeed, the four teams they've played so far were so unimpressive that UW's RPI is only 155th, despite their 4-0 record. And Trevon will definitely face better backcourts in UW's consecutive games against Georgia, at Duke (why couldn't this game have come last season?), and against the hypocritical papists of Marquette. (Didn't you love the dual announcements by the U.S. Bishops Conference that (1) the increase in pederast priests was really not an epidemic because it was in line with increased molestation rates nationwide and (2) that if you don't vote pro-life you're going to hell?) And I'm sure Trevon will go through tough times, whether in those games or later. But regardless, Hughes has star potential, and has been playing up to that potential so far this season. As Ricky Bobby says when he catches another guy looking at his package at the urinal, "Yeah, it's the real deal down there."
- UW men's basketball could surprise some people this year. UW totally shredded the two-three zone of a pretty athletic Colorado team, racking up 21 assists and making only 8 turnovers. Unless a guy is deep in the post, every player looks to pass, a remarkable and "Hoosiers"-like quality. They're very patient, but opportunistic when a good option opens up. And if the shot clock gets low, Hughes or Flowers will drive, or Bohannon will look for a runner. Those are solid options. And they resulted in UW averaging a astoundingly healthy 1.27 points per possession against CU. In fact, UW improved offensively as the tournament went along, going from 1.17 PPP to 1.23 PPP to the aforementioned 1.27, even though CU was easily the most talented team that UW faced in that series. That bodes very well. Plus, most of the time, the team played excellent help defense-- Stiemsma had five blocks, including four in quick succession, Flowers and Hughes were harassing perimeter opponents and cutting off passing lanes, even the Hoft cracked open his head by drawing a charge.
I'm not saying the team doesn't have things to work on. CU did run a give and go play that worked repeatedly, but things look very good so far. They've got talent, they're motivated, they're unselfish, and they seem to work well together on both defense and offense. I think the team should handle a Georgia squad that is missing its two top returning scorers due to off-the-court issues, and just suspended a replacement starter. (See this, this, and this.) As for Duke three days later, well, we'll see. At the least, it should a learning experience and an interesting gauge for where they're at.
Friday, November 16, 2007
If you all haven't gotten a sense yet, I don't think that was the smartest idea. No offense to Tim, but it doesn't look like he's going to play a ton this season, especially now that Bo seems to regard Joe Krabbenhoft, aka the Hoft, as a big two guard. That'd make Tim the fifth guard, and the third two-guard, behind the Hoft and Jay-Bo. That's not a role that's going to see a ton of playing time. In fact, that looks like a recipe for a Stiemsma-like freshman season. The Stiemer hardly played as a freshman, and made his most significant contribution guarding North Carolina's big man in UW's Elite Eight loss when Chappell and Wilkinson got into foul trouble. He played about 8 minutes that game.
Now, I can't speak for Stiemsma, but as a UW fan, I would be ecstatic if Greg were only a junior eligibility-wise. He only seems to be improving and gaining confidence, and next year Butch will be gone, which would have left Greg as the team's only true big man with any experience. The center position would have been his. The same deal will probably happen with Jarmusz. The Badgers do have a two-guard, Robert Wilson, coming in next year, but there's no three on the horizon, and when the Hoft and Landry graduate, if Jamusz improves as he probably will, that position would likely be his for his third, fourth and (now hypothetical) fifth years. What Greg did, and what Tim has now done, is choose a tiny number of minutes in their freshmen seasons (probably not playing in most games) over a colossal amount of playing time as a fifth-year senior. I don't think that's a very smart trade.
Plus, hello teenagers, college rules. Tons of freedom, lots of cute folks with dating potential around, free or reduced cost birth control, constant social opportunities, the ability to truly follow your intellectual interests-- man, college is awesome. And if you're on a five-year track, you can spread out your coursework (thus reducing your stress), experiment with different subject matters, and enjoy yourself a bit more, especially if you don't have the specter of tuition payments or loans hanging over you. Sadly, it's usually not until you get out of college that you realize that you should have delayed your graduation for as long as possible. That's why you see so many twenty-somethings desperately trying to get into graduate school. And life as a UW undergrad? At the number one beer consuming school in the nation? Argh! Someone should have talked Tim off the ledge. I swear, he will "rue the day" (as Kent in Real Genius says) he threw away another free year in college for two minutes a game. Ah, I can't help myself: "Rue the day? Who talks like that?"
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Since the mainstream media is letting you down, here's my analysis of the various match-ups tonight and this weekend. Savannah State is 2-1, having delivered a beatdown on Carver Bible College, lost to Jacksonville (not the NFL team), and then won a close victory over SC Aiken. I truly have no idea what SC Aiken is. Anyhow, Savannah State is an oddly small public school, with an enrollment of less than 2,000, and is one of D-I basketball's few independent teams-- not a member of any conference, and thus, sadly, generally without hope of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. Savannah State is coached by the point guard on the Ewing Georgetown teams, Horace Broadnax, who has had some success coaching at Bethune-Cookman. Last season Savannah State was a decent defensive team, but was poor offensively, at least according to the raw stats. They turned the ball over a bunch, committing the second most TOs of any team in D-I. They return three starters, but they lost their top two scorers and their top rebounder from last season. Their best player may be their former point guard, who is now being moved to shooting guard. Ummm, he's only 5'9". They only won one road game all of last season. I don't mean to sound obnoxious, but this could get ugly.
Florida A&M is a member of the MEAC, a conference which includes several other traditionally black schools like Hampton, Howard and Bethune-Cookman. So unlike Savannah State, they at least have an annual shot at qualifying for the NCAA tournament, and did in fact make the Tourney last spring. Kudos to them. Unfortunately, their coach was fired after reports emerged about him stalking his ex-girlfriend, and their new coach was hired less than two months ago. (See this for details.) And they only have 11 scholarship players, and only one starter returning. That's tough stuff to deal with. Their best player, again, seems to be their point guard, Leslie Robinson, who made about three three-pointers a game last season. They also have a 6'10" transfer from Alabama, and several decent sized juco transfers. This team is a bit of an unknown, given the new coach and all the player turnover. It could get interesting.
Colorado, the final team UW plays in this three game ride, is also in a weird spot. Their coach of last season, Ricardo Patton, (who tutored Billups many years back) announced last October, before the '06-'07 season began, that he would be quitting at season's end. That basically flew the white flag for CU last year-- they went 7-20, and 3-13 in the Big 12. In his place, the Buffs hired Air Force's coach for the past two years, Jeff Bzdelik, who did quite well at the academy, going 50-16 overall while running an idiosyncratic Princeton-esque style. Last year, Bzdelik's Air Force team started out 17-1, beating Stanford, Wake Forest, and UNLV (ugh) in that run. They cooled off and missed the tournament, but made it to the NIT semifinals. Bzdelik also coached the Denver Nuggets to the NBA playoffs in the 2003-04 season. So he's an experienced and pretty successful coach. However, the horses, or buffaloes as it were, don't seem to be there yet. CU's best player is likely shooting guard Richard Roby, an explosive 6'6" athlete. But he's not a great shooter (26% on his threes last season), and plays iffy defense. He also appears to be having some difficulty adjusting to the new regime-- he scored just 1 point in CU's only game so far. Three other starters return, but the questions are: how are they going to adjust to playing in Bzdelik's style, and is having them back even a good thing? CU was dreadful last season, and among the worst defensive teams in the country. They also have five incoming freshman-- a pretty sizable class, and one that likely indicates some serious retooling, both in schemes and personnel. Plus, they lost their first game of the season, at home, to New Mexico, and only put up 47 points. It's good to remember that New Mexico is now where Steve Alford is coaching, but still.
Put it all together, and it looks like three transitional teams, who will be playing in a tough road environment. You have to hope, despite the three games in three straight days, that Bucky can sweep this weekend.
Finally, Basketball Prospectus, at long last, put up the second half of their Big Ten Preview, which has a pretty lengthy discussion of Wisconsin. It's interesting, but I found the discussion on Trevon Hughes to be deficient. You can find the preview here. Cheers.