Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spreading the Seed

Some bracket-predicting lunchbox on FoxSports has us as a #2 seed. He still has Florida as a #1. I'm assuming he hasn't adjusted for the Tennessee loss. More interesting are his comments about each seed. His reasons for moving us to the 2 are our two game losing streak and Butch's injury. Talked about this issue with some people yesterday. Didn't Cincinnati get moved down the year Kenyon Martin got hurt before the tournament? Is it possible that this could actually effect our seed? Butch is our leading rebounder and third leading scorer, and on only twenty minutes a game, but Kenyon Martin he is not. Ignoring the Butch-injury issue for a moment, I think we're headed for a #1 assuming we win Saturday and then win two games in the B10 tourney. On one end, UCLA is a #1 for sure. On the other end Pitt, Southern Illinois, Georgetown, and Washington State don't seem like possible #1's. UNC now has five losses and has G Tech on the road, Duke at home, and the ACC tourney. So they're probably a #1 at the moment and could drop or make themselves stronger. Ohio St. only has a road game at Mishitgan, though Michigan looked good last night and is probably playing for a spot in the tournament. Unless they lose to Michigan and lose early in the conference tournament, they seem like a #1. Florida lost again last night and is probably not a #1 at the moment and has 'Tucky at home plus the conference tourney. If they beat 'Tucky and make a strong conf tourney run, they may be back in as a #1. Can Kansas be a #1? Their RPI and SoS suck. So I think not unless more than one of the teams above them falter and they rock the B12 tourney. Memphis? Same problem as Kansas. Texas A & M? They play at Texas tonight, but they're 13 in RPI and their SoS sucks. So it seems to me that us, UNC, and UF are competing for the last two #1's. UF is in freefall. UNC has to deal with the ACC tourney. If everybody more or less wins out, I bet we get a non-Midwest #1 and UNC gets the other. But if any one of the three loses another one, it opens it up for the other two.

But, even if we win out, could we get bumped just because of the loss of Butch? Whose chopper iz dees?

Why is Joakim Noah considered such a hotshot? He's fifth on his team in minutes per game. 5th. He's fourth in scoring. For a guy whose potential is supposedly linked to his "energy," he sure disappeared in the Tennessee and Vandy games. Plus, he seems like a hothead, with the slapping at cheerleaders and the thing with the Vandy coach. And his offensive "moves" seem pretty rudimentary. Remember when Jerome James freaked out in the NBA playoffs a couple years ago and made himself a ton of free agent money (thank you, Isiah Thomas), even though he really sucks? That's what the Final Four was last year for Noah.

Also, if there is actually anybody out there who wonders what the father of this blog, Mr. Man, looks like, here he is in all his glory. This, however, is not him, though it could be.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

He ain't gonna die...

Behold Here Comes the Rooster's thoughts following our loss to O A & A in Colombo:

Even after the loss, Joe Lunardi still has us as a #1 seed. He has both Ohio A & M and us as #1's. We can thank UNC's loss to Maryland and Florida's losing 2 of their last 3 for that. He has UCLA as the overall #1, then O A&M, then us, then UNC, then Florida. Two of Florida's four losses are to teams who he does not project as making the tournament, whereas all four of our losses are to tournament-projected teams.

In Lunardi's projection, the only thing we've lost is having our #1 seed in the Midwest bracket (he places us #1 in the South bracket). In practical terms, that means that we'd play the sweet 16 and final 8 games in San Antonio rather than St. Louis, which might mean that fewer Badger fans make the trip and, thus, that the game would be more of a true neutral site game rather than a quasi-home game. All in all, not too huge a loss.

According to the Journal-Sentinel, Butch himself is not ruling himself out of the MSU game next weekend. Nobody else from the program is saying anything. Wait, that's old info now. Butch is pretty much done. This sucks.

We should give MSU the type of spanking they so richly deserve next weekend. O A & M plays at Ann Arbor next weekend; we can hope they'll crap themselves. Florida has two regular season conference games remaining, at Tennessee (and they crapped themselves) and Kentucky at home. Then, of course, everybody has their conference tournament. Somewhat confusingly, Lunardi says that a presumed third game against us in the Big Ten
tournament will likely determine whether O A & M stays a #1 seed. That suggests that either there is some way that we could meet O A & M in the Big Ten tournament prior to the conference championship game or that Lunardi is forgetting about the NCAA's history of "ignoring" the outcome of that game.

Anway, other than losing two games in a row, a lot broke right for the Badgers this week. Let's hope UNC and Florida keep losing. Also, it is funny that Lunardi has projected Florida to be the #2 seed in UNC's bracket. Ironic that the two teams many consider to be the "most
talented" wind up with the chance to cannibalize one another. And now Florida loses to Tennessee, taking an embarrassing beating on a nationally televised ESPN broadcast.

Why does Florida seem to generate the best taunts from opposing teams? Before the Kentucky game in Lexington, an ESPN camera panned a section of students, one of whom was holding a sign that read: "Tim Hardaway Hates Florida." Inappropriate and funny. During tonight's game, the Tennessee fans chanted "Noah's ugly." Very good. And he is. The two little spats that Noah's had with opposing cheerleaders the past two seaons have, according to him, sprang from the cheerleaders telling him was ugly as he climbed over them and back onto the court after chasing loose balls. The Utah Jazz are good this year, right? Too bad. They already have Carlos Boozer, Scottie Pippen is available, and if the Jazz could just draft Noah they could put a damn fugly team on the floor. I guess like the Elephant Man, Lobster Boy, and the kid from Mask might be uglier, but they aren't real basketball players.

Michigan is looking feisty all of a sudden. Beat the Hizzo tonight in Ann Arbor (who is, need I remind you, a whore, while Madison is beautiful and virtuous). Let us hope they'll be equally full of piss and vinegar for O A & M this weekend.

I think Greg Oden is actually Danny Almonte. If you know what I mean.

Why does the Big 12 have all the guys with cool names this year? Acie Law IV? Cool. JamIson Curry, or however the hell he spells it? Cool. Mario Boggan is pretty cool, too.

Spring training has started. Right? I think. Here's about all we need to talk about it when it comes to the Cubs this year:

Rob (Baltimore): finish this sentence. The Cubs make the playoffs if...

SportsNation Keith Law: Matt Murton gets 500 plate appearances, Mark Prior makes 25+ starts, and Ryan Dempster is out of the closer job by May 1. That may not even cover it.

Rob (Baltimore): Murton 500 appearances? he's that good?

SportsNation Keith Law: He gets on base. Almost no other Cub does. If he's not in the lineup and Derrek Lee is hurt or gets a day off, you could shut the Cubs out on 67 pitches.

The thing about the Dumpster is funny. And the point about Murton and OBP has been so glaringly obvious about the Cubs for going on three seasons hurts me.

Bruce Pearl needs to have his ears boxed. His t+a show from a few weeks ago are responsible for Pat Summit singing tonight. Don't do that.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Round on the Sides and High in the Middle

That's the bizarre quasi-post-indsutrial sate of Ohio, my friends. Get it?
Anyhow, you may be looking for some seventh rate analysis/prediction about what's going to happen when everyone's favorite underdog/overacheiver, the University of Wisconsin Men's basketball team, ventures to Columbus, that renowned center of antique coin trading, to take on THE Ohio A&M College in a forty minute showdown. Well, too damn bad for you. I am out of town this weekend, and thus actually cannot sit around in front of the 'puter that much, and thus you are out of luck. I'm sure the "experts" are running wild on this one anyway, therefore an intrepid user of the miraculous internet will have no problem finding such previews. If you look at Mr. Heller's weblog at the Journal-Sentinel, he'll likely provide you with a bunch of links. I am also hopeful that some of the other deadbeats who agreed to post on this site will strap on a collective ween and provide some amusing content for your reading pleasure.

Anyhow, we'll see how this one goes. I don't think OSU has lost at home this season. I think the all-seeing Odin is getting more nimble with his right hand. I don't think Conley is very bad, and I do think that he might beat out the first and most powerful of the Aesir for Big Ten pre-frosh of the year. I do think they'll play a two-three zone against us with the one-eyed king of the Norse gods in the middle, just like Penn State. If this happens, although we won't be able to slice and dice it the way we did Penn State's, I think it will be to our advantage. If they play pressing man-to-man on us, like Sparty, I think we're in trouble. Although I've addressed this in previous posts, I think Thad Matta's odd-looking, the All-Father looks like a bus driver, and Conley's 'stache makes me think of the Jimmy Buffet song "I Wish I Had A Pencil Thin Mustache". I also think that some of OSU's upperclassmen want to strut their stuff on national television, and could be goaded into becoming over-aggressive. I also think that there's an additional UW featured "Inside College Basketball" this Saturday, and I encourage everyone to watch. Bo's comments, taken from the Iowa game, were hilarious, I think. I think our margin for error on Sunday will be quite thin. I think that we could win, but most likely will not, although I think I am holding out hope. I think that we will spank Sparty in Madison next weekend, regardless. I also think I'm going to the Big Ten tournament. I think I should probably stop using my father in-law's computer now.

Go Badgers. No thinking necessary about that one.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Price of Success

Wisconsin Football is on its soundest footing ever, and with that comes new challenges.

Let's first look at my premise. After Dave McClain's untimely death, when Don Morton began "veering" the UW football program into the tank, nobody nationally really cared about UW football. Our teams were so bad you could play catch on the field 45 minutes after the game was over. It was either that, or go around collecting cups, which was somehow also entertaining. Anyway, when Barry Alvarez came around, things changed. I remember being at the Coliseum, when between periods the spotlight shone on Donna Shalala introducing Barry Alvarez. The students went into a "Rose Bowl Da-Da-Da! Rose Bowl Da-Da-Da!" chant, and every hockey fan there was amused at the thought. Barry explained that he had a 5-Year Plan. Turns out that Brent "buzz buzz buzz give me yayo" Moss and Terrell Fletcher, and an enormous offensive line accomplished the plan in 4. Amazing. But Barry wasn't done, we went to, AND WON, 2 more Rose Bowls. Astonishing. But now, we are even stronger. And as such, we are being noticed, and when people notice in football, they start stealing your coaches. We have experience with this, we lost Bill Calahan, and Chilly and McCarney, but losing those guys was tolerable, despite their obvious talents. I am here to tell you however, we simply could not lose this guy:

Most fans who like to complain about the Badgers have not seen the bad times. They complained about Callahan, they complained about Chilly, and they complained about Brian White (fair, in his case). The clearly were not among the 5,000 fans who watched the Veer in action.

But you simply cannot complain about Chryst without your friends taking you to task. He is clearly one of the best coordinators in football, both in terms of strategy and in terms of relating to players and building on their strengths. I particularly enjoy his use of same-play variations, where we use the same formation and run 3 different plays out of it. We used this several times this year with Beckum running in motion and either A) receiving the end around hand-off B) faking the end around and handing it to the RB up the midddle or most notably having Donovan run the naked boot or C) running the TE middle screen which has been a staple of our offense especially in the red zone and has caught other teams way off guard. These same-play variations work spectacularly in the College game, and Chryst effectively employs it all the time. I don't need to add too much here because the Farking Cowboys wanted him so bad they re-upped their offer twice. That's RESPECT. Keeping Chryst was he biggest win of the off-season (Barry had been offering Johnny Clay a scholarship since 7th grade). We simply could not stand to lose Chryst, not only because he is so great, but because, Bret has handed him the keys to he entire offense. Bret does not get involved in play-calling beyond whether to go for it on 4th down, which he almost always does, and which Madden players (and a new-fangled computer system that I'll go into some other time) know is a great move.

A couple of things about this Badger team separate it from others past. Most notably, we have a 37 year old coach who makes $1.5mm a year. As any Badger Day of Naples attendee can tell you, there were plenty of older coaches besides Chrsyt, who were becoming a little more ambitious now that the youngster was making so much dough. If Chryst left, it would have set a terrible precedent. Instead, Chrsyt stays and so do our best recruiters, who because of our wins against the SEC are making inroads into Florida and Texas, the two most talent rich football states in the Union. Further proving that UW Football is on its soundest footing ever.

So, That Was Terrible

I thought I could see this coming, especially with the AP defying the "how long has it been since you lost" rule, and ranking the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team #1 for the first time in school history. That was pretty wild. And while it will last until next Monday, in truth it's already gone, thanks to a nine-point loss at Michigan State on Tuesday night. Yick. Yea, Sparty students rush the Court and Izzo cries. Bizarre? Yes. A complement to our accomplishments this season? Yes. Still agitating as all get out? Oh hell, yes.

A brief note on our losses this year. Each game we've lost, a guard on the other team has attained the NBA Hang Time designation of "On Fire!" First, it was that free throw king on Mizzou State, then A.J. "it's my non-shooting hand that's broken" Ratliff. Then on Tuesday night it was the naked mole rat (anyone ever watch the ABC cartoon "Kim Possible"?) And particularly with Ratliff and Neitzel, it was them getting hot and making shot after shot down the stretch. As Bo likes to say, sometimes you play good defense, you contest the shot, and it still goes in, and there's not much you can do. That's what was happening down the stretch of those games. Also, all of UW losses this year have come in road games where we're playing on short rest--with only two days off between games, one of those days being a travel day. Since we're pretty deep and the players apparently did a good job of getting conditioned, I doubt there's much of a physical fatigue factor. But we definitely seem to be mentally tired, or at least less prepared than usual. And this makes sense. How much less time is UW able to spend evaluating the other team, studying their tendencies, having the scout team run the opposing team's sets and defenses? A lot less time. I think this has played a big factor in our losses. And if this is the case, it doesn't speak well for our potential success in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. So it's been a fatal combination for UW this season--opposing player gets red hot, little time to prep.

Now this is not to excuse UW's poor play against Sparty. We got owned on the glass in the first half (Sparty had a four offensive rebound possession), we looked meek offensively--settling for three-pointers again and again and not attacking the basket and drawing fouls-- and we let Sparty bully our players on the perimeter, preventing us from "swing"ing the ball around, the staple of our offense. Sparty plays very aggressively, and with the game being in East Lansing, a lot of rough play (them on us) went uncalled. But we were passive and didn't play tough. The result was a game where UW got outworked, especially on offense, often looking confused and abused. What kept us in this game was playing good, solid defense for the most part (an aside--is there anything more frustrating than playing 30 secounds worth of great defense, forcing a bad shot, and then letting the other team get the rebound?), and A-Tuck and Landry going hog wild on three's. The combination of MSU's best player getting hot (that rolling-around-the-rim three-pointer with a minute or two left was a backbreaker), and, predictably, UW's outside shooting falling off (how many three pointers did we miss in the last two minutes?), meant the end.

I guess this past game, and the Penn State game before it, are what is so exciting and nerve-wracking this season about the Badgers. They are a good team, no doubt about it. We almost always play good defense. And offensively, when the team is clicking well or certain players (like Butch against Pitt) are en feugo, we can beat anyone, and look good doing it. For example, I have never seen better team offense than what UW did against Penn State last Saturday. But unlike teams with loads of NBA talent (Flordia, OSU, North Carolina), victory, against almost any solid team, never seems inevitable. I suppose that's because we don't have many players who can consistently win their "individual match-ups" on a regular basis, if this were the NBA before they (sort of) started allowing zone defenses. I don't mean to disparage our team. We have a lot of good players. Some of them will become great, I think. (I have my eye on Hughes, Landry, and Bohannon.) But right now, we don't have many (any?) dominant players besides Alando. Maybe Flowers on defense? So we have to earn our victories. And when the other side outworks us, especially on defense, and their talent level is at all close to ours (Indiana and Sparty are probably around our level), we can definitely lose if things don't bounce our way. Like the naked mole rat's rim-job three pointer, for instance. But if we hustle, and prepare, and play together we can beat great, potentially more talented, teams. And this is what we've done this season, along with not slipping up against a bunch of other, not-so-great teams. It's been remarkable to watch. But it's harrowing, because you can never expect them to beat a good team. You might think it, but you can't be presumptous.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Dead Presidents...

Some of you dirty ingrates may be aware that today is President's Day, originally created to honor the birthday of el primero presidente--George Washington--and later modified to celebrate Abraham Lincoln as well (although his birthday was last week). Anyhow, I suggest you demonstrate your patriotism and love for our deceased leaders by taking a look at these two videos--one honoring the mighty and powerful President Washington, and the other celebrating the life of technical savant, John F. Kennedy. They are both pretty awesome, although the GW one is my favorite.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bo Ryan is Hilarious

So after the game, I was looking on the UW athletics website for news on whether Paul Chryst is going to abandon Wisconsin to be Quarterbacks Coach for the friggin' Cowboys (basically a lateral move--Barry, just throw a bunch of money at him already!), and found post-game press conference transcripts from Bo. He is really, really funny.
For example, in regard to a question about Bohannon's three 3's-- "He hit them. But he can. That’s what that scholarship is for, and playing defense and making good passes. "
Then in response to a question about Stiemsma's nice passes-- "He can pass. He works at it. His high school team ran the swing a little bit. It’s part of what they do. He just needs to keep gaining that confidence and get comfortable. He only made the one tough decision in the first half where he did the ball fake. He thought Marcus (Landry) had the guy beat in behind the defense and the Penn State guy kind of set him up. See there are nice people in Randolph that wouldn’t do that to him but what he doesn’t realize is that there are guys out there trying to sucker him into making that pass. Can you imagine that?"
So according to Bo, the Stiemer was tricked into a throwing a bad pass in the first half because the people in Randolph, WI are too nice. Also, Bohannon has a scholarship because he can shoot three pointers. Awesome. You can find that here.

Anyway, besides the lack of dunks, the Badgers' 75-49 victory over Penn State was resounding. What was neat is that a lot of different guys contributed. Bohannon finally showed his shooting touch--hitting three straight 3's, two of which were heavily contested. I think he played the most of any game so far this season. The Stiemer had five assists, and also played a bunch more than usual. Kam hit four 3's, and A-Tuck responded from an ice cold first half to end up with 22 points. UW hit an outstanding 12 of 23 three-pointers, to end up with an equally outlandish 1.19 points per possession. You aren't going to lose many, if any, games when you score that efficiently.

Much of the efficient offense was due to impressive passing, particularly in the second half. The Badgers seem to have gotten quite comfortable moving the ball against zone defenses, particularly one as small in stature as Penn State's. Several second half possessions were positively Gene Hackman in Hoosiers-esque--everyone touched the ball and the result was an easy lay-up. For example, there was a beautiful possession at around the 10:45 mark in the second half. Including the inbounds, the Badgers made 10 passes and every player touched the ball. The last two were interior bounce passes, one from Krabbenhoft to Stiemsma, who was in position to take a contested short-range shot but instead made the second, to Alando for a wide-open lay-up. It was Harlem Globetrotters-like. Beautiful.

With this victory, as the papers have noted, Wisconsin has won more games in a single season than any team ever before, a remarkable accomplishment, but as Bo and several team members noted, not something you want to be praising yourself for just yet. This is a subject for discussion that should be saved until the end of the season. Now, the Badgers are facing there most difficult stretch of the year-- a very quick turnaround until at Sparty on Tuesday, then five days off, and at the Ohio A&M College next Sunday, then Sparty at home the weekend after. Making matters worse, Sparty came off their most dominant home game of the season--absolutely pounding Iowa in East Lansing yesterday. I guess you hope they're overconfident? Since they're moderately on the bubble, they'll definitely be fired up to play. Lets hope Bo's solid record against Izzo and his own personal 'Zone' stays intact. It's too early for me to be talking about the OSU game. Plus, thinking about it makes me irritated because I'll be visiting the in-laws next weekend, and thus, if I'm even able to watch the game, will have to constrain myself because of the company. Curses. Anyhow, look for a special President's Day entry come the 'morrow. Rocking...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Neck Beards

What is it with neck beards and inside players? It looks like Greg, "I'm really on temporary leave from my job as a bus driver for the the Muncie Transit System--'North America's Best Transit System'--" Oden has spawned some sort of trend. I mean, even though he's only 19, that guy can pull off the beard/neck beard. As can the Stiemer. At one point in the Big Ten season, he started rocking the neck beard, linking it sideburn to sideburn with some extended lambchops, I think during the Illinois-Michigan stretch where he played really well. It was subtle, since there's relatively dim lighting at many venues, and his blond-ish hair blends doesn't contrast strongly with his Upper Midwest-Western/Central European paleness. And then Landry also started representing Joseph Fiennes' "Shakespeare in Love" neck beard,

also linking it sideburn to sideburn, and also, curiously, playing quite well-- earning the most minutes of any big guy on the team for a fair stretch of games.

Now the look has come full circle, with Minnesota's double-wide 270 pound junior center, Spencer Tollackson, working the look and playing his best basketball of the season, though the woman insists it's "just a beard" not a neck beard, and not a neck beard + normal beard.

Whatever. The point is, I am doing you the sorely needed service of documenting a cultural phenomenon-- Big Ten post players, burgeoning inside play, and facial/neck hair. All these inside Big Ten players have reached their highest performance level to date while rocking beards/neck beards. Coincidence? I'll leave that to you to decide, but you know what the good Christian lord thinks about this one. (See Judges 16:19)

Unfortunately for these semi-unshorn gentleman, a mighty face and nape full of fur also seems to correlate with foul problems. Teams have been getting the mighty one-eyed Oden into foul trouble, Stiemer and Landry both can't play a simple game of hoops without hearing a cacophony of whistles, and Tollackson got his due last Wednesday night. Specifically, the weighty Minnesotan fouled out of the game with 8 minutes remaining, and the Badgers then slowly edged away from what had been a close game, easing into a thirteen point victory in Dinkytown. (Thirteen points actually was the spread--well done oddsmakers).

Tollackson's last two fouls were hysterical. For the first bit of the second half, he was owning Butch and Stiemsma--going right around Brian for a bcuket, and going right into the Stiemer for a foul and a hoop. Then Chappell, aka J-Cheezy, aka "It's not easy being Cheezy", aka "our only legitimate post defender" went back into the game, moved his feet and stayed upright, and the bearded gopher shouldered right into his chest and J-Cheezy flopped hard to the floor. 4th Foul. Tollackson sits, J-Cheezy sits, and at a later point Tollackson comes back in for about twenty seconds, misses a close range shot, battles for the board, is falling to the ground as Alando is sprinting away with the ball, and yanks back Alando's arm. From the replay, it looked like Tollackson was just trying to grab something, anything, to help break his fall. This is understandable, since he weighs close to three bills and has a broken left hand. But sadly, for him, he grabbed the guy with the ball. Fifth foul--Tollackson out, game over. Yee haw. Oh, and at some point in the second half Chappell had the ball at the top of the key, the lane was open, his guy was pressing him, so he shot by him, did a clear travel/stutter-step in the paint and dunked hard with one hand. Also hysterical.

Other interesting things about the game, beyond it proving my theory about neck beards and Big Ten post players:

- Minnesota shot freakishly well from beyond the arc. You know things are going your way shooting-wise when one guy banks in a three as the shot clock is running out. They finished 8 of 12, and were 8 of 11 at one point, over seventy percent. This kept them in the game until the end, despite Alando having a good night (beyond his problems at the line), UW going to the foul line a bunch, and UW rebounding more efficiently then them.

- The main culprit on the long-range bombing was one of Kam's old high school rivals, Lawrence McKenzie, a transfer from Oklahoma ("where the wind comes sweeping down the plain...") who hit four 3's, completed a three-point play with a lay-up and a foul on Trevon, and generally could be seen talking to Michael Flowers about his impressive offensive accomplishments. Kam described his comments as "woofing" and said "[i]f he wants to woof at one of our freshmen [referring to Trevon], I guess that's up to him." Ten bucks says Trevon owns McKenzie in both Minnesota/UW games next year. Trevon is way more talented than McKenzie, and quite competitive. Mr. McKenzie--as Kent in Real Genius put it-- "you'll rue the day!" (Of course, Kilmer's character responds, "Rue the day? Who talks like that?")

- Has anyone ever been to "The Barn"? Is there any explanation for why the floor is raised? It kind of looks like the old Field House to me. Are they comparable?

- Another awesome fascet of this game was the crowd quieting techniques we employed. Seriously, it reminded me of what Bobby Hurley used to do. Duke would be up, the other team would make a mini-run, Hurley would casually dribble the ball up the court to the top of the key, suprise his defender (who was probably busy waiving his arms to hype up the crowd) by quickly pulling up, and then nailing a three pointer. The crowd makes a disappointed murmur, the noise level falls, the beat down resumes. Alando stabbed the dagger twice in similar fashion in the second half, nailing three-pointers when the Gophers got close, as did Flowers once (on a ridiculously improptu shot off an offensive rebound), and Kam once. These buckets occurred right when the 60% of the crowd that was supporting Minnesota was getting excited, having cut the lead to 2 or 4, or even taking the lead at one point early in the second half. Being able to recognize a slight momentum shift, and then shut it down, is the mark of an excellent team.

- Have people been hearing the Flip Saunders talk about the Minnesota head coaching job? That is, there's a rumor that he'll quit or get fired by the Pistons and then take over the reins with the Gophers. Is that supposed to worry other people in the Big Ten? I tend to ignore the NBA, but it's not like Saunders is Phil Jackson, or Greg Popovich, or Jerry Sloan, or Pat Riley, or even George Karl. He's a decent NBA coach. Is there some sort of reverse Rick Pitino/Mike Montgomery logic going on? That "logic" would go like this--Pitino and Montgomery were very good college coaches (at Kentucky/Providence and Stanford, respectively) but poor to middling NBA coaches. So if a very good college coach is only poor in the NBA, than a pretty good NBA coach should be the second coming of John Wooden! Yea, Gophers! That seems wacky to me. The NBA, like the NFL seems largely about talent. The most talented and healthiest teams tend to win, and the coaches and their "strategery," if you will, are generally about equal, with a handful of coaches being outside the mean. But really, general managers matter more than coaches, because they put together the team. (E.g., the Knicks are terrible now because Isiah Thomas, an atrocious evaluator of talent, has been their GM for years.) Conversely, in college ball strategery can make a bigger difference because there are simply more strategies available-- no illegal defense, longer shot clock to run more complex offenses, etc. Also, colleges teams are constantly in flux personnel-wise, so attracting talent and developing players is paramount. NBA coaches, except with free agents to a small extent, don't recruit playes. Also, though I'm sure NBA coaches work on improving players, especially young ones, they don't work anywhere near as much on creating talent and developing skills. They get talented and skilled through the draft and free agency. I think the skill sets are different, and in college, to put a bottom line on it, coaching is more important than in the pros. Thus, if I were a Gopher fan, I would not sit around and pine for the Pistons to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs so Flip can come back to the motherland. Instead, I would encourage my AD to look for a good, unappreciated college coach. How about the guy at Pepperdine? He's the king of strategery, and he's got an awesome name--Vance Walberg. Alas, no neck beard.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Those Idiots Are Still Out Wandering Around

So I did not go to University of Wisconsin, or even to a school in the state, like Lawrence or Ripon or Beloit, or even to a school in the Midwest. Instead, I abandoned ship, cried out "westward ho!" and carpetbagged out to California for my undergraduate years. While this may be a form of abandonment, doing so helped crystallize my sporting leanings, as I desperately clung to Bucky and the Packers amid a sea of semi-disinterested, fair-weather California sport fans. Going to college out West also meant that I met another very amusing kid from Wisconsin-- a soccer player from Appleton. One day he gleefully asked me if I knew what "Iowa" stood for. After expressing my ignorance, he told me it meant "Idiots Out Wandering Around," and then started laughing uproariously. While I obviously think that reverse acronym is both silly and not particularly applicable (although the Iowa farmers who doom themselves to the brink of bankruptcy and their land to eventual infertility by overproducing corn and soybeans certainly are idiots, Iowa's state-wide test scores are usually up there with Wisconsin's in the top ten percent of the country, they helped produce both Bielema and Barry, and I have a brilliant friend who attended the famous writers' workshop in Iowa City) it still amuses me, especially when I pass by Iowa fans, and think, or mutter, to myself "Those idiots are still out wandering around!"

The following text message that I received from the elder fool at some point during the first half was the most amusing Iowa-related commentary of yesterday, however:

"Haluska shall henceforth be Ha-musk-a because he looks like he has terrible hygiene and personal odor, like pig [feces], wet cheese, and sweat."

Making fun of Iowa aside, since the woman and I were in attendance yesterday afternoon, my commentary about the Badgers 74-62 win over the Hawkeyes is going to be a bit less analytical than usual. The aforementioned semi-unanalytical analysis:

- I had heard that there's a camera crew following UW around either for HBO's Real Sports or for some ABC show, and you could see them flanking the Wisconsin players during the introductions. I'm sure it makes them a bit more self-conscious. Anyhow, it was weird seeing the camera crew that close to the players. It made the whole deal look like some reality show.

- Although the media reports mentioned the standing ovation Tucker received after they announced he had cracked 2,000 points (he hit the first shot of the game), everyone knew that he had done it immediately after it happened, and he received a standing ovation as the team was running back down the court to get on defense. A-Tuck, showing a true scorer's mentality, hit a three-pointer for the team's next basket.

- Kurt Looby, #52 for Iowa, whose dunk during the Iowa/Wisco game in Iowa City inspired Bill Rafferty to shout out "Lube Job!", has the skinniest legs I've ever seen on a D-I basketball player. We're talking about just as, if not more, skinny than Nick Smith, the Ichabod Crane look-alike who used to play for Illinois. They're about the diameter of a normal person's arms. Plus, his legs are ridiculously long, so long that it looks like they can't find shorts long enough to make his hem-line the same as everyone else's. That is, all the other Iowans' knees were covered by their shorts while Looby's knees and lower thighs were fully revealed. Thus, the spindly legs were revealed for all to see. Poor lad. (Loob Job!)

- There were a few random Iowa fans in the student section. Since UW fans don't seem to do anything while our players are shooting free throws except be somewhat quiet, some guy with a yellow wig on shouted out a very audible "Tucker, you suck!" as Alando shot a free throw in the first half. Alando missed, and the guy received a vigorous rendition of the asshole chant/point.

- Ha-muska is a ridiculous actor. It's going to be a shame when he wins the Big Ten scoring title, because he is a ham--any time he shoots and a defender's anywhere close, he throws his legs out toward them and collapses to the ground. It was worse in Iowa City, but there were still a few moments on Saturday where he got completely bogus calls. On one possession, the refs actually called Landry for "shoving" Haluska after he shot (and made) a jumper. Instead of Haluska shooting a free throw though, Iowa got the made basket and the ball back. Huh?

- Since the Badgers were losing at half-time, and there's that stat flying around about how Bo's record when we're leading at half-time is ridiculous, but is below .500 when we're losing, I was nervous. Now, I know that stat's predictive value is low, particularly in a close game (for example, we lost the Indiana game even though we were winning at half time, by a point), but I was still agitated. Thus as soon as halftime arrived, the woman and I scurried out of our seats and directly over to the Kohl Center outlet of Bucky's Locker Room. See, although the woman recently had her toenails painted red in semi-honor of our trip to Madison, she lacked any visible Wisconsin paraphernalia, and I was convinced that if she allowed me to buy her something Bucky-ish to immediately wear that we could turn the karmic tide, so to speak. Unfortunately, my wife's enthusiasm for college sporting apparel is and has always been limited. I pointed to cute motion "W" winter beanies, and she shook her head. She said she liked a winter hat with Bucky carrying a hockey stick on it, but then said that she meant it would look "cute" (her operative positive word for appearances) only on me. We contemplated buying her Sconnie underwear (there are actually two kinds of thongs available at Bucky's Locker Room), but that wouldn't be visible, and I knew she'd be unwilling to change underwear in the Kohl Center lady's room. She finally did consent to wearing sweat wrist bands, an admission which lead to a furious search of an increasingly crowded store. I eventually found a pair of attractive red wrist bands, thanks to the assistance of a mellow Kathleen Turner-voiced staffer, the woman and I each put one on, and Bucky rallied to victory. Score one for idiotic paranoia!

- The UW dance squad was giving away t-shirts, throwing them into the stands during a break in the second half, and one dancer made such a weak toss, that the t-shirt landed in the section of Iowa family and friends right behind the bench. She was roundly booed by the students.

- Television viewers probably missed the UW student dressed up in a Winnie the Pooh costume. The AV staff kept showing him on the overhead jumbotron, as he participated in some sort of dance off. He's key dance move was a very un-pooh like maneuver, where he'd put his back to the camera, jump off the ground, and smack his own furry orange ass in the air with both hands.

- Flowers got hurt early in the game, and was gimping around for a possession or two. I was pretty concerned given that he was the main D on Hamuska, and, of course, because he rules. He came out later with a big wrap on his knee, and 'Muska spent the next ten minutes or so, driving right at Flowers to see if he could handle it. An interesting bit of in-game stategery.

- I have no idea what happened, but we were turning the ball over like crazy, particularly in the first half. When we don't take care of the ball we tend to lose, so it was good, I guess, that we managed to pull this game out. That's probably due to hitting 7 three-pointers, well above our typical average, and getting a bunch of offensive boards and easy put-backs. That latter development was odd given how Iowa rebounded more effectively than we did in the first game.

- Kill the bunnies! We were missing lay-ups like crazy in the first half. The Hoft was the main culprit, missing some easy put backs, and a lay-up on a three on two break. Dear Joe, you're six foot seven, and look relatively athletic. Before you graduate, I'd like to see you dunk the ball in a meaningful game. I know it takes more energy to jump that high, but if and when it happens, the crowd and the guys on the bench will go bat-shit, I promise.

- Very little Stiemer, and no Pop Hughes this game. We got a lot of Boyanyon and the Hoft though, and for the second game in a row, a little Kevin Gullickson. I wonder if Bo likes to put Bohannon in against Iowa to rub their faces in it a little bit. "Oh look, it's your Mr. Basketball from last season!" I'm sure it's just more playing the match-ups, but it amuses me to think about it.

- When he were up by nine in the last minute of the game, and Iowa began desperation fouling, the student section started chanting "Get up, old people! Clap-clap-clap-clap-clap." I found that quite funny. There's definitely a distinct breakdown amongst the crowd at the Kohl Center. The "old people," and by this I assume the students mean those with good seats in the middle of the lower levels, often seem to be the least enthusiastic. This may because they're more experienced and less easily impressed, or have their children or grandchildren on their laps, or have nodded off, or because their joints don't work as fluidly as in years' past. (I fall into the latter category.) Whatever the reason , I like it when the students single them (us?) out for a little teasing. Well done:

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's 1999!

That's the great, in a few months will be late, Alando Tucker's current career point total at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, second most all-time in the history of the men's basketball program to 11-year NBA veteran Michael Finley. Currently, he's just about 150 points shy of Finley's record. A-Tuck is set to crack the 2,000 point barrier on Saturday against Iowa (at a game where I and the very curly haired wife will hopefully be in attendance), and if he (hopefully, knock on wood) stays healthy and productive over the remainder of the season, he has a legitimate shot at becoming the highest scorer in UW basketball history.

Finley and Tucker are an odd pair. Both from the greater Chicago-land area, both semi-unheralded coming out of high school. Finley's the taller of the two, a legitimate 6'7", whereas A-Tuck can claim to be 6'6" after a full nine hours of sleep. While both players could be called "slashers" and both are phenomenal athletes, Michael's game veered more toward the perimeter. In particular, I remember his odd foot stance when he'd initiate a jump shot, with his feet angled outward in a "V" shape, instead of both directly pointed at the basket. It's fair to say that a lot of Michael's 2,100 odd points came from beyond the arc. Alando has gotten his points a bit more conventionally-- "slashing" yes, but often posting up opposing players, then flipping in highly contested jumpers, lay-ups and floaters from the paint. And getting fouled and heading to the line. Tucker's a high school power forward, who has tried, somewhat successfully I think, to develop into a three, and Michael was a natural three, who turned, quite successfully, into a two-guard. If Alando goes as late as Michael did in the draft, maybe they could play on the same team, and thus give me a legitimate incentive to care about an NBA franchise. This phenomenon occurred briefly when Devin and Finley were both on the Mavericks, but since Michael has moved to the Spurs, my interests were split and my attention to the pros has waned.

Alando threw in his 1,999th career point in a semi-testy 71-58 victory over Penn State in the Valley of Happiness yesterday evening. As the media reports (available via the links to my right) noted, this game was quite competitive, until a fun little series with about a dozen minutes left. Michael Flowers, perhaps attempting to put the lie to the "Wisconsin has no three-point shooters besides the guy who looks like Chris Rock" theory, hit two 3's, shortly after Bohannon hit a relatively deep 3-ball from the left side. Combined with one basket from the now-extinct Nittany Lions (they are extinct because "Nittany" refers to a local mountain range by State College--since there are apparently no longer mountain lions in that range, said lions are now extinct), this turned a one-point lead into an eight point advantage. A-Tuck then hit on two "old-style" three point plays while throwing in contested lay-ups, and there it is, a double-digit lead that we, as per usual, nursed until the final horn. Besides Alando ending up on 1,999, a few intriguing things about this game:

First, this was another game in which we're going up against a smaller team, and either do not try to, or cannot for whatever reason, take advantage of our superior height. Penn State started one guy, the Eastern European #41, who was 6'10". Another guy, the skinny white kid, played--he's 6'9" (if you saw the game, he's the guy who sort of dunked in the second half). No other player who saw the floor for PSU was taller than 6'6". You think this kind of situation would call for Chappell, or Butch, or the Stiemer (hereafter known as "CBS"), might stand near the basket, demand the ball up high, and try to throw it in. And to his credit, Butch tried to do this a bit, in his limited minutes (13). But the Stiemer never saw the floor, and Chappell never got the ball in the post, scoring only basket on a scrum after an offensive rebound. Perhaps this was due to the defense (a 2-3 zone nearly the entire time) making it difficult to post up as multiple players would swarm anyone in the post. A 2-3 appears to push teams toward taking outside shots. But for whatever reason, we did not try to exploit our size, and instead ended up matching PSU's smaller line-up with one of our own.

Second, Michael Flowers had a statistically fantastic game-- 12 points on 80% shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 foul, and zero turnovers in 35 minutes. He also played solid defense on PSU's best player and leading scorer, Geary Claxton, helping him into a 31% shooting night, and drawing his third foul (a charge) that put him on the bench for the majority of the first half. His 3 threes, and impressive drive to the basket for his other field goal, should help folks who are a bit concerned about the team's offense for next season, like myself, relax a bit.

Third, Joe Krabbenhoft, aka "the Hoft" needs to be more aggressive offensively. He's a fine defensive player, though he had a tough time with a hot Cornley, PSU's second best player, last night, hustles a lot, and rebounds well. But he's tentative offensively. Oftentimes we'll be working the ball around, probing like usual, and the ball will come to Joe, and I'll think "this is it, this is the good shot opportunity that we've been working towards." And way more often than not, Joe hesitates, then the moment's gone, and Joe looks to pass. This is a guy from South Dakota, who you know was the best player, hands down on his team, if not his whole state. I'm quite sure he knows how to score, or at least knows how to shoot. He just needs to accept open looks and take them without spending so much time thinking them over. I think the Hoft is a bit symptomatic of the main drawback of Bo's offense--not turning the ball over and taking good shots are such a priority that it can make guys overly tentative.
I think the team's really great players have managed to get over that. What I mean is that at some point in their development, the players under Bo who turned out to be excellent, like Devin and Wilkinson and Alando, valued the ball, but also managed to be aggressive offensively. Taylor's seemed to realize that this year (with his timely drives to the basket, which seem to draw fouls more often than not), and so has Flowers, to a lesser extent. I guess it takes time to incorporate all of Bo's lessons about protecting the ball, which would naturally tend to make one tentative on offense, and then relearn how to play smart, but aggressive offense while valuing the ball. Joe's in rhythm 3-ball made me feel better, as did, oddly, the charge he drew down low in the second half. I think he's starting to get it, and I think you'll see him become more and more comfortable and less tentative as this season continues.

Next up is Iowa on Saturday. It should actually be a tough game, as Hawky's been playing pretty well absent their frigid shooting night against us 11 days ago. And Haluska's got great hair for a white guy. I also saw this neat SI piece following the men's team around the day of the PSU game, for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

I was going to comment on the Badger's football recruiting class, but given the length of this post, that will have to be saved for another day. I'll leave you with this link to a Cliff Christl article from the end of the 2005 season, anointing John Clay, the Racine running back and new Wisconsin signee, as one of the best running backs in state history.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Second Verse, Same as the First

So once again, everyone's favorite warhorse, Brett Favre, has opted to return to quarterback the Packers next season. How are we, as Packer fans, supposed to feel about this?
The rote response from folks generally ranged from good to great. Is this being overly optimistic? We all know that Favre isn't what he used to be. He's less mobile, less accurate, still throws the ball very hard, but probably has lost a bit of velocity. His knowledge of the game and his ability to change calls and make audibles are still probably quite high, though he may not throw himself into preparation as much as he used to, or was forced to under Holmgren's regime. The valid reason for all the excitement is that Favre is most likely better than Aaron Rodgers and Ingle Martin, and an improvement over any veteran quarterback we could find in free agency (Damon Huard? Jeff Garcia?). Also, though some folks might be loath to admit it, I'm betting a lot of fans are relieved at Favre's return because he's the face of the franchise, and the Packers don't have a modern identity without him. What else does it mean?

First, financially, we won't have Brett's ginormous salary to throw around in free agency. But it doesn't really matter, because with the newly raised cap in effect, we have plenty of money available. The problem may be a lack of decent free agents out there. The best available skill position players seem to be Michael Turner, Tomlinson's back up with the Chargers, or Drew Bennett, the former UCLA quarterback turned wideout with the Titans. For tight ends, Daniel Graham and Jeramy Stevens may both be available. Anyhow, Brett's return shouldn't present us from throwing some money at Ahman, or sliding Al Harris additional cash.
In fact, even if he had left, given the dearth of available talent at positions where we have needs (WR, RB, and TE), we probably wouldn't have run out and spent his salary. Thompson does not seem to be a guy who spends money just for the sake of it. A final note on this subject, it's almost too bad that Al Harris is still playing quite well. We have a lot of money to spend and the best two free agents this year are cornerbacks-- Asante Samuel from the Pats (you may have seen his interception return against the Colts) and Nate Clements of Buffalo (he's the guy who intercepted Favre on the slant to Driver we ran at the Bills one-yard line--basically costing us the playoffs). I'm guessing it'd be anarchy to sign one of those guys and ask Woodson or Harris to be the nickel back. We could trade Harris to a contender that needs secondary help (the Colts? the Seahawks?), along with signing Samuel or Clements. Not sure if Thompson would want to be that adventurous.

Second, barring a disastrous injury or an offensive collapse, Brett will break the records for career touchdowns, wins by a quarterback, and interceptions. That'll give him nearly every meaningful record for QBs, though he'll still trail Marino in total yards. (Marino's more than 4,000 yards ahead.) One thing I admire about Brett is that the only record he's ever admitted to caring about is the record for most wins by a quarterback. He wants to be a winner. Don't get me wrong, he loves throwing touchdowns, but more than anything, he wants to win, even after 16 years in the league, three MVPs, and a Super Bowl win. Remarkable.

Third, all Packer fans can get some temporary relief from their worries. When Favre retires, things are going to be grim, not only because he still appears to be far more talented than the other available QB options, but also because it may coincide with the terminal aging of several of our key players, like Harris, Woodson, Driver and Ahman. Favre's return spares us from confronting questions about the team's long-term future, like what kind of team are we going to be after he's gone? Who are going to be our playmakers? Are any of our young players capable of becoming franchise players? How will we attract free agents to Green Bay? It also postpones, to some extent, worries for expatriate Packer fans, like myself, about watching the team on TV. With Favre, expect us to still be on a bunch of national broadcasts. As soon as he leaves, call the Direct TV guy and invest in Sunday Ticket, because the Packers will be scarcely seen.

Fourth, we may have a chance to make the playoffs if people stay healthy and our old guys don't fall off. Our shot is due to our division's awfulness and the NFC as a whole not being particularly good (thus making the competition for a spot suspect, like this season). Unfortunately, we play the NFC East (perhaps the best division in this poor conference) and the AFC West (Chargers (uh-oh), Broncos (tough), Raiders (no hay problema, although their defense is solid), and Chiefs (tough)) next year. Thankfully, you can still make the playoffs with a losing record, as far as I know.

Fifth and finally, I think Brett is back, in part, because of the Bears. Favre is likely coming back because we owned the Bears on New Year's and they're about to kick off in XLI. His thinking, somewhat rightly, is that if we stomped the NFC champions, we must have the potential to be decent. Of course, that logic may be flawed since the Bears had nothing to play for and thus admitted keeping their offense and defense quite vanilla that whole game. Regardless, the idea that the Bears are responsible for keeping their greatest antagonist from retiring is hysterical. Also, Favre's announcement is a reverse good omen for the Bears, timed right on the start of Super Bowl weekend. I say that because nothing would have brought more joy to Bears fans (and to Viking and Lion fans), than Favre retiring. And if he had announced his retirement right before the Bears played in the Super Bowl, Bear fans would be preemptively ecstatic. But instead, the opposite happened, and it's because of their own success! Wondrous.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Great Loss

I'm forced to look at the loss to Indiana as a good thing. The refs were calling a lot of fouls. Their best player played well. They hit more 3s than us, and when we missed they got the rebound. Badgers were 5-20 3pt. fg. The rednecks were 7-18. That was the difference. That's it. Two 3s. And two missed 3s.
The total rebounds were pretty even. They only had 4 more rebounds than us. All defensive. But our guards didn't rebound well, particularly on the offensive end.
They have big guards that can rebound and shoot. Aj Ratliff and Earl Calloway are 6'3", Roderick Wilmont is 6'4" and Joey Shaw is 6'6". They out-rebounded our guards 17 to 9 (if you include The Hoft's 4 boards[all defensive]).
Against most teams our smaller lineup of Tuck, Taylor, Flowers, Hoft and Landry, hasn't felt too small. But Indiana's guards were bigger than ours, so this time it did. Landry had an off game, but even when he's on, i don't think he can make up for our guards not coming up with rebounds. Also, I don't know why nobody helped him with DJ White.
Steimsma had a bad game. He had 3 turn overs in 4 minutes, but i felt like a couple of those turn overs were actually nice passes. AND, the foul they called on him was bullshit. He needs to get more minutes.

Again, the Zone hurt us.

They stormed the court.

Here's the rest of our schedule.

Northwestern at home (W)

2/07/2007 7:00 PM @ Penn State (W)

2/10/2007 1:00 PM Iowa (W)

2/14/2007 7:00 PM @ Minnesota (W)

2/17/2007 11:17 AM Penn State (W)

2/20/2007 6:00 PM @ Michigan State (W)

2/25/2007 3:00 PM @ Ohio State (L)

3/3/2007 TBA Michigan State (W)

3/8/2007 Big Ten Tournament Chicago IL (w-w-w)

RECORD: 31-3