Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Comedy of Cliff Christl

As a few Packer fans may know, Cliff Christl, the long time Green Bay Press Gazette, Milwaukee Journal and now Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sportswriter, who has covered the Packers since the 1970s, has announced his retirement. Those of us who regularly read his work will miss him. As the elder fool laid it out recently:

"For my money, there isn't another sports writer in the state even close. I'm not aware of a sports writer anywhere in the country, for that matter, that I think is as good. He uses logic, does research, tells you what he doesn't know and is never a know-it-all. Plus, he's been covering the Packers forever and knows the team history like the back of his hand."

I also hold Cliff responsible for my own education in pro football. Specifically, his insistence that talent, particularly elite talent at the skill positions, is what wins games. In truth, I dind't really think about it much before. I probably gave more credit to coaching, and would have believed that having a team of all pretty good players would get you further than a team with two superstars and a bunch of average players. If the idea that having elite talent is what really matters strikes you as wrong, you should get a Packer Insider subscription and read some of Cliff's work from this off-season. (Actually, if you're a Packer fan, you should get an Insider subscription regardless.)

In an article Cliff wrote before this year's Super Bowl, he noted that 27 of 40 Super Bowls (now 28 of 41) have been won by teams with Hall of Fame quarterbacks. (This counts Brady and Manning as HOF locks.) That's just over two-thirds. Another recent article laid out how nearly every Super Bowl winner has had several dominant players--players that most league scouts would rate in the top 50 overall, regardless of position--and usually had a player who was among the top 5 or 10 overall. This year's Super Bowl was no exception. Manning is certainly one of the top five players in the league. Harrison and Freeny are probably both in the top 50. Urlacher is probably in the top 10, Harris and maybe Briggs in the top 50.

For the Packers, he's traced the team's decline to Favre's slow devolution-- from great, prime talent, to a player who might be a top 50 guy on his good days-- and to the team's inability to surround him with elite talent following White and Butler's retirements. He noted that Ahman was an elite player for a few years, as was Walker for the 2004 season, and the emergence of these players returned the Packers to semi-serious contention. Cliff has also documented how truly great players are almost never free agents, but rather are locked up by the team that drafts them for most of their professional careers. Thus, if you want a great player, you usually need to draft high, or get luckly later in the draft. (This spawned my "root for the loss and the high draft pick" strategy this past season; Cliff, of course, scorned any team or player that would do such a thing.)

In recent seasons, Cliff has also been reknowned for his internet chats, where he's answered questions or responded to comments submitted by readers. He usually spent these chats being brutally honest, (such as noting after the Seahawks loss this past season that "this was the first time that the Packers had allowed an opposing back to rush for more than 200 yards in 17 years. That's a disgraceful effort"), reiterating that elite talent is what tends to separate good teams from mediocre teams ("I'm sure Bill Belichick would admit that without Brady and Seymour he wouldn't own any Super Bowl rings"), and explaining that the Packers will continue to struggle until they acquire a few elite players ("They just need a great player. It doesn't matter what position, as long as it's a skill player on offense, a left tackle, a defensive lineman or a DB."). In addition to providing wonderful insight on pro football, Cliff's chats could also be quite hilarious, as Cliff would chastize fans for second-guessing coaches, criticizing general managers, and launching ad hominems at him. What follows is a not-so-thorough selection of those greatest hits, though the last question posted says it all for me:

Q: What do you think the chances are that the packers will fire Ted Thompson as GM and attempt to Hire Barry Alvarez. We sure could use a running game.

A: Cliff Christl - Zero in one zillion. Why is it that some people find it necessary to target a scapegoat after every loss? And sometimes it seems like all they do is pull a name out of a hat. The Packers, a 4-12 team last year, had the defending NFC champions on the run into the fourth quarter. And the Seahawks had won 12 of their last 13 home games. For the Packers to be leading in that venue through three quarters was pretty impressive. I'm not suggesting this was a moral victory or anything. The Packers lost a game they could have won. But why tonight would someone suggest firing Ted Thompson? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

Q: - Cliffy, Another pitiful season for the Motor City Kitties. Another year for you to defend your boy Matt Millen. Until you finally admit your were wrong (without offering up pathetic excuses) you have zero credibility.

A: Cliff Christl - You know that's the ultimate compliment: To tell me that I have no credibility and to suggest that you don't like me, but that you still read me. Thanks.

Q: - This team is a joke! I have more confidence in the Wisconsin Badgers than this team. Is there any information you can give me about where to mail my resume for the position of General Manager? The first 5 games of this season clearly shows me this man Thompson and his hand picked coach McCarthy don't have a clue what it takes to build a professional football team. They have over $20 million under the cap - can you do SOMETHING with that money??? The Years of Darkness have begun and I'd like to thank everybody in the Packer front office for this foul up - You guys are No. 1 in my book for termination. Thank You. From a former heavy equipment operator, hoping to be the next General Manager of the Green Bay Packers.

A: Cliff Christl - The Packers aren't very good. This was another game they could have won and didn't. But the more I see of McCarthy, I think he has a chance to be a successful coach. I think he's bucking some tough odds. I don't see him having the personnel to win for three, four, maybe five years and by then he might be gone. So it will be tough for him to succeed. Also, I think Thompson has the right philosophy building through the draft. You might be able to fill in some gaps with free agents. You're not going to win anything meaningful by trying to buy a team. So there are a lot of factors why the Packers aren't winning. Ron Wolf deserves some blame for the 2001 draft. Mike Sherman for some of his personnel moves. Also, Thompson for some of his. But if you want a blunt answer, I think your analysis is also a joke.

Q: - Just tuning in. I was at the game today, and my take live is that this is not one to get overly excited about. My sense is the 49ers are just a bad team. Watching Nick Barnett is painful with the "club", but if we need so badly to start him with the cat, does that not mean we need to pay him and sign him to a new deal.

A: Cliff Christl - I think you're right about Barnett. He's really having problems wrapping up. But they don't have anybody else. Hodge was just awful against the Seahawks. And I think you're right about the game. There were plays to be made by the 49ers; they just couldn't make them because of Smith. But, hey, the Lions will be even worse.

Q: Daniel - Interesting that you run a list of deficiencies and you fail to even mention Favre's name. I know he must be beyond reproach with you. But face it, the tone of the game was set on the first play from scrimmage. He has all day to throw off play-action and he underthrows the receiver by 5 yards. He missed wide open receivers all day long. He counts 12.6 million against our salary cap (double that of the next highest guy) and he didn't even show up. I know we aren't in the Patriot's league but our quarterback didn't even give us a chance to compete. You fail to say it because you're afraid to criticize the legend. So i will.

A: Cliff Christl - Daniel, nobody had asked about Favre yet. I guess you're one of those little people that I can't stomach when I meet. Sorry, but that's how I react to people who can't ask a question without making personal accusations.

Q: - Seriously Cliff, even after Ted Thompson's vote of confidence on Robert Ferguson playing for the Packers next season, do you really think this is a possibility with his 2.5 million dollar salary?

A: Cliff Christl - I can't believe it. You don't pay a pedestrian player $2.5 mil.

Q: - These Personnel experts, GMs and scouts you quote as rating Brady as #1 overall, are these the same GM's and scouts who rated Brady as the 199th best player of the 2000 draft, a 6th round talent? "based on a survey of GMs, scouts, personnel directors, etc., rated Brady the best player in the league"

A: Cliff Christl - Probably some are the same. And they've probably come to grips with the fact that they were wrong. I gather from your tone that you never are. My hats off to you for being smarter than the rest of us.

Q: - Awful, just awful! It looked like we were a division 4 high school team playing against a division 1 team. Not even worthy of playing on the same field. So outcoached, outplayed, out efforted? is that a word? Gosh, this stinks!

A: Cliff Christl - No question. It was about as ugly as ugly gets. I don't know if the Packers have ever been behind 31-0 at halftime at home. Before I started this chat, I looked up the 40-0 loss to Detroit in the 1970 season opener and the score at halftime of that game was only 13-0.

Q: James - Hi Cliff. As bad as the Packers were today, they weren't as wretched as the Vikings. Do you think the Pack will finish with the number two record in the North? Does it matter, except maybe for team morale?

A: Cliff Christl - I don't think it matters. James, I'm not picking on you. It's a fair question. But based on last off-season's chats, I thought the Vikings had the answer for everything with all their free agent signings. I didn't see their game today, but those of you who think free agency is the answer, tell me what's gone wrong there.

Q: - What team do you cover? You ask, do you give up a number one for an unproven quarterback? And the quarterback even plays for Atlanta? Go read your Packer history and then have a cup of coffee so that we know you're awake.

A: Cliff Christl - I haven't seen much of Matt Schaub. So I'm no expert. But how much do you want to bet that he isn't another Brett Favre? That he never comes close to being another Favre? But, then again, you're probably one of those fans that figured Abdul Hodge was headed for Canton after the Family Night scrimmage. Also, how many times have you watched Matt Schaub play? Are you basing that on what you've seen or just having another one of those Packer fan pipedreams? That's the one easy cure for all that ails your team. Keep fantasizing.

Q: - Nice response to my previous question, thanks for your insight. It shows that you have a grade school journalism degree, and that you are pathetic in your job. Not being able to provide insight to what goes on in the Packer Lockerroom with players and what their thoughts are towards how mangement deals with them, would seem to be valuable to fans. Of course as you have said before you are no fan, don't care about fans and only like elementary school football?

A: Cliff Christl - Ok. Let's play like little kids and start calling names. Based on your question, you seem to know all the answers. If so, why should I bother trying to change your mind? In talking to players, I have not sensed in the least bit that they don't like playing for McCarthy. In fact, I've sensed just the opposite: That they like his direct approach to communicating with them. But you've drawn a different conclusion sitting down in Prosper, Texas, probably without ever talking to a single player. And in your own mind, you obviously have determined that you are right. So what sense would it make for me to try and convince you otherwise?

Q: - You Rock Cliff! Your no nonsense, no fluff, anti-homer, could care-less, we are all morons attitude makes your chats fun to read. You never know what is going to set you off and what blunt "knee in the goin" response you are going to give. Keep it up!

A: Cliff Christl - Some like it, some don't. That's what makes the world go round. Good night.

Monday, March 26, 2007

NCAA Tournament Analysis

Although some would say that this years NCAA tournament has been the best in decades, I would beg to differ. It is my opinion, that this year's tournament has sucked. Entertaining yes, but at whose expense? Bracket purists are left to face this years tournament results with a stiff upper lip, and unwavering principle. To have picked these outcomes, is to have lost any sense of respect for your brackets. This tournament has sucked. Like your first second job. Like a soccer team in Alaska. Like a rich kid's birthday party. This tournament has sucked. Some people want nothing more than overtime games and last second victories. Does it matter to them that all of the teams winning are the "#1" and "#2" seeds? No. Does it matter to them that some people spend all year anticipating which 1 seed will lose and what potential 2 seeds might crap their pants? No.

Well, it does to me. Not that I spend that much time analyzing scores and strength of schedule and opponents field goal percentages or anything like that, because I don't. But some people do OK. Goddammit some people fucking do. And maybe if you really understood college basketball and the nuances of the league, you might recognize that an entire year of those people's precious time has been waisted by a field of well balanced, athletic, talented basketball programs that have chosen to play well when it "counts". Bullshit. It never happens. It never ever happens. Whatever. Congratulations on your tournament. It'd be alot cooler with a little more Creighton and a lot more Texas A&M, but who am I to say what makes a better tournament? Oh yeah... I'm Billy fucking Brackets the IV.

So, if you are the jerk lucky enough to win this years office pool, just know that it's because you bet like an immigrant that picked the teams on his son's friend's winter jackets. Or you entered your boyfriend's pool and he forgot to edit your picks before thursday. Or you just "didn't see any upsets this year"?. Right. Idiot. This year sucked. Missouri Valley and the A-Ten and the second ranked team in the SEC West are comin' back next year. Be sure that you pick UCLA, N. Carolina and Florida and Ohio St. every season. Boring. Nerd. Boring nerd. Whatever.

Entry fees are in the mail, shitheads.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Upping the Ante

So I was looking at's recruiting ratings for the next few seasons. Unfortunately for UW, Ohio A&M, Sparty, Indiana and Purdon't all have Top Ten recruting classes coming in next year. Thankfully, Purdon't loses their two best players (Teague and Landry) and two of A&M's starters graduate. Also, hopefully (fingers crossed) Oden turns pro early. But Sparty and Indiana will most likely have everyone back, unless D.J. White opts to declare.

While I don't expect Purdon't to recruit that well consistently (two of their highly reputed guys are from Northwest Indiana), Painter looks like he knows what he's doing. I think they're on good footing, and the post-Keady suckiness will turn out to be an abberation. Given this year's incoming class, Indiana and the coach-of-the-many-phone-calls will also likely be a consistent force from here on out. Ohio A&M seems to be on fire recruiting-wise (see the kids they have coming in next season and those who have committed already for 2008), and Matta has a lucrative long-term deal. Izzo is a fine coach, as is Weber, though (hopefully again) he'll continue to be a so-so recruiter. Weber with top tier talent would be scary (see 2004-05).

Then Michigan, which you could pencil in for mid-to-high numbers of wins with a bunch of limp, unclutch performances, removed Tommy Ammaker. It's highly possible that they could hire someone who can coach, like the SIU guy, Lowery. That'd be trouble. And as of today, you can add Iowa to the mix. They sent off Alford to the arid high plateaus of the Southwest, letting him, perhaps encouraging him to, break his contract to take the job at the University of New Mexico. That opens up the Iowa job for another promising, and potentially dangerous coach--maybe the head guy at Northern Iowa?

And finally, Minnesota has reeled in Tubby Smith, who was on the outs at Kentucky. Call me biased, but this one doesn't leave me quaking in fear. I think Smith is a pretty good game coach, but the program at KY seems far more shaky now than it was when he took over for Pitino. I watched their two NCAA tournament games this season, and was not impressed with their level of talent. Morris is a legitimate big man, but everybody else, yeah, they were not so hot. And if Tubby can't recruit at Kentucky, how much success is he going to have at Minnesota, where the climate is less welcoming, the mascot is a rodent, the facility is charming but very dated, and the Timberwolves are a more attractive in-town draw? If anything, this hiring highlights the semi-deperate aggressiveness of the University of Minnesota Athletic Department. Both football and basketball have struggled recently (although their football team beat Michigan and went to a bowl game last season), and the AD went out and hired a pro guy for football (Brewster, a Broncos assistant), and a semi-pro guy for basketball (Smith). The message seems to be--no more of this bottom of the Big Ten stuff. They want wins, and they want the wins yesterday. The new stadium in Minneapolis should help the football team, but it'll be interesting to see how Minnesota performs under Smith in the coming years. Personally, if I were a Gopher fan, I'd be a bit disappointed in the hire. I don't expect Tubby to do much more than what Monson was able to accomplish.

What does all of this forebode for the Badgers? Next year will be tough. We have some good players coming in, in likely Wisconsin Mr. Basketball Keaton Nankivil, and Jon Leuer from my cousins' high school in the 'Sota, both Top 100 recruits according to the Rivals and Scout. I don't mean to forget Jim Jarmusz, whose team won its second straight Wisconsin high school state championship last weekend (with Jim on fire in the championship game, leading all scorers with 25 points). But it doesn't look like any of UW's incoming freshman will provide much of an immediate boost. Considering Leuer and Jarmusz are both quite thin, I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of them redshirt, and Nankivil will be stuck behind a frontcourt rotation of Butch, the Stiemer, Landry, and potentially Gullickson and J.P. Gavinski. And for the year beyond, we have two solid-looking recruits from Minnesota (a power forward and a point guard) already lined up, which bodes well. If you want them that early, you must think pretty highly of them, I say.

This is a bit of an aside, but to those depressed about the end of Wisconsin's recent season, I say buck up. Look at where we got with what we had. With Wilkinson, Chambliss, Morley and Hanson, we made the Elite Eight. With Tucker (who I believe would have ended up going to Southern Illinois if he hadn't come to UW), and Taylor (whose only other high-major scholarship offer was to Minnesota) leading the way, we were a top ten team nearly all season. We're now getting guys that are pursued by other high majors, like Hughes (Georgetown, Georgia, Iowa), Nankivil (BC, Marquette), Bohannon (Stanford, Vandy), and Leuer (Louisville, Indiana, Notre Dame). And the influx should continue to get better, even though we lost key assistant Rob Jeter to UWM (where he landed two pretty sick Chicago Public League kids in Tim Flowers and Kevin Johnson; Johnson should be going to a BCS school, incidentally), as, hopefully, the Duck is able to make further in roads into Chicago's talent pool. The point being, if Bo can acheive excellent results with players like Morely, Hanson, Taylor and Tucker, we should be very optimistic about what he can do with slightly more reputed kids. So the long term future is pretty bright, and it better be, given the potential improvements at Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.

But I think next season will be tough. Given that our incoming guys probably won't have that much of an impact, in order to have a successful year, UW will have to work with the talent that we've got, which is pretty strong, with Butch and Flowers out to prove they can be the guys, and Landry, Bohannon, Hughes, the Hoft, and the Stiemer all capable of taking big steps forward. I'm also hoping that the loss of Taylor and Tucker (the number 12 and 1 scorers in school history, respectively) loosens up the offense. With two such established scorers (and with an offensive semi-liability like Chappell on the floor), the other guys on the court deferred to them a little too much. We'd be working the possession, and someone like Hoft or Stiemer would have a wide open look, then they'd hestitate and it would be gone, whereas Tuck or Kam would have taken that shot in a heartbeat. I'd like to see the whole team become more aggressive offensively, or at least take the good shots when their there, without hesitation. If that happens, I think we can be a pretty damn good team next year.

As far as where UW will go, I believe we'll make the tournament, but I'd pencil in Sparty, Ohio A&M and Indiana for the top three in the Big Ten. Sparty and Indiana return everyone, and A&M has a fresh influx of top talent with Conley, Butler, Cook, and Hunter sticking around. The Conley/Eric Gordon showdowns in the A&M/Indiana games should be high entertainment. Illinois may very well do something if one of their freshman guards can contribute, and their seniors, Pruitt and Randle, stay healthy. Iowa will probably go through a bit of a down year, as might Michigan, with both teams changing coaches and losing valuable seniors in Haluska, Simms, Petway and Harris. I see Penn State being mediocre again and Northwestern improving slightly. Minnesota has some talent, especially in McKenzie and Tollackson, and may play better for Tubby. Bottom line, I say we're battling with Illinois and Purdue for fourth.

Unlike this season, a national title run seems unrealistic, but I still think we'll be strong enough to potentially make some noise in the NCAA tournament. All you really need is for someone to get hot, to get some close calls, play good defense, and maybe have an upset on your side of the bracket. Then you're in the Elite Eight all of a sudden. It happens pretty often, and could definitely happen next year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 a Strange and Wonderful Season

The "early" exit from the tournament certainly colors things, but it shouldn't cause us to overlook the Badgers' unprecedented accomplishments this season. They are:

- 30 victories, the most wins by any UW team ever;

- 13 conference victories, against the most conference wins by any UW team ever;

- again winning the in-state D-I championship, beating UW-M, UWGB, and the filthy papists of Marquette in their den of evil;

- attaining the highest rankings in school history in both polls, including the precarious week at #1;

- Alando making First Team All-America;

- winning at Illinois for the first time in Bo's tenure--Bo has now won at least one game at every Big Ten Arena;

- four starters garnering All-Big Ten Honors of some form;

- Alando winning Big Ten Player of the Year;

- going undefeated at home again, reclaiming the mantle that UW blew last season with the North Dakota State loss; and

- Alando breaks Michael Finley's school scoring record, ending his career as the 8th highest scoring player in Big Ten history.

These are fantastic accomplishments, and the team should feel proud of them. The list feels a bit incomplete though, maybe because the achievements aren't as concrete as winning the conference regular season or tournament, or advancing deep into the NCAA tournament.

I suppose other folks will take exception to this, but I think the team performed admirably, all season, even after Brian Butch went down. The loss of Butch hurt it deeply. My belief is that when a team, like UW, is more than the sum of its parts, as UW decidedly was this season and last season, losing a key piece or two affects it tremendously. That, if anything, is the lesson of this season and last season to me. Bo builds teams, and it's an intricate process, kind of like a Jenga structure. You take one small piece out, and the whole thing becomes much weaker, and/or collapses. You saw that last season, with two players that were solid contributors, but weren't starters, or even stars. And then you saw it again this season. Say it again, Wisconsin basketball teams, given our limits in who we can get and enroll, will always have to be more than the sum of their parts in order to be great. I think that's why I always feel we're the underdog, even when we're peforming wonderfully, running off a lot of wins, getting ranked really high, etc. We don't, and may never, have elite talent across the board. So, we have to be more cohesive, and better run, and more prepared, and smarter, than other elite teams. I think this team was that for most of this season, then we started fading down the stretch a bit (you can only intensely prepare so much), and Butch's injury put us out of whack. We lacked cohesion, we didn't looked prepared or together. We seemed nervous. So the season ends sadly, with longing for what might have been had things broken a little bit better.

But again, the Badgers did great things. Beating Pitt by double digits. Beating Marquette at Marquette with Alando catching fire. Winning at Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, all in the same season. Butch raining threes on Pitt. Highest rankings ever. A ton of national attention. Most wins ever in a season. Flowers' dunk against Minnesota. A lot of fantastic moments for a fine team at a fine university.

Monday, March 19, 2007

March Sadness

Only the strong survive. And we were weak. We sucked. We need to be able to run something besides the swing. Otherwise anyone can beat us. Radio jocks everywhere are hammering us. And Lohn Kreueguer is Red Aurbach.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Disappointing End...

It's hard to put down how I'm feeling. Just a few hours ago, the University of Wisconsin Men's Basketball Team lost its final game of the season, falling six points short against UNLV in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

My first emotion is a sort of empathetic sadness for Kam, Alando, and Jason. Though I don't have the stats at hand, I'm quite sure they have the most combined wins of any Wisconsin senior class ever. None of the three had good games today. Kam finished with a bunch of points, but shot poorly from the field until the last few minutes when we were desperately trying to come back. He finished 6 for 16 from the field. I'd say at least a third of his shots were free throws (he was a perfect 9 for 9), and we stopped getting those in the last quarter of the game. Alando was 4 for 11, and 8 of 13 from the line. He hit his first five, and then shot poorly from thereon. A few should be added to that total, as I believe he missed the front ends of one-and-one's twice. He hits one more jump shot, and makes a few more free throws, and it's a very different game. Jason played decently, but was part of the offensive rebound shutout in the first half. I think he had two close baskets, one off of a nice pass from Alando. He missed badly on the lone jump shot he took. So sadly, none of the members of the most successful class in school history went out on top, or in a blaze of glory.

I did what I could at the event, yelling "Noonan" when UNLV shot free throws, working the rally caps, putting on every piece of Wisconsin paraphernalia I could get my hands on. It seemed to help us rally, but I couldn't keep us above water. Also, crowds at NCAA tournament games suck. It's like the mixed crowd at a bowl game, but with a way large number of random, unaligned fans who are bickering about the spread and their picks. My personal opinion--people who audibly complain about the spread or the over under should be arrested. You're fretting about what's happening in the game, and some douche behind you is rooting against your team, not because he likes your opponent, but because he wants to make twenty bucks. It's not a pleasant environment when your team is trailing, as Wisco was throughout the weekend.

I'm going to try to lay out went I think went wrong in this game, but I have to say, that over the entire weekend, UW never looked comfortable. Bo's citation to Steve Martin's character in The Jerk seemed appropriate. There were stretches where we played good, stiff defense, and fed the post or pushed the ball on offense, but they didn't seem to last. Who knows if it was nerves, or missing Butch or what? But UW looked off all weekend, and it caught up with them today.

So, back to what went wrong. First, we either were way too aggressive on defense, or we never adjusted to the way games were being called. Both today and Friday, we committed an atypical number of fouls, and UNLV went 80% at the line. And due to our desperation at the end, both Flowers and Krabbenhoft (who had a poor game) fouled out. I can't remember the last time when a Wisconsin player fouled out. Can anyone else?
Second, no one had a good day on offense. Alando's shot weren't really falling, and he kept pressing late in the second half. UNLV usually did a great job of doubling or tripling him when he'd get near the paint, and preventing him from passing out and taking advantage of the switch. I guess it's hard to pass out of double teams in the post when you're 6'6". Also, there was a stretch of several possessions when they did a fine job of denying him the ball. Kam missed ten shots. Flowers had some good drives, but not enough. Landry had some nice plays in the post, but missed jumpers and we didn't go to him down low enough. Joe struggled. J-Cheezy and Stiemsma were their usual offensive non-factors, except for a nice pass that the Stiemer made to Bohannon. J-Bo played ok, but we didn't look for his shot enough to make a difference.
Third, UNLV's best player, White, a big guard, had a fine day, scoring 22 points, shooting 66% from the field, and going 8 for 8 from the line. No one really played him well. Landry got shook and baked, Flowers was a little too small, and Joe wasn't able to keep up. Alando did ok, I thought, but didn't stay on him.
Fourth, the coach's son, the Kruger klone, had, I believe, three 3's down the stretch, the first to rally his team, when we went up 5, and the second and third to put stakes in us down the stretch. He also drew a foul when attempting a three in the last few minutes, and made all three from the line. He's a senior too, and he played big when it counted.
Fifth, I think we missed Butch a bit. We tried to go small in the first half and got approximately zero offensive rebounds while giving up several. Also, Stiemsma and Chappell were either uncomfortable or unaccustomed to playing with their backs to the basket. I think we could have used an additional post threat, besides Alando and Marcus, and Butch would have helped in both facets--potential providing some interior offense, and grabbing more rebounds. Also, Butch, with his random big games, gave teams another person to prepare for on the defensive end. Without him, I think teams may have been able to focus their scouting report on stopping Alando and Kam.
Sixth, we started too slowly for the second straight game. UNLV hit several threes in the first few minutes, and Kam turned the ball over twice (the first, a charge, was B.S. I thought). We're not a team that's built to come from behind, with our goal being high quality (and sometimes lengthy) offensive possessions. Also, in order to avoid fouls, we don't go for steals as often as other teams. Coming back thus requires patient intensity on both ends of the floor. Our comebacks in the past two games (from 12 and 18 point defecits) have felt exhausting just to watch. I'm sure they were even more exhausting to direct.
Seventh, I was confused about our substitution pattern. I felt we were playing our best with Stiemsma in the game. He was pulled with about six minutes left and never came back in. Why, I couldn't tell you. I'm sure this is Monday morning quarterbacking, but I'm curious as to why Bo went with Chappell (even less of an offensive threat, and a less imposing interior defender, especially on help plays) instead.
Eighth, problems with the charity stripe. That is, missed free throws, especially by Alando in the second half, and failing to get to the line in the last ten minutes. I don't know if we didn't get calls (Kam had some awkward-ending drives where nothing went called), or if we just became passive with UNLV's shot blocker in. But drawing fouls kept us in the game in the first half. Failing to do so, and missing the shots when we did, moved us out of the game in the second.
Ninth, comparative three point shooting. We shot 5 for 21, and two of those were late in the game when we were trying to come back. UNLV hit 10 for 20. That's a huge difference. We haven't been a vey dangerous outside shooting team this season, and it, like the iffy free throw shooting, caught up to us.
Tenth, you have to hand it to UNLV. They defended well, made smart adjustments, kept feeding White, who we had trouble defending, hit big shots, and played well down the stretch. They're a good team, and they outperformed UW.

There's more to be said about the team and this season, but that'll have to be addressed later. I'm now torn about who to root for in the tournament. I'm tired of UNC and Florida. I think Oden will be more likely to go pro if OSU has a nice tournament run, so it would be fine with me if they made it to the Final Four. But I do not want them to win it all. Self and his semi-pro team are irritating, so no to Kansas. I'll pull for Pitt to get past them. I'd root for UNLV in the Midwest, since they beat us, but I heard reports of Runnin' Rebel fans being obnoxious after the game, so I think I'll root for Oregon to beat them and Florida, should the Gators get past Butler. On the other side, I think I'll pull for Georgetown. They're kind of like UW with different (ok, I admit it, larger and more athletic) personnel. They value the basketball, play intense defense, and take high quality shot on most possessions, so play a bit slower pace. But on a PPP basis, they have one of the best offenses in the country. Plus, I think their players tend to graduate. Yes, I know it's a Catholic school, but I've heard that Jesuits believe in science.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Something to Look Forward To

At one point in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda says about Luke "Always he looked to the future. Never his mind on where he was! What he was doing!" (In my defense, it's been on HBO a lot recently.) I certainly have this problem, particularly with my teams mentioned above. For instance, this past football season I made an argument that it would be in the Packers' best long term interests to do poorly in order to get a better pick in what looks like a strong draft. And I've already started thinking about next basketball season, whether Nankvil or Leuer will be able to contribute, how much Hughes and Bohannon might improve, and how likely it is that Butch will be our leading scorer and rebounder (I'd say it's quite strong).

But I agree with Yoda; you generally shouldn't focus too much on what might happen, because it may very well distract you from taking care of the present. Headlined by Bo and his refusal to look beyond the next game, and Bielema, with his "1-0" mentality, Wisconsin athletics does a fine job of focusing on the immediate task at hand. But sometimes it's fun to look forward, like with the NFL Draft (which I'll discuss at some later date), and or with UW spring football. I know in reality, it's a chance for the coaching staff to figure out what the hell they're going to do next season, but for fans, it's a fun opportunity to see the new faces.

It also allows you to ponder what might have been, in addition to what might be, as in the case of Chris Pressley, the New Jersey derived fullback, and currently the strongest player on the team. Chris broke his ankle in preseason practice last August, and sat out the entire season. The injury apparently occured after doing this at some point last year. Whoo wah! Beaver Dam's Bill Rentmeester did a good job in his stead, I thought, but he suffered through some injury problems himself, which led to Crooks lining up in the offensive backfield on occasion. With Pressley clearing the hole, and being ably backed up by a less-taxed and healthier Rentmeester, you grow a little wistful about how much more P.J. Hill might have accomplished last season. (1600 yards?) And now, starting in April, we'll get to see what Pressley can do in practice, and then come fall, what he'll can do (hopefully) in the regular season. He certainly sounds like a guy that's got his head on straight. Bully for him. Best wishes to Chris and the rest of the Badger football folks in Spring practice. (If it's not clear, this post was basically an excuse to link to the video above.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My What Short Memories We Have

It's a funny thing, memory. As a quasi-judicial officer, I have had people reiterate the following advice many times, in re making presentations-- "People remember the first thing they hear and the last thing they hear, and that's about it." Alas, the national media, and even the NCAA tournament selection committee, seem to be displaying the same capability for memory as your average layperson. Teams that won their conference tournaments are the hot picks to make it to the Final Four and were given top seeds. Thus, UNC, OSU, Florida, Kansas, (all one seeds), and Georgetown, Memphis, Oregon, (two, two and three seeds respectively) are the hot picks to go all the way.

Teams that performed poorly in the last week or two, or ended the pre-tournament season with a thud are ignored or written off. Here I mean teams like UCLA (which went 15-3 in the Pac Ten, made the Final Four last season with a less talented team, and was ranked #1 this season, and which no one is now talking about), Pittsburgh (second in the Big East regular season, made it to the Finals of the Big East Tournament, and ranked in the top ten all season), and my team, the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Bucky went 13-3 in the Big Ten this season, came within a missed free throw of winning the league, made it to the conference tournament final beating two other NCAA tournament teams in not-so-close games, was ranked #1 and has been in the top ten since December. But according to some unnamed prognosticators, they're one of the worst #2 seeds in history, the highest seed that's most likely to make a quick exit (which may be true for reasons to be discussed momentarily), lack athleticism, and play poor offense. And, even if the Badgers play true to their seeding and make the Elite Eight, the Florida Gators will undoubtedly trounce them. Yeesh. The national love affair with les Badgers (evinced by the ABC special, the HBO "we're so ethical" Real Sports production, the Rick Reily article on Bo, the #1 ranking) seems to have ended quite quickly.

Seriously folks, people need to get a grip. Let's not fall into the trap of only remembering what just happened, but rather look at the whole picture. Kem Pomeroy does a pretty good job of analyzing teams based on their entire performance over the course of the regular season. He has Bucky rated 7th nationally. That sounds about right to me, particularly without Brian Butch. He has us ranked as the fifth most efficient defensive team in the country, and (shockingly?) the twentieth most efficient offense. (Remember, this analysis accounts for the pace of the game.) So our #2 seed is actually quite appropriate, and the gnashing of teeth should stop. We're a good team, even without Butch, and should be expected to do some things in the tournament. Chins up, please.

Now some of the criticism stings a bit because it's a tiny bit true. Specifically, we're not the most athletic team, across the board, especially when compared to other teams in the top ten. A-Tuck is world class guy, Landry's strong, lanky and can jump, Stiemsma is quite athletic for a guy that size (as evinced by his block on Oden on Sunday), Flowers is very athletic, the Hoft is strong and pretty quick for a 6'7" guy, Kam is very speedy, and Pop Hughes is phenomenal. So we're actually pretty decent. But we lack a big rangy leaper like Julian Wright (Landry's our closest), so sometimes the dunks come far and few between, and thus no one is going to mistake us for North Carolina. But we have plenty of athletes, you naughty little silently racist writers.

Also, the complaints about our offense are again, mostly unfounded. Folks don't seem to recognize that all six of our last games came against three of the top thirteen defensive teams in college basketball (that's out of 300 odd D-I teams). Even after playing those tough teams, we're rated 20th nationally in offensive efficiency. Now putting that aside, we certainly did play poor offense against OSU. Oden tends to kill off an inside game when he's in, so we ended up taking a lot of outside shots (23) and not making many (4), hitting only 17% of our threes. If we make a normal percentage, say 33%, it's a nine point swing and thus, a game. Also, don't forget that we were in the game until the last 8 minutes of so. Plus, what really killed us overall was the atypical number of turnovers (17 or 18 I believe) UW committed. Several led to easy baskets for Ohio A&M. We call back three or four of those, instead attempt some sort of shot, and we're looking at an eight point swing, easy. Accordingly, I am convinced that our offense in that game was an anomaly. So the criticism "Wisconsin can't score" is largely B.S.

However, what does stings the most is the "Wisconsin is the high seed most likely to get bounced from the tournament" because that actually looks about right. But that's not because we're bad. Rather, it's because the eight teams in our Elite Eight bracket are pretty good. Now you might think I'd be talking about Oregon, which is on a hot streak. Hmmm, not so much. Oregon's a good team that shoots well from outside, but they're just ok defensively (49th in Pomeroy's ratings). The Ducks played fantastic defense in the Pac Ten Tournament, but I find the chances of that holding up after a season of questionable D to be suspect. And iffy defensive teams don't tend to do well in the tourney. No, the team I'm most worried about is our likely Second Round match-up, Georgia Tech, which Pomeroy has rated 14th, features two first-round NBA draft picks in Young and Crittenton, and has the 13th most efficient offense in the country. Trouble. So out of any high seed, we have the toughest likely second round game. Hopefully my father (the Pops) and I will be able to turn the kharmic tide with our attendance at the United Center on Sunday. I know UNLV has the higher seed, but Pomeroy has them rated as slightly above average on both offense and defense. The one thing they do very well is not turn the ball over on offense. And we're not a team that bases it's offense (like Marquette, for example) on forcing turnovers. So, I'm less worried about that possible game.

Also trouble is a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with the filthy papists of Notre Dame, Pomeroy's 17th rated team, which has the nation's 6th most efficient offense, largely due to a fine bevy of outside shooters (shooting nearly forty percent on the season). And the bellicous Irishmen nearly beat Georgetown, one of the hot picks to go all the way, in the Big East Tournament Semis. That type of match-up reminds me of the Indiana and Missouri State games, unfortunately.

Most of the other top eight seeds seem to have easier second round match-ups than our potential showdown with the Yellowjackets. Only UNC's game with Sparty (should they beat the filthy papists of MU), and Kansas's game against the KY jelly or 'Nova (at which I should be in attendance) measures anywhere close to the potential difficulty of the Badgers' potential second round opponent. Thus, in the interests of having your team be the secondary beneficiary of any upsets (Bucknell's defeat of Kansas two years ago was huge), I'll be cheering for some UNLV boosters to put the fix in come Friday. Or for the Rebels to simply pull off the upset.

In terms of other seeds, Georgetown actually looks like it has the easiest road to the Elite Eight--none of its potential eight opponents is rated in Pomeroy's top thirty. (Mark it in your brackets.) Also, unfortunately, Ohio A&M is a virtual lock to make it to the Elite Eight. Florida's game against either Purdue or Arizona should be decent and they'll have a very tough match-up with Maryland if they both make it to the third round, while Memphis probably wishes they were a three seed in a different bracket, so they wouldn't have to play Texas A&M in the round of sixteen, should they make it that far. I'd pick A&M there.

Anyhow, speaking truth about Bucky's rough road probably gives you the bit of the gloom and doom you may have thought I'd avoid. Sorry. To say it again, if Georgia Tech and Notre Dame get through, they're going to be very tough outs.

Anyhow, in effort to send you out happy, I wanted to pass on a quote that brightened my day. We're getting into non-quantifiables here, but I thought what the Hoft said after the OSU tournament final mishap boded quite well. Specifically, his line that "Somebody is going to feel our wrath . . . ." I hope he pronounced it "Whraath" as that's how I prefer it.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Chi-Town Showdown With The Forces of Cultural Insensitivity

So my person, the woman, the older fool, el padre, and Court were in attendance at the Badger's thirteen point victory over Sparty. The game got a bit scary in the second half when Bucky's double digit halftime lead shrunk to a mere five points, largely because we forgot how to score for long stretches. Thankfully, Alando rescued us, hitting four three-pointers in the second half, most coming on possessions where we looked discombobulated and Sparty was threatening. Those were remarkable shots, especially coming from Alando, who until the last month or two (knock on wood) was not hitting treys consistently. They quieted the semi-rowdy Sparty corner of the crowd, let all of us Wisconsin fans take a breath, and let the Wisconsin team, I'd guess, relax.

Due to terrible public transportation/traffic issues (sometimes I hate living in Chicago), the woman and I arrived late for the game, so I can't speak for the whole team's performance. We fouled too much, and turned the ball over unnecessarily at times. The offense was flowing decently in the first half, but then grew stagnant in the second. Stiemsma played pretty good defense, and came close to playing 20 minutes (17) as I had hoped. He got called for at least one very chippy foul. Chappell did not look good on offense, missing both of his contested lay ups without drawing a foul. Pop Hughes and Flowers did a good job on Neitzel, keeping the ball away from him when they could. He scored 10 points, his quietest game against us this season. Mostly, this game was remarkable for its amount of fouls. Sparty's talented freshman, Raymar Morgan, fouled out, as did their ginger big man. Their foul total in the second half must have been something like 16 or 17. I couldn't tell you for sure because the scoreboard stopped counting them at ten. Izzo complained about it, and some guy said in the bathroom after the game "that Tucker gets every call!" But that wasn't the case. Even Alando, who does a good job of not committing fouls, got called for some bumps when Morgan or Gray was trying to post him up. Anyhow, it was nice to win that first game and start looking forward.

And we're now looking forward to Illinois this afternoon. The woman took off last night after the Sconnie game, but the rest of us stayed around to witness a terrible offensive performance by both Indiana and Illinois. Don't believe the coverage in the Chicago papers about how dramatic, etc., the game was. It was awful. Illinois fans were cursing openly at their team, particularly Randle and McBride, for its inability to score. Carter and Pruitt eventually managed to do something for Illinois, but it was ugly throughout. Thankfully for the Fibs, they contested most of Indiana's jump shots and no one got hot for them from outside. Their most successful offensive player shot 40% from the field. So it was clankety, clank, clank from both sides. The offense was so bad, when the game was tied 50-50 with a minute left, I was very confident that it was going to overtime. Then, the two teams combined only scored 4 points for the first four minutes of OT. Just terrible.

I'm a little worried about the game this afternoon because Illinois will have most of the crowd. They should be tired (their game wasn't over until about 10:30), and no Smith or Carlwell hurts their depth. Pruitt is a good low post player-- he hurt us in the game in Champaign, which was quite close until the last minute or so. Stiemsma, Chappell, and Landry will have to play well. Carter is a perfectly adequate wing player, and someone, probably Landry, will have to keep an eye on him. Randle is an excellent defender and is very talented, although he's struggled on offense this season. Like last time, they'll put him on Tucker. I respect Frazier's defense, but I'm not afraid of him on the other end of the floor. McBride can get hot, but has trouble creating his own shots. What I'm really concerned about is Weber. I think he's a fine coach, and his teams always play excellent defense, especially against us We're going to have to work for our offense this afternoon and, even though Illinois' struggles on the other end, stay vigilant on defense.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Spartans, Do Not Prepare For Glory

So tonight, as most prognosticators predicted, Wisconsin will play Sparty, again, for the third time this season. I am sick of close games with these guys. Could we finally play them and not have Neitzel look like a white Glenn Rice, circa 1990? Anyhow, my person, the woman, and that Rooster gentleman who mistook me for Mischa Barton's loosely-testicled boyfriend, will be in attendance. Game starts at 5:40 Central, so set your clocks or something. I don't have much in the way of predictions, except to think that it will be a hard fought, long possession, defensive struggle again. I hope Kam regains his shooting touch, I hope Stiemsma plays more than 20 minutes (if this happens it means he is contributing offensively and staying out of foul trouble and that is a very good indicator of success), and I hope we play Bohannon enough to let him hit a few outside shots and loosen up the Sparty defense. I hope that we strap on a ween, take the ball into the lane and draw some fouls. I also hope that the bye comes into play a bit, and Sparty is a bit fatigued from a closer than expected game with NU. Sad, I know, but I'm dead tired of Sparty giving us tough games, and I'll take whatever advantages I can get.

However, I will admit that I'm especially anxious about this evening's game, given that today is the national release of the movie "300." "300" is a fictionalized rendition of the Battle of Thermopylae, a key fight in one of the Persian Army's various attempts to invade Greece back before the common era. In the film, a group of Spartans (300 of them) are made to look especially bad ass, and the film's been getting a lot of hype, and thus I'm worried about some weird kharmic effect taking place tonight. (Can you see Izzo kicking someone from Indiana into a pit and shouting "This is East Laaaansing!")
The movie is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, which I conveniently purchased from Borders, read and then returned for a full refund a few weeks ago. While the trailers, and apparently the movie itself, are a sloppy bout of congratulatory fellatio for "Spartans" everywhere, and thus the film will probably serve as a psych up movie for every college and high school team called the Spartans from now until the collapse of modern civilization, it does suffer from some fundamental problems, which we, as fans of a superior education institution, should note, and by noting, hope reverse the kharmic tide. First off, besides the 300 Spartans there were several hundred other Greeks fighting at the Battle of Thermopylae. Just emphasizing the Spartans is lame. Second, what's the deal with people's appearances? I'm pretty sure the Spartans had some torso hair, and those outfits. Well, Turan said it quite well when he noted that the Spartan get up makes "'the fiercest soldiers the world has ever known' look like an especially fit group of Santa Monica lifeguards taking part in the Doo-Dah Parade." Third, the Spartans were an insanely militaristic, fascist, violent, and sexually segregated society. Portraying them as "the world's beacon of freedom" as the film apparently does (the book certainly did) is ridiculous. Athens being a cradle of democracy, yes. But Sparta? Please.

Getting back to reality, if UW wins, we'll probably mill around and watch some of Indiana-Illinois to see who the Badgers will play on Saturday. Thus, if Bucky advances, I will attempt to give you some pearls of wisdom from that game. If UW loses, we'll probably get the hell out of there, and there will be no pearls for you.

Also, I must share with you the following. The best preview of the Big Ten Tournament I've found by far was forwarded to me by the infamous Mr. Bimbo, and shockingly, appears to have been written by an Iowa fan. Regardless, it is hilarious, as it's an analysis of the Big Ten Tournament via Saved By The Bell. Intrigued? You should be. See here.

As far as my hopes for the rest of the conference tournament, I'd like Purdue to make the NCAA tournament, so I hope they beat Iowa (go Marcus's older brother!). And I'm tired of Ohio A&M, so I hope Michigan beats them. I also feel bad for Michigan's seniors after that horrid bout of unclutchness against the Buckears last weekend, blowing a six point lead with three minutes left in terrible fashiong--missing the front end of a one and one, multiple silly turnovers that led to lay ups for Conley, and tripping a dunk that could have tied the game with less than a minute left. Just terrible and sad.

If UW wins, I'm not sure who I'd rather have them play between Indiana and Illinois. Illinois is a fine defensive team, has a great coach, and played us very close. But they have trouble scoring. Indiana is an average defensive team that has shot the three-ball insanely well this season. They have lots of athletic guards, and a good low post player in White. If Illinois beats Indiana, there'll be a whole lot of Fibbing going on at the UC on Saturday. (That's code for "there will be lots of Illinois fans in attendance if they make the semi-finals".) Indiana, not so much. But I think Illinois is the weaker team, missing Carlwell and Smith due to that terrible accident, and we have trouble with good outside shooting teams, like Indiana. Maybe I'll decide on the spur of the moment.

Finally, Arizona lost to Oregon in a very poor performance last night, scoring only 50 points and losing by 19, thus bringing the combined record of the "shants" (short pants) and spandex tops teams to 1-2. Not so hot, although Ohio A&M and Florida have yet to play.

Let us represent this evening.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


The 'Cuse appears to so far be 1-1 in the new unis, beating UConn yesterday and losing to Notre Dame today. About their expected performance level. However, the tops are nowhere near skin tight, as you can see below. They are definitely tighter than normal tank top jerseys, but they do not hug the torso. That is lame. The new unis are now far less amusing than previously hoped. If anyone sees anything different on Arizona, Florida or Ohio A&M, that is, notices that their jersey tops are legitimate second skins, let me know.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What do Ohio A&M, Syracuse, Florida, and Rafael Nadal Have in Common?

They're all contractually committed to wearing short pants!
How is Ohio A&M going to make the Final Four wearing bloomers and skin tight tops? Do the 'Cuse and Ohio A&M think this new look will help them recruit European players? Or score European women on off-season trips? Won't the skin tight tops accentuate the love handles on Ohio A&M's Terwilliger or the scary twigginess of Corey Brewer? Hilarious. I may chart the performance of the applicable teams--the 'Cuse, Arizona, Florida, and Ohio A&M--after their imposition of said ridiculous uniforms. I promise to provide updates.
And who knows, given Nadal's record, particularly on clay, maybe there's something to the man capris:

Alando vs. the All-Father

There seems to be some debate among the media and the various coaching fraternities about who's the Big Ten's MVP for this past college basketball season. Specifically, several stories have come out today claiming great consternation between the choice of Alando Tucker and Greg Oden as league MVP. My response-- are you kidding me? Have people forgotten that the "V" in MVP stands for "Valuable"?

Ohio State (originally known as Ohio A&M College), was 6-1 without Oden, the only loss being a competitive nine point defeat at the home stadium of the semi-pro team known as North Carolina. With Oden, they certainly improved their interior defense and rebounding. But I believe that even if Oden had missed the entire season, Ohio State would still be no worse than second in the Big Ten. Look back at their schedule. Maybe they lose at home to Michigan State and lose the second Wisconsin game. In non-conference play, they probably lose to Tennessee (Oden had a huge game in that one). That's three more losses, two more conference losses. I don't see what other games they lose without Oden. Their only match-up against Indiana, a seven point win? Debatable--Othello Hunter is a good interior player, certainly good enough to bother D.J. White. They'd still lose to Florida and still lose at Wisconsin. No way that Penn State beats them either time, regardless of how close the games appeared. A final loss at Michigan? Maybe, but given Michigan's horrid record in the clutch, also very debatable. So without Oden, I am very comfortable estimating that Ohio A&M would be 24-6, 13-3 in the conference, tying for best record overall, but losing the first tiebreaker to Wisconsin after getting beat twice.

Now where would Wisconsin be without Tucker? Lets see-- losing to Marquette on the road in December (28 points, 5 boards), losing to Pitt at home in December (32 points, 10 boards), and losing at home to Winthrop in November (21 points in a 3 point OT win), and likely losing on the road at Georgia (29 points, 8 boards in a hard fought ten point win). That's three more certain non-conference losses, and probably a fourth as well. During the regular season, with no Tucker, the Badgers would have lost at Nortwestern (Wisconsin was down at the half, struggled the entire game,and only Tucker's inspired play in the second half allowed UW to pull that out--17 points, in the second half, 8 rebounds), lost at home to Ohio State (17 points, 6 rebounds in a narrow win), lost at Illinois (17 points, 8 boards, plus a clutch offensive rebound and falling down assist late in the game), lost at Minnesota (29 points, 9 rebounds in a closer-than-it-looked 13 point win), and lost at home to Michigan State (26 points, exactly half of Wisconsin's total points). Do people not realize that Alando is Wisconsin's only player who can consistently create offensive opportunities? Kammron is a good jump-shooter, but only a decent penetrator. When he drives, he relies more on getting fouled than getting to the basket. Butch, until he dislocated his elbow, was a good jump shooter and a decent low post threat, although not against athletic defenders. Alando can post people up, hit turnarounds from the wing, drive to the basket, hit three pointers (although not that consistently), and finishes around the basket like no one else on the team. And when asked, he can rebound like a power forward. Simply put, he is the most athletic player on the team, the best leader, and the best scorer. It's like if you combined Brett Petway's athleticism, Carl Landry's scoring ability and Mateen Cleaves' leadership. The Badgers would likely be 8-8 in the league without Alando, and would have had at least 3 more non-conference losses, making them a 19-11 team. With that type of a record, I doubt they would even be ranked. But look at where Tucker has taken Wisconsin--ranked fourth in the nation, 13 league wins (a school record) and 27 regular season wins (another school record).

Alando is a once in a decade player for Wisconsin-- a freakishly athletic and skilled fifth-year senior who is still around only due to injuries and a perceived lack of fit in the NBA. Oden is a ferociously talented player with uncanny defensive timing, who Ohio State is borrowing for two seasons at the most. He's a fine rebounder, his offensive game is improving, and he closes the lane on defense. In fact, there's a strong argument to be made that he should be Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten. But there's no way he's the most valuable player in the league, because his value to his Ohio A&M pales in comparison to Tucker's value to Wisconsin. Hell, Oden's not even the most valuable player on Ohio State.

Conley should beat him out for Big Ten freshman of the year hands down. Conley broke the Ohio State single season record for assists, and lead the league in the category. He led the league in assist to turnover ratio. He led the league in steals. He's the best dribble penetrator in the Big Ten. He beat Michael Flowers, Wisconsin's best defender and one of the best defensive guards in the league, off the dribble on the most important possession of the season when Flowers knew he'd be driving. But even then, Flowers couldn't stay in front of him. After getting by Michael, Conley hit a runner with his right (non-shooting hand) to win the game and the regular season championship. And he did all of this playing point guard, the game's most mentally demanding position. And that play was typical of his performance throughout the season. Conley consistently made important plays down the stretch to win games, like Saturday's game against Michigan. Anyone who votes for Oden as freshman of the year over Conley isn't thinking straight.

Thus, I think it's unambiguous, even though Oden's team accomplished more, Tucker is far, far more valuable to Wisconsin than Oden was to Ohio State. Without Tucker, Wisconsin is like Illinois this year-- a good defensive team that can't score, and is stuck in the middle of the Big Ten pack. Without Oden, Ohio State is still one of the best teams in the league. And Oden isn't even the most valuable player, or the most valuable freshman on his own team. Conley is.

So, Dear Media and Coaches: look at what happened, think about which player was really the most valuable, and make the right decision. Given the growing attention given to talented high school players, part of our national obsession with "the next big thing," Oden has the hype behind him. But Tucker got the results. As Public Enemy memorably said, "don't believe the hype."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Green Issues

So the Badgers' two point victory over Michigan State was certainly exciting, especially right at the end. It had been a rough stretch for Kam--struggling with his shooting against Sparty the first time around, missing that front end of the one and one at Ohio A&M; and because of those two losses seeing our shot at a Big Ten title go down the dumper. Thus, I was heavily relieved and elated and surprised actually to see him hit that shot. My hopes were low on that possession, especially after he missed an easier jump shot the previous time up the floor. (Did anyone recall how that first shot by the free throw line that Kam missed was almost exactly the same shot that he made to beat Sparty two years ago?). A great shot for the team, and for everyone's spirits after struggling through the roughest stretch of the season. And again, for Kam, that was a wonderful way to end your last ever home game.

However, as noted in this article in the Trib, we didn't play particularly well offensively. The article discusses the recent three game stretch where we've struggled on offense, losing two out of three. The Trib piece does neglect to mention that MSU and Ohio A&M are excellent defensive teams, two of the four best defenses in the Big Ten, alongside us and Illinois. Just before this MSU, O A&M, MSU stretch, we sliced and diced Penn State to smithereens, playing wonderful offense. But even with MSU's defensive prowess, you would have hoped, as I did, that facing MSU for the second time in 11 days with plenty of time to prepare, would have led us to have a little bit of a better performance. Maybe it was lacking Butch for the first time (Stiemsma and Landry both got in pretty quick foul trouble in the first half), maybe it was Flowers over focusing on his defensive assignment, or Kam (until the end, thankfully) having a poor shooting night. Oh, and after seeing Chappell barely hit the rim on two jump shots, I guess I'll stop calling for him to shoot. Whatever the cause, UW was not putting the ball in the hole like it can. I guess you give Sparty credit for playing good tough defense. And to be honest, they are a bit underrated. They've had a bunch of health problems all throughout the season, and are now finally healthy. Losing at Michigan was a bit embarrassing, although I guess Neitzel had the flu. The point being, they're better than their record, especially their record in the Big Ten. They're certainly better than Iowa and Illinois, two teams they trail in the Big Ten standings.

Unfortunately, if Sparty is our offensive kryptonite (being green and white), we better get some lead underpants because barring a miraculous performance by Northwestern, we'll be playing them for a third time come Friday night in the Big Ten Tournament. Now it may not be particularly important for our seeding to win the tournament, particularly because it's debatable whether anyone at the NCAA seeding committee pays attention the final of our tournament. But it would be helpful to at least make it to the weekend proper. If we win the likely Sparty double rematch, we would then have a likely match up with Indiana, which would be a tough game, but a nice win going into the tournament if we could pull it off. Anyhow, given the potential first-round match up with Sparty, my ardor for our league tournament has cooled. Now I'm just hoping we can win a game or two. Plus, all the Tournament brackets I see us being put in (when we're listed as a #1) have some sick, slightly underperforming #2, like Florida or UNC, who I just watched do a Phoenix Suns impersonation all over Duke (they probably have a better bench than any NBA team). So my enthusiasm for the tourney generally is also on the wane. Or maybe it's just rising nervousness. Regardless, it's going to be a tough road to hoe for UW from here on out. Tough outs everywhere, except maybe in the first round of the NCAA tournament, depending on our seeding.

The other green related news deals with the green showed Ahman Green, in order to get him to leave the Green Bay Packers. The Texans anted up a four year deal worth about $23 million, with over $6 million in guaranteed money to get him to head down to Houston abandoning one of the most storied franchises in league history for one of the least. Ahman's departure leaves a big hole in the Packers' starting backfield, and one that we obviously could have prevented had we just thrown him some cash before the free agency period started. That would have been my preferred option. Especially because it's not like we lack the money. I think the Packers had somewhere between the fourth and sixth most cap room in the league going into free agency. I guess Thompson drew a line somewhere about Ahman's value. However, I'd be surprised if the Packers didn't underestimate what he'd be able to get out in the free market, and were hoping that he'd realize that their pre-free agency offers were quite reasonable.

If that's what they were thinking, they misread the market. Several economic indicators should have led them to believe that a lot of money would be thrown around this offseason. The NFL just increased the salary cap, and with the franchise and transition tags being liberally applied, few playmaking free agents are out running around. The former Ravens linebacker, Thomas, and Clements, the Bills corner, were about it. (They were shortly snapped up by the Patriots and the Niners, respectively.) So, most teams had big piles of money lying around to spend on decent but flawed players, like Ahman-- a formerly great running back, still good, but most likely on the downslope of his career. You'd think that teams would save their cap room to resign their own best players, but some apparently feel their needs are so glaring that they're willing to drastically overpay to fill a niche. And that's what it appears the Texans did with Ahman and their running back spot, where they've had a mild to gaping hole for their entire franchise history. I suppose if Ahman plays wonderfully next season, decently the next, and then they cut him, it'd probably turn out to have been a good deal for the Texans. But just having Ahman in the backfield isn't going to keep David Carr upright-- that is, it's not going to fix their serious offensive line problems. If the line play struggles like it usually does, I'm going to feel bad for Ahman.

The question then becomes, what are the Packers going to do? The remaining running back free agents include-- Dominic Rhodes, Travis Henry, Chris Brown and Jamal Lewis. Nobody you'd get too excited about. It'll be interesting to see if we are willing to overpay one of them, in turn, to replace a back who another team overpaid. I wouldn't be too upset about picking up Henry, who's been a fairly productive back when he's gotten the opportunity. But I think the loss of Green means that the Packers will be seriously considering taking a back in the first few rounds of the draft, likely even more seriously than they were before. Since many mock drafts noted the Texans' need for a running back, maybe this means that they go in another direction with their picks and a talented runner that should have gone earlier falls to us. I can still dream about Adrian Peterson, can't I?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Skinning the White Weasel

Seriously, no more of Michigan State's Drew Neitzel running around hitting three pointers that touch every part of the rim twice before falling in. I, like most Badger fans I imagine, am pissed. I'm pissed that Sparty pushed us around last time. I'm pissed that Kam missed the front end of that one and one. I'm pissed that Butch had that freakish injury and then started crying on national television. Accordingly, I really want the Badgers to take out the frustration of the last week and a half on Sparty. I am pissed, and I demand a whuppin'.

Since our loss in East Lansing, I've thought it over, and Wisconsin's talent level is better than Michigan State's. They basically have a bunch of relatively athletic but relatively unskilled relatively big guys. Then they have a couple athletic, but not overly scary guards, and then Raymar (also not a real name) Morgan, a raw Shannon Brown-type, and Mr. Eminem wannabe, who's game is basically running hard off of illegal screens and shooting jump shots. Whoopety do. (Did anyone notice how totally standard white-bread his parents were? They were shown in the stands during the last game. Is someone pretending to be "from the streets" or is it just me? Friggin' poseur.)

Anyhow, we're better and it's time to show it. MSU will probably try to do a tight man on man defense, like last time. We have to respond effectively. Drive by it and go to the basket, or look to pass when someone comes to help. Make them foul you. People who aren't Alando seem to be afraid of driving; I'm guessing this is because it increases your chances of turning the ball over (in addition to easing the opposing team's transition to a fast break) and thus Bo likely disapproves of doing so until the shot clock is getting low. But I really think it's the best option when the other team is pressing perimeter players that closely. I also say we switch around Trevon and Flowers on Neitzel, as opposed to just Flowers. He looked a little worn out by the end of the Spaty game. Until Ohio A&M's last play, that combination did a good job of frustrating my pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Mike Conley, Jr., aka mister "I wish I had a pencil-thin mustache." Also, our back court defenders need to accentuate the ever-so-slightly moving screens Sparty runs for Neitzel. Ram them hard. Go sprawling sideways. Wear mouthguards.

And, of course, rebounding. We need to do it, particularly on the defensive end. (Badger frontcourt--put your ass on your man and push him away from the basket.) Also, it would probably help matters if the refs looked over the rulebook before the game and rediscovered the foul called "Over the Back." Hopefully, this time our coaching staff will be able to do some pointed lobbying to this effect without drawing technicals. (Sigh...) Finally, we need to make Sparty pay for sending three or four people after offensive rebounds. Bo prides himself on having his team take high percentage shots. Hey, Bo--close range shots on 3 on 2 breaks ARE high percentage shots. Get the defensive rebound, hurl the ball down court to Kam or Hughes or Bohannon or Alando, and get easy points. It's fun, it's relatively easy-- it can actually be "Showtime" as Magic and Worthy demonstrated. Like those Laker teams, we have a really athletic jumper/finisher who is great on the break in A-Tuck. And for god's sake, pushing a 3 on 2 break is certainly a more efficient means of scoring points than waiting for Sparty to get their defense set.

Also, as I stated in a previous post, I urge someone to take a sign to the game that reads "Marquise is a Delicious Breakfast Juice" on one side, and "Trade in Your Marquise for a Dannon Frusion Smoothie" on the other. Vengeance. Retribution. Deterrence. Rehabilitation. Redemption. Death to Sparty.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

I'll never ask for anything else ever.

As for Randy "next time i'll shake my dick" Moss possibly becoming a packer, i haven't been more excited about anything Green Bay since we fired Mike Sherman. I want this like I wanted Vince Young. Not because he's that good anymore, but because he's Randy Moss. I liked him when he was a viking. I imagine I'll have to keep tabs on my manhood if he becomes a Packer. It's real life fantasy football. Its The Green Bay southern pride Dick Droppers starring Favre and Randy. please! Pleeeaaase! Mr. Man, It has to happen. Yes. Yes it does.
In the 'just keep playing so we don't have to deal with you being gone' twilight of Brett Favre's career, sucking with Randy Moss would be a new low. However, it is irresistably sexy. And we wouldn't suck. He'd make us much better. Even if he has lost a step, he's better than he's played in Oakland at any point over the last 3 years. There, he played for ridiculous coaches, and with quarterbacks that wouldn't start for the Badgers. Here, he would definately burn up the vikings (twice), he wouldn't have to be the best reciever on the team and he love's to put W's "up on Lamboo field". He has to wear 84 though.
Please. Anyone against the idea should just think back to the 8 seasons he played for the Queens. How many 'what if we had him' conversations did you have? It'd be worth him busting just to see him in a Packer helmut. Randy Moss. We could have him. I don't care if he only has 20 catches. 8 of them will be touchdowns. I guarantee it. I wouldn't care if he was coming out of retirement. He'd snap once. What if he snaps at soldier? What if he snaps in the playoffs? SNAP!!
Plus he talks southern. Him and Favre would be homies. Favre could put some rims on a lawn mower for him. I swear to god i have the Packer proshop in my phone and I'm ordering a jersey the second it goes down.


Is what i say. Streamlizzled. With Brian Butch gone, the badgers are a better team. I feel bad saying it. Wait, no i don't. The biggest weekness of our team has been inconsistant play in the low post. Brian Butch is the most inconsistent player on the team (tied with Kamikazi). Stiemsma, Chappell and Landry getting more minutes, will help the team more than not having Butch will hurt it.
The rebounds will be missed, but the field goal and free throw percentages wont. Not to mention how irritating it is that Brian Butch only has 14 blocks (he's 7 ft. tall, he plays 20 minutes a game).
Butch shoots %48 from the floor and %59 from the line. Stiemsma; %54 and %74, Chappell; %45 and %64, Landry; %52 and
%59. Granted, Butch shoots 3's, but Landry shoots them better (%34 vs. %44), and Stiemsma shoots deep 2's. They all play better defense than Butch.
Obviously it never hurts to be deep, but watch the energy that these guys play with knowing that they wont get pulled over a touch foul. Especially Stiemsma. For christssake the guy d'd up Sean May and for some reason got sat the whole second half. He's never been Ryan's boy, now he has to be. I'm excited. He's an animal.
All year we've had a 10 (sometimes 11) man rotation. At times it has killed momentum and hurt chemistry. Now our boys can relax and play ball. physical ball. And we wont have to watch Butch run the NCAA's slowest spin move into defender's chests anymore.
Against bad teams Butch was our best center, against good teams he was our worst. I know his best game was against Pitt, but Gray and Kendall play D like its the allstar game (and don't forget, Gray was sick ;).