Sunday, March 04, 2007
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?