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.

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