Sunday, December 30, 2007

Total Awesomeness

I can't believe that the final 10 seconds of UW-Texas aren't up on Youtube. Come on, people. Those last two plays were great, and the steal-throw into the air while falling out of bounds to kill the clock, was the quintessential Michael Flowers play. Hooray for seniors who man up in big games. Along that line, congrats to Butch, who manned up on the offensive boards and down low, to the tune of 20 plus points and 10 plus boards.

But the reason the Badgers were in this game in the last minutes, playing without Trevon Hughes, is that they finally took care of the ball-- committing only 10 turnovers. And they continued to play excellent defense, holding Texas, a team with at least three future NBA players, below their typical shooting averages, both from beyond the arc and overall. I may be overstating the case, but when UW takes care of the ball, they can play with anybody. They are that good of a defensive team.

First game of the Big Ten season is Wednesday Night at six central, at Michigan. Hughes may still be out with the ankle he sprained last Friday. Again, I predict if they can take care of the ball, they'll win. That's a mantra I'll be repeating throughout the basketball season.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Getting swept by the bears is a terrible thing. Over the past few seasons it has happened now twice and the comfortable warm blanket that used to be Favre's domination of said bears, has become damp and full of holes. Holes poked by Charles Tillman's home made shivs and Lovie (hillbilly) Smith's menthol cigarettes.
The bears, or, "chinatown sneakballers" as some have come to know them, are an awful team. They have no weapons and their best player will most certainly be out of the league in a year or two with osteoarthritis in his back. Maybe Favre (hillbilly) just wanted to provide Urlacher (also a hillbilly) with one last prideful moment in a short but prolific career. Even so, it makes no sense to actually lose to these idiots, even if beating us is more important to them than winning the superbowl.
The only significant football played in the whole game was on their opening drive. They ran they ball every time except for two screens and a 3rd and 9 out route to dez clark. we let them eat up the whole 1st quarter, eventually holding them to a field goal- which was big. I thought our defense played well. I thought they kept us in the game long enough to take the lead and then build on it, however due to ridiculous game management (why in the world did we call a timeout at 2:46 with the lead and the bears facing a 4th and 5? then throw three incomplete passes?) and a cold and terrified legend, we made sure Orton (hillbilly #1) and the "7th floor crew" ( got the ball back at the end of the second quarter with enough time to take the lead and some semblance of accomplishment into the locker room at the half.
Our punter, Jon Ryan, was responsible for two blocked punts, a fumbled snap and a nine yard punt. The blocks were not all his fault (in "professional" football how does anyone go unblocked like charles tillman did on their second blocked punt? I'm beginning to think that the packers root for the underdog even when we're playing against it), but I'm so pissed off about getting swept by the bears that I have no problem focusing my resentment on one player. That player will be Canadian hillbilly punter Jon Ryan of Regina Saskatchewahn.
We played like idiots. We let them dictate how the game was going to be played (which wouldn't have been bad because we can run the ball and were running the ball way better than them but then we didn't stick with it and we started shitting on ourselves and not gashing them for 50 yard touchdowns when we had the lead and a chance to demoralize them) and we apparently don't have gloves? Favre and Ryan needed fucking gloves!! Can't we get our hillbillies gloves??!
It was the difference in the game.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


The Christmas game. Or more accurately, the game just before Christmas. I've been going to this for years, as I come back to Madison to greet Saint Nick. The Kohl Center is never quieter. The band had a skeleton staff, the student section was half empty, and the Fan Cam in the Arena twice zoomed in on old men sleeping.

Somehow we outlasted Valpo, despite our ridiculously bad free throw shooting and 20 turnovers. It was one of the ugliest games I've ever seen, but finals and the dull crowd could have played a role. Thankfully we won. Some notes:

Our cheerleaders are ugly. My mom kept saying things like "boy, that 3rd girl from the right is awfully chubby" and "they're not very good looking are they?"

For some reason we employ a 26 year old woman as the towel girl under the basket. She was hilariously outfitted in a blouse, a sweater vest, tight black pants and stilettos. The married gal sitting to my left laughed at all my jokes regarding the preposterousness of it all. Three times during the game after men fell in the lane, the ref blew his whistle pointed at the girl and then pointed at the floor. She would hop from her stool and scamper over to the slick area, get down on her knees and wipe the floor. Then she would scamper back. Please note that by scamper I don't mean "Morency scampered for 12 yards through a few defenders" I mean "28 year old with bouncy breasts has to take fast mini-steps with a stride no longer than 6 inches because she is wearing heels on a basketball court and could easily slip in front of 15,000 people and feel awfully embarrassed. Some questions: Do we pay her? Did she ask for that job? Why is she wearing stilettos? (BTW it was a blizzard Saturday, so it's not as though she walked to the stadium in heels, she must have brought them). So I thought she replaced the 10 year old kids who used to hold that job, but they were still there and would come out during stoppages, so I guess she's the Head floor wiper? Anyway it gets weirder, during timeouts she would get up and join the Badgers huddle. I need an explanation, nobody in our section could understand this.

Early in the first half we had a 3 on 2 fast break and the ball was passed to Leuer on the left flank about 18 feet from the basket. He caught it and flew right towards the basket and slammed on the 2 like he was a pro. There is a little extra awesomeness when it is a goofy looking white guy. 

Brian Butch missed a free throw, it was kept alive by Dakota Joe and then Butch rebound slammed it over everybody. It was the most macho thing I've ever seen from him. For some reason the ref under the basket called him for a charge. The crowd booed mercilessly. Bo looked incredulous. During the post game chat on AM1310, Bo goes "I don't know about that play, I'll have to see the tape, but it looked good to me. How'd it look on radio?"

Jason Bohannon needs more minutes. Please play him more often. 

Friday, December 21, 2007

Excellent News

Tennessee will be down two defensive starters for the bowl game.

Fear the Underdog

Conventional wisdom and conference affiliation say the Wisconsin men's basketball team is a favorite on Saturday over Valparaiso, a new member of the Horizon league. But don't get too cocky-- Valpo is 10-1, their best starting record since 1945, and their only loss came at Vanderbilt, and only by nine points. Vandy is undefeated and currently ranked 17th. As the Journal-Sentinel's Mark Stewart notes, Valpo garnered more total rebounds than Vandy in that game, and, in fact, pulled down a colossal 21 offensive boards.

Now, what we have learned so far is that when Wisconsin is not playing against a team with top notch dribble penetrators (Duke, Marquette), they play outstanding defense, especially when it comes to preventing easy baskets. The stats bear this out as well, as Ken Pomeroy continues to have UW rated as the most efficient defensive team in the country, and notes that, so far, UW has only allowed opposing teams to 39% of their two-point shots. That's the sixth best two-point defense in the country.

Worryingly, this doesn't match-up well with Valpo's offensive forte, which is shooting the three-ball. As a team, Valpo has been shot over 42% from outside the arc this season, and they get a ton of their points from outside. (For stat heads, this means Valpo is 8th in the country in percentage of points they get from threes.) Wisco's D against three-point shooting has been quite good, even including the Duke first-half debacle, but not as stellar as their interior defense.

What's also troubling is how Bucky's offensive strength is negated by Valpo's defensive one. The Badgers aren't a great outside shooting team, inside shooting team, or free throw shooting team. Instead, UW is a great offensive rebounding team-- rated 7th nationally in the percentage of its own misses that it gets back. (Of course, this stat is padded by the team's big men missing so many bunnies and having to try again and again, but anyway.) I think that's largely due to Butch and the Hoft being excellent rebounders and being on the floor more this season. Anyhow, this stat bears out in real life. As any person who's watched more than a couple of UW games this season could tell you, Wisconsin gets around its mediocre shooting by hitting the boards hard and getting easy put-backs. Alas, Valpo is an excellent defensive rebounding team so far this season, rated 21st nationally in glass-clearing on defense. And if UW can't get put backs, they may have serious trouble scoring. Uh oh.

So anyway, look out for a tough one. Valpo is a team that rebounds well and shoots well from outside, plus they've been very successful this season. This seems like a match-up that's tailor made to punch UW right in the wiener. It's on the Big Ten Network tomorrow night at 7:30 pm Central.

And even though you may think I'm crazy, I'm starting to worry about the Bears. The Chicago defense, with Nathan Vasher finally back with mended groin at cornerback, looked much improved at Minnesota on Monday. Their offense stinks, yes, and Kyle Orton and Adrian Peterson (the Bears' current starters at QB and RB) are questionable "talents." But the Bears will be playing for pride and to disrupt the Packers' excellent season. And the Packers defensive tackle rotation keeps getting thinner and thinner, with Harrell, Corey Williams and Ryan Pickett all now getting nicked up.

Plus, McCarthy just announced that the Packers were, again, going to do squib kickoffs against the Bears for fear of kicking it to Devin Hester. Listen, Hester is an amazing talent. But if you look at his stats, he's actually a far more dangerous punt returner than kickoff guy. Plus, a squib gives the receiving team excellent field position. Hell, the Bears started every damn drive at the 40 when they beat the Packers in October. And the Bears are adapting to squib kicks, by having back-up returners in front of Hester who are ready to take the squib and run. Plus, the Packers' kickoff coverage units have been playing great. Football Outsiders has that unit rated fourth best in the NFL. So boot it out of bounds on punts, yes. But not on kickoffs. This strategy is a bad idea, and it burned the Packers in the teams' first match-up.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Pro Bowl

Extra Extra Read All About It. The Packers only got 4 players chosen for the Pro Bowl in America's Pacific Paradise. What I find most revealing about all of this is player reaction. There are certain times when players want to open up to reporters and when reporters seem able to convey the players' words honestly. So as a fan I'm not discouraged when Barnett and Woodson don't make the Pro Bowl (hell, it prolly saves the GBP cash, Mr. Harris' nod cost us $200,000, although gladly spent). Instead I get quotes from Harris affirming that Woodson and Barnett are our best defenders, and that in particular Woodson is the glue of the secondary and is looked up to by the entire unit, including Harris.

The insight gleaned dovetails right into my analysis about the Cowboy game. Jason Garrett, the incredibly able man who almost stole our Paul Chryst, did a great job with formation and motion. He would set up a 3 wide set with TO wide left, a receiver in the slot, and then another receiver on the right side of the formation. In our system, Al Harris takes TO, Woodson shifts in to cover the slot receiver and our 3rd corner (Bush or Walker or Williams) covers the receiver on the right. But Woodson was out. That forced Bush/Walker inside and Walker/Williams/etc. outside right. Garrett recognized this and several times would bring TO in motion from the left and come inside of the slot receiver. This forces Al Harris to now switch to the new outside guy (Hurd/Crayton/Lacky), and Bush to get on TO. This was a bad matchup for us and we were burned quite a few times on crossing routes where our nickel back could not stick with TO. Turns out these matchup problems were magnified by communication and confidence problems without Chucky Heisman. 

So folks, don't be sad about the Pro Bowl snubs, be happy knowing that Dallas had everything go right for them that game including: injuries, officiating and lucky bounces. Let's go forth and take care of business. 

Another point of note. How bad did Mr. Man want to beat the Rams in their dome, with a fully juvenated Steven J? We played 4 quarters. They were unable to do so. This is our Modus Operandi. We end up beating you. If I knew more I'd say it but we're 12-2 and just beat the Rams 33-14 at their place in a game a lesser team (Dallas) could have stumbled on. Color me pleased with their performance. I'm off to listen to Bears talk radio. 

Monday, December 17, 2007

Morgantown to Ann Arbor is like . . .

Seriously, I've been to both towns, and I think there's a reason successful West Virginia coaches are happy to eat million dollar out-clauses in order to skip town for the school of another economically washed-out state, that is, Michigan. Specifically, Morgantown makes Ann Arbor look like Shangri La. Like Bali Ha'i (the island full of hot Polynesian women in "South Pacific"). Like Paradise City. And I'm not saying Ann Arbor is all that great. To be plain, Morgantown is not a nice place. It's ugly and charmless. It's populated by crazy hillbillies/rednecks. The WVU stadium looks like a Travelodge. The town's redeeming features are a monorail that mostly serves as a monument to Federal pork barrel spending (Yea, Robert Byrd!), its proximity to Pittsburgh, and a Chic-Fil-A that's in a foodcourt at a crappy mall.

Now, I'm sure Michigan and Rodriguez will probably be a fine match. He has a solid record and runs an interesting offense and defense, which'll be a change for Michigan. But like Beilein, he's won at relatively unconventional places through unconventional tactics-- the question will be, will his tactics work at a very, very conventional place where he can get highly touted conventional kids? Or will he just change tactics and become more conventional? Anyhow, I'm not too worried about a guy who's built up his fame by winning the crappiest and smallest BCS conference. Also, I have got to pass along his myspace page. The comments (and the unintentional comedy) from jilted WVU fans are priceless.

Also, relating back to Wisconsin football, the Tennessee offensive coordinator, David Cutcliffe, has just accepted the head coaching position at Duke. While I certainly can't condone anyone accepting such a god-awful job, I do hope that this proves to be something of a distraction for Tennessee in their preparation for the bowl game. In fact, Cutcliffe had a press conference announcing himself as the new Dukie head coach last Saturday. At the same time, Doeren, Hankwitz and Chyrst will probably be busy game-planning. And there's talk that Cutcliffe is going to steal several Tennessee assistants, and a report that Tennessee's wide receivers coach has been offered a coordinator position at Baylor. Looks like distraction central over in Knoxville. Given the Badgers' injury problems going into the game (maybe no Hill, no Henry, no Chapman, no Swan, no Langford), they can use all they help they can get.

"Well Isn't That Special"

If you didn't manage to watch the Packers' 33-14 victory over the Rams yesterday, you might look at the final score and think "sweet- a beat down." But it really wasn't. It was a close game, within one score until the final 20 minutes, and one where the Packers, especially their offense and run defense, looked startlingly mediocre. What led the team to victory was excellent pass defense, especially in the second half, and fabulous, absolutely fabulous special teams play. And I'm talking kickoff returns and coverage, field goals, punt coverage, straight kickoffs, everything.

Consider-- the Packers had three kickoff returns (the Rams scored twice, and once to start the game). They averaged 43 yards per kickoff return, and that's with a dumb Trammon Williams penalty bringing one back an additional twenty yards. That's silly good. They also averaged, with Will Blackmon back there, 10 yards per punt return. Also solid. And Mason "I only look like a serial killer" Crosby nailed four field goals, two from beyond forty yards, and pinned the Rams deep again and again. Consider--after Packer kickoffs, the Rams started at the 23, 16, 5 (after Charlie Peprah forced a fumble that the Rams recovered), 19, 21, 21, 20 (touchback), and 20 (touchback). Folks often say that a team's special teams performance is indicative of its depth. If that's the case, the Packers are pretty darn deep.

Of course, depth is only helpful if you have difference makers to support, and yesterday the Packers' biggest difference maker didn't look right. Although Brett threw two TDs, and broke Marino's record for career passing yardage the team's passing game didn't perform well, even though St. Louis was also stymieing the run. Maybe it was all the exotic blitzes that St. Louis was running, but the offense was sluggish, to the tune of less than 24 minutes of time of possession, less than 300 total yards, and three turnovers. Hopefully, it was the bizarre gameplan the Rams threw at them and maybe lingering issues from Favre's elbow whack. But they'll need to be far better if the team's going anywhere in the playoffs.

Speaking of playoffs and exotic blitzes, it was excellent to see the Cowboys lose yesterday, even if they don't end up blowing their lead in the home field advantage competition. The Eagles played great defense, throwing a lot of exotic, but disciplined blitzes at Dallas. Maybe that's the key to beating those maroons-- confuse them. The Packers have been experimenting on defense more often in the past few games, so hopefully they'll have some tricks to pull out if they meet Dallas again.
What the Dallas loss means in the short term though, is that the Pack will likely not rest its starters against the Bears next Sunday. That's the Bears team starting their third string QB and their second string, career back-up, running back, and that will be coming off a short week (they play tonight at Minnesota). The optimum scenario for the Pack is to smell blood, pummel them good early, and thus be able to rest their key guys anyway, as they did against the Rams with guys like Pickett, Woodson, Clifton, and Collins sitting out the last quarter or so. You'd think they'd be fired up to redeem themselves after the October pants-pooping episode.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fair to Middlin'

UW men's basketball played a relatively uninspired game against UW-Green Bay last night. Finals are looming for the team, and they seemed a bit distracted. They did manage to shoot 50%, garner 16 offensive boards, and hold UW-Green Bay to only 33% shooting. But a lot of their makes were put-backs off missed jump shots (they missed ten 3-pointers and made only three), they missed 35% of their free throws headlined by Hughes' 5 of 12 from the line, committed 15 turnovers, and allowed the Phoenix to grab 14 offensive rebounds. In all, the second-chance points and the good defense allowed them to pull out an 18 point win. A victory, and there were some good performances (especially by the Hoft on the boards and by Gullickson), but not really a step forward.

The Packers take on the Rams this afternoon in St. Louis. The stupid RCA dome still brings to mind Favre's six-interception typhoon of crap in the second round of the playoffs about five years ago. The Rams are injury wracked, especially with the loss of Orlando Pace, but Marc Bulger is set to play and when healthy he's probably a top ten quarterback in the league. And the Packers pass defense has not really proven it can shut down top flight opposition. The Rams, mind you, still have Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Drew Bennett, and Stephen Jackson in the backfield. So unless the Jolly-less d-line can get consistent pressure on Bulger, the Packers will have to outscore the Rams and control the clock. I think they can do this, as the Rams really don't have any difference makers on defense. But be prepared to see the Rams score some points through the air, especially as the Packers run an informal tryout between Rouse, Blackmon, Frank Walker, and Tramon Williams for the nickel back spot, with Bush missing this game due to injury.

Finally, more gloomy new on the UW football injury front, one of UW's bright young freshman, cornerback Aaron Henry, will miss the bowl game and spring practice with a torn ACL. You may remember he replaced Allen Langford when Allen tore his own ACL against OSU. So UW will essentially be starting its fourth cornerback against Tennessee. Uh oh.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


The Badgers "rebounded" from the home loss to Marquette with a 61-39 point thumping of UWM in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, I, and pretty much every other person not living in the Milwaukee or Madison metro areas didn't get to see it. So I can't really offer that much commentary, besides messing around with stats. The result looks quite positive, as holding any team to 39 points on its home court is impressive. Doing a little statistical analysis, it appears that UW held UWM to .68 points per possession in a 57 possession game. That's ridiculously effective defense. However, UW's offense was only ok, reaching slightly above the Mendoza line of offensive efficiency (which is 1.00 PPP)-- by averaging 1.07 PPP.

Now, I hate to be mean to Rob Jeter, a former UW assistant under Bo, an apparently nice, smart guy, and a good recruiter, but UWM is not doing well this season. Ken Pomeroy's ratings have the Panthers listed as the 171st most efficient offensive team, and the 256th most efficient defensive team. So it's not super surprising that UW shot over 50% for the game, and outrebounded the hell out of the Panthers, gathering 81% of the available defensive rebounds and, ludicrously, gathering more of their own misses than UW-M did. (This means UW had more offensive rebounds than UW-M did defensive rebounds.) What bodes poorly though, is that UW continues to turn the ball over, committing 18 TOs in a 61 possession game. That means the Badgers failed to even get a shot off on almost one-third (31.7% to be precise) of its offensive possessions. That is awful. Seriously, that is as "not good" as "not good" can be and is something that plagued UW against Marquette (especially down the stretch) and against Duke. In these next two games building up to the December 29th match-up at Texas, that's something to keep an eye on-- can UW turn the ball over less? They play UW-Green Bay at 5 pm Central on Saturday night (Big Ten Network), then have a week off before facing Valparaiso next Saturday (also on BTN). Both those games are in Madison. Valpo is relatively legit this year and has a shot at winning the Horizon league, and UWGB is likely better than UWM. So the competition won't be bad, and certainly far better than the relative patsies the Badgers played to open the season. So, if you have the means to see the games, keep an eye on UW's offense. If the team improves its rate of holding onto the ball, that should bode quite well for the Big Ten season.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Poop Again

The Packers just placed Johnny Jolly on injured reserve, meaning he's done for the season. Johnny injured his shoulder in the victory against the Panthers a few weeks ago. The team is now down two DTs, as both Colin Cole and Mr. Jolly are out for the season. We better hope that Harrell keeps developing. Jolly had really become a player this season, and this loss will hurt.

Also, the UW men's basketball team plays tonight at UW-Milwaukee in what is sure to be a raucous affair. But unless you live in Milwaukee, the stupid game is only available on ESPN's ridiculous internet channel- ESPN 360. Grade A Baloney, I say. The Worldwide Leader is evil. Fru-eets of the Dee-vil.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Justin Harrell

Justin got some playing time this week, recording 3 combined tackles and no solos. McCarthy had generally positive things to say during his press conference. That makes me feel better for some reason.

McAwesome was also pretty amped up about Will "the Jamaican" Blackmon. I've been starting Mr. Blackmon at PR for the Packers in my Madden season, so I've had that nicknamed cued (queued?) up for awhile now and couldn't be happier about his effect on the real field this weekend. One of the things that went slightly under the radar after the Cowboy game was the startling discrepancy between our return game and the Cowboys return game. The Cowboys were a threat to score every time we kicked off, and they ended up with ridiculous field position all game. Special Teams can be the difference between 2 good teams, and in my opinion their ridiculous returns had as much to do with the Packer loss as did the outright homer game the refs piled on. So listen, Mon! Hopefully the Jamaican can spark up our return game, mon!  

Shaping up

out of all the 10 win teams, our defense is the best.
i support this with no statistics. but i am certain of it.
we're definately the deepest, youngest, hungriest, most spine dislocatingest, ass eatinest, foul, filthy-dirty mud crawlinest, steal your tickets at chuckie cheesenest, angry about our abusive fathersenest nasty bad nasties.
with veteran leadership. if we can stay healthy, our D is going to peak in the playoffs, and that will be fun to watch. we dodged our bullet with favre. now we just have to drop our dicks at soldier and finger bang the lions. then prison rape. when we play the cowboys again, aaron kampman's gonna hit romo with a sock full of batteries.

favre needs a tinted visor.

no, i'm not drunk.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Please Help-- Need Picture Of JaMarcus Russell in Mummy Costume

That is, I need a picture of him in the outfit he was wearing on the sidelines on Sunday. I hope people who saw the game know what I'm talking about-- Russell was so over-swaddled in clothing the only visible part of his body was his eyes. I know Mr. First-Pick-Of-The-Draft is from Louisiana, but what a sissy. As ESPN's TMQ might say, the football gods were not pleased with this sad lack of toughness. Bad karma, JaMarcus.

Speaking of whom, the woman and I were having an amusing time this weekend thinking of variants on JaMarcus's name. That means anything replacing the first letters of each "part" of JaMarcus's unique name. Some favorites were CaTarcus Mussell, MaNarcus Bussell, and, of course, QuParcus Zussell.

More making fun of Russell from Bay Area columnist Tim Kawakami (still no picture though!):

"Anyway, the quintessential scene of the day, for me, was watching rookie JaMarcus Russell slowly and reluctantly peel off his parka, then his ski mask, then his wool cap, when there was a thought to get him into the game late in the fourth quarter. I don't mean to pick on Russell, since I do believe he represents most of what's fascinating and optimistic about this franchise's future and he'd never been in cold weather before this trip. But . . . at that moment in the blowout, Russell talked to a coach, bent his legs stiffly and very unconvincingly, then - by my read - very happily retreated to the mask, the cap and the parka once he got word that he wouldn't be coming in. Ever been in cold like that, JaMarcus? 'Not that cold - damn it was cold,' Russell said later. 'It was all right though. If you have to play in it, you have to play in it.' Kiffin said he contemplated putting Russell into the game after giving Andrew Walter a series after taking out the banged up and sick Josh McCown. But Kiffin considered the score, the weather and the pass protection issues, and reconsidered. I wonder if he also looked into Russell's eyes - if he could see them through the mask and the glaze."

Los Championes del Norte!

On a weekend when the state was divided between scripture and secularism, it was good to see everyone put Saturday behind us, come together and remember how much they used to hate Warren Sapp. Yes, the Packers delivered a solid smackdown of the semi-improving Oakland Raiders, with a 38-7 victory that clinched the NFC North with three games left.

The main lines of commentary will likely be Ryan Grant having another big day (over 150 yards rushing and a touch), and Will Blackmon's return from injury-nowhere land to special teams stardom. Both were excellent developments. However, Grant's big day came against the 30th worst rush D in the league according to the raw stats (Football Outsiders actually had them as the worst rush D in the entire league through last week), so it wasn't all that surprising, especially given his other performances in the past six weeks. Blackmon's returns were great, and it's wonderful to see a guy get on the field and produce after struggling with so many injuries in his short career.

What I found interesting was the strategy. The Packers went right at the Raiders' defensive weakness- stopping the run. They ran and ran until Oakland committed a safety closer to the line, and then started throwing the ball. And when they threw, since the Oakland pass defense is quite good, the Packers didn't challenge it directly, it seemed, instead throwing screens and to the tight ends, and looking for holes in the zone rather than going right at individuals, especially the Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha, who is a top-flight corner. The Packers only threw at his man twice. That somewhat short-armed bomb that Jennings came down with was thrown away from Asomugha, and off a play-action where Favre got time, and the Oakland safeties had come up towards the line of scrimmage. A pretty smart-strategy, especially with an injured Favre-- attack their run defense until they overcommit, then take further advantage.

On defense, besides the lack of sacks and the bomb to Curry and the touchdown that Porter ripped away from Al, I thought the team played very well. Fargas is a good running back, and the Oakland line has been blocking solidly in recent weeks. One play that sticks out in my mind is Nick Collins' tackle on Fargas on Oakland's 4th and one try in the first half. The game was still close, the Raiders had fourth and one right around midfield. Oakland fakes an inside run, then flips back to Fargas who runs wide left, away from the pile of bodies in the middle. It looks like he has the first down. Then Collins comes flying down, takes a great angle, and makes an excellent smart tackle-- going for Fargas's ankles instead of trying to engage him up high. Fargas trips and falls for a short loss. Packer ball. I guess that's why Collins immediately jumped back into the starting line-up once he got healthy-- he's just a great athlete. The team made a lot of excellent plays in the running game today, and it showed up on the bottom line. The Raiders gained only 233 total yards. That's the smallest amount allowed the defense has allowed the entire season. And it did this against a team that had won two straight. To me, that was the most impressive aspect of Sunday's game.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Depantsed by the Papists

Alas, what happened in the UW men's basketball team's defeat to the Golden Eaglets of Marquette was somewhat predictable. That is, the script to beat UW, as described by the former Big Ten Wonk here, and as demonstrated in the loss at Duke, was followed quite closely. Far as I can tell, the script is--
- Look to penetrate and dish when the help comes, as it always will.
- Press, press, press the ball whenever you can.
- Push the ball and look to fast break as often as possible.

This script works against Wisconsin defensively because UW players, as Randy continues to note, are a bit timid with the ball. They are a pass first team, and are trained to be that way. Teams are exploiting that by making every pass difficult, and making UW dribble by them, and thus taking them away from what they're comfortable doing. I think the confidence will come, but it, unfortunately, will just take awhile. (It may never come for some guys, like the Stiemer, who basically never dribbles. His two forced passes/turnovers in the second half were just awful.) Simply put, there's no reason guys as heady and skilled as Hughes, Bohannon, Flowers, Landry, Leuer and Krabbenhoft can't go past defenders. The thing is, they just haven't been asked to before. I'm guessing that taking guys off the dribble has been sort of a last-minute offensive option for UW-- something that was initiated only after the regular offense failed. Well, it needs to become more of a primary one until they start burning teams for pressing them defensively. There's certainly no reason why Hughes, Flowers, and Bohannon can't imitate James and drive and dish other teams to death. Maybe they just need to prepare for it more.

What was worrying about this game was that Wisconsin had to know what the script was, but they still looked somewhat unprepared for it-- to the tune of 18 turnovers. (They did respond better than they did at Duke, true.) Defensively, UW had to know that Marquette was going to look to penetrate. And they appropriately started Flowers. But our backcourt must have played theirs too tightly, because James was constantly in the lane in the beginning of the first half and then again the second, when it counted. Was Hughes just looking for steals too often? James and McNeal are not great three point shooters, so the way to play them is to give yourself room for recovery. Bo must know that, so what was going on? Either James is the new Allen Iverson, or UW's guards weren't following the scouting report. Also, Michael got into foul trouble, which was something that just couldn't happen if UW was going to come out on top. No surprise, Marquette would slowly pull ahead when he was out of the game.

What was encouraging was that UW made it close, and for a while did what they should have done to win against a pressing team-- draw fouls and make them be chippy. They did that really well for the first ten minutes of the second half. Butch was especially been aggressive, dribbling and going to the basket. (Way to dunk, Brian!). Then Wisconsin went away from it. Maybe Marquette realized that a bunch of guys were in foul trouble, because it looked like they went to a zone for a little while. If UW had drawn a few more fouls, and thus maybe pushed some of Marquette's key guys (McNeal especially) out of the game, it could have been huge. But they seemed to lack that aggressive offensive push in the second half, until it was too late. Marquette did a good job of denying passes to Butch, who had been UW's most effective offensive threat. Of course, hitting the free throws they did get would have helped tremendously. UW must be able to count on its guards, especially Hughes, to make their free throws.

Ah well, so a mini-win streak against the papists (it had been two in a row), and a 28 game win streak at home comes to an end. Bummer. Time to move on. I'm hopeful that UW will improve as the season progresses. They're an old team at parts (Butch and Flowers) but young in certain areas and ways. As has been much discussed, no one on this team has been asked to be the offensive sparkplug before. Hughes is a huge key, and he's made a lot of mistakes against good teams-- bad passes, overaggressive defense and forced shots. He's also looked really impressive at times. I'm confident the team will evolve for the better as the season moves along. I just hope this evolution translates into conference wins and a solid tournament showing.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's Papist Week!

Yes, the annual build up to the showdown between the forces of fun, frivolity, intellectual achievement, tolerance, and reasonably thrifty tuition (deep breath in) and the forces of overt seriousness, empty piety, inability to get over the 70s, freeway interchanges, and undeserved positive reputations.

(An aside-- Marquette and UW operate the only two law schools in Wisconsin. Based on how people talk about Marquette law, I always thought they were about even with UW quality-wise. However, recently I discovered that while UW law is tied for 31st in the prevalent national ratings system, Marquette is 97th! Way worse! That puts Moo behind such academic luminaries as SUNY-Buffalo, Georgia State, and the University of Toledo. Ouch. If you'd be taking an academic step-up by transferring to Georgia State, you know you're in trouble.)

On the basketball floor, however, Marquette appears to boast the stronger, or at least more defined, squad this year. After NBA teams discovered that MU point guard Dominic James was really quite wee and couldn't shoot consistently, the former Big East freshman of the year opted out of the draft and came back for his junior season. He, once again, is joined in the backcourt by dynamo Jerel McNeal and Madison Memorial product Wesley Matthews, each also juniors. This trio is joined by forward Lazar Hayward and guard David Cubillan, both sophomores, and both players who have shown dramatic improvement thus far this season. Some of the usual suspects return in forwards Ousmane Barro and Dan Fitzgerald, and someone I'm not familiar with, a heavyset 6'8" forward named Dwight Burke, is playing a fair amount.

Looking at the individual stats for these guys reveals some interesting tidbits. First, unfortunately for UW fans, Jerel McNeal has cut down on his main weaknesses-- turning the ball over and fouling. His improved turnover rate makes him a far more valuable player for the Gold, and has actually elevated his offensive efficiency above Matthews' and even James'. He also is more involved in the team's offense than any other player. McNeal is fouling less as well, averaging only 2.8 fouls a contest after racking up 3.5 last season. This may explain why, despite his great defensive skills, he's no longer corralling as many steals, having ceded the team's theft lead to James.

Second, despite McNeal's improvement, he's not that an efficient offensive player, and neither is James or Matthews. In fact, Wes appears to have been pretty poor on offense this season, posting an atrociously low offensive efficiency rating due to turning the ball over far too often. Appropriately, he has let the two improved sophomores, Cubillan and Hayward take more shots and get more involved in the offense. These two turks are actually MU's best offensive players so far. Cubillan's been shooting decently (almost always from outside) and hardly ever been turning the ball over, and Hayward's been making nearly 63% of his two point shots. And he's taken 43 two pointers, which is not a small number.

Third, while the team appears to ignore Barro on the offensive end, he is their most effective defensive player. He leads the team in defensive rebounding, and is easily the squad's best shot blocker. Oddly, he hasn't been playing all that much this season, as Marquette appears to be favoring an intensely diminutive line-up with five guys 6'6" or under (McNeal, James, Matthews, Cubillan and Hayward) leading them in minutes. That seems ripe to change against UW, unless Bo decides to match small ball with small ball.

To date, college basketball stat head Ken Pomeroy rates Marquette as a brutally efficient offensive team, with the third most efficient offense in his adjusted ratings. Marquette plays pretty solid defense as well, as Pomeroy's rating has them listed as the twenty-fifth. (These are all available via the Basketball Prospectus website, conveniently linked to your right.) And those filthy team numbers, again, unfortunately for UW fans, were not garnered against an all patty-cake schedule-- the Gold put up its best offensive numbers against Rob Jeter's UW-Milwaukee team, and Oklahoma State. Hmmm... trouble.

However, UW is actually slotted just ahead of Moo in Pomeroy's most recent overall ratings, and that's due to their defensive dominance. Even including the Cameron Indoor debacle, Wisconsin rates as the third most efficient defensive team in the nation. Offensively, as any UW fan would expect, they're fair to middlin', rating 48th nationally.

So this looks like a game where the irresistible force, Marquette's super efficient offense, led by Hayward's and McNeal's twos, James' steals, and Cubillan's steady hand and effective outside shooting, meet the immovable object of UW's defense. Then you throw in other factors, that MU's D has been better than UW's O, and that MU played Duke far tougher than UW, but that game was on a neutral floor, and this game is in Madison, where UW's been very successful both this season and generally under Bo, that UW looks like the deeper team, but MU has more backcourt depth. It all comes out to a bit of a wash. Plus, it's a little early in the season for team stats to tell us all that much.

Looking at individual match-ups, things actually look decent for UW. In the backcourt, Hughes bothered the Warriors' backcourt trio last year with his physical D, and will likely do so again. If he can play under control (against McNeal probably) and avoid turnovers while being smartly aggressive, it'd be a solid boost. Then I think Hughes will be able to take his man to the rack, dish a few passes and draw some fouls. UW could then do it's whole "get the other team's key players in foul trouble" thing. Flowers and James will likely match-up, and the key thing there is for Michael to be smart with the ball and avoid foul trouble. He's been turning it over at an alarmingly high rate so far this season, perhaps out of a desire to do a little too much on the offensive end. James is also caging a lot of steals, and will look to drive on Michael. UW is not thick with legitimate guards right now (I count only three), and will need Michael to play lots of good minutes. The Hoft will probably guard Wes, and I'd call that one a bit of a draw, though Joe's having a better year so far and is far more careful with the ball. Both are solid defenders who are not super aggressive offensively. Joe will have to, as per usual, bide his time and be smart on the offensive end.

The guys I'm really worried about are the relative unknowns-- Hayward and Cubillan. I have little memory of this Hayward character for Marquette, and his shooting from close range is impressive. Landry will probably draw him, and while he's going to have to play a solid defensive game, UW's bigs must look to help out. I don't know who'll match-up on Cubillan and I'm worried he's going to get lost in the three-guard shuffle, and get open to nail timely threes.

Fitzgerald and Barro and Burke will probably rotate around in the frontcourt. Barro will probably defend Butch pretty well, but he fouls a lot too and the game is in Madison. Fitzgerald plays decent position defense and can hit open jumpers. Him getting matched-up on Butch is a bit of a worry for the Badgers' defensively, as I can see MU looking to set him up outside, and Butch and/or Stiemsma (who likes to camp out in the lane defensively) having trouble getting there. But Butch should be able to post him up on the other end (though his bunny missing habit is very worrying).

While the catalyst for MU may be Cubillan and Hayward, the X-factors for UW are Leuer and Bohannon. After not playing a lick agianst Georgia, Leuer played nearly a whole half against Duke, and 17 minutes against Wofford, being productive offensively in both outings. Hopefully, his floor time will continue to increase. MU has no one on their roster who's size and skill set comes close to Leuer's, and I think he'll pose a match-up problem for them. He could take Barro outside, drive by Fitzgerald, or post up Wes or Hayward.

Bohannon, on the other hand, didn't play against Marquette last season, as Bo went with the more athletic Hughes. I doubt that'll happen this year, as Kam is gone and Marquette essentially starts four guards. In the past few games, Bohannon looks to be more confident offensively, taking jumpers when they're there, and has been driving for some nice midrange shots floaters. (I bet he nailed a ton of those in high school with guys pressing him on the perimeter.) J-Bo isn't a phenomenal athlete, but he has a great touch from all over the court. If he could surprise the Gold with some offense, and not be a liability on defense, it'd be a huge boost for Wisconsin.

So, I think it'll be an interesting game, a contrast in personnel and styles. There are a lot of questions to answer: Will UW match MU's small ball line-up or will they try to exploit their size advantage? Can UW's excellent D bottle up MU's terrific offense? (Duke couldn't do it, by the way.) Did the various Duke games reveal anything about either team? Do their various rankings (UW is 23rd and 29th, while MU is 15th and 11th) mean anything? Which players will step up on each team? How much is the Kohl Center homecourt advantage worth? (As a UW fan, I hope it's a lot.) This looks like a tough, dramatic game that will go down to the wire.

Random Notes

My roommates went to the Wisconsin BBall game versus Duke in Durham. Apparently there are no lights there, so the campus was pitch black. Additionally, there were no bars on campus. Pre-gaming occurred at a hotel bar somewhere nearby. Get a rental car with GPS, prepare to have no fun outside the stadium, and prepare to have your squad get annihilated inside the stadium if you plan to visit. Go Badgers.

During that game, at some point in the first half, but after the onslaught was ongoing and forcing adrenaline into my hate cortex, I yelled out loud that I just wanted Stiemsma to hurt somebody. Within 2 minutes our boy smashed Singler onto the ground where from he got up bleeding from the eye. Go Badgers.

Thank you for my Tennessee Sausages. Phat Phil Phulmer is nice and plump and ready for the griddle.

Regarding the Packers new president, I love the analysis here at the Camp: Postulating that his ugliness verifies that he earned the job based on intellectual merit. I always thought ugliness was the result of bad breeding and poor hygiene. We report, you decide.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Packers' New CEO Is Not An Attractive Man

Take a look for yourself:
So the board must think he's pretty competent. Seriously, I'm not here to make fun of a fully grown man for looking kind of goofy or never getting braces. And I'll admit to being largely ignorant about what the team CEO does. I assume they run the business side of the team, dealing with stadium, merchandise and branding issues, community relations, charitable events, "shareholder relations," and the team's finances. But all that stuff sort of flies under the radar if you're a Packer fan who doesn't live in Green Bay. Basically, you want the team to make money and stay solvent, treat fans and the neighborhood fairly, and, most importantly, deliver a good product on the field.

Hopefully, new Packers' CEO Mark Murphy will be able to do that. No offense to him, but his previous positions, managing a very low level D-I athletic department at Colgate, and a mid-level (and, in my opinion, mostly half-assed) athletic department at Northwestern, seem quite different from managing the most unique NFL franchise in the country. Despite his homely appearance, Murphy is decently educated, graduating from Colgate, getting an MBA from American, and a JD from Georgetown, and working as an attorney for the Department of Justice. (Total knuckleheads don't usually develop this sort of a background.) Plus, he played for the Redskins and worked for the NFL Players Association, which does give him a decent NFL background.

In his tenure, if Murphy is in Green Bay for a long time, he'll likely face two pressing issues. First, how will Murphy handle the direction and branding of the team when Favre retires? With Brett at the helm, the team has only suffered through one losing season, and the franchise has reaped huge benefits-- a refurbished stadium, tons of national exposure and relevance, increased sales and fan support. Really, being the team's CEO through such a golden era was a pretty plum job. But when Brett goes, the franchise will lose its modern identity and marketing and managing the Packers will become far more challenging. If the team gets worse without Brett, which seems very likely to at least some extent, all the things that a CEO deals with-- ticket price increases, keeping up the team's visibility and popularity, maintaining solid relationships with the Green Bay community-- will get far tougher. I hope Thompson's youth experiment pays off by the time Brett retires-- that some younger players on the team (like Jennings and Hawk, to pick two) turn into bona fide stars who help keep the Packers competitive. But if that doesn't happen, if the team is mediocre or worse after Favre leaves, the CEO job could become very tough quite soon.

And second, if the team becomes consistently mediocre or poor under Ted Thompson's reign, will Murphy have the courage to lay Thompson off, and the erudition to hire a really excellent general manager? More than ever, I am convinced that the NFL is more about players than schemes and strategy. That coaching is a bit overrated and that general managers are vastly underrated. This makes evaluating your team's general manager, and hiring the right one should he prove ineffective, a hugely important task. One reason Murphy was selected as the new CEO, according to outgoing CEO Bob Harlan, was because he has experience hiring and firing people. Deciding whether to retain or fire a GM and choosing a new GM are colossal tasks that affect franchises for years, and potentially decades. If it comes down to that, I hope Murphy's up to the task.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hopefully-- A Return To Happier Times Begins Tonight

Wisconsin men's basketball plays their first game since the Duke debacle-- at home against Wofford (a small Division I school located in South Carolina) at 8 pm Central. Oddly, the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2. Wofford is in the Southern Conference with our old friends the Citadel and Appalachian State. The best team in that league seems to be the best liberal arts college in the South, Davidson College, which is, of course, headlined by Dell Curry's son. So far this season, Wofford has handily beat three teams I've never heard of (have you heard of Lees McRae, Toccoa Falls, or the University of Virginia College at Wise?) and lost to Arkansas by 22 points. They did beat Cincinnati last season, however.

Wofford is UW-esque in its infrequency of committing offensive turnovers, handing the ball over to the other side only 12 times a game last season. That led the Southern Conference. I was going to say that Wofford returns a decent upperclassmen backcourt, in Shane Nichols and Drew Gibson, but in the games they've played so far, those guys haven't been featured much. So Wofford is a bit of an enigma, but since they've beaten three non-Division I teams, and lost to a mediocre Arkansas team (the Razorbacks barely made the tournament last year, lost several key seniors, and fired their coach in the offseason) by a bunch, most UW fans shouldn't be too worried. Let's hope we're able to relax and enjoy tonight's contest. With Marquette on the horizon, the team could use a solid, confidence building performance.

Ah, and here's a preview, proffered by the Cap Times.