Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Big Ten Season Begins: Meeeechigan

"In watching us on tape [after the Texas game], there is a lot of room for improvement, so that is the encouraging sign. I don't think we're anywhere close to where we can be. The question is whether we'll get there or not." --Wisconsin men's basketball team assistant coach Gary Close

In a word, yes. A few more minutes of solid effort (to invoke the Rudyard Kipling poem cited by the soon-to-be-indicted governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, a few more seconds worth "of distance run") and the Badgers would be 11-1 and solidly ranked in the top twenty. But thems the breaks. Crappy free throw shooting and poor defensive rebounding against Texas, and a failure to get the rolls in the last few minutes = loss. Going cold down the stretch and not locking down defensively on Jerel McNeal at Marquette = loss. The question is whether the Badgers have learned from that, whether they're taking those lessons and running with them and improving. Whether they'll get there or not, to quote Coach Close.

This afternoon, well, we'll see whether the Badgers are anywhere closer to getting there. Wisconsin plays at Michigan in a 1 pm Central game on ESPN2. Michigan is vastly improved over last season (as should have been thought, given their coach's consistently outstanding record of turnarounds). They lost to Duke on a neutral floor, and at a decent Maryland team in a close game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But they beat Duke at home a few weeks later in a rousing performance, beat UCLA at the start of the season, are undefeated at home this year, and have yet to lose since the Maryland game four weeks ago. They're currently ranked 24th. They have the best pure two-guard in the conference in Manny Harris, a sure fire All-Big Ten pick if there is one (Harris turned down a schollie offer from the Badgers, choosing to stay in Michigan), a big talented forward in DeShawn Sims (he lit up Duke), and the just-cleared-waivers transfer from Arizona Laval Lucas-Perry. Jim Beilein has surrounded these legitimate talents with some decently skilled holdovers, like guard Kelvin Grady, and heady role players, like newly acquired three-point sniper Zack Novak.

The play a wacky 1-3-1 zone defense that gives up offensive boards, but is designed to force lots turnovers. They work the ball around the perimeter a fair amount and shoot a lot of threes, but Sims is an excellent interior player and will challenge Landry/Leuer/Nankivil. Harris is excellent at hitting mid-range jumpers off the dribble, and will be a tremendous defensive challenge for Hughes/Krabbenhoft/Wilson. The main key to watch out for, I think, is whether Wisconsin can take care of the basketball. In Michigan's biggest wins this year, they've forced a fair number of turnovers. This is a difficult task, as I don't know if UW's seen a 1-3-1 this season, and even if they have, it's not likely they've seen one as effective as Michigan's. Anyhow, fun stuff and it should be a revealing challenge for the Badgers. If you have to work today (like me, sigh...) set your tivos.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

That was Frustrating

Maybe even more so it was Frustmaking or Frustchafing or maybe instead it was Frustpaining. 

(Editor's Note: In a continuation of my miserable sports 2008, two months ago I assented to escorting a lady to a wedding and somehow managed to nail the Saturday of the Champs Sports Bowl right on the dot. So it needs to be noted that I was unable to view the second half of the game, and only got to see a procession of terrible score updates on my phone.)

First, I must apologize to readers for not highlighting FSU's Groza award winning, footdart pub champion, Graham Gano. He lit us up in the first half. Was it back-to-back-to-back punts to our 1 yard line, or was I swallowing pills given to me by Sebastian Janikowski? Graham Gano assassinated us in the first half. 

However, even with bad field position, the Badgers outplayed the Seminoles in the first half. This can not be disputed.  The Badger defense held up, forcing punts, while the Badger offense was moving the ball with some effectiveness. Except for two events, the Badgers were better than the Seminoles in the first half.  The big catastrophe occurred during the 3rd drive, with the game at 0-0 and some momentum building during an 80-yard drive. The Badgers attempted a quick pass to the WR with some blockers over there, but the pass was jumped by a FSU player. Since we are no good at these types of plays, our quarterback and WR managed to align themselves so that the pass was heading backwards. The FSU player picked it up and ran for a score. 7-0. (Your 2008 Wisconsin Badgers!) The game chugs along and the Badgers are containing the lawless savages. We put a couple more drives together, mostly with the run, and the score is 7-3. Notice that FSU has done nothing up until now on offense. The first half is almost over and it's 7-3, and we GAVE them their 7.

In our Q&A with Tomahawk Nation, they seemed to be pretty confident that we wouldn't be able to hold up in our base defense, and we argued otherwise. During the first half I think the Defense held up great. (One tidbit that they passed along that didn't make it in to the chat, was that Curtis Ponder runs the fastest shuttle run on the team. Read that again. The fastest on the entire team. This quickness would torture Badgers fans in the second half.)

Things are going pretty well for the Badgers until the coaching staff makes another mess of game-management.  With 1:10 to go in the half, the Badgers get the ball at their own 7, (Gano punted to our 3, 1, 1, 7 in the first half!), and the coaches call two passing plays. Now I'm all for trying to get a first down however you can, but it's not like our passing game was effective up til that point. Hell, Sherer had only attempted 5 passes up til that point! So why on earth are we throwing the ball and stopping the clock? There is a minute to go and we are at our 7. In this situation there is every reason to run the ball. Run it. We ran it 20 times already, and it was actually working. Instead, we threw 2 incomplete passes, and gave the ball to FSU at our 47 with 40 seconds left to go. With nothing to lose FSU gained some swagger and lobbed two balls to really athletic wideouts. 14-3. We controlled the first half and were losing 14-3. Yeesh.

I have the game DVR'd but havent wanted to watch the second half. I know FSU got on a roll and rolled us under. Hopefully there were enough shaky calls to blame...

The score of the game showed disaster, and I think it's a fitting end for this team. Just good enough to somehow get smashed by a team that was no better than them. 

Two more cents...

Without looking at stats, which can often be misleading in this type of situation, I think the Packers finished with about the right record +/- 2 games. As has been previously stated, AR had good stats, which is partially reflective of the fact that we threw the ball a lot to catch up/keep up, but his relatively low number of INTs is encouraging. Another part of that equation is that McCarthy is inconsistent in his willingness to stick with the running game. When the Pack is successful on the ground we win; when we are unable to run, we lose (More on this later).

I think the fact that we played multiple playoff caliber teams close down to the last drive, won the games we should have won, and lost the games we should have lost places the Pack squarely in the middle of the overall NFL picture. We had some bad breaks/lapses that led us to lose a couple games that we might have won, but we finished right about where we belonged: somewhere between 8-8 and 6-10. In the long run, it is better for us to have a worse record if we do miss the playoffs so we get better draft picks.

I will not get into what are needs are, because they have been and will be discussed at length in other posts. Needless to say, our needs are obvious and we have the capability to fill them if we so choose.

Back to the non-personnel part of the Packs struggles: It seems to me that part of the Pack's problems on offense (sputtering on many drives) is our inability/unwillingness to commit to a running game. Some of this has to do with our O Line, but another part has to do with play calling. McCarthy, it seems to me gives up on the run too easily, if it doesn't work early. Case in point is last year's divisional playoff and NFC championship game. Against the Seagulls, we ran, and ran, and then ran some more. We dominated the entire game and won easily. One week later, granted against a monstrous front 4, I think we ran the ball maybe 4-5 times in the first quarter before McCarthy jumped ship on running the ball as a legitimate game plan. This was in freezing, windy conditions with a QB who clearly wanted nothing to do with playing that day. Would we have been successful running against Strahan, et al? Maybe not, but I think it would have been wise to try a few more times. Perhaps then the Fearsome Foursome would have had to think more about pinning their proverbial ears back and going after Brett. When I look back at that game, it wasn't much different than this entire season. Play a quality opponent close, and then lose at the end with unclutch plays.

So apart from personnel changes, I think McCarthy needs to use the quality he has in the offensive back field, even if we have a couple of 3 and outs in the first quarter. Running = winning.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Excellent Michael Hunt Quote

Unfortunately, the whole piece is only available if you have ponied up the big bucks for a Packer Insider subscription, but I wholeheartedly agree with this point by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Michael Hunt---

"And now that the painful season is over, it bears repeating that the Packers did the right thing at quarterback. Of all the things that went wrong this season, Rodgers was the least of their problems. He played through a shoulder injury. He was on the field for all 16 games. He threw for 4,000 yards. And he's coming back with a gifted set of skill players that suddenly includes DeShawn Wynn and Jermichael Finley.

So even as you hold Thompson and McCarthy accountable for upgrading the defense and the special teams and the offensive line, know that their most difficult decision of all has put the Packers in a position to compete for years to come at the most important position."

We're Number Nine!

In the April 2009 draft that is. By virtue of the Packers not becoming "a footnote in history" (as Wayne Larrivee put it on the radio yesterday afternoon) and losing to the Detroit Lions, they have clinched the ninth pick in next spring's NFL draft. That's pretty solid, although losing to the Lions would have put them into a tie for seventh. What am I saying? Losing to the Lions would have been franchise-crushing. As a friend recently noted, the Lions are not only a terrible team. They're history-making 0-16 record is actually reflective of how historically gawd-awful they've been. Specifically, according to the stat-crunchers at footballoutsiders.com, the Detroit defense is the worst defense an NFL team has fielded since 1995. (See here, and scroll down to the last bullet point before the comments section.) And that's only after Week 16. One can only imagine that giving up 100 yards rushing to Deshawn Wynn on 6 carries, 100 yards rushing to Ryan Grant, and three hundred passing yards to A-Rodg will further worsen those ratings. That same Football Outsider post notes that the Packers have shown the biggest discrepancy between performance on the field and wins and losses. This should come as no surprise to Green Bay fans.

Anyhow, I feel like the win against the Lions sort of summed up the season, in a way. Explosive but inconsistent and sputtery (giving up 3 sacks to the Lions?) offense, somewhat confused looking defense that relies on picks to get it out of trouble, mediocre special teams. The huge offensive numbers would give you some hope for the future, but it was a bit of a sloppy performance, and, as I just mentioned, the Detroit defense is historically bad.

The real question is-- what lies ahead in the offseason? I'm hoping for some coaching turnover (I know it's the knee jerk fan's demand), some free agent signings (particularly on both lines, where they may be some good depth players available), some further development from the team's young players, and a good draft with some impact players (Michael Oher, perhaps?). More on this later.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

More Champs Sports Bowl Nunsense

Also, here's our end of the witty repartee. That is, here's our answers to Tomahawknation.com's various questions regarding Wisconsin and this afternoon's Champ Sports Bowl (3:30 pm Central, mis amigos).

Holiday Q&A with Florida State Experts

Season's greetings, folks. We were recently broached by a Florida State blog to engage in a mutual Champs Sports Bowl Q&A. Below are their responses to our questions. Later today we'll post our responses to their queries. Also, err, go Badgers.

B. Bowden was quoted in our newspapers saying that there is the National Championship game and if you're not in that, then all of the other bowls are all about the same. Do FSU fans feel the same way?

Recently, I've found it very difficult to gauge the pulse of this fanbase. Personally I think that the comment was poorly phrased and shouldn't have been said at all. Sure, Seminole fans are disappointed that they weren't in the National Title hunt, but he should have said "Clearly this isn't where we want to be, and we'll work very hard to get the Noles back on top this offseason. Right now our focus is on Wisconsin." I'd personally prefer that he not say anything at all in this scenario, as it marginalizes Wisconsin.

Is Wisconsin on your radar as a legit football program? Does the school have any name recognition among FSU fans?

I honestly don't think they do. I don't mean this as a slight, but our schools have never played and there haven't been any relevant games where we needed you to win for us to go to the National Championsip, etc. One connection, however, is that FSU fans believe Peter Warrick was much more deserving of the Heisman than Ron Dayne. We think the trophy was stolen from him when he well... got a big discount from Dillards.

Wisconsin runs a pro-style offense and often uses 2 TEs and a fullback. Have you encountered these power formations this year? How have you fared? Is your defense better suited to defending big pro-sets, or the spread option type offenses?

Very interesting question. I will start by saying that our defense is made to defend 2-back pro-style offenses. In fact, many will argue that the emergence of the one-back offense with a mobile quarterback is a direct reaction to the 90's and early '00's dominance of Mickey Andrews (FSU's DC of 25 years and Broyles Award Winner), Bob Sttops, and Jim Leavitt.

You may read some reports that indicate Florida State struggled mightily against large offensive lines and heavy sets. This is innaccurate. The Noles struggled against large offensive lines... when the opposing offense ran zone read out of shotgun. The actual performances on the field show this. The reason? The hesitation created by the zone-read (where the QB chooses to give or keep) allowed the big offensive linemen to get on the smaller FSU defenders, eliminating their aggression and diminishing their penetration.

Florida State relishes facing a pro-style offense. Against Pro Style Offenses... FSU allowed


Points Total Off.

Rushing


Passing






Opponent
Plays Yds Per Play No Net YPC TFL's Att Comp Yds TD Int Sacks Dropbacks/ Sacks QB Rating
Wake Forest(3-12) 12 68 276 4.1 38 59 1.6 9 30 17 217 0 0 2 16.0 117
Colorado(39-21) 21 73 278 3.8 37 124 3.4 10 36 17 154 3 1 4 10.0 105
Miami (Fla.)(41-39) 30 63 256 4.1 14 51 3.6 6 49 21 205 1 3 2 25.5 72
Virginia Tech(30-20) 20 56 243 4.3 34 82 2.4 10 22 12 161 1 0 6 4.7 137
Clemson(41-27) 27 71 316 4.5 36 79 2.2 14 35 20 237 2 1 6 6.8 127.17
Maryland(37-3) 3 60 252 4.2 29 103 3.6 10 31 16 149 0 2 6 6.2 79

19 65 270 4.1 31 83 2.6 10 34 17 187 1.2 1.2 4.3 8.8 100


Against Teams who run some form of option primarily for their run game (NC State runs zone-read, as did Boston College. Georgia Tech runs flexbone. UF obviously runs spread option)


Total Off.

Rushing


Passing






Opponent
Plays Yds Per Play No Net YPC TFL's Att Comp Yds TD Int Sacks Dropbacks/ Sacks QB Rating
North Carolina St.(26-17) 17 47 338 7.2 21 157 7.5 4 25 13 181 2 0 1 26 139.22
Georgia Tech(28-31) 31 51 343 6.7 44 288 6.5 2 6 4 55 0 1 0 NONE 110.33
Boston College(17-27) 20 74 357 4.8 46 176 3.8 13 27 14 181 1 1 1 28 113
Florida(15-45) 45 68 502 7.4 46 317 6.9 8 22 12 185 3 0 1 23 170

28 60 385 6.4 39 235 6.0 6..8 20 11 151 1.5 0.5 0.8 28 138

The numbers are insanely different. Quite frankly, FSU owns pro-style offenses and gets gashed by the modern 1-back gun schemes.

10 more points allowed per game.
55% more yards allowed per play.
More than double the rushing yards per carry allowed (140% more)
1-1 TD-Int Ratio allowed against ProStyle offenses, 1..5-0.5 TD-Int ratio allowed against the singleback gun schemes.
QB Rating of 100 against pro style teams, and 138 allowed against the other.
A sack every 8 dropbacks against prostyle schemes, night and day from the one every 28 against the modern scheme.

MANY of the prostyle offenses had huge offensive lines and heavy sets, as did the singleback gun teams. The size of the offensive line was largely irrelevant. This seems to be something the media is writing about because the common fan can eaisly digest "big white guy against fast small black guy" type comparisons.

Wisconsin has been recruiting Florida actively in recent years, has FSU ever recruited a Wisconsin player? If not, why not? Too much academic eligibility from our high school students?

We've had luck recruiting players from near Wisconsin (Chris Weinke). I believe we missed on our last Great Lakes commit (Twins Catcher Joe Mauer). I'm sure we could use some of their eligibility. Maybe their pale skintone would lull our opponents into a lacksidasical attitude like Wisconsin did to Tennessee and others in recent bowl games? haha.


How many "head-coach in waiting" candidates to replace Bowden have their been? Are there any former potential Bowden replacements who are already retired?

Officially, one. Unnofficially, three. Many felt Andrews would be the guy, but Bowden has held on far too long to allow the 65 year old Andrews to take the reigns. Assistant HC and former LB Coach Kevin Steele also seemed destined for the spot at one time, but he departed on questionable terms and is now the DC at Alabama. I wouldn't be surprised if someone did retire already, however.

Our head coach has an Iowa Hawkeye tattoo on his calf from his playing days. Bobby Bowden played at Alabama. Does he have an elephant tattoo anywhere? If not, you're ahead of us there....

I've never seen 'em, and if he has one hidden, I am sooo not interested in learning about hidden tats on an 80 yearold's body.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Time to Start Thinking Like a Michigan State Fan

Woooooo. So, that was a fun game. Until, I guess, the final two minutes or so, where Texas just made a couple plays (chasing down that offensive board, nailing that Brian Butch-at-Indiana-esque shot late, playing tough switch defense on Hughes) and Wisconsin didn't make enough. Maybe I should be pissed off. Maybe I should be wondering where Wisconsin's offense went in the last few minutes, or why they couldn't chase down that long rebound late. But I'm not too upset. Stuff like that happens. This game is entirely different if either Kevin Gullickson or Tim Jarmusz or Pop Hughes hit two more free throws. And Texas wins a tough game on the road by hitting an absurd 15 of 16 free throws (they were averaging 62% foul shooting on the season). The Badgers miss seven, Texas misses one. There's the difference. Twas a tough, hard-fought game against a very solid, talented Texas team, and in those situations, it often comes down to those details-- last minute execution, and foul shooting. But a good, good game.

Anyhow, I think the take away is that they're close. This Wisconsin team is pretty decent right now, and is close to being pretty damn good. The defensive rotations are vastly improved. The increased number of post touches were excellent (I love seeing Krabbenhoft exert himself down there like he did tonight). Leuer is looking more and more like Dirk Novitzki every day. The thing is, it's all still a work in progress. The freshmen guards are just not contributing enough to properly spell Bohannon and Hughes. Nankivil flashes and disappears. Against big opponents, Marcus plays tight and ends up a bit overaggressive (his foul trouble this game reminded me of his struggles against UConn). A little bit more scholarship frontcourt depth (hello, Ian Markolf) would be helpful. (Gavinski being a total noncontributor in his third year in the program is a real bummer. A servicable big body would have been a big help last night.)

Given all of that, I don't really see Wisconsin being a legitimate contender for the Big Ten title. The league is quite deep, and while the season-long trajectory should be up, this team's learning process just seems like it's going to continue to take some time. Thus, I'm going to act like a Sparty fan, I've decided. "The regular season doesn't matter! (Except when we win.) It's all about the post-season, man! Come tournament time, it's going to be on." This team should continue to grow and improve as things progress. They'll likely be some stops and starts, and also some big encouraging moments. But my goals for the regular season are pretty limited-- one loss or less at home during the conference season, qualification for the tournament, and single digit tournament seeding. Really, I'm getting psyched for the tourney already-- because that's when this Badger team should be peaking. Hey, only two and a half months away, right?

Who Put Our Bad 4th Quarter on "Repeat" All Year?

If I'm gonna look back on this Packers Season, I have to start by wondering what in the samhell happened to the Green Bay Packers during the 4th Quarter and OT this year? It's unreal. The script just keeps repeating. QB plays ABOVE average during the first half and we come out balling. The defense is making stops and getting picks. Then, the 4th Quarter rolls around and our defense can't make a stop and our QB can't make a play. I'll get to the stats in a minute, but I've got a story that's more illustrative. I watched the game in a living room full of people who did not care. My dear brother-in-law lives so far away from the World of Sports that he cannot get a direct flight. Early on the Packers were looking good, and as the game got into the end of the 3rd quarter, the bro-in starts watching and gets the vibe that the Packers are in control. I told him the problem with the team is finishing and actually warned him about Chinatown Sneakball. Well, sure as sugar, the exact script above played out and the Packers lost in OT. All the guy did was watch tidbits of the second half of this one Packers game and yet he got the exact essence of the entire season. (I felt used)

Sorry, but I need to yell this: YOU'RE THE F@CK*%G PUNT RETURNER!!! CATCH THE F@CK*&G PUNT!!!! What are we paying you for? We don't need some douchebag waving his arms near the punt. We don't need some douchebag running up to the ball and then diving away from the punt. Unless you are inside your own 10-yard line. WE NEED YOU TO CATCH THE F@CK%^G PUNT!!!! The one and only job I am convinced I could do in the NFL is pretending to be the punt returner, but instead, just running
somewhat near the punt and not doing anything. It's not a good sign when you can make any one of the plays that some guy on your NFL team just made on the field. Has anybody noticed that Jimmy Leonhard took over Punt Return duties from Ed Reed on the Baltimore Ravens? Maybe it's because as the punt returner, he CATCHES THE PUNT!!!

I'm not mad at Mason Crosby, but we have lost a lot of games because of FGs that were not made:
We lost to ATL, they went 2/2, we went 1/2.
We lost to MIN, missed the game-winner
We lost to CHI, miss and a block to force OT

Although I agree with Randy Moss that our O-line has not been effective, it's the defense that bothers me. We need better DTs. You cannot play the 4-3 and not have stud DTs. We are $20mm under the cap. I would love to sign Albert Haynesworth. He has always been nasty and is the subject of one of the funniest Onion Articles in Recent Memory. But I am open to taking on others as well. Just get some guys and don't let them go.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sponsors of the Midway

"Chinatown Sneakball" is what you must prepare for when its time to play the bears. Tonight's game was classic CS. Domination followed by, Special teams turnover, points off special teams turnover, 4 & 1 stand, missed challenge, regular score to make it look like the game has even been close, Four 2 yard runs when the game is on the line, blocked field goal, lose a coin toss (not the one for the ball, the one to decide whether Grossman or orton was gonna start OT. We lost both), payback penalty, Robbie Goulde-Edinger wins player of the game. Classic. The only thing missing was a non- Ryan Grant fumble in overtime where the bears get a challange they didn't deserve.
What incredible chokes we are. That bear team sucks. They're terrible. The one great thing about this is that now (assuming the bears beat the Texans next week [which they wont if its above 30 degrees]), we get to watch a glorious viking choke. Although they shouldn't be in the position that they're in. We missed a game winner in the dome! Two missed opportunities on our biggest rivals fields. One game we lucked into, the other we dominated and just had to finish. Either way, it appears that this years Green Bay team has gone and gotten itself a mentality. Confidence has been non-existent since the saints game. The statistics they showed during our last drive about Rodgers' play when tied or losing by 8 or less, were unsightly. Passer rating of 26 point something. Not good. But it also has a lot to do with not being able to run the ball. For some reason, all the big bodies that we've stacked up to play offensive line, are simply unreliable at the worst possible moments, resulting in the most terrible blocked fg since the "sweetness bowl", and stagnant rushing; when it counted; the entire season.
Darren Colledge remains the most inconsistent player on the line. Sometimes amazing, sometimes cross-eyed. And he's the best one out of the bunch (except Scott Wells). Seriously Colledge and Wells and maybe Spitz should stay. And I only suggest that Spitz remain because replacing our tackles will require too much adjustment already. We need two Tackles that can get 4 yards at the end of a game. Especially when the other teams defense has been on the field the whole time. Preferably free agent tackles. Studs. Not projects. No more Brazilians. This is where I would talk about who's available. But I don't know. I'm just a caveman.
And if there aren't any solid options in free agency, then at least we'll have a beautiful draft position. Use it on a tackle. We can't run the ball. And running the ball is the only way to stop bullshit chinatown sneakball losses to garbage teams that shouldn't be anywhere close to beating us. 37-3.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bad Idea Jeans?

So I live in Chicago. For about seven months out of the year, this works out pretty well-- lots of stuff to do, good job, travel hub, etc. But the winter months, well, they suck. And the winter months when the Bears are ahead of the Packers in the standings, well, those especially suck. Over the years, I've learned to blot out the yammering about the Bears that envelops you in this city (especially when they're doing well-- Chicago, like all big cities, is very fair weather), and now take pleasure in some semi-good-natured back and forth with the sad subspecies known as Bear fans.

Anyhow, living in Chicago for a while now has led me to actually befriend some of these poor souls. In fact, I've befriended some Chicagoland residents who are not only Bear fans, but actually own season tickets. And one of these fine people was nice enough to offer to sell me his tickets for tomorrow night's game at face value. Now, this sale took place back in September. And, at the time, I was aware that the game would be cold, but the possibility that it would be absolutely intolerable didn't really register. Or, at least, it didn't register to the point where it dissuaded me from going along and buying the tickets.

But then the season progresses, and the injury-riddled Packers start stinking up the joint. I started looking ahead to the offseason, and not getting so angry when they lose. I missed the second Viking game (and then the Texans game) and not watching the Pack on those Sundays t really didn't bother me all that much. But I was still thinking, I'm totally going to the Packer-Bear game---Bears-Packers, it's tradition, it's amusing, etc.

But then the game crept closer, and I took a look at the weather forecast for Monday night. You see terms like "high of 14" and "subzero windchill" getting thrown around. Reporting this prediction to the wife led to her immediately opting out of the game. Of course, I found some committed Bear fan friend to go with me. But then there was today's weather. Right around zero degrees fahrenheit, with a wicked windchill of 20 or so below zero. And tomorrow's supposed to be about the same, maybe incrementally warmer (or, more accurately, less frigid). Testing out tomorrow's outfit led me to discover that there's no combination of clothing I own that can keep my legs warm in that windchill. A modern-ish ski mask sort of keeps the face from freezing off, but my glasses fog up and stay that way. This leads me to wonder what the point of going is if I won't be able to see the game. But really, I'm hunting for excuses, aren't I? I probably seem like a huge wuss. Tom Coughlin was walking around getting second-degree frostbite on 80% of his face last January, while I'm complaining about sitting in a crowd wrapped in a Mad Bomber hat and a puffy jacket. In my defense, here's the forecast for tomorrow night. (And if you're not familiar with the title of the post, take a gander here.)

Badgers Beat Wiley Patsy

So the Wisconsin men's basketball team took down Coppin State in a mostly middling performance last night. Maybe after finals week and all that the team was a little out of it. There were stretches of good defense, generally solid rebounding, and some possessions with excellent passing, but there were a few too many turnovers (10) for how slow paced a game it was (53 possessions), and the Badgers seemed to run out of gas in both halves, scoring few points in the last five minutes or so of both periods. But they were generally in control the whole way-- working a double-digit lead early and milking it for the rest of the game. Although you would have liked to see them really put the pedal down and blow out a 1-6, now 1-7 Coppin State team.

Anyhow, the reason Coppin State is wiley is the following. They play in the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) wtih teams like the traditional black universities Hampton and Bethune-Cookman (where the Packers' Nick Collins went to college). When you play in that small of a division, you know that you're not going to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. And thus, the only way to make the tournament, and, really, the only part of your season that matters is your conference schedule, and, in particular, your conference tournament. Knowing this, Coppin State volunteers to play one of the roughest non-conference schedules in the country. They've played 8 games so far this season, and 7 have been on the road, against teams like Wisconsin, Dayton, Kansas, Purde, and they have games coming up at Missouri and Oklahoma. Yeesh. The idea is obvious though. Play against tough competition early and the games that matter, the conference games, will feel easy in comparison. So these tough early losses (if the team's psyche can withstand all the losing) help prep them for the conference season. And it's worked! Coppin State made the tournament out of the MEAC several times in the last dozen seasons. (Last year, they lost in the play in game to Mount St. Mary's.) Plus, playing the patsy to all these big schools early in the season results in Coppin State getting a ton of money. In fact, the first ten or so games of the men's basketball season funds the rest of the athletic department. That's a wickedly smart set-up, and one any small conference D-I coach would be smart to emulate.

Anyhow, random stats and analysis follows. The Badgers were efficient, despite the turnovers, scoring roughly 1.09 points per possession. And they held Coppin State to a dour .87 PPP. So it was a pretty solid performance, it's just that the pase was so darn slow (largely due to the refs calling all of two shooting fouls on both teams combined--- they must have made a pact to try to get home before 8), the game seemed closer than it was. And it didn't help that Coppin State's various zones lured Wisconsin into a throwing up too many three pointers-- and the Badgers made less than a quarter of their attempts. (Pop Hughes was guilty of several especially heinous long range shots.) However, the lack of foul shots and the not-so-hot three point shooting was overcome by complete dominance on the boards. Wisconsin rebounded superbly on both ends of the floor, pulling down 86% of the available defensive boards and 44% of their own misses. Both superlative percentages.

Anyhow, Tuesday night's game in Madison against the Texas Longhorns is now looming. They're probably still pissed about Michael Flowers' ridiculous clutchness stealing that game from them last year. And I can't tell whether it's a good or bad thing that they lost a close game to Sparty (in a weird not really very neutral game in Houston) yesterday. It should be a tough one, and Wisconsin is going to need to show that the team that got beat down by UConn and lost its cool at Marquette (and nearly lost to Idaho State) has grown and matured into a better squad. The dominant win over UW-Green Bay sure made it seem like they had. Last night's game makes you wonder a bit though. Should be a fascinating match-up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Camp

Wisconsin is a hockey school, and the basketball team is a perennial Top-20 program. But....this ain't The Lambeau Center, it's CAMP Lambeau. So let's talk some Badger Football. 

I mean, is nobody excited to play arguably the best team of the 90's? Neon Deion played for these guys. I had to watch Lee Corso drool over these guys for years. This team and its Tomahawk chop was such a big deal that I remember hearing it almost nonstop back in Jr. High and High School. The Braves even stole it and used it in their NL championship years. Not excited yet? How bout all those hot dumb FSU cheerleaders bouncing around in high-definition? Still not pumped? What if I told you that some guy on ESPN thinks it's the 14th best bowl game this year? I wrote that as a joke, but hell look at that list and all the teams below us. We're cooler than those guys. 

As the site's leading Badger Football homer, I'd like to point out some positives. The first key for me is the continued development of our starting QB. Remember folks, this is a guy who did not get the majority of prep time in the spring or fall. (Why we hung with Evridge for so long when Chryst had no confidence in him, even insiders can't explain). Sherer was thrust into the job in the middle of the season, and was asked to resurrect the season, which he more or less did. In his first week we got trounced at Iowa but we always lose there. Then we won the rest of our games except MSU, but we had them by the balls (we ran into the endzone for the game-clinching TD before it was called back due to an atrocious holding call) So, it turns out that our record with Sherer at the helm is pretty good. And now he is finally getting all the reps and has had another month of practice. This could be good news right?

I'd also like to point out that we have John "3 yards and a pile of" Clay. This guy is a horse and I love to watch him play. Now PJ Hill is asking about his draft status, which is either a prudent move or he is reading the writing on the wall. We have JohnJohn Clay and 2 other guys. That's a 3-headed running back, and even the Greeks don't have a word for that, let alone a bunch of savages who refused to learn farming. 

I have a question: what scares you about FSU? If I owned a retail outlet on campus, I'd be scared. If I was FSU's academic coordinator, I'd be scared. But bringing down our big mashers to play a no-momentum FSU team, without a single skill player I can name off the top of my head? Not that scared. I believe the 1997 Georgia Bulldogs were mentioned. The 1997 Bulldogs were the most talented team Barry Alvarez ever played against (he told me so). These are not the 1997 Bulldogs, dear readers.

Mr. Man pointed out that it's not looking good for the BigTen in this year's slate of bowl games, and he's right. Quick! Who's the only BigTen squad favored to win? Got it yet? I'll give you a paragraph to think about it.

Suffice to say it's not the Badgers. The oddsmakers have WI as 5 1/2 point underdogs. Considering that the game is being played in the opponent's home state, and the 3 point home field advantage general rule, we'd be about 2 1/2 point dogs in a neutral state. So it's not as if Vegas thinks we are totally outmanned.  Small consolation, but whatever. 

Iowa is a 3 1/2 point favorite to beat Mike Vick's Gamecocks. Oh wait, I mean Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. Where's the outrage PETA?

Holiday Shopping

In the past three weeks, I've gotten about, oh, ten thousand emails from the Packer Pro Shop, trying to get me to buy more Packer apparel. And looking around on their website, I noticed that virtually every single item is on sale. I know the economy's bad, but it's hard to not extrapolate that the team's lack of success this season, coupled with the sudden lack of a marquee player, has started to hit them in the pocketbook. Thus, the desperate and incessant emailing and the slashed prices.

(If you're looking for Packer-related paraphernalia for yourself, or as a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa present, I like the old school "ACME Packers" stuff they have.)

The Bowl Season Blahs

As a few of you may have noticed, there's been no discussion on this fine, upstanding website of the University of Wisconsin football team's date with destiny and the Florida State Seminoles, in the Champs Sports Bowl on December 27. Why is that? Well, to be honest, and to channel Top Gun, I have totally lost that lovin' feeling. Of course I'm still a fan. And, of course, I'll watch the game. But, sheesh, I kind of just wish this season was over already.

The moral loss to Cal Poly-SLO really drove it home--- this team is not good. In fact, they kind of hurt to watch. It's like being a dog waiting to get whacked with a newspaper-- you're constantly ready to wince in pain. Further, the lack of improvement this season from the team has been really disturbing, and has made me concerned about the future of the program in general. As far as the bowl game goes, I'm quite worried that Florida State, even a Florida State that is nowhere near what it used to be, is going to hammer them. I fear a result similar to the Penn State and Iowa games this season, or the Mike Bobo/David Pollack-led beatdown by Georgia a few years back. Now, I sure hope that I'm wrong. And I'm glad the Badgers made a bowl game, if just for the extra practice time. But I just can't muster any enthusiasm for the season's ultimate game.

And thinking about the Big Ten's bowl season as a whole is even more depressing. Take a look at the conference's match-ups. The Badgers and a likely beat-down will start things off. Then we have Northwestern, who will get absolutely exposed by Missouri's offense in the Alamo Bowl. Next up is Minnesota against Kansas in the Insight Bowl on New Year's Eve. Hmmm, anyone else think that KU's excellent quarterback Todd Reesing might totally bomb Minnie's atrocious defense?

The morning after, New Year's Day, we have two more likely losses, with Michigan State playing Georgia (given Sparty's overrated one dimensional offense, that is not going to be pretty) in the Capital One Bowl, and a peaking USC team looking to make a statement against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. (To be fair, think this game could be close. PSU is a very good team. But I just don't see them doing much offensively against USC's ridiculous defense.) These two losses will likely overshadow the Big Ten's lone bright spot--- an improving Iowa team should be able to take down South Carolina that morning in the Outback Bowl.

Then, four days later, the capper--- Ohio State playing a pissed off Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. How did a two loss OSU get into the BCS again? Never mind. The Longhorns are going to depants the Buckeyes on prime time national television. The whole world is going to see their sissy-boy panties rippling in the Arizona evening breeze. It'll be a fitting end to a forgettable season of Big Ten football.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

BIG 11 FUN FACTS (& predictions)

WISCONSIN
The Badgers RPI is currently 25.
Landry leads the team in minutes averaging 31.2 mpg, with "Boy-anyon" a close second averaging an even 31. We're OK. The conference is pretty good. The good teams are good, and the bad teams are dangerous.
Record: 12-6
Finish: Tied for 3rd

IOWA
Iowa leads the conferance in shooting percentage @ %48.9, and 3 pt percentage @ %42.1. Also, the 'Brett Beilema leg tattoos' are way ahead of the league in 3 pt. fga with a whopping 242 attempts. wisconsin is tied for 5th with 175.
Record: 4-13
Finish: 9th


NORTHWESTERN
Northwestern's RPI is 9. Yaaaaaay.
Record: 8-10
Finish: 7th


INDIANA
Indiana has one senior on the team. His name is Kyle. It's the name his Daddy gave him. He wears number 44. It's the number the trainer gave him. He's from Evansville.
Record: 0-18
Finish: 123rd


PURDUE
Robbie Hummel, AKA Wes Lafayette, shoots %93.3 from the free throw line. They have 5 players that avg. double figures (JaJuan Juahnson technically averages 9.9), and they host Stefan Curry and his 3 week old fetus face this saturday @ 3 pm central. It'll be on CBS.

Record: 13-5
Finish: co-champs


MICHIGAN
Is balling. They beat 2 teams ranked number 4 this year; UCLA and Duke. Manny Harris leads the conference in scoring with 20.9 ppg, and the wolverines shoot a stellar %79.1 ($$) from the free throw line. Ummm, trouble. Jim Beilein might replace Tubby Smith this year as the conference's "Best Coach That Ever Started Their Kid". Not one of the big tens most coveted titles, but in the Big Sky, it's everything.

Record: 12-6
Finish: tied for 3rd


ORANGE FLUSH
Averages 20 assists per game (19.7) which is the most in the league, and 13.0 turn-overs per g. Which is the 4th most, for an assist/to ratio of 1.52. point being, they don't run the swing. Must be nice. in comparison, UW's a/to = 117/119 (.98). To be fair we have attempted 84 more free throws than them. And, Bruce Webber's wife washed his whites with his lucky blazer, so now all his underwear look like creamsicle under-roos.
Record: 10-8
Finish: tied for 5th


MINNESOTA
Steals per game #1 (9.3), Blocks per game #2 (7.6). RPI = 33. OMGWTF. We do not need kentucky across the river. Williams Arena - much respect.
Record: 10-8
Finish: tied for 5th


MICHIGAN STATE
They avg. the most points in the league by far at 80.9 pts/game, but that does include their 118-60 blowout of Alcorn St. A potentially scary stat line from that game btw, came from freshman guard and Milwaukee native, Korie Lucious, who, in 17 minutes had 3 pts. a rebound and 11 assists. 11? Whatever. Really?
Izzo is still one mouthy 12 year old away from a lifetime behind bars for child molestation. Youngsters keep your private parts out of the IZZONE.
Record: 13-5
Finish: co-champs


PENN ST.
Fires threes. And they're the only team that's shot more free throws than us. Us = 225 fta, them = 240 fta. Whe-he-he-hell, nerds. Way to work the system. You're still dorks. Define Nitanny.
Don't know your coaches name. Would insult him.
Record: 5-13
Finish: 8th

OHIO STATE

Scores the second fewest points in the league (64.0 ppg), ahead only of Indiana (63.2 ppg); but their RPI is 8 and they have the best player in the conference. Evan Turner, 6-7 205lbs. (Who Mr. Man has informed me, turnered down Wisconsin), is rangy and athletic and will take over many games for the Buckeyes this year. He shoots %53.2 from the field and %82.9 from the free throw line. Calm stroke; dominating mid-range pull-up. And he grabs 7.3 rebounds/game.
Record: 11-7
Finish: 4th
Conference Tournament Champions

Monday, December 15, 2008

Second Verse, Same as the First

I remember during some interview toward the beginning of the season, Packers' GM Ted Thompson said something like, "I'm confident that with the team we have, we'll have a chance to win every game we play." That prediction has been accurate. Unfortunately, having a "chance" to win doesn't really do the trick in the NFL. During the 4-12 year three seasons ago, the Packers lost a bunch of close games. They were still a bad team. Most bad teams in the league play other teams pretty close. Anyhow, the season is now officially over, and all that's left to play for is pride and an effort not to get fired (so, please continue to lay down, defense). Random thoughts on the game:

- The 2nd and 1, 3rd and 1, 4th and 1 plays were just embarrassing. First off, some Monday-morning quarterbacking-- I don't know why they chose to run, run again, and run again, to not sneak the ball any of those downs, and to run with Grant twice, and Jon Kuhn once. Grant did not look good this game. Brandon Jackson might have earned the right to take a crack, and his presence in the package, at the least, would have made the Jaguars think pass. The fullback run is great when it works. But as the Panthers showed two weeks ago, it generally won't work against physical front sevens, like the Jaguars have. Plus, did anyone see both Packers' tackles lying on their sides on the 4th and 1? They both got pushed sideways to the ground. Sweet.

- If last game was the first installment in the ongoing "Is Tony Moll a starting Right Tackle in the NFL" audition, the answer at this point is "Skaaaaaaank!" I think the play where he got beat for a sack, Rodgers fumbled, Moll picked it up, started running forward and got popped, hard, pretty much sums it all up. Well intentioned, but kind of embarrassing.

- Quentin Groves harassed Rodgers all day from his defensive end spot. Groves looks to be a legitimately good rush end-- pretty big, very fast and physical, and somewhat crazy. He was available when the Packers chose Jordy Nelson, and Brian Brohm was taken just a few picks after the Jaguars nabbed him.

- Ryan Grant looked bad, although the holes weren't really there. But he just isn't shifty, seemed to opt to settle for running into the line a little too often, and didn't look particularly powerful. Maybe he runs too tall. I wonder what the difference is between this season and last? Worse line play? No Favre scaring off defenses? The Packers are playing better defensive lines? (Grant didn't do much against the Giants, after all.)

- It was odd to see a power running team like the Jaguars throw the ball so much. I guess they did that because the Packers, once again, put on very, very little pressure. Kampman got close a few times, and Hawk got a sack on a blitz where no one blocked him. (Pretty much the only circumstance where a Packers linebacker can get to the quarterback on a blitz.) And maybe the Packers were geared up to stop the run, as Jones-Drew (another guy I was hoping the Pack would draft way back when) didn't do too much on the ground. (Though they were definitely not geared up to stop David Garrard from running.) Whatever it was, they certainly didn't adjust, as wash-out Dennis freaking Northcutt had a career day, with big catches in both halves. If there's anything that disturbs me about the defense, it's that failure to make in-game adjustments.

- I don't think anyone outside the organization can explain what Jermichael Finley is doing on the field on key downs. Occasionally first and second downs not in the red zone, yes. But he needs to EARN the right to be on the field when it really matters. He has definitely not done that yet.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Badgers Rebound, Literally

Don't have too much time to rehash Wisconsin's thoroughly satisfying win over a pretty solid UW-Green Bay team, but here are some random stats. Wisconsin managed an excellent 1.14 points per possession, and held UWGB to a thumping .85 PPP. That's a very solid performance. And they, at long last, dominated on the boards like they can--- with an 84% defensive rebounding performance. (Consider--- UWGB missed 34 field goals, and only grabbed 6 boards.) That, again, kicks ass.

In re individual performances, Pop Hughes did a great job of driving to the hole. Krabby looked for his shot and was efficient. And Nankivil hit the boards hard, grabbing 11, and slamming two dunks on drives and dishes (although he meeked out on a couple of moves in the paint). That kind of performance out of Keaton is what the Badgers need to become a good team.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Nice....

The facing by Idaho (related below) has been noted and relayed by Wisconsin men's basketball beatwriter Rob Schultz. If you have an opinion on the matter, I strongly encourage you to air it in the comments section below his article. The only way things will change is if people become aware of the problem.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Faced by Idaho!

The inexplicably lame and silent Kohl Center crowd on Tuesday was not only noticed by me and other real Badger fans, but also by the Idaho State beat writer traveling with the team. And he called the fans out. Hilarious:

"Wisconsin’s basketball fan base makes me feel spoiled to have ever attended Kansas games for four straight seasons. In short, the Badgers fans in the stands for Tuesday’s game against Idaho State were H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. There were at least 12,000 of them, and the Kohl Center felt deader than Century High’s gym. Holt Arena gets louder than the Kohl Center did on Tuesday. In my own opinion, it was pathetic. A good number of students attended the game, but hardly any of them cheered. A student told me that was because student tickets are now being chosen at random instead of by how long a certain group of fans camps out for seats. I’m sure that hurts. But c’mon. Regardless of seat selection and the opponent, students should be able to chant “Defense” or “Let’s go Badgers” on key possessions. The Kohl Center was silent for all but the final play of the game."

That's right, Badger fans have been called out by a guy from Pocatello, Idaho. Yow. Thus, I now proclaim that it is indisputable-- the fans at the Kohl Center suck. They're staid, fair-weather, largely disinterested, and, above all, overly meek. But why? And what can be done to fix the problem?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hmmmm.....

I don't know if any of you wasted your time like I did last night-- watching the male basketballing Badgers barely edge a 2-5 Idaho State team 60-58 at home in an icily quiet Kohl Center. But if you did, you can't help but be a bit concerned. Yes, it's the time of the year where everyone has the winter blahs, and finals are approaching, and they just came off a tough loss to a big rival. But nearly losing to Idaho State at home? Whoa there. I know most folks have rote confidence in Bo Ryan, as they should given his record. But this "win" was a bit disturbing. No one was being assertive on offense. On defense, several obvious miscommunications, and several plays were guys just weren't contesting shots with the hustle that we've come to expect. Other random thoughts---

- Way too much passing around the perimeter on offense. Idaho State was playing a zone, and no one on the Badgers was attacking it. My understanding is that the best way to bust a zone is to drive into it, draw defenders, and pass, while your teammates without the ball make cuts. That just wasn't happening last night. Too much passivity, resulting in far too many jump shots that weren't really falling.

- Several obvious miscommunications on defense, the most glaring of which was when Jordan Taylor and Jason Bohannon switched, ended up covering the same guy, and left one guy all alone by the three point line-- swish.

- Bo made some comments about lack of hustle and effort. That issue was apparent at times, especially on the defensive end, where guys were not consistently making the extra effort to really contest shots. I guess the reason this was noticeable is because the Badgers are usually busting their asses on D.

- I want to see more out of Keaton Nankivil. The Badgers really need another post presence beside Landry, but Keaton has just looked uncomfortable out there, and his teammates don't appear to be giving him the ball when he actually gets in the right place. In fact, this was an issue the entire game, and against Marquette as well. Guys seem so afraid of turning the ball over they play timid. When your teammate has good post position, listen to Keyshawn and give him the damn ball!

- Hopefully, this is a temporary issue, and the team looks a hell of a lot better Saturday against UW-Green Bay. If not, uh oh. The Badgers looked like a lower-division Big Ten team last night.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Goodbye, Grizzly Adams

And to the last remaining UW Badger on the Packers roster-- Mark Tauscher is done for the year, and unrestricted free agency awaits. Barring a complete lack of interest in free agency, I think Tausch may be done living the Wisconsin dream. Fare thee well, Tauscher. You have a remarkable story (randomly coming back as a fifth-year senior at UW, getting drafted late, becoming a fixture from your rookie year on), and you've had an excellent career.

Look to see Tony Moll fill the right tackle spot for the rest of the year. Next season, let's all hope, it'll be Breno Giacomini-time. Awww, yeah. No offense to Moll, but I'm sure he'd admit that he hasn't shown much consistency, and that he's been getting noticed way too often. (I.e., getting repeatedly owned by Mario Williams in the clutch last week and committing other various killer errors-- remember he was the guy illegally downfield in the opener against the Vikings on Driver's big catch.) Is it so wrong to be excited about a freakishly athletic Brazilian-American by way of Malden, Mass? I don't think so. I mean, hell. Looking forward to next season is pretty much all we've got left, right?

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Rest of the Season

Regardless of what Randy says, the Packers' season is over. The defense is injury-riddled, soft, and incapable of making adjustments. They've rolled over like a submissive gimp. In the past three weeks, the Packers gave up 51 points to a mediocre Saints team lacking its biggest offensive talent, couldn't make any big stops against the Panthers, and just allowed the friggin' Texans to roll up the highest yardage total in that franchise's seven-year history. And this is at home, in December, against a losing team from the most air-conditioned city in the world. As Bob McGinn put it, "When that happens, you just have to admit that you stink and finish it out."

Now yes, the defense's collapse against the Texans was partly due to the Packers' nearly complete failure to pick up a first down (the offense went one for ten in the game). That put the Texans on the field again, and again, and again. And yes, due to some key turnovers, the Packers had a chance to win. Until penalties bit them in the ass once again, and the defense rolled over and presented its posterior one more time. Sigh... Five losses by five or less points will leave you a bit frustrated.

The points are-- first, clearly, the defensive is atrocious. It could get slightly better as the shaming function comes into play, and if some guys like Chillar and the safties get any healthier. But it will stay bad for the rest of the season, no doubt. Second, the offense is completely and totally hit or miss. Almost four hundred yards worth of offense, but only one third down conversion? I mean, what? How is that even possible? And this offense under A-Rodg is soft (see the goalline effort against the Panthers) and just hasn't developed clutchness, though the offensive line's key mistakes aren't helping matters, and the likely loss of Tauscher for the season (maybe forever-- he's a UFA) won't either.

Anyhow, the Packers have nowhere to go now. They play three winnable games, if they can get any slight defensive and offensive improvement. But they'd have to rely on the Vikings totally choking in order to force a tie for the division. And is anyone interested in seeing this team in the playoffs? I'm certainly not. So all 8-8 will get them is a mediocre draft pick. But at the same time, you can't root against your team, not when they're playing hated rivals (the Bears), other downtrodden squads (the Jags), and the league's worst team (the Lions). On the other hand, losing to those guys would be humiliating and I'd hate it, but man, it could really help their draft options. A quandry...

HILARIOUS

We're still gonna win the division.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

No jinx, no jinx!

Last year I put out a post before the annual Marquette-Wisconsin men's basketball game making fun of MU. And then UW committed 18 turnovers and blew their exceedingly long home winning streak (although the moronic changes to student seat allocation probably had something to do with the two home losses last season), despite last season generally being excellent. This year, I'm trying not to build up any bad karma. This game will be tough stuff, a grudge match against a very talented team in perhaps the loudest, most raucous atmosphere the Badgers will face all season.

Marquette has some great upperclassmen talent in senior guards Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and native Madisonian Wes Matthews, and junior forward Lazar Hayward. These guys are all strong, fast, and athletic, with multifaceted games. Moreoever, they're all heavily experienced--even Krabbenhoft and Landry haven't played as many minutes as any one of Marquette's "Big Three" seniors. Plus, with these guys on the floor, Marquette's been known for its suffocating, turnover-creating perimeter defense, the same thing that undid the Badgers against UConn, turning a competitive contest into a blowout in the last ten minutes. Actually, Marquette looks a lot like UConn, if you just take away the 7 foot 3 guy, and subtract a couple of inches from their power forward Jeff Adrien (to turn him into Hayward).

Unfortunately for Marquette, those are some pretty significant differences. MU's weakness right now--due to injuries, sudden departues and recruiting turnoever due to Tom Crean leaving-- is their lack of depth in the paint. One of the two big questions in this game, for me, is whether UW is going to be able to exploit that weakness, particularly with Landry and Leuer (and maybe Nankivil, if he opts to become a bit more aggressive offensively). Can UW handle the pressure on the perimeter, avoid turning the ball over on the outside (which would undoubtedly lead to fast break points for MU), and get the ball into the post? If they can, this would likely exploit MU's issues in the interior and their occasional problems with fouling. If not, I expect a bit of a beatdown by the Golden Eagles, unless UW can nail 60% of their threes again, like they did at Virginia Tech.

The other question is whether UW can play good enough team defense to handle MU's quickness. Despite being guard heavy, they haven't been a great three-point shooting team this year. Instead, look for them to penetrate, run pick and rolls, anything to get the ball into the paint, but not in a traditional post-up situation. I don't think UW's main guys, except for Hughes perhaps, can individually keep Marquette's guards out of the paint. So they question is whether the Badgers can give quality help defense on penetration without getting burned elsewhere on the court. They need to force jumpers. If MU's taking a lot of contested jump-shots, and not driving to the rack and getting scores and fouls on most possessions, UW will have a good shot at winning.

So in sum, I guess this game will be a good measuring stick for UW's progress this season-- have they learned to take better care of the ball? Has their help defense improved? Like all the Badger fans out there, I sure hope they don't wind up on the short end tonight.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Comebacks and Bowl Hopes

Mr. Man mentioned that last night VT had a crazy, last-minute "almost comeback" that almost never happens, which is true. But I was watching this 2001 game live and it will always stick out in my mind, as a crazy, last-minute, actual comeback.

Back to Football. When NW beat MI, my hopes for a BigTen #5 seed faded away, but new hopes emerged. I am now hoping for the Champs Sport Bowl in FLA against the ACC #6. What else am I hoping for? I am hoping that the Miami Hurricanes end up being the ACC #6. I want that matchup. We recruit heavily in Southern Florida, and a matchup and win against Miami in Florida, would be really helpful to us. Also, I have always wanted to play and beat Miami. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Decisions, decisions

Is it time? Can we mail in the rest of the season? The playoff prospects for the Pack are slim at best. Injuries continue to pile up. Punters are being cut. Things are not looking good. If we lose 3 of the next four (losing to the Lions would be unconscionable), 6-10 puts us in a pretty good draft slot. Add in what looks to be a likely 2nd rounder from the Jets, and we are sitting pretty for the 2009 NFL Draft.

I know, I know. Pro athletes aren't supposed to quit, blah, blah. As a fan though I'm thinking of the future. Isn't that why we let Brett go? Looking to the future with Rodgers? So lets rebuild our D-line, possibly a linebacker, and throw in an O lineman for good measure. Whether we use the draft picks to trade for a game ready player, or use them on some college studs the worse our record is at the end of the year the better our position for the future. In addition, the Pack should have plenty of cap space since we didn't spend it last year.

Note to Ted Thompson: Draft picks + cap space = opportunity. Waste it and we will run you out of town.

Monday, December 01, 2008

What an ending...

Holy cow. Wisconsin blows a nine-point lead with a minute left, despite only committing one turnover and one bad foul and making its free throws, because the Hokies are totally on fire from outside, in particular one forward/guard known as A.D. Vassallo, who hit UW up for 24 points in the second half, including at least four 3s. That guy was ridiculous. Most of his shots were contested in some form or other, but he scored inside and out. Wild stuff. I can't remember when I've seen a guy be that on fire against the Badgers. I guess Curry in the tournament last year, but Vassallo was more efficient. This was actually similar to Wisconsin's near loss at home against Winthrop two seasons ago.

I definitely have never seen a team rally from that far down in a college game against a team I support. I mean, from a nine-point lead to a tie in one minute? Totally crazy. You won't see that happen very often. But Pop saves the game, and the Badgers make it happen with no timeouts left. Sometimes it works out best that way. Instincts take over, and leaders step forward. Well done, Pop, and well done, Badgers. A gutty performance in a tough environment in the face of ridiculous performance by Vassallo. Random thoughts---

- The defensive rebounding was much improved in the second half.
- Rob Wilson got a ton of minutes this game. That's excellent to see. Plus, the 80% underclassmen group on the floor of Leuer, Taylor, Wilson, Jarmusz and Landry didn't give away the store, like they did against UConn. The younger guys seem to be coming along.
- But they still have a ways to go. Wilson's aggressiveness is great, but he needs to be better from the line. Nankivil needs to be strong in the post. He looked afraid of taking the ball in there and going to the hoop. He's a good offensive option when he gets the ball in the right position. He needs to take his shots. And he also needs to be strong on the defensive boards. Leuer also has some rebounding issues. His positioning was often a bit off. And of course Jon's foul on a Hokie three attempt late in the game, when the Badgers were clinging to a four-point lead, can't happen.
- Joe looks like he lost some quickness. I like him in the post on a guy about his size. I don't like him facing up his guy and driving to the basket, unless he's guarded by a larger, slower defender.
- What ridiculous outside shooting for both teams. Wisconsin shot 12 for 18, but was outdone percentage wise by Tech's 11 for 16 performance. At least four of those came in the last minute or so.
- Just a great college basketball game. Hard fought, magnificent plays by both teams right until the end. An excellent win for Wisconsin. Despite their three losses, Va Tech should make the tournament this season. They have a fair amount of talent, and the ACC looks pretty top heavy. Virginia Tech should really be able to make a strong push for third, or for second, over Duke, if they continue to improve.

Badger-Hokie Halftime Thoughts

Badgers up 8 at the break on hot three point shooting and careful offense-- only two turnovers so far. Random thoughts:
- You have to really like the way UW is taking care of the ball and getting to the free throw line.
- Conversely, I am quite concerned about the rebounding. Va Tech has got to have at least five or six offensive boards. Leuer is just not a solid rebounder yet, and Nankivil hasn't looked aggressive when he's been in there. This game wouldn't be close if the Badgers had blocked out better.
- The Badgers need to do better when a teammate posting up draws a double or triple team, as Landry has done repeatedly. Too often the ball is just passed back outside, not for an open jumper, but to resets the offense. There should be a quick pass or two to either a cutter or an open man on the perimeter.
- The Badgers have an 8 point lead due to deadly three point shooting. Unfortunately, shooting this well is likely not sustainable. And Va Tech's leading scorer only played 4 minutes due to being whistled for two quick fouls. The second half should be quite close.

UW-VT Running Diary

I'm pumped for this game and I'm gonna give you a running diary. Enjoy!

(Editor's Note: I use abbreviations to save time. I didn't realize I should be posting the score until it was 8-8.)

Coming to you live from Hokeytown! Apparently all the HD cameras are filming MNF because we are in Low Def. The VT crowd is jumping around like insane people. ACC B-Ball brings the atmoshpere.

Frenetic pace to begin. The Big Donut gets a quick foul, then another. Time for him to sit and leave grease stains on the seat.

The VT early possessions are marked by absolute melee under our basket and Leuer (Big White Monkey) just tomahawk swatted somebody. I like that he had the balls to do that.

We get the ball and Taylor drives baseline and just made a nice reverse layup, I was nervous the entire time.

More VT lobbing the ball at the basket and ensuing frenzy beneath the rim. They just heave it at the rim and rebound. Doing it with some success though. 8-8.

Rob Wilson showing cahones. drains a 3. 11-8.

More bricks from VT. This crowd is amped. They get one to go. 11-10.

Big White Monkey drives and is fouled. TV break.

BWM is not fazed. There is no flinch in his game tonight. I like his arms a lot this year, they are looking good. I hope he can continue that type of muscle growth. I'm wandering into man crush territory.

Here's an ad for the Panormous pizza. Its so big we called it Panormous! Apparently the pizza ad people are saying "Screw taste, give them weight specs", because there's another ad running where a guy puts a "pizzone" on a scale and shouts "Boom!" as it lands. A full pound!

We're back. BWM drains the FTs. 13-10.

Good interior passing by VT to answer. 13-12.

Nice passing and Mo Landry strokes a 3. Smooth. 16-12.

VT Turnover and another smooth triple from Landry. 19-12

Bricks & Rebounds. Bricks & Rebounds. The VT offense.

Lots of sloppy fouls by VT leads to the early bonus and...we make the first FT! We miss the second FT, but rebound. that never happens. Long possession full of almost turnovers, but the ball gets to Trevon in the corner and it falls. 23-12. Timeout VT.

Bobo misses a 3. He consistently has the closest misses of any player I've ever seen. Not sure what that means. Ball goes down to Nank but he gets packed, ball goes the other way and VT nails the momentum 3. 23-17.

Badgers casually run the shot clock down and Pop makes the jumper. Vintage. 25-17.

VT attempts another B&R but the ball careens out of bounds, Badgers ball. The crowd isn't happy, but the refs missed a push underneath so it should have been a foul on them anyway. TV break at 25-17.

White Monkey nails a 3 from jungleland. 28-17.

VT answers with a 3. 28-20.

White Monkey almost just had a two handed rebound dunk. almost. A VT player got a hand in and deflected it. Slightly bigger arms and that goes down with thunder.

VT getting into its offense now with 2 straight scores. 28-24.

Krabbenbot drives and is fouled. We go to the break. 28-24.

Krabbenbot makes the FTs. They score after that. 30-26.

Trevon gets the ball 3 feet behind the arc, his guy falls, he looks around for a second, then nails the deep 3. Balls. 33-26.

They throw it down low and score. 33-28

Wilson travels. turnover. Another VT Base line low post feed and they lay it in 33-30.

They keep fouling us. We keep shooting FTs. 35-30.

VT low post feed and a foul. miss-miss. 35-30

VT goes zone and we are fighting it. Trevon drove to the hole, but missed the layup. Does he do that a lot or is it me? Doesn't matter because BWM is battling and misses consecutive putback tries in traffic, but Badgers get the ball out of bounds. We get a nice low post feed and BWM pivots, takes it up strong makes it and 1. (It's those new arms!) 38-30

Bad VT turnover and Badgers should have last possession. We milk it and Bobo misses an open 3. Halftime. 38-30. VT crowd raining the boos down on the refs. And I fear they are listening.

We're back from the shortest halftime ever. VT has the ball and goes low to Big Donut. We double him. He is adamant that he is gonna shootalmost airballs

Backdoor princeton action and a K-bot lay-in. 40-30.

Followed by a Nank Block. Holla!

Pass around til Landry nails a 3. VT has a guy who is feeling it, his number is 40, and he looks like a mini Carlos Zambrano. Mini CZ nails a 3. 43-33. VT timeout.

Rafferty just compared us to the 60s version of us. Why do people love the story-line so much? We weren't a good program. Now we are. Does nobody notice that we've been pretty good for about the last decade?

Mini CZ with another 3. 43-36.

Nice. They show a graphic with teams that have won 30+ the last 2 years. There are 5 teams. WI is one of them. The stat guy also didn't like the comments, apparently.

I'm pretty sure Big Donut steps out of bounds, but no call and he dishes it down low and the guy scores and 1. made FT. 9-0 run. Bad times. 43-39.

Bad turnover. timeout. Must fight off atmosphere.

Big Donut. Big Miss. Rob Wilson goes to the post and gets fouled. Cahones. miss-miss. BWM rebound. Wilson gets fouled again. miss-make. 44-39.

VT brick and a BWM rebound. Another ugly foul by VT. The Big Donut again. Krabbenbot gets blocked by the Donut, they try to outlet but Wilson steals and gets fouled by Donut. Thats 4 on Donut and he takes a seat and orders a coffee. BWM drives and floats one in 46-39.

Bastard makes another 3. 46-42.

K-Bot gets it down low and makes a lefty jumphook. Hilarious. That got programmed into him in 1967, he just accessed the file. 48-42.

This is followed by a Landry block, we take it down court and fins an open BWM for a 3. 51-42.

I officially hate mini CZ. He nails a 3 with confidence. 51-45. Bobo answers with a 3. 54-45. Break.

VT drives to the lane for a B&R. Its an airball and goes right to one of their guys for a lay-in. VT showing a wrinkle to the offense, the A&R.

BWM misses a hook down low and the bastard strokes a 2. 54-49.

Great D by Badgers, as Landry gets his hand in the passing lane and the Badgers get a steal. Next time down Landry gets a block. We pass it around to a wide open Bobo and he strokes a 3. 57-49.

More intense D from Badgers as the Bot smacks the ball of the bastards toe out of bounds. TV Break.

Hughes drives and lays it in. 59-49.

They drive and score. K-Bot gets blocked and the mini CZ makes a 3. We really ought to stay on him. Bo thinks likewise and calls a timeout. 59-54.

They go zone, we turn it over. They brick, we brick. 59-54. TV Break.

Mini CZ with a post move and its 59-56.

Bobo dribbles around and nails a pull-up 3. Looked like the ones DevHarris was pumping in last night (47 pts, btw).

Mini CZ is en fuego. 62-58.

BWM with a spinning hook! 64-58.

Mini CZ misses a 3. Trevon springs for rebound and makes a soft landing on the squishy Big Donut. That's 5 for him. Big Donut, zero dunks.

Badgers work the clock until Landry strokes an open 3. Pro. 67-58. VT makes miracle 3. 67-61.

They foul us and K-Bot makes 1 of 2. 68-61. They make another 3. 68-64.

We turn it over. The get three FTs. miss-make-make. 68-66.

They foul KBot. make-make. 70-66. Mini CZ with another 3. 70-69.

We can't inbound. WI timeout.

They foul Bobo. What is considered an intentional foul? The guy was nowhere near the ball, he fouled Bobo by swatting his ass. It was clearly an intentional foul. Bobo makes the pressure FTs. 72-69.

Mini CZ gets it, barely even looks, and nails the 3! 72-72. They call off the press for some reason. We get it to Trevon, he drives, hangs and makes an arc-ing lob! Hooray. 74.72. VT misses last minute heave and the Badgers win.

An absolutely fantastic Badger Basketball game.

Well, It's About Time

Packers punter Derrick Frost gets the boot. Too bad crazy Canadian punter Jon Ryan (who did fail to live up to expectations during his time in Green Bay and did help kill the Packers in the December debacle at Soldier Field last year) has been signed by the Seahawks and is apparently doing quite well.

Funny aside-- watching the game yesterday and complaining about how poor Frost was punting led my wife to ask "why can't they have Crosby also do punts?" I couldn't reasonably explain why in less than five or six sentences, which probably means there is no good reason, right? Hell, Mason might have done better than Frost yesterday.

UW- Va Tech Basketball Tonight!

Well, it's time to try getting over the whole "the Packers are playing for pride for the rest of the season" thing, and there should be some decent tonic this very evening. The University of Wisconsin men's basketball team plays at Virginia Tech in the first game of the Big Ten-ACC Beatdown, strike that, Challenge. This will be UW's first true road game this season, and Va Tech has made two straight appearances in the tournament, and has a bunch of starters returning. Should make for an exciting game. It airs on ESPN2 at 6 pm Central.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Defeat Snatched from Jaws of Victory

That was an awful, awful ending. Terms like "grimtrillescent" come to mind. Seriously, are you kidding me? Fighting that hard and playing that well to get back into the game and take the lead, and then every facet of your team lets you down, just at the wrong time. Ugh. The Packers are now 5-7. The season is essentially over, sad to say, as either the Bears or the Vikings will be 7-5 (barring a tie) in about seven hours, and there will definitely not be any wild card berths earned in the NFC North this year. Random scattershot thoughts---

- I like what Brandon Jackson did today. But I don't know about no Ryan Grant for the entire second half, unless he was hurt. Everybody needs a blow sometimes.

- Obviously, the game went South as soon as the Packers got that last first and goal at the 10. Delay of game penalty (two delays of game?), then Rodgers tattooed out of bounds, first down at the seven. That would be fine usually, but McCarthy seemed afraid to pass after Rodgers took that hit. Jackson makes a nice run to the one. Then two straight runs for nothing, or slight losses, where the Panthers were stacking the box chock full. Field goal, another embarrassing return, the bomb to Smith, the one yard run, game over. UGH.

- I wonder if McCarthy thought about using Grant down at the goal line. Probably not.

- I wonder if McCarthy thought about squib kicking that last kickoff? No offense, but that seems like it would have been a pretty good idea-- all of the Panthers' big returns came from that direction. I bet he would have done it for sure had the Packers scored a touchdown on the previous drive.

- Is anyone else just depressed by this loss? I mean, I know the Packers weren't likely doing anything this year. Winning the division would have probably led to a first-round or divisional round playoff loss, likely a sound beating. But still. The team displayed so much of the good and the bad in this game. The ability and then the boneheadedness-- like Driver's great snag compared with Wells' completely unclutch snap over Rodgers' head. The team really plays like its age. Maybe that's it. Maybe there are too many guys who are fading, mixed with too many young guys who are still figuring it out. I mean, I'm hard pressed to think of more than one important player on the Packers who is "in his prime" right now. (Only Aaron Kampman comes to mind. Jenkins and Barnett would have too, but they're both injured. Donald Lee, maybe?) So the squad plays like a team full of aging but crafty veterans, and talented but inconsistent youngsters-- it sputters. Sometimes the veterans get beat physically, sometimes the young guys make execution errors (or they're just not good enough and get beat physically too).

- I guess I feel especially nervous about (and sad for) the aging veterans who are having renaissance seasons. Charles Woodson has played like the effing man this season. And Driver is simply a fine receiver. Both of them are on the verge though. The river flows faster as it gets close to the water fall.

- And what's scary is that the creaky veterans man important positions-- namely both CBs and both OTs. Ignoring Trammon Williams' unclutchness and penalties today, I feel okay about the replacements at corner. But I have no idea who might replace Clifton (Colledge? The mind reels), and Tauscher's potential replacement (the Brazillian kid from Louisville who was drafted this year) has yet to play a real down. This is all well known, I guess. Sigh. Who knows what the future holds. It's been a tantalizing, but ulitimately disappointing season.