Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Getting 'Em Lined Up Early

Another Madison Memorial Spartan, a young guard with the interesting name of Vander Blue, is set to join the UW men's basketball team. Not for this coming fall, and not for the fall of 2009 . . . no, for the year after that. Yes, Blue is a high school sophomore. Though he's already 6 foot 3, and was voted to the all-tournament team at state this year, he doesn't turn 16 until this summer. Yet he's already decided where he's going to go to college. Pretty ridiculous. Were you decided on your post-high school future at age 15? High profile athletes grow up pretty fast in some ways. Maybe I shouldn't be so shocked. Others have noted that Michael Flowers, Greg Stiemsma, and JP Gavinski all committed at around the same time in their prep careers.

Instead of projecting two and a half years into the future, let's consider this possibility-- Blue's early acceptance indicates that Wisconsin's "yield rate" is getting stronger and stronger. By that I mean that kids who are offered Wisconsin basketball scholarships seem increasingly likely to accept, recognizing the strength and stability of the program, and the quality of the university. Of course, a higher yield on scholarship offers could also reflect the staff being more judicious with offers, and, perhaps, more conservative. Who knows? All I know is that if the UW staff thought enough of this 15-year old young man to offer him a scholarship, I'm glad he accepted. Even if he is a Spartan.

(Disclaimer-- 80% of the posters on this site are alumni of Madison West High School.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Dream Lives!

The awesomely balding Wisconsin punter, Ken DeBauche, has been signed as an undrafted free agent by the Packers. Kenny performed reliably as UW's punter the last few seasons, and grew up just outside of Green Bay. That is excellent, and I hope he makes the team. Not only would it further the long term goal of having as much positive overlap between the Packers and the Badgers as possible. But I would much rather have Kenny letting snaps go over his head in 50 mph Soldier Field winds than the team's current punter Jon Ryan, who couldn't handle the elements in that game and thus appears to be a faux-Canadian, not a real Canadian as claimed.

In other happy news, incoming Wisconsin basketball recruit Jordan Taylor was named Minnesota's Mr. Basketball. That's how (hopefully) it goes these days for the Badger men's basketball team. It's not just one guy, or a group of guys, it's a serious program. You lose one great guard in Michael Flowers, and another excellent player rises up to fill the gap. Rock.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

And so it ends...

The Packers just traded away their final pick, a 7th round draft choice, number 237, in exchange for the New Orleans Saints 6th round draft pick next year. Not a bad swap, and it brings Packer fans to the end of the road, draft-wise. (Though it'll be interesting to see what free agents the team signs in the next few days.)

The headline pick today is obviously a second quarterback-- LSU's national championship winning Matt Flynn. Sure, two QBs in one class is odd, but hell, why not take him? Flynn fails on both of the readily available predictive stats (completion percentage and games started), but he's made some nice throws, was an excellent college player and a good runner. Now at least the Packers can release those two random dudes who are taking up space on the team's roster, pretending to be NFL quarterbacks. (My apologies to Dalton Bell and Jerry Babb; it's nothing personal.) He was a seventh round pick. That late in the draft, why not take flyers on guys with some potential, but a high chance of doing nothing? It's just a seventh round draft pick, after all.

That's also my opinion of Brett Swain, the Packers' other 7th rounder. He's another Caucasian wide receiver, this time from San Diego State. Who knows if he'll turn out, but he's big and fast. Might as well give him a shot.

What's more serious and probably more important for the team in the long run, are the additions in the earlier rounds. The team addressed areas that need competition and improvement, like offensive line, tight end, and defensive end, with guys that look like they have a lot of potential.

There's the hilariously named Jermichael Finley, who looks like a very solid prospect out of Texas. Finley left after three years, and had a bunch of big games last year, including over 100 yards receiving against Oklahoma. He's 6'4", 240, has soft hands, and can move. Good stuff. Plus, since he's from Texas, you know he has natural ability. True enough, according to Rivals, Finley was the number 6 tight end prospect out of high school his senior year. That kid is raw, but he reeks of potential. As Kiper said, had he stayed another year and gotten more consistent, he would have been a first rounder. It's great that we're getting a guy with that kind of ceiling, especially at a position where we have a solid starter in Donald Lee.

Then there's Jeremy Thompson, brother of Packer back-up tackle Orrin Thompson--a big fast, mobile, smart, physical end from Wake Forest. Not much in the way of sack stats, but Wake Forest plays a funky defensive scheme. And the kid had a 60+ yard interception return for a touchdown-- as a d-lineman. Sounds good to me. Sign him up. The more athletic and sizeable defensive linemen the better. Put some pressure on KGB and Cullen Jenkins to get better.
And then the offensive linemen started rolling in. A tackle from Central Florida, Josh Sitton, who's expected to jump right into the guard competition, and an enormous (6'7" 300#) long-term right tackle prospect in the Massachusetts-by-way-of-Brazil Breno Giacomini from Louisville-- another talented athlete who needs more seasoning. Great. Tauscher probably has another couple decent years left. I like it. Bring it on.

This Packers draft reeks of long-term thinking, promoting competition, and the mixture of commitment to the BPA (best player available) with a realistic balancing of needs. For a mostly young team, I love it. This is a thinking man's draft. Competition at guard, end, and receiver, possible successors at corner and tackle, legitimately talented back-ups to A-Rodg. I'm into all of it. Congratulations to Ted and the scouting staff. Now get em' signed and coach em' up, McCarthy!

Another Awesome Jordy Nelson Story

The hits just keep on coming with this young man. See here. Goodness, do I hope he turns into a good NFL receiver.

Jercamp Lambeau

The draft always delivers. I am loving this one especially. I was completely in love with Jordy Nelson and then we drafted Jermichael Finley. Seriously. The only way I could be more excited is if we drafted Jerkirk Penney. 

Well, Harumph

I was hoping I could find some quote from the Dolphins' personnel people about how they were disappointed that the Packers drafted Brohm, and thus forced them to draft Michigan's Chad Henne. (Miami picked Henne immediately after the Packers picked Brohm.) My motivation was not just to feel better about Brohm, but also to have some ammunition against my Dolphins fan friend. Alas, it was not to be.

Asked about the Packers' pick and its effect on their decision, Miami's Jeff Ireland said "We took a deep breath when (the Packers) took a quarterback who wasn't the one we coveted." Face.

TT, of course, felt the other way, though he seemed reluctant to put down Henne, saying "I think they're both. . . obviously, they went back-to-back there. It was close. We liked both those guys. But the way we went through the process, we had Brohm in a position where we'd take him first."

Bob McGinn Remains Prescient

Bob McGinn, one of the veteran Packer specialists at the Journal-Sentinel's Packer Insider website, is a heck of a sportswriter. He's one of those guys that does a tremendous amount of legwork with scouts all year round, and provides great previews and evaluations of opposing teams. He was also perhaps the only print writer out there to pick the Packers to win the division last year, believing that their young talent would jell. And he's done it again this year-- in an article put up on Friday, he accurately predicted that Ted Thompson would be confronted with several guys of equal talent at the end of the first round, and would trade down slightly. Ding, ding, ding! McGinn is right again. He's a modern-day NFL Nostradamus. (I overstate the case for Bob's predictive ability a tad-- he did predict the Packers would take that Tennessee receiver, Meacham, in the first round last year.) I'm happy to have you covering my team, Mr. McGinn. Keep up the excellent work.

After Further Review---

Jordy Nelson rocks! Seriously, he is a perfect Packer, especially for the Thompson/McCarthy "we want guys who love football" era. Here are the factoids--
(A) Former walk-on,
(B) Grew up on a farm in Kansas,
(C) High school class of 67 kids,
(D) Dominant high school QB (first team all-state),
(E) Dominant high school basketball player (first team all-state),
(F) Dominant high school runner (state champ in 100, 200),
(G) Since went to tiny school, got no D-I offers,
(H) Turned down D-II schools to walk on at K-State, which was 30 miles away,
(I) Started as a defensive back,
(J) Shifted to receiver,
(K) Stayed through coaching change,
(L) Married childhood sweetheart before senior year,
(M) Absolutely blew up his senior year, with--
(1) 122 receptions,
(2) for 1606 yards, and
(3) 11 touchdowns, also
(4) threw for two touchdowns on trick plays, and
(5) returned two punts for touchdowns, even though he only fielded five punts,
(O) Earning him first team All-American honors,
(P) And, obviously, transforming him into a huge fan favorite,
(Q) Plus, his name is Jordy, for god's sake!

If there were a better long term replacement for double D, I can't think of one. 6'2", 220 pound, kick ass, former walk-on farm boy. If he's good, Packer fans are going to flip out over this kid. This article relays it best.

First Day Aftermath

So I think, as a Packer fan, you have to like what happened, although the order in which things happened was a little off-putting. I mean, trading down again? I thought we had decent depth finally and didn't need to stockpile picks? And a receiver with our first pick? With the emergence of James Jones, it looked like receiver was the most stocked position on the team.

But then you look around for K-State highlights, and Jordy Nelson seems like a serious stud-- a guy who carried his team's offense, a high school sprint champion, big, strong, great hands, fast enough, big plays against other good opponents. And then you remember that Jennings missed several games with his hamstring problem last year, and that Driver is getting pretty darn long in the tooth, and you start to feel better about the pick. Especially when you think about how Thompson's other receiver picks have turned out-- those are Jennings and Jones, folks.

Then Brian Brohm-- again, not instinctively a position of need, but A-Rodg hasn't proven he can stay healthy and the team hasn't signed a decent veteran back up. And Brohm was a stud in college when not injured-- precise, accurate, savy. The commander of a Louisville offense that just annihilated opposing defenses. Plus, Brohm excels in the two college stats that are the most reliable predictors of NFL success-- number of starts and completion percentage. Brohm has been playing since he was a true freshman, and he completed two-thirds of his passes. Accuracy, durability and experience; attributes that can't be taught, folks. Now it's true he's been, you might say, in an odd type of coddling bubble since he was a high-schooler-- he's from Louisville, was coached by his dad, treated along with Michael Bush like a local celebrity for years, and most worrying of all got Louisville to agree to hire his brother as a coach. But he's a smart kid, and has been a great QB. The only rap on him is he doesn't operate that well when pressured, and that he's not that mobile. Well, that's certainly a big change from Favre, for sure. But Favre spoiled us for his entire career with his uncanny ability to avoid pressure and still make big plays. That's a rare attribute for a QB. Also, the West Coast offense, with short drops and quick throws, is designed to reduce pressure. Brohm will be a fascinating guy to watch, and you have to feel good about McCarthy having another talented guy to develop at that position.

And wrapping up the first day, Patrick Lee-- finally the corner everyone was waiting for. Lee is a physical specimen (over six feet, under a 4.4 forty), is used to playing physical man on man coverage, and was great last fall for Auburn. The only worry is that he just started one and a half seasons. But sometimes it takes a while for the light to come on. He should be a good addition to the understudies for Al and Woodson.

So a corner, a legitimate QB prospect, and a dynamic wideout-- all in the first two rounds. At the end of the day, I approve. But, as a fan, the order threw you off. Memo to TT-- "quit playing games with my heart."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Most Amusing Mock Draft

Is, unsurprisingly, put out by Football Outsiders. See here. I highly recommend the commentary that accompanies the first round picks of the Chiefs, Broncos and Lions. Certain fans of certain doobie smoking Kansas Jayhawks should also be pleased.

Jack Ikegwuonu, Free at Last?

The Journal-Sentinel has relayed a report that former Badger starting cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu has finally, at long last, reached a plea deal with the DeKalb County State's Attorney's office to dispose of his residential burglary charges. If you're a Badger football fan, you remember the situation-- he and his wacky twin, Bill, apparently got busted for breaking into someone's apartment in DeKalb, Illinois, allegedly in effort to snatch an Xbox. (Little did they know that system would be obsolete in less than a year!) Here's the pertinent quote:

"According to profootballtalk.com, which cited a source close to the situation, Ikegwuonu will be on probation for 24 months and must perform 50 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass. A felony charge of residential burglary was dismissed."

This makes you wonder-- is the plea part of the reason Jack left UW early? What would have happened if he had pled guilty to a misdemeanor while still being a scholarship athlete at UW? Would he have been kicked off the team? Suspended? Maybe the plea deal wasn't reached until after the college season was over because Jack knew he'd get suspended from the team had he pled guilty during the season? Weird stuff.

The rest of the article covers how Jackie I's devastating knee injury (suffered while going through private pre-draft training) has hurt his draft status. While it contains some odd tidbits (one scout describes him as a "con man"), it also relays the excellent news that Jack kicked ass on the Wonderlic, scoring a 29. In comparison, the top rated cornerbacks in the draft (McKelvin from Troy, Rodgers-Cromartie from Tennessee State, Jenkins from South Florida, and Camp Lambeau favorite Aqib Talib) scored 13, 19, 16, and 17, respectively. Your cornerbacks may be more ethical and, umm, better, but our cornerbacks are evil geniuses! Take that, world.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

NFL Rookie Salary Limits

I was listening to ESPN radio's Mike and Mike on the way into work this morning, and they had the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on. The two hosts advocated for a predictable rookie salary structure, like the NBA has, and asked Goodell what he thought. To my surprise, he totally agreed with it. Like the hosts, he thought that a structured system (that would, essentially, take money away from the top picks) would be good for the NFL because it would mean more salary cap room would be spent on veterans salaries, instead of handing it off in huge amounts to unproven players.

As a fan, I totally support the idea because (A) the huge salaries top draft picks command can make a bad team even worse if the player is a bust and the draft should be about helping bad teams get better, and (B) I'm tired of holdouts. Holdouts can ruin rookie seasons and limit a player's development. And they piss fans off. (I think that's a big reason why Packer fans turned on so quickly Terrell Buckley-- because he was a high pick who had a lengthy holdout. His relationship with the team started off terribly.)

So I'm tired of this crap. The draft is fun. Talking about the draft is fun. Researching and evaluating the guys your team picks is fun. Waiting forever for players that you were excited to see play sign a contract is the farthest thing from fun. Anything that puts an end to holdouts and gets the salaries of the first ten or so picks under control is alright with me. I know the owners want it. So do the older, lower drafted players. Do it already, NFLPA.

Character Player

I pay pretty close attention to the NFL draft every year. I like to know who my team is looking at for drafting. Before I make my decision about who I say I think my team should draft, I like to watch all the highlights I can find. Usually I find them on ESPN and NFL.com. Out of the players with the most impressive highlights and style of play in those highlights... this guy Aqib Talib from Kansas looks pretty super-dope and athletic.

Actually I want that guard from USC. His highlights looked sturdy. Or Aqib Talib. As I said before, he has the best highlights. I was only mentioning the guard from USC because our guards play football like they can only see out of one eye. But if our line isn't gonna keep us on the field ever, then I'd like to have exciting defenders like Aqib Talib to watch.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

21st Century Badger and Packer Draft Busts

This article at Football Outsiders has some interesting info. It analyzes the drafts from 2000 to 2003 and tries determines which players were stars or busts. It's method is comparing the salary of the player to the average salary a player who is drafted at that slot makes in his career. The article explains it in full.

Anyhow, the list of top busts is a straight bummer for Packer/Badger fans. Check it out:
Top 20 Busts, 2000-2003
Pick Player Team Position
2 Charles Rogers Lions WR
10 Jamal Reynolds Packers DE
12 Wendell Bryant Cardinals DT
23 Rashard Anderson Panthers CB
21 Sylvester Morris Chiefs WR
29 R. Jay Soward Jaguars WR
22 Chris McIntosh Seahawks T

Poor Wendell. I have such fond memories of him. And McIntosh's career was derailed by injuries. Reynolds was just a straight bust, and the first harbinger that the Sherman as GM era was going to be problematic. Redeeming this somewhat is that KGB, Kampman and Tauscher are all rated as "Second Day Steals."

Draft Needs

Right, so the conventionally correct mantra in the draft is to always "take the best player available". And I certainly approve of that strategy. Success in the NFL is mostly having great players and exploiting them. So I encourage the Packers to take whoever they think might turn into a great player. But we're not scouts and thus are generally unaware of which players are best suited for the NFL. I certainly have no idea whom the best player available at pick 30 will be. So, since that's generally beyond us, let's talk about the conventional sports fan's approach to evaluating a draft-- filling needs.

Even with Brett retiring, the Packers look to be a pretty solid team, especially if guys come back relatively healthy from various injuries (like Jolly at DT, Wynn at RB and Blackmon at CB). But the Packers losses last season exposed their weaknesses and lack of depth and/or talent in some areas. Those should be obvious to most of us-- cornerback, offensive line, and pass rushers. The cornerback situation should be pretty obvious to all of us-- Al Harris got torched repeatedly in big games last season, specifically against Burress in Ice Bowl II and against TO in Dallas. He no longer can hold up against great wide receivers. The fact that the team doesn't feel comfortable even playing Woodson against these guys, instead of Al, should indicate that he's in trouble as well. Charles still has excellent ball skills, but he just can't compete physically with the top guys because of all his chronic injuries. And the back-ups there have some talent, but they're all unheralded guys, and either haven't been consistent (Bush, Trammon Williams) or healthy (Blackmon). An influx of talent that created more competition there, even for a starting spot, would be a good thing.

The offensive line is an enigma. There are games like the Seattle playoff game, when Brett got good time and the running game looked unstoppable. And then there are games like IBII (Ice Bowl II) and the last Bear game, where it looks plain awful. I think Wells (the center) and Sptiz are adequate. But Clifton's best days are behind him, Tauscher's getting there, and Colledge is hit or miss. Especially without Brett out there scaring other teams and keeping the sack rate down with his shiftiness, the team needs a more dominant line.

Finally, the pass rush. You never really got to see it operating at full speed, since KGB got hurt right when Cullen Jenkins was starting to get healthy. But certainly, despite Kampman's solid stats, none of the ends are dominant, and the team has no dynamic interior rusher. The NFL is a passing league, and better pass rushers are needed to keep the Packers competitive.

So that's this fan's wish list for Saturday and Sunday-- cornerback, offensive line, and pass rushers.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Bucks Will Be Decent for Two Years

The Bucks just hired Scott Skiles, former of the Bulls and the Suns, to be their head coach. Skiles has a very particular coaching pattern-- he comes in, demands discipline, team play and hard nosed defense. Players fall in line after some grumbling, and the formula generally succeeds, usually for about two seasons. Then the players get tired of passing, and tired of playing twice as hard as their opponents, and tires of Skiles hollering at them. His teams get deaf ears, lose their identity, and go down the pooper. It's typical in the NBA-- unless you're a great team with a solid chance to win the whole thing, players will not want to play hard all the time. Anyway, look for that pattern to repeat itself in Milwaukee. See for your self right here.

With the iffy talent they have on hand, I bet Skiles can get the team to around .500 next season, and then slightly over the year after. Then they'll regress, and the Bucks, unlike the Suns or the Bulls who are more accustomed to winning, will probably keep him on one season too many. Anyway, Bucks fans--prepare yourself for two years of decency.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring Game Notes

Since there really wasn't any winning or losing at the game, I think the best way to talk about it is via blips or random observations. So here goes--

- Spring Games are always an odd, skeleton crew experience. The fall's seniors may still be on campus, but can't play. Next year's frosh (in large part) haven't shown up. So the team is about 80% or so of what it normally is. This year's depth was especially poor because of all the injuries, and that really came through at times. For example, toward the end of the second half, the White (B) team defense had 10 white kids on the field at the same time. When that happens, you know it's come down to the walk-ons.

- Best first realization-- that Jay Valai was starting at SS and Aubrey Pleasant was on the B team. To me, that indicates that Valai has won the spot. Then Valai gave John Clay his hardest hit of the afternoon, a strong pop at the end of an 8 yard run, and made the nicest defensive play of the game-- diving to pick off a Scott Tolzien (the team's 3rd string QB) pass in the red zone. Valai's solid second half against Tennessee was not a fluke.

- Clay was quite impressive-- he had a couple of runs where he showed great vision and moves. And he definitely moved the pile on his runs-- just as good as Hill, and better than Brown and Smith. His numbers-- 18 carriers for 90 yards, were solid, but remember that came behind the second-string offensive line. He's going to be a very good back. That said, the RB that played the best was Zach Brown, that was, before he hurt his shin (it's not severe) and had to leave. He showed his typically good burst, and weaved through a bunch of different blockers on two nice 10 yard runs. That position is flat out stacked, though the team should not, repeat not, use Smith in short distance situations. That guy has fine speed and great moves, but he cannot get tough yards.

- Despite Clay's performance, the "best newcomer" award has got to go to Platteville's Louis Nzegwu, who was voted the state's small school player of the year after the 2006 high school season. Yeah, and that was for playing running back. Somehow, Louis was projected as a defensive end, and spent last fall redshirting and trying to bulk up. The experiment seems to be working. Nzegwu replaced Shaughnessy in the starting line up and played pretty darn well. He had four tackles for loss, including beating Josh Oglesby badly on a draw play and getting past Jack Bscherer for a sack. I'm sure he got pushed around on some running plays, but he showed an explosive first step. With some more good weight (he only weighs 230 right now), he could be a heck of an end.

- The wideouts were okay. Gilreath was getting open pretty consistently and had some good catches from several of the quarterbacks. But he's too darn small to be a number one guy, especially without a really accurate QB throwing to him. The potential problem was demonstrated in the first quarter when Evridge threw a mediocre ball, a bit behind Gilreath. David stuck out his hand and tried to slow down, but Western Michigan transfer Dan Maragos jumped through Gilreath and snatched the ball for a pick. (Maragos showed excellent ball skills throughout the game.) I know David can be more aggressive going for 50/50 balls, but at his size you wonder if that's ever going to be a winning proposition for the Badgers.

As for other wide receivers, Isaac Anderson and Daven Jones both had some nice plays, but both had at least one bad drop, Anderson's especially so-- in the end zone, right in the hands on a slant on a nice pass from Sherer. Ugh. (See the nearby picture.) I advise all these guys to play as much catch as possible over the summer.

- Lance Kendricks, the converted from WR tight end, had some nice catches for big gains, and is very fast for that position. But man, he does not look big for a tight end. Smaller than Beckum. I guess he's shorter. I think his future is in H-back territory.

- The QB competition remains open. Evridge is a bigger guy, and probably a stronger runner. But he seems less accurate. A lot of his throws, even his completions, were in the area of the receiver, but not right on. Working with younger wide receivers who can't be trusted to run reliable routes and compete strongly for the ball, that's a problem. And looking at his stats from his K-State starts (48% completions) I think his accuracy might be a consistent issue. Unless Evridge gets more accurate or UW adopts a quasi-option game like in the Brooks Bollinger days, Allen could lose out to Sherer. He looks more accurate to me, though I'd have to see both of them play more.

- And finally, the most positive news was no severe injuries. Zach Brown bruised his shin, Gilreath tweaked an ankle, and that seemed to be it. Plus, the news on the Shaughnessillas is good-- he broke his fibula, which doesn't bear any weight, and, hopefully, will be fully recovered by August. Good luck to all injured Badgers as they recuperate.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not the Shaughnesillas too!

Yes, it's official-- now all of the Badgers projected starting defensive linemen are out with serious injuries. Matt Shaughnessy, the most dynamic and decorated returning lineman, and one half of the fabled Shaughnesillas, apparently broke his leg in practice on Thursday. This stinks. Now it looks like the Badgers will have to play 9 on 9 during the spring game, because they won't have enough defensive lineman to put on the field. Ugh. Get this spring over with, and try to find out why guys keep getting hurt.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring Game-- the D

Yeah, I realized yesterday, when I was lying at home with a weird one-day fever and chills, that I wouldn't have enough time to individually discuss the various positions on the team before Saturday afternoon. So let's talk about the defense in broad terms.

In '06, the D was pretty great, although that might have been due to a relatively weak schedule. '07, after graduating Zalewski, Rodgers, Stellmacher and Monty, and Cooper getting thrown off the team in preseason camp, was not great. The d-line was mostly ineffectual all year, with little pass rush and hardly any depth. The linebackers seemed to regress. The defensive backfield was generally a mess, as Jackie I. didn't usually live up to his rep, the new safeties tackled like powder puff backups, and the no. 2 and 3 corners both tore their ACLs. Hell, the leading sacker on the team was the nickel back. Not a good year, although it can be directed, in part, to a tougher schedule (a better Illinois team, OSU), personnel losses and injuries. Still, way more was expected. Thus, the coaching staff purged its d-coordinator and only sexagenarian, Mike Hankwitz (now at Northwestern), and promoted a hard-charging up-and-comer type guy in Dave Doeren to the position. (With Henry Mason on leave, is there anyone on the coaching staff over 45?)

Unfortunately, Badger fans likely won't see much improvement on the field tomorrow. And that's because the defense is still injury-riddled. Five projected starters-- tackles Mike Newkirk and Jason Champman, corners Allen Langford and Aaron Henry, and end Kirk DeCremer-- are still recovering from various injuries and surgeries. Junior college transfer and defensive lineman Dan Moore hurt his knee and is out. It's rumored that Shaughnessy won't play. It's unclear whether Casillas will see any time. The top corner this spring, Josh Nettles, may be out. A primary back-up safety, Kim Royston, has decided to transfer. The bottom line is-- expect the offense to move the ball pretty easily.

So if you like the second halves of Packer pre-season games, you'll enjoy watching the defense tomorrow. Lots of back-ups running around means a glimpse into the team's depth and future. Look at the corners, particularly freshmen Mario Goins (#23) and Otis Merrill (#4), to see if they can avoid embarrassing themselves. Pray to all that is merciful that undersized wood-layer Jay Valai(#26) has wrested the strong safety spot from the bizarrely poor tackling Aubrey Pleasant (the guy was a competitive power-lifter but he can't wrap up?). See if back-up tackles Jeff Stehle(#79) and Patrick Butrym(#95) make any plays against a pretty stacked offensive line. Watch Jaevery McFadden (#47) take snaps at Casillas's spot-- he may be the most athletic LB on the team. In short, there should still be fun things to look for, even though you'll be watching a skeleton crew defense operating against a pretty stacked offense. Wait, what if the defense dominates the offense? Uh oh....

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Spring Game-- The Receivers

The headliner of the team's pass-catchers is undoubtedly tight end Travis Beckum, who probably could have come out this year and been taken in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. He made the wise decision to come back and try to become more of an NFL prototype by bulking up a bit. It'd be fun to watch him carving holes in the Badger D on Saturday, but he's out, recovering from shoulder surgery. The same goes for the team's second best receiving threat, in my estimation-- tight end Garrett Graham. If UW didn't have Beckum running around, I think fans would have even more appreciation for Graham's performance last season, which was remarkable for a guy essentially playing his first season.

The guys replacing Graham and Beckum are sophomore Mickey Turner, redshirt sophomore Lance Kendricks, and true freshman Jake Byrne. Turner's proven himself to be a capable blocker so far, but has no pass receptions as far as I can tell. Byrne's from Arkansas, but grew up a Badger fan, and graduated from high school a semester early to come up and be part of spring practice. Kendricks should be the most interesting TE to watch. He was a top recruit at receiver a few years ago, allegedly a great athlete, a track guy, who was a bit raw on his receiving skills. He has yet to catch a pass for UW, but he looks to have all the tools. With Beckum and Graham out, keep on eye on what Lance does on Saturday. He's #84.

The wideout position appears to be wide open. Last year's contributing freshman, Kyle Jefferson (#14, tall, fast, but stick skinny-- you likely remember both his bomb catch against Sparty, and then getting totally lit up later in the game on a short reception)and David Gilreath (# 85, short, fast, very good returner) would have been assumed to be in the lead, but Jefferson's not going to play in the game (he has stitches on his leg from running into something in a dorm hallway). Gilreath was almost exclusively a returner last season, and looked too small to contribute in the passing game. But apparently he's doing better this spring. After those guys, there's a huge mix with the talented but inconsistent freshman Daven Jones(#81), the every-once-in-a-blue-moon junior Xavier Harris (#2), the oft-hammie-pulled Isaac Anderson (#6), the converted high school quarterback Maurice Moore (#22) and the legacy Nick Toon (#8), who won't apparently play in the spring game because of, dum-dum... a pulled hammie. (Bummer, it would have been fun to see Nick play.) All of these guys are hungry for catches and will likely be pushing each other and squabbling for playing time from now until the season starts in August. Thus, the spring game matters to all of them and they'll be busting their asses on Saturday, trying to make an impression. If you're going to the game, keep a roster sheet handy, and see if anyone sticks out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spring Badgering-- the Backs

There's a bit of a dichotomy in the Badgers' backfield. They have answers, almost too many answers, in the running backs. And then there are continuing question marks with the QBs, questions that essentially are left over from John Stocco's departure.

Let's start with the fun stuff. The Badgers appear to be absolutely loaded at tailback. PJ Hill is coming off another 1,000 yard season and an excellent bowl game, and is healthy for spring practice for the first time in his career. Hopefully, he should continue to develop physically (flattening out the pooch and bulking up his upper torso) and with a little more sharing of the ball will be able to stay healthy next season. He's easily the most proven back the Badgers have.

Then there's Zach Brown, who looked fair-to-middlin' in early season relief of Hill, but had a very good game in the upset of Michigan, and a phenomenal performance against Minnesota's sieve-like defense. Zach does a bunch of things well, cutting sharply with a nice burst, picking up blitzes well, and he's learned to run through contact. But he doesn't seem to be outstanding in any one particular facet. Maybe staying disciplined. He does seem to be the most reliable back on the roster.

Competing with those two guys is the mercurial Lance "Rance" Smith, who was set to have a big year, but hampered himself by stealing the shoes of his now ex-girlfriend in a public place and getting suspended for the team's road games. Lance doesn't gain a lot of yards after contact, but he's more explosive and shifty than Zach or PJ. Besides his shoe-stealing incident, what's kept him off the field is his tendency to freelance. (Lance the Freelancer?) That is, to give up on plays, and try to bounce the ball outside or reverse directions. Too often, this has lead to negative yards, or a lot of sideways running for minimal gain. The staff recognizes his talent, so there's been some talk about him lining up wide for swing passes and quick outs this spring, in effort to get him the ball in space. Look for that at the spring game.

The final component of the backfield is redshirt frosh John Clay. John allegedly has the best overall tools of any of the backs, which would befit his status as the most highly reputed coming out of high school. As was well covered, he got into camp late last year, after having to get academically cleared by the NCAA, and thus redshirting, and letting him get comfortable with school, seemed like a good idea. That is, until Zach was the only running back available at Ohio State. Whatever. John wears #32, and like most fans, I am fascinated to see what he can do. The chance to watch him run is one reason I'm excited about the spring game.

The fullbacks are a pair of massive and steady seniors-- Bill Rentmeester and Chris Pressley. They've both been solid, but I hope they can turn it up a notch this season and become more dominant in the run game. Chryst has been throwing each a few carries in blowouts, and they've done pretty well with them. I'd like to see each guy get a few more carries as a change of pace.

The QBs are the question mark though. Like more than a few fans, last August I was hoping that K-State transfer Allan Evridge would beat out Tyler Donovan for the starting job. An nagging injury, and the staff's conservatism (wanting to reward a fifth year senior and go with the guy who knows the system better) led to Donovan winning out. I thought Evridge had more overall talent and would have created more continuity, especially with this season. But maybe I overestimated Evridge's talent--it looks like he's doing well in spring practice, but media reports make it sound like it's a real competition between him and redshirt sophomore Dustin Sherer. Do both guys have a good amount of talent, or both are just mediocre? I certainly hope not. If Stocco proved anything, Chryst doesn't need a massive amount of talent at QB-- just a guy with good vision, smarts, and a decent arm. Though wouldn't it be great if UW actually had a "star quarterback"? When's the last time that happened? Randy Wright? Anyhow, the performance of those two will be something to look for on Saturday-- Evridge is #4 and Sherer is #18.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spring Game Things to Look For-- Part I

So the UW spring football game is this Saturday afternoon. As a hopeful attendee (unless the woman puts the kaibash on it), it's time to start doing some research so one knows what to look for.
Let's start with the fun stuff-- offense, and in particular the components of the running game. UW looks pretty loaded in that regard. Though the Badgers lost their center, Marcus Coleman, every projected starter on the line started multiple games last season. Plus, the backfield looks ridiculously deep, especially in comparison to last season.

Right now the depth chart on the O-line looks like this:
LT: Gabe Carimi, Jake Bscherer
LG: Andy Kemp, Jake Current
C: John Moffitt, Jake Current
RG: Craig Urbik, Bill Nagy
RT: Eric Vanden Heuvel, Josh Oglesby

Carimi started every game last season and did pretty damn well for a redshirt frosh. He's enormously tall (6'8"), and the lightest and most agile guy on the line. And that's exactly what you want in a left tackle-- huge size and strength, with the rare additional attributes of agility and flexibility. Hopefully, Gabe will continue to improve and get stronger. No one can really replace Thomas, but he did it as well as you could expect an underclassman to.

On the interior, Urbik and Kemp are both solid veterans of multiple seasons, and Moffitt started at right guard for several games last season after Vanden Heuvel got injured. In fact, there was talk of Moffitt bouncing Kemp from the lineup after Vandy returned. Moffitt's addition to the line-up, though he's inexperienced at center, could be viewed as an upgrade over Coleman. (Did anyone see the talk that the team couldn't run shotgun plays last season because Coleman was incapable of snapping the ball properly in that formation? Doesn't that seem totally bizarre.) I was always waiting for Marcus to really impress, and the coaches really seem to like Moffitt. So the performance of the interior should improve, or at the very least, hold steady, barring injuries.

At right tackle, Vandy is enormous, capable, and experienced. He began his career by admirably filling in for Joe Thomas in the Capital One Bowl against Auburn. The next season, he booted Urbik to right guard from right tackle, and has held the RT spot ever since, despite the arrival of talented recruits like Bscherer and Oglesby. This is his senior year, and an All-Big Ten season should be expected out of him, health permitting.

Another notable feature of the line is the talent of the back-up tackles. Bscherer was the top recruit in Wisconsin a few years ago and Oglesby was the top tackle prospect in the nationally '07 class according to some publications. Both those guys are enormous and strong, and should be viewed as capable back-ups in case of injuries to either tackle. Oglesby appears to be the biggest guy on the team, and should be a fun guy to watch at the spring game. He wears number 67.

Unfortunately, you don't see that type of depth on the interior right now. After the starting trio, you have Jake Current, a true freshman as a back-up at both center and left guard, and Bill Nagy, a redshirt sophomore at right guard. Brad Thorson, the previous back-up center, was asked to leave the team and appears to be transferring. (Not sure what events led to this, but the tipping point may have been when Thorson apparently injured a d-lineman in one-on-one drills during spring practices.) Thankfully, there are a couple of solid-looking recruits coming in to provide some depth, including guard prospect Kevin Zeitler of state champs Milwaukee Lutheran.

Anyhow, this is a veteran group. The Badgers' football resurgence from the early 90s on has been founded on excellent offensive line play, which in turn was based on the State's consistent production of high level offensive line prospects. In the team's best years, it harnessed this natural strength and guys like Panos, Raymer, Gibson, McIntosh and Thomas paved the way and protected the quarterback. With a talented and veteran group returning, Badger fans should hope for an excellent year out of the line, and the running game in particular. (More on the backs in a later update.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Springtime Silliness

It's Springtime.... for the Badgers.... and Madison...

That's right folks, now that the meaningful basketball season has ended until the fall it's time for Badger and Packer fans to distract themselves with mostly meaningless but somewhat entertaining offseason happenings. (Ok, so the NFL draft isn't meaningless. But no one has any idea, really, how the guys your team takes are going to turn out.) The first semi-meaningless but entertaining event is Wisconsin's annual Spring Game, happening next Saturday, April 19 at 1 pm. For those who can't be in attendance, the Big Ten Network will be rebroadcasting the game on Tuesday, April 22, at 7 p.m. Central. (Bless the Big Ten Network.) As the game creeps closer, I'll have some comments on various developments this spring and things to look for in the actual game. But there's too much time to kill between now and Saturday to hash it all out just yet.

The next semi-meaningless but somewhat entertaining football related event, the NFL draft, happens the following weekend. This year the draft's format has been shaken up a bit-- with only the first two rounds happening on Saturday, and rounds three through seven going down on Sunday. (This, of course, will redefine the term "first day draft pick".) If I'm not mistaken, I also think the league has reduced the amount of time between picks. There'll only be ten minutes between picks on the first day, and only 5 minutes between picks on the second day. So the process, which can kind of feel like waiting in a doctor's office, should be a little faster-paced.

As a total aside, I like to go to the gym and lift weights right around the time when the Packers are picking. The draft is the kind of "sporting event" where you're definitely interested, but your attention only needs to be given occasionally. It fits well with lifting weights-- watch for a few moments, go do some calf raises, watch again for a moment or two, go do a set of lunges, and so on. The draft does not work that well with running on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike. (The faster pace of college basketball works best for those activities, I've found.)

Anyhow, after the Corey Williams trade, the Packers have the 30th, 56th and 60th picks of the draft. So three first day draft picks, although all of the picks are quite late in each round. The Packers then repeat that pattern in the third and fourth rounds-- one late third round pick and two late fourth rounders. In all, Ted Thompson has 6 of the first 135 picks to play with. Should make for an interesting draft. Again, the Packers' "needs" and the fans' "wants" will be discussed, I'm sure, in the remaining 12 days before the draft. Enjoy the spring.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Marquette-- They Must Be New at This

According to the Marquette beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the new Marquette athletic director consulted with three "influential backers of the program" about which direction to go with the new coaching hire. These folks were Ulice Payne, the former MU player and current Brewers president (fair enough), then Doc Rivers (uh oh), and an overly wealthy local car dealer (double uh oh).

What was their sage advice? Here it is-- screw coaching, just get a good recruiter. I'm serious. Check it out. The comments from some non-Kool Aid drinking MU fans below are pretty priceless. Apparently Payne, Rivers and the car dealer didn't see the Big East champs losing to Davidson. Or see their own MU team get handled at West Virginia by a bunch of totally unheralded players led by a crafty veteran coach.

Anyhow, getting that theory from Rivers is pretty understandable-- the NBA is ruled by talent, not coaching, and he's just not a very smart person. (See any Bill Simmons column from the past three years.) But why listen to the president of a baseball franchise and a friggin' car dealer? Or, if you need to respect your major donors, fine, just listen. But don't actually do what they say! Talk to someone who knows something.

Also, the paradigm itself is ridiculous. It doesn't have to be one or the other. There are good coaches out there who are, or would be, good high-level recruiters. And if the coach can't develop and structure talent, the team isn't going to do much, I don't care how good the players are. Plus, even if you are selling out coaching prowess for recruiting ability, why in the hell would you choose Williams as your guy? What big-time recruits has he landed? If that's all you care about, go get a polished assistant from a big-time program.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Puzzling Occurrences

First off, the Wisconsin men's basketball team appears to be signing the guy in the picture, Ryan Evans, a 6'6" wing from Arizona. And this isn't for a year and a half from now. No, this is for next season. What's a little weird is that reportedly Evans does not have any other scholarship offers from any other D-I programs. That's worrying, but okay, let's just hope that Bo and his staff found an uber-sleeper. Apparently Evans has grown a bunch in high school, meaning he was probably overlooked early on. And he is allegedly "super athletic" and pretty big, and everyone's been crying for an athletic wing for some time now. Plus, he seems to have had a very solid senior year, leading his team to the semifinals of the Arizona state playoffs. So there should be some optimism, I guess. I mean, look at Stephen Curry. He was undersized, so no one gave him the time of day. Now he's one of the best players in the country.

But still, this development has some iffy reverberations. It seems to mean that Gullickson's scholarship is getting pulled, which is a bummer for Kevin. He's a neat guy and a good student. It also means that Wisconsin appears to not be in a position to add another 2009 scholarship player beyond the two that have already committed-- Diamond Taylor, a guard from suburban Chicago, and Mike Bruesewitz, a ginger forward from Minnesota. This means that a bevy of other talented prospects, several of whom are from the upper-Midwest, and thus might be reasonable targets for Wisconsin, do not appear to be options. This includes three very athletic wings, including Royce White and Rodney Williams of Minnesota, and Racine's Jamil Wilson, who by all accounts appears to be the most talented Wisconsin state prospect in quite some time. Foreclosing these possibilities for a late-bloomer from Arizona seems a bit odd. Again, I guess we should trust Bo. He and his staff should have earned our confidence by now.

The other weird happening is Marquette filled their open coaching job with a guy named Buzz Williams, a career assistant who's only been with the program for one season. He spent two years at Texas A&M, and otherwise has bounced around. He's only in his mid-30s, and seemed to be hired in effort to keep the current team and the current recruiting class intact. Williams is mainly known for being a solid recruiter, especially in Texas, but not for much else. A very strange hire from my perspective. If you want a quality big league coach, I think you either pull a successful coach from a smaller D-I school, or a really successful coach from a lower division school, or you pull a talented long-time assistant from a very successful program. Personally, I prefer the first option (guys like Bo, Bruce Pearl, Ben Howland), but the second option has worked well too (Roy Williams, Bruce Weber, Matt Painter, Tom Izzo).

Marquette seemed to go with some weird bastardized take on the career assistant option. And hey, maybe it will work out in the long run and this Buzz Williams fellow will be a great coach. But the odds of that happening don't look that good. Williams's only other head coaching experience was one year at the University of New Orleans two seasons ago. His team finished the season with a 14-17 record (they were 10-19 the previous year), and has actually improved since he left (the "Privateers" were 19-13 this season). Maybe the MU athletic department thinks they can make a legit run in the Big East and the tourney next year if McNeal and James don't leave early and their recruiting class stays intact. I guess that's some justification. But for sure, no other BCS conference school would have hired Williams to fill their head coaching vacancy. Frankly, this hire reeks of desperation and short-term thinking. I guess that's good if you're a Badger fan and you dislike Marquette. Not so much if you root for the state's schools generally.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Along those lines...

This is worth reading.
Plus, did you see that two Louisville players, Arizona frosh Jerryd Bayless, and Indiana frosh of the year Eric Gordon (allegedly) are all turning pro early? And the turnover churns on. Thanks, David Stern.

The Formula

So after the Badgers' disappointing loss to Davidson ended their season, there was the inevitable internet-based gnashing of teeth over the direction of the program, and whether it's hit a ceiling generally or, simply a ceiling under Ryan. That is, Big Ten good, but not national championship good. And it's been wondered about here too-- whether the Badgers' style of play is inherently limited, or whether Wisconsin will ever be able to get good enough recruits to get close to an NCAA championship, or whether its style of play drives away talented recruits. (Don't know about that last one-- see UCLA and Georgetown.) Then today, I read this little article in the Chicago Tribune. It basically talks about how all of the teams in the Final Four are likely going to lose a bunch of starters each, most of whom will be underclassmen leaving early. And that got me thinking about the different teams and their make-ups, and if there's an obvious "Formual" to being a national championship contender. Here's the starters for each team, with their year in school and their "star" ratings coming out of high schools.
Collison (Jr) 4
Shipp (Red. Jr) 4
Moute (Jr) 3
Love (Fr) 5
Westrbook (So) 3

Dozier (Jr) 4
Douglas-Roberts (Jr) 4
Anderson (Jr) 4
Rose (Fr) 5
Dorsey (Sr) 3

Hansbrough (Jr) 5
Ellington (So) 5
Ginyard (Jr) 4
Lawson (So) 5
Thompson (So) 4
Key Sub--
Green (Jr) 4

Jackson (Sr) 4
Arthur (So) 5
Rush (Jr) 5
Chalmers (Jr) 5
Robinson (Sr) 5
Key Subs--
Kaun (Sr) 4
Collins (So) 5

Anyhow, looking over the rosters, and reading the Trib article about all the likely early entrants, a pretty simple formula appears-- sign the most talented kids you can, kids with legitimate NBA chances, and get them to stick around as long as possible. Repeat that formula every season. Eventually, a guy or two will stay around longer than expected (Rush, with his ACL tear last spring for example), or a frosh will be even more dominant than you hoped (Love, Rose), you hope you'll end up with a strong enough squad to make a run at it. All these teams have been doing this for years. And even if you think that this year the stars aligned for, let's take Kansas, because Robinson, Kaun and Jackson are seniors and Rush is only back because he tore his ACL, you eventually realize they could be even more dominant had one or two more guys stayed. (Julian Wright would have been a junior for Kansas; Brendan Wright would have been a soph for UNC; Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar would be seniors for UCLA.) So they lose top-notche early entrants every year, and are almost always still this good. Pretty crazy stuff.

Here are some other interesting factoids--
Besides UCLA, all of the other three schools regularly "sign" kids who don't qualify academically, and thus end up not enrolling on time, or at all. Not surprisingly, Memphis, easily the worst school in the Final Four, leads the list. Several of Memphis's players (like Anderson and Dozier) were signed out of prep school, where uber-talented basketball players who are poor students go to raise their GPAs in hopes of finally qualifying. This means that those schools have the total green light to go after kids who don't meet the NCAA's academic standards.

And looking at the "commitment lists" for each of these schools, there are a bunch of kids with really high ratings coming out of high school that you've never heard of. That means they either dropped out, transferred, or are stuck on the bench. So these types of teams appear to have significantly higher turnover than normal college basketball teams.

So that's the formula-- chase the prep superstars every year regardless of their academic qualifications, if they turn out to not be good enough stick them on the bench 'till they drop out or transfer, and hope that enough of them stick around long enough to develop some chemistry so you can make a run at the whole thing. That's the formula in this new, NBA-age limit universe we've only been in for two seasons now.

Now, where do the Badgers fit in? Not so well. It seems that we will not chase kids who can't qualify academically. In fact, it appears that the University has standards above the NCAA's baseline. Plus, I highly doubt that Bo wants to chase kids who are hoping to jump to the league in two or three years. He's too much of a teacher for that. He wants to mold guys. So, sadly, barring some miraculous recruiting successes or unexpected development by some players, I don't see Wisconsin ever morphing from what it is-- an excellent to very good college basketball program-- into a legitimate national championship contender. We won't abide by boosters bribing kids (as far as I know). We won't mess with academic problems or me-first guys. So we won't get enough talent to really take a swing, unless we get really lucky. And if the NBA increases the age limit (as they're talking about doing) it might get even worse. I hope I'm wrong though.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Andy Kilbride here

Wait, I heard my name. Does somebody need an entry pass? 

The Gold Is Blinded By The Shine

According to the Journal-Sentinel, possible Crean replacements at Marquette include--
Tony Bennett (Wash. State head coach), Sean Miller (Xavier HC), the Davidson head coach, and Chris Lowery (So. Illinois HC). They must be kidding. Bennett and Miller turned down the Indiana job, or at least excluded themselves from consideration. That's the job Crean left for, dunderheads. No way Miller or Bennett are interested in the MU job. Plus, Bennett's style of play would be anathema to MU's current, run and gun, foul and turn-the-ball-over players. And the Davidson coach is far too old, far too East Coast, and far too entrenched with his sweet deal at Davidson to leave. Plus, Lowery turned down several high profile jobs after SIU's excellent season a year ago, and he's an SIU grad. Again, it seems very unlikely that he'd leave for the Marquette job. Did Marquette beat writer Todd Rosiak just pull those names out of a hat? Ridiculous.

The other two names he suggests are somewhat legit, in my estimation-- the coach at Virginia Commonwealth, who's racked up a good Colonial League record and who managed to beat Duke in the first round last year; and the coach at Wright State, who's had similar success in the Horizon League, though his team was better last season. Really, I don't think MU is going to be able to snag a successful head coach from another large conference. They have nice practice facilities, yes, and they play in a relatively high profile league, but that's pretty much all they have going for them. The school is just ok, the Marquette interchange is not that pleasant of an area, Milwaukee doesn't produce that much talent, the Bradley Center stinks, the "tradition" of Al McGuire is sort of a millstone since it creates unreasonable expectations, being in the Big East means tons of lengthy travel (road trip to Tampa, New Jersey or Morgantown anyone?), and the league will likely be dominated by G'Town, Louisville, UConn, Pitt, West Virginia and the 'Cuse for the foreseeable future. Looking for a successful coach from a smaller league, or for a talented assistant from a successful program (Crean came directly from Izzo's staff at Sparty) is probably their likeliest bet.


Key Stats






FG %

Can you say Andy Kilbride? Let's bring this guy in!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ha Hanh!

Thank you Indiana and Marquette for brightening my day. Indiana is about to announce the hiring of current Marquette men's basketball coach Tom Crean for their opening. Yes, he of the spray tans, ugly glasses, ridiculous sideline pacing, pro-style (one-on-one) offense and foul-happy defense. My initial reaction was-- "wow, you'd think Indiana could have done better" and I'm sticking to it.

If I recall the cover of this morning's Trib correctly, Crean has amassed a .660 winning percentage at Marquette, won only one conference title (Wade's last season), won no conference tournament titles in either the Big East or Conference USA, and taken the team to one Final Four (again, in Wade's last season). Until this past March, Crean had yet to ever win an NCAA tournament game without Dwyane Wade on his team. This year, with a team led by three highly reputed three-year starters, the team won one game, squeaking by an injury-riddled Kentucky before losing to Stanford in the second round. (Stanford went on to get pounded by Texas, who was in turn pounded by Memphis.) Sweet redemption!

And it's not like Crean's record is built on playing cupcakes at home or anything. Far from it! This season the Gold beat Sacramento State, Florida Gulf Coast, Coppin State, Chaminade, Savannah State, IUPU-Fort Wayne, and, wait for it, Utah Valley State (that's a different school than basketball powerhouse Utah State). The Gold went on to lose this season to Syracuse by 15, Louisville twice by a combined 34 points, West Virginia by 15, and UConn by 16. And this is a team with four players who are all-conference caliber in McNeal, James, Mathews, and Hayward. Yep, Crean is an excellent coach. It's not like he's made a living off his one star-driven Final Four run or anything. No, not at all. Bwah-ha ha ha!

Sure, opposing Big Ten fans can expect him to do a better job at Indiana. Though IU isn't the national basketball powerhouse it likes to think it is, it is the nicest state school in a state that produces a fair amount of basketball talent (though again, not as much as IU fans would like to think that it does). And his handsy, pressing defense should speed the pace of the league up a bit, which is what I was hoping for with the Indiana hire. (I was actively against Tony Bennett at IU for the same reason.) Alas, Crean is going to have a tough row to hoe his first couple years at IU, with what looks like every returning starter leaving or getting kicked off the team (though I bet he'll invite Bassett and Ellis back), and several key recruits abandoning their commitments after Sampson left. I'm sure he'll get them back to decent after a year or two, and they should be regularly competitive at some point, but I'm not at all afraid of Crean at IU, and as a Badger fan, that's all you could ask for.

The question then becomes-- what happens to Marquette? Who will replace Crean? (No idea.) Will some of their recruits welsh? (Pretty likely, if the school releases them from their letters of intent.) Will they retreat back from relative success to general mediocrity? (Probably, at least in the short term.) Does this abdicate high profile Wisconsin state recruits to UW? (Jerry Smith and Reece Gaines going to Louisville and the Badgers' high academic standards and ego-less mentality indicate no.) Will UW even more firmly cement its status as the state's best basketball program? (It certainly looks that way.)