Friday, January 30, 2009

What's Been the Difference?

Like many fans of Wisconsin Men's basketball, I'm a bit bewildered by what's happened to the Badgers this Big Ten season. After three solid wins to start the conference schedule, they've dropped five straight, two losses coming in overtime and two in a row at home. Three of those losses were clearly winnable games, games that UW has pulled out more frequently in prior seasons, and two were games that nearly anyone looking at the conference schedule in December would have marked as wins (at Iowa and Minnesota at home). This leads us all to wonder-- what's been the difference? Why are so many games that UW would have dominated last season turned into close wins, and so many close wins turned into narrow losses?

Randy gave his own theory below, with his conclusion being (I think) that the team lacks talent overall, and that the coaching staff has been too safe in their recruiting strategies. He's also ranted to me over the phone about how the team lacks "heart," meaning there aren't enough guys who are busting their asses on every play. I agree with that to an extent. But my take is slightly different.

Namely, I think UW is suffering from a lack of depth and experience. In the last two seasons, UW has shown it can win either with a couple of very, very good players, and some guys in complementary roles, or when it's deep and experienced. I don't think it can win when it only has four upperclassmen, and none of them are dominant players. (Hughes can be dominant at times, but he's been on a frustratingly ineffective streak lately-- not shooting that well from long-range, not nabbing many steals, not drawing enough fouls and missing bunnies when he gets to the rim.) Last season the team had five upperclassmen. The year before, (until Butch got hurt), UW had one great player (Alando), one very good offensive player (Kam), and six upperclassmen. That's how you almost beat an Ohio State team with three lottery picks late in the season in their own building.

Hughes certainly can be great, and is at times. But he isn't able to carry the team, at least not when he's lacking a real back-up. (Hopefully, the development of Jordan Taylor should aid Pop over the rest of the season.) Bohannon is a heady player and a streaky shooter, but he's been in a slump, and seems to be trying to do too much. The only potential back-ups for those guys are a guard-forward who will never be a primary ball-handler (Jarmusz), and two true freshmen. So the team's two juniors and only experienced guards get asked to do a ton, and have worn down and become ineffective. Especially in this last five game stretch, where UW has faced five teams that play tight, pressure man-to-man defense, which really stresses opposing guards.

The two seniors, and only legitimately experienced frontcourt players, Krabby and Landry, are in similar predicaments. Krabby is doing everything you would have expected of him this season. He's a rebounding fiend, he defends very well, and he's showing much better touch than years' previous. But he's not a guy who you can go to when the shot clock is running down. Landry is a more skilled offensive player, but he has just never developed that lateral quickness needed to drive to the basket, and his low-post game looked a lot better in previous seasons when he was posting up the other team's forwards, not their center. With no Butch or Stiemsma on the floor, bigger, lankier defenders like Purdue's Johnson or Illinois' Tisdale are stymieing him in the post.

Although there's more depth there with Leuer and Nankivil and Gullickson rotating in occasionally, and the two sophs have both shown excellent offensive potential (although Leuer has been in a slump lately) neither of those guys are experienced defenders. Their breakdowns at key moments in games (like Nankivil failing to rotate back to the right man late in the Purdue game, leading to Kramer's wide-open three pointer), have been an absolute killer. But it's hard to expect more from them. This is their first real year of playing, and Bo is so quick with the hook that they're in and out constantly, and thus have trouble settling down and gaining the needed experience. And at this point, Jarmusz is only a decent back-up to Krabby--- his issues on offense, whether it's a lack of confidence or ability or both, make him a bit of an afterthought.

So really, I agree with Randy, it does come down to personnel. Four upperclassmen, none of whom are consistent stars. Five scholarship freshmen, only one of whom is currently contributing. Three inexperienced and tenative sophomores. That leads to a tough year, folks.

It's true that Ryan has had success with thin teams, but that's partly because he's been blessed with two of the best players in UW history in Devin and Alando. And last season did show that with just a lot of good, experienced (not great) players, UW could excel. Unfortunately, both things are missing this season. I don't think that's because they're recruiting coachable, hard-working, lesser talents. It's more about total misses in recruiting and development, and a failure to recover from those misses. I'll explain more in the next post.

Monday, January 26, 2009

One Moment

Illinois has never been an easy place to play for Wisconsin. For the most part, that has been due to great coaching and recruiting on the part of (most recently) Lon Kruger, Bill Self and Bruce Weber. Three exceptional coaches. Last year Illinois was 5-13 in conference & 16-19 overall. Horrible by anyone's standards. Seemingly bad enough to leave them vulnerable for at least a year or two. But alas, quite the job has Bruce Weber done over the last year, and on Saturday, quite the hand did Bo Ryan lend him. The results, for Badger fans, were agonizing to watch.

We out-rebounded them (29-28). They had way more turnovers than us (5-12). They got called for just as many fouls as we did (15-13 [which is a bit misleading because we were fouling @ the end of the game*]). So what was to blame for this latest chapter in Wisconsin's momentary lapse of a season?
Was it the TWO shot clock violations in a 3 minute span, down by 10 with 8 and 5 minutes left in the game respectively? yes.
Was it the worst missed lay-up i've ever seen (courtesy of Joe "chained to the floor" Krabbenhoft)? yes.
Was it the garbage that Chester Frazier was getting to go in the basket? nope.
Was it the fact that with 3 minutes left, our best shooter had been on the bench for 3 minutes, replaced by Kevin Gullickson? absolutely.
But it was another moment in the game, that forecast all of these:

Down by 2, under 4 minutes into the game, Trevon Hughes used his quickness to take the ball from Illinois' latest bird boy center, "Mike" Tisdale. The result was a 2 on 1 break where Hughes had super sopht Keaton Nankivil in space over the 1 defender back. However Nankivil stayed away from the rim like it was covered in small pox, and Hughes was forced to continue his 3 year streak of alley-oop-less basketball, in favor of the, not-always-the-best-idea-but-usually-our-only-option-trevon-hughes-pull-up-jumper. He made it.

For the rest of the game Wisconsin seemed to be out of sync, not trusting each other enough to make crisp aggressive passes, and bogged down by the oppressive :35 second collegiate shot clock. Illinois sucks. This game, to me, was way worse than the Minnesota game (the one where people seem to have forgotten, Minnesota needed 2 bombs to force overtime), because we looked like we had nothing. Leuer was gone. Bohannon was gone. Landry got punked like he does often. Jarmusz and Nankivil continued to look ready to go back to high school. We fucking sucked. And Illinois had waay too many defensive breakdowns for me to listen to talk about how tough they are. We had plenty of space to work with, we just didn't know what to do with it.
I grew up watching Wisconsin basketball. I am eternally grateful for winning as often as we do in recent years. But the Big Ten is about to get real good. We will win a lot less, and we will be a perennial bubble team if we keep touting the "character" of our recruits, instead of the basketball skills that are paying their way through school. I don't want to watch Keaton Nankivil.

This year, the Big Ten is full of great coaches. Matter of fact college basketball in general, is full of ambitious, personable, respectable coaches with great records and accomplishments. I love Bo Ryan. I love his demeanor and I love his record. But we went to the Final Four before he got here. The Kohl Center is a state of the art facility and Madison is a beautiful place to live, play or coach. At a certain point, expectations will and should, move past quiet grumblings about how thankful we should be. Bo Ryans style of play keeps us off TV. I care about that.

What worries me most though, is the arrogance i've recently witnessed from Ryan regarding the players (HIS players). At the press conference following the Golpher game, Ryan was asked the following question:

"Coach their press gave you quite a bit of trouble down the stretch, what were you guys missing getting the ball up to half court?"

After a long pause, he asks to have the question repeated. It is. And he replies:

"The fact that the other team got their hands on it".

Oooo k. I appreciate protecting his players from criticism, be it about their decision making, or lack of quickness and ball-handling skills, but I'm worried that Bo is under the impression that the "bit of trouble" they had getting it over half court was not directly attributable to his players' lack of quickness and ball-handling skills. Anyone else?

I really do appreciate that Ryan takes character guys. However, to be a character guy, you don't have to be slow. There are smart, responsible athletes in California. I understand that they tend to be the ones getting offers from Duke and UCLA, but I feel like Ryan is hell bent on protecting his players' weaknesses from criticism, (in part, because he has given up on getting a higher caliber athlete?) to the point that he simply wont allow the question-'were your players good enough to win tonight?'. Which sucks. Because sometimes they aren't. And I see no reason for that to be the case. Especially as the program continues to be solid, and Devin Harris prepares to (eventually) put on an Eastern Conference All-Star Uni for the NEW JERSEY Nets, a team with a tremendous presence in the biggest market in the country. That wouldn't give us access to better players? Guess it doesn't matter because we've given all our scholarships away through 2022. Fuck it.

*It's real boring to me that it's just a given that the home team gets fewer fouls called on them. By a lot. Even when it happens for us. It's totally gay and might be my least favorite thing about college basketball. It rarely doesn't happen.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Julius Peppers Wet Dream Has Been Permanently Interrupted

For all of you Packer fans, like myself, who were salivating at the thought of getting a premium defensive lineman in free agency this year, it may be time to, err, eat a few saltines or something. Not only does the implementation of the 3-4 mean the team probably won't be going after Albert Haynesworth (who's far more suited to be a traditional 4-3 defensive tackle, as opposed to a 3-4 nose guard or end), but the Packers just hired Carolina's former defensive coordinator as their defensive line coach. Yes, this is the same guy who coordinated Carolina's defense the past several years, the same defense that burgeoning free agent Peppers said had failed to help him reach his potential. If teams are throwing equal money at Peppers, do you think he's going to want to run out and be directly coached by the same guy who he says has been holding him back? Yeah, I doubt it.

But whatever. The ex-Carolina D-coordinator, Mike Trgovac, sounds like a pretty good catch anyway. Seriously now, the chances of getting Peppers in the first place were slim. He's a Southern guy and will probably want to stay in the South, and Carolina will likely franchise him and try to trade him for several first round picks-- something the Packers will not be willing to give up. And under Trgovac, the Panthers had several excellent d-line units-- like the dominating Kris Jenkins, Brent Bucker, Mike Rucker, and Peppers group of a few years back. So I'm relatively confident in his ability to coach the line decently well. (Much more confident than I am in his ability to coordinate a good defense-- not the greatest job against Larry Fitzgerald there, Mike.) Anyhow, I think this is a good time to wake up to reality and realize that the Peppers free agency daydream (a daydream which fans of every other team in the NFL with cap room are also having) is essentially over. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to online reading mock drafts and hoping that Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo falls to 9th.


The UW "athletic board" just gave head football coach Brett Bielema a one-year extension, meaning his contract now ends in 2014, instead of 2013. I have no idea why the board (who even knew there was a specific "board" just for the athletic department?) voted to do so, but at first blush it seems ridiculously undeserved. It certainly wasn't the awful bowl performance, his failure to develop players, the constant worsening of UW's performance in his three years or his fair to middlin' recruiting. Maybe it was just the fact that the board does what Barry says, and Bielema is Barry's boy? Maybe Barry wants to give Brett a public vote of confidence, so as to help recruiting? Who knows.

I do know that unless the extension increased the penalty if the university breaches the contract (that is, the amount of money the contract says the university will owe Bielema if and when the university fires him while he's still under contract), then it doesn't really matter, or make his job any more secure. And I doubt the penalty clause would increase that much with a one-year extension. So it's probably just window dressing. Every Badger fan knows that Bielema is going to have to do significantly better next season, even with Alvarez defending him. All this extension did is make the heretofore unknown "UW athletic board" look like a gaggle of dunces.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bubble Team

That's what this UW men's basketball team looks like now. Hell, they way they've played in the last three games, they look like an NIT team. And one that doesn't do much in the NIT to boot. Tonight, they play at an 80% full Iowa arena, against a team missing two starters, who had lost three in a row coming in. They look loose with the basketball, make lazy odd passes, resulting in a ton of turnovers given the low number of possessions in this game. And the killer, the ultimate sign of a loss if you're a UW fan-- committing way too many fouls. Certainly, the refs were calling the game ridiculously tight. Every drive Iowa made in the second half seemed to result in a foul. UW just didn't adjust though.

Yes, Taylor's shot to force overtime was remarkable. It was excellent to see him get some confidence and contribute, and the additional shots he made in overtime were great. But with no Leuer and Krabby in the extra period, and with Bo sticking Pop on the bench for no apparent reason (why not play Hughes and Taylor at the same time?), you never had the feeling that UW was going to make a solid push. They just didn't seem inspired, which is odd, because we've seen a very solid, and very inspired UW team at earlier points this season. So yeah, tough ugly road loss in the Big Ten. It happens, I know. But what's scary, is what's going to happen going forward.

I'm sure most UW fans, myself included, looked at the conference schedule and thought "win, win" for the last two games. It has not been so. Wisconsin is now 3-3 in conference. Consider the next five games, and assume a similar level of performance from the past three game. At Illinois on Sunday. Given how the Fightin' Fibs have been playing, especially at home, that looks almost like a guaranteed loss. They've always played great team defense under Weber, and this year is no exception, and their sophomore big men have really come along. Then Purdue at home. Loss. At Northwestern, who is coming off wins against Minnie and today (shockingly) Sparty. Decent chance of a loss, given UW's troubles in Evanston. Illinois at home. Again, a decent chance of a loss, and should be, at the least, a very, very close game. Then at Penn State, ditto. In three weeks, Wisconsin could have an 8 game losing streak. Crazy to think of, given the level of success we've been used to, but still. It seems well within the realm of possibility.

I'd like to think that the solid contributions of Nanker and Taylor tonight are a sign that the team's depth will be better as the season goes along, and that this loss can just be written off. But this sudden and uncharacteristic tailspin the past three games has me feeling odd. Loads of fouls, poor rebounding, unclutch defensive lapses, weird turnovers, poor three point shooting, changes in the starting line-up, and now benching of starting point guards. Something strange is afoot, and I don't mean that in a good way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mike Lucas is dumber than I thought

Seriously? These two situations are comparable?

1. Kurt Warner does not have a consecutive games played streak. Brett Favre was not coming back to compete for a job. His ego would not allow that. Anybody who suggests otherwise is delusional or disingenuous. Additionally, it would be unfair for the Packers to say to Brett, "Well, you've been our starting QB for 15 years, but now you have to compete for your job." It just doesn't work like that in the NFL.

2. Matt Leinart and Aaron Rodgers are in different situations. If the Pack had not played Rodgers this year they would, in all likelihood, have lost him to free agency. The same cannot be said of the Prince of LA.

3. The Packer's atrocious defense and spotty running game would not have improved with Brett at QB. The Pack missed the playoffs because of those inadequacies, not because of poor QB play.

So I ask myself the question, "Would the Packers have been in the same position as the Cardinals with Favre (as the starter) and Rodgers (as the backup), if they would have adhered to the same fundamental concept of competition, "We'll play the best players and the quarterback who gives us the best chance of having success in 2008"?

Ummmmmm, no.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thank Goodness

An experienced defensive hand has arrived in Packerland-- Dom Capers. My best memory of Capers was his blitz-heavy Carolina Panthers team that the Packers beat in the '97 NFC championship game. He head-coached that surprising squad, taking an expansion team and turning it into a contender in just a few years. Anyhow, Capers has a pretty solid career record as a defensive mind, coordinating defenses in Pittsburgh, Miami and Jacksonville. His record as a head coach is not so great, having helmed two expansion teams in Carolina and Houston. But whatever. This is exactly the kind of guy I wanted-- an old hand, a guy who's happy as a coordinator, and someone who has a huge body of work and experience to inform his decisions.

What's especially interesting is the announcement, made today at McCarthy's press conference, that the Packers will run a 3-4 system under Capers. That will definitely shake-up the team's front seven, and perhaps change the Packers' drafting and free agent philosophy. The 3-4 depends on having a big run-stopping, block-absorbing, nose guard. Looks like that role will be Ryan Pickett's, though the team will immediately enter the market for a capable back-up. Smaller DTs like Colin Cole, Johnny Jolly, and Justin Harrell may switch to ends in a 3-4, as those guys tend to be bigger and serve more as designated run-stoppers than pass rushers. What will happen to the team's ends, specifically Aaron Kampman, Cullen Jenkins, and Jeremy Thompson, remains to be seen, however. Then there's the linebacker jumble. Will it be Hawk and Barnett (or Bishop, if Nick's unable) in the middle, with Poppinga and Chillar on the outside? Surprisingly, this Packers' press release has a good outline of the personnel issues raised by the implementation of the new scheme. Then there's this concern--good 3-4 defenses seem to have a stud-hybrid rusher, like Kevin Greene on the Panthers, Jason Taylor on the Dolphins, or Terrell Suggs on the Ravens, and the Packers don't have anyone like that right now. Then again, I think Suggs might become a free agent in a few weeks.

Anyhow, I take this as a big positive development. Grizzled, well-respected former head coach and coordinator signs up with the Pack, and looks to bring in a more versatile style of defense. Changes are afoot and it'll be fascinating to see what happens.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gopherk Themselves

That was a unique Badger loss. Giving it up at home does not happen often at all. Here's what's on my mind. 

Pop Hughes looked like he was fighting off a nap to start the game. He was lackadaisical. He started of so sluggish that in the first minute I was yelling at the TV screen and Bo had to take him out and put the freshman in. So let's note that our PG was having an off-day.

The Badgers get up big in the second half Tubby is forced to engage THE KENTUCKY PRESS on us. And the major problem for the Badgers is that their press breaking strategy is to throw it to Hughes and have him dribble it up. This is the strategy. Throw it to somebody else and that person will stand there and look to give it to Hughes so he can dribble it through the press. Even if Hughes was at top form, this would be a terrible idea. Thursday night, it was fatal. 

The Swing offense has been our guiding ship, but she has several maddening faults. One of them is that the Swing demands that the passer chose good passing lanes. Our kids get coached up on how to pivot and makes a safe pass in a half court set. This works great when we are in a half court set controlling the tempo. But it instills in our players a hesitancy. Save for Hughes, none of our players runs and dribbles with any confidence at all. This kills us against the press. We inbound the ball to a guy who does not even attempt to beat his man up court. The guy (Bot, Landry, Jarmz, BWM, Bobo, Gullicksmash) is only looking to get it to our PG. This is not sustainable.

The Badgers consistently struggle against the press, but usually manage to pull out wins because of clock management. But what the hell was going on in this game? THREE times we break the press and the guy in the front court goes for a courageous ridiculous lay-up?? Pull the ball out gentlemen. We do it all game long. Run some clock. I could not believe this was happening. We were going to win this game until all those ridiculous attempts in the last minute. 

One thing that I need to know: How come Bo Ryan, a pressing coach in DIII, can not teach the press? Skip the fact that our team can't break a press. How come we can't enact the press? You'd think Bo would want to incorporate this into our arsenal. How much practice time would it take to be good at the press? This seems like it could take us to the next level. Anyway, I need to get the answer to this.

This is the last team in the league I would want to lose that game to. 

Giving it up to the Gophs

Well, ouch. Blowing a double-digit lead at home, and a three point lead on the past possession, all do to multiple foot-shootings (aka turnovers) is never fun. And neither is losing at home to a neighboring rival, in a game that allows your rival to really feel as if he's on the make. Yi. A few observations---

- This team doesn't seem deep enough. Maybe the upperclassmen mainstays (Hughes, Bohannon, Krabby, Landry) were tried down the stretch. Maybe they weren't. Regardless, not being able to rest, get hydrated and evaluate what's happening in the game can't help matters. Nankivil really needs to be able to contribute some solid minutes, and his disappearing act in the past couple of games is really disappointing. His issue seems to be a lack of comfort and you only get more comfortable when you get more experience. I hope he rallies and maintains at least 15 minutes a game for the rest of the season.

- The issues against pressure D are a bit infuriating, and I'm confused as to why it seems to be such an issue this season compared to last. Butch and Stiemsma did not handle the ball much. Flowers is a loss, but you'd expect the upperclassmen quartet to be able to handle pressure pretty well. Maybe, again, it comes back to depth. They need more help from everybody else than they're getting. Argh.

- Anyhow, you have to hand it to Minnesota. They busted their butts, rallied from a huge deficit, and stole a huge win. Give it up to the Gophs. In their honor, here's a Kenny Loggins-influenced Caddyshack montage.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Proven Right Again

So yeah, it does look like the male basketballing Badgers' success against Northwestern may have been due to a growing comfort against zone defenses. Because in Sunday's game vs. Purdidn't, UW looked like crap against their pressure man defense. Of course, it didn't help that Robbie Hummel, the Big 10 preseason POY made a triumphant return, or that the ambiguously gay Boilers were desperate for a win. Even with their generally poor offense, if there's no Hummel, I think that game is a toss-up instead of a double digit win for the Indianans. Also, attempting 6 stupid free throws? Come on, hometown refs. Also, Bo is now 1-4 against Matt Painter, and has won only once in West Lafayette-- and that game was during the middle of a winter break snowstorm so the arena was half empty. Not good.

Anyhow, it's clear we Badger fans have been spoiled in recent years. The league has been down for a while in numbers of high quality teams, and UW has had some excellent squads with dynamic senior leaders. This season, the league's depth is outstanding, and there isn't as much proven quality on the Badgers. It's the four upperclassmen, and Leuer and, uh, everyone else really can't be counted on to provide that much. The Nank is inconsistent, Jarmusz plays pretty good defense but he is mostly lacking on offense. The frosh guards basically come in to give Pop and Bohannon some rest, as does Gullickson with the forwards. Things are still percolating and coming along, hopefully. I don't know where we'll finish in the league, but at this point if I knew I'd call the season a success if Wisconsin qualified for the tournament and made it to the Sweet Sixteen. See, this is how you think like a Michigan State fan. Except they'd need at least a trip to the Elite Eight.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

More Randomness

Again, too much nunsense out there for a coherent post. Here's another grab-bag.

- Former Packer O-coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski was "fired" from his position as the Boston College football head coach yesterday, after refusing to not interview with the Jets. Apparently UW-Whitewater alum Jagod failed to tell his AD that he was talking with the J-E-T-S, and that didn't sit too well with his boss. And the Globe reported some informal agreement that Jagod would not pursue other jobs for the first three years as BC chieftan. So there. But what a wacky way to get fired, eh? "If you do not-very-outlandish thing A, I'll can you!" "Alright, well I'm doing it." "You're canned!" That's a pretty quick trigger. And can Boston College really afford to be so choosey? It's not like the goofy Wisconsin native hadn't gotten BC (the smallest school in the ACC) to the ACC title game two straight years. Oh, wait. (I guess they did just gift Vandy its first bowl win in 50 odd years.) Anyhoo, Jagod is a friggin' weirdo. If you don't like recruiting 16-year-olds and want to go back to the NFL, just quit already. Further proof that you just can't trust a Warhawk. They're shifty.

- So, awesomely, UW men's basketballers totally pounded Northwestern last night. What a contrast to the PSU game on Saturday. NU had been doing quite well so far this year (they were in the top 25 in Pomeroy's ratings), but UW carved up their defense and forced miss after Wildcat miss. The dominant final score (by 29 points in a 62 possession game), jumped UW 15 slots in the Ken Pom ratings. Awww, yeah. Number 34, bitches! Whoop!

- Seriously now, UW sophomore forward Jon Leuer is getting smoother and smoother on offense, and his rebounding and D really have picked up. Or they at least looked excellent against NU's nearly all-white frontcourt. (It's like being back in Minnesota!) Sadly, fellow soph Keaton Nankivil continues to start but play less than Leuer. The young Madisonian just keeps looking a bit timid, though he has bursts of effectiveness. (What is it with these Madison Memorial alums? Are they all nancies or is it just me?) Hell, lower ceilinged walk-on Kevin Gullickson got about the same number of minutes as Nankivil last night. And don't get me wrong, I effing love kids like KG who are academic badasses (Academic All-Big Ten two straight seasons with a "business finance" major) and have multiple drinking citations. That is doing Wisconsin proud, my young friend. But schollie sophs should be earning more minutes that walk-ons, regardless of how bad ass they are. Can I blame the math teacher/head coach at Memorial for stunting the Nanker's development?

- Also, third soph Tim Jarmusz ran about the ugliest fast break I have ever seen last night. He bricked a mildly contested one on one lay up. The Leuer missed a tip, then Krabby missed a tip, then the ball got knocked out of bounds, I think. Yeesh. I thought Tim could shoot. There were a couple of ugly fast breaks last night-- there was another where Pop missed a lay in, Bohannon tipped it back up, and it was goaltended. Bizarre. Apparently, NU is the only team unathletic enough that Wisconsin can run on them (or is unafraid of the consequences of trying to run).

- Last UW basketball note: I'm convinced that UW's kick ass offense against NU was partly due to the fact that NU is the third straight team UW has played who primarily plays zone defense. (Michigan and NU are 1-3-1 teams, and PSU plays a lot of 2-3.) Meaning they just finished their second straight week of preparing to play against zone Ds. This has me worried they're going to be out of practice for the pressure man to man D Purdidn't will throw at them this weekend, and accordingly are going to look ugly on offense. Whatever. Number 34! Whoop!

- I have no idea who the Packers will hire to replace now deposed D-coordinator Bob Sanders. I do like, a lot, this line from a Journal-Sentinel article about the search. "McCarthy, a source said, wants someone who could adapt to his talent and not be tied to one way of doing things." Exactly. If you need perfect personnel to coordinate an effective defense, you're going to be in trouble, because people get old and incompetent and/or get injured quite quickly in the NFL. Hire somebody who makes decent lemonade.

- Getting back to college football, I will not be watching this evenings faux-national championship game as I have more interesting and important crap to do. In addition, I have opted to not even Tivo the game, as Grey's Anatomy and 30 Rock hold more allure than watching two "schools" try to run up the score on each other. (How can a team be seen as a formal representive of a school, if less than half of said team actual matriculates from said school?) Plus, Florida and the Pope should win by double digits. OU got into the championship game by losing early in the season (thus resulting in being higher ranked than Texas Tech and Texas, which was the tie-breaker for getting into the Big 12 Championship game), and by running up the score. Karma is a bitch. As is the fact that the Big 12 has gotten exposed this postseason. True, Nebraska managed to beat a terribly quarterbacked Clemson team, and Kansas bombed a floundering Minnesota team as predicted but Mizzou needed overtime to beat friggin' Northwestern, top ten team Texas Tech got pounded in Dallas by Ole Miss, Oklahoma State got burned by Oregon, and Texas needed all sorts of help to barely squeak past the Ohio A&M. Not looking so strong there, El Grande Doce. Plus, Florida actually has a defense and an offense, and Bob Stoops has laid several BCS eggs since winning his national championship eight plus years ago. I say the Pope, his balanced team, Tim Tebow (and his remarkably built ladyfriend), win by two touches. 30 something to 20 something. Predictable, cheesy and boring, especially with Fox's awful production values. (ABC does the Rose Bowl so much better, it's not even funny.) Watching the lady from Knocked Up debate the moral dillema of her illicit affair with a dead boyfriend's ghost (worst plot development ever) on Grey's Anatomy will be far more entertaining. Or maybe not. Well, if it's a good game it'll be rebroadcast soon enough anyway.

- In all seriousness, not watching that game is actually an effective way you can show your displeasure over the stupid BCS system. If the ratings start to suffer, the university presidents (whose hands must be chapped from all the rubbing together they do at the thought of the financial payout from the current deal) may start to come around. Either that, or we'll have to wait for them to all die off. Or at least for Big 11 commish Jim Delaney to die off.

- Finally, UW running back PJ Hill and his prodigious posterior have opted to try to take his game to the next level. Good luck to the young man. Despite assorted injuries, PJ has been a fine college back, and is actually third in career rushing yards at UW, behind Anthony Davis and Ron Dayne. In addition, PJ has always seemed like a good teammate and an amiable young man. (For example, I didn't see him grumble or sulk a bit after John Clay started getting more carries this season.) As far as his decision to leave "early" goes, I can't blame him a bit. He redshirted after breaking his leg in preseason camp as a frosh, so he's been here for four whole seasons. He doesn't have much left to prove, and Clay (and Zach Brown and Montee Davis) would have been champing at the bit behind him next season. I don't know where (or if) he'll be drafted, but he has always been great at getting yards in tough spots, maximizing what he can get after contact. He'd make a solid short yardage back, I'd wager. Godspeed.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year, New Thoughts

The state of the sports world currently calls for a random, classic Larry King style post. Here goes:

- An early report states that the Packers are firing defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. By all accounts, Sanders is an excellent human being. Unfortunately, his defensive tactics, while occasionally very effective, are somewhat simplistic and predictable, and he hasn't shown much ingenuity or flexibility during games. With workaholic players and coaches flooding the league, more and more it feels like you need a defensive scheme that will confuse the other side. The Packers haven't had that. So it's probably time to try something new. What'll be especially interesting to see is who replaces Sanders, and what kind of defense that coach will bring. And, of course, how much personnel turnover the new system will require and how quickly the players will be able to pick up the new scheme. Remember, one of the worst defenses in recent Packer history came in the first (and only) year of a new d-coordinator (Bob Slowik).

- If reports are true, Sanders will be joining Packers Special Teams coach Mike Stock on the way out of town. The sextagenarian Stock opted to retire a few days ago. This was probably a good reading of the tea leaves, as the Packers' kickoff coverage unit was awful this season and directly contributed to some close losses, particularly the loss at Chicago and the home loss to Carolina. Plus, Crosby seems to have stalled in his development, and some of the blame for the atrocious decision to release punter Jon Ryan and rely on (and stick with) the horrid Derrick Frost fell on Stock's shoulders. Of course, some blame must go to Thompson, who jettisoned Ryan, stuck with Frost for more than half the season, and released several special teams leaders, like Tracy White. Hopefully, he learned some lessons as well. Trivia-- did you know Stock had been the head coach at Brown?

- This year's Badger men's basketball team just doesn't let you get comfortable, do they? After a very solid victory over a pretty darn good Michigan team in Ann Arbor, they have to duke out a close one against Penn State in Madison. Yeesh. PSU is definitely improved over last season (although it'll probably be a one-year blip, as Pringle and Cornley are seniors), but still. A double digit victory would have been nice.

- Speaking of UW hoops, does it just feel like every game some guy goes off from long range against the Badgers? I mean, there was that swingman from Va Tech (6 for 9), this guard from San Diego (5 for 8), McShneal from Marquette (4 for 7), Zack Novak at Michigan (5 for 8), and on Saturday, Stanley Pringle (4 for 6, with all the makes in the second half). Last season the Badgers were at the top of the league in three defense, and were in the top 25 nationally. This year they're in the middle of pack nationally--174th out of 340 odd teams. They lost Michael Flowers, who was a great perimeter shot contestor, and the line has been moved back, which might actually have increased the shooting percentage on long-range attempts by creating more space (and by reducing the raw number of threes taken). Anyhow, the numbers (and personnel) say they're worse on the perimeter defensively compared to last season. But at the same time, I can't remember a lot of uncontested threes. It seems like guys (especially the guy at Va Tech) have just been on fire at times. So maybe it's luck? Whatever it is, I hope it turns around.

- Speaking of random stats, here's Ken Pomeroy's statistical summary of Wisconsin's season so far. Things look fine offensively, though you'd like them to grab a few more offensive boards and shoot a little better from the line. And the lack of steals and turnovers will always be a black mark against UW's defense, as they're far more focused on avoiding stupid fouls than nabbing stray passes. (Flowers' departure also hurts here though.) But what really sticks out is the opponent's free throw percentage-- against us, opposing teams are nailing their free throws. Totally weird. (The Texas loss and their ridiculous free throw shooting come to mind.) Hopefully, that rate will return a bit closer to the mean sometime soon.

- Did anyone reading this not love watching the Cowboys look like total garbage 8 days ago? Man, that was hilarious. And they can't get much better-- they gave away almost their entire 2009 draft for Roy Williams, the receiver, "offensive guru" Jason Garrett may very well abandon his head-coaching apprenticeship for a real gig somewhere else, and the front office still has the team-killing headache of Terrell Owens and the underperforming nuisance of Pacman Jones to deal with. That's totally the way you want to transition to a billion dollar stadium (one built with $475 million of tax money) that still has a stupid hole in the roof, where you'll be asking many fans to cough up 100 grand for a personal seat license. And it's not like the economy is not awesome or like the wealthy have seen their net worths shrink by half. Oh wait. Smooth moves, Skeletor. And it couldn't happen to a nicer, more humble guy.

- The playoffs have been very odd so far. Arizona winning a game? In the playoffs? The Dolts get a bunch of lucky scores, but still can't beat the 8-8 Chargers and their formerly sieve-like defense, even with LT on the sidelines? Weirdness. The ViQueens lines looked pretty dominant against the Eagles, but they give up two huge plays and thus lose. Fitting that their special teams looked like garbage, as it has all season. (They tied the record for most punt return touchdowns given up in a season-- thanks in large part to the Pack's Will Blackmon.) Personally, I'm rooting for Jimmy Leonhard and the Ravens. Even with the lack of talent on offense, at least they try to be entertaining on that side of the ball, employing lots of bizarre shenanigans.

- Did anyone else laugh when former Ohio A&M cover boy Ted Ginn, Jr. dropped the (admittedly stressed) exchange on that fourth quarter end around, effectively sealing the Dolphins' playoff loss? Thank goodness the AFC East has been eliminated from the postseason. That division was dreadfully overrated this season, mostly due to a flaccid schedule. As you can tell, I'm not a fan of the national media's East Coast-centricity.

- I still can't bring myself to write about the UW football team. The beatdown is too fresh, the program seems adrift, wandering in the wilderness, as it were. Maybe I'll hold out until national signing day, hoping for some encouraging developments.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Completely Unsurprising

Other Jet players complain about Favre's special treatment, aloofness, and lack of accountability? Shocking, just shocking. It's not like the Jets didn't know that they were trading for a soon to be 39 year-old quarterback, who had been treated like a demi-god for a solid decade by the entire populations of Wisconsin, Mississippi, Louisiana and Bristol, Connecticut. And given that the moronic Jets management publicly lauded Favre as the savior of the Jets' franchise, is it at all surprising that Favre was barely criticized in the locker room and had no fear of being benched, despite leading the league in intereceptions? Not to me. I actually feel bad for now-deposed coach Eric Mangini. Jets GM Sam Tenenbaum put him in a horribly weak position.