Every year I'm struck by how the Badgers' bowl game just kind of sneaks up on us. We usually learn the destination and opponent a month before it happens, then news and previews leak out, then Christmas, then boom! - game's here and it feels like I haven't given it much thought.
So the big game against Tennessee comes at 10 a.m. CST Tuesday, and here's my one-minute Outback Bowl preview.
-Tennessee is missing six players because of academics, including their leading receiver and starting defensive tackle and linebacker.
-Quarterback Erik Ainge, who was sacked only three times this year, is very good. He played most of the year with a shoulder injury.
-Running back Arian Foster had a big fumble in last year's Outback Bowl against Penn State, but he's used it to motivate him.
-The only new Badger injury since the Minnesota game is to cornerback Aaron Henry. Ben Strickland and Josh Nettles will replace him. This could be a big problem against a good passing team.
-Elijah Hodge is as healthy as he's been all season.
-P.J. Hill is expected to play, and so is Lance Smith, but Zach Brown will start at running back.
-Travis Beckum has decided to bypass the NFL draft and return for his senior season, but Jack Ikegwuonu is undecided and needs to decide in the next two weeks.
That's it, check back for my thoughts during and after the game. Go Badgers!
Oh, and this: Wisconsin 33, Tennessee 27
Monday, December 31, 2007
Every year I'm struck by how the Badgers' bowl game just kind of sneaks up on us. We usually learn the destination and opponent a month before it happens, then news and previews leak out, then Christmas, then boom! - game's here and it feels like I haven't given it much thought.
Went to the Packers game yesterday, with a much better outcome than my last trip to Lambeau. Got a chance to watch former Badgers Mark Tauscher and Alex Lewis, but Brian Calhoun is hurt. As I saw Ron Dayne having another solid game, and when I got home and saw Jim Sorgi at quarterback for the Colts and Chris Chambers catching a touchdown for the Chargers, it got me thinking what a nice season this was for UW alumni in the NFL. Let's run it down:
-Michael Bennett, Buccaneers: 241 yards rushing, 1 TD.
Has over 3,600 yards rushing for his career.
-Brooks Bollinger, Vikings: 391 yards passing, 1 TD
-Brian Calhoun, Lions: 35 yards rushing
-Chris Chambers, Chargers: 970 yards receiving, 4 TD. Has over 6,200 career receiving yards.
-Owen Daniels, Texans: 768 yards receiving, 3 TD
-Ron Dayne, Texans: 773 yards, 6 TD. Has over 3,700 career rushing yards.
-Lee Evans, Bills: 849 yards receiving, 5 TD. Has over 3,700 career receiving yards.
-Jamar Fletcher, Texans: 19 tackles
-Nick Greisen, Ravens: 30 tackles
-Erasmus James, Vikings: 7 tackles, 1 sack
-Jason Jefferson, Bills: 11 tackles
-Al Johnson, Cardinal: 14 starts at center
-Matt Katula, Ravens: 16 games at long snapper
-Ross Kolodziej, Cardinals: 3 games
-Jim Leonhard, Bills: 54 tackles, 2 interceptions, 6 starts at safety
-Alex Lewis, Lions: 29 tackles, 1 forced fumble
-Jason Pociask, Jets: 1 reception
-Casey Rabach, Redskins: 15 starts at center
-Mike Schneck, Falcons: 12 games at long snapper
-Jim Sorgi, Colts: 132 yards passing, 1 TD
-Scott Starks, Jaguars: 22 tackles, 1 interception
-Aaron Stecker, Saints: 448 yards rushing, 5 TD
-Mark Tauscher, Packers: 16 starts at right tackle
-Joe Thomas, Browns: 16 starts at left tackle
-Brandon Williams, 49ers/Rams: 10 games, 2 fumbles
Lots of Badgers in the NFL. You could just about field a whole team of them, here's how it would look:
Offense: Sorgi, Bennett/Stecker, Dayne, Thomas, Tauscher, Rabach, Johnson, Dan Buenning (Bucs), Evans, Chambers, Daniels
Defense: James, Jefferson, Kolodziej, Anttaj Hawthorne (cut by Raiders in training camp), Greisen, Lewis, Fletcher, Starks, Leonhard, Rogers, BJ Tucker (last seen with 49ers)
Looking at these lists something strikes me: for a program built on defense and running the ball, the pro players we've produced have been offensive skill position players and linemen known for their pass blocking. It wouldn't be entirely surprising if none of those defensive players were on NFL rosters come September. Hopefully Ike, Shaughnessy, Casillas, et al can reverse that trend.
Looks like the Bills and Texans are my favorite teams other than the Packers. Also, if you would have asked a fan in 2000 which former Badger running back would be playing the best at the end of the 2007 NFL season - Dayne, Bennett, or Stecker - who would you have said?
Sunday, December 30, 2007
The holiday break gave me a chance to read two other Wisconsin sports books by UW alum Dave Anderson. The books cover the Badgers' football and basketball history.
While these books will help fill out the UW section of my bookshelf, I can't in good faith recommend buying them - save the combined $30. Instead, buy The World Without Us (read it over Thanksgiving, still getting my thoughts together for a review), and download the history sections of the media guides posted at uwbadgers.com. Because that's all these books really are: a collection of team, stadium, and athlete pictures from the UW archives accompanied by redundant captions that often contain errors. There's no new analysis or historical context.
The first thing I said to Jana about them was "I can't believe this guy got paid to put these books together," and then kicked myself for not getting there first. In fairness, Anderson probably didn't set out to write a Halbertsam-esaue tome about his alma mater's athletics, and my expectations shouldn't have been to receive anything along those lines. Also, having been exposed to so many media guides over the years, I probably know more of this historical stuff than the average fan.
Anderson does make the good point that while the last 15 years or so have undeniably been a Golden Era in UW athletics, it wasn't always as bad as the preceding couple decades. In fact, UW athletics in the first three or four decades of the 20th century were pretty damn good, with plenty of conference titles, All-Americans, and even a few national titles. Then we hit a 50-year dry spell with a good season here and there.
What happened? Good question, and one that's not answered in these books. My thought is that the coaches of the times did not adapt quickly enough to changes in strategy and recruiting; the radical/turbulent nature of Madison during the '60s and '70s scared off many kids who weren't up for that kind of college experience; and a bad football team drags down everything else. Without the '93 Rose Bowl, does the Kohl Center get built?
Also took the time to read Game Day: Wisconsin Football by Athlon Sports. A much better book, it had lots of color photos and in-depth sections on players, coaches, games, rivalries, etc. If you're a true Badgers fan, you need to learn about Pat O'Dea, Pat Harder, Dave Schreiner, Crazylegs Hirsch, Alan Ameche, the Hard Rocks defense, Dan Lanphear, Ron Vander Kelen, Pat Richter the athlete, Dennis Lick, Ray Snell, Mike Webster, Tim Krumrie, Matt Vanden Boom, Al Toon, Ivy Williamson, Harry Stuhldreher, Milt Bruhn, Dave McClain, and the other men who made Badger football great in previous generations.
I recommend taking the time to learn UW athletics history. It does, in fact, predate Barry Alvarez and Dick Bennett.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Here's how I know today's win at Texas was a huge one - my dad called about 30 seconds after it was over. He usually saves that for bowl games and March Madness. Ken remarked about how emotional Bo was in the postgame interview - another sure indicator of the win's magnitude, you don't see him get choked up that often.
There's no way to downplay how important this one is. On the road against a top 10 team; here's hoping Texas rebounds and wins the Big 12. Without Trevon Hughes - how much confidence to J-Bo and Flowers gain from this one? In front of Jay Bilas, who will remember this effort and talk about it in March come tournament time. This one is big enough for four mug shots in the recap.
Listening to LePay's call of the final play right now, getting goosebumps. Will have to find it online later.
Couldn't be prouder of the Badgers today, so let's go down the line:
-What a clutch shot by Flowers off a beautiful play call from the coaching staff. If they ran hard after Flowers, Butch would have been open, which is perhaps how Texas should have played it. Of course the heads-up play after the shot was huge as well, but what about Flowers' rebound on the previous possession that set up Landry's turnaround? Like Bilas said, those are plays championship teams make, and while I don't see titles in this team's future, more big wins like this look likely.
-J-Bo played very well, too, never getting flustered on offense and never letting Augustin take over. Fouls probably had something to do with it, but J-Bo and Flowers didn't play together nearly as much as I thought we'd need to have a chance in this one. Fourteen assists against 10 turnovers is a pretty good line for a game like this.
-Butch was huge today, and was the kind of inside presence he needed to be against an undersized team. He's having a nice senior season thus far, hope he can keep it up. One quibble - he should stop shooting 3s, they're just not going down for him this year.
-Another solid game for Landry, who did a great job finding the gaps in Texas's zone for short jumpers.
-Krabbenhoft didn't have a stellar game on paper, and didn't shut Abrams down, but he did force him to take 17 shots to get his 17 points. Bilas said the 3 Krabby made was his first of the season, which was surprising.
-I think that Texas's decision to zone us was its ultimate undoing. It was fairly effective at limiting our inside touches, but a. we showed patience and passed very well, especially Stiemsma, and b. slowing down the pace played into our hands. True, they're not deep, but a game in the 60s favors us much more than them.
-As much as we have a size advantage against most teams, outrebounding smaller teams is not a foregone conclusion. Look at today's game. In the beginning we didn't hit the offensive boards as hard as we could because we were focused on slowing down their transition game. On defense, their penetration left us helping and in bad box-out position, allowing guys like James to get offensive boards.
-How good was Damion James today? We struggle against guys named D. James.
-Why didn't Barnes take a timeout after Flowers' basket? They had two left.
-Anyone else notice the player on Texas's bench who looked like he was about 45 years old?
-We won today, but I really don't want to go too many more games without Trevon. The early Big Ten schedule looks favorable, but I don't think we can take anything for granted with this team.
This one will put a little more bounce in my step sledding with Will this afternoon ...
Just read a report by The Cap Times' Rob Schultz that Trevon Hughes sprained an ankle in practice yesterday and will miss today's game at Texas. Guess I don't have to hurry home from the library for the start of this one.
Too bad. I didn't expect us to win this one, but thought Trevon would get a good learning experience heading into Big Ten play. Just hope he's healthy for the start of conference play against Michigan.
Friday, December 28, 2007
I realize most of you are uninterested in central Wisconsin high school sports (your loss), but had to write about this. Yesterday Mike Griffin of Iola-Scandinavia (right, 23) scored 54 points in a loss to Suring at the Sentry Classic in Stevens Point.
It was the best individual performance I've ever seen in person. The previous two: LeBron James scoring 53 points against the Bucks at the Bradley Center, and Greg Oden going 10-for-10, all dunks, in a win over a very good Indianapolis Pike team in the Indiana high school playoffs at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Griff was making contested 3-pointers like they were uncontested layups, 10 in all. He was 14-of-15 from the line. He carried his team (#5 in Division 3) against a very good, balanced Suring team ranked #3 in Division 4. Josh Regal, Suring's point guard, had 24 points and 17 assists - a legit total, he was driving an dishing masterfully - including one on Cody Lechleitner's game-winning 3-pointer. The final was 83-80 in overtime.
Griffin, who occasionally plays hoops with my gang at noontime and rains 26-footers on us, is ranked by one publication as the #25 prospect in Wisconsin, but some websites have him ranked nationally. He has good size (a solid 6-3) and is a great shooter, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up playing in college.
His 54 points yesterday erased the great Mickey Crowe's name from the record books - Crowe held the previous single-game Sentry Classic scoring record with 40 points.
What's the best individual performance you've ever seen in person?
Wisconsin Sports Network story
Video clip from yesterday's game from WAOW
Posted by Scott Tappa at 12:46 PM
Jana and I completed the Bourne trilogy last night with a viewing of The Bourne Ultimatum. Will asked for my thoughts after seeing it, so here goes:
1. While all three were good movies, we liked Identity the best. The plot was the most clearly focused and easiest to connect with.
2. It was funny that a journalist was at the center of the early drama. Also funny that he was a bumbling idiot in the face of a tense situation.
3. Will, did you see the movie in the theater or on DVD? On the DVD, there's a deleted scene where Pam Landy (Joan Allen's character) is fired or demoted and she's cleaning out her office. Why would they have filmed such a scene in the first place? She was too central to the entire plot.
4. We liked the way the scene that ended Supremacy (Bourne talking to Landy while watching her) actually took place about two-thirds of the way into Ultimatum, reminded me a little of that Godfather flashback scene where Michael tells the family that he's enlisting in the Army.
5. Julia Stiles remained useless. Why would her character help Bourne? This part was not well-developed, and there was time to do it. Thankfully there was no hard-to-believe love connection between the two.
6. This one is bugging me: when Bourne is in Vosen's office stealing the files from his safe, why would he tell Vosen while they're talking on the phone? It was the kind of arrogant movie cliche that a disciplined assassin like Bourne wouldn't fall into.
7. These minor criticisms aside, we really enjoyed the movies. It's really fun to see a person/character perform as exceptionally as Bourne does, whether it's fighting, planning, driving, guiding someone else through danger. You'd like to think that if you ever encountered such a tense situation you would respond with the same clear-eyed precision, but you probably wouldn't.
The ending leaves open the possibility of another sequel, which we will definitely see. Here' hoping Bourne finds out Nicky Parsons is responsible for steering him into the program in the first place and exacts his revenge.
Posted by Scott Tappa at 10:06 AM
Thursday, December 27, 2007
There's been a lot written lately about the Badgers' running back situation: Lance Smith will play in the Outback Bowl, P.J. Hill is still hurt/now he's feeling better, Zach Brown was impressive late in the season, John Clay has looked good in bowl practices, Quincy Landingham is transferring.
The Journal Sentinel published a story that is as pointed as any thus far, particularly the headline: "Hill Losing Ground - Backups Show Promise." In it, running backs coach John Settle says, "I try to be sensitive to the fact he did have a serious injury," running backs coach John Settle said. "But once you go through all the tests and it's negative ... you've got to go."
Wow, challenge issued. My initial reaction to reading this quote is that P.J. Hill is not a wuss - you don't reach the level of football he has reached, playing a physically demanding position, without a high degree of toughness. This seems like one of those scenarios you see in a football movie: the guy is hurt and the coach tells the trainer to stick him with a huge needle so he can play even though it's going to be to his long-term detriment. You hope your favorite program doesn't do that.
Then again, put yourself in John Settle's shoes. The tests show P.J. isn't hurt any more, at least not to the extent he was, and since he's still the most proven entity in your backfield, you'd like to nudge him back on the field and play through it.
It reminds me of a time in seventh grade when I missed two games in the St. John's basketball tournament with a bad ear infection. (I was our second-leading scorer, and in one of the games I missed our top scorer, David Holton, scored all 37 of our team's points.) My coaches later said they would never have missed a game for that reason. But if I had played, my health was so bad I would have been mostly useless. P.J. probably feels the same way, only unlike me, he looks out at the field and sees capable replacements.
This is at least the second time the coaching staff has publicly called P.J. out like this (we all remember the "get tough pills" comments from BB last season), and I hope it was the desired effect - helping him get back on the field quicker, not straining his relationship with his coaches. Because P.J. Hill at 90% is still better than 90% of the backs in the country at 100%.
-Caught Bielema's TV show Wednesday afternoon on the Big Ten Network. At the end he fielded a question about which young players had impressed him during bowl practices. Good question, but the answer was too wide-ranging: Clay, OL Josh Oglesby, WR Nick Toon (right), DE Patrick Butrym, DE Louis Nzegwu, LB Kevin Rouse, LB Blake Sorensen, DB Mario Goins, and DB Otis Merrill.
Yeah, that narrows it down to just about every scholarship true freshman who didn't see action this season (except Sorensen, who had a very nice year). Still, even though Bielema's answer wasn't terribly enlightening, it got me excited for next year and the stars and contributors of tomorrow - one of the best things about college sports. Last week ajs mentioned the spring game, and I think I'm going to try to make it down this year - if only they still had it the same weekend as Crazylegs.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Will is with my mom and sister tonight so Jana and I took the opportunity to get out and see a movie. I wanted to see Alvin and the Chipmunks, but Jana talked me into Charlie Wilson's War. Good move.
We really liked the movie. It was fast-paced and shorter than you'd expect (about 90 minutes, could/should have been longer) from an Aaron Sorkin-Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts-Mike Nichols collaboration.
You've probably read a review (most have been positive), but in case you didn't, here it is in a nutshell: an obscure playboy Texas congressman, at the behest of his Houston socialite friend, leads the charge in our country's covert funding of anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s; the success of these efforts eventually leads to the downfall of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War.
Everyone did a nice job in their roles, but Philip Seymour Hoffman really stole the show with his turn as an unpolished CIA guy who knows how to get stuff done. Count Jan as one of his biggest fans. Also, Sorkin's dialogue - which I've always liked but found hard to believe in his television work - is spot on, sprinkling humor into what could be dry situations.
Here's what we took away from the story:
1. How the hell could this have been done completely covertly? An operation of this magnitude, done within our Congress, is hard to keep a secret, especially during that post-Woodward and Bernstein climate of watchdog journalism.
2. People roughly my age (32) were born a little bit too late to get the whole fear and loathing of the Soviets that came with the Cold War. Jana remembers it a little bit; she grew up near an Air Force base that her brother told her was #13 on the Soviets' list of targets were we to be at war. All I really remember is that they boycotted the 1984 Olympics, which meant more free cheeseburgers at McDonald's. Will we ever face another clear cut enemy like the Soviet Union in our lifetime?
3. The story ends with an allusion to what we know was the unfortunate aftermath of the Afghans' victory - the Taliban followed, and used the weapons we helped get them to carry out their oppression. At the end of the movie, Wilson tries to drum up meager funding for school building in Afghanistan, and says that if we don't build them we are growing our future enemies. In a sense, it gives credence to what we're currently doing in Iraq, which is sort of amazing given Sorkin's role in the movie.
If you're looking for a way to kill a couple hours over the holidays or for a DVD to rent in 4-6 months, this is a good choice.
Posted by Scott Tappa at 10:03 PM
For my birthday, Jana got me No Bed of Roses, a book recommended by ajs last month in our impromptu book club post. The book is by Chris Kennedy, a walk-on who was a wide receiver at UW from 199-93, and who, quite frankly, I don’t remember. Not surprising, since he was stuck on the bench behind the likes of Lee Deramus, J.C. Dawkins, and Michael London.
A couple days of crappy weather kept us homebound, to my delight, as I was able to finish this relatively short (230 pages) book in a couple days. Overall, it was a really good look inside the Badger football program at an amazing time, the early days of the Alvarez Era when the program was transforming from perennial loser to national power.
Kennedy, understandably, did not see the field, as the talent level on the roster was upgraded dramatically during that time. If he had arrived on campus four years earlier, he may have ended up starting – West Bend’s own Tony Spaeth, also a small high school running back turned college receiver, led the team in receiving one of the Don Morton years.
As you go through, you really feel for guys like Kennedy who bust their ass for years and get barely a sniff of the field. Ever since Barry arrived, an emphasis has been placed on maintaining a thriving walk-on program. That program should not just yield starters like the Jim Leonhards, Donnel Thompsons and Joe Panoses. It also needs guys like Chris Kennedy who push the starters every day in practice as scout teamers, and who keep interest in the Badgers personal in small towns around the state.
Reading the book called to mind the experience of our old friend Kurt Reineck. I met him first day at Sullivan Hall; he told me he was on the football team, and I didn't believe him at first since he wasn't on the roster listed in Badger Plus, which I read religiously. Kurt was smacked with reality his first day of practice, when Donald Hayes glided by him on the 10th set of end-of-practice sprints as if it were a stroll in the park. Kurt left the team after a few days, which is what most of Kennedy's walk-on peers did, what I would have done, and what I was pulling for Kennedy to do while reading. College is too short, man, enjoy it!
If I had one criticism, it would be that Kennedy’s motivation to write the book seems to be to set the record as he sees it straight – no one in his family complained about being left off the trip to Tokyo for the critical game against Michigan State, and as such, he didn’t deserve to be left off the Rose Bowl dress list. Hearing just his side of the story, you come to the conclusion that he got screwed. He also seems to enjoy telling stories of all the wonderful women who find themselves attracted to football players.
To me the most interesting part of the book is Kennedy’s relationship with Jay Norvell, then his position coach and now UCLA’s offensive coordinator. Norvell comes off as a real asshole who in four years never takes the time to get to know Kennedy. Then again, Kennedy was probably never going to see significant playing time, so why devote tons of time developing him rather than getting Deramus where he needs to be? It’s a catch-22, and it’s probably unrealistic to expect position coaches to be close with all their players.
Our good friend Adam Mertz is thanked up front in the acknowledgements section, and a snippet of Mertzy’s review is on the back cover.
In the end, glad I spent the time on it, college football from a different perspective. It’s a good read, pick it up if you have a chance.
Anyone else read it yet? ajs?
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Back in October, Will met Judd Apatow at Entertainment Weekly headquarters, which was the impetus for me to write a post rating Judd's work. Several people disagreed with Jana and me for calling Knocked Up overrated/an underachievement in an otherwise fine body of work.
But someone who definitely knows agrees - EW's Owen Gleiberman. From the issue that hit our mailbox yesterday, in which Owen reviews Superbad:
"... It takes the dizzy, raunchily rude pop culture banter that percolated around the edges of The 40 Year-Old Virgin and the overrated Knocked Up (sorry, I just couldn't buy that damn sitcom relationship) and moves it front and center."
Exactly! That's precisely what we didn't like about that movie - Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen trying to make a go of it as a couple was not believable in any way, shape, or form. The movie had its moments, but did not equal its predecessors. Of course, several pages later Lisa Schwarzbaum declares KU one of her top 10 movies of the year.
Will, next time you see Owen, give him a big fist bump from the Tappas.
In other movie news:
-The Tappas liked the Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy. Great action, interesting plot, not too long. Nice job by Matt Damon. The one thing we didn't get was why Julia Stiles was there, her role was completely useless. Through the magic of Netflix, we'll be watching all three Bourne movies this week.
-Head on over to Toohey's Randomania and read his review of Failure to Launch. That's right, Failure to Launch. Tim has seen it twice. Twice. I will grant that I'm a fan of Justin Bartha (from National Treasure and the short-lived NBC comedy Teachers) and Zooey Deschanel (from her time as Andy's ex-girlfriend on Weeds).
Just got done watching the Badger-Valpo game, and I'm not second-guessing the decision to watch the Bourne Identity instead last night. Not a work of art by any means, but a good win against a good team that will give Butler a run for its money in the Horizon League.
We did take a break from Bourne to watch the last few minutes of the game, in which UW bricked free throw after free throw. Jana asked if there was anything tricky about shooting free throws; there isn't. In fact, as I told her, it's the one discipline in basketball where exceptional height, athleticism, or skill is not required - she could practice free throws for five hours a day and become good at it. Missing 19 of them has to be near some sort of school record - it seemed to be contagious. It reminded me of when Andy or I had trouble throwing strikes as kids, and Ken would tell us we were aiming it instead of throwing it.
But I digress ...
-OK, Trent Tucker, how do you read "W-I-S-C-O-N-S-I-N" and get "WES-consin"? Bob Griese was the first and worst offender of this glaring pronunciation faux pas, but Tucker is now carrying the torch for inexplicable mispronunciation into the 21st century. There are no E's in there, dammit!
-No matter what my base defense was, if I was coaching against the Badgers, I would put in some zone. We just don't cope well against it, especially that 1-3-1. We got off 20 3-pointers last night and made a respectable number of them, but against a team with better perimeter athletes those shots wouldn't be there. Getting us out of the Swing takes away a huge part of our offensive identity.
-Nice early spark from Jon Leuer. Loved that dunk - off one foot and fouled while doing it. Of course, he missed the free throw.
-Loved Joe Krabbenhoft's successful inbounds pass off a Valpo player's back. Did you see him try it again later? Krabby played a terrific all-around game - 11 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists. Of course he also had four turnovers and was 3-for-9 from the line. He is very good at using the glass. After the Green Bay game Tod Kowalczyk said he was our best player, and it's hard to argue with that right now.
-We looked confident shooting 3-pointers last night, they came in rhythm. Especially Trevon Hughes.
-Conversely, Marcus Landry was not as strong and confident in the post as he had been the last few games.
-Look at the stat sheet from last night, that's how our rotation is going to shake down this year. The one exception will likely be Greg Stiemsma - he played just three minutes last night while Jason Bohannon got 29 becaues of matchups - expect those numbers to move 10 each way come Big Ten time.
-Precious Child Break: As we watched the game Will and I looked through a baseball book my mom got me for my birthday. We stopped on Babe Ruth, "Maybe the greatest baseball player ever" I told Will. Will nods and says "Daddy, am I the greatest baseball player ever?" No son, that's Curt Schroeder.
-As poor as the ball protection has been at times this season - 20 turnovers last night - we also seem to pass the ball better than last year. There were several rotations last night that were downright spectacular.
-Hey Trevon, what's with the faux-hawk?
-To me the team showed big-time guts when, after failing five times to score down 45-44, they came right back after Valpo went up 50-44. There are going to be plenty of situations like that in the Big Ten, and knowing that you can come back from that gives you confidence.
So this takes us to 9-2 going into the final non-conference game, at Texas, which we will lose. Watching the Longhorns play Michigan State yesterday gave me the same feeling as watching Duke-Marquette - we're good, but just not there with those teams this season.
No matter, 9-3 heading into Big Ten play is just fine. The conference schedule is set up for us to start fast, and given its weakness this year 9-7 or 10-6 is reasonable, which should put us in shape for a 6-8 seed.
For now, though, just happy we're not heading into Christmas with a loss.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
... I'm a little bit worried about tonight's matchup with Valparaiso. Lots of good things have been written about Valpo - they only lost to ranked Vanderbilt; they beat Wright State, which beat Butler, and Miami, which beat Illinois - and if we don't come strong it could be one of those shocking losses which really isn't so shocking.
On paper we seem to match up well, as their leading scorers are taller guys. But they seem to be a team that relies on shooting 3-pointers, which we haven't always defended well this season.
Apparently this game was supposed to be played last year, but Valpo was young and inexperienced and we had a great veteran team coming back, so Homer Drew asked to postpone it for a year. Why did we agree?
Anytime I think of Valpo, I think of two things: Andy Falkowski's law degree, and the Bryce Drew miracle shot off the pass from Bill Jenkins, one of the twins from Nicolet we played baseball against. The thing I always remember about the Jenkins brothers was senior year, our game against Nicolet at Regner, when Sam Blahnik hit Bill or Bob in the seventh inning (with us up 1-0) and their athletic director running onto the field as if he believed the HBP was intentional. Yeah, put the tying run on base on purpose, good call.
But I digress. Planning on recording tonight's game and watching it tomorrow morning ...
-The Journal Sentinel reported this morning that six key Tennessee players are ineligible for the Outback Bowl. A starting defensive tackle and linebacker are among the ineligible, as is Lucas Taylor, the Vols' leading receiver. This makes me feel somewhat better about our injured-riddled secondary's chances of holding up against Erik Ainge's passing attack.
There's also a little nugget at the end of the story about little-known transfer Chris Maragos's switch to safety. Earlier this year the coaching staff was raving about the kid from Racine, and I made a snarky comment, but it looks like they weren't kidding.
We can look at this two ways: either this guy is a good candidate to be the next Joe Stellmacher/Jim Leonhard/Jason Doering, or this does not reflect well on Aubrey Pleasant/Jai Valai/Kim Royston. Or both.
Friday, December 21, 2007
In the Big Ten, that is? Tom Dienhart wrote a column in the Sporting News this week about Rich Rodriguez, Michigan's new hotshot coach. More thoughts on that later.
My favorite line of Dienhart's wasn't "Let's just say there's an elitist attitude in Ann Arbor, home of the self-anointed kings of college football." Or "Big Ten titles are met with shrugs and yawns in A-Squared. Alums don't even roll out of bed for trips to the Capital One Bowl. Alamo Bowl bids are reasons to tar and feather."
It was this: " Is Michigan even second banana in the Big Ten? Is Wisconsin better? It's debatable. Illinois is making fast strides, too."
Ha! It's debatable, and I love that a national columnist is throwing it out there, but there's no way you can put Wisconsin ahead of Michigan in the Big Ten pecking order right now, even if we have beaten them two of the last three years. From this corner, right now it's:
1. Ohio State (not even close)
2. Michigan (ditto)
4. Illinois (charging hard at #3 spot)
5. Penn State
6. Iowa (still giving them the benefit of the doubt, but not much longer)
7. Michigan State
8. Purdue (Tiller's great and has done amazing things rebuilding that program, but might be time for a coaching change)
9. Indiana (ascending)
What do you think?
-On the subject of Rodriguez, it seems like a good hire for Michigan. Successful coach, great offensive mind, shows they're not afraid to break the "Michigan Man" tendency to find the right guy. (The kind of asinine thinking that leads storied college programs to hire the likes of Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty.)
I obviously don't like another spread offense coming into the Big Ten, this could exacerbate the pussification of the conference. The other night on the Big Ten Network Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith were talking about the possibility/probability that Ryan Mallett would transfer. He certainly isn't the second coming of Pat White, but I could still see him being successful in a modified version of the spread.
Also think it was inappropriate for the BTN to be discussing a player's transfer possibilities when he hasn't announced his intention to do so yet. I suppose the print/web media have been discussing it, but it seems wrong for a regional/pseudo-national TV network to discuss it.
Losing Mallett would hurt Michigan, but if they were to get Terrelle Pryor to commit it would greatly ease the pain.
Oh, and Rodriguez fired all of Michigan's assistant coaches Thursday. Merry Christmas fellas!
Posted by Scott Tappa at 6:40 PM
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Just saw some great news on the Sporting News site that is confirmed on uwbadgers.com: Travis Beckum will return for his senior year at Wisconsin! I won't bother going over how incredible and uncoverable he was this year, or his numbers and accolades. Let's consider:
-How loaded with skill position players the offense will be. The Badgers should have the best 1-2 tight end combination in the country in Beckum and Garrett Graham. If everyone's eligible and healthy (no sure thing) we should have the best group of tailbacks in the country in P.J. Hill, Lance Smith, Zach Brown, and John Clay. Kyle Jefferson is ready to put up big numbers in his second year, and it's a good bet someone will emerge as a 25-catch guy opposite him (Daven Jones? Wes Kemp?).
The line, losing only unsung Marcus Coleman, should be good again - especially if Josh Oglesby forces his way into the lineup. That leaves just one big question mark: quarterback. Will Allan Evridge be at least adequate, as Tyler Donovan was this year?
-It will be interesting to see if Beckum puts on 15-20 pounds on the 224 he played at this season in an attempt to get more NFL-ready. And, if he does, will his ability to get open and make plays in the open field be diminished? If he can put on weight, improve his blocking, and still be a receiving terror, that would be tremendous. But given his importance as a security blanket for a first-year starter at QB, selfishly I would like him to stay around 230 and focus on receiving.
Whatever, I'm just happy he's back!
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The Wisconsin defense was not as good as we thought it would be this year. Last year's unit ranked near the top of the national rankings in many key categories, and seven starters returned. The key positions to examine: defensive end, middle linebacker, and the two safety spots, not coincidentally the spots vacated by graduating seniors.
Two items in the news today illustrate why:
-Roderick Rogers was signed by the Broncos off their practice squad. Even though, as this story says, he was a two-time all-conference pick, I never thought he was an irreplaceable member of the defense; certainly never thought he was NFL-caliber, but apparently he is, and I'm glad. The struggles in the defensive backfield show just how good he and Joe Stellmacher were. In retrospect, Stellmacher really overshadowed Rogers, who was a darn good player in his own right.
-In The Cap Times Mike Lucas writes about Elijah Hodge's injury troubles this season (he also writes about Abdul Hodge, veers off onto Erik Ainge for a few paragraphs, and I think may have made his picks for the Iowa caucuses). Here's a guy who I thought would step in seamlessly for Mark Zalewski, and he may have, had he not been hurt. There is no such award, but look for Hodge to be our comeback player in 2008. The experience Culmer St. Jean and Jae McFadden got because of injuries to Hodge and DeAndre Levy will pay off as well.
On another note, I was talking to a friend about Joe Thomas last week and he asked me if Joe was having a good rookie season. Since I'm not an offensive line expert or Ron Jaworski, I couldn't tell, but responded that since the Browns offense was doing so well this year, he must have been at least holding his own. Yesterday he was named a Pro Bowl alternate, so he must have done OK.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Finals time in Madison, so no hoops and little football news to discuss. The two things the papers picked up on were:
-Surprise! Looks like PJ might be ready to play in the Outback Bowl after all! This has reached the point where I don't even care any more, and would ask coach B to refrain from addressing the situation if at all possible.
-The more interesting development comes from the offensive line, believe it or not. It appears that Eric Vanden Heuvel will remain on the bench for the bowl game, with John Moffitt (right) staying at left guard, Andy Kemp at right guard, and Kraig Urbik at right tackle. Bielema says this lineup gives them more athleticism, and without having broken down game tape, I would tend to agree - Moffitt goes 6-4/307, EVH goes 6-7/325, and you would guess the "smaller" Moffitt could fly around a bit better.
It was also said Moffitt is the favorite to replace Marcus Coleman as the starting center next year, and I would guess EVH returns to his starting right tackle spot ... unless Josh Oglesby beats him out. It's shaping up as a nice line.
Wisconsin State Journal story about next year's line
Monday, December 17, 2007
Earlier this year, I was on a conference call where we were mapping out the layout of a new website. Someone on the other end referred to one zone in the center of the site to the "hot box." To which I silently mouthed "Hello!"
If you lived in Madison in the fall of 1996, loved sports, and had nothing to do on Wednesday nights, you were watching cable access TV, specifically The Hot Box with Chris Earl.
I had gotten to know Chris in the spring of '96, when along with Schwalbach and some others we studied reporting in Journalism 206 with Steve Lorenzo. Steve was one of the best teachers I ever had, and he did a great job with the class. Studying under Steve was what I imagined it would have been like to attend a small, liberal arts college. Chris wrote a story about the health merits of running a marathon that was quite compelling.
Chris did a little writing for the Cardinal, and we bumped into each other around Vilas Hall quite a bit. When he stopped by the office one day to ask me to be on his new show, I said "Hell yeah!" Chris did a great job with the show, moderated a small roundtable - which included Steve Mann, and I believe Eric Gitter - and took calls, including ones from my roommates. When the caller was patched through, he would great him with "You're in The Hot Box - hello!"
One time he threw Gitter off the set for a seemingly minor infraction. Afterward we'd go to Steve's place (Steve was easily the most polished of the group) and watch the tape, good times. One time Chris walked into the gas station while Corbett was working; Corby, who had never met him, yelled "You're in The Hot Box!" to which Chris, instead of running, replied "Hello!"
Through the magic of LinkedIn, I reconnected with Chris last week. Turns out he's now a TV news anchor at WEAU in Eau Claire after sports stints in Duluth, Topeka, and Madison.
Also, as you may have read in On Wisconsin, the UW alumni publication, Chris has also published a couple of books: Gotcha Down, about greed and competition at fictional Wisconsin State and The Interim, about an unlikely basketball coach at the same school. Have to admit, I haven't read them, more of a non-fiction guy, but I owe it to Chris to pick them up now. It might be too late for Christmas gifts, but not Kwanzaa, so give Chris's website a look, www.chrisearlbooks.com.
In a sense, he's living the dream - who among us Cardinal sportswriters in the mid-'90s didn't fantasize writing a book at some point in our lives? It's early, and it still might happen, but Chris did it already. He also has a wife of nine years and two children.
Show of hands, who watched The Hot Box?
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Very excited today, got some new basketball shoes. They're the adidas Pro Model, in red, Marcus Landry's shoes. I expect to play more like him from here on out.
Just got done watching yesterday's win over Green Bay (taped it, holiday party overlapped). Nothing too earth-shattering, as expected, but a nice win over a team that's not half-bad.
Love the balanced scoring, which will be the hallmark of this year's team. By my count we had eight guys with seven or more points. It reminds me of watching WIAC teams over the year, with even scoring and several guys capable of leading the team in scoring. Every couple years you get a superior scorer like Devin Harris or Alando Tucker who throws the model out of whack, but you return to this - not surprising given Bo Ryan's roots.
-That early stretch where Green Bay took the lead was the worst transition and perimeter defense I've seen from a Badger team. Obviously it got much better.
-Joe Krabbenhoft had some ugly shots early on, but what a terrific effort on the boards in the second half. He's going to go down as one of those all-time favorite guys for Badger fans.
-Any word on how bad Leuer's ankle is? I had the sound turned down and was listening to the Packer game on the radio.
-Michael Flowers has got to be better at staying out of foul trouble. It killed us against Marquette, and will kill us against teams like Michigan State and Indiana with multiple scoring guards.
-Another nice game from Landry, he looked very comfortable out there, especially with his back to the basket - strong post moves where he squared up properly.
-Looks like the Bucket Boys performed at halftime. If you've never seen them, you're missing out. The Boys, who have played at the Big Ten Tournament since we've been going, basically play overturned buckets like drums, and don't stop at breakneck speed for 10 minutes or so.
-Good minutes for Stiemsma today.
-Dumbest quote of the night from the folksy color analyst: "They've got four guards out there on the floor if you consider Landry a guard." Uh-huh.
-Green Bay really misses Ryan Evanochko, their excellent point guard from the past couple seasons. Cordero Barkley really impressed me, but he was about it. Mike Schachtner appears to be having a very good year but bombed yesterday. He could use him; Bo probably didn't want another 6-7 guy in the class with Krabby and Landry, but Mickey Perry's long gone.
The GB program seems to have plateaued under Tom Crean disciple Tod Kowalczyk after a few years of improvement. They've got some good players and you can see where they're capable of nice runs, but they're also prone to dry spells.
... On a diferent note, not going to devote a whole post to this, but congratulations to the UW-Whitewater football team for knocking off Mount Union and winning the Division III national title yesterday. The Warhawks are now clearly the dominant program in the country's top Division III conference, and did the state proud yesterday.
Friday, December 14, 2007
This is a tough post to write. Today I got two emails from old friends in college informing me of some terrible news: Brian Mangardi passed away on Wednesday. Friends say he experienced some chest pains playing basketball on Tuesday, and his parents found him the next day ... how awful must that be. Too soon for this one.
Update: Tymer's thread on Buckyville. If you knew Brian, a must-read.
Can't say that I've been in touch with Gardi much since college, although the one time we did connect was terrific. Last April, after finishing Crazylegs at Camp Randall, I was taking the timing chip out of my shoe and heard a "Hey Tappa!" Turned around and it was Gardi. We talked a little about how life was going, and I was taken aback by how similar he looked to
the day we moved into Sullivan Hall in 1994 - check out the picture I found of him. It was easily the highlight of my weekend, told everyone how I'd seen Gardi.
Here's what else I know about Gardi:
-He was very smart, good at math. At Crazylegs he told me he was into financial planning; I was envious, cool line of work.
-He was a fantastic athlete. He gave me better racquetball games than anyone (apologies to Jon Thomas and Butch), was a great basketball player, and played a key role on the Bryan Ice intramural football team. (What a horrible name!)
-He had a laugh that you never forget. My description won't do it justice, but it was like a machine gun clogged with molasses filmed in super slow motion.
-He was a great Brewers fan. One time we were sitting around our dorm talking '87 Brewers with my friends from West Bend, and we got to talking about Juan Nieves' no-hitter. Everyone remembers Robin Yount's dramatic catch at the end, but Gardi's favorite moment was a big catch by Jim Paciorek - or, as he pronounced it, Jim PAH-Chore-Wreck! And the catch, as Gardi said, as "relatively in-sig-ni-fi-cant at the time."
-He had a great group of friends from Middleton that made a West Bender feel welcome in their town, including his freshman and my sophomore roommate, Denis Krull.
-He was a great critic of What's on Tapp. When it was good, we would discuss what was going on in Badger sports. When it was bad - during my general column days of autumn '97, I once wrote a forgettable column about going to the dentist, ugh - he let me know about it.
Thinking about Gardi has brought back some great memories, many listed above. I can see the Sullivan Hall room he and Denis shared, across from mine and Butch's. They didn't have a carpet or lofts; you could see the basketball courts and IM football fields out their window. In general it takes me back to Madison in 1994-95, and what a special place it is for those of us who were privileged enough to attend school there.
Olson and I were talking once about what it would be like to live in Madison after graduation, and he thought it might be a downer; yeah, you're in a great place, but you're an adult with responsibilities, and you're not surrounded by a group of like-minded homeboys with whom you play out your youth in spectacular style. Let's say Gardi and I both lived in Middleton and worked for the same company - it's not like we could call it a day, play ball, and zone out drinking Busch Light and playing Madden '94 until 12:30 a.m. That's part of growing up, and this stage of life is very cool for its own reasons ... but what a four-year ride.
This sucks. People like Gardi shouldn't be dying. I believe he is the first college or high school friend of mine to pass ... are we really to that stage in our lives? When did that happen?
Posted by Scott Tappa at 7:57 PM
Thursday, December 13, 2007
My Hotmail inbox has been flooded with messages from Scout over the past couple days updating me on new Badger football commitments. Here are the last four:
CB Marcus Cromartie, Arlington, Texas (two pictures of him at right)
DT Eriks Briedis, Miami
DE Anthony Mains, Naples, Florida
CB Devin Smith, Coppell, Texas
Scrolling down the list we see:
S Shelton Johnson, Lewisville, Texas
S Kevin Claxton, Lauderdale Lakes, Florida
So that makes three recruits apiece from Florida and Texas. Without going back and analyzing past recruiting classes, I'd guess this is the most we've gotten from either state in a single recruiting class, and to get six from the two combined is an eye-opener. By contrast, we've only got one recruit from Ohio, and none from New Jersey, out-of-region areas that have been good to us. Maybe Henry Mason's health problems have hurt us in Ohio.
Florida isn't that much of a surprise, given Bielema's background there. Elijah Hodge, Zach Brown, and Aaron Henry are already contributing. Texas has me worried, though. Who of note have we pulled from that state? The only one who comes to mind is Michael Broussard, and he flamed out quickly.
I'm not saying we should intentionally stay away from Texas, or anywhere else for that matter - if there's a potential contributor in Alaska bring him in - but if we're going to focus on "hotbeds" I don't think Texas is a place to focus. This usually ties in to who your assistants are. Whatever, now that they're almost Badgers, I hope they set the world on fire.
Of all those guys, Cromartie is the most intriguing. Toohey keeps asking if he's the brother of Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie - probably not, since Marcus is from Arlington, Texas, and Antonio is from Tallahassee. Isn't the difference in the two mug shots of him above hilarious? Why is it a requirement for football players to act like hard asses in their official mugs? That said, I want to see the guy on top show up for coach B, ready to smack someone.
Before moving back to football, I wanted to call attention to some really good comments under a post from last week, A look at the Badger basketball recruits. A special mention to poster Heavystarch, who gives an in-depth look at our recruiting prospects for the next few years.
And if you're into this type of thing, Heavystarch gave a link to a great recruiting message board. Thanks Heavy!
Posted by Scott Tappa at 6:43 PM
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Was only able to listen to the game tonight - no ESPN 360 and I had homework to do, budget time of year - and it didn't seem like I missed much.
Sounds like Marcus Landry had a nice showing - 16 points. At one point Matt LePay made the comment about how Marcus had a good feel for tonight's game, and that was a good illustration of why he's different than Carl or Alando Tucker - Marcus feels the game and figures out his role in it, Carl and 'Do imposed their will on the game.
Hughes seemed to play under control, and Stiemsma was a presence inside. Too many turnovers.
It might sound silly, but I'm concerned about UWM. I've always pulled for them in every game except the one against UW, and was delighted by their runs several years ago. They are just brutally bad right now. Last year's struggles were inevitable - they lost a huge senior class that had won a lot of games. But things should have improved this year. Dismissing Avery Smith obviously hurt, but beyond Torre Johnson and Paige Paulsen, they've got nothing.
I hope they give Rob Jeter time to prove himself in Milwaukee. Bruce Pearl appears to have left the cupboard empty, and it takes time to fill it back up, especially when none of the holdovers were recruited to play in the Swing.
But if the losing continues, it probably eliminates Jeter from the short list of candidates to replace Bo Ryan after he hangs it up. Two years ago the UWM seemed like a great apprenticeship for Rob; now it seems like a land mine, and he can't be considered a viable option right now. He seems like too smart, driven, and well-taught to struggled long-term. Hopefully he gets that program on the right track in the second half of this season and rolls into next year.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
A Rivals.com mock NFL draft featured on Yahoo has Jack Ikegwuonu going in the last pick of the second round to New England, 64th pick overall. No, Ike hasn't declared yet, but this is one (of many) thoughts on his relative draft value. No mention of Travis Beckum.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Mark Stewart of the Journal Sentinel is reporting that P.J. Hill is likely to miss the Outback Bowl. He got hurt in the first half against Indiana and aside from five carries two weeks later against Michigan hasn't played since. Three thoughts:
1. The injury is a bruised left leg. Anyone else ever hear of a bruise needing two months to heal?
2. Has an injury been more misdiagnosed right off the bat? Hearing Bret Bielema in the aftermath of the IU game and early in he week leading up to Ohio State, I was pretty sure he'd get 10-15 carries against the Buckeyes. Now he's out for the year.
3. After winning the last two games Bielema talked about how we'd be full strength for the bowl game, making us a more attractive choice. Any chance he withheld information about P.J.'s injury to assuage any doubts bowl reps may have had about us?
Overall, though, as long as Lance Smith can play, I'm not worried about the tailback spot for the bowl. He and Zach Brown should be fine, although Lance is better at doing his change-of-pace thing when P.J. is pounding away.
Also on the running back front, Quincy Landingham is apparently going to transfer. Bielema said that because Quincy and his dad see the depth at running back, they see the need to move on. Hard to argue, but didn't Landingham come is as a highly-regarded safety who only switched to running back, his high school position, because of eligibility issues with Smith and John Clay during fall camp? This loss bothers me for defensive backfield depth reasons.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
This blog is called Badgercentric, but back in the beginning I promised thoughts on the Brewers, Packers, etc. Turns out University of Wisconsin sports have occupied most of my words. It's my main passion, and the fact that we're not exactly in prime baseball time has contributed too.
But a few friends from West Bend who have emailed one another regarding crucial Brewers matters as part of a group modestly named "Brewers Roundtable" got pretty fired up about the Francisco Cordero departure and Scott Rolen rumors and, sick of reading about Wofford hoops, proposed moving the discussion to the blogosphere. It seemed like the discussion might get lost here, so now we have:
The blog will have a little bit different feel than this, as a bunch of guys are involved in writing posts - Scott Burch, Jon Corbett, Adam Hertel, Walt Landvatter, and Craig Pintens - and they are all much better at articulating Brewers-related emotions than I am. If you'd like to get access to making posts and not just comments, send me an email; warning - if I don't know you, expect heavy skepticism.
Tell your friends and neighbors, tell Rob Deer and Graehme Lloyd, tell Doug Melvin, because we've got a bunch of guys with ideas for what he should do with our favorite team.
Posted by Scott Tappa at 6:33 PM
In Chicago for the Zima family Christmas celebration, and missed much of the second half of yesterday's game chasing around Will and my cousin's son Niko.
Probably for the best, would have been hard to watch. From the elevator I saw repeated close-ups of Wes Matthews Sr., which made me throw up in my mouth.
We got beat by a better team that played better than us in a game where we didn't play that bad. Credit to Marquette, they've got a chance at a realy nice year. Thoughts:
-Dominic James was awesome. Still think you should just let him shoot jumpers, but his penetration really broke us down.
-They outrebounded us 41-34, which should not happen. Burke and Barro had 21 points combined, which should not happen.
-Butch played well, as did Leuer. Landry only took six shots. Hughes had 16 but really struggled, 4-15 from the field and 7-13 from the line, he never looked comfortable.
-Don't see turnover numbers right now, but we had a lot, didn't handle their pressure well.
-Liked how Bo adjusted the starting lineup to fit the opponent rather than being stubborn, even though it didn't make much of a difference.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Well, it looks as though Wisconsin will be shut out of the major individual awards this year. Fred Davis of USC won the Mackey Award for outstanding tight end, beating out Wisconsin's Travis Beckum and Missouri's Martin Rucker. My question is, why?
Beckum had 73 catches for 960 yards and six touchdowns. Davis had 49 catches for 753 yards and six touchdowns. Was it because Davis was a superior blocker? Maybe, I didn't watch USC's running game closely enough to tell, but I know that Davis is basically an overgrown wide receiver, sort of like Beckum.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Back in this blog's very first post, so, so long ago (2-1/2 months), I declared that while I did not like Marquette basketball, I was working on developing a healthier attitude about the Golden Eagles or whatever they call themselves nowadays. It's hard work, and there are still slip-ups - like the end of the last sentence - but I'm making progress.
For instance, while watching Marquette blow out Oklahoma State in Maui a couple weeks ago, I sort of had an admiration for how well they were playing - a buzzsaw. Although I think Dominic James and Wes Matthews are a tad overrated, they are still very good players, and for my money Jerel McNeal is the best player on the team and may be the most underrated player in the country. I really admire how Ousmane Barro has worked to improve over his career, even though he seems to have regressed this year. That really just leaves Dan Fitzgerald as an obviously dislikeable player.
I still don't care for Tom Crean, though. Granted, this comes from a fan of Marquette's biggest rival, and I'm sure there are plenty of fans out there who don't care for Bo Ryan. But Crean just bugs me.
It's the seemingly fake tan he's often sporting, leading to the hilarious nickname Tan Cream. It's the way he or his press secretary, Todd Rosiak, usually doesn't go four sentences without mention Dwyane Wade or the 2003 Final Four fluke (there I go again). It's how he had about 25 kids transfer out of his program over three or four years. It's the fact that he wouldn't schedule UW-Milwaukee until the core players from their awesome run had exhausted their eligibility. It's how, according to the postgame sidebar in the Journal Sentinel, Crean kept his starters in pressing and chucking up 3-pointers at the end of a 40-point win over the Panthers.
And at the root of it all, he just seems phony. Again, I'm sure people think the same thing about Bo, but Bo is funny, a great sense of humor coupled with a healthy dose of self-deprecation - he doesn't take himself too seriously. I don't get the sense that Crean has that side to him. Everything seems calculated, even his warm moments. I Googled Kyle Singler last week and the first picture I saw of him was receiving an honor in Maui, and guess who was standing behind him? Tan Cream in a Hawaiian shirt looking like he was ready to hug Singler.
Being an open-minded man, I invite any Marquette fans or people who know Crean to vouch for him here, we're willing to listen. Or do MU fans feel roughly the same way I do, but don't care because the program is in better shape than it was under Mike Deane and Kevin O'Neill?
As for the game, I haven't watched the last two UW-MU matchups, bad for my blood pressure. Last year we listened for the score on our way to Chicago for Christmas, and Nick couldn't believe my anxiety level; it is pretty ridiculous, but I'm working on it. My gameday boycott stems from the 2004 game, where Travis Diener lit us up in a performance that gave me the dry heaves and had me throwing pillows in front of my mother-in-law.
On the court, I predict Marquette pulls out a close one. That was my inclination going into the season, and seeing our performance against Duke only reinforced it. Of course, Marquette doesn't have the shooters Duke does, and this one's in the Kohl Center.
But I don't like the individual matchups. Yes, we have height on them, but I see Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry struggling to mark McNeal and Matthews. On the other end, I'm not sure Krabby and Landry's height advantage is as big an advantage, both Marquette guys can probably deny the post well or body up, whichever way they choose to play it. This goes back to my thoughts in yesterday's post - with that fourth scholarship do you take a 7-footer or a 6-6 guy in the Matthews mold? I guess we'll see which approach wins out on Saturday.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
A few weeks ago I mentioned my love for preseason college football magazines. That was actually preceded by my love for preseason college basketball magazines. My first was Street and Smith, 1987-88, with Keith Smart and Bobby Knight of Indiana on the cover. By today's standards it was remarkably tame, mostly black and white newsprint. Inside was the high school All-American team, headlined by Alonzo Mourning, Billy Owens, and Chris Jackson.
Those high school All-American lists were always fascinating to me. In the pre-Internet world, this accounted for 90% of the prep hoops information I got in any given year, the other 10% being the McDonald's All-American game.
I was tardy getting my first preseason pub this year, but picked one up last week - Sporting News - and immediately flipped to the high school pages. I was pleased to see three of the Badgers' four recent signees listed.
-Jared Berggren, a 6-10 center from Princeton, Minn., was high honorable mention.
-Robert Wilson, a 6-2 (or 6-5, depending on what you read) wing from Garfield Heights, Ohio, was also high honorable mention.
The Berggren signing was key. His commitment happened before Tubby Smith took over at Minnesota, and if Tubby can build any semblance of a wall around that state, it will cut off a nice little talent pipeline we've had going these last few years (Jon Leuer, Kammron Taylor, Jordan Taylor). He'll move in nicely to the spots Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma will be vacating. Rivals has him listed as the #11 center prospect in the country.
Wilson is just as important. As was exposed against Duke, we need guards/wings to hang with top teams, and we're just not that deep there at this time. The current freshman class brought in two bigs and a wing who's more of a shooter than a lockdown defender, although Tim Jarmusz's athleticism may be underrated.
-Jordan Taylor is the other guard Bo Ryan signed, a 6-1 point guard from Erik Olson's neck of the woods, St. Louis Park, Minn. He doesn't show up anywhere on my All-American lists, but he may end up being the most important member of this recruiting class. With Michael Flowers graduating, we'll need a backup point next year, and though Bo usually doesn't play freshman point guards much, you need insurance behind Trevon Hughes. Rivals ranks Taylor as the 22nd best point guard in the country. Sounds like a good kid - National Honor Society, won other academic awards.
-Ian Markolf, a 7-1 center from San Antonio, was the last guy to commit, and made Sporting News' honorable mention All-American list. Can never have too many 7-footers, as long as they can play.
Or do you? While I will never criticize Bo and his staff for their recruiting - 20 years ago, the Badgers would be lucky to get one high school All-American, let alone three or four - part of me wonders if the roster is getting too heavy on bigs. The college game has become so guard-oriented, as we saw against Duke and as we'll see Saturday against Marquette. There aren't many teams like Florida the last two season that can throw out an NBA style lineup with prototypes at 1-2-3-4-5. It isn't hard to imagine a 2010-11 viable frontcourt of Leuer, Berggren and Markolf or Keaton Nankivil, but would defensive matchups ever make that possible to put out there?
No Wisconsin kids in this class, but there are two key recruits from the state in the class of 2009: 6-11 Evan Anderson of Eau Claire North and 6-7 Jamil Wilson of Racine Horlick. Lots of the power programs are lining up for these guys, getting them to commit to the state's most popular basketball program would be huge. We're also still in the running for guard Diamond Taylor of Westchester (Ill.) St. Joseph's, Andy's favorite high school player.