Monday, March 31, 2008

Thanks for a good year, Badgers

It was inevitable, but I was still hoping it wouldn't happen. When I hopped on Google Analytics yesterday morning, I noticed that traffic on the blog had dipped roughly 30% Saturday from Friday. Could it be because the basketball team lost, unofficially ending the 2007-08 Badger sports season?

Unfortunately, I think so.

A few weeks ago Andy said to me "What are you going to write about when basketball season's over? Because I don't want to read about your freaking personal life." The feeling is mutual, bro.

What am I going to write about?

-Sporadic Badger news. For instance, Tyler Donovan just signed with a CFL team, the Edmonton Eskimos. That's really great, the CFL is a better fit for a mobile quarterback like Tyler, and hopefully he finds a long, successful career north of the border. Maybe he turns into the next Doug Flutie. Badgers in the NFL Draft will get some coverage.

-General Badger thoughts. For instance, I plan on reflecting on the careers of the four departing senior basketball players, my favorite Badger games, etc. Maybe I'll dig into recruiting more, especially key basketball prospects like Jamil Wilson and Evan Anderson. When the preseason football magazines start coming out in June, we'll take a look at those, and break down some of the key Badgers for this fall's team.

-With the Badgers done, I can focus my sports energies on the Brewers for better or worse on Brewercentric. Head on over there and check out the discussion, Walt and the guys have been getting the hang of group blogging.

-General pop culture stuff. For instance, Jana and I watched Michael Clayton on Saturday and liked it. Tilda Swinton was excellent, Clooney was good, as were all the other key players. It was a bit confusing, and might not have been as good as all the hype surrounding it .. sort of like The Departed. But we're still glad we watched it.

-The Office is going to start airing new episodes again too, right?

-If you do want to read about my freaking personal life, Jana and I are blogging about our adventures in parenting at Raising Tappas. Will is good for a yuck a day, and we'll have our hands full with #2. (And by the way: we test drove those three vehicles on Saturday, and are a heavy lean to the Honda Odyssey. Yes, Badgercentric's going minivan. Maybe I'll try to grow a ponytail to compensate for my middle-age insecurities.)

When I started this blog in late September the day before the Iowa game, it was really just as a writing outlet and a way to keep in touch with friends and family. And that's what it will remain going forward. But in just over six months it's brought me in touch with so many more people, including old college buddies with whom I'd lost touch, and been a terrific experience.

If you've been visiting every day and choose to scale back, no hard feelings, I'd probably do the same. But Badgercentric isn't going anywhere, and I'm already looking forward to what the 2008-09 Wisconsin sports season has in store.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A silver lining from the hockey team? Nope

Yesterday the Badger hockey team upset Denver in the first round of regional play at the Kohl Center, moving UW into position to make the Frozen Four with a win over North Dakota tonight. Didn't happen - Bucky blew a 2-0 lead heading into the third period and lost 3-2 in overtime.

A lot of people thought the Badgers didn't deserve to make the tournament, seeing as how they had a sub-.500 record and all. But their strength of schedule didn't lie, and for all the kvetching the win over Denver proved the Badgers belonged. But there will be no reprisal of the "Backdoor Badgers" team that controversially made the tournament a generation ago and went on to win the whole ball of wax.

Two years ago on this night Andy and I were in attendance at the Resch Center in Green Bay for the epic three-overtime win over Cornell that went Wisconsin onto the Frozen Four in Milwaukee. There, the Badgers won the national title. We've seen mixed results since then for Mike Eaves' program.

Last year's step back was understandable, given the number of early departures that hit the program and the abundance of injuries to key players. This year's team was very young, too. But that's the way it is in college hockey now - everyone's losing guys early - look at poor Minnesota, which lost their best player to the NHL midseason. And Eaves has been bringing in very highly-rated recruiting classes. It's time for these players to start living up to their billing and showing that the 2006 national championship was not an aberration, but a sign of things to come.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Death, or life, of the spread?

Two interesting takes on one of my pet peeves: the spread offense.

1. Terrelle Pryor has committed to Ohio State. Bad news for the rest of the Big Ten, this guy is incredible. He chose the Buckeyes to get himself ready for the NFL. Hmmm ... who again was the last great OSU quarterback in the NFL? Craig Krenzel?

The thing is, he chose Ohio State over Michigan, and Matt Hayes of the Sporting News says it's because Rich Rodriguez runs the spread, which isn't the way to become the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Great short story, you should read it.

Pryor's commitment a sad day for spread

So why is it that ...

2. Bret Bielema is implementing some spread into the UW offense? According to a Journal Sentinel report, Bielema likes what Allan Evridge and Curt Phillips can do in the spread, and the Badgers would have run some spread last year if Marcus Coleman could shotgun snap. (Really? He couldn't?)

This has the feeling of arriving a party about two hours after the good-looking girls departed and the kegs are spitting out foam.

The only silver lining I see from this is that it should give our defense some more exposure against a scheme with which we've traditionally struggled.

Friday, March 28, 2008

UW-Davidson thoughts

Boy, am I glad I didn't drag my family to Detroit for that craptastic display of basketball. Before getting into the pity party full swing, let's get the two disclaimers out of the way.

Davidson played very well, deserved to win. They are a legit team. Still think Kansas will beat them, but it's not as sure a thing as I would have thought three hours ago.

This Badger team far exceeded my wildest expectations. Terrific season, guys. In the coming days I will reflect in greater detail.

To lighten the mood, here's a picture of Erin Andrews holding a bag of fish. Courtesy of

OK, then. Let's get to the gruesome details.

-That was embarrassing.

Two days ago Millie commented:

"I've watched this team play far too many games to think that they're going to have their first 'bad' game since the Duke debacle now."

Frank commented:

"Given the fact that they haven't had a truly bad loss all season ..."

And I whole-heartedly agreed. Well, there it is, a truly bad loss. Again, Davidson played well, but we've beaten better squads than that this year. I saw a lot of bad firsts out of the Badgers:

-First time I remember two turnovers in the backcourt that were not press-related. They came on lazy lapses in concentration after rebounds.

-First time I remember the Badgers allowing a transition basket after made baskets - twice! Davidson is quick, but I'd wager Texas and Michigan State are quicker.

-First time I've seen a Badger opponent in the bonus with 15:24 left in a half. That's lazy, play-with-your-hands defense.

-First time I've seen a Badger team take two timeouts in one offensive possession, in the first half.

-First time I've seen the Badgers attempt more 3-pointers than 2-pointers. Could be wrong, but it seems like an anomaly.

Sure was a bad time for all that to hit at once. Let's review my game keys.

-Stephen Curry's going to get his points, but we have to make him work for them and beat him up in the process. The job falls on everyone, not just Flowers. Flowers was on an island out there and did the best he could. Curry got his, but he still needed 22 shots to do it. The failure with Curry was not exploiting him more on defense.

-Turn Richards into a shooter and cut off his feeds to their bigs - Sander, Meno, and Lovedale. Richards made a couple ridiculous shots, but he was 4-of-13 overall, so pretty good there. But he had close to 10 assists, and Lovedale had 12, including a couple spirit-crushing dunks.

-Pound the ball inside to Butch, Landry, and Stiemsma. Landry had just four field goal attempts, Stiemsma three, and Butch nine - six of them 3-pointers. UW took 23 3-pointers and 22 2-pointers, and missed eight free throws.

In retrospect, Davidson outplayed Wisconsin in the first half, but all our made 3-pointers obscured that fact.

-I don't think Hughes' injury was a deciding factor in this game, nor was fatigue. In the NCAA Tournament TV timeouts are about 10 minutes long, so the kids get plenty of rest.

-Text message from Burch at 7:02 p.m.: "pound the f'in ball inside!"

-Text message from Burch at 7:24 p.m.: "i feel like this is cabrini-holy angels." I think in his mind Davidson was playing like my mighty St. Frances Cabrini Warriors, Wisconsin like the downtrodden little guys from Holy Angels. A brief good memory to offset the pain.

-The United Colors of Davidson, with their geographically diverse roster, whipped our fannies. I've been trying to work up some of my patented post-loss bitterness, and all I can come up with is this: Davidson is being treated like the ultimate feel-good story, but basically it's an elitist school for children of privilege. A lot was made of the college (smaller than West Bend East and West combined) paying for any student who wanted to get to the game. Great, but what pays for that? Their $41,000-per-year tuition! How about funding some scholarships for some underprivileged kids?

Yeah, it's weak and a reach, that's all I have ...

-And now the "Even Lebron James wanted Davidson to win" storyline will probably get some legs, it made the first-draft Associated Press gamer.

-Len Elmore is one of my favorite basketball analysts, he does a great job in a low-key manner. Gus Johnson is good, just wish tonight he wasn't calling Cinderella beating my team.

-Silver lining: one more game of balanced scoring, with four guys between 10 and 12 points. Davidson really did play good defense.

I understand that Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" was Davidson's theme song for the tournament, and heard it playing coming out of the last TV timeout. Interesting, that ties back to another painful loss in my fan history. After Super Bowl XXXII, in which the Packers lost to the inferior Broncos, we went at it hard, prompting a later-arriving Will to say, "Did I see the wrong score?"

That night I fell asleep/passed out on the floor with my hand on the CD player belonging to the boys on Bowen Court, repeating "Sweet Caroline" to Toohey's dismay. Currently, I'm on my fourth Leinie's Sunset Wheat, but promise you it will not be anything like downing Todd White's homemade apple cider schnapps made out of Everclear and, I think, an apple Jolly Rancher.

It took me a long time to get over that loss, both physically and emotionally. In fact, it was probably the loss that convinced me not to put anything and everything on the line for a sporting event. So this loss won't be that bad. I'm too proud of these kids for all they accomplished this season, and for all the joy they brought basketball fans in Wisconsin.

Tomorrow Jana and I will go car shopping in preparation for #2's arrival (anyone have any insights on SUV vs. minivan, specifically Honda Pilot vs. Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey?), and we'll spend a Will-free night of dining, movies, and relaxation at the Paper Valley Inn in Appleton.

But we'd planned on making it home for the Badger game Sunday. Now we don't have to. Bummer.

UW-Davidson halftime thoughts

Lazy, lazy, lazy.

Everything about that first half was lazy. Yet we find ourselves tied with a team that I think is playing pretty well.

-Four turnovers in the first four minutes, and not one of them on an aggressive play. Inexcusable.

-Allowed two transitions baskets off our made baskets, first two I've seen in the Ryan Era.

-There is little room for error guarding Curry and Richards. On Curry's second made 3, Stiemsma didn't hedge, Flowers got enveloped in a good screen, and Curry was wide open. On Richards' first 3, Hughes went deep under a screen and had no chance to contest.

-We're taking too many 3-pointers, often too early in the shot clock. Obviously I'm happy with the way we're shooting them, but never count on that to continue throughout the course of an entire game. They're doubling the post when our bigs get touches down there - kick it out before it gets there and you have penetration opportunities.

-Curry is guarding Krabbenhoft - post him up!

-Don't know if Pop can come back or not, but if he can't, it will impact Flowers' defense - he can't afford fouls.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Coaches need a timeout - metaphorically - and Davidson thoughts

Just got done watching the Xavier-West Virginia game, a fairly exciting game. I really like that Joe Alexander kid for WVU, he's a stud, but Xavier's balance is impressive. The kid who hit the big 3-pointers for Xavier, B.J. Raymond, played his high school ball for Toledo St. John's, one of the top programs in Ohio, which played Fremont Ross my two two years there, one a blowout and one an overtime thriller.

My only complaint about the game is the endgame, which took about an hour because of timeouts. Timeouts absolutely kill the excitement of basketball games - it calms the crowd down and gives everything such a scripted feel. I'd like to see college coaches get one or two less timeout per game, take some control away from them and give it back to their kids. (In case you were wondering, Schwalbach, when I saw this photo I thought of you and busted out laughing.)

In the other game that we in Wisconsin were mercifully spared from watching Carolina beat Washington State in what might be Tony Bennett's last game at Wazzou. Carolina's inevitable march to the Final Four is utterly joyless and has all the excitement of a trip to the grocery store, no suspense whatsoever. I'm planning a longer rant in the event that they win it all, but the Tar Heels' success sickens me.

Onto our game. Granted, haven't watched a ton of Davidson games, but here's what I'm thinking are the keys to this game:

-Stephen Curry's going to get his points, but we have to make him work for them and beat him up in the process. The job falls on everyone, not just Flowers. Especially important are the bigs. Usually their role in perimeter defense is limited to hedging on ball screens, which I think our bigs are so-so at. In this game it will be important for them to hedge on Curry peeling around off-the-ball screens so he either doesn't get the pass or is forced to catch several feet beyond his desired spot. Several highlights have shown our job against Neitzel in Madison, that was textbook. A similar effort is needed tomorrow.

Russell Westbrook and UCLA did a nice job on Curry in their game earlier this season, holding him to 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. I think Flowers can be that guy.

-You look at Jason Richards' numbers and the first thing that comes to mind is "college Steve Nash." Those assist numbers are really good for a college team that plays pretty conventional offense. But I remember a strategy a year or two ago, when the Suns were really humming, when teams chose not to help on Nash's penetration, sticking on his passing options, in effect forcing him to shoot. And he's a great shooter and scored a bunch of points. The thing is, he's not the shooter Nash is - 42% from the field, 32% on 3-pointers. Turn Richards into a shooter and cut off his feeds to their bigs - Sander, Meno, and Lovedale.

-Pound the ball inside to Butch, Landry, and Stiemsma. Duh, right? But it's important not to think we can replicate the outside shooting seen against Kansas State - that would be great, but I'd rather go to our horses down low. Plus, I think they've got some pretty good perimeter defenders, especially that kid from Canada with the '80s haircut (Gosselin).

-Davidson was down double-digits against both Gonzaga and Georgetown and came back. The Badgers are pretty good at holding leads of that size, as seen during the first two games, but I'm still begging for that early knockout blow that takes away the opponent's will.

-I don't think anyone's taking Davidson lightly. They fit the Cinderella bill, but given their resume this year - close losses to Carolina, Duke, UCLA, N.C. State, the wins over Gonzaga and Georgetown - they might as well be the third-place ACC finisher. This isn't an underdog, this is a damn good team that would have contended in the Big Ten this year.

As Frank commented, I really just want this one, and it's going to be a bitch to get it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Your feel-good Badgers

One of the nice things about making the Sweet 16 is the extra week of media attention, both local and national. The Badgers have been getting a lot of pub this week, and several people have emailed interesting stories from around the Web.

-This is my favorite, referenced by Brian Lucas's daily newsletter (the season is just about done, but I would highly recommend subscribing to this, Brian does a great job aggregating Badger-related stories from around the web, not just from Wisconsin media outlets). It's an anecdote about Bo Ryan's last Platteville team, and shows that while fans of other teams like to lampoon him, he's the real deal, a cool guy who's in it for the love of the game. Glad he's on our side.

-You know what else I love about Bo? He lets his assistants do a lot of interviews, both on-air and in print. Howard Moore, Greg Gard, and Gary Close carry a high profile in this program, which isn't always the case.

-Justin Perras sent me a Washington Post story about Michael Flowers and Max Bass with some more details than we've seen in other profiles on the subject. Like Justin said, a nice profile from a media outlet with no connection to the team. Try reading any story about Max and Michael without getting a little bit misty-eyed.

-Here's one more to consider, a Sporting News column anointing UW the top football-basketball combo school. From a UW alum, no less. And Florida and Ohio State don't make his top eight, but Kansas and Oregon do. Hmmm ...

-And check out the comments from yesterday's post, some very good insight into the Badgers' chances going forward and what it means in the context of recent history.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dream big, Badger fan

A couple weeks ago after Brett Favre retired, our company's sports division partnered with a marketing company to publish a Favre tribute magazine and distribute it through ShopKo stores throughout the Midwest. Today in a meeting my boss, who spearheaded the Favre magazine, says to his assembled managers, "This might be crazy to say, but if the Badgers win twice this weekend, they're only two wins away from a national championship. And if they win the national championship, that's bigger than the Packers winning the Super Bowl. What do you think, is there something there?"

I had been staring at my notepad, but looked up across the room and saw Jana grinning ear to ear at me. "Who's going to write it?" I asked with a laugh.

It's funny, because before he said it, I had never even given national championship a thought. And given the hurdles left to clear - Cinderella, Kansas, Carolina, and probably UCLA - it's still pretty far back there in my brain, next to the Brewers mobbing Eric Gagne on the mound after winning the World Series. When my boss started talking, I thought he was going to propose a special issue of the Badgers reached the Final Four.

But it's not totally unreasonable. This team has exceeded expectations time and time again. It is playing the best defense of anyone left standing, and with uncanny balance on offense. And it still can play better.

My modus operandi with my favorite teams has always been to set the bar low, which makes leaping over that much sweeter. That's how I'm sticking. The Spawn of Dell Curry frightens the bejeezus out of me, let along the Jayhawks and Tar Heels and Bruins still looming. But just imagine if, for once, One Shining Moment was playing (with Polzin singing along from his couch in Sun Prairie) and our boys were the ones cutting down the nets.

Is it possible?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sweet 11, er, 16 thoughts

Quick story: in 2000, Jana and I were working at the Oshkosh Northwestern, and the Badgers stunned Arizona to reach the Sweet 16. Working that night, it was my job to get her teaser copy for the A section of the paper. My penmanship is, ahem, not the best, and when she brought over that section for me to proof I gasped and saw we were about to go to print with "Badgers Advance to Sweet 11." Of course, UW won two more games and made it to the Final Three before losing to Michigan State.

Fitness Center in town is closed today, so no hoops and a bonus midday Badgercentric post! Here are some thoughts after the first two rounds:

-Really happy for Tony Bennett and Washington State. They don't have a snowball's chance in hell of beating Carolina in another home game for the Heels (Raleigh then Charlotte - nice job site selection committee), but Tony has clearly established himself as a candidate for a higher profile job. Indiana?

-Thankfully Carolina will have to beat either Louisville or Tennessee to reach the Final Four. Louisville is looking really tough right now, and has the inside-outside balance to win two games this weekend. The Vols looked really vulnerable against Butler.

-Any way Villanova can beat Kansas? No. Although, in 2005 I gave the Wildcats similar odds of beating Carolina in the Sweet 16 on the other side of our bracket, and came within a refs' decision of doing it.

-Is it just me, or does it seem like Michigan State always fares a little worse than it should in the Big Ten, and a little better than it should in the NCAA Tournament? Why is that? Maybe the familiarity that comes within a conference has more of an adverse effect on Izzo's schemes than it does on other Big Ten coaches' strategies. Because State clearly had the most deep, talented, balanced roster in the conference this year, and underachieved with it. Yet they go out and pound a Pittsburgh team that many thought would reach the Final Four. Does it all depend on the Spartans' outside shooting, particularly Neitzel? After seeing Memphis struggle against good teams lately, and sizing up the personnel, I would almost favor State to win that matchup.

-Texas-Stanford is a fascinating contrast in styles. At least Texas has Atchley to provide something of an inside presence. Stanford-Marquette was fascinating, for that matter. Stanford had no chance of stopping Jerel McNeal until he missed himself, and the Gold had no chance of stopping the Lopez twins unless they missed. In the time I watched (part of the first half and crunch time) Marquette got one basket from a non-guard, and Stanford got one basket from a non-post. Really good game. One more season for MU's two excellent guards to win something of significance, unless James bolts for the NBA.

-UCLA-Western Kentucky, Xavier-West Virginia. Boy, that West Region is a dream for CBS. Watching UCLA and Georgetown, I imagine, is like watching what the Badgers would look like with higher-rated recruits.

-Wisconsin has outlasted the three teams to beat it this year: Marquette, Duke, and Purdue.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Davidson slays Goliath

Be honest - when you saw Georgetown going down against Davidson today, you were happy. Because even as well as Davidson played this weekend, you would still rather try to stop Stephen Curry's silky-smooth jumper than score against Roy Hibbert and friends. I felt that way.

Then Jana and I took Will to see Horton Hears a Who this afternoon. Good flick. Even if you're not a Seussian scholar - I figure my experiences with Will have me halfway toward a bachelor's degree, should get the required amount of credits by the time #2 hits kindergarten - you've probably heard of the title character's catchphrase: "A person's a person no matter how small." From what I've read, pro-lifers have used this line to argue for their position. I'm going to get even more detached from reality and apply it to a 3 seed playing a 10 seed in the Sweet 16.

An opponent's an opponent, no matter how small. Sure, Davidson hadn't beaten anyone of note this season before Friday. But they've played a lot of top-tier programs - North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, UCLA - and held their own each time. Their point guard, Jason Richards, averages more than eight assists per game - that's a helluva lot for a college player. They've got some kids who can play defense, and they're not Fullerton small, either.

Curry has been unquestionably the best player in the tournament so far. Haven't seen him play yet? Put it this way: if you thought the shots Akognon was hitting for Fullerton on Thursday were crazy, check out this guy. He averages more than 25 points per game, and makes 4.5 3-pointers per. Flowers is going to have his hands full, to say the least.

I was confident that, the way we're playing right now, we were going to be a handful for Georgetown to beat, and still feel that's more important than what our opponent is bringing. Even so, any relief I felt about playing Davidson was wiped away by an animated elephant voiced by Jim Carrey.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wisconsin-Kansas State thoughts ... Sweet

Terrific win for the Badgers, as close to a perfect second half as we could play. As the minutes wound down, I started thinking big picture about what this win over an upstart like Kansas State, with the kind of players it has, means.

It's validation in Bo's way of doing things: defense, control, steadiness. It's validation in the strength of building your program on veteran players who stick around for four or five years rather than one-and-doners who arrive on campus with one foot in the NBA draft. It's validation of an offensive philosophy that stresses balance rather than dominance. Last year, losing the Big Ten to Ohio State in spite of our tremendous team shook my confidence in this method. Now I'm back feeling good about it again.

It adds up to 31 wins and counting, and a chance to play into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time this decade. Just try to wipe this smile off my face.

Game and second half thoughts:

-Good time for Pop and Stiemsma to have career games. Pop for the most part played under control, his charge notwithstanding, and showed K-State's youngsters how to make a shot. Stiemsma was around the ball and active all the time. Man, I wish he would have redshirted as a freshman, I'd be feeling a lot better about our chances next year.

-Landry gets two points - with zero field goal attemps! - and we win by 17? Wow. His third foul was careless.

-I was dead wrong that Krabby on Beasley and Flowers on Walker would get us beat. Beasley didn't do much in the second half, primarily against Krabby while the game was still in the balance. The announcers speculated it might have been his ankle. It was probably some of that, and probably some of us adjusting the defense to take away his drives.

Flowers battled Walker hard, that was a tough assignment. Walker was pushing a lot before the refs stepped in, but he's an athletic freak whose game is more fitted to the NBA game than the college game right now.

-Speaking of Walker, I thought the refs did a nice job of gaining control of the game when it was teetering on getting out of hand. The double technical on Walker and Butch was the right call, and they called some other ensuing chippy acts, and things settled down. K-State was upset about some of the fouls being called, but you know what? They were using their hands on defense - a lot. We don't, much. That's why we see the foul disparities most of the time, not some far-reaching officiating conspiracy funded by Andy North's golf winnings and orchestrated by the devious Bo Ryan.

-I love legal bone crushing picks, like Landry's on Pullen. There were a couple vicious ones in the West Virginia-Duke game. Shame on the on-ball defender's teammates for not calling it out.

-Think I heard that we play Friday, which is nice - an extra day to rest Pop's and Bohannon's ankles. Five full days off is golden this time of year, especially with a physical battle with Georgetown looming.

-One thing I like about winning this game so early on Saturday is our win will be scrolling across he bottom of the screen for the final 14 games, reminding people that we're still playing.

-Think I read in Brian Lucas's newsletter that we are one of only three Big Ten programs to win at least 30 games in back to back seasons, along with Indiana and Michigan State. Nice.

-A final thought before coloring Easter eggs: this team can still play better. Imagine an effort in which the guards are hitting their shots and locking down their guys; Butch and Landry are scoring inside; we are locking down the defensive boards; Stiemsma and J-Bo are doing their thing off the bench; and we're making 75% of our free throws. I would argue that of all the things the Badgers are capable of doing very well, in most wins we see only about 75% of them. We're going to need 100% efforts to beat Georgetown and Kansas.

Wisconsin-Kansas State halftime thoughts

Is it me, or does it seem like we're playing too well to be up only six at halftime? If you would have told me we'd hit seven 3-pointers in the first half, I'd have guessed we'd be up 15. Then again, if you would have told me we'd give up 25 to Beasley and Walker, let them offensive rebound at will, and be defenseless in the paint, I'd have guessed we'd be down 15.

-Box the f!*@ out! Yeah, they're athletic and aggressive, but we're one of the best rebounding teams in the country - play like it!

-Defensive thought: if Beasley is setting a ball screen, don't even hedge, have our guard go under the pick and maintain the matchup on beasley.

-Didn't know Beasley's ankle was hurt, he sure ain't playing like it.

-Great first halves for Pop, Flowers and Stiemsma.

-Those 3-pointers we're hitting are good, open looks. If K-State overcompensates, our post-up and dribble drive games should open up.

-Landry is the only guy with a shot at guarding Beasley - Krabby's too small, Butch and Stiemsma are too slow. Likewise, Krabby is the only one who can guard Walker - Flowers is too small. Can't let this little foul trouble grow any further early in the second half.

-This team just isn't built to deliver a knockout blow to a good team in the first half. We're up 12 bringing the ball up the court, lazily throw the ball away, and a couple minutes later they're right back in it. Given how quickly Beasley and Walker can fill it up, we need to be up about 10 for me to feel comfortable.

Friday, March 21, 2008

It won't B Easy

Just got done watching the Oregon-Mississippi State game, where the Ducks' Malik Hairston fouled out right near the end. Time flies. It seems like only yesterday that Hairston, in announcing his decision to attend Oregon, said he hoped to "Carmelo-ize" the program. The reference, of course, was to Carmelo Anthony's ability to lift a team to an NCAA championship as a freshman.

Hairston had a decent career but never brought the team that far, certainly not as a freshman. But you know who could be this tournament's Carmelo? Michael Beasley, or B Easy. The kid is a beast - the stats don't lie. Style-wise, I think Beasley compares more to Derrick Coleman - the young, dynamic Coleman, not the '70s Elvis Coleman. Coleman almost Carmelo-ized Syracuse to a national title in 1987, when future Orange star Anthony was two years old.

Oh my god, this is starting to read like a Mike Lucas column. I digress ...

Wisconsin will have its hands full with Beasley, no doubt about it. At work today there was talk that Butch wouldn't be able to hang with him, but I don't think Brian will be put in that matchup often. My guess is Landry will get the assignment, and will hold his own.

That's not to say Beasley won't get his numbers, but the key is for Beasley to not go for 40 points, and for him to be forced into working on defense. Both are realistic goals. The bigger key will be to control Bill Walker, Clint Stewart, and Jacob Pullen. Knowing Bo's defensive tendencies, whoever's guarding Beasley probably won't get any double team help, so these guys shouldn't get many open looks that way.

Recruiting nerds have known about Walker for about five years, since he and O.J. Mayo moved to Cincinnati to play together, and while he has been overshadowed by Beasley, he's still a stud athlete, and showed what he's capable of last night in the win over USC. Pullen is going to be a terrific guard some day. I have faith in Krabby on Walker and Flowers or Hughes on Pullen.

My sense is this is a team that's a little bit better than it's record indicates, most of their losses were to good teams. I saw them lose to George Mason and Kansas this year, but they've had some pretty impressive wins as well.

Still, I'm confident about our chances going in. Frank Martin is winning a lot of praise for outcoaching Tim Floyd yesterday, but we should have an edge there with Bo. Let's hope we're still alive 24 hours from now.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wisconsin-Fullerton thoughts

Wow, 30 wins for the second straight season. Just think about that for a minute. Thirty wins, two years in a row. Given where this program was 20 years ago, it's simply amazing the levels it has reached in the last 10.

Other than that, the silver lining is that we didn't play very well but won by double digits. We were way too loose with the ball, but hit the glass hard and exploited their lack of size. We let Akognon go off, but no one else did, particularly the fat wannabe thug with the neck tattoo.

-Player of the game had to be Krabby, who did a little bit of everything and hit his career high with 13 points. He made some jumpers early when Fullerton was playing with a lot of confidence and threatening to build a lead. For all the talk about Beasley, Bill Walker was terrific for Kansas State tonight and Krabby will need to bring his game on Saturday.

-J-Bo was star #2 tonight, like Krabby hitting some jumpers early and closing the deal with free throws late. It was nice to see him go 8-for-8 from the line and wipe out the memory of his missed freebies late against Michigan State.

-Stiemsma played really well, too, with a couple blocks rebounds, and jumpers. Butch didn't play very well, his 14 points notwithstanding, and Stiemsma gave solid relief. What a luxury to have two solid bigs.

-Pop is constantly wincing in pain, but gets back up and looks like he's moving around just fine. His little behind-the-back pass setting up Butch's dunk was beautiful. He's arguably the most stylish player we've seen in red in recent years.

-Far be it for me to question the greatest coach in UW basketball history, but ... We had a five-second call in the first half, which reminded me of a gripe we had during the Big Ten Tournament: what are we doing on inbounds plays from underneath the basket? It seems like two guys fan out to the corners, one guy makes a cut to the hoop, and another guy fades back. No picks. Too many times in Indy, nothing was open, and it happened again tonight. In Indy, Jarmusz took a timeout in such a situation, and coming out of the timeout he got an open look for a layup. Why not do something more like that more often?

-Flowers has got to be like a good cornerback or closer and shake off Akognon's 31 points. I still don't like the fact that he bailed on the Bennetts, like a modern day Jeremy Hall, but the kid can fill it up. I thought our defense on him early left something to be desired, but later on he was just making some tough shots. It's amazing to me that Cutley, not Akognon, was that conference's player of the year. Cutley really wasn't any good, maybe he beats up on shorter guys.

Survive and advance, with a terrific second round matchup against a talented young team. Looking forward to it.

Thirty wins ...

Wisconsin-Fullerton halftime thoughts

So much for blowing this team out and going to be early. By playing the first four minutes and last four minutes with our heads up our butts, we've given this glorified band of SERF all-stars a shot at pulling a ridiculous upset here.

-What's with all the turnovers? Their defense isn't that good.

-I don't like this Akognon kid, I think it's because he wanted to get away from Tony Bennett. Flowers seemed completely unprepared for him at the outset.

-What's with all these freaking fadeaways? You're taller than them! If it's not there, pass it back out and work for an easy shot, which will invariably come.

-This Cutley guy is like Penn State's Cornley, only fatter and not as good.

-When did Hughes pick up his second foul? Was it when CBS granted us a sneak peak at West Virginia's timeout huddle?

-They shouldn't get any offensive rebounds on us. Box out!

If I were watching this game next to Andy he'd say "Stop being so negative, dude!" But watching that Belmont-Duke game, while exciting and ultimately disappointing, gives you the heebie-jeebies as the big favorite, and I don't want this special season to end tonight.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pittsburgh post

Don't know why Olson chanted "Pittsburgh post! Pittsburgh post!" in a comment on the blog last night. Maybe it was because Coppin State was competing in the play-in game. Maybe he took a charge from Sam Okey in a rec league game.

Maybe it's because the game in Pittsburgh is the only time I've seen the Badgers play in the NCAA Tournament, which starts tomorrow, but this is as good a time as any to mark the 11th anniversary of this memorable experience.

The whole thing started on the last Saturday of the regular season (think it was the last year before the Big Ten Tournament), when Wisconsin upset #2 Minnesota to basically clinch a spot in the tournament. That game ended with me hugging Milinovich; the day ended with me hugging an Ole English 40. The next morning, I was in the Cardinal office working on our mammoth Big Dance preview section (16 whole pages!), when Millie walked in and said "They shot Biggie." With East Coast-West Coast tensions in the rap community simmering, this was inevitable, but no less sad.

Throughout the course of the day several of us made plans to road trip it wherever the Badgers went, which ended up being Pittsburgh. It was me, Olson, Milinovich, and Millie's friend Garza, who worked with him at the Nitty Gritty. Garza and I didn't have credit cards, which meant we couldn't drive the rental car, which worked out well for us.

We left late Thursday afternoon headed for the Steel City, and Erik and Mike drove through the night in less-than-ideal conditions. I remember the precipitation teetering between rain and freezing rain, and made light of the fact that the thermometer was toggling between 32 and 33 degrees - "Ice! Rain! Ice! Rain?" To which Erik barked "Shut the f$&* up! It's not funny!" Erik eventually forgave my distractions and introduced me to pre-"Closing Time" Semisonic.

We pulled into Pittsburgh at the crack of dawn and ate breakfast at a restaurant that seemed shady, and headed to the arena. The place, where the Penguins were still playing at the time, had to be one of the more decrepit facilities the Big Dance was held in at the time, a real dump. Erik and I went to the press room, I opened up an orange juice and a notebook to prepare pregame notes, and promptly fell asleep, waking up 45 minutes later with spiral notebook grooves indented in my face, and my notebook covered with drool. Very professional.

Went to press row courtside about an hour before the noon tipoff, and went to work on a foreign journalism paper I was writing about Benazhir Bhutto. Got a lot done there. Our game against Texas went about as expected. We were a 7 seed and they were a 10 seed, although consensus was those should have been switched. Dick Bennett was mad at Ty Calderwood for not eating his vegetables at the team meal or something like that, and benched him to start the game. Two minutes or so later, with the Badgers down about 25-0, Ty came in. Reggie Freeman and Kris Clack were just too much that day, and the Badgers' feel-good season was over.

But not our fun in Pittsburgh. Next we saw Coppin State beat South Carolina in what I believe was the second #15-#2 upset in tournament history, a really exciting, feel-good story. Every time I hear the name Fang Mitchell, as I did when CSU made it back to the tournament this year, I think of that day. Texas beat Coppin by one in the second round.

The night session was also good, with New Mexico, Millie's second-favorite team for I forget what reason, beat Old Dominion, which featured fans with funny Southern accents ("He woked!" = "He walked!").

The capper was Louisville beating UMass, which was one year removed from the Marcus Camby-led run to the finals. The highlight of that game, arguably of the entire trip, was the Louisville dance team, which was legen ... dary (more legendary than this picture I found). Let's put it this way: not one guy in attendance left to relieve himself at halftime. Millie made one of the more poignant comments I've heard, one I'd repeat if I wasn't relatively sure my mom would be reading this post. I wrote about the Cardinals dance team in the Cardinal the next week, and a few weeks later, getting carded buying beer somewhere in Madison, the guy noticed my name and said "I've seen the Louisville dance team before ... oh my god are they hot!" (Note: Louisville won its sixth national dance title in 2007.)

That night we went out for an evening of Iron City Light and Garza trying to pick fights with Pitt undergrads. After I had gotten done getting fresh with a cannon (details still fuzzy), we made our way back to the hotel, where Erik snuggled with a doll bearing the likeness of his girlfriend and future wife, Molly. Weird.

On the drive home we stopped off in South Bend to pay homage to Rudy Ruettinger and took photos of Touchdown Jesus. It should be noted that Olson, in his first attempt at sports photography, came back with some terrific shots, including an Okey dunk.

Why bring all this up now in such detail? It's a reminder that not so long ago, a trip to the tournament made an entire season worthwhile. Once in the postseason, we didn't do much winning of note - it was the extracurriculars that made it fun as much as anything. A return trip the next season was not something you took for granted. The 1998 team lost Calderwood early and Okey halfway through and finished with a losing record. Figures, my senior year.

Of course, the 1999 team overachieved and righted the ship, and we're now sporting a 10-year tournament streak, one of the longest in the nation. In a decade's time we've gone from "just happy to be here" to being disappointed by anything less than a Sweet 16 appearance. That's OK, raising the bar is how you achieve more in life. But don't get spoiled, and don't forget to try an Iron City Light along the way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Dance card

This year, for the first time, I actually filled in a blank NCAA Tournament bracket. A really blank one, one that magazines put out the week before Selection Sunday, not the one that comes out afterward. We filled it in driving back from Indianapolis on Sunday, and it was semi-legible and sort of fun.

Of course, I haven't looked at the brackets since, but now it's time.

First round: Kansas def. Portland State, Kent State def. UNLV, Clemson def. Villanova, Vanderbilt def. Siena, USC def. Kansas State, Wisconsin def. Fullerton, Davidson def. Gonzaga, Georgetown def. UMBC
Second round: Kansas def. Kent State, Clemson def. Vandy, Wisconsin def. USC, Georgetown def. Davidson
Third round: Clemson def. Kansas, Georgetown def. Wisconsin
Fourth round: Georgetown def. Clemson. It is not inconceivable that the Badgers could win this region. As has been said, it's not as much about seeding as it is about matchups, and Kansas is the only team in this region that UW doesn't seem to match up well against - and that's debatable.

First round: UNC def. whoever, Indiana def. Arkansas, Notre Dame def. George Mason, Washington State def. Winthrop, St. Joe's def. Oklahoma, Loiusville def. Boise State, Butler def. South Alabama, Tennessee def. American
Second round: UNC def. Indiana, Washington State def. Notre Dame, Louisville def. St. Joe's, Tennessee def. Butler
Third round: UNC def. Washington State, Tennessee def. Louisville
Fourth round: Tennessee def. UNC. God, I hope so, there are few things in college hoops fandom as annoying as the Tar Heels, their coach, and their "fans" across the nation who profess their love for this all-star team.

First round: UCLA def. Mississippi Valley State, Texas A&M def. BYU, Drake def. Western Kentucky, UConn def. San Diego, Purdue def. Baylor, Xavier def. Georgia, Arizona def. West Virginia, Duke def. Belmont
Second round: UCLA def. Texas A&M, Drake def. UConn, Purdue def. Xavier, Arizona def. Duke (I can hear my friends' laughter ...)
Third round: UCLA def. Drake, Purdue def. Arizona
Fourth round: UCLA def. Purdue. Don't know why I'm picking Purdue to win three games after watching them lose to Illinois, but I'm impressed with these kids.

First round: Memphis def. Texas-Arlington, Mississippi State def. Oregon, Michigan State def. Temple, Pittsburgh def. Oral Roberts, Marquette def. Kentucky, Stanford def. Cornell, Saint Mary's def. Miami, Texas def. Austin Peay
Second round: Memphis def. Mississippi State, Pittsburgh vs. Michigan State, Stanford def. Marquette, Texas def. Saint Mary's
Third round: Pitt def. Memphis, Stanford def. Texas
Fourth round: Stanford def. Pitt. Really like that Lopez kid, the one who doesn't look like Sideshow Bob.

Semifinals: UCLA def. Stanford, Georgetown def. Tennessee
Final: Georgetown def. UCLA

Best bets for a double-digit seed to make the Sweet 16: Arizona, Davidson, Saint Mary's
Best bet for 12-5 upset: George Mason-Notre Dame
Best bet for 13-4 upset: Winthrop-Washington State
Best bet for first top seed to lose: Memphis
If you made me bet $1 million on the Final Four I'd pick: UCLA, North Carolina, Memphis, Kansas. Strong #1 seeds.

Go ahead and copy this onto your brackets. I get 35% of your winnings.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Final Big Ten Tournament thoughts

Wrapping up Indianapolis now that I'm back, dried out, and about to be rested up.

-Badger fever had our office buzzing today. In my first three hours at work today, I spent one hour in meetings, 30 minutes checking email, and one hour, 30 minutes talking about the tournament with five different people. They all wanted to talk about the comeback against Michigan State.

-My favorite plays of the championship game were Landry's block on Randle's breakaway; Jarmusz's 3-pointer - way to pull the trigger young fella!; and J-Bo's two dribble-pull-up-drain-the-J's with a guy in his face. The continuation of all three would help a sustained tournament run.

-After hearing the song 25 times in two days (slightly less than during one football game), Minnesota's Rouser isn't a bad fight song, really - it's just the stupid spelling exercise they do when the music stops that makes it intolerable. It's good music, stop when it's done.

-Maybe Demetri McCamey isn't the next coming of Baron Davis - maybe Indiana just plays the worst perimeter defense in Big Ten history. Both of the really good games I've seen him play were against the Hoosiers.

-My Big Ten predictions for 2008-09: 1. Purdue, 2. Michigan State, 3. Wisconsin, 4. Ohio State, 5. Minnesota, 6. Indiana, 7. Illinois, 8. Michigan, 9. Iowa, 10. Penn State, 11, Northwestern. Did I do one of these a week or so ago? Too lazy to check. Feels like I did, but didn't have Illinois quite as high.

-Agree with Will that not getting a 2 seed while Texas does is disappointing, but like Bo says, it's about matchups.

-Good headline on a Lucas story: "Cal State Fullerton? In Omaha? Thank God this isn't baseball."

-Time for a couple days of basketball detox.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fullerton it is

Not upset with the draw. Omaha is driveble for our fans. A 3 seed is about right. USC or Kansas State, Mayo or Beasley in the second round. Georgetown in round three if we're fortunate enough to advance.

My thumbs are bleeding, I'm done for the weekend. What a great time of year!

Big Ten champs, one more time!

Man, winning never gets old. Today's win was not an aesthetic masterpiece, but a methodical, workmanlike effort resulting in a W that we've seen from this team before.

Great start to the second half, exactly what we needed. Put them away early and never gave them a glimmer of hope. Game thoughts now, more after the selection show, if we can find it on the radio heading north on 65.

-J-Bo didn't play much in the first half, and his fresh legs in the second half let him shoot a couple nice dagger jumpers. Flowers was relatively fresh as well. Jarmusz's minutes in the first half let that happen.

-Gutsy effort by Pop, who wasn't moving all that well but made some tough shots. He, Jason and Mike are all dinged up, hoping we get a Friday game for that extra day of rest.

-Butch wasn't pretty, but got the numbers we need from him.

-Landry and Flowers were all-tournament, along with McCamey, Pruitt and Neitzel. I would have chosen Krabby as one of our guys, probably instead of Flowers.

-Illinois gave it a game effort but had nothing left. Pruitt, whose game is predicated on strength and not legs, was their only threat.

Very gratifying to see one of these titles in person, and I can't wait to see the year 2008 twice in the rafters next season.

Since Bo got here we've been the class of the Big Ten, and this is just more evidence ... pinch me.

Wisconsin-Illinois halftime

Up seven, doesn't feel like it. Illinois is playing harder than us, but we're making more shots.

Good minutes by Jarmusz. J-Bo and Flowers should be plenty rested for the second half. So should Butch - his second foul was a Hightower special. Landry's two blocks were breathtaking.

Don't think we've shot a free throw yet, and haven't deserved to.

They don't have much gas left, but they're tough and Weber won't let this get out of hand. Should be a fight to the finish.

Hughes is warming up

No noticeable limp for our point guard, but it is just warmup jogging now.

Rode the elevator with Bo's wife this morning, she's recovering from her broken leg quite well.

Thanks Dad

Before we pack up and leave the hotel, wanted to write a few words of thanks to my dad for taking Andy, Nick and me on our annual Big Ten Tournament trip, which is always a wonderful time. And to my wonderful mom for doing much of the organizational legwork, and for helping take care of Will and Jana while I'm off indulging my basketball jones (they deserve some credit too!).

For years Dad took us on summer baseball trips to places like Detroit, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Boston and New York. But a couple years ago he suggested mixing things up and coming to the Big Ten Tournament. Good suggestion - this coincided with the Badgers' recent run of success. Now we talk about when we'll be able to bring Will and his future brother to this event (consensus: when he's eight), and that's fun speculation.

Last night at dinner after our Saturday night toast to the guy who makes the trip possible, Dad said "You're welcome - this is one of the most fun things I do all year." The feeling is mutual.

Sunday morning stream of consciousness

Thoughts while enjoying Starbucks in the Sheraton lobby, watching Andy North and now Mike Lucas walk by.

-Just read the Indianapolis Star recap of our game yesterday, and it barely mentioned the officiating. For all the kvetching about the refs from both sides (read Kyle's Spartans Weblog for a well-reasoned criticism, not from Michigan media idiots like Drew Sharp), a neutral observer focused on Neitzel's excellent BTT after a tough season, and UW's fourth title game run in five years.

-I've been disappointed in our NCAA seed too many times to get too worked up about it this year, but we really should be a #2 seed. Duke, Georgetown, and Stanford losing yesterday has to help our cause there. But we'll still likely be a #3, since the Big Ten is just so damn unimpressive.

-If I were Bruce Weber, I'd play McCamey off the ball more and leave Frazier to bring the ball up the court, Chester's no threat to come off a screen jacking up 3-pointers.

-In some downer Badger news, the hockey team lost to St. Cloud State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and is now an iffy bet at best to make the NCAAs. Too bad, the regionals are in Madison.

-I've been defending the Big Ten a lot lately, but here's some criticism: very little imagination or crispness in the offensive sets. The Swing is deliberate, but at least it yields good looks on a consistent basis. Many of the other teams we've seen in Indy just toss the ball around the perimeter aimlessly for 28 seconds, then panic to jack up a long 3-pointer or crash recklessly into the lane and either miss the shot or throw the ball away. So yes, our teams play good defense - in particular, Big Ten big men are exceptional at hedging on ball screens and forcing the dribbler to flatten out his path - but our coaches need to take a long look at their offensive systems this offseason.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I like beating Michigan State

I really do. Was just talking with Jana, and made note of how I'd read that Izzo had to stop and compose himself several times during the post-game press conference, and it made me giggle. She said "Hey, he's an NMU (Northern Michigan) grad!" As much as I love Yoopers, I love handing that one losses.

Really, it's a sign of respect. Izzo built Michigan State into the best program in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country about 10 years ago, and the fact that we've been able to beat them three-quarters of the time under Bo, is immensely gratifying. It could be argued convincingly that we've supplanted them as the class of the league. I'd like to win tomorrow before spending too much time building this case.

Very happy to never play Neitzel again. He's one of those rare guys who actually scares me, and the fact that we took his best punch today and came out on top is a relief. There wasn't a Badger fan around us that didn't think his last 3-pointer was going in, it was a good look.

Kalin Lucas is going to be a big-time stars. He's the quickest player I've seen this year, he plays under control, and he has a nice touch. J-Bo couldn't guard him. Flowers made a great play to anticipate his pass and make that decisive steal.

The AP story dwelled on how many fouls MSU had and how many guys fouled out. It was sort of incredible - three foul-outs in 56 seconds - but not baseless. We made a concerted effort to get the ball into the post and did solid work from there. And there were dumb fouls like the Spartans, I think it was Naymick, who ran over Krabby setting a pick under the basket. Really though, Suton is their only difference-making big. Ibok played some productive minutes for State.

Still, we racked up our share of difference-making fouls, too. Flowers' foul trouble played a big role in Neitzel's early success. And Bo has a two-game technical streak going.

Bottom line is, in this tournament the referees have been front and center, and not in a good way. It seems like Hightower is hearing "Let's go Ed!" rather than "Let's go Red!" These guys blow their whistles, run across the floor and jab their fingers in foulees' faces. They wait until the crowd noise dies down before announcing their calls. It's been bad all the way around, and something should be done about it.

The Illinois-Minnesota game was sort of bland, although Illinois clearly played better and deserved to advance. Pruitt played assertively and under control, although tomorrow I'll probably be yelling "he walked!" every time he gets the ball in the post. Randle played really well today, better than I've seen from him in two years. McCamey is their guy to stop, we should put Flowers on him.

Got a feeling that even if Pop can go, Jarmusz and Leuer will probably need to play a few minutes tomorrow. Jarmusz made two nice cuts to get open today and didn't look out of place. Leuer missed a 3-pointer, but I'm glad he didn't hesitate when he shot.

Illinois should be feeling fatigued tomorrow, four games in four days is tough for anyone, even young guys, and each one of their games has gone down to the last minute before being decided. Late in today's game, Meacham and Frazier both missed free throws short, which I'm hoping is a sign of things to come tomorrow. As my son would say, "my 'egs are tired."

The scalpers are hating this matchup, but I'm loving it. If we lose, another Big Ten team gets into the tournament - one with a losing record to boot. Would rather bring home another trophy.

Just rode the elevator with ...

... Howard Moore and Greg Gard. Staying at the team hotel is pretty cool.

Walking boot for Hughes

The team just came out of the locker room and Pop has a walking boot on his left foot. Not surprising, but also not the best sign for his availability tomorrow.

Yeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhhhh! UW-MSU thoughts

One of the all-time great Badger sporting events I've been to! Down 10 with Pop headed off (he was standing in the huddle, hope that ankle's not too bad) - right where we wanted to be.

So many heroes again:

-Huge game for Butch, he did what he had to do. He and Marcus basically fouled out four guys legitimately.

-J-Bo, missed free throws notwithstanding, played great defense at the end on Lucas, who had been abusing him late.

-Another great all around game for Krabby. He's been our best player in Indy.

-Landry overcame a bad start to hit some big shots late.

-Flowers stopped Neitzel late, then had the winning steal and layup. Our struggles with him on the bench in foul trouble show why he's probably our most valuable player.

Will type more later when I get to a computer, but wow!!! Everyone's buzzing here in section 209.

Our fourth BTT title game appearance in five years ...

A request: for those who saw the game, how bad did Pop's injury look? They didn't show replays here. Please leave a comment.

Wisconsin-Michigan State halftime

It took me about 11 minutes of game time to lose my ambivalence about this one, when the refs, in reaction to Izzo whining and MSU fans' booing, gave Neitzel a four-point play and Flowers his second foul after no contact was made.

Weird half. We've got all 26 of their big men in foul trouble but are having little success creating and converting open looks. Neitzel is playing really well - 15 so far - but they're only up two. It seems like Butch is struggling, but he is leading us with nine.

If we can keep getting the ball in the post and Flowers can space his fouls, we should be right there. Should be a tight second half.

Jansen at the Georgia Dome

Quick note: Rob Jansen texted Andy to tell him he was at the Georgia Dome during last night's severe weather event in Atlanta. We'll hear more later.


-With either Illinois or Minnesota playing in the title game Sunday, won't the selection committee have to wait until that game is over to finalize the brackets?

-Just saw Barry Alvarez strolling around the suite level. Andy was surprised he didn't have a bodyguard. Do you think he needs one?

-Stop me if you've heard this before: passed Andy North and Kirk Penney in the Sheraton lobby ...

Saturday morning sightings

Andy and I just passed Andy North getting onto the elevator ...

On his way to Starbucks earlier Andy saw a sleepy-eyed Matt LePay and Marsh Shapiro ...

Saturday musings from Indianapolis

What a Friday in Indianapolis! Amazingly, I found myself cheering out loud for Illinois and Minnesota, both deserving winners who will have a chance to play their way into the Big Dance.

First, Badger thoughts:

-Our win over Michigan is getting panned by the national media types, especially ESPN douchebag John Buccigross (is "ESPN douchebag" redundant?). You know what? Let them criticize. Certainly an element of poor offense is playing into these low-scoring games, but Big Ten teams play defense, the Badgers better than anyone. Holding Michigan to 20% shooting is damn impressive. Their players were more highly rated coming out of high school than ours, and that talent didn't just evaporate when they got to Ann Arbor.

By contrast, we were watching the Marquette-Notre Dame game Thursday, a quarterfinal in the Enormous East Tournament. Marquette played very well, especially Jerel McNeal and Maurice Acker, but the shots they were making were wide open jumpers - the kind of wide open looks you don't see in Big Ten games. 

The Big Ten is down, I'm not arguing otherwise. But let's give our kids and coaches credit for defending better than any other group of teams in the country.

-I'm oddly ambivalent about today's game with Michigan State. Thought I'd be pretty fired up for what should be our last game against Drew Neitzel, but not so far. That will probably change in an hour or two.

Neitzel had a great game yesterday, but had to play a lot so I'm hoping his legs won't be fresh this afternoon. The guy I'm really concerned about is Raymar Morgan - he's a terrific mid-range shooter who had an awful game yesterday, missed a ton of 15-footers, he's due to rebound.

-Ohio State put up a good fight against MSU, but you know what? They just lack kids who can put the ball in the hole. Kosta Koufos had a nice game, and Jamar Butler made some shots, but the rest of their kids, while athletic and good defenders, lack confidence with the ball against top competition.

-Still can't believe Illinois beat Purdue. When the Boilers really pressured on the perimeter, it looked like they were playing seven on five and the Illini kept coughing it up. But PU never could pull away.

-Indiana keeps getting mentioned as the Big Ten team that has the chance to go furthest in the NCAA Tournament because of its star power, but I just don't see it. D.J. White is great, but he's a crybaby. Eric Gordon has been less and less impressive as the season has progressed, he made some awful decisions yesterday. Beyond that, they've got nothing. Minnesota without Tollackson had no business being close in that game, let along deserving to win.

-I would have been really upset had Indiana won that game, they did not deserve it. The foul call that sent White to the line for the second time at the end was a joke, it was a chase for a loose ball and he flopped on contact with a Minnesota guard. Pathetic. Thank goodness Hoffarber kept the Hoosiers from any more ill-gotten gains this season.

-Right before the final play, I turned to Nick and said "Watch this: the Silencer (our nickname for Travis Busch after he made a jumper to stop an IU run in the first half) is going to play Grant Hill to Dan Coleman's Christian Laettner." I got the Laettner part wrong, but was right on the Hill part. Great play, fantastic ending.

-Funny thing is, Minnesota has about 12 fans here in Indy. They have more combined band members and cheerleaders than fans in the stands. Can't imagine many of them will be coming today - murder for the scalpers.

-Before that last shot, Hoffarber had been the second-worst player we've seen here so far, having no impact on defense, overwhelmed on offense. It baffled me that Tubby kept him in instead of Al Nolen. The worst was Jeff Jordan. Early on in the Illinois game, Dad made an honest comment about how Jordan had been steady and solid to that point, and then he made a jumper. I said "we'll see," and Jordan proceeded to turn the ball over three times, and it could have been more.

-My favorite non-Badgers of the tournament thus far:

-Deandre Thomas, Indiana. He's the Hoosiers' fat guy, but he's nimble, plays nice defense, gives the crowd energy.
-Damian Johnson, Minnesota. Hoffarber gets the headlines, but Johnson was the Gophers' MVP last night.
-Demetri McCamey, Illinois. Continues to impress, he was untouchable yesterday. Six-for-six on 3-pointers, cold-blooded tying shot late. He's like a fullback playing point guard. Purdue made a mistake in not switching Kramer on McCamey until overtime - Kramer neutralized Trent Meachem, but McCamey went off.
-Goran Suton, Michigan State. He's just a solid player, a really athletic big. Our bigs will have their hands full with him today.
-E'Twaun Moore, Purdue. He's just a scorer, was Purdue's only bright spot yesterday. Should have been first team all-Big Ten instead of Neitzel or Butler.

Here's hoping for another great day and three or four more Andy North sightings!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wisconsin-Michigan thoughts

When we come to the Big Ten Tournament, our minimum hope is that we see the Badgers win at least once. Mission accomplished, but it wasn't pretty.

The best thing I can say about this game is that we didn't waste our best effort on Michigan.

A very survive-and-advance game.The view from section 209, row 7, seat 11 at Conseco Fieldhouse:

-Krabby was great today, with 12 points and holding Sims to 6. He came up with some nice boards and was a calming influence on offense.

-Flowers was even better. Great defense on Harris - he didn't let him catch the ball where he wanted, and when Manny did drive, our bigs helped well.Mike should have been defensive player of the year.

-Other than that ... J-Bo's behind the back pass for Landry's monster dunk was arguably our most explosive play of the year, should be one of today's top 10.

-Stiemsma probably played a career high in minutes, Butch a season low. Brian needs to play better to beat a good team, and I'm confident he will.

-They shot an unfathomable 20 percent from the field. That was half us, half them.

-Very poorly officiated game both ways. They missed at least two goaltending calls on Stiemsma. There was a stretch where every call made was bad. Rough year for officiating in college hoops. The technical on Bo was an absolute joke, he was made at Butch's shot selection.

MSU or OSU up next. Thinking I'd rather play the Buckeyes.

Wisconsin-Michigan halftime thoughts

Atrocious officiating. More missed layups and turnovers than 10 sixth grade girls basketball games. Some guy named Zack Gibson has eight points.

And yet we should be up about 25. Michigan has been awful thus far, pretty much bailed ouy by our foibles and Ed Hightower.

Butch has been terrible. Flowers is doing a nice job on Harris. Stiemsma has played good minutes. We can penetrate more thn we have thus far.

Shouldn't be this close ...

It's officially a Badger event ...

... because we just passed Andy North and Kirk Penney, walking together, on the sidewalk. Do a shot!

Also, Deuces saw Matt Ryan, Bo's son not the Boston College quarterback, in the hall at the Sheraton and exchanged pleasantries. He also saw Keaton Nankivil outside the hotel.

Celebrities everywhere, my head is spinning!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

On the road to Indy

Barreling down 94 past Great America in my dad's Impala (bonus - he's got an I-pass!), we'll stop in Merrillville, Ind., tonight. We should be all rested and ready for the first game tomorrow.

So we've got Michigan. Should be a good game. Leuer's freakish performance in Ann Arbor gave us a larger margin of victory than you'd expext. The game in Madison was much closer, and what worried me was that we really didn't play that bad.

What sticks out as key for tomorrow is:

1. Perimeter defense. It's been getting better and better since we last played Michigan, and I'm confident in Flowers, Pop and Krabby on Harris, Sims, et al.

2.Rebounding. They got waaaaaay too many offensive rebounds in Madison, especially Udoh. Again, we've been doing well on this front lately.

The biggest thing that worries me is our past performance s the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament, but realistically that shouldn't come into play.

Looking forward to a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Badgers are efficient - here is the graph to prove it

Yesterday I got an email from Kyle Jen, who writes an outstanding blog focusing on Michigan State athletics - Spartans Weblog. Kyle has a way with statistics, and emailed a group of Big Ten bloggers (yes, there is such a group; we have a union) about graphs available in a post titled "Conference Season Review, Polynomial-Based Trendline Style."

I know what you're thinking: Tappa, I already did my own polynomial-based trendline graph. But read the post anyway. The key takeaway for Badger fans is this graph.

In layman's terms, the graph breaks down offensive and defensive efficiency as determined by points scored and allowed per 100 possessions. Even some college hoops fans have likely seen something like this, but Kyle takes it a step further with a smooth line showing how teams trended over the course of the Big Ten season.

In even less layman's terms: both our offense and defense are getting consistently better. Thus Kyle's comment ('frightening' is a good thing if you're a Badger fan):

"This graph is very, very frightening. The only consolation is that none of their final six games were against one of the other three NCAA Tournament locks."

Well, one of the Badgers' last six was against MSU, which should be a lock, but the point is well-taken. Read the post and see what the other Big Ten teams' graphs look like, it's enlightening.

Here's hoping the blue line keeps going up and the red going down for Wisconsin.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring football

OK, let's take a quick break from all the basketball talk and look at football spring practice for a bit. I went over to and popped open the depth chart and just about fell off my chair.

No Travis Beckum. No Garrett Graham. No Allen Langford. No Aaron Henry. No Jason Chapman. No Kirk DeCremer. No big deal, this depth chart is just for the completely healthy guys, and I've got no problem with these dudes taking a spring break.

A look at the current two-deep:

QB: Allan Evridge, Dustin Sherer. Part of me wants Curt Phillips to challenge for the backup job, part of me just wants him to redshirt.
RB: Zach Brown or P.J. Hill, Lance Smith or John Clay. Man, are we strong there.
FB: Chris Pressley, Bill Rentmeester
WR: Kyle Jefferson, Maurice Moore or Isaac Anderson. No Nick Toon? the State Journal did a nice story about how he's added 20 pounds of muscle. He's 6-3, 220 so he could be a beast.
WR: David Gilreath, Xavier Harris or Daven Jones. I really want Daven to make a move up the chart this spring.
TE: Mickey Turner, Lance Kendricks. Kendricks is my candidate for 2009's breakout player as Beckum reincarnate.
LT: Gabe Carimi, Jake Bscherer
LG: Andy Kemp, Jake Current. Look at the true freshman!
C: John Moffitt, Brad Thorson
RG: Kraig Urbik, Bill Nagy
RT: Eric Vanden Heuvel, Josh Oglesby. Hope this is a battle and JO either takes the starting spot from EVH or pushes him to a different spot.

LE: O'Brien Schofield, Louis Nzegwu or Ricky Garner. I feel oddly comfortable with Schofield here.
LT: Mike Newkirk, Jasper Grimes. Really wish Newkirk didn't have to start. Looks like he's going to need shoulder surgery. In addition, Dan Cascone (shoulder) and Brandon Hoey (back) are battling injuries, so we are paper thing at defensive tackle.
RT: Jeff Stehle, Patrick Butrym. Here's your chance, Jeff, make the most of it.
RE: Matt Shaughnessy, Dan Moore. Interesting, thought Moore was brought in to play tackle. Sit Shaughnessy for the spring, what does he have to prove?
SLB: DeAndre Levy, Blake Sorenson
MLB: Elijah Hodge or Culmer St. Jean, Kevin Rouse. Or? Guess it depends on if we're playing a spread team or a team that plays real football.
WLB: Jonathan Casillas, Jaevery McFadden. We're really solid on the outside.
LCB: Mario Goins, Josh Nettles or Prince Moody. Goins is bigger than I thought.
RCB: Niles Brinkley, Otis Merrill. Here's hoping none of these five corners have to start this season.
SS: Aubrey Pleasant or Jay Valai, Chris Maragos
FS: Shane Carter, Kim Royston. Same guys as last year, more or less, time for them to improve.

Special teams
K: Philip Welch, Matt Fischer. Yeesh.
P: Brad DeBauche, Philip Welch. I'm really going to miss Ken DeBauche and Taylor Mehlhaff. Hope this Brad Nortman kid is good.
PR: David Gilreath, Maurice Moore
KR: David Gilreath, Daven Jones, Niles Brinkley, Maurice Moore
LS: Dave Peck, Drew Woodward
H: Chris Maragos, Brad DeBauche

Good time for young guys to come in and make a name for themselves, time for guys like Maragos to learn a new position and contribute where our depth is shaky. Wish I could make the spring game, but I haven't for a long time, and with Crazylegs following shortly thereafter don't think it's worth the trip.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Vote for Flowers!

Quick plug to vote for Michael Flowers in the Pontiac Game Changing Performance contest. Michael was nominated, obviously, for his 3-pointer and steal in the win at Texas. Pick me up, because my experiences with a 1990 Grand Am in college and the years after have left me vowing to never associate myself with Pontiac ever again. I will not be voting.

Butch named All-Big Ten

Congratulations to Brian Butch on being named first team All-Big Ten by both the media and coaches. He deserves it, and this should help quiet any remaining critics he may still have. Butch also won a sportsmanship award, whatever that means.

Michael Flowers was second team media and third team coaches, opposite for Marcus Landry. Flowers was also on the all-defensive team, but voters apparently got blinded by steals totals and voted Chris Kramer defensive player of the year. Joe Krabbenhoft was also named to the all-defensive team.

Our super sophomore guards were honored as well - Trevon Hughes was honorable mention and Jason Bohannon was sixth man of the year.

Can't argue too hard with any of the selections, but if you pushed me, I'd posit that Wisconsin and Purdue deserve more than Butch and Robbie Hummel on the first team. Jamar Butler and Drew Neitzel split first team honors, but their statistics ring hollow - they led the two biggest underachieving teams in the Big Ten. It's not a lifetime achievement honor. For my money either Flowers, the actual best defensive player in the conference, or E'Twaun Moore should have been named first team over these two. Hell, Manny Harris or Raymar Morgan would have been better choices.

Kudos to Matt Painter, a deserving coach of the year. Any other year Bo would have ben an easy choice, but I can't imagine this bothers him too much!

Ice thawing: Big Ten Network nears deal with cable operator

Schwalbach emailed me giddily today that the Big Ten Network is nearing a deal with Comcast. About freaking time, guys! Now how about Time Warner?

This hasn't impacted me, a satellite guy, this season, but I can't help thinking about a comment Corbett made earlier this season: out of sight, out of mind. Now that the ice is thawing on this freeze between the network and the cable operators, maybe the BTN can realize its full potential for helping grow the league.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sunday thoughts

Some thoughts on a big Sunday (furniture shopping! naps!)

-Lost in the hoopla surrounding the basketball team was the men's track and field team's eighth straight indoor Big Ten championship. Just think about that for a minute - eight straight conference titles. Like Andy told me, if Ed Nuttycombe had that kind of success coaching football or basketball, imagine how wealthy he'd be or how many buildings would be named after him. The guy has 24 conference titles overall. Congratulations, men.

-While driving to Madison on Thursday I listened to Mike DeCourcy, college hoops writer for the Sporting News, talk to some Chicago radio host idiot. DeCourcy brought up Tony Bennett as a great candidate for the Indiana job. Sort of makes sense, doesn't it?

-Along those lines, I'm really glad Indiana didn't even come close to sharing the conference title. Given what Kelvin Sampson likely did to break the rules, they certainly didn't deserve it.

-My early thought on the 2008-09 Big Ten basketball standings: 1. Purdue, 2. Michigan State, 3. Ohio State, 4. Wisconsin, 5. Minnesota, 6. Michigan, 7. Indiana, 8. Iowa, 9. Illinois, 10. Penn State, 11. Northwestern. Matt Painter is building a beast, and MSU and OSU both have lots of talent coming back, but I like our chances.

-(Tappa pessimism alert) So it's either Michigan or Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. We could lose to either of those teams, and the BTT is notorious for favorites not winning. I just want to see the Badgers play three times, like we have two of the three years we've gone to the tournament. Three wins would be even nicer.

-I love the Packers, but get upset when they upstage the Badgers, and Brett Favre's retirement was the second time in two years that happened. The same day the Badger football team beat Auburn in a huge Capital One Bowl win, Barry Alvarez's last game as coach, the Packers fired Mike Sherman, relegating Bucky to second-hand news. This year, the day before the basketball team wins an unlikely Big Ten championship, Favre retires, and the day after is his official press conference.

-The Badger hockey team will start the WCHA playoffs on the road, after finishing one point behind St. Cloud State for fifth place. That referee's blown goal call in Denver that cost us one or two points looks pretty big now, doesn't it? Unbelievable.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Just ours

During football season I made mention about how I often refer to preseason magazines throughout the course of the year, and the same is true for basketball. Yesterday I picked up the Sporting News college basketball preview to see how they broke down the Big Ten at the beginning of the season.

1. Michigan State
2. Indiana
3. Ohio State
4. Penn State
5. Wisconsin
6. Illinois
7. Minnesota
8. Purdue
9. Michigan
10. Iowa
11. Northwestern

Good call, guys. At least you got Northwestern right!

Much of the season preview is written about the Spartans' recent history of excellence, about Indiana's superstars, about Ohio State's boffo recruiting class. Here's what it says about the Badgers: "Wisconsin didn't win 30 games by accident last season."

Not much to go on, but prophetic. Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor were all-time greats, but the groundwork for this season's success was laid in their shadows. Even so, early this season there was little indication this team would be winning a conference title. Be truthful: when you saw Duke annihilating us at Cameron and Marquette edging us at the Kohl Center, did you see a trophy in March?

But, as Bo's best teams often do, this team improved dramatically as the season progressed and did what was expected of it.

Brian Butch found his confidence as a go-to post scorer and rebounder, and delivered shot 1A of the year at Indiana. Trevon Hughes started fast as a scorer, then settled in as a more traditional point guard and played with more control than Kam had at a similar age. When Pop was hurt at Texas, Michael Flowers asserted himself as a lead guard and hit the shot of the year in college hoops.

Joe Krabbenhoft still struggles with confidence shooting the ball, but does everything else well, and shut down Eric Gordon in the big win over Indiana in Madison. Early on, I questioned both Marcus Landry's and Jason Bohannon's scoring mentality, and here we are in March with those two serving as arguably our most attractive scoring options. Greg Stiemsma wasn't always used much because of matchups, but escaped the foul trouble that has plagued his career and played some terrific minutes.

What a joy to watch. At the end of the football season, I mentioned that as wonderful as last season was - 30 wins, a #1 ranking, arguably the greatest player in school history - fair or not, there was little tangible to show for it. Not the case this year. I don't care what happens next week (although we'd certainly like to see another trophy), or in the Big Dance, this will go down as one of my favorite teams.

One big reason: the seniors. Heralded as he was coming out of Appleton West, Butch has overcome a lot in his career, you have to feel good for him. Flowers embodies the blue collar, lunch pail ethic that Wisconsinites love, and his friendship with Max Bass is a neat story. Stiemsma overcame a freak high school knee injury and depression to build a nice career. And everyone loves Tanner Bronson, wouldn't be surprising to see him be the most successful member of the Badger coaching tree 15 years from now.

Good kids, all of them from Wisconsin. You don't see senior classes like that very often. They make us proud.

Cherish this championship. Even with all the success we've had under Bo, you can't take titles for granted. Seasons that start with all the promise in the world can end up nondescript (see Football: 2007; Basketball: 2001). The Big Ten is down this year, but Purdue is a rising power, Thad Matta is recruiting like a madman at Ohio State, Izzo will keep State tough as ever, and Indiana will probably come up with someone who can return that program to glory. There isn't a 55-year gap on that conference championship banner by accident - it takes true excellence to win this conference.

We captured that this winter, and it will be awhile before this smile leaves my face.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Diamond for the Badgers

The members of the basketball program will be getting rings for their latest Big Ten championship, and now it appears they'll be getting the Diamond to go with it.

(Hah! I've still got the sportswriter's cheesy lead gene!)

Mark Stewardt of the Journal Sentinel is reporting that Diamond Taylor committed to UW last night. This one's important - I have no doubt we'll get the bigs and swingmen we need to be successful, but guards are just so important.

Sounds like Diamond, who I'm pretty sure sat by Andy and me at the Washington State football game in September, has really improved rapidly in the last year or so. Check out this blogger, who says that while the class of 2009 is the weakest in recent Illinois history, Diamond is at the top.

The other things you have to like about this kid are the fact that he plays for St. Joseph's (Hoop Dreams), a big-time program with a legendary coach in Gene Pingatore; and his dad is an assistant coach at Bolingbrook and runs a fundamentals camp, which has a website that plays rap music, which sort of startled me writing this at 10:30 p.m. I think Shaq is the artist currently dropping rhymes, "I Know I Got Skillz."

Nice to see the tradition of UW guards named Taylor continue, with Diamond following in the footsteps of Kammron and Jordan. But Diamond thinks he's more like Devin Harris, which we'd be OK with too.

Now if we can reel in Jamil Wilson, ranked #6 nationally on this list, to round out this class, I'd be thrilled.

-Follow up note from a guy mentioned yesterday: Madison Memorial's Vander Blue almost had a double-double tonight against Oshkosh West: nine points and nine turnovers. Memorial went into the fourth quarter with a 23-point lead and let it dwindle to four before pulling it out. How many teams get outscored 34-14 in the final quarter of a game and win? Jeronne Maymon was the man again with 29 points.