Saturday, January 31, 2009

"This looks familiar"

That's what my dad said when we coughed up yet another lead tonight in Evanston. Embarrassing.

It was fun being there, though, and I have all sorts of stuff to write about this, and photos to share. But the Embassy Suites actually charges for Internet access, and I'm sure not going to pay 10 bucks to write about this mess right now. Tune in tomorrow ...

Evanston, here we come

Five-game losing streak be damned, we're going to Evanston today!

Granted, it would be much better if we were riding a five-game winning streak, or if we were within a stone's throw of first place, this game would be much more interesting. But it's still a chance to see the Badgers in person, in a new venue, which is a real treat.

I believe this is the first time I will have seen the Wisconsin basketball team in a true road game. Hopefully the host fans are gracious.

It would be great if there are more Badger fans in attendance than Northwestern fans, as appeared to be the case in our Big Ten title-clinching win at Welch-Ryan Arena last year. The recent losing streak may have tempered the enthusiasm to drive even two hours to suburban Chicago, but I'm thinking we'll be well-represented.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Missing a Stiem engine

Heading into the basketball offseason, I made the note that I really wish Greg Stiemsma had redshirted as a freshman, rather than playing 10 minutes or whatever he did. Hadn't thought my about it lately until frequent Badgercentric commeter Mr. Man commented on his own blog, Camp Lambeau, that Stiemer's presence would make this year's team much more interesting.

Let your mind wander. With Stiemsma starting and playing 20-plus minutes per game ...

-The interior defense is obviously better. Post players have a tougher time scoring. Penetrators have a tougher time finishing. Shots are blocked.

-The perimeter defense is probably not much better at stopping 3-pointers, but with an eraser behind them they are a bit more aggressive, resulting in more steals.

-The offense has a guy who takes and consistently makes 17-footers, which opens things up for Landry's post game and Hughes' penetration.

-Keaton Nankivil's progress is not as critical, and his contributions are pleasant bonuses.

How many win or fewers losses would he be good for at this point? Hard to say; maybe three or four. Maybe none. But the team would be better.

Watching Keaton's coming out party Tuesday gave me the same thoughts. He played what, 46 minutes as a true freshman? It's not inconceivable that if he keeps gaining confidence and smoothing out the rough edges of his game that in two years, we'll be wishing like hell he would be sticking around another year. Kids and their crazy decisions ...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Negative feedback loop

Lately, the downbeat economic news that has become so unavoidable has begun making mention of the economy being in a negative feedback loop. It's fairly easy to understand: businesses struggle, which leads to job losses and less consumer and business spending, which means to more business struggles, which leads to more job losses and even less consumer and business spending, which ... you get the picture.

That's what it feels like to be a Badger fan nowadays. Forget the basketball team's strugles, if you can. This cold spell has caused many fans to question the future of the program under Bo, by the most successful Wisconsin basketball coach of the modern era. (Read this post on Camp Lambeau, which is interesting, even if I don't completely agree.)

But the comments posted on a recruiting story the other day on Badger Beat really took the cake. The comments on the Madison newspapers' website, as they often are on the Journal Sentinel's blog, are typically ridiculously juvenile and ill-considered.

One poster at the end of the story, cleverly named, claims that he is part of a group of 50 alumni who have been contacting recruits who orally committed to play at Wisconsin and asking them to cancel their recruiting visits. This poster expects his heroic efforts to pay off with several decommits before now and signing day. All in the name of trying to get our football coach fired.


Granted, this guy is probably full of crap, but just think if they actually did this. If you were, say, Montee Ball and you got a call from some random guy in Wisconsin, claiming to be a Badger fan, advising you to decommit, your reaction would be Are you friggin' nuts? right?

And if they were successful at sabotaging a recruiting class and getting Bret Bielema fired, and this became a publicly known fact, well that would make the Wisconsin job very attractive for hot coaching prospects, wouldn't it?

This negativity is just feeding on itself. It's to the point where the last two verbal commitments to our recruiting class, Dezmen Southward and Jacob Pedersen, are getting raked across the coals on the Internet by anonymous cowards who aren't impressed by these kids' resumes.

Southward, a teammate of Conor O'Neill at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, the #1 high school team in the country this year, is a raw prospect who chose us over some Big East schools. (On a related note: Conor O'Neal has decommitted and pledged to Boston College and its new coach, sparing Matt LePay much future confusion.) Pedersen, who plays for the UP's top program, had the gall to be recruited by some MAC and Division I-AA schools. Apparently this isn't good enough for the snobs who think every one of our recruits needs to have offers from Oklahoma, Florida, and USC as well.

My advice: take a step back everybody. Deep breath. Remember why you became a Badger fan in the first place. Cheer for the kids and coaches we have and that we're bringing in. Enjoy the wins, don't let the losses bug you too much. Break the negative feedback loop.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

UW-Purdue thoughts

Un ... effing ... believable.

This is just a miserable time to be a Badger fan, isn't it? It would be one thing if we were getting blown out by bad teams every night and absolutely nothing was working. But this is the third time in the last five games where we were in position to win late but could not finish. Such a tease.

Purdue is obviously the better team, a very formidable group that's only going to get better. Talented, well-coached, balanced, good defensively.

But when Keaton Nankivil makes 5-of-5 3-pointers and scores 21 points ... well, you should win. Especially at the Kohl Center.

-How did Jordan Taylor's last shot rim out? Because we aren't getting any bounces nowadays, that's how.

-Really thought that when Krabby leveled Jackson early that it would set a tone for us to be in control throughout. It did look like Joe extended his forearm and probably could have gotten whistled. It looked like Jackson sort of milked the hit for a long time afterward.

-J-Bo's struggles are killing our offensive balance. He's not making shots, and he's getting gun-shy. If we're going to play Jordan Taylor and Pop at the same time, it might make sense for J-Bo to sit at those times, at least until he gets his stroke going again. Northwestern is up next, and they were the opponent for Jason's career night a couple weeks ago, hopefully the matchup can get him going again.

-JaJuan Johnson just makes Landry a non-factor, doesn't he? Marcus had nine points tonight but I can't remember any of them. Johnson is just the perfect defender to put on him.

-Really missing Michael Flowers. Purdue got way too many wide-open looks on the perimeter tonight, in particular the 3-pointers by Hummel and Kramer that essentially won the game for the Boilers. I can't stand watching those two guys celebrate, it's super annoying.

-The silver lining was Nankivil. Regular readers will no doubt remember that I've been begging Keaton to shoot more all season long, and tonight he showed worthy of those pleas.

Just checked, and no one's got a site up at Better get on that, superfans!

NFL Badgers

Last week Corby asked me my thoughts on the most successful Badgers currently playing in the NFL. [ADD: In general, this is based on 2008 performances.] What do you think?

1. Joe Thomas

2. Jim Leonhard

3. Owen Daniels - did you realize he had the third-most receiving yards of any tight end this year?

4. Lee Evans

5. Chris Chambers

6. Mark Tauscher

7. Casey Rabach

8. Aaron Stecker

9. Jim Sorgi

10. Alex Lewis

11. Nick Hayden

Monday, January 26, 2009

Remember 1998?

A fact I heard many times before, during, and after the Badgers' loss to Illinois on Saturday was that Wisconsin hasn't lost four games in a row since the 1998 season. It's a season I remember well -- my senior year in college, the first year of the Kohl Center, and the last year we didn't make the NCAA Tournament.

There is absolutely no parallel between this year's team and the '98 team. The '98 team lost Ty Calderwood before the season started, which killed any momentum built by the surprising run to the tournament the year before. Dick Bennett played a bunch of young guys heavy minutes that year -- Mike Kelley, Andy Kowske, Mark Vershaw, Maurice Linton. They took their lumps, but those lumps paved the way for a three-year tournament run for that class, punctuated by the Final Four run in 2000.

This year's team, while often described as "young," starts two seniors and two juniors, veterans of five NCAA Tournament games and countless important Big Ten games. No injuries have taken down important players. Promising underclassmen are getting minutes, but there's little suggestion that they will shine brighter in the future than Marcus Landry, Joe Krabbenhoft, and the other old-timers are now.

What could turn this season around?

-A win against Purdue. Bo talked earlier this week about how Pop needed to get his mojo back, and he's right. But it's really the whole team that is missing its mojo, and one big win over a good team can start the pendulum swinging the right way.

-Jason Bohannon gets some steals that lead to fast-break layups. Which would, in turn, build his confidence on his jumper -- he's shooting just 38% from the field.

-The Pop-J-Bo-Taylor three-guard lineup leads to more better dribble penetration, which leads to easier looks for Landry and Krabby.

-Rob Wilson takes Tim Jarmusz's minutes and provides a much-needed energy boost. Why isn't Rob playing more? Early returns on him were so promising, and it doesn't seem like he's been horrible in his limited minutes lately.

-Keaton Nankivil shoots more, and starts hitting the 17-foot jumpers that Greg Stiemsma made so often last year, the shots that demoralized opposing defenses.

-Krabby continues to score in double figures. This development surprises me, in a good way. If you would have told me that Krabby would have 16 points, 12 rebounds against Illinois, there's no way I think we lose that game.

-Jon Leuer's post defense improves.

Really, the first one is the most important. The Badgers just have to put together a good, winning effort against a good team that washes away the memories of Minnesota and Iowa (Purdue and Illinois were excusable losses). College sports teams ride such emotional roller coasters that all these kids need is a nudge in the right direction. They get that chance tomorrow.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

UW-Illinois thoughts

Sorry for the lateness of this post (Jim), yesterday my cousin and her fiance watched the boys while Jana and I enjoyed a relatively stress-free day in Appleton. We got home late, went to church first thing this morning, then naps for the boys. So I just got to watch the game.

Didn't have to. Listened to much of it while driving around Appleton and checked the box score when it was over, and that would have been all I would have needed to do to analyze this game.

Often, when we play noontime hoops at the fitness center in Iola, we'll be catching drinks from the bubbler between games when members of the losing team will say "What happened?" And much of the time the simple answer is "They made shots and we missed ours."

Which is what happened in Champaign. The Badgers' effort, on the whole, was encouraging. We held a slight rebounding edge, and had 10 offensive boards. Only five turnovers. Only one technical foul. Krabby had a really nice game --16 points, 12 boards. The three-guard offense featuring Jordan Taylor, which matched up against their three-guard lineup, seemed to generate more movement than we've seen on offense in recent games.

But oh, the shooting woes -- 35% from the field, 29% on 3-pointers, 69% from the free throw line. Illinois -- 50% from the field, 40% on 3-pointers, 82% from the line. Game over.

Really, we were missing makeable shots. The Illini defense was good, as expected, but we still got good looks that just didn't go down. Our defense is still just missing something that has made it elite over the years, and yielded good looks. They made their open looks.

Pop played better than at Iowa, but still shot 5-of-13, dragged down by the usual shot clock-beating heaves. Landry was more assertive but still missed some bunnies, as did Krabby. J-Bo and Leuer were totally off their games.

The final spread was seven points, and as I watched the game it dawned on me that Chester Frazier scored seven iffy points by himself -- a banked-in 3-pointer, two free throws on the Krabbenhoft blocking foul that drew Bo's technical (tough call, could have gone either way), and a desperation scoop he threw up to avoid a charge minutes later.

Purdue next ... could be another brick in a demoralizing stretch or could be the perfect foil for a momentum-changing win.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Alando Tucker

For some reason, the other night I watched the Celtics blow out the Suns. Horrible game, outcome never in doubt. Only reason I watched was to see if Alando Tucker would get in -- and he did. He had 11 points, a steal, and an assist in 12 minutes of action.

He's actually gotten into six games lately, albeit in very limited minutes.

His jump shot still looks the same, which is to say not good, yet he's shooting 73% from the floor. He threw down a left-handed dunk off a turnover, showing that smooth explosiveness we know him for.

Hopefully he'll keep earning more minutes and start getting into non-blowouts with greater frequency.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's wrong with these guys?

Gotta be honest with you: my enthusiasm for blogging about the Badgers is as low as it's been for quite some time. Football season was a major drain, but at least we had basketball season to look forward to. There's plenty of time to turn things around, but basketball is looking a lot like football.

But why? Lots of theories abound, here are mine:

-Lack of swagger/enthusiasm. Alando Tucker and Kam Taylor played with supreme confidence. Brian Butch and Michael Flowers were energetic, emotional players, especially Butch. Those things are missing right now.

Trevon Hughes plays with a swagger, but it's been missing the past three games, to the point where his place on the bench in the waning moments of regulation and overtime didn't seem that strange in retrospect. Marcus Landry shows emotion after really big shots, but it doesn't seem to be an emotion that spreads.

The rest of the key players -- Krabby, J-Bo, Leuer -- are about as even-keeled as they come. Ordinarily, that's the type of player I prefer. But during tough times like we're going through now, you need a spark and reassurance, and one of those five guys has to get it started.

-This may sound dumb, and may indeed be dumb, but I think Landry, Leuer, and Bohannon need to force more shots. Think about all the bad shots Butch and Tucker took. They were forced, but they forced defenses to be on their toes at all times.

This year's team seems to only take really good shots, Hughes excepted. That's all well and good when you're playing Coppin State and you get good shots relatively early in the shot clock. Against the excellent defenses of the Big Ten, those clean looks don't come with regularity.

So what you get is 30 seconds of "probing" that doesn't really test the defense at all, and Hughes is left to jack something up. Landry, Leuer, and Bohannon are all skilled shotmakers who should exert their skills outside of the parameters of the Swing, as Butch, Taylor, and Tucker did before them.

-We're missing Butch's and Stiemsma's height. This surprises me, since I thought we'd be able to get through the Big Ten season without this being a liability, given the seeming paucity of quality bigs.

Case in point: Last night someone named David Palmer scores 21 points and grabs seven rebounds against very little resistance inside. Two games ago JaJuan Johnson had his way inside with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

What can remedy this? Faster maturity from Keaton Nankivil? Force feed Ian Markolf minutes? Probably not the answer.

For all of Landry's and Leuer's skills, they are not able to carry the low-post defensive load without a bigger body alongside them.

-And all those turnovers. Oh, god, those turnovers make you sick.

The way I see it, the talent level is comparable to the team that won 31 games last year, and the coaching is presumably exactly the same. But you've got a little less maturity and personality, a little less height, a little tougher conference, and a point guard going through a midseason crisis -- add it all up and you've got a three-game losing streak.

Unfortunately, the schedule doesn't hold what appear to be any gimmes anytime soon. This year will be a great test for the program and its viability going forward. It'll be interesting to see how it turns out.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

UW-Iowa thoughts

Wow, three in a row. All three were bad, but this one might be the worst because let's face it, Iowa is not at all a good team. Which makes us not at all a good team.

When and if we're an NCAA bubble team come March, this will be one of those bad losses that hurts teams, really the first one we've had this year. (Ironically, Virginia Tech knocks off Wake Forest tonight, making that good win even better.)

Most of this game was just a dull bore with both teams shooting poorly and the refs blowing their whistles like they were getting paid by the foul. As such, Iowa won by out-Wisconsining Wisconsin. They took 25 more free throws than us.

Twenty freaking five! How the hell does that happen?

Of course, the spread should have been about 19 because of the officiating decisions that really decided the game.

Talking, of course, about the sequence in which Jordan Taylor made a nice steal, got clonked on the head on the breakaway layup, no foul is called. Compounding the poor officiating, the refs hit Bo with a technical foul. Iowa makes the two free throws, then picks up two more on the ensuing possession. Six-point swing, from us up four to them up two. They pull ahead, and while Taylor's heroic effort late forces overtime, we were beaten by that point.

Shades of Bret Bielema picking up that penalty after the kickoff against Michigan State, no?

This is starting to feel like football season, too.

-So Gullikson starts instead of Nankivil? Since the Northwestern-Michigan State game ran long it's hard to tell how that worked out, but Keaton played well while in. Gully didn't do a whole lot. What a rise for KG, though, from nailed to the bench after his drunk driving thing last year to starter this year.

-The Iowa fans are still booing J-Bo, but you can tell their hearts aren't in it anymore. Come on, would you really want to play for Iowa?

-Late in the second half, I thought Boy, Bo is really being stubborn not bringing Pop back in. Even if he was in the doghouse, he's still our best guy for getting quick buckets in a late-game scramble. But Jordan played really well. If he picks up confidence from this, it makes our guard position much stronger from here on out. Conversely, Hughes needs to get it together, if he doesn't we're hosting an NIT game at the Kohl Center.

-Landry has to be better from the free throw line. He had a chance to give us the first lead of overtime and biffed the free throw, and we never were in control after that.

-Did it seem to you that we switched way too easily and quickly on their ball screens, or near-ball screens? So many times we ended up with Hughes or Taylor guarding one of their bigs, and they did a valiant job holding down the fort, but that can't be what we really want on more than half our defensive possessions.

-First time I've heard Wayne Larrivee yell "Dagger!" when my team was on the short end of the stick. Hopefully the last.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Coz and Brew

Looks like Timmy Brewster has hired Kevin Cosgrove to be his new defensive coordinator. Interesting choice, especially making him co-coordinator with former UW secondary coach Ron Lee. A veteran-newcomer pairing, similar to our Hankwitz-Doeren pairing of a couple years back.

Also interesting because his last stint as a coordinator, with Bill Callahan at Nebraska, was an unmitigated disaster. The way the Cornhuskers were giving up points that last year under Coz, the finals looked like basketball scores, not football. From what I can gather, Gopher fans aren't too excited about the hire, either.

But Coz did a nice job at UW, although his departure and Bret Bielema's arrival was a necessary jumpstart to the defense. Coz is also an ace St. Louis recruiter, which might hurt us there, just as we were starting to re-restablish ourselves there with the likes of Montee Ball.

My guess is he lasts no more than two years in Minneapolis.

Good for Lee, nice to see a minority getting a chance to make a name for himself as a coordinator and audition for head jobs.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Just like Notre Dame

The other day Jimmy Austin forwarded me this snippet from Michael Hiestand's USA Today spots television column.

The year's college bowl TV lesson should sound familiar: Big names sell.

Not names of bowls — team names. ESPN's highest-rated bowl was the Dec. 27 Champs Sports Bowl. Although the bowl last year had fairly well-known teams — Boston College and Michigan State — this season's matchup of Wisconsin and Florida State gave the bowl a 41% ratings boost over last year.

How much of that 41% increase would you attribute to us, and how much to us? I'd say we account for at least a third, Florida State more, and the fact that it was two days after Christmas on a Saturday for the rest. Whatever the case, it's nice to know we can be part of a good television draw.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jimmy Leonhard and friends

Last week when Will picked me up at LaGuardia, we weren't a minute into our conversation when he said something along the lines of "How about Jimmy Leonhard?"

How about him indeed? Here's a guy who I figured would be lucky to get an NFL tryout as a punt returner and maybe a dime back. But here he is starting for the best defense in the league alongside guys like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, more than holding his own. One step from the Super Bowl.

It's not like he's just out there filling a spot, he's making big plays. Against Tennessee, he had a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and he returned a punt 29 yards. Jimmy's also wearing the radio and calling the plays for the Ravens' D, quite a testament to his leadership ability.

Raise your hands: who thought Jim Leonhard would be this good this far into his pro career? Be honest ...

Nick Greisen and Matt Katula are Leonhard's teammates for Baltimore. Wouldn't it be great if a team with three Badgers made the Super Bowl? Probably not going to happen, but who knows.

Friday, January 16, 2009

UW-Minnesota thoughts

I spent last night with my arms wrapped around a toilet bowl, vomiting repeatedly. This came about 30 minutes after Will threw up all over his bed and his room, even into his piggy bank. We shared what seems to be a 24-hour flu.

As horrible as that was, I feel sicker now. That was probably the worst home loss under Bo Ryan, simply embarrassing. Worse than the North Dakota State loss. Minnesota's much-improved and never gave up, give them credit, but ...

The Badgers threw up all over the Kohl Center Thursday night, and there's not much more to say about it. Aimless, lazy press breaking. Aimless, lazy defense against Minnesota's chubby shooting guard, who turns into friggin' Vinny Johnson while throwing up any sort of wild shot that goes in. No sense of urgency in overtime. Sitting on a 10-point lead and not putting a dangerous team away.

Wisconsin is still a pretty good team, but pretty good is looking like 10-8 in the Big Ten this season, nowhere near a title contender.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top Badger running backs of all-time

In the wake of P.J. Hill's NFL declaration, Mike Lucas ranked his top five Badger running backs of all-time. For whatever reason, I can't find the story on now, but I know that Ron Dayne and Alan Ameche were his top two. That's where I'll start my top 15 list.

1. Ron Dayne
Who else?

2. Alan Ameche
You win a Heisman, you're at the top of this list.

3. Brian Calhoun
Quality over quantity. His 2005 was the most well-rounded season by a Badger offensive player, ever.

4. Brent Moss
Many would pick Billy Marek over Moss, but Moss led the Badgers' current resurgence. He was so good on that stretch play. Had a pretty damn good line in front of him, too. Did sharing carries with another great back help or hurt him?

5. Billy Marek
Did it for some bad teams, but never lifted them beyond that.

6. Pat Harder
"Hit 'em Again" Harder.

7. Rufus Ferguson
The Roadrunner.

8. Alan Thompson
Thompson-Ferguson-Marek was a pretty damn good back-to-back-to-back for some pretty damn bad teams.

9. Terrell Fletcher
May have been better than Moss, as he showed in late '94 after Moss was kicked off the team. Lasted a long time in the NFL.

10. Michael Bennett
That speed ...

11. Anthony Davis
Injuries limited his last two years, but he was electrifying.

12. P.J. Hill
Better than many fans gave him credit for.

13. Elroy Hirsch
Thing is, Crazylegs didn't have eye-popping numbers in college, just a couple incredible games on a balance team. Probably better at Michigan and in the pros.

14. Larry Emery

15. Marvin Artley

This list probably excludes some worthy guys from the very early days of Wisconsin football, but it's so tough to compare those guys with the others.

What does your list look like? Even just a top five or 10?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Best of luck, P.J.

You're probably wondering why I haven't commented at all about P.J. Hill's decision to enter the NFL draft. Well, I was in New York at the time it happened (lucky enough to see Big Ten Bill Bottinick several times) and by the time I got back it seemed like old news.

So here's what I think:

Not a good move for P.J. or the program. He won't get picked until the second day, and will have a tough time making an NFL roster. He will miss out on an opportunity to go down as one of the all-time greats in UW history and rush for 1,000 yards four times. He will not have the opportunity to be a senior leader on a team that will definitely need them. Our running back situation in 2009, while seemingly solid with John Clay and Zach Brown back, is uncertain beyond that, and in years past we've needed three backs quite often.

That said, I totally understand P.J.'s decision and hope it works out for the best. He's had injury problems, and as a running back, you can only take so many of those. With Clay emerging and Brown deserving more playing time, his carries might have been cut to a career low in 2009. The offensive line will feature three new starters next year, and the fullback will be new (Bradie Ewing?), which will make holes fewer and further between. He's been in Madison for four years, and had the college experience. And his last collegiate performance was a solid one against a good Florida State defense.

Many of the comments from fans following this announcement have focused on P.J.'s flaws (he got caught from behind twice against FSU, he dances too much, etc.), and those are legit, but he was a good college running back that lots of teams could have used. His presence on next year's roster could have really helped in what will be a rebuilding season.

And I liked the fact that he always had a big smile on his face.

Best of luck in the pros, P.J., we're pulling for you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Conor O'Neal

Looks like the Badgers picked up another verbal commitment for the 2009 recruiting class, defensive tackle Conor O'Neal. Hilarious!

Why? asks the casual observer. Because roughly three months ago UW got a commitment from a prep linebacker named Conor O'Neill. And they're both from Florida. Crazy, no? It shouldn't be too hard to tell them apart in person, though: O'Neal is a 300-pound black dude, and O'Neill is a 200-pound white guy.

Conor O'Neal hails from Lithia, Fla., which makes him the third Florida native to commit this year. Scout has him as a two-star kid, 77th-best defensive tackle in the country. He chose us over Boston College, Michigan State, and North Carolina State, good company.

That makes seven defensive linemen in this year's recruiting class. I like the emphasis, hopefully half of them will turn into contributors. And hopefully in a few years our two Conor O'Neals/O'Neills will be giving Matt LePay fits.

Monday, January 12, 2009


At the risk of sounding like a woman or Abe Simpson ... have you noticed the hairstyles being worn by certain Big Ten players this year? It's a return to basics, and I like it.

No more cornrows for Raymar Morgan, Marquise Gray, and Chris Allen of Michigan State, Chester Frazier of Illinois, or Stanley Pringle of Penn State. Even Carmelo Anthony has gone basic. No more muffin top or curly 'fro for PSU's Talor Battle.

What's the deal? Did Tom Izzo and Ed DeChellis put their feet down and demand a more respectable appearance from their players? Did the upkeep become too much of an expense in these recessionary times? Were these guys' old hairstyles attracting too many women and impinging on their study time?

Whatever the case, I'm in favor. What's next, a decrease in tattooed ballers, or earrings? We can only hope.

(What's that you say? You're just bitter because you started going bald at age 24? Nah ...)

Raymar Morgan

Marquise Gray

Stanley Pringle

Talor Battle

Sunday, January 11, 2009

UW-Purdue thoughts

Late in this one Marcus Landry made a strong move to the basket and got fouled, and Bill Raftery noted that it was a move made with urgency. It was an accurate observation, and underscored the fact that for most of the afternoon the Badgers played with little urgency, a big reason they lost to Purdue.

With the way the Badgers play, urgency doesn't mean charging headfirst into a crowd or taking gambles on defense. It does mean boxing out a little stronger when you're getting killed on the boards, or making your go-to offensive move earlier in the shot clock.

Most of the second half today, with Purdue ahead comfortably by double digits, felt like the last two minutes of a snoozer, which worked out nicely for the Boilers.

-It's become apparent/obvious that against good teams, if Landry and Pop struggle, we're going to have a hard time winning. Both had gruesome lines today: Landry was 3-for-15 from the field with just two rebounds, and Hughes 3-for-11 with some ill-advised attempts.

Against UConn, Marquette, and Texas, Marcus had nine, five, and eight points. In 16 games thus far, the Badgers are 10-0 when he scores 10 or more points, and 2-4 when he scores nine or less. Hughes has fared better in our losses.

Your best players need to be at their best to beat the best. These two will have plenty more opportunities this year to be at their best against the best.

-JaJuan Johnson played with urgency from the opening tip today, his early offensive rebounds set the tone for the day. From my view, he's going to end up being the best player in that class, better than Hummel and Moore, who are pretty darn good themselves.

-We missed too many bunnies early, when we had a chance to establih a modest lead. Johnson's length probably had something to do with that.

-I really think Nankivil could have done a better job of containing Johnson than Leuer or Landry. I understand that Landry and Leuer might be the best 4-5 combination to put out there, but there should still be time to get Keaton 20-25 minutes per game, not the 10 or so he's been averaging in Big Ten play.

-Krabby had a really nice game, 6-for-7 from the floor and seven boards. Overlooked in all this is that he helped hold E'Twuan Moore to four points on 1-of-12 shooting from the floor.

-J-Bo had only four field goal attempts, only the second time this season he's been that low. Purdue closed out well with him.

-The officiating in the first half, called evenly both ways, allowed for more aggressive play. This clearly favors Purdue, and they were easily the better defensive team today.

-Our post fronts were a half-step for much of the day, which allowed the Boilers to catch the ball in favorable positions.

Today's loss isn't that surprising, but it clearly shows what needs to happen for us to compete for a Big Ten title. Most people, myself included, pegged Purdue to finish ahead of us this season, they're a talented and well-coached team. But this season has a long way to go, and the conference is deeper than in years past. Four or five losses might win this thing unless Michigan State really gets on a roll.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Good bye, seniors

The other day I was taking down the 2008 Wisconsin football poster/calendar in my office to make room for the one Jana made me. Before doing so I looked one last time at the guys on the poster who, for all the disappointments of this season, still contributed to 38 wins in their careers. Not too shabby.

Mike Newkirk
Good contributor for several years. His dad says he's bulked up to 275 pounds and could play in the NFL. We'll see. Part of me thinks if we'd had a really good line, he would have been best suited to be a backup who could play 50% of the snaps swinging between end and tackle.

Jason Chapman
Chappy was never the same after his knee injury. It was a shame, he was so quick off the ball. Every time he'd get whistled for jumping the snap I'd get upset with him, but then remember all the times he got away with it and disrupted the opponent's backfield.

Matt Shaughnessy
Never became the star many thought he would become after his strong freshman year, but always produced. Who knows, maybe his production will increase as a professional. The thing I'll remember about him is he always seemed to be disciplined, staying at home on reverses or quarterback rollouts. And don't forget, he was playing with a heavy heart this year.

Eric Vanden Heuvel
Not a star, but it was obvious the line was at its best this year when he was at right tackle.

Andy Kemp
The memory of Kemp I'll retain is of him chucking his helmet in celebration after the win over Cal Poly this year, out of character for a seemingly quiet kid, but enjoyable to watch. Against the weak non-conference teams we played he had success pulling. Will be interesting to see if he gets a shot professionally.

Dave Peck
I've already got Will practicing long snapping, it can earn you a Division 1 scholarship, and maybe a shot at the NFL. Don't know if Dave is good enough for that, but who would've thought Mike Solwold was?

Kraig Urbik
Only special players start four years on our offensive line. Joe Thomas, Chris McIntosh, Casey Rabach ... Kraig Urbik. Nice to see him get All-American honors from, even if it was sort of a stretch -- not that he didn't perform well, it's just that he was hurt this season.

DeAndre Levy
What I'll remember about Dre was his reaction after our embarrassing loss at Penn State in 2007. It was genuine, heartfelt, and showed that he really cared, which is not always the impression that some of these guys give. He represented the Milwaukee City Conference well, and hopefully inspired some of those kids to take football more seriously.

Travis Beckum
His emergence as a star in 2006 was one of the most pleasant surprises of a pleasantly surprising season, and he kept it up in 2007. That was more important than just on-field production. Becks was one of the most highly-rated recruits we've ever brought in, and had he failed, it would have hurt future recruiting. He was obviously not going to cut it at linebacker -- too tall -- and he lacked the instincts and aggressiveness to play defensive end. Kudos to the coaching staff for finding the right spot for his abilities, and kudos to Travis for making the most of the opportunity.

Allan Evridge
To think: I was expecting and hoping for him to beat out Tyler Donovan for the starting job in 2007. The thought was that a two-year starter would be better than back-to-back one-year starters. Wrong-o, T.

Jonathan Casillas
Anyone who was at the Metrodome for our 2005 game will remember him for his involvement in the greatest blocked punt in UW history. He was a playmaker on defense, too, when healthy. I hope he gets a shot in the pros, maybe he'll make an impact on some team's special teams and maybe get a shot at being a backup safety.

Ryan Flasch
When he transferred in I thought he'd factor into the mix at linebacker, but no.

Chris Pressley
Solid kid for the program. Heard that Bielema said few kids get as much out of playing college football as Pressley has, which is a great compliment. He'll represent UW well in whatever he chooses to do after college.

Josh Neal
Moved around a lot -- linebacker, fullback, defensive line -- wherever he was needed. Seemed to be a favorite of his teammates.

Bill Rentmeester
Favorite memory: his eight-yard run to clinch the Fresno State game. Apparently he was also a killer on special teams, although it never jumped out at me.

Allen Langford
Who would've thought this guy would be the well-deserved team MVP as a senior? What a story. Not as talented as Jack Ikegwuonu, but he wasn't a major liability when teams avoided throwing at Ike. Hurts his knee as a junior, but unlike many guys makes a full recovery in time for his senior season. Thrown out there with two rookie corners on the other side, and the secondary holds its own for the most part. Langford comes off like he was a 10-year NFL veteran, a consummate professional who happens to still be an amateur. He probably won't get the chance to play professionally, but I could see him being a good coach.

Damn, that was a good class. Probably the most individual talent of a departing senior class in a few years. No way they should have lost six games. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff produces with classes made up of more Dave Pecks than Travis Beckums.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

UW-Northwestern thoughts

Given it a lot of thought, and this is the lineup I like best on the floor for Wisconsin:

Wquinton Smith
Brett Valentyn
Morris Cain
J.P. Gavinski
Ian Markolf

Nice to have a blowout for a change, give the bench guys some well-deserved minutes. Northwestern looked pretty terrible tonight, particularly shooting and rebounding, but like Mike Lucas was saying in the waning minutes of the radio broadcast, you can bet it will be a dogfight when we see them again in Evanston on January 31. I'll be at that one, so I'm hoping for a repeat of tonight's game!

-J-Bo's 20 points were a career high. That's a little surprising, I would have thought he'd hit 20 against some patsy over the past year and a half. He played really well. As Tim McCormick pointed out, he hit a couple 2-pointers early, which seemed to give him confidence in his longer jumper.

-Landry, who was incredible against Penn State, had 12, but 10 of those must have come while the Big Ten Network was showing Tom Crean's team melt down against Michigan. He was quiet while I was watching, which isn't necessarily bad.

-Jon Leuer played with much confidence again, 15 points and eight boards. He's getting himself into good positions to score, where his height allows him good looks even if his defender is close. He really is a guard in a 6-10 body.

-Northwestern is really a bad rebounding team, we got 12 offensive on them. Problem is, we missed most of the second-change opportunities. We also missed eight free throws and had some turnovers off lazy passes, so that was about as flawed a 29-point win as possible.

-Mainly because Northwestern shot so horribly. In the first half I thought they were getting better looks than we were, they just weren't making them. NU's defense seems like it can be a nuisance, very pesky, but we handled it with patience until things just kind of unraveled for them.

-Tough to complain about a defensive effort when the other team shoots 31%, but I noticed that we did not switch well off their dribble handoffs, typically allowing the receiver to get a good perimeter look. Conversely, when our smalls got switched on their bigs, they did a good job of using their lower body and not letting the bigger guys establish position.

-When did Michael Thompson become "Juice" Thompson? You can't just let guys go around getting new nicknames when they're 19 or 20 years old. Just take it from T-Money. I'd like to see how Thompson did in a real offensive system that showcased his penetrating skills, and didn't call on him to do ridiculous, unnecessary spin dribbles in the middle of the court.

-Why is Keaton Nankivil getting the Dave Mader treatment? He starts, then goes to the bench and doesn't play much more the rest of the game. Tonight he got 11 minutes, even though he played good D and looked confident shooting a jumper. It probably just boils down to matchups, and the strength of our rotation, but I think if this kid gets more minutes he can be a beast, not just the fifth guy we run out there to bang with big guys.

Purdue on Sunday big game, and like everyone is saying, you can bet that Chris Kramer and Robbie Hummel will be ready for that one. Should be a great matchup.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Another Hill to Climb, another book to read

Over the holiday break I got around to reading Bo Ryan's book, Another Hill to Climb. If you'll recall, my mom got me the book and had it signed by Bo, who declined to personalize it in any way.

How was it? Well, it wasn't The Iliad, but it was interesting. Sort of read like a 211-page Mike Lucas column, not surprising since he was the co-author of the book. Some would argue that's about 210 pages too many. Lots of one-sentence paragraphs and loose transitions. A random finish.

Other than that, my only real criticism of the book is the overuse of the first person. At one point it was really jarring, so I counted the number of uses of the word "I" on a random page -- 28. Flipped back about 25 pages or so and did the same thing -- 28 again. Shame on Lucas for not cleaning that up more.

Much of the book is stuff we already know about Bo, but there were a lot of anecdotes that were new and interesting to me:

-When Bo was an assistant at Wisconsin in the '70s, he would go running, and his frequent running mate was Steve Randall, the old Oshkosh West coach and widely-liked good guy who passed away several years ago. Randall earlier coached at Iowa-Grant, where current UW assistant Greg Gard played for him.

-Pickup games at the Field House at that time included Andy north, Van Stoutt, and Jim Doyle. Wouldn't you have loved to see Stoutt get fouled hard?

-Reading about some of the recruits UW got in the '70s and early '80s -- Wes Matthews, Larry Petty, Joe Chrnelich, Claude Gregory, Scott Roth, Brad Sellers, Cory Blackwell, Ricky Olson -- it's amazing the program was so bad for so long. Probably a combination of mediocre head coaching and a tougher Big Ten than we have today.

-Bo writes about recruiting Roth and Sellers out of Cleveland, two very big gets for the Badgers (even if Sellers ended up transferring). During the Michigan game when Rob Wilson got in, the announcer made a reference to Cleveland being a pipeline for Bo, and mentioned Roth. Has Bo gotten anyone besides Wilson during this go-round in Madison? None come to mind. That would be a great place to tap a pipeline to, though, just as it is for football. So much talent, only one Ohio State.

-Apparently during the time between when Bill Cofield was fired and Steve Yoder was hired at Wisconsin, Bo was pursued by Jud Heathcote to move to Michigan State. He and Tom Izzo could have been best buds!

-Paul Chryst, whose dad George was the athletic director at Platteville and recruited Bo there, helped move Bo's family to Platteville.

-Tom Davis, who coached so well at Iowa, wanted the UW job when it went to Cofield.

-As a young lad, I played against two guys who went on to contribute to Bo's championship teams at Platteville -- Ben Hoffmann, who played at Hartford against our West Bend East teams, and Colin Gassner, who beat my eighth grade St. Frances Cabrini team to win the 1990 St. John's tournament. The things you don't forget ...

-My memory of the 2003 Badger team is that a weak Big Ten helped contribute to a conference championship, but think of the talent on that team: first round NBA picks Devin Harris and Alando Tucker, and future pros Kirk Penney and Mike Wilkinson. That's a helluva foursome, I'd put them up against anyone in any conference in any year. Bo poses the question "Have I ever thought about what it would have been like if Alando Tucker and Devin Harris had been able to play together for more than one season?" I have, it's bittersweet to think about.

-Lastly, before going to the book signing, my mom asked me if I wanted her to tell Bo about my blog. No, I said, please don't. Good call -- Bo seems to have a problem with blogs and bloggers. To quote:

"... during our 2008 Big Ten coaches meetings ... we had a panel discussion with two respected sportswriters ... and a blogger. Yes, a blogger. That's how times have changed. In many instances, I just think there's a lack of accountability with blogs. It almost becomes an obsession with some. And what follows is usually hearsay or an over-reaction, whether it's to one play or one game or one team. Where's the credibility?"

Ah, um, er ... I see where he's coming from, and he's to an extent he's right. The Internet, particularly the anonymity it provides, has heightened the second-guessing and scrutiny of people with public jobs. But what I think bothers Bo about the Internet is he can't control the conversation like he does with traditional media, as he boasts about in the succeeding pages. In fact, it seems the only "sports journalists" Bo holds in high regard are those who deliver only fawning praise.

Frankly, I'd wager that Bo has never read a blog, and is using the term as a catch-all for everything on the Internet. Certainly none of the blogs devoted to the Badgers are ever very critical of him or his program, and with good reason, we appreciate the job he's done. Blog comments, or other Big Ten blogs, maybe, but that just reflects what fans are thinking.

Not all bloggers are purveyors of hearsay and over-reaction, and the Internet as a dominant medium isn't going away any time soon, so deal with it.

Later, Bo is talking about Cicero. "... I'm told he was a Roman statesman, who was known to be a flip-flopper. He would change his position depending on which way the wind was blowing -- and then over-react. He might have been the world's first sports writer or blogger."


As with any of these books, if you're looking for a deeper understanding of Badger sports and one of the more successful programs we've ever had, give it a read.

Monday, January 5, 2009

My 2009 Badger calendar

What is this? you ask. It's a cool calendar Jana made for me for Christmas. Using the online photo service Shutterfly, she took three of the photos she took of Will and me at this summer's Family Day at Camp Randall and made it into a wall calendar.

As I was telling my father-in-law later that day, those two hours at Camp Randall might have been my favorite that I've ever spent there. To see the look on Will's face while he ran around the field with his Kyle Jefferson/John Stocco jersey on ... it was pretty awesome. Hopefully we can make it an annual tradition.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

UW-Penn State thoughts

Good win. Penn State is much-improved this year, obviously, with three legit players who can carry them. Their improvement is a microcosm of the Big Ten's improvement on the whole, as only Indiana right now looks like a team that will definitely not be playing in the postseason.

Marcus Landry carries the day with a brutally efficient game. Now you can see what he is capable of when not saddled by foul trouble -- 38 minutes of significant play. He has really found the spots on the floor he needs to get to in order to be effective, and his lower-body strength allows him to catch the ball further out than ideal but still back his guy down.

Of Landry's 10 field goals, how many do you reckon were turnaround jumpers? Eight? He had one 3-pointer and that late dunk. Jamelle Cornley was too small to bother his shot without leaving his feet, and the other guys they put on him weren't strong enough to push him out.

I'm surprised Ed DeChellis didn't do more to double team Landry in the post. One time they brought a guy over late for a shot block attempt but to no avail. Marcus's post move is slow and deliberate, so the opportunity is there to double off, say Krabby. Expect to see some Big Ten team do that throughout the course of the season, and Marcus will have to be decisive about passing out of the double.

-Overall, we did a nice job of touching the post on offense. Only a few possessions where Hughes took early jumpers did not touch the post, and that's why Landry and Leuer consistently got good shots.

-If we had lost this game, I would have pointed to Krabby's three missed bunnies in the first 2:14 of the second half, and four overall in the second half, as the turning point. If he makes those the lead gets to double digits and Penn State gets out of what they're doing. Instead, Stanley Pringle gets unconscious and it's nip and tuck all the way until the end. Credit Joe for making some nice shots late and playing his typical lockdown defense. And oh by the way, he had 10 points, 10 boards, and five assists. Can't stay mad at Krabby.

-The defense on Pringle was fascinating, maybe the best illustration to date of how much we miss Mike Flowers. J-Bo wasn't doing a bad job on him, per se, but he was still getting clean looks with his feet in good position, and getting the ball in the first place. Remember what Flowers did against Drew Neitzel in Madison last year? It's all about the feet.

Couldn't really move Pop over on Pringle, because then Battle would have been freed up. Bo made a nice move to bring Jordan Taylor in to guard Pringle, and Jordan did more to bother Pringle, but by that point the basket must have looked like a hula hoop to Pringle, who made two tough 3-pointers over Jordan.

For those last few minutes Bo was doing an offense-defense switch with J-Bo and Taylor, can't remember the last time I saw us do that.

-Funny thing about Penn State is that of their three good players, only one of them seemed to be capable of doing damage for any given stretch of time. In the first half it was Cornley, Pringle in the second, but when one was hot the other, and Talor Battle, were non-existent. Cornley's first half was a lot like the entire game Landry had. I would have liked to see Nankivil take a turn trying to stop him, he's longer and his energy isn't as necessary on offense as Landry's.

-Did you see that fast break where Krabby made a nice bounce pass ahead to J-Bo? Couldn't we do that two or three times per game in selected instances?

-Who watches Entourage? I got a brief look at Penn State guard Danny Morrissey's face, and thought he looked like a cross between Seth Green and Kevin Connolly. As you know, Connolly's character Eric "E" Murphy has an ongoing feud with Green (playing himself) on the show, which made the resemblance even more funny. Yo Danny, tell Sloan we said What up.

-Spencer Tollackson did a pretty good job as the Big Ten Network's color analyst, first time I'd heard him. He astutely pointed out that many times Penn State was getting caught in defensive switches where Battle was guarding either Landry or Leuer in the post.

Perhaps the most interesting thing he said was that his coaches used to pipe in crowd noise during practice to prepare the Gophers for the Kohl Center crowd. Never been to a game at Williams Arena, but I'd guess it's louder than the Kohl, at least when the home team is playing well.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Wisconsin Football Vault

Somehow, some way, my mom keeps finding new Badger-related reading material for birthday and Christmas gifts. Bless her heart!

This year for my birthday she gave me the University of Wisconsin Football Vault, written by Pat Richter, Vince Sweeney, and Justin Doherty.

At its heart, the "book" is a historical look at the program, with few new facts or anecdotes. Stories about Pat O'Dea, Ivy Williamson, Rufus Ferguson, et al, are well-known to any of us who have read Badger history books before. The pictures and layout are really nice, afforded by the large format.

What makes this offering outstanding, though, is the Badger football "artifacts" littered throughout the book. These are reproductions of game programs, a letter from O'Dea to Yale's athletic director, a Daily Cardinal song supplement, tickets, media credentials, O'Dea's Hall of Fame nomination, schedules, roster sheets, and camp brochures.

This stuff is really neat, worth the price of the book. The artwork on some of these things is phenomenal, and the language is interesting. I'm going to try to scan and post some of the artifacts, particularly the game programs, you'll enjoy them.

Check it out, you can buy it through Amazon.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Going to Evanston

Here's a nice Christmas present:

My parents are taking us to the Wisconsin-Northwestern game in Evanston on January 31. The thought is that it will be easier to score four tickets for that game at Welsh-Ryan Arena than it would for a game at the Kohl Center.

Hopefully we'll see a mostly pro-Badger crowd, as was present at Welsh-Ryan for the last game of the 2008 regular season, the Big Ten title-clinching win. More importantly, hopefully we'll see a Wisconsin win.