Sunday, July 13, 2008

The School Year of Death Rolls On

I'm going to try to get a few updates online in the form of previews over the coming weeks, and as things stand it appears that I should be full steam ahead with about a week to spare before the football season begins. All that notwithstanding, this past year has been an absolute slog through the rigors of academia. We'll turn this ship around in August. Continue to read as surprises may arrive in this space, but if you check back once a week you'll probably be fine.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Badger football ticket lottery results are in

And guess who didn't get tickets? Yeah, that's right ... the guy who's been buying them on an annual basis.

I'm going to be a fan of Badger athletics for life, of course. But it's unlikely now that I'm going to become a donor to the athletic department. I can't support an organization that takes loyalty so lightly. I suspect I'm not the only one.

Thanks for nothing. I guess I'll go to the bar to watch all the games in my last year on campus. You know, because I can't get the Big Ten Network at home.

This is just dysfunctional. I can understand basketball requiring a lottery, but football? Why is first come, first served so difficult? Why don't the biggest fans get first grabs?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Big Ten Bloggers: Football Prognostication

Hats off to Lake the Posts once again. This week: a potpourri of predictions. Regard:

Coach of the Year: In an utterly uncompetitive conference, Jim Tressel emerges as the only choice to pick up this award.

Most Likely To Strike Heisman Pose: the Heisman is a popularity contest based on media love, and the man who's been the recipient of a disproportionate amount of hype is James Laurinaitis of Ohio State. The Heisman people don't like to get away from quarterbacks and running backs, but this guy could break into the group of finalists with a flashy performance against USC and continued success throughout the season.

Last Year's Illini Will Be This Year's ???? (most improved): I really don't see one. Maybe Michigan State with a couple of breaks. Maybe Purdue if Curtis Painter grows a brain. But I see Ohio State, big gap, Wisconsin/Penn State, big gap, lots of other teams, big gap, Minnesota/Northwestern.

Upset game of the year (include non-conference): Probably not an upset right off the bat considering all the kinks that will need to be worked out but I could certainly see Utah over Michigan.

Name You'll Know In December That No One Knows In June: I have to stay within my own team for this one. It'll be presumptive Badger starting quarterback Allan Evridge. With competent receivers, a huge target in Travis Beckum, a stable of running backs to keep the heat off of him, and the weakest crop of Big Ten quarterbacks in memory, Evridge has a shot to make an impression right away. While he appears to be another in the unbroken line of caretaker quarterbacks in Madison, this guy is game tested -- he was the starter at Kansas State a few years back, and he competed for the starting job last year right up till the very end (though Tyler Donovan wound up winning out.)

Most Likely To John McLaren (aka lose it in postgame rant): If Rich Rodriguez beats him with all the wrong personnel, look for Mark Dantonio of Michigan State to melt down after the game. Yes, it seemed like the Spartans hired him solely as a contrast to the wackiness of John L. Smith, but listen to his comments here and tell me there's not a whole volcano of crazy bubbling up under the surface:



Highest NFL Draft Pick in 2009: Travis Beckum. This question came pre-filled in with Chris Wells (thanks for the help LTP!) and I can't disagree that he -- along with like ten other Buckeyes -- would be a great pickup, but let's face it: great tight ends are tough to find, and Beckum could be one for the ages. He runs, he catches, he blocks, and most of all he does this:



The Must See Game of the Year that is not Ohio State - Michigan: Woe be unto he who thinks that UM/OSU is a must-see this year; Tressel is going to welcome Rich Rodriguez to the Big Ten with an unprecedented pummeling. If Tressel didn't have more class in his fingernail than Woody Hayes had in his whole body, this would 1968 all over again. The talent gap isn't huge but the change in philosophy in Ann Arbor is. Beating the Buckeyes without a quarterback? I don't think so.

Anyway, the answer to that question is certainly Ohio State-USC, a game that will take place in California on Saturday, September 13. Hats off to both teams for saying "to hell with it, let's end someone's season in week three" and scheduling this amazing out of conference matchup. Ohio State has done a remarkable job of scheduling these marquee games over the past few seasons and is to be held in high esteem for doing so. USC and OSU will do battle on the field, but the real competition will happen in the clubs after the game when they use booster money to out-"make it rain" one another. (Prediction: Carroll wins!)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hello Manitowoc! Comcast and Big Ten Network reach accord

Big Ten fans in a couple small pockets of Wisconsin can crack a Schlitz: they'll be getting the Big Ten Network on cable TV in 2008. From what I can tell, that means that customers in Manitowoc and in the Twin Cities market in western Wisconsin will receive the Big Ten Network on expanded basic cable starting on August 15, with the option to move the station to the digital tier in Spring 2009. (Viewers outside of the Big Ten states might have to buy a sports tier at that point to continue to get BTN.)

The good news is that this is the first breakthrough between BTN and a major cable provider in Big Ten country, meaning further deals may be possible. The bad news is that in much of Wisconisn, the local cable monopoly is Charter, and Milwaukee is served by Time-Warner -- neither of which appears to be enthusiastic about picking up BTN, even at a compromised price.

Still, there's hope that Comcast was the first in a series of dominoes to topple and that cable subscribers in America's Dairyland may soon be able to see their Badgers without switching providers.

Big Ten Bloggers All-Conference Team: Very Disappointing

Here's your Big Ten Bloggers Preseason All-Conference Team:

1st Team All Big Ten Offense
QB - Curtis Painter, Purdue
RB - Beanie Wells, Ohio State
RB - Javon Ringer, Michigan State
WR - Brian Robiskie, Ohio State
WR - Arrelious Benn, Illinois
WR - Greg Orton, Purdue
TE/SB - Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
OT - Alex Boone, Ohio State
OG - Steve Rehring, Michigan
C - AQ Shipley, Penn State
OG - Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin
OT - Eric Vanden Heuvel, Wisconsin

1st Team All-Big Ten Defense
DE- Greg Middleton, Indiana
DE - Maurice Evans, Penn State
DT - Terrance Taylor, Michigan
DT - Mitch King, Iowa
LB - James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
LB - Marcus Freeman, Ohio State
LB - Anthony Heygood, Purdue
S - Anthony Scirrotto, Penn State
S - Anderson Russell, Ohio State
CB - Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
CB - Vontae Davis, Illinois

K - Austin Starr, Indiana
PR - Marcus Thigpen, Indiana
P - Jeremy Boone, Penn State


Look familiar? It should, if you've read Phil Steele. Here are the positions at which the Big Ten Bloggers differ from Mr. Steele: one of two offensive tackles and punt returner. We really blazed a courageous new trail there, didn't we? Differing on two positions that are tough to gauge with an expert eye let alone as the amateurs we are points to one of two things: (a) we're really damn uncreative or (b) this is going to be one predictable, boring year for the Big Ten.

I know I haven't posted for some time, and I know that a good number of my picks coincide with Phil's as well. I'm not singling anybody out here, I'm criticizing the group as a whole: when the inevitable bloggers-versus-MSM thing arises, it's stuff like this that gets pointed out -- that the bloggers are recyclers, rehashers ... even plagiarists. We need to offer something new.

And it's entirely possible that we have. Maybe, like the BlogPoll, the sum total of these picks winds up looking like the same thing the MSM churns out, but it arises from a wonderful array of differences in opinion. Not many invididual ballots have been posted yet, so it's impossible to say at the moment. But do keep in mind, bloggers, that our niche is the original, the minute. We sate the cravings of those who want to know more. More than USA Today, more than your local sports section, sometimes even more than your own athletic department is giving away. Giving away what Steele gave away weeks ago won't cut it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

2008 Big Ten Football Preseason All-Conference Team

It's a Northwestern football fan's favorite time of year -- the preseason, when they haven't yet been torched by Duke and spirits aren't quite at Carrie Nation-era lows in Evanston (har!) As such, Lake the Posts is going full throttle and has tasked the Big Ten Bloggers to come up with their picks for preseason all-conference teams. Here are mine (I didn't pick special teams because that's really out of my realm):

2008 Big Ten College Football Preseason All-Conference Selections

Offense
:

Quarterback: Todd Boeckman, Ohio State
Running back: Beanie Wells, Ohio State
Running back: PJ Hill, Wisconsin
Receiver: Brian Hartline, Ohio State
Receiver: Greg Mathews, Michigan
Receiver: Arrelious Benn, Illinois
Tight End: Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
Center: AQ Shipley, Penn State
Guard: Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin
Guard: Steve Rehring, Ohio State
Tackle: Alex Boone, Ohio State
Tackle: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

Easiest picks: The easiest pick here was Beckum. It's still a mystery to me why he's back in Madison this year; did the draft analysts really believe he would fall past the first round? Maybe if Beckum builds up sufficient hype he could be a top-five kind of guy this year. Beyond that, Wells was a no-brainer and Shipley, Urbik, and Boone are coming off of all-conference seasons.

Toughest picks: I didn't have solid answers for the receiving corps. Arrelious Benn was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last year despite having Juice Williams throwing to him and playing on a team that had Rashard Mendenhall eating up touches. He could absolutely blow up this year. Greg Mathews looks ready to continue the unbroken line of astounding Michigan receivers (how far back can YOU go? Manningham, Avant, Edwards, Walker, Terrell ...), leaving room for only one pick between Ohio State's duo of Robiskie and Hartline. Also, this appears to be very much a down year at the quarterback position the Big Ten. A lot of people are probably going to wind up picking Curtis Painter as their first-teamer, but I just can't put my faith in a guy who routinely leads his team to late-season meltdowns. Since the other names up for consideration are Juice Williams, Kellen Lewis, and CJ Bacher, I went with Boeckman, a man whose job won't even be secure if Terrelle Pryor lives up to the hype immediately. People might also take issue with PJ Hill, especially since UW has four proven running backs returning this year, but the (presumably) popular pick of Javon Ringer smells distinctly of tokenism to me.

Defense:

End: Maurice Evans, Penn State
End: Greg Middleton, Indiana
Tackle: Terrence Taylor, Michigan
Tackle: Mitch King, Iowa
Linebacker: Jonathon Casillas, Wisconsin
Linebacker: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
Linebacker: Marcus Freeman, Ohio State
Linebacker: Martez Wilson, Illinois
Cornerback: Malcom Jenkins, Ohio State
Cornerback: Donovan Warren, Michigan
Safety: Anthony Scirrotto, Penn State
Safety: Stevie Brown, Michigan

Easiest picks: Laurinaitis, of course. And the entire defensive line: three first-team all-conference picks return, and the guy who wasn't first team, Taylor, was a second-teamer. Those are big dudes who want to devour you.

Toughest picks: I engaged in a little homerism putting the mildly-inconsistent-but-improving Casillas on my list. I'm not sure there's a consensus #2 cornerback in the conference so I think I'm sticking my neck out a little bit by tapping Donovan Warren. Indeed, it seems like almost all of the talent among the deep men has departed the Big Ten, as I was positively scrambling to choose safeties. Could be a big year for airing the ball out in the Big Ten with inexperienced secondaries appearing to be the rule.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

2008 Badger Football -- a very early look at the offense

The preseason college rags are hitting the shelves at the local stores, and with the Stanley Cup Finals over, another middling effort by the Brewers, and the unwatchable NBA doing what it does worst, a guy's mind focuses solely college football season, due to start less than three months from now.

If you thought last year was a big question mark for the Badgers, (1) you were right and (2) hold on to your hats this year. Much like last season, the Badgers are going to rely on an unproven senior at quarterback with Allan Evridge becoming the starter. Thus far, some have deigned to term him "horrific" based on his completion percentage over twelve tries -- that's what the best analysts do, right?

But more likely, the former Kansas State starter will be the latest in a line of Badger quarterbacks that competently hand off to PJ Hill and make the safe throw to Travis Beckum while occasionally lobbing a bomb (and even more occasionally completing said bombs). I don't expect Evridge to cost the Badgers any games but I don't expect him to steal any extra victories either.

So it goes with this program until we get back to having multi-year starters. Caretakers at QB is the story of the recent very-good-but-not-great Badgers. Maybe this Jon Budmayr kid is the answer to that problem.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Former Badgers Chelios and Rafalski win the Stanley Cup


On Wednesday, two former Badgers were part of the latest class to be immortalized by having their names engraved on (frankly) the coolest trophy in all of sports: the Stanley Cup. With the Detroit Red Wings' thrilling Game 6 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios both became three-time Stanley Cup Champions.
Rafalski had a stellar postseason, putting up 14 points, which included two huge goals in the Stanley Cup Finals: the first was the would-be game (and series!) winner in Game 5. Rafalski put it in with 10:37 to go in the game, but as the Detroit fans readied themselves for a celebration, Chris Osgood allowed Maxime Talbot to sneak one by him with just 35 seconds to go in regulation. Pittsburgh wound up winning the game hours later in the third overtime, forcing Game 6. Rafalski opened the scoring in Game 6 with a power play goal just five minutes after the game began, and a couple hours later the Wings hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup for the eleventh time in franchise history.

Chelios played the best hockey of any 46-year-old in the playoffs, but ultimately coach Mike Babcock elected to bench him as a healthy scratch starting with the last game of the Western Conference Finals. Nonetheless, Chelios's contributions in the postseason did not go unnoticed, and his name will be engraved again on the Cup. He also made another contribution to the Cup when it suffered a minor dent at his restaurant. Apparently that's been repaired and does not require the healing expertise of Dr. Cox.

Congrats to these two Badgers on leading their team to the promised land.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sweet but not Elite



The methodical first-round victory over Cal State-Fullerton was an unremarkable feat. The second-round scorching of Michael Beasley and Kansas State raised the hopes and expectations of Badger fans. And then Wisconsin ran into Stephen Curry and his friends from Davidson, and the season ended abruptly in Detroit.

What more can you say? Sports fans are greedy; they always want more. At the beginning of the season, I was prepared for a rebuilding year -- losing Alando Tucker and Kam Taylor, you had to expect a sub-par performance. All I was hoping for was securing that tenth straight NCAA tournament bid and waiting for next year, when we would unseat Michigan State or Indiana -- you know, whoever won the Big Ten title. Then, as the Badgers continued to win, I changed my mind: anything less than a Sweet Sixteen would be a disappointment for this cohesive group of genuine team players. Finally, as UW started to accumulate hardware, I thought to myself, "You know, with a break or two, this team could be in the Final Four ... or even ..."

But it was not to be. Stephen Curry and his third straight 30+ point game saw to that. And so we were able to watch Kansas hold off feisty Davidson, move on to the #1 seed-stocked Final Four, and eventually best Memphis, dragging the Tigers down by the throat after a couple of -- who could've seen that coming? -- missed free throws.

The point: this was an excellent season of Wisconsin basketball. Over 30 wins again, survival till the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, and hardware galore. However, the monkey on Bo Ryan's back is getting bigger: why do Wisconsin's conference championship teams make such abbreviated postseason runs? It's a question we'll need to deal with eventually; nobody knows how many conference titles you've won as long as you're bowing out against the likes of Davidson and UNLV. Extended runs in the Big Dance is what is keeping this program from getting to the next level. Frankly, until the Badgers make it to back-to-back Sweet Sixteens or further, the "No Respect!" that we hear so much about is richly deserved.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Wisconsin wound up with a #3 seed

According to an interview with Steve Lavin and Brent Musburger during the play-in game (Mount Saint Mary's versus Coppin State), Selection Committee Chair Tom O'Connor said that Wisconsin wound up with a #3 seed because they were comparing Duke and UW and Duke beat the Badgers head-to-head.

No word on why Wisconsin's head-to-head win over Texas wasn't considered.

NCAA Tournament: Pod Preview

#3 Wisconsin vs. #14 California State-Fullerton: the Badgers will tip off against the Titans of Cal State-Fullerton at about 8:40 pm (Central) on Thursday night. So you don't need to take the day off of work in order to see Wisconsin play! (Operative word being NEED, of course. Go ahead and do it anyway. I am.)

With any luck, baseball power CSF won't be much of a challenge on the hardcourt for UW. They're not going to get much of a preview here. They've made it to the NCAA tournament just once, in 1978. And guess what? That year they made it all the way to the Final Four. They were the Big West champs this year, and they boast a 24-8 record -- but those 8 losses include defeats at the hands of Pacific, Wright State, Central Michigan, and two to UC-Santa Barbara. CSF was a midmajor team that avoided scheduling major powers and as such wasn't much of a punching bag. They did put up a fight against St. Mary's, the ten-seed in the South, leading by five in the second half until the Gaels came into their own and wound up taking over en route to a ten-point margin of victory. Nittany White-Out is doing the cheering-for-the-conference thing and has compared Cal State-Fullerton to Wisconsin:

This is an easy game to predict. Wisconsin has a knack for slowing down fast-paced offenses ... 70 would be a good benchmark for CS-Fullerton to aim for. Unfortunately for them, 70 against Wisconsin’s defense would be like running into a brick wall blindfolded. Mark it down. A blowout unwatchable game for the Badgers in Round 1.


#6 USC vs. #11 Kansas State: Much has been written about this matchup. As Colin Cowherd stated yesterday on his occasionally-decent radio show, it's good TV: Mayo vs. Beasley. Two mercenaries who could be commanding NBA money at this time next year. (In Mayo's case, of course, since he's at USC there's a chance he's pulling in an NBA-style salary right now. But that's neither here nor there.) I know next to nothing about this matchup, but you ought to read what people who might have some idea what they're talking about with regard to this matchup. As an added bonus, here's a piece on a hypothetical matchup between Wisconsin and Kansas State.

My bracket says: Take the favorites through the entire pod. UW to the Sweet Sixteen via two school from SoCal.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Not in love with the #3 seed

Not because it's a #3 seed -- that's fine. We had our shot at a #2 last year and that went horribly, maybe the change of scenery at #3 will be helpful. But that's one hell of a 6/11 matchup we're looking at; either we get Mayo (20.8 ppg) and USC or Beasley (26.5 ppg, 12.4 rpg) and Kansas State. Still, these stars are just freshmen, and with an experienced senior like Michael Flowers taking responsibility for these stars, there's a pretty good chance for UW to make the Sweet Sixteen. I'll say it's a 98% chance to win against Cal State-Fullerton and 60% to move on to the next weekend. Choosing between Gonzaga, Davidson, and Georgetown is no fun, but I do think Georgetown is ripe for the picking. An Elite Eight would be an incredible achievement for the team that was supposed to finish fifth in the conference.

That said, I believe that despite their lower seeds, Michigan State and Purdue have easier opposition on their way to the second weekend (high seeds they'll face will be #4 Pitt and #3 Xavier, respectively). Poor Indiana got hosed, not just with an 8-seed, but drawing UNC in the first weekend? Ugh. Really thought the Buckeyes were going to make the field too. Can we blame Georgia for that? I'd like to blame Georgia. Tough break for Matta's crew. I guess they did need a Big Ten Tournament win after all.

Let's not speak of the hockey team. If they luck into a postseason berth it'll be a miracle -- and their stay will be brief. You drop one game to St. Cloud in your last fifteen tries and then get SWEPT in the WCHA playoffs? Pathetic.

Anyway ... hoops on Thursday and Saturday this weekend. Go Badgers!

Badgers overcome Spartans, officiating


49 fouls. 56 free throws. Four Spartans fouling out. Three fouls called on three-point attempts (two of which actually sunk, leading to four-point plays). This is what the Big Ten puts forth when the entire nation is watching? Seriously? Ed Hightower and his gang of whistle-blowing goons ought to be ashamed. LET THEM PLAY, guys. LET THEM PLAY.

49 fouls, and though 30 went against Michigan State, the biggest of the game by far was the first whistle of the second half. That one that sent Michael Flowers to the bench just 32 seconds after intermission. After his departure, the Spartans ran their lead from 29-27 to 39-29, and it looked like it was going to be an ugly afternoon for Wisconsin. With Flowers restricted in his defensive duties, Spartan sharpshooter Drew Neitzel had a field day; the kid that Flowers shut down at the Kohl Center mere weeks ago had every opportunity to pick and choose, and he made good.

On an afternoon when the Badgers shot just 37% from the field, free throws kept them alive, and even those didn't go smoothly; Brian Butch missed four straight, the normally ultra-reliable Jason Bohannon missed both of his in the closing seconds -- shots that would've taken the margin from 2 to 4 in the last possession of the game.

Make no mistake, the Spartans were the number one contributors to their own demise. (And make no mistake: anything that brings on a good old-fashioned Tom Izzo whinefest is a good thing.) It was made clear early on that the officials were going to blow plays dead at every opportunity, and Michigan State failed to adjust their style of play. The end result: all three of their big men -- Ibok, Suton, and Naymick -- fouled out in a 56-second span in the second half, forcing MSU to match smaller players up with the likes of Brian Butch.

An unfortunate consequence of this game was the potential loss of Trevon Hughes, who's now being called a game-time decision. The Badgers shouldn't need him today, but they will absolutely require him through the NCAA tournament. He was spotted wearing a walking boot. As far as I'm concerned, it would be better for the Badgers to lose today without him than risk further injury and bow out early from the Big Dance as a result of his absence.

So now the Badgers get Illinois in the final game. The ten seed in the Big Ten Tournament, doesn't a part of you want to see the Illini win and get the auto-bid? But there's so much at stake here to root for something like that. If MSU had pulled it out yesterday, yeah, I'm cheering for the Illini all the way. It would be much better, though, to see the Badgers put two trophies in the case before the Big Dance even starts, and to cling to the dream that maybe they'll have to make room for a third.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Badger Hockey puts one foot in grave

Home ice would've been nice. The Badgers went on the road and were shut out by St. Cloud State tonight, 3-0. This marked the first postseason shutout for the Badgers since 1997. 88% of teams who win the first game of a WCHA postseason series wind up advancing to the Final Five, so the Badgers have their work cut out for them. Just a couple items here from Minnesota-Duluth radio dude Bruce Ciskie:

Wisconsin needs to win this series to get in the NCAAs in all likelihood, as they are firmly on the bubble right now. With Boston University, UMD, and Notre Dame - among others - knocking on the door, Bucky better find a way to win two games this weekend, or the Kohl Center may end up being mighty empty in two weeks.

...

If you're a UMD fan, root for ... SCSU [to beat] Wisconsin. A sweep and a UMD sweep likely would swing the UMD/UW PWR comparison for UMD.


Uh oh.

Badgers will meet the Spartans tomorrow

The Big Ten Tournament -- which is apparently the worst ever -- rolls on, and the Badgers will get their chance to put together the State of Michigan Sweep tomorrow when they take on Michigan State. The tip is at 12:40 pm (Central time) and the game will be aired on CBS, not the Big Ten Network. I emphasize that because the BTN stole another one from the general viewing public tonight when it kept 10-seed Illinois's victory over #2 Purdue off of most cable systems. (Props to one Purdue blog for foreseeing trouble when Penn State didn't off the Illini.)

Michigan State advanced due to a rare (in 2008) virtuoso performance from Drew Neitzel. Michael Flowers is going to have to shut Neitzel down again. He'll be up to the challenge after hounding Manny Harris all day today. With any luck Brian Butch will stay true to his style of play and not come out timid after his bout of foul trouble today. Bo Ryan will have the opportunity to boost his record against Tom Izzo to a gaudy 11-3 with a victory ... and I believe he'll get it.

Final score: Wisconsin 61, Michigan State 55.

Badgers dominate Michigan in Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals



The gameplan for defeating the 2008 Michigan Wolverines is uncomplicated: stop Manny Harris. Michael Flowers did just that, and the end result was defensive dominance: Michigan shot 20% from the field, which was actually improved by UM's 6-for-24 performance from beyond the arc. That's right: the Wolverines were 4-for-26 on 2-point attempts, a dismal 15.4%. That pathetic rate led to a record-low performance; till today, no team had ever finished a Big Ten Tournament game with fewer than 40 points.

Some will exclaim, "surely you can't be referring to a 51-point effort as dominance!" Oh, but I can. Much of that was due to Ed Hightower's fondness for whistling Brian Butch early and often, limiting the Polar Bear to 16 minutes on the floor.

Now we wait for the winner of the Michigan State/Ohio State game. I think Michigan State is the better matchup for the Badgers, so that's who I'm cheering for.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bracket tip courtesy of the Big East Tournament

Pick all of these teams to bow out early because they ain't that good. West Virginia squeaks by Providence and they're a lock all of a sudden? Seriously? And the Big Ten is the conference that's "down?"

If that conference gets two teams to the Sweet Sixteen it'll be a miracle.

Wisconsin will face Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament

Early this afternoon, the Michigan Wolverines outsmacked Iowa in the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament, coming away with a glorious 55-47 victory. And by glorious I clearly mean stupefyingly dull; 12 minutes with a field goal? COMBINED?! Wow. Maize 'N' Brew talks about the Wolverines running their victory total to the double digits and the privilege of facing the Badgers tomorrow:

On a positive note, this is Michigan's first Big Ten tournament win under Beilein and it ensures Michigan will finish the season with double digits in the win column. Michigan also has the good fortune of drawing Wisconsin, a team it scared the holy hell out of two months ago, as its next opponent. During the teams' second meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan came within three points of topping the then 11th ranked Badgers. This is even more remarkable when you consider the Badgers shot 60% from the floor during the second half, and they almost lost. Good sign? Maybe. You can take it for what its worth.

As much as I'd like to say it's a good omen, Michigan lost its next three games in embarrassing fashion, including a double digit home loss to Minnesota. Looking back Michigan lost the season's first meeting with Wisconsin by 16. Further, the Badgers shot just over or just under 50% against Michigan in both games. Better defense or not, Wisconsin isn't going to pull an Iowa and shoot 32%FG and 12% from three. No one should be holding their breath for an upset.


Pardon my discouraging tone but despite the near upset, this is not going to be pretty for Michigan. Not in the slightest. At least the Michigan fans can enjoy the victory and the fact that beating Iowa produces outbursts like this from BHGP.

Looking ahead, the Prospector (author of the Cardinal and White Chronicles) engages in some amateur bracketology here and here) in order to make a case for the Badgers to get a #2 seed in the Big Dance; he winds up making the case for the other team in both cases. So it goes. Being the top #3 seed puts UW closer (geographically) to Madison for the Regional round, which is a bonus.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The run-up to Big Ten Tournament time

Nerdy graphs: KJ at the excellent Spartans Weblog revels in his nerdery, and why not? After all, it can produce super informative third-order polynomial plots!:

The idea is to smooth out individual game performance to see the general direction a team’s performance seemed to be moving in at a given point in the season. Intuitively, this should tell us whether a team is on the upswing or downswing as the regular season ends–although I can’t definitively say the method is predictive. I should also note there are a couple flaws in this approach:

* It doesn’t account for quality of opposition–an upward trend could represent a grouping of weak opponents on the schedule (or vice versa).
* It doesn’t account for home/away game. Other than the occasional three-game bunch of home or away games for a particular team, though, the home/away factor should be smoothed out by the trendlines in most cases.


As expected, the Badgers come up with the best graph:



Essentially, if your team is improving, you'll see that blue line start trending up and the red move down. And does it ever in the Badgers' case! KJ is careful to note that this may be misleading, as the Penn State and Northwestern massacres are likely pulling those curves apart artificially, but any time you can get a Spartan fan to call your team's performance "frightening," you're definitely getting somewhere.

What they're saying about the Big Ten Tournament: Obviously the time for prognostication is upon us. Here are some selected takes:

  • From the Barn sees Purdue over Wisconsin in the final

  • Purdue fans at Off the Tracks have that same machup but believe the Badgers will finally best Purdue

  • Statistical guru Ken Pomeroy lays out odds that would cry out for calls of homerism if I generated them: the Badgers have a 56%(!) chance of winning the Big Ten Tournament, a 72.6% chance of making the finals, and a frickin' 95.8% chance of beating the winner of the Iowa/Michigan game. Does that sound absurdly high to anyone else? I mean, you're telling me that if Wisconsin and Iowa or Michigan play 20 times, the Badgers win 19? Really?

  • In the name of Marchifornication, the Hawkeye geniuses behind BHGP have a sample bracket up, and ... hey, wait a minute ...

  • Memorable occasions that usually involve Badger losses are recounted at Ohio State's Buckeye Commentary


  • So what's really going to happen during the Big Ten Tournament? Glad you asked; my picks are up in the comments at Spartans Weblog where I am going to win a sweet frickin' t-shirt:

    DAY ONE
  • Iowa over Michigan: The two most plodding offenses in the conference waddle to a combined 70 points. Iowa wins by two, which would pretty much be a blowout

  • Illinois over Penn State: The Lions got their big season-ending win against IU. There's nothing left in the tank. The walking wounded have a LONG trip to the tournament and will have a longer one home.

  • Minnesota over Northwestern: Their opponent isn't Michigan, so the Wildcats can't win.


  • DAY TWO
  • Wisconsin over Iowa: Too many weapons. Iowa can't overcome the all-out attack the rested, healthy Badgers have planned. Michael Flowers blocks five shots.

  • Ohio State over Michigan State: MSU is in the Dance; the Buckeyes might be. The desperate Bucks pull away late, much like they did on Sunday, which shocks exactly nobody as the Spartans have been horrendous (3-6) away from East Lansing against Big Ten foes

  • Purdue over Illinois: With a week to go in the regular season, the Boilermakers thought they were going to be Big Ten Champions. That melted away and now they're on a mission of vengeance. Illinois is unceremoniously shoved out of the way.

  • Indiana over Minnesota: I want to pick the Gophers, but the tournament's located in the state of Indiana so I just can't do it. The Hoosiers have the talent to win and the crowd will be behind them, but the contrast between the mess Kelvin Sampson made and the rock-solid foundation Tubby Smith is laying couldn't be more stark. If this is in Chicago I pick the Gophers without hesitation.


  • DAY THREE
  • Wisconsin over Ohio State: The Badgers avenge last year's embarrassing tournament loss by getting their second win over the Buckeyes in 2008.

  • Purdue over Indiana: The Battle for the State of Indiana finally turns Purdue's way as an uninspired, undercoached Hoosier squad comes out flat.


  • DAY FOUR: TITLE GAME
  • Purdue over Wisconsin: Purdue has been the monkey on the Badgers' back, and UW's futility when the train-guys show up continues. Purdue's frustrating defense makes the difference and the Boilermakers hoist a trophy after all.
  • Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Post-season awards and tournament projections

    When the two groups conflict, choose the media over the coaches. It holds true in polling, unfortunately -- the Badgers are #6 in the eyes of the coaches (or whoever's actually submitting ballots on their behalf) and #8 in the AP. Those single-digit numbers have been deemed "glorious" by most.

    Wisconsin's a major conference champ that's ranked in the top 8 by everyone, so that should be a #2 seed all the way, right? Wrong:

    The Sporting News' Ryan Fagan has Wisconsin as ... a 3 seed, of course.


    Joe Lunardi had the Badgers in as a #2 before his last update, when he bumped them to a #3 in favor of Georgetown. I guess that's what a season-ending win over the second-place team in the Big East to secure an outright conference title will do for you. Still no explanation (outside of the ESPN premium channels, anyway) for why the Big XII gets two #2 seeds in Kansas and Texas, especially when Texas (1) has 5 losses to Wisconsin's 4 and (2) was beaten head-to-head by the Badgers. It would be nice for UW if Kansas, Texas, or Duke would bow out really early in their respective conference tournaments.

    The all-conference teams are out, and as you might expect from a championship team without a superstar, the accolades are numerous but spread out, with Brian Butch garnering first-team standing from the coaches and the media. (And again, this is another opportunity to pound home the sentiment that the media's opinion trumps the coaches; where the coaches put Drew Neitzel of MSU on the first team, the media picked Jamar Butler of Ohio State. Badger fans will still insist that such a thing is not exactly right but the post-season award that actually means something is already sitting in a trophy case at the Kohl Center, and that wasn't up to a bunch of half-interested voters.)

    Is Bo Ryan the class of the Big Ten? Possibly, but that's not going far enough for John Gasaway -- he taps Bo as National Coach of the Decade!

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Brett Favre: a career in video games

    Of all the encomiums to our venerable former quarterback, this one might just be the most offbeat. (via Football Outsiders)

    Ticket info for St. Cloud State

    Thanks to intrepid reader Brent for bringing this up: there is no UW allotment for tickets for this weekend's WCHA playoff series at St. Cloud State. However, all seats at their rink are $12 reserved. You can get ticket info here; the number to call is 1-877-SCSUTIX. A call placed to the ticket office moments ago revealed that despite a flood of calls this morning (which Brent confirmed) the arena is "not close" to being sold out, so if you need to sit on the decision for a couple days you'll probably be OK.

    Go support the Badgers! See what St. Cloud is all about! Check out the quarries! Yeah!

    Sunday, March 09, 2008

    2008 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament Bracket is set

    Michigan almost kept things interesting this afternoon, but midway through the second half Purdue pulled away and wound up beating the Wolverines, securing the #2 seed in the conference tourney as a result. Michigan will play #8 seed Iowa at 11 am on Thursday to tip this thing off, and the Badgers will play the winner of that match on Friday at 11 am.

    Click the image below to get your full-sized graphical version of the tournament bracket, presented in handy .jpg form for better desktop-wallpaper purposes.

    Saturday, March 08, 2008

    Hockey Badgers lose home ice


    Just like last night, North Dakota and St. Cloud State skated to a tie on Saturday, giving St. Cloud one point and putting them in a tie for fourth place in the WCHA with Minnesota State. Since MSU-Mankato went 2-0-0 against St. Cloud, the Mavericks will be the #4 seed and St. Cloud will be #5. That means Wisconsin will be #6 ... and will be riding a bus to St. Cloud, Minnesota, next weekend. If you want to follow the team, just hop on I-94 west and keep going till you're about an hour past the Twin Cities.

    The Badgers lost their last meeting with the Huskies but were unbeaten in the previous fourteen games in the teams' series. They'll have to win two of three on the road to advance to the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul which will wrap up two weeks from tonight.

    Outright championship is official: Wisconsin 65, Northwestern 52

    The Badgers had no problems whatsoever with the Wildcats as they secured a double-digit victory in front of what essentially amounted to a home crowd in Evanston (Matt LePay said that 80% of the crowd was wearing red and emphasized that this was a pretty conservative estimate). Bring on the Big Ten Tournament! The Badgers will be the #1 seed and will face the winner of the 8/9 game at 11 am on Friday in Indianapolis. The participants in that game will be determined tomorrow but as of right now could include Penn State, Iowa, Michigan, or Illinois.

    All we need now is a North Dakota hockey victory and this weekend will be count as good.

    Friday, March 07, 2008

    Friday night WCHA hockey recap: Oh crap

    The final weekend of WCHA play is a bye week for the Badgers, which means their point total in the conference stays at 27. Tonight they were probably sitting at home, feverishly clicking refresh at USCHO.com or watching the GameTracker or trying to tune the AM radio to pick up the St. Cloud State game in order to figure out who they'll be playing in the conference playoffs and where. Or maybe that was just me, and the hockey team was out doing whatever it is that popular, well-conditioned athletes do on Friday nights. Like maybe hang out with girls or something.

    Be that as it may, the Badgers had to have their eyes on three teams this weekend: Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota. All three were within striking distance of the Badgers going into Friday's games, and wins by Michigan Tech, North Dakota, and Minnesota-Duluth, respectively, would've gone a long way to soothing the Badgers' troubles (thus allowing them to enjoy Saturday night, which I also have to imagine would've been spent out and with girls.) You see, to get home ice for the WCHA playoffs, the Badgers need to stay in fifth place, with the fourth place standing that they held coming into the weekend being a bonus if it held up.

    But tonight, if it could go wrong for the Badgers, it pretty much did. Michigan Tech is the ninth-place team in the league and apparently played like it tonight, as they lost 5-2 to Minnesota State. That game Minnesota State points 27 and 28 on the season; they'll finish the year in no worse than fifth place and they're currently fourth in the conference. The only team that can unseat them is St. Cloud State, which managed a tie with #1 (in the conference and the nation) North Dakota, picking up a huge point in the process. Their total on the year? 27. Now, if they lose tomorrow night, their total will remain at 27, and since the Badgers own a 3-1-0 head-to-head record with the Huskies, Wisconsin wins the tiebreaker. Anything other than a loss tomorrow for St. Cloud means the Badgers go on the road.

    Of less concern is the fact that Minnesota won in their game against Duluth. According to their official site, the Gophers would've needed St. Cloud State to be swept by North Dakota in order to get home ice. Even though the Gophers could tie the Badgers in the point total with a win tomorrow, they'd lose the second tiebreaker -- the Badgers have 11 wins in the conference, while the Gophers would max out at 10. (Wisconsin and Minnesota went 1-1-2 head-to-head this season, making the first tiebreaker a tie.) If I'm not misunderstanding something, the Gophers are completely, utterly guaranteed to be a road team this postseason -- albeit a road team that's hitting its stride right now and as such is really dangerous. If Wisconsin, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State all wind up with 27 points, the Badgers win that three-way tiebreaker, too.

    At this point, it only makes sense to hope for a North Dakota win tomorrow. Anything else and Kohl Center is done hosting men's hockey until the NCAA tournament rolls around in three weeks and Wisconsin will have to skate at St. Cloud or Minnesota State.

    Of course, if you're a Michigan fan, this is the time where you start burning incense as an offering to whatever deity is in charge of fixing college hockey games in order to avoid being a #1 seed that has to play a #4 with home ice advantage:

    I have a bad feeling that if Wisconsin is a four seed, we're going to play them in the first round no matter what ... Wisconsin is about one slot away from being out of the tourney altogether, which is the best option for Michigan.

    Diamond Taylor commits to Wisconsin, avalanche of horrible wordplay follows


    Evidently Chicago-area high schooler Diamond Taylor liked the idea of being a Big Ten champ, since today he verbally committed to becoming the second member of the Badgers' 2009 recruiting class. Taylor is a 6'4" string bean of a kid (165 pounds!!!) who some believe might be the best player in Chicagoland in the Class of 2009. That kid's going to have to visit Giordano's nightly till he graduates to bulk up for the college game. He had offers from Arizona State, Bradley, Illinois, Iowa, Marquette, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, and Southern Illinois, as the JSOnline blog states, so apparently a lot of people saw potential in the kid. Welcome aboard! Madison's no South Bend or Carbondale, but we think it's a nice place to live.

    While it's fun that another Taylor will join the line that Kammron started and Jordan will continue next year, with a first name like Diamond we internet dolts are all but obligated to line up our shots and fire away. BadgerCentric is first out of the gate with "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." Sigh. Hoops Marinara declares the kid a Diamond in the Rough, naturally. The guys at the Wisconsin Sports Bar resist the temptation but commenter Dave in Milwaukee is hoping that Diamond won't get cut. Scout declares Diamond to be of high value.

    What else can do with this?

  • Diamond to suit up in red

  • UW acquires Diamond; still no plans to resurrect baseball program

  • Chicago, city with a lump of coal up its ass, produces Diamond for Wisconsin

  • Crazy Diamond to shine on at Kohl Center

  • Diamond has moment of clarity, commits to UW

  • Badgers Headed to the Future with Diamond I really wanted to work in a "Hot August Night" or "Sweet Caroline" reference here, but you've got to know your limits ...

  • Badgers score Diamond for '09, diamond scores 10 on Mohs scale What? WHAT?


  • And it goes on. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds? Diamond Joe Quimby? Lou Diamond Phillips? Blood diamond? Hope Diamond? It's gonna get so old that it'll be new again by the time the kid gets to campus!

    Thursday, March 06, 2008

    Rising to the top on Senior Night


    The team. This year, it's all about the team.

    Don't get me wrong -- last year was about the team, too. But this year there aren't any superstars to promote. This year there wasn't another clear favorite in the conference; there was no Oden/Conley connection, there was no 37-1 Illinois team, there was just a trophy waiting for someone to go out there and earn it. This team coalesced and somehow, unexpectedly, Bo Ryan worked his magic, getting the most out of the recruits experts around the Midwest declared "good but not great" and leading a championship squad for the fourth time in seven years (three times in the regular season, once in the conference tournament).

    The Badgers don't lose very much at the Kohl Center, so when I made my prediction about last night's game I didn't see a loss. But the Nittany Lions had put together a miniature hot streak and had, like the Badgers, started to really find their identity as a team. I don't think anybody foresaw the 36-point margin of victory that the Badgers secured, but then again it's likely the victory would have been less lopsided if Jamelle Cornley had been healthy enough to play. Add in a sub-30% shooting percentage for the Nittany Lions and, well, that's ballgame.

    Wisconsin looked good; indeed, if you click through to Black Shoe Diaries above, Mike says "Even though Penn State was getting killed it was kind of a joy to see the Badgers playing the game so well. They could really do some damage in the tournament if they play like that." And that's really the kind of reaction this team evokes. When one player is having an off-night, another fills in without hesitation and keeps the Badger victories coming. Last night everyone stepped up, whether it was Marcus Landry scoring Wisconsin's first seven points, Brian Butch contributing 12, Stiemsma with 10, Flowers with 8 boards and 9 assists, Krabbenhoft with a monster dunk(!), or Tanner Bronson playing that sweet string music from 24 feet away(!!!).

    And they've done it all without a trace of arrogance, without any of the chest-thumping antics that turn you from a winner to a gloater. (They're leaving that to the fans, it seems; as BadgerCentric says, "Our opponents' student sections rush the floor when they beat us. Our students rush the floor when we win championships."

    I do want to give a special shout-out to Purdue. It's tough to watch another team win a championship when you've had their number all year. Trust me, Wisconsin fans know this from experience. How many times have we beaten Michigan State only to bow out in the first round of the Big Dance and watch them go to the Final Four? How many times have we beaten Ohio State in football just to see them collect their hardware at the end of the season anyway? I really do feel for all of you Purdue fans; your team is a fantastic surprise (you think Wisconsin came out of nowhere this year? What about Purdue!?) and I don't look forward to seeing the Badgers match up against the Boilermakers in the Big Ten Tournament if it comes down to them. As Walter Sobchek would say, Purdue is a worthy adversary, and any team that winds up opposite them in the conference or national tournament has much to dread.

    However, despite all that, it would be nice to keep this trophy to ourselves in Madison. The Badgers have a day to celebrate and then need to make sure the Wildcats of Northwestern don't sneak up on them.

    Wednesday, March 05, 2008

    Big Ten Champs!



    Wisconsin 77, Penn State 41 means that Wisconsin has clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title. A win over Northwestern on Saturday means Bo and Co. don't have to share the trophy.

    More tomorrow when we plead for more playing time for the master of the monster triple, Tanner Bronson.

    Photo: UWBadgers.com

    Penn State at Wisconsin -- 8 pm, Big Ten Network


    There's not much good to say about Penn State basketball these days: they don't win much, and their only win of note this year came at home against Michigan State, a team that's known to become Mr. Hyde when it leaves East Lansing (that is, if Mr. Hyde was 5'2", 97 pounds). Penn State has lost to Michigan, Iowa, and twice to Minnesota. You may remember them from such games as Wisconsin 80, Penn State 55 -- and that was a road victory for the Badgers. (That game, unfortunately, led to the end of the road for the exciting Geary Claxton, a guy who can take a game over and be a true wild card on a night like tonight.)

    While the Badgers do have to play forty good minutes tonight, this game should not be a source of major discomfort. Further, certain Penn State bloggers are almost bound not to care what happens, having been recently anointed Best of the Big Ten -- and fully deserving said honor. So instead of trying to find something substantive about Penn State basketball, why not just read this completely factual conversation their head football coach had with Bill Cowher.

    Let's call it Wisconsin 70, Penn State 60, and hope that it's not even that close.

    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    THE Ohio State University takes down Purdue


    I don't know whether it was my pledge to indulge the Buckeyes' love affair with the definite article or simply the promise of a sweet, sweet chaw, but I'm going to go ahead and take responsibility for the Ohio State Univeristy's basketball triumph over former conference leader Purdue in Columbus tonight. The Buckeyes won 80-77 in overtime.

    To be perfectly honest it's amazing that the Bucks managed to pull this one out, especially considering that for much of the second half their gameplan consisted of fouling Boilermaker players who had picked up their dribble in completely senseless places and allowing slightly-contested threes to go in. But Jamar Butler decided that the Thad Matta express needed some steam heading into the NIT (let's face it, that win wasn't nearly enough to get the Buckeyes off the bubble) and exploded for 23 points in the second half and overtime and picked his team up when they were way, way down.

    A lot of sound and fury winds up signifying nothing in the end, and unless the Badgers do the improbable and drop a home game to Penn State or somehow all get arrested or deathly ill before the Northwestern trip, an outright Big Ten title and a #1 seed in the conference tournament should come pretty easily to this team.

    Hats off to the Buckeyes for doing what Wisconsin couldn't all year and allowing this team to back its way into the Big Ten title by itself. Toward the end of the game, Brent Musburger stated that "the celebration is starting in Madison!" I don't see it or hear it or taste it so I'd better go out and find it. Musburger's never been wrong about that kind of thing, right?

    Not now, Brett!


    Brett Favre is walking away from football. It's a sad day for Green Bay fans and for fans of professional football in general. We all make fun of John Madden's love for the guy, of all the tired clich├ęs that are trotted out year after year -- he's a gunslinger! He loves to play the game! He's like a kid out there! He's got the mind of a linebacker! -- but Brett Favre is (was? was!) the face of Packer football, of Green Bay, of all of Wisconsin for 17 years. From the high of the Super Bowl victory to the lows of the dazzlingly horrible interceptions that seem to be too many to count to the smile his antics brought to our faces to the concern we shared during the numerous personal tragedies he endured, Brett was everything to us. And while it was true that he never liked to spend more time than he had to in Wisconsin, preferring the rural life of small-town Mississippi that he loves so much, he truly was one of us. We wouldn't let him be otherwise.

    It seemed that Brett had figured something out about himself last year -- the interceptions were down, the touchdowns were up, the win total was WAY up, and the Packers were one overtime win away from a Super Bowl ... and damn, they could have WON that game too! The Giants did! But apparently something led Brett to believe that this was really it, really the time to hang up the #4 jersey and prepare it for immortality, for perpetual veneration at the shrine of Lambeau, to take its place with Lombardi and Starr and Hornung and Nitschke ... or, save for Saint Vince, maybe even above them.

    Farewell, Brett. We're sad but we all know you earned it. Come back and visit anytime.

    And hey, Aaron Rodgers: start moving out of that shadow ...

    OK Badger fans -- wear red today

    Something you're used to doing, I'm sure, but today let's make it scarlet instead of cardinal. Thad Matta is a better coach than Matt Painter, Ohio State has talent that's at least on par with Purdue's, and the game's at Ohio State's majestically-named Value City Arena -- plus the Buckeyes have got to be amped up to play spoiler.

    Tell you what, Bucks ... if you win tonight, I'll fulfill your deepest desire: during over the course of the Big Ten Tournament, I'll refer to your school as THE Ohio State University.

    Monday, March 03, 2008

    Badgers up to #8 in the Coaches' Poll; remain at #10 in AP

    Regard. The coaches find Wisconsin to be somewhat better than Xavier and slightly better than Texas; the sportswriters find otherwise. If the season ended today, the AP would make the Badgers a three-seed and the coaches would drop them in at #2, giving them slightly better odds to win the NCAA Tournament. If the Badgers move down in either poll at this time next week, it's safe to assume something unspeakable has happened.

    Motivation: the Columbus carrot

    Over at Boiled Sports, Purdue fan BoilerDowd notes that Spartan fans get free tacos when MSU puts up at least 70 in a game. He then goes on and takes a stab at what sort of bribes he'd have to lay out for Penn State or Northwestern to get them to dispatch the Badgers this week, even going so far as to proffer a food item to the Wildcats that puts us into the Brave New World of ethnic stereotypes. That's what separates us from the actual journalists, friends: they don't get to have any fun with their material.

    Anyway, I don't think Michigan can beat Purdue and last I checked they had plenty of people paying their basketball players anyway, so let me just make this offer to the Buckeyes: take care of business against the Boilermakers and you too might be enjoying the cool, refreshing taste of Kodiak chewing tobacco. What's your cut? Thick? Long? Are you the type of man who like a bit of mint in there so you feel fresh when yer gettin' yer chaw on?

    Do yourselves a favor, OSU: work hard, play tough, and find yourself an empty Mountain Dew bottle. Smokeless tobacco: a little taste of Columbus in every loogie.



    ps: Check up on all the non-revenue sports action over at Cardinal and White Chronicles

    Sunday, March 02, 2008

    Thank you, Spartans: Big Ten now a two-horse race


    Michigan State put up 59 points in the first half against Indiana and never looked back, reaching triple digits in a home win over the Hoosiers.

    So now it all comes down to Wisconsin and Purdue. Penn State visits the Badgers on Wednesday, then the Badgers close out the season on the road at Northwestern. Purdue has to go on the road twice: they visit struggling Ohio State on Tuesday and Michigan on Sunday. It looks like a 2-0 finish for both teams, which would give the Boilermakers the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, but those Buckeyes could surprise Purdue.

    Until then, though, we salute the school whose mascot is a man in a dress: thanks again, Spartans!

    The first team is in the Big Dance

    The Ivy League is sending Cornell ... ever heard of it?

    Congrats to the Big Red. Visit that blog to see what pure, unadulterated joy looks like. Maybe the Badgers will be your first-round opponent.

    Badger Hockey loses, home ice in doubt

    The Badgers picked a bad time to lose their first game in fifteen tries to St. Cloud State. They lost 3-2 after being up by a goal to close out their regular season. They sit precariously in fourth place in the conference, just one point ahead of St. Cloud and Minnesota State, the latter of which came up with an overtime upset victory over Colorado College last night. Since each of the two fifth-place teams have two regular season games to go, the Badgers could conceivably fall to sixth place in the conference. If that happens, they'll find themselves on the road for the conference tournament.

    However, there could be a bright spot for Badger fans this afternoon if Michigan State manages to beat Indiana and keep Purdue and Wisconsin as the only two first-place teams in the conference. Go Spartans!

    Saturday, March 01, 2008

    Badger Hockey gets an important win at St. Cloud State

    Wisconsin got two rapid-fire goals within the first 1:18 of the second period, and that was all they needed to beat St. Cloud State on the road last night, 2-1. Wisconsin is now an impressive 11-0-3 in their last 14 tries against St. Cloud.

    Importantly, the two points that accompany that win put the Badgers three points ahead of St. Cloud and Minnesota State, which are tied for fifth place in the WCHA at the moment. A win today would mean a five-point lead and would almost certainly wrap up fourth place in the conference and, along with that, home ice in the playoffs. Minnesota State would have to pick up five points in three games -- one against Colorado College and two next weekend against Michigan Tech. St. Cloud would not be able to catch the Badgers if they lose today.

    And, FWIW, the Badgers now show up at #10 in the PairWise Rankings. If that's how they end the season, they're solidly in, almost definitely as a three-seed. But much can and will change in the next few weeks.

    Friday, February 29, 2008

    UW women's basketball provides you with entertainment

    No, weirdo, not actual gameplay. It's all about the postgame press conference. Meet Michigan head coach Kevin Borseth, who you might (MIGHT) recognize as the immediate past coach of the UW-Green Bay Lady Phoenixeses. His team was leading Wisconsin by 20 in the second half, when all of a sudden the Badgers went nuts and wound up beating the Wolverines. As for Borseth, well ... he's a man! They let 'em off the hook! He's gonna make you run till you can't eat supper! PLAYOFFS?!?!?!



    (Just kidding, Lady Badgers. We love you and appreciate your recent success. And if you don't like the term "Lady Badgers," I'm sorry, but I just don't care.)

    Video link via Michigan Sports Center, M Zone, Sunday Morning QB, SI on Campus, Realests, Deadspin,Big Lead, etc etc etc

    Wisconsin 57, Michigan State 42: That's domination


    When Trevon Hughes put up a three-pointer with 3:19 to go and the Badgers already up by 14, you have to imagine the only thought going through his head was, "Why not?"

    In the early going, the Badgers looked to be in the middle of another tight, competitive game against a strong conference rival, especially since Spartan big man Goran Suton was having a career day. Suton went on a four-minute rampage early in the game during which the Spartans went from a 7-6 deficit to a 16-11 lead -- all points coming courtesy of Suton. He was having a career day, one that almost saw him almost come up with a double-double at halftime (12 points, 9 boards).

    Brian Butch ended Suton's ten-point outburst with a three-ball, and everything changed.

    You have to give it to the Polar Bear -- a big man who can knock down triples does indeed change everything. Suddenly he's not just a goon waiting to clean up an offensive board or flush a dunk under the rim, he's a sniper -- someone who can pull back, get you three quick ones and sprint down the court to block a shot. That's something that a lot of teams lack and many teams can't defend. The Spartans certainly couldn't.

    Tom Izzo said that much of the Spartans' problem last night resulted in missed assignments on Butch. That's no surprise. But the fact that Badgers turned the ball over just ONE TIME -- the WHOLE GAME -- also helped. The Spartans just had six turnovers, so this was a really cleanly-played game. That also helps the Badgers' case: a lack of turnovers means that MSU didn't give the game away, the Badgers won this one through sheer force of will. Tip of the hat also to Michael Flowers, who singlehandedly took Spartan point-generator Drew Neitzel out of this game. (BadgerCentric notes that Flowers has been holding his elbow a lot during the last two games, which could be a source of worry ... or could be nothing. I dunno.)

    The Wisconsin Sports Rant pretty well encapsulates my thoughts in this line: "It’s ironic that as good as the Badgers were last year, the 2008 edition might have a better chance at playing deep into March." Exactly! This team is playing much more complete basketball -- strong defense, scoring from every player, lots of steals and blocks, very little fouling, great discipline and clean ball-handling -- than last year's star-studded team. I don't see a slip against the likes of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi this year.

    There are a couple of bigger-picture, near-future things to love about this game as well: first, with the game being on ESPN2 instead of the Big Ten Network, there's a chance that more poll voters and (more importantly) NCAA Tournament Selection Committee members saw the Badgers put MSU in the hurt locker. At this point I have to think that Wisconsin is regarded as one of the lower three-seeds, but that dominant performance could well have changed some minds. BadgerCentric makes another astute observation:

    We've lost four games, to teams ranked #7, #16, and #21. We've beaten the #5 team in the country, which has the same record as us, at their place, without our point guard. We've swept the #12 team in the country and now beaten #19. You're telling me there's 12 teams with a better resume than that?


    The other thing is that the Badgers overcame what should be their final challenge of the regular season and now have the softest, fluffiest schedule of all the remaining Big Ten title contenders. MSU is now officially out of the title picture, so (as suspected) Indiana and Purdue are the other teams coming down the stretch.

    The Badgers have a home date with Penn State (5-10 in conference) and close out the season with a road game at Northwestern (1-14). Purdue still has road tests at Ohio State and (to a lesser extent) Michigan, and IU's next game is on Sunday at MSU -- and the Breslin Center has been a house of horrors for the Hoosiers: they've won just once there since it opened. (That, friends, was in 1989.)

    Bottom line: you have to like the Badgers' chances at an outright conference title.

    Thursday, February 28, 2008

    Badgers-Spartans TONIGHT

    What's at stake: for the Badgers, that top ten ranking and that seat at the top of the conference and a shot at a two- or three-seed for the Big Dance; for Michigan State, a quality win late in the season that could turn the Selection Committee's head, and the chance to play spoiler and take care of one of their particular bugbears of late -- winning against Wisconsin, but at the Kohl Center in particular.

    Keys to the game: Wisconsin simply needs to do what it's been doing; whether they're getting half a dozen three-balls from Jason Bohannon, a key block from Brian Butch, or a grinding and consistent effort from Marcus Landry or Michael Flowers, this team has won a different way every night. Hell, even Jon Leuer might decide to score twenty. You never know. Michigan State needs to rebound aggressively on both ends of the court and take care of the ball. Wisconsin is not a mistake-prone team and isn't afraid to slow the pace of the game if they feel they're comfortably ahead or within striking distance of the lead. That doesn't usually lead to complacence, but if MSU works the backboards and takes second-chance opportunities away, the Badgers' game plan can quickly go south, especially if no shooter has the hot hand tonight.

    What does a win mean? More of the same. Continued momentum into the conference tournament and the Big Dance. A shot at yet another regular season conference title. The chance to jump to a two-seed if a team like Xavier, Tennessee, or Texas were to slip up a couple times in the next few weeks.

    What does a loss mean? An almost definite three- or four-seed in the Dance. A Big Ten title only comes with major shortfalls by IU and Purdue. The first signs of tarnish on Bo Ryan's record against Tom Izzo in Madison.

    Prediction? Badgers 65, Spartans 55. Closer game than the final score indicates.

    The Big Dance: Crank Dat

    It pretty much needs to be up on this site: Bo Ryan does the Soulja Boy. YOUUUUU!!!!!

    Wednesday, February 27, 2008

    Badger basketball takes on Sparta tomorrow


    Wisconsin meets Michigan State for their only meeting of the year on Thursday. The game tips off at 8 pm Central at the Kohl Center and will be broadcast on ESPN2, not the Big Ten Network, so you can actually, y'know, watch it. Speaking of the BTN and MSU, head coach Tom Izzo is a bit nonplussed about the whole arrangement:

    "I think it has been a PR nightmare," Izzo said Monday. "And, I think it has hurt all of us."


    It has, but we're not ready to write that post again.

    Over the past half-decade, the Badgers have positively owned the Spartans, sporting a 9-3 record against the guys in green and white. It's been over seven years since Wisconsin dropped a home game to MSU, despite the Spartans' relative strength during that stretch. Actually, the best summary of the Wisconsin-MSU "rivalry" (such as it is) comes from Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal (link found via the excellent Spartans Weblog). Some of the better bits:

    2003: For the second straight season, the teams meet once, this time in Madison. MSU needs it to stay in the Big Ten race. It's a competitive contest but Wisconsin pulls away late. With seconds remaining, sophomore Devin Harris gets a loose ball, pushes it and throws a lob to freshman Alando Tucker, who dunks right before the buzzer. Izzo is incensed as he approaches Ryan for the handshake. I can still see it clearly.
    Izzo: "I'll ****ing remember that!"
    Ryan (almost shrugging): "OK."
    Wisconsin wins its second straight Big Ten championship. Preseason favorite MSU finishes third.


    Looks like Izzo's memory hasn't done much to will the Spartans to victory over Wisconsin.

    2004: This is where it really gets nasty, and painful for MSU. The Badgers rout the Spartans in Madison in the Big Ten opener, despite a 17-5 start for MSU. That drops the Spartans to 5-7 on the season. But MSU recovers from that low point, going on a tear and setting itself up to win the Big Ten. All it needs to do is beat Wisconsin at home in the regular-season finale. The famed "banner game" (because MSU had its Big Ten title banner rolled up in the rafters, and Wisconsin's coaches spotted it and used it to motivate their team) is also the best game I've ever seen Paul Davis play. He has 26 but sits the final seven minutes with painful cramps. Wisconsin comes back to tie it on a Harris 3-pointer. Chris Hill misses two free throws in the waning seconds. Wisconsin wins in overtime. No championship.


    Now THAT is good stuff. Don't expect Bo to have a banner made for this Thursday's game; Indiana is still in the title hunt after downing Ohio State last night.

    The Spartans are a talented but error-prone team, and unless both Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan get hot and stay hot with regard to their field goal percentage, I don't see a Wisconsin loss. It's impossible to predict how this game will go as the Badgers tend to win a different way every night, but hopefully we'll come out 14-2 and ready to win out during the season's final week.

    Monday, February 25, 2008

    Badgers move up one spot in each poll

    Wisconsin is now ranked #9 in the Coaches Poll and #10 in the AP. The upward motion was courtesy of Drake, which knocked off #8 Butler over the weekend.

    Sunday, February 24, 2008

    Climbing the ladder: Wisconsin 58, Ohio State 53



    And just like that, the Badgers sit alone atop the Big Ten. Sure, they've played one game more than Indiana and Purdue, but the numbers don't lie: while the Badgers are 13-2, the rest of the conference is playing catch-up.

    It wasn't an easy victory, nor was it necessarily pretty. The Badgers coughed up a dozen turnovers during the first half and went one-for-seven from the field in the last six minutes of the game. But that one shot was an emphatic dunk courtesy of Marcus Landry with 12.7 seconds to go that put the Badgers up by five and the game on ice, and in the second half Wisconsin took care of its turnover problem, giving the ball away to the Buckeyes just twice.

    Even without a true superstar on the team, the Badgers continue to find a way to win. Today, Jason Bohannon came off the bench and scored sixteen points. Brian Butch got in early foul trouble but came back with two tremendous blocks in the late going. Marcus Landry and Michael Flowers scored in the double digits. And -- most importantly -- the team played through its turnovers to keep things even at halftime and made a second-half adjustment. That was enough to win the ballgame.

    Up next, what should be the last tough game before the conference tournament: a visit from the Spartans on Thursday.

    A new sensation for Bruce Pearl


    Last night's feature game between #2 Tennessee and #1 Memphis lived up to the hype, and accordingly, Volunteer fans are loving it. BruceBall says WOW, Fulmer's Belly reminds us that Memphis is the home of the blues, and Gate 21 has a flashy new logo. You really have to hand it to Bruce Pearl. The guy can coach, and he's really made Tennessee a national player.

    But for this Badger fan, the remarkable thing about last night's game is that Coach Pearl finally knows how it feels to lead the top team in the state. Unfortunately for Pearl (and many thousands of other people), UW-Milwaukee exists to be second-best. He was fortunate to only have to spend four years in that purgatory.

    So, hats off to Bruce Pearl, not just for being the coach of the #1 team in the land, but for exposing the Fighting Illini as filthy, filthy cheaters.

    Saturday, February 23, 2008

    Badger Hockey is playing itself out of contention

    With two full weekends to play before the conference tournament, the Badgers had one task in front of them: get a couple points from the faltering Gophers in order to improve upon or maintain their twelfth-place ranking in the PairWise Rankings.

    Sadly, the Gophers found their offense again this weekend and blasted home four goals on Friday and on Saturday. The Badgers only managed a pair of goals on Friday (WWWWWW and $nake of Down With Goldy were at the game), but didn't walk away completely empty-handed, coming back from a one-goal deficit four times on Saturday night to force a 4-4 tie. In the end, the Gophers gained three prized points and the Badgers only picked up one.

    This is bad not just because it's the Gophers but because, as of this very moment, the Badgers are in a tie for 14th place in the PairWise Rankings with Notre Dame and the Gophers. By scoring that final, game-tying goal, Patrick Johnson kept Wisconsin's PWR advantage over Minnesota alive; had the Gophers won the game, the 2-2 tie in the PairWise would've been broken by RPI, which might've swung things in Minnesota's favor. Incidentally, the RPI tiebreaker is keeping Notre Dame ahead of the Badgers as we speak.

    The upshot is that when you're in a tie for 14th place, if you're not the primus inter pares you're out of the NCAA field. The fifteenth and sixteenth slots are currently occupied by the conference leaders from Atlantic Hockey and the CHA (currently Army and Bemidji State, respectively), which means that if the season was over with right now, Wisconsin would be the best team in the nation to watch the NCAA tournament from their couch. (You know, on their laptop via GameTracker. Not on TV, don't be silly; this is college hockey after all.)

    The good and bad news is that next weekend's series is at St. Cloud State. The good news is that the Badgers are 2-0-0 against St. Cloud State this year, and since Wisconsin is well behind St. Cloud in the PairWise, a victory or two would go a long way to shuffling the Badgers back into the tournament field, especially with some help. The bad news is that although Wisconsin owns the head-to-head portion of the PWR, St. Cloud tops them in RPI, TUC, and record against common opponents, and all three of those numbers are out of reach for UW, so in order to wrest the PairWise comparison with St. Cloud State, a sweep will be necessary.

    The end of the season is a crazy time with the odd mechanism the NCAA uses to include and exclude teams. The Badgers aren't in control of their own destiny, but every win will get them closer to a tournament berth and every loss will hurt more than the one that preceded it. And you can take consolation in the fact that even though this weekend was pretty miserable, the Badgers did just enough to keep Minnesota out of the postseason -- for the time being.

    Badger basketball: they could win the Big Ten again

    Overall, you have to be impressed with this year's edition of the Badger hoops team: they lost superstar Alando Tucker and sharpshooter Kammron Taylor and have still managed to play their way to a top-ten ranking during the last weekend of February. Currently, they sit atop the Big Ten standings, tied with Purdue and half a game ahead of Indiana. Let's take a look at the five teams that are still in contention for the regular-season crown and show why the Badgers have a great shot at winning it all.

    Wisconsin currently 12-2; remaining games are @Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, @Northwestern: The Badgers need to get through the Buckeyes -- a foe that has the ability to make things a little more interesting than the team would like -- and then get to host Michigan State. The Spartans haven't fared well at the Kohl Center, historically, and this year's team is faltering in Big Ten play. A home date with Penn State and a road finale at Northwestern should be a couple autowins. 4-0 to close out the season is probable; 3-1 is a worst-case scenario.

    Purdue currently 12-2; remaining games are Minnesota, Northwestern, @Ohio State, @Michigan: The Boilermakers took care of business against the big boys of the conference early, and the reward for that is an end-of-season stretch against middle-of-the-pack teams and bottom feeders. They have just about the same remaining schedule as UW, and the results should be similar: 4-0 is likely, anything less than 3-1 would be a jaw-dropper.

    Indiana currently 11-2; remaining games are @Northwestern, Ohio State, @Michigan State, Minnesota, @Penn State: the Kelvin Sampson fiasco has finally reached its end, and while the Hoosiers played some inspired ball for their embattled coach down the stretch, I just don't see them finishing the season strong under interim coach Dan Dakich. I'm predicting 2-3 for what could be a tentative Hoosier team -- they'll bookend a three-game losing streak with wins at Northwestern and Penn State.

    Michigan State currently 9-4; remaining games are Iowa, @Wisconsin, Indiana, @Illinois, @Ohio State: you never want to count the Spartans out, even when they're trailing three teams by two full games. Head-to-head matchups with the Badgers and Hoosiers will provide an opportunity to close the gap with a couple of the top teams in the league, but this schedule is grueling. The finale could be the difference between the Big Dance and the NIT for the Buckeyes, so they'll be up and ready. The big issue for the Spartans, though, is that three games are on the road; in conference play, Tom Izzo's team is 7-0 at the Breslin Center and 2-4 on the road -- including a loss at Penn State and an absolute travashamockery of a game at Iowa in which the Spartans gave up 43 points and LOST. Look for this trend to continue; at best the Spartans finish 3-2; they'll lose at Wisconsin and at Illinois or Ohio State (or both).

    Ohio State currently 8-5; remaining games are Wisconsin, @Indiana, @Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State: the Buckeyes are still technically in the race, but it would take a lot of surprising losses by top teams to propel them to the conference title. They play each of other top-six teams in the conference one more time. Obviously, there are no gimmes on that schedule. Thad Matta's boys blew a chance to keep pace with the Spartans last weekend when they lost their "easy" game against the lowly Wolverines. If OSU winds up winning the conference title, expect the Big Ten to send a gaggle of nine-seeds to the Big Dance and none to the Sweet Sixteen.

    So, as has been the story since they dropped both matchups with them this year, the Badgers will need to rely on a Purdue miscue to win them the outright conference crown. At this point, though, the Badgers are in control of their season and will grab a share of the title if they can win out.