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:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.