Archive for March, 2007

Jambalaya Or Paella
March 30, 2007

Hopefully a little bit of everything today as we settle in for a big, fat, bloated, overstuffed, super size, Sam’s Club cheese ball barrel weekend of sports:

I’m rooting for Florida in the NCAA tournament. I know I’ve said that I picked Florida, and that’s certainly a big part of it, but this team — and more specifically, some of the players on this team — symbolizes all that college basketball once was and hopefully once again could be. Gator standouts Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, and Al Horford could have bolted for the NBA after leading their team to the 2006 title. With millions of dollars waiting for all three of team once they declared eligible for the NBA draft, many would say they were crazy not to. But the three friends and teammates chose to stick together — despite health and money problems for Corey Brewer’s family that could have been wiped away faster than Jim Belushi can say “I Love This Game” — and come back for their junior season. The decision not only favors them, as they become not only better basketball players but better citizens by furthering their education, but favors the game of college basketball, which every year gets diluted by the best players leaving early to go pro. So I’m pulling for Florida. Plus I picked them in my bracket. Did I mention that?

The NFL owners have been talking about overhauling their overtime rules, although it looks like nothing will change in the near future. But at least they’re talking about it. I don’t hate the NFL overtime, but it does place way too much emphasis on winning the coin toss. But at least it’s not the abomination that is the college overtime. If the head coaches of both teams were to engage in a dance-off Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo style to determine the winner of a game tied at the end of regulation, that would be more in keeping with the rules of football than what the NCAA does now.

So what do you know about the team that will face Wisconsin in the WNIT Championship Game this weekend, the Wyoming Cowgirls? What? Nothing? You mean you don’t follow Mountain West Conference women’s basketball? I suppose next you’re going to tell me that you don’t have time to follow arena football, either. Jeez. Always letting the spouse and kids and job suck up your free time. Well, on paper — which is all we have to go by, because the teams have never played — Wyoming and Wisconsin look pretty evenly matched. We’ve got first team All-Big Ten player Jolene Anderson; they’ve got first team All-Mountain West player Hanna Zavecz. They’ve got second team All-Mountain West player Justyna Podziemska, we’ve got Honorable Mention All-Big Ten player Jansese Banks. They’ve got a coach in his fourth year; we’ve got a coach in her fourth year. But here’s where the differences favor Wyoming: They are 64th in the RPI rankings; we are down at 86. More imporantly, this game will be played at the Arena Auditorium in Laramie, Wyoming, which seats 15,000, and which sold out within 12 hours of the Cowgirls reaching the final. Sounds like the Cowgirls have a more rabid following than our lady Badgers, a rabidness that could make the difference on Saturday.

Now on to baseball, which I’m sure I’ll be writing about a lot more in the next several months. Everywhere you look, the Milwaukee Brewers are a sexy pick to make a playoff push this year. But you know what? Seems like they’ve been a sexy pick for the last couple of years. Hasn’t worked out before, and I’m afraid until I can be proven wrong, I have to say I don’t think it will work out again this year, either. Look at the stats: Last year the Brewers finished 14th in the National League in hitting, 15th in the National League in pitching, and 13th in the National League in fielding. And the National League by and large stunk. (Yeah, yeah, the Cardinals won the World Series. I know. Doesn’t make up for all of the lousy NL teams out there.)

So how do the Brewers hope to improve on last year’s disappointing campaign? They hope. They hope Ben Sheets can stay healthy. They hope Derrick Turnbow’s miserable second half last year was just a fluke. They hope Geoff Jenkins can return to form. They hope Rickie Weeks can improve upon his lousy fielding. They hope that they can avoid the injury bug. They hope that Ian Ziering wins Dancing with the Stars. (Oops, that’s my hope.) Look, hope is great, but a team can’t win 85-90 games (which some are predicting for the Brewers) on hope alone. Yes, thanks to the addition of Jeff Suppan, Milwaukee’s starting rotation should be better. But that won’t be enough to make the Brewers a playoff contender. Hey, I hope I’m wrong.

The NL Central at a glance: The Cardinals will win it (again). The Astros will surprise and finish at their normal second. The Cubs will disappoint (again) and finish well below Carlos Zambrano’s expectations in third place. The Brewers will take fourth and the Reds fifth. And the lowly Pirates will be way, way, way, down in the cellar at sixth place. But hey, fans of the Pirates will always have the memory of Pops Stargell rounding those bases to the fly sounds of Sister Sledge. Unless they’re younger than 40. Then they’ve got the memory of Randall Simon beating on the Italian Sausage at Miller Park. Ah, memories. Pressed between the pages of my mind. Memories. Sweetened through the ages just like wine.

The Other Badger Basketball Team
March 26, 2007

Well, I think Badger basketball fans have calmed down since a week ago. Now that not only are two other #2 seeds no longer alive, but two #1 seeds have been eliminated, it doesn’t seem quite as painful not to have the Badgers in there. And let’s face it, the way the Badgers were playing in the last few games, are you really sorry they didn’t have a chance to play Florida? Or UCLA? Probably not.

I still like Florida to win it all. Over Georgetown. Which is what I had in my bracket. So I’m way past that whole Oral Roberts debacle. Thanks for nothing, Seth Davis.

Another reason Badger fans should be feeling good is that the women’s team continues to roll on. With their stirring, come-from-behind victory over Virginia, Lisa Stone’s squad is just two wins away from a WNIT championship, which would be their first in seven years. Before you scoff and say, “well, it’s just the WNIT,” note that there are no fewer than 48 teams that compete for the title, and most of the schools represented are powerhouse Division I schools. We’re not talking about Jack’s College against the University of Charlie Sheen here.

Also note that with Sunday’s win over Virginia, the women’s basketball team — along with the football team, the men’s basketball team, and the women’s hockey team — set records in 2006-2007 for most wins in a season. Pretty impressive.

Hopefully the women’s basketball program can use this season and its high hopes for next season — all starters will be returning — to boost interest, specifically in the area of fan attendance. The advantage for fans of having their team in the WNIT over the women’s NCAA tournament is that the games are held on campus sites. Unfortunately, the Badgers only got 3,149 for Sunday’s win. I think the men would draw that if they were playing Horse. Hopefully more will turn out for Wednesday’s semifinal game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, who I guess are pretty good — their record is 23-8 and they reached the WNIT semifinals last year. But what the heck is a Hilltopper anyway? Is that when someone makes a joke funnier than a Benny Hill joke? Not like that could ever happen anyway.

Hey, Ron Jaworski is replacing Joe Theismann on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. I don’t know why the change was made, but I don’t care. I like it. Granted, it’s sort of like replacing Keenan Ivory Wayans with Damon Wayans — a marginal step up — but I still support it. Maybe Theismann has been demoted to arena football and poker. Hopefully.

Badgers at the End and the Sweet Sixteen
March 21, 2007

Four days after the end of the second round in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a local eatery is still displaying this sign on Mineral Point Road on Madison’s west side: “Watch March Madness here. Go Badgers!” Ya think someone should let them know that the Badgers are no longer in the tournament?

Well, I guess they could be talking about the women Badgers, who as of this writing are still alive in postseason play. But something tells me that when Brent Musberger coined the phrase, “March Madness,” he wasn’t talking about the WNIT. I think he was talking about the annual St. Patrick’s Day party at Irv Cross’s house.

Now that the men’s basketball Badgers are done for the year, you inevitably hear a lot of people, both within the team and outside the team, summing up the season. Being from Minnesota, I’ll sum up their season in a language that folks from the Land of 10,000 Lakes can understand: The 1998 Minnesota Vikings. Fans of that team don’t care that that team went 15-1. Fans of that team don’t care that that team set a then-record for points scored in an NFL season. Fans of that team don’t remember that they stopped the Packers’ win streak at Lambeau Field with a beatdown on Monday Night Football. (OK, maybe they remember that.) Fans of that team only remember that it seemed like a given that they were going to go to the Super Bowl and they blew it. And, unfortunately, it’s the same way with fans of this year’s Badger team. As fun as the ride to 30 wins was, we are all left disappointed. As unfair as it is to overlook everything that Bo Ryan’s team accomplished this year, when a team is ranked number one in the country and is then bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament, it has fallen far short of its goals.

So we are down to 16 teams in the men’s tournament. Here’s how I rank them, based on how likely each is to win it all:

1. Florida. The team to beat is still the team to beat.
2. North Carolina. Looks as good as anybody and team is out for revenge against USC.
3. Kansas. Maybe playing better than anyone, but for how long? Everyone expects them to blow it.
4. UCLA. Gets to play the next round in San Jose after playing first round in Sacramento. Oh, and they’re pretty good.
5. Texas A&M. Again, gets to play in Texas this weekend. And some guy named Acie Law IV is pretty good.
6. Georgetown. Should beat Vanderbilt easily. Then again, they haven’t been as dominant as pundits expected.
7. Ohio State. Youth and inexperience usually kills this time of year. Should have lost to Xavier.
8. Tennessee. Looking to surprise Ohio State. Can score enough to do it.
9. Pittsburgh. Only if they can get past UCLA, which is looking tougher and tougher.
10. Oregon. Easier first game against UNLV, then it’s hello Florida and goodbye tournament.
11. Memphis. Conference USA? Aren’t those high school teams?
12. Vanderbilt. I had ’em losing in the first round. They’re better than I thought, but they’re not that good.
13. USC. They surprised Texas. They won’t surprise North Carolina.
14. UNLV. They should have been higher than a 7 seed. But they shouldn’t be around much longer.
15. Southern Illinois. Could beat Kansas. And Bea Arthur might make Maxim’s Hot 100.
16. Butler. They play Florida in the next round. ‘Nuff said.

Badgers and Islanders — Too Close for Comfort
March 16, 2007

As I’m writing this, the Badgers are down 10-0 to the Islanders of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Even a pessimistic fan like me has to believe they’re not going to lose this game. But upsets have been so few so far in this year’s tournament that you have to believe they’re going to happen somewhere. I just hope it’s not here.

Geez, the Badgers haven’t scored in almost five minutes . . . I think my four-year-old son is a better player than Chappell. OK, I’ll stop being negative now . . .

At least about the Badgers. I’m negative so far about this tournament. Where’s the upsets? Not only have there been hardly any — one to be exact — but the games have largely been blowouts. Thank goodness for Virginia Commonwealth, although that was one upset I did not have on my bracket. I figured even with the subpar talent Duke had this year that Coach K could at least get out of the first round.

It’s disgusting watching this Badger game — brick after brick after brick being thrown up. I’m about to throw up.

Maybe it’s time to focus on other Badger sports, like the hockey teams. Let’s hope the men’s team can stay hot or at least as hot as they’ve been this season. After Thursday’s impressive 4-0 win over Michigan Tech, they’re advancing to the semifinals of the WCHA playoffs, playoffs that they will have to win to make it to the NCAA tournament. I don’t see it happening, but I didn’t see Wisconsin struggling against the Islanders.

Hey, it’s now 25-7 with Texas A&M-CC on top. I don’t think I’ve seen anything this disturbing since the Growing Pains reunion movie. I thought Marquette had a hard time scoring . . .

Why won’t these Randy Moss to the Packers trade rumors go away? Obviously there is something to this. Right now the Packers are in a lose-lose situation with this: If the deal gets done, they will likely have acquired Moss — a player well past his prime — at too high a price. If a deal doesn’t get done, it will look like another failed negotiation for Ted Thompson, who hasn’t been impressing anyone with his offseason moves, or lack thereof. I just can’t see Packer fans getting behind Moss, probably the most hated player among Packer fans in recent memory. But if he comes to Green Bay and plays at a level even close to what he played at Minnesota, something tells me Packer fans will forget. It helps that he’s been out of sight, out of mind and mired in the muck and mire of Oakland for the past two years.

Hey, it’s now 42-38. Wisconsin is coming back. I feel the panic slowly leaving my body. Or maybe it’s the NyQuil kicking in.

Hey, the women’s hockey team is set to repeat as NCAA women’s hockey champs. Seems like it’s almost a given that they are going to repeat. Kind of like it seemed like a given that the basketball team was going to walk all over Texas A&M-CC. Well, at least they are in the second half. It’s 52-48 Badgers now.

Geez, Tennessee scored like 200 points today in a victory over Long Beach State. I still say if they survive Virginia that they could beat Ohio State.

CBS just said that a 15 seed has beaten a 2 seed four times in the NCAA tournament. I remember 2001 because I had Iowa State going far — I probably listened to some moron like Clark Kellogg — and Hampton knocked them off right away. I was so mad I couldn’t watch basketball for like 20 minutes after that game. But I did catch a great rerun of The Golden Girls on Lifetime while I cooled off.

(What is it with Lifetime? I thought their slogan was “Television for Women.” But they have Frasier repeats on every night. I like Frasier. Does that mean I should be shopping for sun dresses and Midol?)

Badger game is now 58-58. It’s looking good, although CBS keeps switching WISC-TV’s feed to the Nevada/Creighton game, which is now in overtime. That is beyond annoying — sort of like Celine Dion — especially since WISC-TV is supposed to be given a “constant” feed of the game by CBS. That’s the biggest crock I’ve heard since Simon Cowell claimed to be more important to the music industry than Bruce Springsteen.

Upsets for Saturday? The way this tournament is going, none are likely. But the way Louisville put Stanford away, I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat Texas A&M, nor would I be surprised if Virginia Commonwealth becomes this year’s Cinderella and topples Pittsburgh.

OK, the Badgers are going to win. It’s 70-62 right now and all Texas A&M-CC can do is foul. I’d like to see the end, but CBS is showing the end of Nevada/Creighton. Hey, honestly — WISC-TV doesn’t control this. We wish we did.

On to UNLV. I’m enjoying today’s victory. But I’m nervous. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Expand This
March 14, 2007

Before I go on, I must apologize to any Badger fans who may have been offended by my Big Ten Tournament picks last week. But can you blame me for thinking that Michigan State had Bucky’s number? Anyway, the Badgers played a great game on Friday against Tom Izzo’s team, then took care of Illinois before predictably falling to Ohio State on Sunday.

I’m not the only one not showing Bucky basketball a lot of love these days — chances are if you’re following what the “experts” say about the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament, you’ve noticed that not too many are predicting much for the Badgers. Usually citing Brian’s Butch’s injury and its negative impact on Bucky’s offense, I haven’t seen too many thinking Bo Ryan’s club can make it to the Elite Eight (as their seeding suggests they should; but we all know that seedings rarely hold up throughout the tournament). Many think the UNLV Hey Hey Hey I Was Born A Rebel Down In Dixie on a Sunday Morning With One Foot in the Grave and One Foot On The Pedal I Was Born a Rebels can oust Bucky in the 2nd round, denying the team even a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

I think Wisconsin will make it to the Elite Eight and then they’ll run into the defending national champs Florida, where Bucky’s great season will come to a end and probably would have come to an end even with Butch in the lineup. For whatever it’s worth, I believe that Wisconsin will be the last Big Ten team standing, as Ohio State’s youth will catch up to them and they will fall in the Sweet Sixteen to Tennessee. Yeah, I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but you gotta make those kinds of predictions come bracket time. Otherwise, what are you going to do, pick all four number one seeds to make the final four? Crack Kellogg will forever be known for making that silly prediction a couple of years ago. I’m not going out like that.

My final four: Florida, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Texas A&M. Florida and Georgetown in the finals, with Florida scoring the very rare repeat as champs. Upsets in the early round: I like the teams that everybody’s dogging on: Illinois and Arkansas. I think both teams will play with a chip on their shoulder and shut all the naysayers up. Possible Cinderella, which I define as a team seeded in the double digits who make it at least to the Sweet Sixteen: I like Old Dominion, who as a 12 seed get to play a 5 seed Butler team that has faltered down the stretch, then they move on to play probably Maryland, a team that features two freshman point guards who could be easily rattled when playing in their first tournament.

While we’re talking about the NCAA men’s tournament (and who isn’t), what about expanding the field from 64/65? This idea always comes up as everyone from head coaches of snubbed bubble teams to Dick Vitale to the guy at Arby’s when I’m waiting for my potato cakes start whining about certain teams not getting in. The obvious response to these complaints is: Did the teams that didn’t get in the tournament have a legitimate chance to win? Were the Gators of 2007 nervous about the possibility of having to face Drexel, Syracuse, NC State, or Florida State this year? Of course not. Which to me ends the discussion.

But then I continue to think about it. America is a country that loves excess. Bigger is almost always better. We love guzzling Fresca out of 2-liter bottles, we love Hungryman XXL TV dinners, we love TVs the size of the moon, we love Hummers and motor homes and double-decker jet airplanes. So why not make the tournament bigger? Why not do away with the lame play-in game that nobody cares about and double the size of the tournament field from 64 to 128? That would be 64 more games, so 16 could be played on each of the tournament’s first four days, which would be completely doable for TV — four games in each broadcast window, as CBS does now in the early rounds. Each team would only have to play one more game and the tournament would only be one weekend longer. I can see it now: “Say, who do you like in the first round, Louisiana-Monroe or Coastal Carolina?” “Oh, that’s a 16 seed versus a 17 seed. Those are tough. At least I don’t have to worry about Ohio State. You know a 32 seed has never beaten a 1 seed.”

Hey, nobody’s saying a tournament expanded to 128 teams wouldn’t be ridiculous. But I’m still on board. Hey, Awesome Blossoms, wine in a box, and four-hour Oscar telecasts are ridiculous too, but people sign up for those.

Hey, remember to play in my “Beat the Blogger” contest. You can find information about the contest right by my blog on Channel 3000. Fill out a better bracket than me and win. Trust me, it won’t be hard to do.

Too Much To Think About
March 9, 2007

You could almost hear the entire state groan. No, I’m not talking about the Madison School District’s announcement of budget cuts and school closings, as heinous as that is.

I’m talking about when Northwestern’s Jeremy Nash threw the ball out of bounds after the Wildcats had stopped the Spartans and had the ball with 11 seconds left. Northwestern could have tied the game with a three-pointer, but Craig Moore wasn’t looking for Nash’s pass and the Wildcats’ hopes were over. The Spartans, who were seemingly looking past the Wildcats towards Friday’s game with the Badgers, survived despite turnovers and other mistakes to barely eke out a first round tournament win against a team that had only won two conference games all season.

But why did Badger fans groan at the Wildcats ineptitude? Because Badger Nation has seen Wisconsin play Michigan State twice in the last 18 days and it hasn’t liked what it has seen. After beating the Badgers in East Lansing, the Spartans came as close as anyone to handing Wisconsin what would have been its only home loss on the season. It wasn’t until Kammron Taylor’s 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left that Badger fans felt good about the game. And even then, Michigan State’s Drew Neitzel, who’s been playing like the National Player of the Year lately, threw up a hail mary three-pointer that was about as ugly a shot as you’re ever going to see — and it still came close to dropping.

Writing this on Friday afternoon, I’m running the risk of being proven wrong almost as soon as this blog is posted. At least I hope so, because I just don’t like the Badgers’ chances of winning this game. The Spartans have outplayed the Badgers for the majority of the last two games and, with Tom Izzo’s team gaining momentum and looking to secure as high a seed as possible in the NCAA tournament, I don’t see any reason for the trend not to continue Friday.

And for all of the hand-wringing Badger fans have done this week as the possibility of playing the Spartans again has moved to reality, it doesn’t matter. With Ohio State all but guaranteed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the selection committee simply isn’t going to grant two No. 1 seeds to the Big Ten, the 3rd-ranked (in terms of RPI) conference in college basketball. Wisconsin will get a No. 2 seed and then go deep into the tournament.

Speaking of the tournament, check this space early next week for details on a “Beat the Blogger” bracket contest. Many will enter, many will beat the blogger. Few will win. Unless donations for prize money are quickly sent to WISC-TV to my attention.

Lose-Lose for Packers, Green / Big Ten Outlook
March 6, 2007

So who wins in the Ahman Green to Houston Texans move? The Packers for sticking to their guns and not paying Ahman more than the organization thinks he’s worth? Or Ahman Green for his fat new contract?

Obviously, we’ll need to see how it plays out over the next couple of seasons, but it appears to be a bummer deal for everyone. Sure, Green will get paid, but will he be happy playing for the Texans? Besides the appeal of being reunited with former head coach Mike Sherman (who is now the Texans’ offensive coordinator), the Texans, along with the Detroit Lions, are one of only two teams that you can guarantee every year will stink.

And, worse for Green, the Texans are weakest up front — quarterback David Carr hits the ground more often than I predict John Ratzenberger will on the upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars. Throw an older player like Green who has had injury and fumble problems behind a line that can’t block and you have the makings of the beginning of the end of Green’s career. You think Green would have learned from the similar situation that befell Edgerrin James in Arizona, but apparently the roar of the money drowned out any hope of Green obeying any logic.

Green would have been better off in every way except financially (and I believe he still would have been able to fulfill at least the bottom two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with what Green Bay would have paid him) to stay with the Packers. Better team, better offensive line, better fans, more yardage, more touchdowns, more Lambeau Leaps. And the Packers would have been better off holding on to Green. Sure, Green’s career and legacy takes a bigger hit than the Packers, but Green Bay will suffer. Not only will the team miss Green’s abilities on the field, but they will miss his veteran presence on what is a very young and ragged — though improving — group of players. And of course the big question is who will fill Green’s shoes? Vernand Morency? Morency’s a nice player, but hardly a featured back.

It appears unlikely that the Packers will open up their wallet to grab one of the few remaining big name running backs in free agency, so look for them to draft Marshawn Lynch if he’s still on the board when the Packers pick 16th. Lynch is a talented running back — he was the 2006 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year — with loads of upside, but it’s impossible to expect him or any other rookie to come in and make Packer fans forget Green. And with Brett Favre running out of playing days, now is not the time for the Packers to be taking steps backward. Favre needs a solid running game and Green was their best option for 2007. But it’s also unlikely that what Ahman will be able to achieve with the cursed Houston Texans will have many Packer fans Green with envy.

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament — The Short Version: Although upsets tend to reign at the Big Ten tournament, I like Ohio State to win. No shocker there. I do think that Michigan State has mentally and physicaly exhausted Wisconsin enough over their last two contests that they will upset the Badgers on Friday night. As much as I hate to admit it, the Spartans have been better at shutting down the Badgers’ scorers than the Badgers have been able to shut down Drew Neitzel. I like Illinois to then beat Michigan State after upsetting Indiana and then lose to Ohio State in the championship.

Big Ten Men in the Big Dance: I like the Big Ten to sneak in five — earlier in the week I thought six, but now I think five: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan State. Purdue and Michigan will be on the outside looking in. Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State will have their hopeless basketball programs stripped by the NCAA. Iowa will win the NIT.

I Refuse To Make Jokes About Melanie Griffith
March 2, 2007

Do you really believe that someone at Topps inserted images of Mickey Mantle and President Bush on that Derek Jeter card? If so, then you probably believe that New Coke was actually meant to replace “Old” Coke. This smells to me like a PR move — and a brilliant one at that — made to boost a seriously faltering industry. I mean, when was the last time you even thought about baseball cards? Back when I was a kid, we had Topps, Fleer, and Donruss to collect. I didn’t think any of them were still in business. And now, thanks to this “accidental” Derek Jeter card, Topps is making headlines again. Good for them.

Kudos to the women’s basketball team for almost pulling off a major upset today of 15th ranked Purdue in the Big Ten tournament. As disappointing as the loss has to be to Lisa Stone’s group, most couldn’t have expected the Badgers to take Purdue to overtime — especially considering that Purdue was playing in front of what was basically a home crowd. Unfortunately, the Badgers could have possibly snagged a NCAA bid with a win against Purdue and now will almost definitely have to settle for a WNIT berth. But with the entire squad set to come back next year, 2007-2008 could be a very good season for Wisconsin Women’s Basketball.

Speaking of Wisconsin basketball, Badger fans should be a lot livelier after what should be a convincing win (not to mention a little revenge) against Michigan State on Saturday. Not only is Bo Ryan’s squad nearly invincible at the Kohl Center, but the Spartans have only won ONE Big Ten game this year on the road, and that was against lowly Penn State. Should be a good day tomorrow for the Badgers.