Archive for February, 2008

The Roundball
February 24, 2008

Well, February — or what I like to call the dullest sports month of the year — is almost over. Not only does that mean that March Madness, the start of the MLB season, and the NBA playoffs are just around the corner, but it also means that the miserable winter we’ve had here in Madison is thankfully winding down. At least we hope.

While we’re on the subject of weather, what’s with the term “wintry mix”? Have you ever heard this term before this year? Did the local meteorologists get together in October to make a bet to see who could say “wintry mix” more? And if it’s winter, shouldn’t it just be “winter mix”? Isn’t “wintry” a synonym for “winter-like”? It’s winter! There’s a reason that you can choose from “butter” and “Promise Buttery Spread” when you go shopping. One’s butter, one’s not. So a “wintry mix” implies precipitation happening outside the confines of winter. I can’t begin to tell you how this has aggravated me over these last couple months. Thanks for letting me get it off my chest.

Where was I? Oh, February. The good thing about the lousy weather we’ve had is that it’s allowed many of us to more closely follow what has been an above-par February sports month this year. You had the Super Bowl, the Roger Clemens mess, some fascinating NBA trades, and the Bassmaster Classic. OK, so it hasn’t all been good.

And of course — unless you don’t have the Big Ten Network — we’ve had lots of college basketball to watch. Pardon the sports cliche, but men’s basketball is really “heating up” this bitterly cold month. (I can’t believe I actually wrote that. I have to try better to give 110 percent for this column. Oops, another cliche. Someone stop me.)

Saturday night we had a game against the top two men’s basketball programs in the country that — like this year’s Super Bowl — completely lived up to the hype. And thanks to former UW-Milwaukee head coach Bruce Pearl now heading up the Tennessee basketball program, the game had some local interest as well. (Although I have to admit I found the recently-divorced Pearl flirting with Erin Andrews, recently named by Playboy magazine as America’s Sexiest Sportscaster, just as enjoyable as the game. Thankfully, Pearl stopped short of pulling out Joe Namath’s sure-fire “I want to kiss you” line.)

We’ve also had the Kelvin Sampson saga to follow which has now reached its conclusion in the form of a $750,000 buyout. What remains to be seen is how the Indiana players respond to the loss of their well-liked coach. If Saturday’s near-defeat against the pathetic Northwestern Wildcats is any indication, Indiana’s hope for a Big Ten title is as faint as my hope for a Strange Brew sequel. Which means the Big Ten title will likely go to either Purdue or Wisconsin, both tied right now with Indiana atop the Big Ten standings.

Which leads me to Sunday’s game featuring the Badgers visiting Columbus to play Ohio State in what is sadly their only regular-season meeting this year. While the game is on national broadcast network television, it obviously doesn’t mean as much as last year’s game in Columbus (also broadcast by CBS), when the Badgers and Buckeyes were ranked number one and two respectively. (The Badgers lost that game, but beyond the final score, the game will be remembered for Brian Butch’s painful elbow injury, which sidelined him for the rest of the season.)

But the Sunday contest still means a lot. Ohio State won’t win the Big Ten title this season, but they are fighting for a tournament bid, and a win against Wisconsin will certainly help their seeding and their momentum heading into March. Wisconsin — especially Butch — has not only revenge on its mind, but a win would give them sole possession of first place in the Big Ten (at least until Purdue beats Minnesota on Wednesday). The Badgers certainly have the talent to win, but they haven’t beaten the Buckeyes in Columbus since 2005. Of course it helps that Greg Oden is now busy making ESPN commercials and Mike Conley, Jr. is playing for the Memphis Grizzles. Look for Bucky to pull out a close one.

Quickly, are we to make anything of the Milwaukee Bucks two recent wins over quality opponents, especially Saturday’s stunning comeback victory over the Denver Nuggets? Well, the team is quietly talking playoffs, but to quote Jim Mora, “playoffs?” There are still only three teams in the weak-but-not-as-weak-as-it-used-to-be Eastern Conference with worse records than Milwaukee, and though it’s not impossible — remember this is the NBA playoffs, which is easier to get into than a UW women’s basketball game — I don’t see it. But kudos to the Bucks and especially Michael Redd for playing hard for coach Larry Krystkowiak, who could be on the “hot seat” (ouch, another cliche) after this season.

Speaking of hot, it’s actually almost above freezing outside right now for a change. Time to go outside to try to clear some of that “wintry mix” off the driveway. Enjoy the Badgers/Buckeyes tilt.

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Back In The High Life
February 17, 2008

All right, I’m back from vacation. And for those of you thinking about it, here’s a maybe not-so-little-known secret about traveling to Walt Disney World: Don’t go there with your children.

Don’t get me wrong, Disney World is a very enjoyable place to visit, but the only people having fun there are adults traveling with other adults. All parents visiting with their kids — and the kids themselves — are hungry, thirsty, tired, sweaty, cranky, frustrated, exasperated, confused, lost, hopeless, and basically dehumanized androids wandering around looking for any sort of relief from the long lines, high food and drink prices, and general chaos. And that’s if there’s good weather, as we were lucky enough to have.

Actually, because my wife is likely to read this, we had a delightful time. I have to also say that I believe that Disney World employs more people than live in the entire state of Wisconsin and it’s remarkable how pleasant all of them are. Either Disney World pays very well or there’s some sort of DHARMA Initative project going on that keeps everyone remarkably chipper in the face of, like I said, extreme chaos. Oh, and I love the tea cup ride.

Anyway, I fell a little behind on my sports while I was wandering through Tomorrowland and eating at character-themed meals (yes, I love having my food delivered by Eeyore), so I have some questions. Although I provide some answers, maybe some of you readers could write back to me at jrobbins@wisctv.com and elaborate.

Did the Giants really beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl? I believed that the game would be close, but the only reason I can truly believe that the Giants actually won is that I saw the game in crystal clear high-definition in my Disney hotel room (sad when your hotel room is nicer than your house), so there was no mistaking what I saw. It’s old news by now, but what a game. Looks like I’m going to have to resort to dumping on Archie if I feel the need to mock a Manning. And for anyone out there in love with “new media” who doubts the power of “old” television, look at the figures: 97.5 million viewers for the second highest rated program in TV history. Take that, lonelygirl15.

Should the Big Ten contract half of its men’s basketball programs? Purdue, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State are playing inspired, exciting basketball. Any of them — ok, Ohio State, the defending Big Ten champs, is going to have to pick it up and as I write this they’re losing to Michigan — look like they could go deep into the tournament. But boy, go any deeper than that and you’ve got some teams in serious rebuilding or freefallin’ mode. I haven’t seen such a stark disparity between good and bad since the days when Eddie Murphy and Mary Gross shared the stage on Saturday Night Live.

Why does Kelvin Sampson still have a job? Simple. Indiana, fresh off a surprising spanking of Michigan State, is winning. Ranked #13 in the nation, Indiana University is going to take its sweet time before showing Sampson the door. And if you think the fans care more about integrity than victories, check out what happened against the Spartans. Sampson was booed during introductions, but by the end of the game the crowd was chanting Sampson’s name as if he were a headliner at Coachella. Sure, Sampson will be a goner at some point, but if he was presiding over a train wreck like Northwestern’s basketball program, he’d already be providing in-studio analysis along Dave Revsine.

Will the Badgers’ men’s hockey team play at home again this season? Despite two road series on the horizon, it certainly appears as if Wisconsin will host a WCHA first round series in mid-March. But the team has to watch out for offensive lapses and could use a little more consistency come power-play time. But it looks like the seniors will be back at the Kohl Center next month.

Was former superstar Shaquille O’Neal really traded to the Phoenix Suns? I haven’t seen deterioriation this rapid since Genesis following the departure of Phil Collins.

Is there hope for the Milwaukee Bucks? Sure, like there’s hope for Jimmy Smits that CBS will renew Cane. But hey, at least they’re not the Timberwolves.

What about the Brewers’ outlook? Are you kidding me? It’s February. Let’s get through March Madness first.