The Roundball

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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