Badgers Over And Out / Baseball

It’s faulty logic. And even though I knew it was faulty logic, I still allowed myself to think it. A lot of us did.

When Davidson upset Georgetown on Easter Sunday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a lot of Badger fans were very happy. The 10-seeded Wildcats victory over the 2-seeded Hoyas meant that the 3-seeded Badgers wouldn’t have to face Georgetown, thought by many to be primed for a second straight Final Four appearance.

But wait, I thought, doesn’t the fact that Davidson beat Georgetown hint that Davidson — despite the selection committee’s seedings — might actually be better than Georgetown?

I thought it and articulated it out loud to anybody who cared to listen, but secretly I believed the same thing: Whew. The Badgers get to play Davidson. Bring on Kansas.

Well, that was some seriously stupid thinking. What made the thought process more annoying to me personally was that I did the same thing back in January during the NFC playoffs. All along I thought the Packers season would end in Dallas at the NFC Championship Game. So when the Giants beat Dallas in the divisional round — despite proving with the victory that they were the better team than the Cowboys — I thought the Packers had all but punched their ticket to the Super Bowl. But I wasn’t alone. Brett Favre thought the same thing and the resulting disappointment gnawed at him so much he chose to retire rather than suffer through another similar letdown in 2009.

But back to the basketball Badgers. Any excitement that Badger fans must have felt over “getting” to play Davidson was quickly erased on Friday night. Oh, I know that the game was tied 36-36 at the half, but come on. It was clear from the beginning that Davidson, and not the heavily-favored Badgers, were in control of the tempo of the game. There was no way that Wisconsin was going to beat Davidson in an up-and-down-the-court, high-scoring affair. Add to that the knowledge that Davidson — and most specifically, Stephen Curry — were a second-half team, and the Badgers were doomed.

What was most impressive about the Wildcats’ performance in the second half wasn’t the shooting clinic they put on — although they did put one on, with Curry outscoring the Badgers 22-20 by himself in the final twenty minutes of play. No, it was the suffocating defense that Davidson put on Bo Ryan’s team, which made Wisconsin have to work hard enough for shots that they eventually tired of trying for good looks at the basket and instead threw up prayer after prayer, almost none of which went in. Yep, Davidson out defended the best defense in the country. Add to that the hot shooting Curry (11-for-22 including 6-for-12 from downtown), and you have Wisconsin’s ugliest loss since November.

This — the second straight year that the Badgers lost in the tournament to a lower-seeded team — “stings,” as Bo Ryan said, and the fact that the Badgers overachieved all season doesn’t (like the end to the Packers’ surprising season) make the sting any less painful.

But hey, we’ve still got the Badgers men’s hockey team to cheer for, right? Actually, as I write this, we are only a few hours away from the Badgers/North Dakota regional final game in the NCAA men’s hockey tournament, so by the time most read this, the Badgers’ hockey team could be over and out as well. But who’d have thought Mike Eaves’s team would outlast Bo Ryan’s on the local sports calendar?

I don’t claim to know how the Badgers are even in the tournament, much less how Shane Connelly managed to play one of his best games against the WCHA champion Denver Pioneers, or how the Badgers managed to score six (OK, one was an empty-netter) goals against the mightier Pioneers. And if I hadn’t been there to see it for myself, I might not even believe it still. But they did it, and now they’re one game away from the Frozen Four. Pretty cool.

Speaking of frozen, the turfs at several baseball stadiums around the country might still be thawing out, but no matter . . . it’s time to play ball. Actually, we started playing some meaningful baseball last week in Tokyo, but if you paid any attention to those two Red Sox/Athletics games, you were one of few. To me, taking what should be one of the greatest days for American sports — opening day — and diluting it by sending it to the other side of the planet is stupidity at its finest. Bud Selig, you don’t need to globalize baseball by sending it to Japan. The Japanese people get baseball. It’s freakin‘ huge over there! Americans don’t need to sell baseball to Japan anymore than we need to sell David Hasselhoff to Germany or beer to Canadians. They get it, they understand it, they like it, end of story. Keep the games at home. And that’s not even considering the wear and tear you put on two of your franchises. If I was a Red Sox or Athletics player, fan, manager, coach, or beat reporter, I would be looking for some serious compensation from the MLB. How about making those two teams exempt from steroid testing for the season? Why not — for 2008, if you play for Boston or Oakland, anything goes! I can see the campaign now at Fenway Park: We’re ‘roided up in 2008! It’s 2002 all over again! Or 2003. Or 2004. Or 2005 . . .

Before I go, I need to make my always-spot-on baseball predictions for 2008. Keep in mind that I thought the Brewers hype in 2007 was a year too early. So even though I don’t like some of what’s happened with Milwaukee in the off-season, such as the release of Claudio Vargas, the 25-game suspension of newcomer Mike Cameron, the questions surrounding Chris Capuano’s health, the shaky spring training play of Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy, the salary complaints of Prince Fielder, I feel I must stick to my guns and predict the Brewers will win the NL Central in 2008. If Ben Sheets stays healthy. (Kidding — but isn’t that the caveat every year? I think we should apply that reasoning to all walks of life: The economy will improve, but only if Ben Sheets stays healthy. Barack and Hilary will make up and run on the same ticket, but only if Ben Sheets stays healthy.)

2008 division winners in the American League. In the East I’ll go with the Red Sox, if only because the Yankees won’t be as good without Joe Torre managing them and with their starting pitching being as suspect as the ingredients in all those Marshmellow Peeps I got for Easter. I’d love to say the Blue Jays will finish ahead of the Yankees, but I’m not ready to go there yet.

In the Central I have to go with the Indians. Their overall depth is better — especially in pitching — is better than Detroit’s. I also don’t think the Twins, despite the loss of Johan Santana and Torii Hunter, will be as bad as predicted. Just throwing that out there.

In the West? Let’s say the Angels. Their closest competition is the Mariners, but they’re touting the signing of former Twins pitcher Carlos Silva as one reason they’ll compete. I’m saying the fact that Silva won’t pitch anymore for Minnesota is one reason the Twins won’t be as bad as predicted (see above).

Wild card? I’ll go with the Yankees. Is it impossible to see a postseason without the pinstripes? No. Does it seem likely they’ll find a way to get there? Yes.

Over in the National League, I’ll take the Braves in the East. The Mets‘ collapse last year was a sign that not all is right with the team, and I don’t believe Johan Santana will be able to put the team over the top by himself.

I’ve already claimed the Central for Milwaukee, so that leaves the West. I like the Dodgers with Joe Torre re-energized and looking to prove himself.

For the Wild card, I’ll go out on a small limb and take the Rockies, who many are predicting to be a one-hit wonder.

World Series? Let’s say the Red Sox over the Braves. Yeah, it’d be more fun to say the Brewers over the Blue Jays, but I can’t go there.

Enjoy the season.

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