Yes, I Can Believe In The Pips and Cardinals. But the Badgers?

You ever watch those ESPN afternoon shows Around the Horn or Pardon the Interruption? I have to assume that if you’re reading this blog, the answer would have to be “yes,” but who knows, maybe you’re watching Oprah at that time. Me, I only watch when Gayle King is on. She’s magic.

Anyway, participants on those shows have it easy. They only have to give brief summaries of several different topics happening in the world of sports. Me, I have to go “behind the headlines” on one crucial story at a time to give you, dear reader, the insider information you can only get here at Channel3000.com.

But not today. It’s Friday, it’s cold, the economy is spiraling ever downward, my mail carrier is mad at me because I have too much snow in front of my mailbox, my 19-month-old daughter is under the weather, Bruce Springsteen got snubbed at the Oscars, and McDonald’s is refusing to bring back the McRib despite my dozens of letters.

So here’s my quick take on what’s happening out there sports-wise:

1. The Badgers men’s basketball team. You know who’s loving this four-game Wisconsin losing streak? Bret Bielema. OK, I can’t prove that, but Bielema certainly heard the cries of the doofuses who were proclaiming Wisconsin a “basketball school” when the football team struggled at the end of last season. Now Bo Ryan’s team is suffering through its first four-game losing streak since the 2005-06 season, a year that saw them lose to North Dakota State, saw them lose their first game in the Big Ten Tournament, and saw them lose their first game in the NCAA tournament.

But Ryan’s 2008-2009 team is better than that team of three years ago. The problem is that so is the rest of the Big Ten. It’s one of the lamest sports cliches, but the Big Ten is proving it true this season: Any team can beat any team. Well, except Indiana can’t beat anyone. (You put Indiana’s men’s team on the floor against Indiana’s women’s team, my money’s on the women.)Despite the losing streak, it’s too early to give up on the Badgers, but it’s clearly not too early for concern.

The Badgers look to be in a lot of close games over the rest of the season, making problems like Trevon Hughes’s sudden penchant for turnovers something that the team can’t overcome. (Which Ryan realizes, hence the benching in crunch time on Wednesday night in the loss to Iowa.) But the problems go beyond Hughes, obviously, as Saturday’s loss to Illinois made clear. (Hughes notched 36 minutes of play without a single turnover.) The defense has been uncharacteristically marginal at best, particularly in its failure to shut down the night’s hot hand (Illinois’s Demetri McCamey Iowa’s David Palmer, Minnesota’s Lawrence Westbrook). The Badgers are still prone to going to sleep on the offensive end — shooting just 35.6 on Saturday –but now their defensive play can’t always support that. And the team is not getting to the foul line as often in years past — Iowa alone posted a plus-25 margin in free throw attempts on Wednesday, while Illinois shot nine more free throws than Bucky on Saturday.

Some might applaud the use of freshman guard Jordan Taylor in place of Hughes, particularly given Taylor’s dramatic three-point shots on Wednesday. But putting Taylor in place of Hughes gives the Badgers the smell of a team in rebuilding mode, which I’m not ready to see. But with Purdue upcoming on Tuesday, it doesn’t get easier.

2. Brewers sign Fielder. Very good news for Brewers fans, particularly if Fielder can carry over his great September from what was — for him, anyway — an otherwise workmanlike 2008 campaign. And while Fielder’s presence obviously helps the team offensively, it just as obviously doesn’t address what is still their biggest concern: lack of starting pitching. Oh, and Fielder could stand to lose some weight. But so could I. Maybe it’s for the best that the McRib is still on hiatus.

Now that Fielder is signed, the Brewers look to face arbitration hearings with Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. Given the slumping economy and both players’ slumping stats — Weeks was weak most of the season and Hart completely disappeared in September — it’s hard to believe that either player is worth what their agents are asking. But Weeks continues to have a strong OBP, and I have to believe that Hart will recover from his lousy final month of 2008. Here’s hoping both players are on board for 2009.

3. The Super Bowl. We all need something to believe in. Me, I believe that “Midnight Train to Georgia” is perhaps the greatest song ever not written by Lennon/McCartney or Bruce Springsteen. I believe that former President George W. Bush and former Milwaukee Brewers skipper Ned Yost are the same person. I believe that I’m staring just a little too long at those Lane Bryant pop-up ads that infiltrate my Web browser. And I am starting to believe in the Arizona Cardinals. Or should I call them the Super Bowl champion Arizona Cardinals. I haven’t crunched all the stats yet — I can’t concentrate with Gladys Knight and the Pips running around in my head — but it just seems like Kurt Warner’s time again. And the Cardinals will have the best player on the field in Larry Fitzgerald. And it just seems like the Steelers — after playing just about the toughest schedule in the history of the NFL – – should be about really to fold.  And the Hines Ward injury is huge if he’s not able to play. I’m starting to really like the Cardinals. Which is probably the kiss of death for them.

4. Mark McGuire’s brother gives him up. The sleaziest act of sibling betrayal since Godfather II.

5. The Milwaukee Bucks. If the season ended today, the Bucks (eighth in the East with a record of 22-25) would be in the playoffs. But we’re not at the All-Star break yet. And the prospect of playing Cleveland or Boston in the first round isn’t a pretty one.

6. Packers hire Dom Capers as defensive coordinator. Despite the fact that he was last defensive coordinator on a team that finished 1-15 (2007 Miami Dolphins) and he holds just a .375 winning percentage as a head coach, what scares me most about Capers isn’t his coaching ability. It’s that hairpiece. Hard to gain the respect of your players sporting that monstrosity. But if Capers can resurrect the Packers’ defense, he can wear a McRib on his head for all I care. If he can find one. Have I mentioned they’re on hiatus?

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