Well, it’s been 10 days since my last post. 10 days is not a lot of time to take off between haircuts or oil changes, but a 10-day break can be considered an eternity in the blogosphere.
I haven’t been vacationing or rehabilitating from an injury, I’ve been busily fulfilling my duties as part of WISC-TV “DTV Phone Bank,” which was set up early this week to help answer questions from WISC-TV viewers confused or otherwise irritated with the long-in-coming sign-off of WISC-TV’s analog signal. I feared that my days this week would be filled with endless streams of people shouting obscenities at me, which to be honest I get enough of at home.
I was partially right: The calls came at a steady pace, keeping me from other duties (such as this blog), but with one single exception, everyone I spoke to was extremely polite and friendly, despite the fact that many of them had lost their ability to see Oprah, Dr. Phil, and David Letterman. Part of this I credit to my excellent people skills (hey, to know me is to love me) and part of this I credit to the times we’re living in. I think that when people are constantly bombarded with depressing news about layoffs, home foreclosures, and Ponzi schemes, they might feel a little silly about complaining about needing to spend $50 to upgrade their antenna so they can watch the latest season of Survivor. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed my “Phone Bank” experience and will be forever grateful that I didn’t have to talk to this guy: http://www.ksdk.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=167900.
Now back to sports. In these economically turbulent times, community plays a greater role: As life becomes less predictable, people strive for the comfort of others. They relish in joining together to celebrate heroes (the flight crew of US Airways 1549), to tear down enemies (the octuplet mom, Alex Rodriguez), and to strive for common goals. Wisconsin sports fans have a few goals in mind this month. Let’s look at them and look at how obtainable they are:
1. Getting the Badgers back to the NCAA tournament for the eleventh straight season.About a month ago, I bet a work colleague (a small amount, as Daniel Negreanu I am not) that the Badgers would miss the big dance. I am happy to report that I will lose that bet. Even if the Badgers lose Sunday at Michigan State (likely, but far from a sure thing) and March 4 at Minnesota (but I like the Badgers to beat the fading Gophers), the Badgers will be one of the six Big Ten teams in the tournament. Bo Ryan putting Jon Leuer in the starting line-up over Keaton Nankivil has been key, but most of the credit has to go to the inspired play of Joe Krabbenhoft, Trevon Hughes, and Marcus Landry. All three have been terrific in the current winning streak, particularly Krabbenhoft, who has just been a bruiser down low, grabbing 31 rebounds and knocking in 60 points in the last five games. Hughes has recovered from a tough patch to play smart and punishing defense (the buzz on Jordan Taylor has likewise cooled), and Landry has been the Badgers’ best consistent scorer (Jason Bohannon is perhaps a more exciting offensive player, but that doesn’t always translate into more points).
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has no fewer than eight — eight! — Big Ten teams in his bracket posted on February 20 (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/bracketology) and while I wouldn’t personally argue that all of those eight teams are worthy, I think that’s simply too many for a historically maligned conference, even one that is having a terrifically competitive and thrilling season. I would leave Michigan (who could easily lose their last three games) and Minnesota (who have lost four of their last five) out. Lunardi has Wisconsin as a Number Nine seed, which sounds about right. I might as well pony up that $10 right now. Odds of probability: 90%
2. The Badger men’s hockey team bringing home the McNaughton Cup.What a roller-coaster year it’s been for the hockey Badgers. A winless October, followed by a one-loss combined November and December, the team has only gone 6-6 in 2009, with all of those losses — all of them — coming at the Kohl Center. Coming into this past weekend’s series with Denver, Mike Eaves’s team had a chance to control their own destiny. Now after being swept, including Saturday’s spirit-crushing 5-0 rout, the 13th-ranked Badgers need to establish more realistic goals: Having home-ice advantage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and making the NCAA tournament. Odds of probability: 5%
3. Ending the Lisa Stone era.OK, it’s a little cruel to suggest that someone losing their job should be anyone’s goal — unless that person is Octo-mon’s fertility doctor — but clearly Badger Nation would love to see Stone rolling on. The Badgers have finished on average seventh in the Big Ten since Stone’s arrival, and this year could be Stone’s worst: Coming into Sunday’s home finale against Michigan State, the team has lost 10 of 13 games, their defense is allowing about 62 points a game over the last eight contests, and the Badgers are struggling to shoot anywhere near 40 percent from the field. Oh, and attendance at home games is about as strong as Pink Panther 2‘s chances of sweeping next year’s Oscars. Odds of probability: 75%.
4. Getting the Brewers back to the playoffs in 2009. It may seem a little early to be looking ahead to October, but it’s not too early to spectulate on the Brewers’ chances of repeating their 2008 success. After all, they start spring training play on Wednesday.
A friend of mine wondered out loud why the buzz was off the Brewers; after all, he argued, last year they were picked by many to make the playoffs and they are going into the season with basically the same roster. Well, “basically” is the sticking point. The Brewers should be fine offensively, but they wouldn’t have made the playoffs last year without the mid-season addition of C.C. Sabathia and they might not have been in the position to acquire Sabathia without the work of Ben Sheets, who went 10-2 in the first part of the season. (Not to mention they needed the Mets to take their second-straight nosedive.) Now both Sheets and Sabathia are gone, and the pressure is on the Brewers starting rotation. Gallardo coming back is huge, but he and newly-acquired Braden Looper can hardly be expected to adequately replace CC and Sheets. The Brewers will continue to draw the fans, but they won’t go home as happy. Odds of probability: 40%.