The Wisconsin Sports Wank: The Return

Hello folks, it's been a looooonnnnggg time between Wanks.  My blog fell into a deep hibernation these past few years due to life mostly, as I have alluded to in prior posts.  In the time between significant posts my beloved Wisconsin sports teams have had a lot of ups and downs.  There have been championship runs, playoff runs, and high expectations stoked by high rankings.  There have been incredible stomach-punch losses and agonizingly missed opportunities.  I wish I had had the time to chronicle all those events in this blog but alas time to look forward.

And with that I stick to the same format: fairly short and to the point while being as snarky as possible, here we go.  Since I've been gone for a while I'm going to try and touch on all of our beloved Wisconsin sports teams.

University of Wisconsin men's basketball: A-
14 straight seasons with invites to the Big Dance, 5 appearances in the Sweet 16, an Elite Eight and a Final Four appearance.  This has been the fruit of Bo Ryan and Dick Bennett's labors leading UW over the past decade or so.  You'd think that a guy who grew up with the Steve Yoder editions of Badger's basketball would be in a pretty happy place by now but some of us Wisconsinites adapt to sports success quickly, we want more of it (almost like Boston fans when the Patriots and Sox started winning but not as obnoxious).  In this case 'more of it' means a national men's basketball championship, or at least another Final Four, which should be considered fairly realistic given what UW has accomplished with Bo at the helm.  Bo was very successful before he came to UW from Division III UW-Stevens Point where he won 3 national championships, I don't see why he can't have the same success in Division 1(spare me arguments about the type of players he recruits, the swing offense, etc.)

But by no means do I mean to pooh-pooh on this season.  We had a good year when no one was really expecting us to do much.  Jordan Taylor finished up a pretty good career at UW, not quite showing the explosiveness of scoring ability that he did last year, but continuing his solid play.  I can see him being a pretty good role/bench player in the league (his game reminds me of a poor man's Jim Jackson for some reason).  In addition some of the guys that I was worried about being able to cut it in Big10 play stepped their games up (Jared Berggen, Ryan Evans).  The key to success next year will be to find someone to be the floor leader and run Bo's offense, and a go-to guy who can create his own shot when the set play breaks down (frontcourt should be set with Evans, Brusewitz, and Berggren back plus the addition of heraled redshirt Evan Anderson).  For the past 3 years that's been Taylor.  But one thing that has been charachteristic about the Badgers under Bo Ryan is that someone always steps up to replace the Mike Wilkinsons, Alondo Tuckers, and Devin Harrises.  It'll be interesting to see who does it next season.

University of Wisconsin football: B+
Speaking of national championships, UW probably had it's best shot at one in football this past season.  Wisconsin started the season ranked in the top 10 which I believe was the highest ranking starting out since the year of the infamous Sneakergate Scandal with Michael Bennett. Last season the anticipation/expectation level just felt different with high profile transfer Russell Wilson taking the snaps.  And while Wilson did certainly live up to expectations (and more) the Badgers season really came down to those 2 games.  You know what I'm talking about, I had to endure the highlights for 3 weeks.  2 games we had in hand if not for the porous defense and 2 highly improbable last second game-winning touchdowns (glad we proved that in the Big10 championship game).  Now there's another high-profile QB transfer coming to Madison who will probably be taking the reigns next year, Danny O'Brien.  O'Brien has 2 seasons of eligibility left and has played pretty well in his stint at Maryland where he was named ACC Rookie of the Year as a freshman.  He's most likely walking into a starting position here as UW has taken some hits at the QB position health-wise.  Jon Budmayr the previous presumed No. 1 heading into this season has been battling a nerve condition in his throwing arm.  Curt Phillips, once a promising recruit, has spent most of his athletic career at UW coming back from a string of knee injuries.  And we have a couple other QBs on the roster but frankly not much is expected from them (no offense guys).

O'Brien won't be doing jack in the Big10 unless we have good/consistent protection up front, something we've been kinda spoiled with in past years with Peter Konz and Gabe Carimi, but now that those guys will be playing on Sunday UW is going to have to reload quickly.  And just as in basketball that's what the Badgers tend to do, there's always some big kid waiting to be plugged in (seems like yesterday when people were worrying about replacing Joe Thomas).  There'll also be plenty of support from the running game where proven rushers Montee Ball and James White are both back; one of the more formidable backfields in the nation.  One of the biggest question marks on offense will be the receiving corps where JR James Abbrederis is the only returning WR with significant game experience.

Marquette University basketball:A-
I remember in one of my Wanks from back in the day (when I used to post regularly) I lamented the departure of Tom Crean as Marquette coach.  Crean bought Marquette back from the dead, restored the legacy of Al McGuire I cried!  How could they recover from this betrayal?!  Well in retrospect turns out I may have overreacted just a tad.  Buzz Williams has done a good job building on the success that Crean fostered.  No Final Four (yet), but there's been a Big Dance invite every year and two Sweet 16 runs in the last 2 years.  A few years back when the trio of Dominic James, Wes Matthews, and Jerel McNeal left school not much was expected from the program.  One of Crean's greatest recognized strengths as a coach was his ability to recruit (i.e. Tyshawn Taylor, who just led Kansas to the title game, had originally committed to Marquette before Crean left); in fact some would probably say that his skills with the X's & O's was kind of average.  Buzz was acknowledged as being a solid tactician, but his ability to attract players was unproven.  Fast forward a few years and I think he's proven to be more than capable of recruiting upper level talent like Todd Mayo (O.J. Mayo's little brother), bringing in talent like Jae Crowder, and even taking a couple of high-profile in-state recruits away from UW and Bo Ryan (Vander Blue and Jamil Wilson).

Perhaps the biggest testament to the coaching job Williams has done thus far is Marquettes record in the last 3 years.  Despite being picked to be near the bottom of the Big East in recent seasons MU has been finishing in or near the top half the conference the last 3 (last year was an even 9-9, but they still went to Sweet 16), and this year finished up second only to Syracuse.  Little will be expected of them next season also.  With the departure of Darius Johnson-Odom, Crowder, and Joe Fulce MU will again be suspect on the front line (a perennial weakness, it's like they don't recruit guys over 6'8") and the offensive scheme will most likely be guard oriented again (Cadougan, Mayo, and Blue I'm guessing) which can be dangerous competing in the physical Big East, but I trust this team will play just as tough as their coach is.

Green Bay Packers: A-
Okay I guess an A+ would have been if The Pack had capped their 15-1 regular season with a fifth Lombardi trophy, but I mean only the sourest of pusses can find much to complain about in Dairyland these days.  The whole Rodgers/Favre fiasco ultimately came out in our (meaning Packer fans, not Favre fans) favor with Rodgers winning us a Super Bowl.  Our recieving corps has become the envy of the leauge.  Despite the disappointment of not being able to defend our ring after going 15-1 in the regular season The Pack is poised to make another title run this year.  For a guy who still remembers Lindy Infante's stint as head coach life is pretty sweet these days.

However there are some points concern.  First, because I spent an inordinate amount of time last season yelling at the tv because the opposing QB always had like 10 seconds before he was even touched (if he was touched) everytime he dropped back, I surmised we needed some help on the defensive line.  Also this group of linebackers could use an upgrade.  Clay Matthews has proven worthy of the draft picks it took to get him, but because there are no other real pass-rushing threats he's getting keyed on all the time, we need another playmaker, either on the line or on the inside, to take the focus off him (in retrospect the loss of Cullen Jenkins in free agency and Mike Neal's inability to stay healthy really hurt).  Then there is the big question mark in the secondary regarding the status of starting safety Nick Collins who went down with a neck injury at the beginning of last season, a big reason why the secondary gave up so many big plays.  And once again the Packers lack of a consistent running game led to a lot of games that were tighter than they should have been.  With the talent level in this years draft hopefully Thompson can pick up a decent RB prospect in the later rounds to push James Starks.

If they address these issues I don't see why the Pack shouldn't be contending for another title come January.  As usual there are any number of mock drafts out there forecasting who the Packers will pick, I'll let you guys sort it out.

Milwaukee Bucks: D+
This quote from Mike Dunleavy (who I've come to respect as a player despite being a Dukie) I think sums up the Bucks season very succinctly:
”We don’t take the easy plays,” Dunleavy said. “It’s why we end up with 80 points against these good teams and 115 against the bad ones. It’s easy basketball plays. It’s the same thing every time. We come home and we play against these better teams and it’s a struggle.”
In my humble opinion the issues with the Bucks this season has been a lack of consistency in execution (which Dunleavy speaks to), a lack of size, and a lack of talent.  Two of those issues can be remedied by the front office by making a decent draft selection for once (John Hammond please stop trying to find hidden gems and draft somebody who can contribute from day 1).  The other falls on the shoulders of coach Scott Skiles.  Skiles was a pretty tough, smart player and in his previous coaching stints it was noted how his teams seemed to take on that persona of playing tough and smart, especially on defense.  Not so with this team, defensively Milwaukee ranks in the bottom third of the league and let's face it not too many guys on our roster are known for their defense except for Luc Mbah a Moute.  All of which may add up to Skiles demise next year if he can't turn this team around.
I'm pretty much chalking up this lockout shortened season as another failed campaign.  The Bucks are kind of in the middle of a playoff race for the 8th spot in the East with the Knicks and 76ers, but we need both of those teams to seriously tank and for the Bucks to run the table in their last 6 games to squeak in so it's not really likely.

There are other issues going on with the Bucks too such as the situation with their future in the Bradley Center and their future in Milwaukee.  It's been no secret that one of the reason's owner Herb Kohl has been hesitant to sell the team is his fear that most potential buyers will want to move the team out of state, but it's also no secret that the Bucks are hemorrhaging money every year they stay in the BC.  With a small market and below average revenue stream from the arena its simply tough for the Bucks to compete, even with the new revenue sharing model. I hate to admit it but it seems like fan apathy towards the team is increasing more and more lately.  Even if there wasn't a recession folks here would be very leery, in my opinion, to lending any kind of public funds towards the construction of a new arena (which is stupid if you ask me, could be just the kind of stimulus that this city needs), its common to see and hear comments from fans who don't think the city would necessarily be hurt if the Bucks left.  That's why I think it's imperative that the Bucks draft well this June.  This years draft is stocked with talent, maybe the best since '84, so if we land in the lottery we need to pick up a guy who can contribute right away; someone who can get the fans excited about coming to games again, that's what's going to save professional basketball in Milwaukee.  And let's face it, the draft is probably the only way we get a big-time talent, our city is not exactly a popular destination for NBA free agents (oh and fuck you Gilbert Arenas, still)

Milwaukee Brewers: C
Brewers currently stand at 2nd in the NL Central at 6-7.  They've had some good outings so far this season and some not so good ones.  This is a different team than the one that won the NL Central last season with Prince Fielder.  Prince is gone, but we've got a NL MVP (a hopefully non-steroid pumping Ryan Braun) to build around along with an ever improving Corey Hart and free agent pick-up Aramis Ramirez.  Mat Gamel is gonna get a chance to prove he can have the same success in the big leagues that he's had in the minors, Yovani Gallardo is going to get the chance to prove he can be consistent, and Rickie Weeks (who used to be a favorite punching bag for fans) seems poised to return to his All Star form after spending much of last season battling injury.

Since we're only 13 games into the season I'm not going to try and analyze any trends in their performance or crunch any statistics yet, I'm just going to remain upbeat and positive until the All Star break and see what happens.


Another surprise R.I.P

First MJ now this. Two very different lives, but both had abrupt and kind of shocking endings. Like Mike Wilbon said on PTI this evening, as a father the first thing that hits me out of all of this is the fate of the kids he left behind. Regardless of how fans or the media saw Chris Henry he was just Daddy to them and now he's gone. My condolences and prayers go out to the whole Henry family.

Photo cred: Cincinnati Enquirer/Jeff Swinger

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I been gone for a minute now, but just to let anyone know who cares I haven't forgotten about this blog. A lot has changed in my life since I started this and started garnering a tad bit of attention, so naturally that's gonna be reflected in my future posts. But don't get it twisted. I'm still a die hard Packers/Bucks/Badgers/Brewers/Marquette/UWM/UWGB etc. fan and I'm still going to mostly write about that stuff (the Wank shall return). But I mean the whole country has changed since I've been posting regularly and you know I gotta write about that (because this IS where the real and the fake get separated). And going in a totally different direction I just love the omen we got this afternoon about what the outcome will be Monday night. Nice win by the Badgers, the kind that defines a team for the season.

So in short, I'll be back and here's something for your amusement.

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I'm back and so is The Pack

I haven't really gone anywhere all this time between posts, but as I said in several of my sporadic posts before I went into hibernation my professional goals and responsibilities dictated that I drop any extracirricular activities and focus. So that cut down a lot on the time I had to just sit around and surf the net for stuff to comment on. But no matter what I had to take time to sit down and watch the NFL draft today. For the Packers this may be one of the most important drafts in the last 20 years. It's year 2 after the departure of The Great One so the rebuilding process is in full effect, we're moving to a new defensive format under a new coordinator, how much longer TT's tenure in GB lasts probably hinges on the results of this draft; all must see tv reasons. But I wasn't really expecting anything particulary exciting. After all our GM is the guy who drafts studs like Justin Harrell.

But it turns out TT had something for me today. As the first picks of the draft played out and the ESPN analysts and Packer fans in the studio crowd realized that there were a couple of excellent players that were going to be available for the Pack's pick, TT said I see you. 'You think I'll fuck this up don't you? Peep this' and proceeded to make the most sensible pick (besides AR I guess) of the last 5/6 years. "The Packers select B.J. Raji, nose tackle out of Boston College", most beautiful words I've heard in a while in reference to the Pack.

Look I'm probably overreacting. Raji's off-field issues have been well documented and these days no player is ever a guarantee to turn out to be great. But as I listned to Raji being compared to Gilbert Brown something just felt different about this draft pick. Something you can't necessarily articulate or put a finger on, just a feeling. And it felt like a turning point.


THE Wisconsin Sports Wank

No where to run, no where to hide from The Wank.

Marquette University men's basketball, A-.
Why not talk about the most successful sports team right now in the state of Wisconsin first? Marquette is on top of the Big East standings at 17-2, 6-0 in conference play with wins over teams like Wisconsin, Villanova, West Virginia, and Providence (ranked teams when they played them). Expectations about this year's team were up in the air over the summer with Tom Crean leaving for Indiana and the introduction of former assistant Buzz Williams as head coach. Not too mention losing a good portion of their already soft frontcourt with Ousmane Barro, Lawrence Blackledge and Dan Fitzgerald graduating and Trevor Mbakwe deciding to transfer. But Jereal McNeal decided not to enter the draft after a strong showing late last season, particularly in the tournament, so the Big Three of McNeal, Dominic James and Wes Matthews are back to doing their thing. For a really good breakdown of how the (sigh) Golden Eagles are doing it this season you should reference the seminal blog Cracked Sidewalks, but in a nutshell they are refusing to let their weaknesses (i.e. inside game, rebounding) beat them and are using their strengths, quickness and defense, to strangle other teams. And Marquette has a pretty favorable Big East schedule playing UConn and Georgetown only once. I would venture to say that the opinion of a lot of sports fans in Wisconsin regarding Marquette could be classified as mildly indifferent but if you still want to be rooting for a home team come March Madness time these guys are probably our best bet. Could a Big East regular season championship be in the future?

Milwaukee Bucks, C+.
Bucks are hanging in there Eastern Conference style at 21-24, 5-5 in their last ten games as of this writing. Good for 3rd in the Central. Wednesday night the put the mash on Dallas (a team that seems a shadow of it's former self in just what 3 years removed from the Finals?). That record is also considered pretty good news for the Bucks (who were expected to basically be doormats this year) because the rough part of their season is over. They've had a pretty tough schedule so far with a significant majority of their games played on the road, and don't forget they played the preseason games over in China. But there is playoff talk in the air in Milwaukee. Charlie Villanueva has been of fire the last few games. Michael Redd is showing he's still got some heat from the outside and even making defensive plays (though he's down again with a knee injury after Saturday's win over the Kings). Luke Ridnour is surprising the hell out of me with his game from the way he's running the offense to the last second game winning shots. Bogut has been in and out of the lineup this season, lately out with back spasms but is supposedly getting better, but the Bucks seemingly are ok without him for now (not saying they won't need him eventually, especially if they are talking playoffs). Ramon Sessions looks markedly more confidant this season with several games of offensive explosions. The Bucks have definitely clamped down their defense and turned up the effort compared to last season but have reverted to some lethargy in the last couple of weeks, needless to say Skiles is all over that (although Lionel Hollins will not be in on the effort). Of course there is 'the good draft pick' Prince Luc and heck even draft pick Joe Alexander is starting to show signs that he can at least be a solid contributor on an NBA team. We should all drink a round at Major Goolsby's.

University of Wisconsin men's basketball, C-.
And that grade is falling fast. Wisconsin is 8th in the Big 10 at 12-7, 3-4 in conference with 4 straight losses after starting off 3-0. So at this point I think we can safely say the nails are in the coffin for this year's team when it comes to tournament hopes. They have lost to every ranked team they played so far this year except for an over ranked Michigan squad (and I don't think Virginia Tech was ranked when the Badgers beat them). The signs were in the loss to Marquette earlier this season in their yearly matchup. Usually the Badgers beat MU in this game with a combination of being able to match their quickness with stronger inside play, but this year UW's general lack of athleticism in their lineup was exposed. And their inside play is a little weaker than in past years. Jon Leuer (6'-10")has shown some welcome improvement this season but his game is more mid-range based, not in the post. Starting guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon are high caliber players, but they are at a disadvantage against quicker guards. In past seasons UW's guards have been instrumental in facilitating the Badgers ability to control games with their offense. Lots of props have been given to the Badgers for their defensive acumen but that methodical approach also carried over to the offense where proper execution was emphasized. Opponents have regulary been able to stifle the Badgers' offense this season, forcing them into an uncharachteristically high number of turnovers. And we don't have a top shelf go to guy who can take over games like Alondo Tucker or Mike Wilkinson used to (if Wilkinson were on this year's squad they would be in the top 10 easy). Coming into the season I was doubtful about Marcus Landry's ability to be that guy even though you can tell he's worked hard on his game, there have been too many games this season where he has been a non factor. Badger's defense is nothing special this year either. The loss of guard Michael Flowers marked the end of a string of Badger teams that always seemed to have at least one lockdown guy on defense who they could sic on the other teams hottest player going back to Mike Kelley. Sadly I think UW has passed the point of being able to become tournament worthy this season. With 11 games left they'll get a shot at some more ranked opponents at Michigan State and the Illini and Minnesota again, but can they raise their level of play? A shakeup in the lineup by Bo might help, but barring a late run into the Big 10 tournament I just don't see it.

In other UW news P.J. Hill is entering the draft, some people think it's a good move some don't. This probably is the best move for P.J. though right now. His stock is not going any higher and he would probably have lost a lot of touches to John Clay next season. On the other hand he'll probably be a late second day pick and struggle to stick on a NFL roster as an injury prone RB with no breakaway speed (but he has that quickness in tight spaces). And AD Barry Alvarez has pretty much told Bielema haters where they can go by extending the coach's contract.

Milwaukee Brewers.
So the big signing that everyone was waiting for finally arrived, Trevor Hoffman. 5 years ago that would have been just as big as the CC signing. Now? Ehhh. Hoffman is like 41 but is still potent, though some would dispute that, and I guess his signing answers the 'who's the closer' question. The bullpen is still in need of a true ace or barring that at least some more good starting talent. But with next season's projected payroll already hovering around 85 million don't expect any major signings anytime soon. Brewers have reached agreements with JJ Hardy and Prince Fielder, two players who were in arbitration which leaves 5 still unsigned I believe. Among them Rickie Weeks who was ballsy enough to ask for a raise. One player that most fans thought was gone for good has returned, the Crew came to terms with Craig Counsell the other day. Seems this came about because both parties remained open to the possibility, good news as any locker room can always use players of Craig's caliber and while his numbers will not wow you he is a solid contributor. As the pool of free agents dwindles I've heard rumors of Ben Sheets and the Rangers so that probably lessens the little chance there was that he would come back.

Green Bay Packers.
Everyone was waiting to see who the choice would be as the new defensive coordinator and we have our answer in Dom Capers. Capers is generally regarded as one of the better defensive coaches out there and I always thought he never got enough props in his tenure as the Panthers first head coach taking them to the NFC championship with a young Kerry Collins at QB. I think he'll be alright here and I'm happy with the indications that he is going to take a sensible approach to the defensive philosophy he want to pursue initially, being that he's known for his work with the 3-4 but has also worked with the 4-3 base and believes that you need to play a scheme that fits your personnel. So I don't know if this opens the flood gates for trade scenarios in TT's mind but we can always hope. By the way the hot rumor about a Julius Peppers free agent signing is tempting to get enthusiastic about (and maybe compare to the Reggie White signing), but no one close to the situation seems to believe that Peppers will really leave Carolina especially given that the Packers have just hired the defensive coach he was supposedly so unhappy with. Mike Trgovac, the aforementioned coach, is reprising the role he played in Green Bay before on Ray Rhodes staff where he was defensive line coach. The line as I recall was pretty good that year, we still had Gilbert and Santana Dotson and Vaughn Booker as well (although in the tail end of their careers). Not as much talent to work with now so we'll see if Trgovac can work any wonders.

Some more random thoughts:

- Ted Thompson's tenure has been noted for a lack of blockbuster trades, but with the combination of implementing a new defensive scheme that is an ill fit for the current roster and the perceived pressure of needing to produce some results on the field now isn't this pratically pushing TT's hand into the trade market?

- Haven't heard much about assistant coach Winston Moss's status lately, just wondering.

- I hear DT Colin Cole had the nerve to turn down a contract extension earlier in the season. Big head in for big disappointment in free agency.

- When you are rebuilding a defense from scratch Aaron Kampman is the kind of player you keep, not trade . . . unless you have an opportunity to get a guaranteed game changing high impact player in return.

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