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.