Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections and predictions

Good 1st year for the blog. I have to say I am very satisfied and it has pretty much provided exactly what I was hoping for, a nice way to track all the things I am right about all the time. We'll just ignore that "O'Brien is better" post. Pretty sure someone hacked the blog and posted that for me.

On to my last Badger football predictions of the year. I started this exercise to track my gambling abilities and this is probably too small a sample size to make any grand generalizations. I am a woeful 1-3-1 on the over/under this year, but a much better 4-1 against the spread for an overall record of 5-4-1. Stanford is a 6 point favorite, and the o/u is 47.

2 teams that have had a lot of success recently as both have played in 3 consecutive BCS bowls. UW has struggled to score against good defenses, and I expect that to continue. The question is can UW stop Stanford's offense, and not give up any big plays on special teams. I hope they can, but I'm taking Stanford -6. At this point I should just stop picking the o/u and cut my losses, but I'll do one more just for the purpose of this exercise. Bowl games tend to give the offense the advantage as they have prep time to put together unscouted looks and trick plays so I'm taking the over.

If anyone knows of a good sports gambling website let me know (by good I mean that they don't charge a ton for the juice and that you can cash out easily).

Friday, December 21, 2012

History may not repeat, but it rhymes..

Weird fact. In 1997 the Badgers played Boise State, which had just jumped to Div. 1-A. The Badgers played them a week after getting destroyed by Donovan McNab and Syracuse. Despite that loss, the Badgers were five touchdown favorites, as Boise State was coming its own humiliating defeat—a 40 point loss to Div. 1-AA Cal-State Northridge. Boise State basically beat the Badgers, but the Badgers pulled it out on a late TD drive punctuated by two long Mike Samuel runs. I recall listening to the game on the radio in the old State Street apt.

Boise State was coached that year by Houston Nutt. After the season ended, he headed to Arkansas....

This year the Badgers played a similar game against Utah State. This time it was the Badgers' coach who headed to Arkansas, and it is the Badgers who are snapping up the upstart's coach.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My thoughts on Andersen

Like Chorlton, I'm optimistic. More and more, college football is a game of recruiting. Andersen's recruiting success at Utah State is pretty amazing. He took a moribund program that was way, way behind two established in-state programs (BYU and Utah) and started beating them out for recruits. That's kind of unbelievable. I have a hard time believing that any big time recruit is getting out of Wisconsin with Andersen on board.

Couple other nuggets on Andersen, courtesy of some Wikipedia research:

1) He is the first coach the Badgers have ever hired who has previously taken a team to a bowl game as a head coach. And he's been to two, and won one. (Of course, there are a lot more bowl games nowadays, but still.)

2) He is the first coach the Badgers have hired since 1932 (the great Clarence Spears!) who has won a conference title with a previous team. Spears led Minnesota to a first-place tie in the Big Ten in 1927.

(Slight caveat to nugget #2: Don Morton technically won the Missouri Valley Conference title with Tulsa in 1985. But he went just 3-0 in conference, as it was the last year of MVC football. He went 7-4 the next year with Tulsa playing as an independent, and then the Badgers hired him. Unbelievable.)

Some of the Badgers fans I enjoy following on twitter are quibbling about whether this was an A- or a B+ hire. I don't think we can grade with that level of detail. I prefer the famous Siskel & Ebert system—thumbs up or thumb down? My thumb is up. To look at it another way, I think it's pretty clear that by any objective standard this is the best hire in the history of the Badgers' football program—or at least since 1932.

And now to Andersen

I'll keep this one short since there's just not much to go on yet.

I'm optimistic. He has a good track record of success. He recruited his own state very well despite having 2 better schools to compete with.

I don't like that he has run systems different than what UW has had success with. He has run a spread offense, and a press man defense. I know Badger fans will probably love to see a change from the soft zone the Badgers have run for the last 20 years, but they have had a lot of success with that defense. Who knows what he will run once he's here. The proof will be in the pudding.

If he doesn't work out, Paul Chryst may be available in 3-4 years.

Why Arkansas?

Seeing Bret go was not nearly as shocking as where he went. A coach with as much success as he had was bound to get better opportunities. I guess when I imagined him leaving, it was for a better job than Arkansas. Perhaps that is why some fans felt so scorned. If your girlfriend leaves you for someone who is better looking, younger, and makes more money it hurts, but at least it makes sense. Had Bielema gone to a school like Florida I would have understood. Hurt, but not hurt and confused.

Arkansas is a good program and has several advantages over UW. They have more money being number one. Arkansas has an alumni donor base including the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that will throw money into the program. That means Bielema gets over a million more per year, and he can pay his assistants much more than UW would pay. That money also allows for top notch facilities that can be constantly updated due to the never ending flow of cash. UW is not a poor school when it comes to football. Bielema probably could have got a new contract from UW for more money after 3 Rose Bowls, and UW just finished a new locker room and upgrades to the facilities. Still, money is an advantage.

Recruiting may be easier there as well. Arkansas is not a state that produces tons of in-state talent. ESPN's recruiting site shows that both WI and AR have about the same number of recruits that get 2-4 stars, about 15 this year. The schools Arkansas will be competing against like Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia all have more than 15 players who are 4 and 5 star recruits in-state, and dozens more 2-3 star kids. Perhaps proximity is an advantage. Arkansas is closer to the hotbed of southern talent than WI, so they may be able to pull in some of that top tier talent from those states UW never had a chance at. Playing in the SEC, which will soon claim the conferences 7th straight national championship, can't hurt recruiting either.

When Bielema talked to his players about leaving, they said he was leaving because he wanted to win a national championship. This was taken as a slight against UW by some of his players and certainly by Alvarez who responded by saying that UW was arguably 2 hail mary plays from being in the national championship game last year. UW has also had 4 other seasons with only one regular season loss in 1993, 1998, 2006, and 2010. Now, a win in any of those seasons wouldn't necessarily have got UW into national championship consideration, but it shows UW wasn't that far either.

As an aside, I hear fans criticize UW sometimes about not going for a national championship. For example they criticize UW for not scheduling better non-conference opponents because UW will not have a good enough strength of schedule to make the BCS championship playing patsies. These people are idiots. UW is not Ohio State, Alabama, or USC. Just look at the stats about in-state recruits and you can see UW does not have the natural resources to compete for a championship year in and year out. Why schedule Alabama when you may be struggling to make 4-4 in the Big Ten. It's also impossible for UW to predict when they are going to have a chance to make a national championship run. Many of their great runs have come when they started the year unranked. It's not that UW won't ever win a National Championship, (the coming playoff system gives them a better chance) but they should not be judged by that level of success, nor should they base their program around that goal. I would argue that UW has had the level of success it has had because they have created a system for success within their limitations, and not shooting for the stars. More on this another time.

So why did he go? Money? Championship? Maybe some of both?

I think he'll find them, but not at Arkansas. I am predicting that Bielema will not finish his contract out at Arkansas, and this will be a stepping stone job until he can get a job at a big time program. He gets to take over a talented but underachieving 4-8 team at a school that has been pretty good over the last decade. He gets out from under the shadow of Barry Alvarez, and can prove he can win without him. If he has a couple 10 win seasons and pulls an upset or 2 against LSU or Alabama, he will be moving on to a Florida State type program and 5 million a year if the NFL doesn't lure him in.

Former Badgers in the News

Suzy Favor Hamilton. It's not what you'd expect.

UPDATE: Ms. Favor Hamilton has a twitter feed. It's worth reading.

Goodbye Bret

I have been one of the few Bielema defenders over the past several years, at least amongst my friends. Pretty much from the start fans just didn't like him. When he went 12-1 in his first season, finished ranked 5th and 7th in the polls (after being unranked until the 7th week of the season), and won the Capital One Bowl it was because he did it with Alvarez's players. When he followed that up with a 9 win season (5-3 in Conference) it was a disappointment because the team started the year ranked #7 after the 12-1 season. When he went 7-6 in year 3 and almost lost to Cal Poly, people wanted his head. A 10 win season capped with a bowl win didn't seem to buy him much good will in 2009.

After each of the last 3 seasons in which UW has gone to the Rose Bowl I have gloated endlessly over the Bielema haters asking them if UW should fire him now. To my laughter I continually heard them continue hating. He needs to win a Rose Bowl and not just get there they said after TCU. He can't win the big game they said after Oregon. UW can't win a close game and they don't deserve to to be there they said this year.

I honestly don't get it. The media reported about his prickly personality, and locals have told me the guy is an asshole. Who cares? None of the fans I know who called for his firing knew him personally, were upset by his media interviews, or even noticed when he ran up the score against coaches he didn't like. How many successful football coaches aren't assholes?

To the haters who are happy he is gone, I have just a few numbers.

UW has had 8 seasons of 10 or more wins in it's history. Bielema had 4, Alvarez had 4.

While he won't coach in this year's Rose Bowl, he joins only 2 other coaches in Big Ten History to lead their teams to 3 straight Rose Bowls, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler are the others.

That's pretty good company to be in with.

I will miss you Brett. I wish you the best at Arkansas, and thank you for the many joyful wins you helped create over the last 7 seasons. At least until UW gets matched up with Arkansas in a future bowl game. Then you can go fuck yourself.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Back by popular demand

I would like to thank the loyal readers of this blog (both of them) for needling me about the lack of blog posts recently. A combination of the bowl game break, finals/Christmas break for basketball, and a nasty cold have held me back, but I will be back in full force soon.

A blizzard is coming tomorrow and my work has already been canceled, so I will be posting my thoughts on our dear departed football coach, and his successor, in between shoveling.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

End of an Era

In my ongoing series of deceptive post titles I will not be addressing the UW coaching vacancy. I have a much more interesting topic from tonight's basketball game.

The Badgers won their 2nd consecutive blow out tonight after the Virginia debacle. In both those wins they have played much better defense, and pulled away easily in the first half after allowing only 24 to Cal and 13 to Nebraska-Omaha. I'm sure part of this is the ass kicking I'm sure they got in practice after the Virginia loss, and the caliber of their opponents. I would argue a bigger part is the end of the switching era.

As I discussed in my previous post, Bo changed to a defensive strategy of switching on ball screens a couple seasons ago. After the Virginia game switches have been minimal. Bigs are falling off the screens to give help if the dribbler goes to the rim and to guard against the screener rolling. The on ball defender is going over the screens and staying with the dribbler. This is leaving the screener wide open, but so far it has not done any damage. If the badgers play against a big that can shoot from outside then this may need adjustment. It will be interesting to see if Bo stays with this strategy, or if he changes to let his big men hedge on the screens which puts more pressure on the dribbler but can leave the screener open on the roll. In any case I think the end of the switching era is a good move. It fit for UWs past teams, but not this one.

I have always liked the idea of teams that can switch defenses, as a change of pace to throw off other teams. Bo does not believe in this and is strictly a man to man coach. Even more than that, Bo has had his guys play screens one way all the time too. Maybe he will change back and forth from switching to hedging depending on the matchup, but my guess is he will stick with a system that has worked for him for decades, and who can blame him.

It will be interesting to see if the defensive improvement is due to the inferior opponents, the fact teams were unprepared for the change in defense, or if this defense works for them the rest of the season.

Bye bye, Bret.

Bielema to Arkansas.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Worst Team Ever to Play in the Rose Bowl?

Noted idiot Craig James infamously labeled Wisconsin's 1998-99 squad "the worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl." The common charge was that the Badgers were actually the third-best team in the Big Ten—behind co-champs Ohio State and Michigan—and got to play in the Rose Bowl only because of an obscure, stupid tie-breaking rule. Wisconsin and OSU did not play that year, and Wisconsin was awarded the Rose Bowl because Michigan and OSU had been to the Rose Bowl more recently.

Wisconsin was a 10-point underdog against UCLA in that 1999 Rose Bowl Game (which Mr. Chorlton and I attended). UCLA had gone a perfect 8-0 in the Pac-10 and was headed to the BCS national championship game until a season-ending, non-conference 49-45 loss to a weak Miami team (which itself was coming off a 66-13 loss to a mediocre, Donovan McNab led Syracuse squad). UCLA was led at QB by future Chicago Bears failure Cade McNown, and it could score. But it could not defend. It was soft, like a marshmallow.

Enter Ron Dayne. He absolutely destroyed the UCLA defense, running for ridiculously easy touchdowns of 7, 10, 22, and 54 yards. Jamar Fletcher made the play of the game, picking off an awful McNown throw and returning it 46 yards for a touchdown.

Alluding to Craig James's comment, after the game Barry Alvarez quipped, "Well, I know we're at least the second worst" team ever to play in the Rose Bowl.

In hindsight, the hyperbole about the Badgers being a bad team that year looks silly. They had a number of great players, including notably Dayne and Fletcher. Other than a close win on the road against Indiana, the Badgers handily destroyed all the bad teams they played. They had two nice wins against Purdue (led by Drew Brees, who went 55 for 83—both NCAA records) and Penn State. Their only loss was on the road to Michigan, which went on to clobber Arkansas in the Citrus Bowl. Ohio State won the Sugar Bowl handily. The Big Ten was actually good that year. And the Badgers went back and won Rose Bowl again the next year, negating conclusively any notion that the 1998 team was a fluke.

The 1998 team is relevant because the Badgers are against going to the Rose Bowl under a cloud of controversy. They got to the Big Ten Championship game with four conference losses, on what might be reasonably considered a technicality. It appears that they got the best possible draw in Nebraska, which has a terrible run defense. A few weeks ago I said here, after the OT loss to Michigan State and the news of Stave's season-ending injury:
It's still likely that the Badgers will stumble their way to the Championship game. But their odds of winning it went way down. And, if they do, they may actually be the worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl this time.
By one objective measure, the Badgers clearly are the worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl: they have five losses, more than any other team ever to play in the game. I haven't researched it, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's never been a four-loss team in the Rose Bowl. [Update: three teams have played in the Rose Bowl with four losses: Washington (6-4) in 1964 (lost to Illinois); Washington (7-4) in 1978 (beat Michigan); and UCLA (6-4-1) in 1984 (beat Illinois). So the three worst teams to play in the Rose Bowl are actually 2-1 in the game.]

That said, a strong case can be made that this is the best five-loss team ever. Three of the five losses were in overtime, and the other two were by three points. Two of the overtime losses came in what were essentially exhibition games after Wisconsin had already clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship game. Wisconsin had nothing to play for in those games, particularly not in the final game when they could no longer claim the meaningless divisional "championship." In the brutal, physical game of football, the slightest lack of commitment is nearly impossible to overcome. So in my book those losses carry an asterisk.

We know now that the Badgers were keeping some tricks up their sleeves. They were clearly saving Melvin Gordon for when he was really needed. They were resting Chris Borland, who is probably the best player on the team. With something big to play for, against a quality opponent, with everything on the line, the Badgers brought the house and won by forty points. 40.

Early lines have the Badgers as 6.5 point underdogs against Stanford. Stanford is a very good team that plays Big Ten football. They have the best run defense in the nation, and they shut down the high-flying Oregon Ducks.

But Stanford's resume is not overwhelming. They have two losses, one of which was in overtime to No. 1 Notre Dame. But the other loss was to Washington which has lost, ahem, five times this year. And two of their wins were in overtime (against Oregon (impressive) and Arizona (not so much)). They also had their Northern Iowa moment in the season opener, when they beat San Jose State by just a field goal. (San Jose State is decent, it turns out, but they lost to Utah State by 22.)

All told, Stanford is an impressive team, and they will probably beat the Badgers. But I will be surprised if it's by more than six points. And I won't be at all surprised if the Badgers again prove themselves to be at least the second-worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Am I going Crazy

I have read several articles and blogs that have discussed UWs defense in the OSU game because it was both unconventional for UW, and because it was so successful against Braxton Miller. For whatever reason, they all keep referring to the defense as a 4-2-5 as if it is some sort of new innovation in defensive scheme. UW tends to leave 3 linebackers on the field even against spread teams to stop the run and take advantage of their talent in Borland, Taylor and Armstrong. Since Borland was out injured against OSU, UW made changes to cover his loss.

Again today on Tom Lea's blog on ESPNwisconsin I saw this defense referred to as a 4-2-5.

That's nickle defense. Why aren't they calling it nickle. There is nothing new or special about it other than UW doesn't use it as much as everyone else. Am I missing something here?


Those Vegas guys know their stuff. Last week was a push on the o/u as the game hit it on the nose at 45. That leaves me at 1-2-1 on o/u, and I took my first loss to fall to 3-1 against the spread. 4-3-1 overall.
This week Nebraska is a 3 point favorite, and the o/u is 49.
Badgers are a hard team to figure out this year. 5 losses, 4 of them by 3 points, and 3 in overtime. 4 blow out wins vs lesser Big Ten teams, but they needed end of game defensive stands to get wins at home vs Northern Iowa and Utah State (although Utah State turned out to be a pretty good team). 3 different starting quarterbacks, 2 different offensive line coaches, and several different offensive line combinations due to injuries. An offense that averaged in the 40s the last 2 years has scored over 38 just once all year.
I like the Badgers defense the last several weeks, and it looks as though Borland will be able to play. The D line is as healthy as it has been all year, and Shelton Johnson (who didn't play in the first game) and Southward have been good on the back end since Johnson returned.
My head is telling me that Nebraska is a better team and the best team usually wins, but the better team doesn't always win. Nebraska had some key injuries on both lines against Iowa, and I feel that those losses may be hard to fix in one week. The gut is telling me this game comes down to a field goal again, which given UW's special teams doesn't bode well for them.
I was hoping the spread would be higher and I was quite surprised to see UW as only a 3 point dog. If the spread was 2 1/2 I would take Nebraska, but the 3 point cushion gives me enough wiggle room to go with my gut, and take UW and the points. I have a strong feeling that this game will be a push. After all, those Vegas guys know what they are doing. I'll take the under again this week as I like Bucky to play good defense and try to hold the ball as much as possible.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I know that wasn't the final score of tonight's loss to Virginia, but it's pretty close. I am afraid that the loss tonight may be a repeat of a game UW did lose 62-55 in the 2005-2006 season. That game was unfortunately a harbinger of many losses to come as UW fell apart in the second half of that season. After losing both Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma for the 2nd semester UW lost it's next game at the Kohl Center to North Dakota State. UW finished that season out 5-8 including an extremely rare 1st round loss in the NCAA. When UW loses at home to a team that is not very good, it is a warning sign.

Golf is the Stupidest Sport

Apparently the USGA and the R&A have decided to outlaw the use of anchored putters in golf. Steve Stricker—Madison's favorite PGA son and great (conventional) putter—supports the rule change.

I don't really care about the rules of golf, but this is ridiculous. Exhibit A:

"There was no empirical data to suggest a long putter made golf easier."

In other words, every argument in favor of the ban is based on speculation and gut feelings.

So why ban the anchored long putter? Stricker says:

"Any time you can take your arms and hands out of it, especially your hands, I think when you can anchor it in your chest, (it) is a huge advantage. I'm not a big proponent of long putters."

OK, fine, but you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man. Who cares? If it is such an advantage, why don't you do it, Strick? Why don't 90% of pros do it? Just because they are too macho? Gimme a break. Millions of dollars are on the line. If pros really thought anchored putting was an advantage, they'd do it. And if golfers were really macho they'd be playing a real sport. You know, one with athletics involved.

Here's my theory. A country-club culture pervades golf, and the snobs in charge just think anchored putting looks funny. "Why, Millie, this is the worst thing since cargo shorts!" If these people were in charge of basketball they'd have outlawed the jump shot. ("Any time you elevate yourself, especially your hands, in the process of shooting, it is a huge advantage." Cf. Stricker's statement.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012


I correctly picked the winner vs the spread last week for the 3rd week in a row, but I fell to 1-2 on the o/u leaving me 4-2 on the year. PSU is a 3 point favorite at home, and the o/u is 45.
Last week is a similar situation to this week. A tough game that looks like a coin flip, so  I'll stick with the same strategy and take UW and the points. I'll see if I can get back to .500 and take the under in what I think will be a low scoring game.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who's 6th?

There are a lot of games that don't involve the 5 contenders, and someone has to win them. There will be one or two teams that make the tourney outside of the big 5. Who will they be?

Let's start with the easy part, who it won't be.

Even with Frazier, PSU was at best a 6 win team. Now that he's hurt PSU may not win 3.
Nebraska had a rude introduction to the Big Ten last year. Even with a senior laden team they were bottom dwellers. They will not be better this year. A new coach and a rebuilding project equals 2 wins.

I won't do Purdue the disservice of grouping them with Nebraska and PSU, but they are rebuilding. This team brings in a big time recruiting class and has a bunch of young talent. Matt Painter is a good coach and this team will keep getting better. They will be dangerous in February and March. Don't be fooled into thinking this team will have the same success as the freshman class of Robbie Hummel, Jujuan Johnson, E'twan Moore and Scott Martin. Those guys took over after the Carl Landry era and didn't miss a beat. This years team is already struggling early, and will probably do so most of the year. Look out for them next year as they only lose DJ Byrd.
Northwestern is Northwestern. They will score the ball well. They won't defend well. They will pull off a big upset, probably vs Michigan State. They will do just enough for people to talk about them making the dance, but at the end of the year it will be clear to everyone that they aren't really even a bubble team.

Will the loss of Bruce Weber be enough to get Illinois back in the tourney? My guess is no. Brandon Paul showed he is an elite scorer last year and he will carry this team to some big wins. This team won't have enough defense to win consistently in the big ten. They will struggle, especially against the size of the contenders without Meyers Leonard to anchor the D and clean up the defensive glass. Illinois hopefully won't quit like they did last year on Weber, but that will only get them to the NIT.

In case you haven't done the math, that only leaves 2 teams. I think both will win enough games to make the tourney and both will pull off some surprise wins.

Last year I predicted Indiana would be the surprise team of the league and make the tourney when many prognosticators thought they were still a year away. I believed in Indiana because they could score the ball with anyone, and the addition of a big man gave them just enough defense and rebounding. Adam Woodbury is no Zeller, and he is playing limited minutes, but like Zeller he moves everyone over one spot so they are not defending so much out of position. Iowa is only scoring about 70 per game this year, but they are giving up only about 52 through 5 games against lesser competition. Excluding their loss against Creighton last year, in their first 5 games against lesser teams they were scoring 84 and giving up 67. They are playing a different style, and it is paying off defensively. I don't think Iowa will match Indiana's 11 big ten wins of last year, but look for them to be around .500 and be one of the last teams on the bubble to get in the tourney.

Minnesota looked like a sure fire tourney team last year, and then Mbakwe got hurt. This team still made the NIT final, so it wasn't a terrible season despite the loss of a fantastic player. They had 5 big ten games go to overtime in which they were 2-3. They also lost 4 other big ten games by 5 points or less, so it's not like they were that bad without their star. Mbakwe is back, but it's uncertain how healthy he is or will be. Are they just holding him back so he doesn't over do it? If he is able to return to major minutes, I think this team coasts to a 6th place finish. If he doesn't, I still think they are good enough to get to double digit wins and a tourney birth.

Minn 10-8
Iowa 9-9
Illinois 7-11
Northwestern 7-11
Purdue 7-11
Nebraska 2-16
PSU 1-17

Monday, November 19, 2012

Big Ten Top

Time for my annual Big Ten analysis, and predictions. Hard to get a great read on teams before the Thanksgiving tourneys as many have only played cupcakes, but they have at least shown their rotations.

There are 5 contenders this year. UW, MSU, OSU, Indiana and Michigan. The best part is that they all get to play each other a lot. Only UW gets a break in the unbalanced scheduling with only one game against Indiana and Michigan. The other 4 teams have 7 or 8 games against each other. In another scheduling quirk, none of the contenders plays another in at least the first 3 games of the year. Once Mid January hits there should be a rush of big time games that just doesn't stop until March. Should be a fun season.

Gasser's injury probably knocked UW off the contenders list for many prognosticators, but those of us who have watched Bo for the last decade know better. I won't get into UW too much as they are already a focus of this blog.

All four of the other teams are rock solid, so I'll try to pick on them a little.

Indiana has scoring at every position but I am not yet a believer in this team. They still have to stop someone and I'm not convinced they can do that. Oladipo can defend, and Zeller should make a jump in year 2, but Watford, Hulls and Creek are still on this team. Unless those guys become different players, Indiana will have problems against good teams. They will also be relying on at least 2 freshman for minutes which shouldn't help the defense.

Last season I thought Michigan had a chance to be a great team until Darius Morris went pro. They proved me wrong and were a great team thanks to Trey Burke. I must admit I was almost as pissed when Burke didn't go pro this year as I was when Sullinger didn't last year. I hate playing these guys again. Michigan has tons of scoring in the backcourt and at the wing which Beilein plays at the 4 spot in his system. The question as always with Michigan is size, because they play small at the 4. They may be better this year with an older Jordan Morgan and freshman McGary at the 5 spot.

OSU has Craft and possibly the best athlete in the conference in Thomas. Beyond them there are question marks. Lots of kids that were highly recruited, but have little production. There is also no impact freshman class as Matta has had in previous years. Matta is too good of a coach not to get his kids to play well, it's just hard to get a read on this team on paper.

MSU will be the best team in the conference by the end of the year. They have size in Nix and Payne, and they have a good group of wings and forwards that attack the glass. The reason I like MSU is Keith Appling. This kid just keeps getting better and better. With a solid year running the team alongside Draymond Green, I think he is going to take over this team and lead them to the title.

Here's my predictions for the top of the conference:
MSU 14-4
Mich 14-4
Indiana 13-5
UW 12-6
OSU 12-6

One last observation from the top tier teams. I'll address the bottom in another post.

The graduating class of the 5-rotational players only:

Evan Ravenel, Matt Vogrich, Derrick Nix, Watford, Hulls, and the Badger 3.

Outside of the Badgers that's not a lot of losses. While several players will go early to the NBA, the Big Ten is loaded with young talent for this year and next.

What that means is that there is a lot of room to grow. As good as these big ten teams look now, they are just going to keep getting better as the year goes on. Should be a fun year to watch.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Brust's left hand

After watching UW today I didn't think they played very well. That's always weird to say after you watch them dismantle a team and win by 33 points. Several things stood out. I watched Brust take the ball to the left side of the rim on 4 separate occasions and he used his right hand to lay the ball up all 4 times. This was not encouraging, as better teams figured out his righthandedness last year and rendered him useless in much of Big Ten play. Brust also got his 2nd double double in points and rebounds. He has been tenacious on the glass this year, which is much needed with the loss of good rebounding guards Taylor and Gasser.
Ryan Evan's seems to be suffering from the senior step back. He is still taking the ill advised 18 foot jumpshots, but he is not getting the ball in the post like he did last year. He blocked several shots but many were on recovery plays that he won't make against better players. I am starting to wonder if his breakout year last season will be his bright spot. As with many of Bo's seniors, once the spotlight is on and they become the focus of the defense, they struggle. It's not that they have become worse, they just don't put up the same stats when they have to face the opponents best defenders.
As I watched them play I found myself wondering whose team is this? The answer was both obvious and unfortunate. This is Gasser's team. He was on crutches and on the court the entire time the team was warming up. He even went through the practice free throw line, although he didn't shoot. This team is still trying to get past his loss. So am I in case you didn't notice. Who's team will it be in a month?
I decided to watch the Florida game again as I watched it live in a bar and was distracted by conversation for most of the game. UW didn't play as badly as the blow out score would indicate. Florida is a really good team with a really good player. Patrick Young was a likely late lottery selection had he gone pro last summer. Florida is a team who knows who they are. They have guards that can score with the jumpsot, off the drive, and in transition, but this team runs through Young. I was struck that virtually every time Young was on the floor he was involved in the offense. When they went to the post it was to him. When they ran pick and roll, it was with him. When he wasn't on the floor they still tried to run the same stuff, but it wasn't just one player focused. UW did a good job on Young for the most part as Florida turned the ball over a ton trying to get him the ball.
Berggren is UWs best player, so it struck me that UW should be his team. I don't think there is any chance that this will happen. It is clear from the last two games that this will be Dekker's team. None of the 3 guards have what it takes to take control of this team. Bruiser and Evans are role playing guys who aren't going to take things over either. Berggren will have his moments but he needs someone to get him the ball. He's not like Leuer, who could create something no matter where he was on the floor. Dekker may not start a game this year, but make no mistake it will be his team by year's end. After UW took nothing but jumpshots for the first several possessions against Florida it was Dekker who came in and attacked the paint. Dekker showed his natural ability today when he stole a ball at the top of the key and threw down a huge dunk. He also showed his youth when he made an ill advised drive and turned the ball over on a charge. There will be growing pains, but this team will run through him before long.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Today is a day I would not bet. Too many questions, and I feel this game is a coin toss. If the Badgers had a healthy Stave and Borland, I would probably go UW, but they don't. OSU already has tough road wins at MSU, and PSU, and they are coming off a bye.
UW is a 2 1/2 point favorite, and o/u is 52. If you think the game is a coin flip, then you should take the points. I'll take OSU and the points, and the under.
I was 2-0 vs Indiana, so I'm 3-1 on the year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Early season experience vs late season bye

I was struck by the number of cupcake matchups in the SEC this Saturday, and it brought up an interesting strategic question. First the background.
Growing up a UW fan I got used to their typical scheduling. This included 4 non-conference games (although it was 3 until recently) followed by 8 big ten games. This gave UW a couple lesser opponents to test themselves out, gain confidence, and figure out what they needed to work on before they had to play a conference game. There was usually one non-conference opponent who gave UW a test, but the games were otherwise for practice and more importantly to raise revenue.
The SEC takes a different approach. Their teams all play a conference game in the first 3 games of the year. This creates some big games very early in the year, but also leaves a hole at the end of the year. The SEC schools this week play powerhouses like West Carolina, Wofford, Jacksonville St, Alabama A&M, Georgia South, Samford, and Sam Houston St.
This means SEC teams miss out on an opportunity to grow and build early in the season, but they gain what amounts to an extra bye week late in the year. If Alabama has any nicked up players they can give them an extra week to heal, and they can pull all their starters at halftime unless a 1-9 West Carolina team brings in about 30 ringers.
I always thought that a team like UW that is built on player development needed those early games since so many guys were new and needed that experience on a big stage. Given the physical punishment players take I'm not so sure that the SEC way isn't better. Florida may disagree after they almost got upset by LA-Lafayette last week. The danger of the let down game is probably greater late in the season than early.
With the expansion of the regular season to 12 games, plus a potential championship game, plus a bowl game, I think the late season bye week may be a big advantage.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Kaminsky question

Badgers had a convincing win as they overwhelmed an inferior opponent today. The rotation seems to be set as Bo only played 8 players for the entire first half. Bohannon was the 9th player to see the floor and he didn't enter until there was about 10 minutes to go in the 2nd half. I would imagine with Florida coming up next Bo wanted to get his guys ready, and have them play together as much as possible. Once again Kaminsky started next to Berggren at the 4. Bruiser came back and played 13 minutes and looked like he is back from his injury, although probably not in great condition yet. This is where the Kaminsky question comes in, will Bruiser reclaim his starting spot once he is healthy? My guess is yes.
There may be games where playing the 2 bigs together makes sense, but there will likely be few of these in the preseason. Florida has size, so Kaminsky will probably remain the starter for at least one more game. What matters more than who starts is minutes and I'm sure Bo will make sure the kids that deserve the minutes get them.
I noticed today Bo has continued his defensive strategy of switching on all screens. Until just a couple years ago switching was a rarity as Bo had his kids hedge and fight over all screens. When Bo got a combination of bigger guards-Gasser and Taylor, and a more active, mobile frontcourt-Leuer, Nankvil, Evans, Bruiser, he decided his kids could handle the mismatches that occur when you switch on screens. I had wondered if this trend would continue as UWs guards-Brust 6'1" 195lbs, and Marshall 5'11" 185lbs are smaller and their centers-Berggren and Kaminsky while skilled are not super mobile on the perimeter-Kaminsky much more so than Berggren. I will be interested to see if this strategy continues and how UW handles the mismatches.
Can't wait to see how this team, and especially the young guards hold up against Florida in a tough environment.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Predictions this week

I started off my gambling tracking at 1-1. OK for a start but I would need to better in the long run to make any money. 50-50 is losing in gambling since you have to pay the juice on wins.
This week I really like Bucky. They are 7 point favorites and o/u of 55. I'm not sure if it's Wagner's return, or Phillip's mojo, but I like UW to win big. I'm taking UW minus the 7 and the over.
If I could get the odds on this prop bet I would also take it. UW will have over 50 rushing attempts in this game, and rush for over 300 yards.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Florida faces some adversity as well...

ESPN reports that Florida coach Billy Donovan has suspended Scottie Wilbekin, his starting point guard, indefinitely "for an undisclosed reason."

This comes on the heels of Cody Larson quitting the team and Casey Prather suffering two concussions in nine days.

Wisconsin plays Florida next Wednesday, of course. Some are reporting that Mike Bruesewitz may be available for the game.

In other news, Florida opens the season against Georgetown aboard the USS Bataan, which ESPN describes as an "ambitious assault ship." Hopefully the Navy is phasing out the lazy ships.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

first impressions of UW Bball

I think these kids will be OK. I know this was just an exhibition but I'm not nearly as scared as I was when I heard Gasser went down. Marshall, Jackson, and Brust will have some growing pains, but I think they can be effective. They will likely struggle against teams with length and athletes at guard like Marquette. They will certainly have bad shooting nights. They all seem to be active on defense, which may lead to foul trouble they can't afford. All in all I like what I saw, and I know they will get better and better the more they play.

Bo went big to start as I thought he might. With Bruiser out with injury, Bo put Bergerren and Kaminsky in the starting lineup together. In typical Bo fashion he then pulled both of them at the first 4 minute time out and went small inserting Decker and Jackson in a 3 guard 2 forward lineup. There are certainly a lot of combinations being worked out at this point. At this point there is not much reason to think anyone other than the 3 seniors, 3 guards, Decker and Kaminsky will get significant minutes. Bohanon looked like he can give them some depth off the bench, at least until Bruiser comes back. Dukan, Anderson, and Schowalter didn't show anything to think they are ready to play this year.

Decker looked solid. There were no rim rattling dunks. No barrage of 3s. No shots blocked into the stands. He played within himself. He did put up 3 3s, and you could just see him having to hold himself back on several others. He looked like a guy used to taking every shot who now has to wait not just for a shot, but for a good shot. The play that stuck out in my mind happened with about a minute left in the first half. Decker had played a good stretch of minutes, so he was probably starting to get tired. Bohannon turned the ball over at the top of the key, which is a cardinal sin because it almost always leads to an easy run out lay up. However Decker hustled down court from the wing and was able to alter the shot and cause a missed lay up. That kind of hustle will get him on the floor a lot.

Games start to count for real on Sunday, although the competition won't be dramatically better. I can't wait to see how these kids respond against Florida on the road.

Chorlton gets his wish...

Word on the street is that Curt Phillips will be starting at QB for Wisconsin on Saturday. E.g.,:
This is breaking news only if you don't read the comments on Adam's WI Sports Blog. If you do, you'd have known this was coming since October 3rd (before Phillips even played that token series):
Although, the last time the Badgers had such terrible quarterback situation with Sherer and Evridge, the 3rd guy on the bench who didn't get a shot until the following year was Scott Tolzien. Maybe Phillips should get a shot.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bonus Prediction

Last week was 1-1 getting the over under wrong, but correctly taking MSU and the points.
Since there is no Badger game this week, I'll throw out a prediction for the Buck's season opener against Boston tonight. I admit this type of bet is pure silliness, so I won't include the results in the rest of my Badger predictions. Betting on the NBA, or pro sports in general is just too tough. Too tough for me anyway.
Bucks are a 7 point underdog, with the o/u at 195 1/2. I'll take the Celtics minus the points, and the under.
Back next week with Badger predictions.

Sobering Analysis of Effect of Gasser's Injury

Dan Henner has this very thoughtful post about the effect of Gasser's injuries on expectations for Wisconsin. According to Henner's detailed predictions, the injury drops Wisconsin from the 12th best team to the 33rd best team in the country:
[t]he loss of Gasser should get our attention for a number of reasons. First, Wisconsin was a Top 25 team in almost everyone’s preseason rankings, and their returning tempo free numbers suggested they were a borderline Top 10 team. So any injury for Wisconsin should get our attention nationally. But more importantly, Wisconsin doesn’t have any natural substitutes for Gasser in the lineup. He was expected to carry a tremendous load for Wisconsin as a ball-handler this season, and the type of players who will replace Gasser in the lineup have substantially lower expectations. Gasser might not be a preseason all-conference selection, but because of the drop-off at his position with Gasser not in the lineup, Wisconsin’s expectations now plummet. While the tempo free numbers suggested Wisconsin was the 12th best team in the nation prior to the injury, my model now pegs them as the 33rd best team in the country.
I still expect Wisconsin to be a top-25 team and hopefully make a run to the Sweet 16. But it's hard to argue with Henner's underlying analysis—the Badgers suffered a huge blow last Saturday.

Meanwhile, even with the injury to Gasser, the initial rankings put Wisconsin at 5th in the country—but 4th in the Big Ten.

College Basketball and the Election

[Cross-posted from The Gillette-Torvik Blog]

Nate Silver—the author of the fivethirtyeight blog—has become quite famous for his election prognostications. He's also become quite controversial. The controversy stems from his model's assessment that Barack Obama has about an 80% chance of being reelected next Tuesday. Many pundits, particularly Republican ones, think this is crazy (or worse). They point to the fact that national polls have been tied or given Mitt Romney a narrow lead for weeks and say the race is as best a tossup.

Silver's defenders—and Silver himself—respond with some variation of, "the math is the math." They point to the state level polls, which Silver's model relies heavily on, and which currently show Obama with a small but clear and sustained lead in enough swing states to take the Electoral College with relative ease.

In a way, both sides of this argument are right. I think Silver's model's estimate of an 80% probability of Obama winning is highly plausible. But I also think it's fair to label that a "tossup."

To understand why, you need to understand that Silver comes from the world of sports. In particular, he's among the line of people applying "advanced stats" to baseball and other sports to yield stunning new insights: Bill James; sabermetrics; "Moneyball";; etc.

Let's talk about Ken Pomeroy. His superb website ( has for many years been applying advanced, tempo-free statistics to college basketball. His model allows him to create a "win probability" for every game of every season. This win probability largely tracks the Vegas betting odds. It's pretty amazing.

But here's the thing—it turns out that teams with an 80% win probability lose all the time. Not every time, of course, or even most of the time. But they lose with almost clockwork regularity. In fact, they lose about two out of every ten games.

Here's a painful example from last season. Wisconsin versus Marquette, at the Kohl Center, on December 3rd. Wisconsin came into the game 6-1, having utterly destroyed some inferior competition (e.g., an 85-31 victory over Kennesaw State) and having just lost, on the road, by 3 points to preseason #1 North Carolina. Marquette was undefeated but untested. There was cause for worry, as they had just narrowly scraped out a 59-57 win over lowly Norfolk State.

Considering their relative performances and Wisconsin's significant home court advantage, Pomeroy's computer gave Wisconsin an 83.2% chance of winning. Yet Marquette led almost the entire game, opened up a double-digit lead at half-time, and won going away, 61-54. In other words, the 83.2% favorite got whipped.

(I would link to the Pomeroy data, but it's behind a paywall. I encourage you to pay the $20 to get access to it.)

This is important because Nate Silver's model is fundamentally similar to Ken Pomeroy's model. Neither is predicting what is actually going to happen. Rather, both use historical data to spit out a probability that something will happen in the future. And if you follow Ken Pomeroy's model closely, you will know that an 80% favorite is not really a very "big" favorite. Because you will have experienced your favorite team losing as an 80% favorite many times. Indeed, last year Wisconsin lost twice to Iowa, games in which Pomeroy's computer said it had a 98.3 and 81.9 percent chance of winning. Given those percentages, Wisconsin had a 99.7% chance of winning at least one of those games. (This is hard to swallow, given that Wisconsin would have won a share of the Big Ten title if had managed to win just one of those games.)

There is a psychological difficulty in taking this concept of win probabilities and transferring it to elections. In sports, there are often dozens of games going on every single day—particularly in college basketball. So the "probability" aspect of Pomeroy's model makes some intuitive sense because you can watch it play out in front of your eyes over the dozens of results. But there is only one presidential election at a time. So it is not very intuitive to think of the result probabilistically. You have to start thinking about multiple universes, or something.

Anyhow, here's my conclusion based on my experience as a college basketball fan: Obama is the favorite, but he's a precarious and narrow one. His team better show up on game day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Market is set

For those of you who are interested in the long term future of the Bucks, and I'm talking to both of you, there was a signing today that Buck's fans should notice. Ty Lawson signed his 4 year extension for 48 million today with the Nuggets. Lawson was one of the members of the 2009 draft also known as the point guard draft, because 5 of the top 10, and 10 of the top 21 players drafted were point guards, including the Buck's Brandon Jennings at #10. This signing is significant because while Lawson was the 7th point guard drafted that year, his numbers compare favorably with the best PGs in that draft. It can be debated how good Jennings is, and how much he deserves, but I think it is reasonable that his next contract should be in the same ballpark as Lawson.
Jennings had expressed interest in exploring his options in free agency earlier in his career, which was no surprise given his big city roots, and the Bucks likely role as 2nd class organization. It was somewhat surprising when Jennings recently discussed publicly that he wanted to get an extension done before the 10/31/12 deadline for 2009 rookies. Milwaukee has a lame duck coach and GM, and their 2 biggest stars in Jennings and Ellis can be free agents after this year, so my guess is they will wait on signing Jennings. Jennings will be a restricted free agent so the Bucks can always match any deal he gets.
The danger in waiting is that Jennings has a great year, that also turns out to be a career year in 2012-13.  Some other team desperate for talent offers him a max deal which the Bucks then have to match or lose their only marketable star. The Bucks then end up with a Mike Redd situation where they have a very good player who just isn't worth a max deal, but whose contract is restrictive enough they can't bring in any other major talent. They then find themselves back in salary cap hell.
Here's hoping Jennings signs a reasonable contract extension before tomorrow's deadline.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Post from the Future

Through a quirk in the space-time continuum, this post appeared in my drafts folder this morning. It is dated October 28, 2020. 

Update: Further quirks in the space-time continuum seem to be correcting this post as the universe works its way along. As we all know, the arc of the basketball universe is long, but it bends toward Bo Ryan.

Badger fans are chattering with excitement about how the team's stacked recruiting class gives Bo Ryan's Badgers a legitimate chance to close out his Hall of Fame career with yet another trip to the Final Four. But every now again someone throws cold water on this chatter with the supposed truism: Bo Ryan doesn't start freshman, so as good as the Badgers may be don't count on any immediate contribution from the Big Three. The response is always the same: what about Alando Tucker, Devin Harris, Josh Gasser, and George Marshall—all of whom started most every game as true freshmen? 

Of course, these four were special players. After all, it was the backcourt of Gasser and Traevon Jackson Marshall that led Wisconsin to its first second Final Four national championship since 1947 and then to the Undefeated Season back to the Final Four again the following year. But they do prove that Bo Ryan starts freshmen when freshmen are the best players available

Still, we sometimes forget the unusual circumstances that led to these young men starting as freshman. All the way back in 2012, I explained the unusual circumstances that allowed Tucker, Harris, and Gasser to start a lot of games as freshman underclassmen. And although we all remember that Marshall Jackson started at point guard for four three years, we sometimes forget the tragedy that allowed this to happen: Josh Gasser's knee injury right before Marshall's redshirt freshman Jackson's sophomore season began.

So Bo Ryan does start freshmen, but history shows that it takes unusual circumstances for it to actually happen. It remains to be seen how unusual this upcoming 2020-21 season will be.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Body Blows

It's a tough day to be a Badger fan.

The football team lost in gut-wrenching fashion, as usual.

The basketball team lost starting point guard Josh Gasser for the season to a torn ACL.

Silver lining: At least we found out that Stave is way, way better than O'Brien.


Broken collarbone for Stave, surgery needed—out for the season.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Praise for the Frontcourt

Continuing my hard-hitting series of posts on the merits of various meaningless preseason lists, the news today is that Rob Dauster at NBC Sports has come out with a list of the Top 15 frontcourts in college basketball this year. Wisconsin is ranked seventh, and Dauster has this to say:
We know about the kind of player that Jared Berggren is offensively, as he averaged 10.5 points and shot 37.2% from three last season. But Berggren was also one of the most underrated defensive centers in the country a year ago. When combined with Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans, the Badgers have a chance to be as good defensively as they have up front in a long time. And that’s before you mention Sam Dekker, a top 20 recruit whose versatility is perfect for Bo Ryan’s swing offense.
(This comes on the heels of another post by Dauster the other day in which he preemptively chastised himself for not putting Wisconsin in his pre-season top 25.)

The funny thing about this high-ranking, of course, is that according to Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, and the other geniuses over at, Wisconsin has no good players in its frontcourt—not even one of the best fifty in the country. As an experiment, I decided to see how the other teams on Dauster's list of Top 15 frontcourts fared on the list of the Top 50 big men.

Top 50 Guys
NC State

As you can see, Wisconsin is the only team among the "good frontcourt" teams that has no heralded players in its frontcourt. Indeed, every team ahead of Wisconsin has at least two Top 50 players, and so do the two teams ranked immediately behind it.

How can this be? It could be that Dauster is just a Wisconsin fanboy. But, as mentioned above, he idiotically failed to rank Wisconsin in his preseason Top 25, so that's probably not it. Still, Dauster could be overrating Wisconsin's frontcourt. But I don't think he is. Three returning starters from a Sweet 16 team plus a five-star recruit would get any team on this list.

I think it comes down to defense. When sportswriters are evaluating players for these kinds of list, they have a really difficult time taking defensive abilities into account. For one thing, there are not very many defensive stats. Basically, there are only steals and blocks. As fate would have it, Bo Ryan's defensive system deemphasizes both steals and blocks. So if the Badgers have a great defender in the frontcourt (and they do, actually) it would be hard to tell by looking at the stats.

On the other hand, as a team, Wisconsin gets a lot of credit for its defense. Indeed, it sometimes gets too much credit because its slow tempo decreases overall score which leads many to believe Wisconsin's defense is better than it really is. For example, two years ago Wisconsin had a mediocre defense in efficiency terms (56th in the country, according to, but it allowed only 58.6 points per game, which ranked eighth in the country.

The point is, when people think about Wisconsin's front court as a unit, they think about how difficult it is going to be score on. But when they think about those individual players, they don't think about defense because we laymen don't really understand defense except in terms of steals and blocks, which Wisconsin tends not to create.

Now, with this analysis in mind, go back and read Dauster's snippet about Wisconsin's frontcourt. It's pretty much all about defense.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I have always fancied myself a pretty good gambler. Most of my success has come from games where I actually have some control over the outcome like card games. I'm going to start posting my gambling predictions for Badger games and see how I do. If I find I am making good picks I may have to make a career change. I'll more likely find that I have saved myself a lot of money by posting instead of betting.
This weeks line as of today
has the Badgers as 6 1/2 point favorites, and the over under at 41.
In a quick look over the other games I did not see an over under lower than this game in any other contest this weekend. This makes sense as these teams both have solid defenses, young quarterbacks, and offensive lines that have had mixed success and multiple injuries.
6 1/2 seems too high for a game expected to be so low scoring. I like UW to win in a close game, but I'm taking MSU and the points vs the spread.
I am taking the over for points. I expect a low scoring game, but 41 is just so low I can't take the under.
Feel free to post your own predictions.

Another list, another dis

Following up on their list of the 100 best players in college basketball overall, the writers at have come out with a list of the top 50 big men.

Again, no Badgers.

In my post about the top-100 snub, I nominated Jared Berggren as the Badger who should have made an appearance. So it shouldn't surprise you that that I think he should be on this list as well. As I said in my other post:
There should be a Badger on this list, and it should be Berggren, the fifth-year senior. He is athletic and talented (he was a four-star, top-100 recruit out of high school). He can score and he can defend (he led the Badgers in both steal and block percentage last year). Last we saw, Berggren was dominating against Syracuse. Like many defensively active big men, his big weakness is foul trouble, but with three seniors in the frontcourt, plus sophomore Big Frank Kaminsky and stud freshman Sam Dekker, Wisconsin should be able to protect Berggren very well on the defensive end.
It's also interesting to note Berggren's performances last year against the number one player on this list, Cody Zeller of Indiana. Zeller deserves to be the number one player, but Berggren more than held his own in their two match-ups last year. In the first game (a UW win at the Kohl Center), Berggren had five steals and held Zeller to just 7 points on two-of-seven shooting. In the second game (a win in the Big Ten Tournament), Berggren scored 16, ably matching Zeller's 17 so that Rob Wilson could steal the show with a career-defining 30-point outburst.
Well put!

At least one writer appears to agree with me. Mike DeCourcey of The Sporting News just tweeted, out of the blue:
Very high praise, there.

Don't get me wrong—I don't get worked up about these lists. But there is definitely a pattern of under-appreciation for the talent that Bo Ryan puts on the floor, and it's worth calling out.

Finally, another entry in the no-surprise department: the Big Ten beat writers recently picked Wisconsin to finish 5th in the Big Ten, even though they have never finished lower than 4th in the Bo Ryan era. What do you think, Adam: is this the year Bo Ryan finally flops?


Here's a great post on Berggren's worthiness based on his play last year.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Final Straw, probably not

I saw this blog post on ESPN that Saul Smith, Minnesota assistant coach and son of head coach Tubby Smith, was arrested for DUI. I am not one to jump on a person for making a mistake like getting a DUI. Many people make that error, and pay for it as I'm sure Saul will. What I do jump on people for is making that mistake more than once. This is where Minnesota basketball comes in because kids in this program, and now coaches just can't stay clear of trouble.

I don't know why this team keeps finding trouble. Is this just bad luck? Is Minnesota taking on players with character issues because they can't recruit good players without them? Does there come a time when Tubby just runs out of good will with the community?

Tubby has hardly been a dynamo at Minnesota, but he has 4 20+ win seasons 2 NCAA and 2 NIT tourney appearances in 5 years. That is probably all that will matter.

Of all the great things about Bo Ryan, and all the winning, it was very telling when 2 players got into trouble and were removed. One of which was a highly regarded recruit. I don't know of any other Bo Ryan kids getting into trouble. Maybe UW just has better luck?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

2nd Biggest game of the year

Sorry Badger fans, the 2nd biggest game doesn't involve Bucky. Next weekends Nebraska vs Michigan game will likely determine Bucky's opponent in the Big Ten Championship game.
Minnesota is out.
MSU lost today, so the best they can do is 5-3 if they win out 4-0. Michigan owns the head to head tie breaker, so they would need to go 1-3 in their last 4 for MSU to pull ahead, baring a 3 way tie at 5-3 that leaves MSU winning a tiebreaker. Don't worry too much, MSU is out.
Iowa is down 24-0 to PSU right now, and the coach just called me because he thought I may still have a year of college eligibility left, and they really need a running back.
Northwestern is the same. They aren't eliminated yet, but they aren't going to the Championship.
Should be a fun game to watch. Best part is, I know UW has about a 50-50 shot against either team.
3rd straight Rose Bowl here we come.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Does Bo Ryan Start Freshmen?

The Badgers basketball team returns five upperclassmen this year, including four of last year's starters (who, along with Ben Brust, together accounted for 70% of the minutes played on last year's Sweet 16 squad).

In addition, this year's Badgers are expected to feature two new faces: redshirt freshman George Marshall and freshman Sam Dekker. One of the most interesting questions coming into the season is how much playing time these two freshman will actually get, given Bo Ryan's historical preference for playing upperclassmen.

The question got a little bit less interesting last week, when Mike Bruesewitz tore up his shin, putting him on the shelf for 4-6 weeks. Now it is very likely that Dekker will get significant minutes, at least while Bruiser is on the mend.

Still, I wanted to discuss the premise above, namely the idea that Bo Ryan doesn't like to play freshman. Is it true? I would say that it is not true that Bo Ryan is biased against underclassmen. Rather, I think that Bo Ryan is great coach who tends to make his players better. So it is hard for a raw freshman to beat out a Bo-seasoned junior or senior. Also, Ryan clearly does not tolerate defensive lapses. To a large degree, team defense in basketball is a mental game, and freshman are much more prone to mental lapses (just because they haven't had time to learn that part of the game, particularly because team defense is not taught well in high school or AAU ball).

There are two primary objections to the notion that Bo doesn't start freshman: Alando Tucker and Devin Harris. Obviously, these are two of the greatest Badgers ever, so if anything this just shows that Bo knows talent when he sees it. But it's also important to remember that those early Ryan teams had almost no upperclassman to choose from. Let's go to the history books.

When Alando started as a true freshman in 2002-03, the Badgers roster had just one senior (Kirk Penney) and ten freshmen and sophomores. With just one upperclassman in the frontcourt (junior Dave Mader) it was mathematically impossible for Bo not to start underclassmen that year. So Wilkinson (soph.) and Tucker (fr.) started almost every game.

The year before, when Harris started as a freshman, was similar. Bo's first team had just two seniors (Travon Davis and Charlie Wills) and one junior (Penney). Those three upperclassmen started every game. The other starts went to Mader (soph.) and Harris.

Once Bo got his program rolling and established balance in the classes, it became much more unusual to see freshmen and sophomores getting significant minutes, much less starting. Starting in 06-07, the Badgers have always returned at least four (usually five) upperclassmen penciled in as starters. In this era, Gasser is the only player to start and log heavy minutes as a freshman, when he played about 70% of available minutes, and this was mainly due to (1) Wilson's injury and failure to develop, and (2) total lack of depth at guard that year. (Krabby and Jordan Taylor are the only other players to log any significant minutes as freshmen: Krabby played 40% (no starts) in 05-06 and Taylor played 32% (no starts) in 08-09.)

So we can see that it takes something unusual for a freshman to get major minutes. It remains to be seen how unusual this season turns out to be.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Biggest Game of the Year

With dreams of greatness after 2 consecutive Rose Bowls, the Badgers looked like a team with a season full of big games ahead of them 6 weeks ago. After a 4-2 start, there is really only one big game on the schedule, and it is this weeks matchup at Purdue. With Illinois and Indiana off to horrid 0-2 starts in conference play, and OSU and PSU barred from the post season, there is only one team that can challenge UW for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, Purdue.
After UW, Purdue plays at OSU finishing a brutal stretch that started with a whooping by Michigan last week. After that, the remaining 5 games are winnable. Not that they will win all 5, but they can probably pull off 3 wins. A win vs UW could get them to 4 wins in conference, plus a head to head tie breaker. That would leave UW needing a 5-3 conference record to make the championship, with 2 losses already and 5 games to go including MSU and OSU. Conversely a UW win leaves Purdue at 0-2, and a likely loss at OSU would make them 0-3. Assuming UW can get to 4 wins, Purdue would have to win out to get to the title game, not likely.
Some may say who cares if UW gets to the title game if they're 4-4. I certainly care. Here are my reasons why.
This is a young team that should keep getting better. They have only 2 seniors on offense.
The Big Ten is balanced, which is a nice way of saying weak. The Badger's opponent in the championship could be Nebraska, Michigan, MSU, Northwestern, or Iowa. A UW win against any of those teams on a neutral site is not unreasonable. A 3rd consecutive Rose Bowl is a 3rd consecutive Rose Bowl no matter how they get there.
More football is always better. There are only 12 Saturdays of Badger football each year (plus a bowl game of course). One more week of football is a gift that should be enjoyed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wisconsin Basketball Team Has No Good Players

At least according to CBS Sports, which lists no Badgers among the top 100 players in college basketball this year.

On one hand, this makes me happy. One of the pleasures of following Bo Ryan's teams is how they fly under the radar with "no talent" and just win. And no one could argue that Wisconsin is returning a "star" player this year. They return four starters in Gasser (7.6 ppg), Berggren (10.5), Evans (11.0), and Bruesewitz (5.6), but none are coming off monster years.

On the other hand, however, this is kind of silly. The Badgers' raw numbers are deflated by their slow tempo, and this list reflect a clear bias towards raw counting stats. Plus, they've got Jordan Taylor's 15 points per game to distribute. It's reasonable to suspect that either Berggren or Evans, if not both, will average 15 ppg game this year, and that at least one of them will be second team all Big-Ten. In other words, it's unreasonable that there are 14 players from the Big Ten but no Badgers on this list.

There should be a Badger on this list, and it should be Berggren, the fifth-year senior. He is athletic and talented (he was a four-star, top-100 recruit out of high school). He can score and he can defend (he led the Badgers in both steal and block percentage last year). Last we saw, Berggren was dominating against Syracuse. Like many defensively active big men, his big weakness is foul trouble, but with three seniors in the frontcourt, plus sophomore Big Frank Kaminsky and stud freshman Sam Dekker, Wisconsin should be able to protect Berggren very well on the defensive end.

It's also interesting to note Berggren's performances last year against the number one player on this list, Cody Zeller of Indiana. Zeller deserves to be the number one player, but Berggren more than held his own in their two match-ups last year. In the first game (a UW win at the Kohl Center), Berggren had five steals and held Zeller to just 7 points on two-of-seven shooting. In the second game (a win in the Big Ten Tournament), Berggren scored 16, ably matching Zeller's 17 so that Rob Wilson could steal the show with a career-defining 30-point outburst.

To put things in perspective, there are (by my count) 63 teams with a player on this list. Is it really plausible that 63 different teams have a player that is better than every player on Wisconsin, which returns four starters from a Sweet 16 team? Unbelievably, there are two Drexel players on this list. Drexel went to the NIT last year. Even worse, there are two Gophers on this list (Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams). Mbakwe certainly is a beast who deserves to be high on the list, and Williams is a great athlete, but I wouldn't trade Jared Berggren for Rodney Williams.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Do not subscribe to ESPN Insider!

In a recent "rumors" piece beyond the ESPN Insider paywall, someone suggested that the player to replace Jordan Taylor at point guard for Wisconsin may be ...

There are three options for Ryan and his staff. The unconventional option would be to use Ryan Evans at the 1. The 6-foot-6 Evans handled the second-most possessions for the Badgers last season (24.1 percent) and was sure-handed with the basketball, committing a turnover on just 14.7 percent of his possessions. Evans presents a size mismatch with opposing Big Ten guards, and though his assist rate is just average, Evans was never forced into a playmaking role with Taylor in the lineup. Ryan could decide to go with a smaller lineup that pares Evans with a handful of guards.

I know this not because I'm an ESPN Insider, but because the piece was excerpted at a message board I frequent.

Which will happen first, Adam: Ryan Evans at PG for Wisconsin, or robot players in the NFL?

You might be wondering who the other two options are. According to the Insider, the "most straight-forward option" is Ben Brust. Yes, Mr. Brust, well known for his right-handed layups from the left side of the hoop. (In other words, he cannot dribble with his left hand.) The other option mentioned is Josh Gasser.

Now, Josh Gasser might be the Badgers' starting point guard. That's possible. But there is actually only one other possibility: redshirt freshman George Marshall.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No chance

Bucks opened training camp today, to little fanfare. I understand the Bucks will never be more than a 3rd place finisher in WI, a football state, and Milwaukee, a baseball town. They play in a conference where there is no chance they will make a finals. For the forseeable future they will be at best a 2nd round playoff out to a Miami team that has 3 players that are better than any player on the Bucks roster. Still, I love basketball.
Watching the Bucks is like being a fan of Princeton Basketball. You know the team is never going to win it all, your just hoping they play well and play some good, tough, entertaining basketball. They hopefully win enough games to play games that matter at the end of the year, which allows you to enjoy the drama that those games bring.
This years Buck's team should be interesting. There are really only 2 starting spots locked down in Jennings and Ellis. If you follow the money (and most NBA owners make sure their coaches do), then the other likely starters are Ilyasova, Dalembert, and Mbah A Moute. Even if those 3 don't start they will play a lot. The question will be how does the rest of this team shake out.
As this article points out the Bucks have a lot of size. 7 of the 15 roster spots are filled by players 6'10" or taller. This makes sense since they plan to start 2 small guards and will need plenty of shot blocking on the back end.
Lots of young talent on this team. It will be fun to see them develop. Even if they have no chance to win it all.


As you say, and I agree, neither O'Brien nor Stave is "good." Not, at least, in the sense that either of them is going to single-handedly win games. But Stave is better, overall, and he should continue to start.

First, some words in support of O'Brien. Clearly O'Brien's ability to perform was partly hindered by factors outside his control. Most notably: (1) extremely poor offensive line play; and (2) the injury to Abberderis. The line has been shored up somewhat, it seems. And Abberderis is back. As you predicted half-way through last season, the receiving corps other than Abberderis this year is abysmal. In Stave's first action during the second half of the Utah State game, two of the no-name receivers (one of whom is actually named "Doe") dropped passes on third down that killed drives. Although it's true the no-names did look better against Nebraska.

Actually, I don't think it's a coincidence that the no-name receivers are starting to look better with Stave throwing the ball. I think the receivers want to perform better for him. I sense that they feel he is the better quarterback.

This is pretty squishy, I know, but overall I like the way Stave carries himself. Even with far less experience he seems to have significantly more poise and pocket presence than O'Brien. He stands in and takes a hit. He delivers the ball to a spot where the receiver can make a play. You call these balls underthrown—but underthrown is better than overthrown in most cases because it at least gives the receiver a chance to make a play. The drop by Ball is a perfect example—yes he had to slow down a little, but the ball hit him the hands. The only way you screw that play up as a QB is by getting excited and throwing it too far. That Stave isn't doing that shows his poise.

Certainly there's nothing in his actual play that makes me think he's less talented that O'Brien. He's got a better arm. He is reasonably accurate. He's taller. He's faster. He has better hair.

Ultimately I agree that the reason Stave is starting is because O'Brien did not protect the football. O'Brien's fumble at the end of the first half of the Utah State game was egregious and inexcusable. It wasn't like he was blindsided—he was already in another players grasp, and he saw the second hit coming, yet still coughed up the ball. Against Utah State! That kind of nonsense was literally the only way Wisconsin could lose that game, and they almost did because of O'Brien's nonsense. He lost the right the start.

Finally, at least one sportswriter who watched the Badgers camp was of the opinion that Stave beat out O'Brien, and that Bielema "gifted" the starting job to him. That Bielema had a quick hook seems to bear this out. He went with O'Brien in a close battle because O'Brien had experience. I like to think that the decision was eating away at him because he knew it was wrong.


O'Brien did blow the bootleg on 4th down as confirmed in this article.

Given the tone of Canada in that article, I concede that O'Brien will not be starting any time soon. However that doesn't mean he shouldn't.

The article also says Canada had thought of using O'Brien in the 2 minute drill during the week because he was effective running it.

O'Brien was the better quarterback coming out of training camp, which is why he started the season.

O'Brien was not very effective in his few starts while UW struggled to run the ball. From the same article:
Stave, making his first road start in a tough environment, completed 9 of 14 passes for 161 yards in the first half. Also in the first half, Jared Abbrederis caught five passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, while Ball rushed for 59 yards and two TDs.
In the second half when the running game went south, so did Stave. 3-9 for 53 yards. No running game = no success for both guys.

Stave's biggest asset so far is not turning the ball over. That is no small thing in a UW offense.
On some level this is a gut reaction. Stave did connect on some long balls, but he didn't make very good throws on any of them. The one that Ball dropped was underthrown. O'Brien hardly got a chance to throw it deep, but looked better when he did. When O'Brien was throwing the ball around he at least looked at more than one receiver.

I don't mean to say that O'Brien is good. He is not. Neither one of these guys looks to be a guy who can lead this team to anything more than a 4-4 Big Ten record and a Big Ten Championship by default.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Let them score?

At the end of the Packers game yesterday as I saw the go ahead field goal go through the uprights for the Saints, I thought to myself, Good. I would rather see the packers get the ball and take it down the field to kick their own game winning field goal. There was plenty of time and the packers still had a time out.

The way the Packers run the ball, I figured they would be better off putting the ball in Rodgers hands and let him throw the ball to get them down the field. The Packers were pretty good running the ball yesterday, but over recent history they have not been very good. I was not very confident they would be able to get a first down on 3 run plays. As it turns out they threw the ball on 3rd down as they weren't very confident either.

When a holding penalty caused the Saints to retry the filed goal which was then missed, this question occurred to me:

Would a coach ever decline that holding penalty, and give another team the lead to get the ball back for his quarterback with time on the clock.

The answer seems obvious, and it is no. No coach would do that. I don't know if that means it is necessarily the wrong move. Or maybe it just isn't the right move yet. As the NFL gets more and more offense based, there may come a time when this move makes sense. Maybe the league just isn't there yet.

Remember in Arena football if the defense holds the opponent to a FG (anything less than a touchdown) it's a win for the defense.

This kind of outside the box thinking is what has landed me so many coaching jobs. I also am a firm believer that the NFL will get rid of human players and be played by robots within my lifetime.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

O'Brien should start

I know Stave put up some numbers tonight, 211 yards and a TD.
O'Brien is better. He was better in the games he played.
Stave may have more long term potential being a freshman, but O'Brien is better and he should be the starter. More to come on this.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

where's the action

Many interesting things in the UW football game this weekend other than the final score. One that stood out as I was watching the game and hearing everyone in the stands complain about it, was the lack of downfield passing attempts. There were only 2 attempts the entire game, both with good results. The 3rd and 22 conversion to Pedersen, and the touchdown to Abbrederis. This was no doubt by design as there was little to no pressure on O'Brien to make coaches worry about deep drop backs. (on a side note O'Brien was not convincing making fakes. Someone should sign him up for a theatre class so he can work on making those more realistic).
O'Brien had a great day going 19 of 23 for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns. He certainly executed the gameplan they had for him. He threw mostly quick passes out of spread formations. Of the 27 designed pass plays- only 6 were play action. Of those 6, 2 were short completions to the fullback Watt, 2 were intermediate throws to WRs, one was the one long pass to Abbrederis for the TD, and one was the lone sack of the game. The remaining 21 designed passes were mostly shotgun spread throws to short pass routes.
The question is why? The Badgers have embraced the passing game in recent years and the high percentage short throws especially. However they have still used play action a great deal to take advantage of the challenges their running game presents opposing defenses. If there was not a new offensive coordinator who came from spread roots, I probably would just blow this game off as an anomaly. Maybe they are just trying to keep what they can off film until next week when they have a much more difficult opponent.
I can't say I'm disappointed with all the spread  throws. I like the diversification of the offense. The high percentage throws mix right in with the power running, field position and clock dominating strategies of the recently successful Badger teams.
Every successful offense needs to create big plays. The Badgers have been able to create a lot of those running the football, which has allowed them to get more through play action. I'll be interested to see if this is just a one game anomaly, or the start of a trend.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Is Penn State the Tip of the Iceberg?

Pete Thamel at the New York Times has a revelatory story about Dan Dakich's stint as the head coach of West Virginia's men's basketball team. If you're like me, your first question is, "Dan Dakich was the coach of West Virginia's men's basketball team?" Yes, he was. But it is a bit like how Bobby Knight was once the coach of Wisconsin's basketball team—the marriage didn't last long. In Dakich's case, just eight days. But they were a tumultuous eight days, as Thamel reports:
Some of the most challenging items on Dakich’s list involved Jonathan Hargett, a top recruit from Richmond who had just completed his freshman season at West Virginia. 
Dakich said Hargett told him that he had been promised $20,000 a year for three years, and that he had not been paid the full amount.
So Dakich discovered that the WVU basketball team was not only promising to pay its players cash for playing, but that WVU didn't have the decency to actually come up with the money.

Dakich—whom I admire as a straight-talking (if sometimes dense) color guy on BTN broadcasts—went straight to the president of university, David Hardesty. Things, um, did not go well.
Dakich said he told Hardesty about Western Union receipts that seemed to show Hargett had received money in violation of N.C.A.A. rules. He also relayed Hargett’s comments that the university had not paid him money that had been promised to him.
Dakich recalls Hardesty telling him, “If you go any farther with this, we’ll destroy you.”
Hadesty calls Dachih's account "a gross exaggeration." Asked to clarify, Hardesty explained, "I didn't say I would destroy him. I said I would make his life such a living hell, that he would wish longingly for death. Come on, I was a university president, not a mob boss. I don't directly threaten to destroy people." To be clear, I made that last part up, but it is arguably less damning that what Hardesty actually said: "I did not intend to threaten him. At no time in this process did I do that. That would be so strange."

That would indeed be strange. It is hard not to note the lawyerly weasel words in Hardesty's explanation. (Sure enough, Hardesty is a law professor.) He does not say that he didn't threaten Dakich; he says he didn't "intend" to threaten him. Perhaps reasonable people can disagree about whether "we'll destroy you" is a threat or is so over the top that it can only be interpreted as an attempt at comedy. Either way, we can all agree that it was so, so very strange.