(For once, I’m ahead of schedule)

In sports, as in politics, the good is often made out to be the enemy of the perfect. And we saw a couple of prime examples of that concept come into play this last week.

First, there seemed to be a lot of online unhappiness with University of Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan after the Badgers bowed out of the NCAA tournament with last Sunday’s loss to Cornell. Judging by the tone of some of the comments I’ve read, many people would either like to see Ryan change his system or UW change out Ryan.

I can only assume that some people are too young to remember life before Ryan and his predecessor Dick Bennett or else are simply ignorant of the inherent inequities that exist among college basketball programs. The last twelve years notwithstanding, Wisconsin isn’t exactly a school with a rich tradition of basketball excellence. Prior to this season, many prognosticators projected Wisconsin to finish around 7th place in the Big(11)Ten conference. Ryan took that team to the second round of the NCAA tournament despite losing his best player (Jon Leuer) to injury for much of the conference schedule, and these morons are apparently upset that they didn’t go farther.

If this year has shown us anything, it’s that there are no longer any ‘underdogs’ in the NCAA tournament. As I wrote here last week, the tournament is now more about matchups than seeding. Wisconsin is usually at its best when opposing a team that prefers a different style than their own; one that they can frustrate by controlling the tempo of the game. Clearly, with the games against Wofford and Cornell (an experienced and skilled team), that wasn’t the case this year. UW was also hurt by the lack of a strong post presence; a player like former Badger center Greg Stiemsma would have greatly aided their interior defense.

No one can deny that the Badgers didn’t play well in the post-season. That doesn’t diminish the job that Bo Ryan did this year. Wisconsin may have peaked a bit too early this year, but that’s no reason to jettison a coach as accomplished as Ryan. Anyone who suggests otherwise should be forced to watch old tapes of Steve Yoder’s Badgers.
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The second incidence of fixing something that’s not broken occurred this week when NFL owners voted to eliminate ‘sudden death overtime’ in playoff games. The league amended its rules to insure that the team that wins the coin flip in games that go to OT can’t win on a first possession field goal.

As impetus for the change proponents argued that, over the last fifteen years, teams that won the coin flip ended up winning the game almost 60% of the time. But according to statistics cited by ‘draft avatar’ Chad Rueter on the most recent “Packers’ Therapy” podcast and echoed by Michael Lombardi in the National Football Post, only 35% of the time did those teams score on their first possession. That means that in 65% of overtime contests, both teams had at least one series on offense. To my way of thinking, that’s not a number that cries out for a rule change.

It’s not so much that I dislike the new rule is that I don’t find it necessary. I also believe it’s problematic in that it applies only to playoff games. Reportedly the NFL would like to extend the rules to the regular season but, as noted by Chris Landry on Fox Sports Radio, will need the NFL Players Association to sign off on the change. And with the current negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, this isn’t exactly a good time for the owners to be soliciting concessions from the player’s union.

At least it’s a better alternative than the college rules governing overtime games. And it will be interesting to see how it affects the strategies of coaches, not only in overtime but toward the end of regulation.
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Just when I was ready to buy into the resurgence of the Milwaukee Bucks, they appear to be reverting to form. The Bucks followed a stretch in which they won 15 out of 17, including the last eight at home, by losing consecutive home games against Philadelphia and Miami. It’s not just that they lost, but in neither game were they even competitive. The loss to Miami was doubly bad as they are battling the Heat for playoff position. Worse, they may have lost forward Carlos Delfino for an extended period to a neck injury and center Andrew Bogut’s back problems may be cropping up again. This could be another case of a team peaking too early.
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Here is all you need to know about how atypical the 2010 NCAA basketball tournament has been. In my group’s “Bracket Pool”, I correctly predicted only 8 of the ‘Sweet 16′ and 3 of the ‘Elite 8′; yet, with a couple of minor upsets (O.K.-so maybe Butler over K-State isn’t so ‘minor’) I can still take first place. Just the idea of Butler in a Final Four is a revelation and further evidence that there is no longer such a thing as a “mid-major”.
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It’s looking more and more like Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jeff Suppan will be in the starting rotation when the team breaks spring training. Suppan has done little in his time with the Brewers to justify his exorbitant contract and, with a 7.71 ERA this spring, there is no reason to expect significant improvement this year. Quite frankly, I’ve never accepted the notion of carrying a marginal player simply because he’s under contract. I understand that the Brewers are operating under budgetary constraints, but I believe it would be better to come to a financial settlement with Suppan and save the roster spot for a pitcher more capable of supplying some effective innings.

Speaking of the Brewers’ finances, it might be a good idea for fans to savor first baseman Prince Fielder’s presence in Milwaukee’s lineup. In light of Joe Mauer’s new contract with the Minnesota Twins, Fielder’s time in Milwaukee would appear to be shortlived. Fielder says he’s not paying attention to his contract right now but I guarantee his agent Scott Boras is. While Minnesota has always operated as a ‘small market’ club, the reality is that the Twin Cities market is much more lucrative from a coporate standpoint and the Twins have more resources to work with than Milwaukee now that they’re moving into a new stadium.

Finally, expect new pitching coach Rick Peterson to get more credit than he probably deserves this season. After last year’s debacle on the mound, the Brewers are bound to get better if only because of an upgrade in personnel. The key will be if Peterson’s 21st century approach to pitching will help keep his charges healthy.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

 

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  • Jon

    Criticizing Bo for the loss to Cornell is absurd. A couple of his players played poorly (Nankovil and Hughes) and Cornell played great. I think after some of the unexpected success with John Leuer out, some fans expected the team to be a sure-fire Elite 8 squad with Leuer back. The Badgers were good this year, and at times really good. They were not a consistently great basketball team and were simply outplayed by The Big Red.

    I think 8-years, 160 million is about right for Fielder. Mauer is a unique player…great defender at a difficult position who has won two batting titles. Fielder doesn’t deserve quite that amount of money, but he is close. Tough call for the Brewers brass.

  • http://www.retaggr.com/page/crichar3 Chris

    First off, it is testimony to your keen insight to quote an observation gleaned from the Packers Therapy podcast.

    Second, it is astonishing that anyone who follows the Badgers baskeball program (particularly those whose memory extends to the days when they played in the Fieldhouse) would question Bo Ryan’s continuing tenure. Simply put, the guy has proven year after year that he is one of the best coaches in college basketball. He should be allowed to coach UW as long as he wants and astute Badgers fans accept this as an article of faith. Bo’s nine year run has been remarkable, denoting a era of success that seemed all but impossible just 15 years ago. Of course, many fans were calling for Dick Bennett’s head just weeks before he led the 2000 team to the Final Four, so perhaps it is wise to put those comments on mute.

    Finally, it is sad to think that Prince Fielder will soon be playing elsewhere, but it is a fact of life Brewers must accept. Mauer’s deal pretty much seals that outcome. I don’t disagree with the 8/160 deal Jon suggests, but I can’t see MKE going beyond a five year deal given the realities of their financial situation. So that pretty much spells the end of Prince Fielder in MKE.

  • http://mike BigSnakeMan

    As I see it, the only way that Fielder remains in MKE is if he’s willing to accept a deal that is well below market. With Boras as his agent, that would appear to be highly unlikely. It defeats the purpose of retaining Fielder if the Brewers can’t afford to put a competitive team around him.