PD Saturday Sampler
Now that the season has come to what many appear to consider a premature end for the University of Wisconsin basketball team, perhaps a little perspective is in order. Like all Badger fans, I was disappointed in their performance in their loss to Butler. I can accept Wisconsin losing to a better team (which, let’s face it, Butler was) but it’s rare to see them outworked, which they were for most of the game against the aptly named Bulldogs. I can also understand the frustration of those who saw an opportunity for the Badgers to advance further in the tournament but, from some of the reaction I read and heard after the game, you’d have thought it was an “epic fail” that the Badgers weren’t going to go to the Final Four.
Much has been made of the fact that 4th-seeded Wisconsin lost to a #8 seed in Butler, conveniently forgetting that they were a team that made it all the way to the NCAA title game last year and returned nearly intact. First of all, seedings in the NCAA tourney are a joke, even assuming the unlikely possibility that the tournament selection committee could actually get them right. They exist largely so that the person who hasn’t watched a single minute of college basketball all season (i.e.-my wife) has some basis on which to fill out their bracket pool sheet at the office. With the parity in college basketball these days, terms like “mid-major” no longer apply and the NCAA should just draw the first round pairings out of a hat instead of bothering to seed teams at all. In a “one and done” situation like the tournament format, anything can happen on a given night. If you need further proof, ask fans of Duke and Pittsburgh how much their high seeding meant to them in the tournament.
The worst part about this is that we’re going to hear grumbling from some quarters about coach Bo Ryan’s ‘system’, much in the same way that there was a lack of appreciation for his predecessor Dick Bennett. Let’s remember that at the start of the season the Badgers were forecast by the “experts” to end up in the lower half of the Big(11)Ten standings. As usual under Ryan, the Badgers overachieved to a third place finish in the conference. The Badgers flameout against Penn State in the league tournament should have been an indication that this team was ‘gassed’, signs of which re-emerged in the NCAA’s with the generally lackluster play of guard Jordan Taylor and the uninspired team performance for most of the game against Butler. When a team that shot 82% from the free throw line all season shoots less than 70% in a game, something’s wrong. Yet the Badgers overcame their limitations and their fatigue to make it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Maybe my viewpoint is too clouded by the memory of watching the Badgers trying to compete in the Big Ten under the direction of former coaches John Powless, Bill Cofield and Steve Yoder, but I see that as something to be celebrated and not disparaged.
In a way, Wisconsin might even be a victim of its own success under Ryan. Higher regard for the program leads to higher seeding in the tournament which tends to pit them against lower seeded teams more like themselves. Traditionally, the Badgers have fared better against so-called “more talented” teams that Wisconsin can often frustrate by dictating the tempo of the game. That’s why the victory against 5th seeded Kansas State, who some had pegged as a Final Four team, was less surprising to me than the loss to Butler.
Some fans argue that an upgrade in athletic ability is necessary for Wisconsin to ‘take it to the next level’ and I won’t dispute that. More often than not, allowances have to be made to attract that kind of talent. Those are allowances that wouldn’t and shouldn’t be made at Wisconsin. I have no desire to return to the Stu Jackson way of doing things. Bo’s system may be boring to some and somewhat predictable, but it empowers Wisconsin to compete in a way in which it would otherwise be unable.
RANDOM SAMPLINGS: Congrats to the UW-Green Bay women’s basketball team, which made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament with Tuesday night’s victory over Big(11)Ten power Michigan State. Coach Matt Bollant’s success in Green Bay has some folks nervous that Wisconsin will look to him to replace the recently fired Lisa Stone. Bollant will and should get some offers for his services, but I doubt that he’ll end up in Madison, where the administration has always insisted on a woman to fill the role of women’s basketball coach…………With all due respect to Marquette and the Big East, no conference should have more than half of its teams selected to participate in the NCAA tourney. The regular season and conference tournaments provide ample opportunity to make the “big dance” and the success of VCU suggests there are plenty of teams from smaller conferences that deserve a spot on the big stage………..The Milwaukee Brewers returned pitcher Pat Egan, a Rule 5 pickup who has pitched well for them in spring training, to the Baltimore Orioles. It seems to me that the Brewers should have been able to find a spot for him as they need all the young arms they can get. I understand that the Brewers are in ‘win now mode’, but I’d rather take my chances with someone like Egan than rely on fossils like Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins didn’t help them win much last year; what’s he going to do now that he’s hurt and a year older?……….Barry Bonds, former major league outfielder and poster boy for steroid use, went on trial on federal perjury charges this week. Bonds testified before a federal grand jury that he never “knowingly” took steroids that were administered by trainer Greg Anderson and Anderson has once again chosen to go to jail rather than testify against his former client. As a practical matter isn’t it logical to assume that if Anderson had information to support Bonds’ claim, he would choose to take the stand on his behalf rather than repeated trips to prison?