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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Who the Heck, How the Heck, What the Heck

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Never mind what happens on the courts of the NCAA Division I basketball tournament. "March Madness" really refers to the mass hysteria known as Bracketology—millions of otherwise reasonable people going nuts trying to figure out what will happen in a competition involving 68 teams and infinite variables.

The Observers are far too wise to do that. At least in public.


Frank
: Our state's teams are well positioned, with Marquette seeded No. 3 in the West Regional and Wisconsin No. 4 in the East. They got above the dreaded 5, traditionally a hot spot for a first-round shocker.

Artie
: It often seems that way, but there are no guarantees about any of this stuff. Filling out a bracket is always a crapshoot, and it just gets crazier every year. Look at last year: UConn comes from nowhere to win the Big East tournament, then takes the NCAA crown. Virginia Commonwealth barely makes the field and reaches the Final Four...

Frank
: Little Butler gets to the title game for the second straight year.

Artie
: So who the hell knows what will happen? Why not a 2012 Final Four of Harvard, St. Mary's of California, South Dakota State and, just for a tiny bit of sanity, Louisville?

Frank
: If that happens, whoever picked it will probably be the only person in the country to do it. But for now, let's focus on MU and UW.

Artie
: I've lost some faith in Marquette, based on the recent blowout by Cincinnati and the embarrassing performance against Louisville in the Big East tourney.

Frank
: I only saw a few minutes of that, but they sure looked rattled.

Artie
: You have to start to wonder if they can recover. Meanwhile, UW keeps on having scoring problems. In every one of the Badgers' losses it's been super-cold shooting, especially on three-pointers, that's been the glaring fault.

Frank
: One of my nephews on Long Island really follows this stuff, and he says we can pen MU into the Sweet Sixteen but they won't get past the third round, assuming they play either Missouri or Florida.

Artie
: They have a score to settle with Missouri—that agonizing second-round loss three years ago. Of course, just about everyone on both teams has changed. I'm just so disappointed by MU's loss to Louisville; it's like they'd never faced a pressure defense before.

Frank
: Which is odd, because they practice against one every day.

Artie
: I'm not talking about intensity and effort, but the science of trapping all over the court. As for UW, ESPN's Doug Gottlieb has them losing their opener to Montana. That wouldn't shock me.

Frank
: UW has had recent NCAA losses to Cornell and Butler, as well as Davidson when Stephen Curry made his big national splash.

Artie
: Really, I could see both our teams going to the Sweet Sixteen, like they did last year. But I also feel shaky about their chances of going very far.

Frank
: MU plays either Brigham Young or Iona in the first round and, if they win, then either Murray State or Colorado State.

Artie
: Murray State would be interesting. I've seen them play a couple of times and, hey, they're a 30-1 team. I don't care what conference you play in: If you're 30-1, you've got something going. I don't know if they've played a team as intense and fast as MU, but they don't strike me as a pushover.

Frank
: If UW gets by Montana, they play either Harvard or Vanderbilt.

Artie
: Vandy's stock sure has risen. In the preseason they were highly regarded, but somehow, injuries or whatever, they just kind of hung around. Let's not forget they decidedly beat Marquette 74-57 Dec. 29 at the Bradley Center. And now they've beaten Kentucky in the SEC tournament! One of the so-called experts I heard today put Vandy in his Final Four.

Frank
: A big question is whether they "played themselves out" in beating Kentucky.

Artie
: That's always a debate, whether a really hard conference tournament hurts a team. But last year UConn had to win five straight days to take the Big East title, and they kept rolling all the way to the big crown.

Frank
: It wasn't just last year that produced big surprises—VCU in the Final Four last year, George Mason in 2006, Butler almost beating Duke two years ago.

Artie
: It just gets harder to predict anything. I fully suspect there'll be a team this year that gets to the Elite Eight or even the Final Four and everyone says, "Who the heck are they and how the heck did they do that?"

Frank
: You've got to win six straight games for the title, and that ain't easy. After all, who are the four No. 1 seeds?

Artie
: North Carolina, Syracuse, Kentucky and Michigan State.

Frank
: And only the Spartans were able to win their conference tournament. But I'm not predicting anything; I have absolutely no expertise.

Artie
: I think a lack of expertise actually gives you a leg up on the serious "students." I know folks who fill out their brackets in 20 minutes—no intense scrutiny of who has the better free-throw percentage or rebounding margin or whatever. And they do just as well as, if not better than, the Brothers of the Holy Order of Bracketology.


Frank
: So let the blind, uninformed guessing begin!

Out Like Flynn



Frank
: A couple of weeks ago, when the Packers and Jermichael Finley agreed on a two-year contract, there was speculation the team would then put the "franchise player" label on Matt Flynn and make a sign-and-trade deal with another team. Instead, the Packers let Flynn go as an unrestricted free agent. Were you surprised?

Artie
: Not at all. It became pretty clear that Ted Thompson would not "franchise" Flynn because that process really isn't supposed to be used to trade a guy.

Frank
: So tagging Flynn would have violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

Artie
: Right. And Ted's a pretty straight shooter.

Frank
: And why not tag Flynn anyway, just to keep a guy who threw a team-record six touchdown passes in the 2011 season finale?

Artie:
They couldn't afford that. A franchise guy gets paid at least the average of the top five players in the league at his position. For a quarterback, that would be more than $14 million, which would have made Flynn the highest-paid Packer next season. No way that's acceptable for a backup.

Frank
: Of course, Flynn's departure makes Aaron Rodgers' health even more vital to the team. And instead of getting something back in a trade, do the Packers get nothing at all?

Artie
: Not necessarily. It's a complicated hodgepodge, but they could still get a 2013 compensatory pick, maybe a third-rounder, depending on how much Flynn signs for and how successful he is next season. It's a bizarre system. I saw a commentary that, at this point, trying to figure out what the Packers might get would be like guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar the size of the Titanic.

Frank
: The ways of the NFL are strange and wondrous to behold. But back to Finley; if the Packers weren't going to tag Flynn, why didn't they do it to Finley and save some money? Instead of a two-year, $14 million deal, they could have spent "only" about $5.4 million on him for one year as the franchise guy.

Artie
: He's probably happier with two years of security. And if he's happier, maybe he'll hold onto a few more passes next season. I'll bet you a buck two-eighty he dropped the pen before signing the new deal.

Frank:
The Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn gave him the worst "drop rate" on the 2011 team—13 out of 103 passes thrown his way, or 12.62%.

Artie:
And he's the one who groused about not getting the ball more. Just catch the dang thing!