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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Not With a Bango, But a Whimper

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It was a modest goal, to be sure, but it was within the Bucks' reach. Energized by the mid-March trade that landed shooting guard Monta Ellis from Golden State, they climbed to the .500 mark on April 7 and were a half-game behind New York for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Then they lost five of six games, including a heartbreaker at home to the Knicks and a disaster against lowly Washington. The slump dropped them three games behind Philadelphia in the playoff race, and Monday night they were officially eliminated for the fifth time in six years.

Frank
: In two games they absolutely had to have, the Bucks allowed 121 points at Washington and 118 at Indiana.

Artie
: Yeah, too often the defense has been nonexistent.

Frank
: And that negates the club's improvement on offense. Last season the Bucks were dead last in the NBA in scoring, at 91.9 points per game, but third-best in points allowed at 92.7. This season, with three games remaining they were fourth in scoring at 99.7 per game, but 22nd in defense, allowing 99.3.

Artie
: Good at only one end of the court. Terrific.

Frank
: One reason for the defensive drop, I'm guessing, is the guy who's no longer around, Andrew Bogut. He was a strong rebounder and shot-blocker.

Artie
: When he was on the court. But because of that broken ankle, Bogut wouldn't have been playing anyway.

Frank
: Another problem is that they've been mediocre at home, only 16-15 with two games left.

Artie
: Losing to the Knicks was a killer. And like so many games, they blew a lead in the fourth quarter.

Frank
: They had several decent shots down the stretch that just didn't fall.

Artie
: Yeah, but it was the defense that wrecked them. In the first half it looked like the Knicks were holding a layup drill.

Frank
: Same thing against Washington and Indiana. Bucks fans must really be wondering about the future of this team. They sent Bogut to Golden State, got a great scorer in Ellis, and he combines with Brandon Jennings to give them a terrific starting backcourt. But are they too guard-dependent? Is Ellis doing too much of the scoring?

Artie
: Oh no, he's sharing that ball real well. But to me, sometimes it looks like Jennings goes into Allen Iverson mode. You can tell by his body language that he ain't passing; he's going to the hole or pulling up and shooting.

Frank
: I keep thinking of a lament I've heard for many years—that the Bucks will never really succeed without a truly dominant inside player, a Dwight Howard type.

Artie
: There are a lot of teams like that—but not many of those players.

Frank
: Bogut has the tools to be a big inside presence.

Artie
: Yeah, for 20 games a year.

Frank
: That's a slight overstatement of his bad fortune, but you're right: He couldn't block a shot from the bench. And after the trade he hinted, in comments to SI.com, that he didn't get along with coach Scott Skiles. He talked about not getting enough support "from the franchise" last season, when he played while still recovering from those severe right-arm injuries of April 2010.

Artie
: Everyone saw Bogut grimacing all last season; he basically played with one arm. But his complaint jibes with a piece by Gery Woelfel in the Racine Journal Times after the trade. Woelfel wrote that last season Skiles "publicly questioned Bogut's toughness and work ethic."

Frank
: I don't remember seeing such a comment from Skiles, but maybe Bogut interpreted something that way. And Skiles' comment to the Journal Sentinel after the SI.com stuff was pointed: "Whatever Andrew thinks, he thinks. I don't know why I need to defend anything or explain anything."

Artie
: That tells me they weren't best buddies.

Frank
: By the way, did you see the Sports Illustrated poll about NBA coaches?

Artie
: Yeah, that was very interesting.

Frank
: Skiles ranked second in the category of, "Which coach would you like to play for least?" Stan Van Gundy led with 22% and Skiles had 14%. The sample wasn't huge—143 players, about one-third of the league—but it means 20 players named him.

Artie
: Skiles eventually had problems with his players in Phoenix and Chicago. After two or three years he kind of lost the team.

Frank
: You think his scowling game face...

Artie
: The Junior G-Man look...

Frank
: ...could be an indication of why that happens?

Artie
: Sure. And there's that Junior G-Man thing where if a guy misses a defensive stop, he gets benched for the rest of the half or the game.

Frank
: The Bucks have another problem. The Journal Sentinel noted that with three home games left, home attendance was at its lowest average—14,747—since the Bradley Center opened in 1988.

Artie
: Well, with baseball starting, the fans' attention is focused elsewhere—the Brewers' struggle to stay ahead of Houston.

Frank
: Ouch. We'll get to that another time.

Bo's Media Woes


Frank
: Wow, Bo Ryan took a lot of heat nationally last week over the case of the transferring redshirt.

Artie
: To me it was really more of a non-story, something to take up time on a slow day.

Frank
: It sure took up time on ESPN's radio and TV pundit shows.

Artie
: But I think they didn't have all the facts, and still don't.

Frank
: Here's what we do know: Jarrod Uthoff, a 6-foot-8 freshman who was redshirted this past season...

Artie
: At his own request, in fact...

Frank
: Uthoff decided he wanted out of UW. For a few days last week, it appeared that Ryan was putting big restrictions on the schools he could go to.

Artie
: Not just other Big Ten schools, which is standard practice, and Marquette, the big in-state rival, but also ACC schools because the Badgers face them occasionally.

Frank
: And Florida, apparently, because UW just signed a home-and-home deal with the Gators.

Artie
: But they weren't ironclad bans. There's an appeals process to get restrictions waived. And from what I've seen, the kid handled the process badly. It appears that until just last week he never had a meeting with an athletic department official to say, "Yeah, I want out." And as of the end of the week, he still had not spoken directly with Ryan. And when he wrote the required letter appealing the restrictions, he had some friend deliver it instead of doing it himself.

Frank
: Pretty strange. And it lends credence to Ryan's comment Thursday that the "block" on transfer schools was aimed at getting Uthoff to simply explain himself.

Artie
: I think Dan Needles had a good observation on the radio, namely that Ryan's kind of convoluted defense sounded like he was trying hard not to throw the kid under the bus.

Frank
: Uthoff certainly owed Ryan an explanation.

Artie
: It would be one thing if he'd been on the active roster and got ignored. But he wanted to redshirt and build himself up for a year.

Frank
: At any rate, Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and Ryan decided to limit the restrictions to Big Ten schools only.

Artie
: That's reasonable, and even adding Marquette too. Adding other schools is a little harsh, even if they might play UW.

Frank
: I think there should be no restrictions at all. Don't coaches come and go as they please?

Artie
: But they're paid employees. Players, at least technically, aren't, and they make a commitment to a scholarship. But if there's a coaching change, I'd allow any player to leave, and with no need to sit out a year.

Frank
: That's how UW wound up with Ben Brust, who was committed to Iowa in 2010 but got a release after a coaching change.

Artie
: But unless that happens, if you allow unlimited transfers it opens a real can of worms with possible tampering. The recruiting would never end!