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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

GETTING IN TUNE: BUCKS, BADGERS, GOLDEN EAGLES

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It's almost time to unleash the Madness in college basketball, and March also reveals a light at the end of the NBA's regular-season tunnel. The state's major teams entered the month on some positive notes, but when the Observers chatted Sunday evening another form of artistry came up first.

 

Frank: Wow! I just witnessed a performance for the ages.

Artie: There were some good games today, but who was that good?

F: Joyce Yang. She was simply magnificent!

A: Um, as you know I don't follow women's hoops.

F: This ain't shooting from the key, it's making the keys sing. Yang is a world-class pianist, and for the last three years I've been lucky enough to see and hear her in an all-Rachmaninoff concert with the Milwaukee Symphony.

A: Well, I know that to do justice to ol' Sergei you've gotta have a lot of stamina.

F: You betcha. Talk about someone without a lot of “size” whose game is huge! Yang does it all—drive it up-tempo, slow it down to single, haunting notes—and if there's a slam-dunk needed to end the concerto, she'll nail it!

A: A musical Spud Webb, ain'a?

F: As she took her bows I was thinking our headline this week could be "Rockin' and Rollin' " to honor her and our basketball teams. But alas, the Badgers didn't continue the up-swing they'd been on along with Marquette and the Bucks.

A: It was more like UW rolled over against Purdue. The Badgers were in control in the first half, but Matt Painter is a good coach and his Boilermakers always hustle. They fought back and once they got the lead the Badgers' bugaboo kicked in and they couldn't hit any three-pointers to rally. At one point I heard the announcers say they'd missed 16 threes in a row.

F: They finished with 18 straight misses and 6 for 28 overall behind the arc. As we've noted before, UW relies heavily on treys. They try 22 or 'em per game, ranking in the top 30 out of 347 Division I teams. Live by the three, die by the three.

A: Except that they'd gotten away from that, at least somewhat, in winning six of seven games before Purdue. They'd been more balanced on offense, taking more mid-range shots and driving more. But on their Senior Day they got outhustled by Purdue, and when they had to make threes they went ice-cold.

F: That's the danger in any given game.

A: It's a shame, too, because with Michigan beating Michigan State, if the Badgers had won they'd have been one game behind Indiana for the conference title with two games left.

F: That's just where Marquette finds itself—right behind Georgetown—as the week begins. And MU's last two games, although they're on the road, are against Rutgers and St. John's—definitely winnable.

A: The Hoyas have become a really good team, with a great player in Otto Porter Jr. But if they stumble, say against Syracuse in their finale, MU could grab a share of its first Big East title.

F: And presumably last, at least in the present form of the conference, since MU and six other Catholic schools are bolting. Just like UW, the Eagles have stunned the “experts” who predicted them for a mid-range or lower finish in their conference.

A: They've played a lot of really close games, but most of the time they've found a way to win.

F: Against Syracuse last week they got a monster game from Davante Gardner, who'd vanished against Villanova in the previous game. And Saturday against Notre Dame, who'd have guessed that they'd get 8-for-8 shooting from Chris Otule?

A: Beating the Irish got MU a double-bye for the Big East tournament next week, which means they'll only face a maximum of three games.

F: As the Badgers will in the Big Ten tourney.

A: And losing on Senior Day should add some fire to them—for their next game at Michigan State and for the tournament.

F: I caught the final seconds of Michigan-Michigan State. Your favorite guy, Trey Burke, made the game-clinching steal.

A: Twenty-one points, eight assists, five steals—what a joy he'd be to have on the Bucks!

F: But the guy you want him to replace, Brandon Jennings, had 19 assists against Toronto in the Bucks' third straight win.

A: But he's still a crummy shooter.

F: In those three wins he was 9 for 31, but that means he was shooting less. Maybe he's gotten the message from you—and last week from your nephew Bart—that a point guard should distribute instead of chuck.

A: Bart is the voice of young people, Brandon's constituency. To get musical again, when it comes to shooting Jennings should emulate the composer Philip Glass and be a minimalist.

 

THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY

F: Meanwhile, Monta Ellis started shooting better and J.J. Redick seemed to be doing exactly what they hoped—getting 14 or 16 points a game and shooting around 50%.

A: With Ellis playing more of a point-esque role at times, that's what he did at Golden State with pretty good success. But as for that trade, I'll see your J.J. Redick and raise you my Tobias Harris, whom I swear the Bucks gave up on too early.

F: How's the NBA sophomore been doing with Orlando since the trade?

A: He had a rough game Sunday against Memphis—six points and 3 for 14—but in the four games before that he averaged 20 points and made 32 of 46 shots. It's just gonna kill me when he becomes a star. The Bucks should have stuck with him—they stuck with Larry Sanders for two years and this year it's paid off big time!

F: At any rate, the Bucks' three straight wins put them in solid shape for the No. 8 playoff spot, and going into the week they're only one loss behind No. 7 Boston and two losses behind No. 6 Brooklyn.

A: Reason enough to be optimistic for April. But first comes March Madness!

 

A CLASSIC COMPLAINT

F: The World Baseball Classic is underway. Are you tingling with excitement?

A: It smacks just a little too much of soccer...

F: Any whiff of the World Cup is too much for you?

A: Not just that, it seems like a bad idea. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but in terms of how it affects individual major-league teams...

F: Like the Brewers, for instance?

A: Absolutely. You've got to wonder about how the pitchers are going to be used on the national teams, whether they're really ready to “air it out” in competition that I guess is more important than a weekday game on some glorified Little League field in Arizona.

F: I can't imagine that the players, at least the U.S. Guys, care as much about wearing a national uniform as, say, the soccer guys do in the World Cup.

A: I see that Yovani Gallardo has what they call a slight groin strain. I sure hope he decides to stay in camp and rehab instead of risking himself pitching for Mexico.

F: As always, your pessimistic nature has you worrying which Brewer—John Axford? Jonathan Lucroy?—will pick up a season-ending injury.

A: Besides, doesn't Taiwan or Curacao always win these things?

F: You're thinking of the Little League World Series. Japan has won the first two World Baseball Classics.

A: Well, if it hasn't been the good ol' USA, why are they playing the dang thing in the first place?

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek knows he's not a three-point threat.