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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

TRICKY DANCE STEPS FOR BADGERS AND GOLDEN EAGLES

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 Based on pre-season expectations, Marquette and Wisconsin have had remarkably successful basketball seasons. But as the NCAA tournament begins this week, fans of each team likely will be disappointed if it doesn't win twice to reach a third straight "Sweet 16."

The Observers engaged in some long-distance bracketology, with Frank checking in from Long Island.

 

Frank: Between St. Patrick's Day activities and family gatherings I hardly saw any of the state teams in their conference tournaments. But I'm sure you did.

Artie: Well, I'm about as Irish as Chiang Kai-shek was, so St. Paddy's isn't on my holiday radar.

F: I guess Marquette, besides being dizzied by Notre Dame's neon-green uniforms, got stymied inside and couldn't shoot well enough to compensate. But UW showed some classic grit and enough accuracy to beat Michigan and Indiana—both of which had been ranked No. 1 during the season. Then what happened in the seven-point loss to Ohio State?

A: I didn't really expect them to win, but they played very tough against a team that got as high as No. 3 in the rankings.

F: From the box score I see the Badgers had another bad day in three-point shooting, which they rely on so much. But the Buckeyes were even worse, 1 for 16 to UW's 3 for 18.

A: They're both excellent defensive teams. But OSU won the rebounding battle and the Badgers had a complete scoring drought for a few minutes down the stretch.

F: Still, a mighty good overall showing in Chicago.

A: But what good did it do? I can see the Buckeyes getting a 2 seed, projected to get to the "Elite 8." But how do the Badgers get only a 5 seed after beating two former top-ranked teams—for the second time each this season?

F: And coming that close against another powerhouse.

A: A powerhouse the Badgers had beaten in Madison by 22 freakin' points! I think to get a 5 after that three-day stretch shows these conference tournaments are pretty worthless as far as seeding goes—unless you're a "bubble team" fighting just to get into the Big Dance.

F: More evidence of that might be that MU, as a Big East co-champion for the regular season, got a 3 seed even though it went "one and done" in the conference tourney.

A: Was the selection committee really going to wait until 4:45 p.m. to readjust the bracket that was due in 15 minutes? But still, I think UW should have been a 4 based on their wins over OSU, Michigan and the Hoosiers.

F: On the other hand, I just heard Jay Bilas say that as he saw the seedings, "It's not so much who you beat but who you lost to." I guess UW's losses to Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue factored in there.

A: Anyway, I'd say there's a big gap between being a 3 and a 5, at least as far as MU and UW are concerned.

F: Marquette plays 14th-seeded Davidson on Thursday in Lexington, Ky., in the East Regional, and if it wins it'll play either Butler (6) or Bucknell (11). The Badgers play 12th-seeded Mississippi on Friday in Kansas City in the West Regional, and if they win they probably play a 4 seed, Kansas State, practically in the Wildcats' backyard.

A: That's a big difference! Davidson, Butler and Bucknell are good teams, but their records aren't as good as they were the last couple of years.

F: When I saw UW is playing Mississippi I said, "Hey, didn't Ole Miss just win the SEC tournament over Florida, which stomped both UW and MU in November?"

A: Mississippi kind of faded toward the end of the regular season, but it sure has momentum now. The selectors haven't done the Badgers any favors. That wasn't the Horizon League tournament they did so well in! So much for a team's "body of work."

F: So MU looks to have the more do-able road to the Sweet 16.

A: They’re fortunate to be 3 and not a 4. I heard someone mention that in each of the last five years a 13 has beaten a 4.

F: Don’t forget Bucknell beat Kansas as a 14 in 2005. And Butler coach Brad Stevens took the Bulldogs to the title game in '10 and '11.

A: It's all a crapshoot with the parity in college hoops. Hell, in my first bracket run-through I’ve got Colorado State playing Akron in the championship game. At first I had CSU vs. Murray State, but it turns out Murray State isn't even in the field. I think I need to study some more.

F: But get some money down on CSU-Akron. You'd hate to see it happen and make no profit.

 

ALL THOSE VARIABLES

A: So many of the NCAA games are so close, even in the first two rounds where the seeding gaps are larger. As I've said before, one of the things I look at as being crucial is free-throw percentage.

F: And as we noted last week, Marquette's accuracy from the line has faded in recent games and Wisconsin's has been mediocre all season. It'll also be interesting to see whether some extra rest from its quick exit in New York does MU good, and conversely whether the Badgers' three tough games in Chicago actually help them.

A: I have the feeling that when you depend so much on outside shooting like UW does, the more you play the more likely you are to get some consistency. Whereas with MU's high-energy, physical style a week-long layoff might be good.

F: But then there was UConn in 2011, which had to play five games to win the Big East tournament but then went on to take the national title.

A: First things first. Both of our teams have a good shot at another Sweet 16. Let's get the ball in the air!

 

CHILL, PACKER BACKERS

F: What's going on with the Packers? It looked like they might sign running back Steven Jackson but they didn't. It looked like they might hold on to receiver Greg Jennings after all, but they didn't.

A: And if you listen to fans on the local sports radio shows, a lot of them are ready to jump off a roof because Ted Thompson hasn't ponied up a lot of money for free agents. It happens every year, but the Pack seems to keep having successful seasons. Yeah, they haven't gotten back to the Super Bowl, but it ain't like the franchise has been on the decline.

F: Jackson wound up with Atlanta...

A: Which makes sense, since he's played his entire career with a domed home field in St, Louis.

F: And I guess the Packers offered Jennings $8 million, or about $2 million less than he would have gotten if they'd stuck the "franchise player" tag on him.

A: And he went for a five-year deal and $18 million guaranteed with the Vikings. I guess he wants to be THE guy in their passing attack, but there's just one problem: Who's his new quarterback? He's going from Aaron Rodgers to Christian Ponder. He may be the No. 1 receiver, but he'll be dealing with a No. 21 QB. Good luck, Mr. Jennings!

F: So you're OK with Thompson's reluctance to spend a lot on free agents?

A: Well, can we remember the "Dream Team" the Eagles supposedly purchased in 2011? They went 8-8.

F: And all those years the Redskins spent a ton didn't help them much.

A: And this year it seems like Tampa Bay is going after everyone they can find. There must be ways they work out the spending to fit under the salary cap but sooner or later those bills come due. The cliché is that it's the desperate teams that do the big spending. But with all the young players the Packers have, why pay a lot for some soon-to-be-over-the-hill guy?

F: Like, for instance, they did with Jeff Saturday.

A: Last year they drafted Nick Perry as a "balance" for Clay Matthews in outside pass rushing. Perry got hurt and didn't last the season, but why bring in someone else before you know whether Perry can be what they hoped? I'd say people should hold off on the pitchforks and torches for Thompson.

 

Frank Clines covered sports at The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has a doctorate in unsuccessful bracketology.

 

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