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Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

Wisconsin Badgers & Marquette Golden Eagles: Feast And Famine

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No one realistically expected the Wisconsin basketball team to go undefeated, but the way the Badgers lost twice last week—with Indiana and Michigan scoring way too easily—was jarring. Meanwhile, Marquette's season-long scoring struggle expanded into a late collapse at Butler—an echo of the stumbling win at home over Seton Hall.

MU had a chance to bounce back Monday at Georgetown, but with eight losses already the Golden Eagles need a major surge to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

 

Frank: Not a good Saturday for state hoops, with UWM and the Bucks losing besides Marquette and Wisconsin.

Artie: We better get used to hearing “0 for 4” because soon it'll be the daily batting line for the Brewers' first baseman.

F: And no shortage of strikeouts, albeit a few homers too, whether it's newcomer Mark Reynolds or holdover Juan Francisco.

A: It'd sound better to say “3 for 4,” until we realize that it's three whiffs in four at-bats.

F: Reynolds' arrival supports your frequent declaration that chicks and Doug Melvin dig the long ball.

A: It's just amazing how he's determined that his old Texas Rangers strategy will save the day.

F: Shifting back to the hardwood, the long ball sure didn't save the day for MU at Butler. In the second half and overtime, the Golden Eagles went 0 for 14 on three-point shots! And that was on top of an 0-for-10 second half when they barely held on against Seton Hall.

A: And in both games they had substantial leads in the second half. It was 12 points against Butler.

F: They were up five with about seven minutes left when I left for the Al McGuire Center and the MU women's game against St. John's. My first hint of trouble was when a kid at the concession stand told me the game went to OT. My second hint was that for the entire women's game there was no announcement of the men's score.

A: At least this time Davante Gardner only tried one three.

F: He mostly stayed inside and had 17 points, but later said “I wasn't getting the ball” down the stretch. Two comments: Butler could afford to pack the defense down low the way MU was shooting, and Gardner took nine shots in the second half and OT, the most on the team, and made just one. But the collapse was a team effort, to Buzz Williams' continuing frustration.

A: By the way, what the hell was Buzz wearing? Seeing him in that snug-fitting collarless shirt or sweater I thought, “Is this guy a Division 1 coach or the cafeteria cashier on the starship Enterprise?”

F: He definitely had a Captain Kirk thing going. It was hard to tell if he was sporting MU's logo or the Federation of Planets'.

A: I'll bet he wished someone would beam him away. Butler had the phaser and it was set on “stun.”

F: MU will need two good halves this Saturday when Villanova visits.

A: I'm afraid the Golden Eagles are NIT-picking, bound for a tournament other than the Big Dance.

F: UW's problems were on the D-side last week. In getting to 16-0 they held their opponents to 40.5% shooting. But against the Hoosiers and Wolverines that mark was 54.0%. Dan Dakich, who worked both games for ESPN, noted that Indiana was able to drive to the rim repeatedly and Michigan knifed off screens for a lot of mid-range jumpers.

A: But it's not like UW got blown away. I like Dakich but sometimes he's overcritical. If you were just listening to him and not watching you might think the Badgers were the worst defenders in the country.

F: We can be sure Bo Ryan will have his guys focused on bouncing back. And I noticed something about the schedule that helps UW's chances of winning the Big Ten.

A: They only play Ohio State and Michigan State once each, and both games are in Madison.

F: Exactly! That could be important not just in the conference but also for NCAA seeding.

A: But things are so unpredictable. Who'd have thought the Buckeyes would lose three straight conference games? Or that Indiana would follow the win over UW with an ugly loss to Northwestern at home?

F: Shooting 25% in the process. Hey, one more thing about college hoops in this state. I finally watched my DVR of the Jan. 12 UWM-Green Bay game, and I was impressed with both teams.

A: Green Bay looks like the class of the Horizon League and the Panthers have surprised everyone.

F: Mostly I was dazzled by two guards who are under 6 feet but play huge. Green Bay's Keifer Sykes is absolutely fearless in slashing to the hoop with amazing elevation. And UWM's Jordan Aaron was matching him drive for drive and trey for trey in the game that Green Bay won in overtime. Sykes had 32 points and Aaron 26.

A: I'll bet Buzz Williams would love to beam either one of them into his backcourt.

 

HALF-BAKED AND HALF-DRESSED

F: What do you think of "Clark," the Cubs' cute new mascot?

A: They named him after one of the streets in Wrigley Field's address, but it would have been more appropriate if they'd used a dead-end street in the area. Because that's where the Cubs find themselves about two weeks into any season.

F: I was thinking the most popular piece of Clark merchandise might be a doormat. If they had any notion that his name might inspire thoughts of Clark Kent, forget it. There won't be any Superman cape busting out for him or the team.

A: The most relevant thing I heard or read was something like, “Sadly, Clark is the biggest acquisition the Cubs have made this off-season.”

F: Not that they needed to bolster themselves after a 66-96 record in 2013.

A: Or their 101-loss season the year before.

F: Heck, the Cubs had a winning record as recently as 2009! I know some websites had some crude fun with Clark's half-dressed appearance, but I did wonder why they didn't issue him a full uniform.

A: He has a shirt and shoes, ain'a? So why couldn't this organization afford pants? They've got to have the money; they keep selling out at Wrigley because no one cares if they win!

F: I'd hate to think Clark was conceived as some kind of distraction—or as a means of prying a few more dollars out of parents who'll be hearing their kids scream for Clark dolls, T-shirts, cell-phone cases or whatever.

A: “Revenue streams,” I believe, is the operative phrase.

F: But I'd hate to believe that, because then I'd have to entertain the notion that Bernie Brewer or—perish the thought—the Racing Sausages exist in part for crass commercial purposes.

A: Welcome to reality. I read somewhere that only three big-league teams are mascot-less: the Yankees, Dodgers and Angels.

F: Yeah, I learned that the Red Sox, for instance, have a big fuzzy thing called Wally, as in the “Green Monster” wall in left field. But my Yankees don't need no stinkin' mascot!

A: But hey, that might be a role A-Rod could fill when he returns to active duty next year.

F: That's the only use the Yankees would like to make of him. Maybe they could stick him in an inflated costume as Babe Ruth.

A: Or George Costanza.

 

BUT THIS IS TRULY OFFENSIVE

F: A more serious issue about mascots came up while I was on Long Island for the holidays. The Wisconsin Legislature passed a bill that makes it more difficult to remove Indian-themed school nicknames and mascots in the state.

A: And Scott Walker, that great friend of minorities, signed it.

F: The new law shifts the burden of proof in evaluating Native American names. In 2010 a Democratic-sponsored law mandated that if complaints over such names were filed it was up to the affected school district to prove that the names did not promote discrimination. The new law puts the burden on those filing complaints, stating that they must have the support of at least 10% of the district's student population.

A: And said district is unlikely to have anything near a student population that's 10% Native American.

F: In other words, the bill tells Native Americans, “It's not enough that you are offended by a mascot that's based on your ethnic group. You have to prove that enough of us white folks are offended too.”

A: And if it doesn't bother enough of us, then of course it shouldn't bother you.

F: I'm reminded of the controversy in 1971 when Native American students at Marquette demanded the removal of “Willie Wampum,” the grinning fiberglass-headed mascot who danced around the Milwaukee Arena basketball floor shaking a tomahawk at the Warriors' opponents. As the editorial editor of The Marquette Tribune, I wrote the piece that was headlined, “Willie Must Go.”

A: And caught some flak for it, I'll bet.

F: Well, I took one call from an alumnus who said, “I'm Irish and it doesn't bother me that Notre Dame uses a leprechaun.” Fine and dandy, but at MU there were people who felt their ethnic group was being lampooned. Yes, Native Americans weren't very numerous in the student population, and they were encouraged by the activist priest James Groppi, but once they declared they were offended, what counter-argument did MU have? Telling them they really weren't offended, or that there weren't enough of them?

A: And in fact Willie did go.

F: After the basketball season ended, as I recall. MU then went to the “First Warrior,” a Native American student performing authentic dances, but after a few years they couldn't find such a student willing to do it. And in 1994 the university dropped “Warriors” for “Golden Eagles.”

A: And gee, MU and its teams got along just fine that way.

F: Funny thing about nicknames. When the MU administration tried in 2004 to change the nickname again, to “Gold,” it caused an uproar and prompted a whole selection process. A lot of people from the “Warriors” generation assumed there'd be huge support for going back to that...

A: But as some other kind of Warrior, not Native American.

F: But guess what? The students who'd known only “Golden Eagles” had no particular interest in “Warriors.” The administration declared that “Warriors” was out for good, and when the final choice came down to “Golden Eagles” or an even older name, “Hilltoppers,” the Eagles won again.

A: I have the feeling that current high school students might not care all that much what mascot they cheer for, as long as it's theirs. And if a school dropped a Native American name for something else, well, I'm guessing in a few years everyone would be fine with the new name.

F: One argument people make is that Indian nicknames actually extol the heritage of Native Americans. But when we see those names and mascots don't we usually think in terms of “Cowboys and Indians,” war whoops and fighting between the “red men” and cavalry?

A: That had to be the image when the nicknames were instituted, I'd say. White folks taking over the mascot business just like they took over the land.

F: Of course there's no defense for something like “Redskins,” and why the NFL doesn't order that changed I can't fathom. But even if the nickname is just “Indians” or “Warriors” or the name of a particular tribe, if it offends Native Americans, that should be reason enough to drop it.

A: If you're so wedded to “Warriors,” then make 'em ancient Romans or “Star Wars” guys or something else that's not tied to living people. How much can it cost to repaint a few logos and reorder some stationery?

F: To me this new Wisconsin law is kind of like the voter-ID requirements that are being fought over in court. In both measures there's an assumption of insufficient legitimacy that puts an added burden of proof on individuals. Why not err in favor of an individual's right to vote or seek redress for something that offends him or her?

A: Instead, with the nicknames we've got to try to hold onto something that we should have got past long ago.

F: It's all part of the Republican and tea party attitude of holding back the hands of time and holding onto a nice, safe America where the white majority called the shots and decided what was best for everyone. But in a few decades the majority of people in this great republic will be non-white.

A: Then maybe that Washington team could change to “Rednecks.”

 

BOB, YOU'VE DONE IT AGAIN

F: Last week the Journal Sentinel presented the annual treat of “By The Numbers,” Bob McGinn's breakdown of the Packers' season into statistics great and small. As always, the depth of his research was mind-boggling.

A: The one stat he doesn't furnish is how many calculators he goes through in any given season as he compiles all this stuff. Was he above or below his average, and by how many percentage points?

F: I'm guessing we're not the only ones who poke a little fun at McGinn's meticulous calculations, but the sheer volume of this full page of numbers is stupefying. Categories like tackles per play, “bad” runs, average release time for Aaron Rodgers' interceptions, passes broken up per snap, individual responsibility for sacks...

A: McGinn must have to go to the tape of every game a ton of times!

F: Even he can't see everything at once—I'm pretty sure. He has to break down the offensive formations and defensive schemes; how the O-line blocks, whether there's a blitz and if so what kind; who's the lead blocker on running plays; the release time on passing plays; hang time on punts...

A: To two decimal places, if I remember correctly.

F: And then he can tell us how long it's been since the Packers did something as well or as poorly—even in the pre-season.

A: Oh, the minutiae!

F: Having worked with Bob for almost 20 years, I can safely say that no one covers pro football—make that no one covers any sport—to the statistical depth that he does.

A: It's awesome in a somewhat scary way.

F: When people talk about football being a “chess match,” well, Bob is the grandmaster of data.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel, Art Kumbalek plays no defense.