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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014

UW Badgers and MU Golden Eagles: Time To Step Up

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This week will see the Brewers open camp in Arizona and the Bucks watch the NBA all-star festivities from deep in the league's cellar. But when the Observers talked things over Sunday evening, college hoops was the No. 1 topic.

 

Artie: OK, give it to me straight. I've been out all day, just got home and haven't seen a score. What happened at the Kohl Center?

Frank: It's safe to watch your DVR. What happened was a good, hard-fought, not especially pretty but definitely gritty win for the Badgers over Michigan State.

A: Sure, one of the best games of the season and I miss it live!

F: But you'll have peace of mind while you watch. You'll know that this time Traevon Jackson, with the game in his hands, was able to take and make the winning shot.

A: Unlike the Ohio State game, when he had to give it up and Sam Dekker's desperation three-pointer missed.

F: See how things balance out? And you'll know that Travis Trice's half-court shot at the buzzer will hit the rim but NOT go in.

A: Oh, Lord! The way things had been going for the Badgers I'll probably still expect it to drop.

F: Really, it won't. But you're right, UW desperately needed this after three straight losses at home and five in six games overall. Yeah, the Spartans were short-handed because of injuries and their leading scorer, Gary Harris, shot 3 for 20, but the UW defense had a lot to do with that.

A: Now give me the “not especially pretty” part.

F: The Badgers had a lot of early turnovers, the defense had a ton of trouble with center Adreian Payne—who was a monster!—and UW shot only 65% from the foul line (13 for 20).

A: That's worrisome as we head toward March Madness.

F: Four of the misses came from Nigel Hayes, but without the freshman's 14 points off the bench there's no way UW would have won.

A: He's been such a force! You look at him and think, “This guy could play middle linebacker.” He's the one guy on the team with that body type.

F: So the Badgers seem to be back on track, but they better not relax. After hosting Minnesota this week they're on the road against Michigan and Iowa.

A: Still, this is a “quality win” that should help them in terms of seeding in the NCAA tournament.

F: Meanwhile, Marquette has to worry about just making the Big Dance. Buzz Williams' scenario for that is finishing 11-7 in the Big East and 19-12 overall, not counting the conference tournament. But that requires a 6-2 mark from here on, and MU has games remaining against all four teams above them in Big East: Villanova, Creighton, Providence and Xavier.

A: The 'Nova and Providence games are on the road, which makes the next two home games against Xavier and Creighton do-or-die.

F: It's good that Todd Mayo has come on strong in the last few games. He almost saved them against 'Nova and he did save them after they fell behind against Butler. But MU still isn't getting consistency out of two seniors who are supposed to be their leaders, Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner.

 

TEXAS CRUDE

F: Nationally, the big weekend news in college basketball was Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart shoving a Texas Tech fan.

A: Something else I haven't seen because I've been so busy. But I definitely heard about it.

F: It happened while Texas Tech was finishing off a win at home. Smart came flying in to try to block a breakaway dunk and wound up sprawled under the basket. On the tape you see that he suddenly jerks his head around because he's heard something. He stands up and moves toward the speaker, who then says something else, and Smart shoves him before backing away.

A: And who was the shovee?

F: His name is Jeff Orr and he's famed in Lubbock as a super-fan. Now Smart has been suspended for three games and both he and Orr have issued apologies.

A: And do we know what exactly was said at the time?

F: Smart says he heard a racial slur, which Orr denies. In his apology he said he called Smart a “piece of crap.” Also, some tape has surfaced from a 2010 Texas Tech game in which Orr is seen making an obscene gesture at a Texas A&M player.

A: Great. So he's not a racist, just crude.

F: Why say anything at all to a player, especially when he's frustrated over losing? It's similar to the Richard Sherman situation. Being happy for yourself and your team isn't good enough; you have to make sure the opponent is humiliated. “We win, so you must be a piece of crap.”

A: It's especially bad when the opponent is just a college kid, still growing up, and not some professional. Why aggravate things, especially when you had nothing to do with how the game came down?

F: We're not condoning Smart's shove. But a game ticket, even an expensive one, isn't a license to be a jerk.

 

SUNNY IN ARIZONA

F: Everybody goes into spring training proclaiming optimism, but I was struck by Doug Melvin's statement that five of the Brewers' starting lineup are “in the top 10” at their positions in the majors. I guess he has a case with Ryan Braun, Jean Segura, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez, but Aramis Ramirez joins the group only if, at age 36 next season, he stays a lot healthier than he did in 2013.

A: Still, that strength up the middle with Lucroy, Segura and Gomez—plus Scooter Gennett at second—is impressive.

F: And with the starting rotation apparently solidified with Matt Garza's joining Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada, there's no reason to think the team can’t be a playoff contender.

A: Plus they strengthened the bullpen by adding “K-Rod” for a third time, giving themselves some insurance in case Jim Henderson emulates John Axford and collapses as a closer.

F: Assuming that Francisco Rodriguez is the K-Rod of 2011 and '13, and not the K-Rod who imploded in 2012. Or for that matter the K-Rod who didn't do much for Baltimore after he was traded there last season.

A: Of course health is the most important factor, especially with Ramirez. And Braun has to adjust not only to moving to right field to let Khris Davis play left, but also to returning with the “druggie” label permanently attached to him.

F: Well, with Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds signed, they go into camp with some experience at first base.

A: Two guys who know what a first-sacker's glove looks like.

F: And there's Juan Francisco, one of the on-the-job trainees they had to use last year. Francisco and Reynolds also give them some insurance at third in case Ramirez breaks down again.

A: Overbay has to be the best of those guys defensively.

F: He had a terrible time trying to hit lefties with the Yankees last year, but he still had 14 homers and 24 doubles. I could see them doing pretty well with Overbay playing against righties and Reynolds against lefties.

A: With Reynolds being a righty version of Russell Branyon—a ton of strikeouts but maybe some big homers too.

F: It may be a stretch to say the Brewers have a good shot at passing all three teams in their division that made the playoffs. But that's why Bud Selig decreed two wild cards per league; the Brewers might only have to pass one of the three to make the post-season.

A: And I know which one I'd love it to be.

F: The Cardinals, I'm sure. But a rash of injuries could hit St. Louis, Cincinnati, or Pittsburgh, and the Reds will be adjusting to a new manager in Bryan Price. All sorts of stuff could happen—which is the eternal message of spring training.

 

A-ROD'S LEGAL WHIFF

F: So Alex Rodriguez, who set some kind of record by suing both Major League Baseball and his own union over his season-long suspension for drug use, caved in after about three weeks.

A: I'll bet a lot of lawyers are crying in their martinis.

F: I did see some speculation that one reason A-Rod dropped his legal case was that he was told it would cost him something like $10 million in legal fees.

A: Jeez, even he might have had to tighten his belt! The good news, I hope, is that now we don't have to see the guy's face again until he tries to salvage his playing career a year from now.

F: One of ESPN's sources also said A-Rod is trying to make nice with MLB so he can continue to “work in the industry” after he's done playing.

A: Like being a TV analyst. A long court fight would have just added more stink to him.

F: The ESPN source said, “It was a question of becoming either Pete Rose or Ryan Braun.”

A: His fellow Biogenesis client.

F: But back in the game, unlike the all-time hits leader, who has been banned for almost a quarter-century over gambling.

A: Well, right now I'll settle for a single Alex-free year.

 

A BREAK FROM LOSING

F: The Bucks could have used an all-star break a month into the season...

A: Make that every month.

F: Have you been watching much of them lately?

A: Nope. I saw a little of the game at Denver, thinking they might be able to build on their win over the Knicks, but no go.

F: Larry Sanders finally played the way they're paying him to, with 25 points and 15 rebounds.

A: And then, with typical Bucks luck, he catches an elbow to the face in the first few minutes against Houston and misses the rest of that game.

F: Bucks luck indeed. Sanders seemed to be coming around after helping wreck the early season with his bar-fight thumb injury.

A: I know it's hard to see in the standings, but the Bucks really do have a pretty interesting nucleus of young players. Sanders, if he can keep himself under control, and John Henson have lots of up-side...

F: And the rookie whose name we just simplify into “G.A.” has shown some flashes.

A: He'll be playing in the Futures game this weekend during the NBA's all-star hoopla, which I'll be interested to see. And I think the other rookie, Nate Wolters, can develop into a real dependable shooter.

F: He's back in a starting role after kind of disappearing for a while.

A: You could say he was the Bucks' version of a Stradivarius.

F: Wolters got thrown into the deep water immediately when Brandon Knight got hurt in the first minutes of the season opener.

A: Now Knight, who's only 22 himself, is playing well, leading the team in both scoring and assists. And when you consider the player they'll get from the draft lottery, which will be no lower than the fourth pick, there'll be some reason for optimism. But I'm starting to wonder if Larry Drew really is the right coach to get this team going.

F: He said his approach was going to be as a buddy to everybody, but there have been complaints about playing time coming from some of the veteran guys.

A: Caron Butler and Gary Neal, mainly. And there was a tiff between Neal and Sanders in the locker room last month. Drew was supposed to run a happier ship, but life can't be too pleasant when you've won nine out of your first 50 games.

 

WHITE SNOW, BROWN WATER

F: As we speak the Sochi Olympics are just three days old.

A: Before the competition began it sure sounded like a mess in terms of infrastructure. Water that looks like ginger ale, buildings not complete, stray dogs wandering around...

F: “Don't drink the water” is one thing. But apparently people in some places were being warned not to wash their faces because of whatever crud is floating around.

A: Plus there was that NBC piece about people's laptops and smart phones being vulnerable to almost immediate hacking.

F: The reporter took two laptops straight out of the boxes, hooked 'em up and within a minute one was compromised.

A: The alleged price tag for the Games is, like, $50 billion, and I'm guessing maybe a hundred million of it went into infrastructure.

F: While a ton of dough probably went into the pockets of Mr. Putin and his cronies. And they know that as long as the world has lots of events to watch on TV, all that other stuff will fade into oblivion.

A: Just like Joe Stalin faded out of Russian history in the opening ceremonies.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has never sit courtside.

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