The Badgers continued their remarkable two-year run of success on and off the field over the weekend at the 2012 NFL Draft. Six UW players were chosen, one in each of the first six rounds. Another six players have signed NFL free agent deals and will take part in training camp.
In addition, OL Josh Oglesby has a physical scheduled with the Washington Redskins and indications are that if he passes that physical, the team will sign him to a free agent deal. Also, LS Kyle Wojta was invited to the Chicago Bears mini-camp in May.
We've put together some fascinating notes on the Badgers' NFL Draft success:
* The Badgers were the only team in the country to have at least one player drafted in each of the first six rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft.
* Wisconsin tied for the Big Ten lead and tied for fourth in the country with six players drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft. Only Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma had more players picked.
* In the last 14 years (since 1999), Wisconsin has had 12 players picked in the first round of the NFL draft. That is second-best in the Big Ten and tied for 10th-best in the country.
Big Ten First Round Draft Picks Since 1999 1. Ohio State - 20 2. Wisconsin - 12 3. Penn State - 10 4. Michigan - 9 5. Iowa - 6 6. Illinois - 5 Michigan State - 5 8. Nebraska - 4 9. Purdue - 3 10. Minnesota - 2 Northwestern - 2 12. Indiana - 0
Most NFL Draft First Round Picks Since 1999 1. Miami - 27 2. Ohio State - 20 3. USC - 19 4. Florida State - 15 Texas - 15 Florida - 15 7. Alabama - 14 Georgia - 14 9. Tennessee - 13 10. Wisconsin - 12 Oklahoma - 12
* UW also has three first-round selections in the past two years, which is tied for third-best in the country.
NFL Draft First Round Picks last two years 1. Alabama - 8 2. Baylor - 4 3. Wisconsin - 3 LSU - 3 USC - 3 Illinois - 3
* Bucky Brooks from NFL.com has two Badgers (LT Ricky Wagner and RB Montee Ball) listed among his top 20 players eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft. LSU and USC are the only other teams with multiple players in the top 20.
* Wisconsin has had 11 players drafted in the last two years. That is tied for second-best among Big Ten teams and tied for sixth nationally.
Big Ten draft picks last two years 1. Iowa - 12 2. Wisconsin - 11 Nebraska - 11 4. Ohio State - 9 5. Illinois - 8 Michigan State - 8 7. Penn State - 6 8. Michigan - 5 9. Purdue - 3 10. Northwestern - 2 Indiana - 2 12. Minnesota - 0
Most Draft Picks by School last two years 1. Miami - 14 2. Alabama - 13 Georgia - 13 4. Iowa - 12 USC - 12 5. Wisconsin - 11 LSU - 11 Nebraska - 11 North Carolina - 11 Oklahoma - 11
* Of the five Wisconsin offensive linemen who started in the 2010 Rose Bowl, two were drafted in the first round (Gabe Carimi, Bears, 2011 and Kevin Zeitler, Bengals, 2012), one in the second round (Peter Konz, Falcons, 2012) and one in the third round (John Moffitt, Seahawks, 2011). The other starter, Ricky Wagner, enters his senior season as a leading candidate for the Outland Trophy.
* Wisconsin has had five offensive linemen drafted in the last two seasons. That is the most in the country. Georgia is second with four. Among Big Ten teams, no school other than Wisconsin has had more than three o-linemen drafted over the last two years.
* Over the last two years, Wisconsin has had seven players drafted among the first 75 picks. That is tied for second-best in the country, trailing only Alabama (9).
NFL Draft picks among the top 75, last two years 1. Alabama - 9 2. Wisconsin - 7 LSU - 7 Illinois - 7 5. North Carolina - 6 6. California - 5 Clemson - 5
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on April 30, 2012 1:13 PM
In this week's blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes about how there are no shortcuts when building a championship program.
It's great to be back in Madison after a long weekend in West Lafayette, Ind. We traveled to Purdue and split on Saturday before dropping a heartbreaker yesterday. It was only the second Big Ten series we've lost all year.
It's amazing how much it hurts to lose games and drop series. There's a lot of emotional investment in the Badger softball program right now. Our biggest challenge is how we respond to these setbacks. Sports are amazing. They'll rip your heart out sometimes.
I think the losses along the way are just as important as the wins. We love to see what each kid does when she struggles. Does she try to go it alone? Does she back down and get quiet, getting inside her own head? Does she get sad when things don't go her way? Or, does she trust her training, work even harder, and battle back? We challenge our kids everyday not to be selfish. We challenge them to focus on the team, finding a way to contribute even when things are bad. It's such a life lesson, focusing out-word and upward when things are at their worst. Successful people reach out to their teammates and coaches, and find a way to overcome the tough times. They keep things in perspective, and work to overcome their obstacles.
It really has been such a great year so far. We're 30-15 right now, and the Big Ten race is wide open. Wisconsin is 12-6 in conference play, tied for fourth, but just one game out of first with Michigan sitting at 13-5.
Of course we hate that we lost, but we were so pleased with how we hit the ball at Purdue. We scored 14 runs in three games, with 28 hits; they scored 14 runs on 21 hits. It really came down to defense. They pressured us into seven errors this weekend, and had a few key hits when it counted. That's what good teams do though, they pressure and they force you to work very hard for every out. Despite a lot of fight and several great rally innings, we couldn't overcome some of the early and costly mistakes we made in the games we lost.
Here's the exciting part. We have the second best batting average and slugging percentage in conference play, hitting .323, with a .459 slugging percentage. Michigan leads both of those categories. They've also won the conference title the last three years. What an exciting time to face them at home this weekend.
It's funny when you look at the new Big Ten schedule. A lot of fans and teams are complaining about fairness, since each team won't face three other conference foes each season. We've never gotten caught up in that argument. We'll face the No. 1 and No. 2 teams these last two weekends, with six games left against Michigan and Nebraska.
I couldn't think of a better way to finish the season. If you really are a true competitor, you want the tougher road. You want to face the best teams, in the toughest situations, when it matters most.
The path of least resistance sounds appealing, but it's never gotten anyone far. When building a championship program, there are no shortcuts and there's no easy way out. You have to earn every ounce of respect you get, and you'll have to fight for every win and each accolade you collect along the way. Our staff knows that we're the underdogs entering these last few weekends, and that's right where we want to be. We have a scrappy group of hard-working, tenacious young ladies that have something left to prove. Sure the task at hand is big, and truly challenging, but isn't that why we all play and coach this game?
Leave it to Peter Konz --a "big media buff'' by his own admission -- to give everyone a good sound bite and quote during his introductory teleconference Friday with the Atlanta Falcons media.
On being drafted in the second round (No. 55 overall) by the Falcons, Konz confided, "Well, little do people know this, but I was never a Packers fan growing up.''
Konz grew up in Neenah, which is less than 40 miles from Green Bay.
"When the Falcons were in the Super Bowl,'' he said, "I was doing the Dirty Bird.''
There's a very good chance that Konz punctuated that statement with his vintage laugh.
The "Dirty Bird'' reference was to the 1998 Falcons and the arm-flapping celebration that defined their Super Bowl team. Running back Jamal Anderson was credited as the choreographer.
When Konz was asked if he was disappointed to fall into the second round of the draft, he said, "It doesn't matter where I fell to because I love the team that picked me.''
Many mock drafts had Konz going late in the first round. While he was generally listed as the top center available, some teams projected him as a guard. That included the Falcons.
"I can't emphasize enough how important it is Konz can play both guard and center,'' said Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff. "We have him listed as a guard-center.''
During his pro workout day in Madison, Konz underlined the value of versatility.
"Some teams had me snap -- some teams had me in a right-handed or a left-handed stance to get a feel for it (guard),'' Konz said. "In the NFL, they have seven spots (on the offensive line):
"Five for starters, one for an inside player, one for a tackle.''
As for where Konz believes that he can play, he said, "Anywhere I can help the team.''
Another correct answer.
"He can pull, he can trap, he's a very athletic center,'' said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. "Durability is a concern with the longer NFL season. Can he hold up physically down the road?''
Konz believes that he can. "I'm one of those players, even if I'm not 100 percent, I'm not going to baby it (the injury),'' he said. "I'm going to play and I'm going to work through it to help the team.''
Jon Gruden is definitely convinced that Konz can help the Falcons.
"He's a screen center,'' he said. "You love to have a center who can get out on screens and can pull to block some of these second-level linebackers. He has great playing range.
"Strength and durability is the issue, but the Falcons needed a young center. (Todd) McClure has been there a long time; he's 35-years old. He (Konz) will have a nice mentor.''
McClure, a free agent, just resigned with the Falcons.
Before the Seattle Seahawks selected Wisconsin's Russell Wilson in the third round of the National Football League draft Friday night, the debate -- on whether a quarterback under 6 feet tall can be successful at the pro level -- raged between Mel Kiper and Jon Gruden on the ESPN set.
This was not the first time that Kiper, the network's draft analyst since 1984, and Gruden, the former NFL head coach, had engaged each other on the topic. But what made it unique during Friday's telecast was the fact that Wilson had given ESPN access to his viewing party in Washington, D.C.
So while Kiper and Gruden were trading verbal punches -- ESPN's Chris Berman and Todd McShay also joined the fray --Wilson was shown on camera from time to time with wife Ashton, younger sister Anna, older brother Harry, mother Tammy and some family friends.
Before the Seahawks even went on the clock in the second round with the 75th selection overall, Kiper advanced his "If only he were just a little taller'' platform. Making one concession on Wilson's listed height -- "We'll push him to 5-11'' -- he still conceded, "I know Jon you get aggravated (with me).''
Kiper then qualified Wilson as a "test case'' for all quarterbacks under 6 feet tall -- or in that 5-11 range -- that will follow him into the NFL over the next 10 years. "If he can't make it,'' said Kiper, allowing that Wilson would get a chance to be a starter, "nobody can at that particular height.''
Berman jumped in and noted that Wilson took the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.
"He has a lot of 'it', though, doesn't he Jon?'' Berman posed to Gruden.
Gruden began morphing into Chucky, his alter-ego, and challenged Kiper.
"What do you want him to do?'' pleaded Gruden. "He's done it in two different offenses (at North Carolina State and Wisconsin). You probably downgraded Ray Lewis (6-1), didn't you? And Wes Welker (5-9). You probably downgraded (Darren) Sproles (5-6) and Maurice Jones-Drew (5-7).
"You discriminate against guys who aren't 6-feet tall -- guys like me.
"Russell Wilson is going to go (in the draft) and he's going to go real quick,'' Gruden predicted, "and he's going to be one of those guys who defies the odds because the difference between Drew Brees and Michael Vick and Russell Wilson, size-wise, is that much ...''
Holding up his right hand, there was an inch separation between his index finger and thumb.
"That's what you're talking about Mel,'' he said of the size differential between the 5-11 Wilson and Brees and Vick, both of whom are listed at 6-foot. "You're starting to aggravate me again.''
Countered Kiper, "Jon, 28 of the 32 starting quarterbacks (in the NFL) are 6-2 or taller.''
Nobody under 6 feet is starting in the league right now, he added.
Enter McShay who has taken on the co-draft guru role with Kiper for ESPN.
"I do think his accuracy dips a little bit when he's in the pocket compared to when he's rolling out,'' he said of Wilson. "But I never scouted a quarterback who's under 6 feet tall who can see the field and do the things that he can do.''
McShay admitted that he had Wilson projected for the sixth or seventh round when he began watching him. "I didn't give him a chance,'' he said. "(But) I kept watching him and watching him and I got to know him a little bit and I got to talk to people around him.
"This guy has everything you look for in the quarterback position. To me, he is the test case; he shows that somebody his size can get it done. I truly believe at some point in time we're going to be talking about Russell Wilson as a starter in the NFL.''
Kiper then felt obligated to defend himself.
"I'm not picking on Russell Wilson; I'm a fan of Russell Wilson,'' he emphasized. "On a scale of 1 to 10 -- character-wise -- he's a 15. Jon, I said it yesterday, if he was 6-2, he'd be a top-10 pick.''
Berman name-dropped Doug Flutie into the discussion.
McShay said, "It's going to take him being Drew Brees. He's going to have to do every single thing that Drew Brees does; all the little things (because) there are limitations.''
Throughout this heated exchange between analysts, the camera was on Wilson.
"I think he wants to jump through the TV and strangle you right now,'' McShay said to Kiper.
Wilson, who had a whimsical look on his face, picked up the TV remote.
"He just muted you, Mel,'' McShay bellowed.
Kiper then presented his summation to the jury.
"If he's good enough to make it, he will open up the door (to other QBs under 6 feet),'' Kiper said. "I think we'd all agree on one thing, he will have to beat the odds.''
Berman interjected that "the odds are beatable'' before Gruden responded with his closing argument. "This kid can play,'' he said. "He's going to prove it to you (pointing at Kiper). He's going to prove it to you (pointing at McShay). He's going to prove it to everybody. You just wait and see.''
ESPN finally got around to interviewing Wilson.
"It was a remarkable experience,'' he said of the phone call that he received from Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, who formerly worked for the Green Bay Packers.
"It was an unbelievable moment for me. I've been waiting for this my whole entire life. The Lord is so good -- to have my family here with me -- I know my dad is watching (Russell Wilson's father, Harrison, passed away in June of 2010).''
Former UW quarterback Darrell Bevell, who led the Badgers to a Big Ten title in 1993 and the Rose Bowl, is the offensive coordinator in Seattle. Based on his conversations, Wilson said that he knew that the Seahawks were serious about him.
"I knew it would be a great place for me to play,'' he said.
Although the Seahawks signed free agent Matt Flynn (the former Packer) and still have Tarvaris Jackson on their roster, Gruden was of the opinion that it was a good fit for Wilson because Seattle runs a West Coast offense similar to what Wilson operated during his four years at NC State.
"Coach Gruden, as you know, it's a great offense to be in,'' said Wilson, who appeared on ESPN's Gruden's QB Camp series. "But I want to know it all. Like we talked about being on a quest for knowledge; I'm definitely going to be on that quest and I can't wait to learn.
"I have to get there (Seattle) and learn the playbook as quick as possible and just dive into it and try to be a great teammate and a great lockeroom guy, and just work my butt off.''
Reflecting on his Badger experience, Wilson said, "I went to an unbelievable place in the University of Wisconsin and had a tremendous coach in Bret Bielema and had a great offensive coordinator in Paul Chryst ...
"I got there (Madison) July 1; pretty much everyone was away on Fourth of July weekend. I called a player's only meeting on July 7 and brought all the guys together. I told them about my life. I told them about my situation from going to NC State and why I wanted to go to Wisconsin.''
Wilson also told his new UW teammates "how I was there to compete and how I was there to win and I think the guys really fed off of that and really understood that I was there to do everything I could to be the best player that I could be ...''
Kiper eventually got around to addressing the question du jour to Wilson, "What do you say to doubters and skeptics who say anyone under 6 feet can't be a starter in the NFL?''
"The main thing,'' Wilson replied, "is this has been my perspective my whole life. My height doesn't define my skill set. I know I'm 5-11, but I can play tall in the pocket. I can make accurate throws. I can deliver the ball on time. I can be great on third down and be great in the red zone.
"One thing I can control is my work ethic. I can also control my knowledge of the game -- how I study and how I get into the film room and how I just try to learn as much as I possibly can to give me that much more of an advantage .. I'm so fired up to be a Seattle Seahawk. I can't wait to play.''
McShay spoke for many, maybe even Kiper, when he concluded, "He wins you over.''
Wisconsin right guard Kevin Zeitler made a point of shaking everybody's hand after his April 4 workout at the McClain Facility. More than a dozen NFL teams were represented, including the Cincinnati Bengals, who sent their veteran offensive line coach, Paul Alexander, to evaluate Zeitler.
The 52-year-old Alexander, who also carries the title of assistant head coach (to Marvin Lewis), has been with the Bengals for nearly two decades. Alexander is no stranger to the Big Ten brand of hard-nosed football. He served as a grad assistant under Bo Schembechler and Joe Paterno.
You can understand why he would like what he saw out of Zeitler, a throwback, who doesn't have any frills to his old-school game or his blue-collar personality. That was the statement that Zeitler was trying to make when he personally thanked each of the coaches who had traveled to Madison.
"I was always told that you want to make a good impression with your handshake,'' said Zeitler, explaining his vice-like grip that had strangers counting their fingers when they were eventually able to pull away from him. "But I'm not trying to break anybody's hand.''
At least that was not his intent. "I try to have a nice firm handshake -- hoping that I will impress people -- hoping that they will remember me,'' said Zeitler, adding that he wants to send out this message, "I'm here to play or something like that.''
When asked if he felt like there were any questions that he still had to answer for all of these NFL teams that were working him out, he paused to collect his thoughts and then said, "Can I be a first rounder, I guess? That would be the question. So I'm trying to prove that I'm a high pick.''
Zeitler admitted that he had no idea where he might land in the draft. He wasn't even sure who really liked him. "Sometimes it's the people who don't talk to you who draft you,'' he said. "It's going to be a nice surprise for me whenever I do get taken. I'll be happy no matter where it is.''
Zeitler is very happy today after being a first round draft pick (No. 27 overall) of the Cincinnati Bengals. Before the selection was announced, Jon Gruden took the ESPN audience inside Cincinnati's war room; suggesting the coaching staff was deciding between Zeitler and Georgia's Cordy Glenn.
The Bengals had to address a pressing need at offensive guard, Gruden said.
Someone, after all, has to block the likes of Baltimore's nose masher Haloti Ngata, he added.
That someone turned out to be Zeitler.
After ESPN host Chris Berman complimented Gruden for foreshadowing the selection, Gruden countered, "I don't know anything about the draft process. I do know that Kevin Zeitler is another Wisconsin Badger that can come off the ball and do some things athletically.
"He can play in a zone scheme. He's an athletic puller. He can find his target. He can redirect. At the end of the day, he can thump you. I think the Bengals knew that the Ravens were looking at Zeitler later in this round (at No. 29) to replace Ben Grubbs (a free agent).
"We already talked about the lack of guards on the Bengals football team,'' Gruden went on. "(Quarterback) Andy Dalton needs firm protection, so he can step up in the pocket. Zeitler is a good athlete. He's not an elite athlete. But he's an every down wrecking machine that works to finish.''
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper noted that the Chicago Bears drafted a "mauler'' in former UW offensive tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round of the 2011 draft. "That's what Kevin Zeitler is -- a true mauler,'' said Kiper. "He's powerful in the upper body and he will battle ...''
Scratch and claw were the words that Kiper used to describe Zeitler's competitiveness.
"He gets the most out of his talent,'' he continued. "He's not real athletic. But I'll tell you what, he played at a very high level and there were a lot of teams late in the first round that wanted him to be a part of their offensive line.''
Zeitler was one of two first round picks for the Bengals; the other was Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis said, "Both players have opportunities to start and work their way into the lineup. We drafted both of them to play.''
This is only the second time in franchise history that the Bengals have drafted an offensive guard in the first round. In 1984, they took North Carolina's Brian Blados with the 28th selection overall. Cincinnati does have some history with hard-nosed Badgers, though, most notably Tim Krumrie.
In addition to Krumrie, who spent many memorable seasons as a nose guard and defensive line coach in Cincinnati, the current Bengals staff features Jay Hayes, a former UW assistant under Barry Alvarez, whose son, Jesse, is a freshman defensive end with the Badgers.
Zeitler should feel right at home, too, in the company of a couple of his new Cincinnati teammates: defensive tackle Nick Hayden and fullback Chris Pressley. Both are former Badgers. In the end, Zeitler obviously made a lasting impression on his new position coach, Alexander.
"When we went to work him out in Wisconsin,'' Alexander recalled, "we called him and he came down and met us at the car ... he's a wonderful guy. He's as good as guy as there is, and he's a good player. I think when you get a chance to take a guy like that; he helps your whole team, not just his spot.
"He's a great program guy, team guy. He's the type of guy if you went fishing at the lake all day, some guys after an hour; you want to throw them in the water. But this guy is more along the line that you can just sit out there all day with him.
"He's going to work like that in terms of football.''
Two days after Wisconsin's season-ending loss to Syracuse in the "Sweet 16," an email from junior Zach Bohannon showed up in my inbox.
Bohannon, who redshirted in 2011-12 after transferring to Wisconsin from Air Force, was unable to travel with the team due to NCAA transfer rules. Instead he holed up in the UW men's basketball office at the Kohl Center and watched the season come to an end just like the rest of us.
However, unlike the rest of us, Zach's therapy to deal with the loss was to write about it. This is what he sent me.
The Longest 15 Seconds of My Life By Zach Bohannon
Just over 15 seconds remained on the clock...
Wisconsin just got the ball back, down 63-64, and it was in none other than Jordan Taylor's hands. As I sat watching the game from the basketball offices back at the Kohl Center, I could not help but think about what a picturesque scene this truly was. Wisconsin was in the Sweet 16, playing against a team that was ranked #1 in the nation for a good majority of the year and we had the final shot to win it. Coach Ryan, who strategically chose not to use his final timeout after we regained possession, more importantly trusted that Jordan would be able to make a play and send us into the next round. Who better would you want with the ball in that situation anyways?
Less than 13 seconds remained on the clock...
Jordan dribbled the ball up across the half court line and the top two defenders in Syracuse's ferocious 2-3 zone defense played a game of cat and mouse with him. Wisconsin had the play "Horns" called, which is two high ball screens at each side of the lane. This action was made famous by two-time NBA champion coach Chuck Daly, who coined the term in the 1980's. The play was exploited by Syracuse due to their great length and athleticism. However, Jordan tried to make a play anyways, something that Wisconsin fans saw countless times throughout his stellar career, but nothing was there. He retreat dribbled back to half court, a maneuver that has been drilled into his head religiously the past four seasons by Coach Ryan when you are under pressure. Time was running out and Jordan knew it, but still somehow kept his cool.
Less than 10 seconds remained on the clock...
Jordan took a look up at the clock and saw it was now or never to make something happen. He dialed in and dribbled right back at the two Syracuse guards, putting both of them on their heels. He drew a double team and whipped a right-handed pass around the left side of the top defender. The pass landed in Jordan's senior teammate hands of Rob Wilson. This was typical Jordan, knowing when to give up the ball when he had to. He became famous for this throughout his marvelous career as well, while along the way, shattering the NCAA's assist to turnover record. This was the action that made Jordan such a great player at Wisconsin, he knew when to take over a game but more importantly, he knew when it was time to make his teammates better. This was one of those.
Less than 7 seconds remained on the clock...
As the ball bounced to the floor and Rob caught a perfect pass from Jordan, he as well was immediately double teamed. Rob tried to pump fake to shake one of the defenders off of him, but it was to no avail. He was in a similar situation as Jordan was just in and knew nothing was there, so he kicked it back out to the point guard.
Less than 5 seconds remained on the clock...
Jordan received the bounce pass and took one right handed dribble in order to gather some momentum to get up a decent look from three. He found an opening and it was a miracle that he even got up a decent look. The infinitesimal gap he found to shoot was closed with not one, but two Syracuse defenders. However, Jordan still got the shot off cleanly with 3.3 seconds left, a smart play because he gave our team just enough time to have an opportunity for an offensive rebound and a put back to win. No one was thinking about that at the time though. As the shot was released, for that one second the ball was in the air, the world stopped spinning and everyone was focused on the spinning orange leather globe. Everyone was on their feet praying for two different outcomes. As I use to say when I was younger, the "good guys" (Badgers) were praying for only one more basket. The "bad guys" (Syracuse) were praying for one final miss. With exactly two seconds left, the shot fell inches short. But the season was not quite over yet.
Less than 2 seconds remained on the clock...
The one Badger who always found a way to get his hands in on the action throughout the year, found a way to do it again. Mike Bruesewitz "bruised" his way to another rebound and tapped it just enough to keep it alive, a play he had done countless times as well in the season. The ball was knocked to the floor with exactly one and a half seconds left and it was found in the hands of Josh Gasser, a player who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, had done it once again. Realizing that time was about to expire, he threw up a desperation one handed fade away shot as the horn sounded and it hit nothing. Nothing, but air.
No time remained on the clock...
The game was officially over. The scoreboard's red light was on, no more time was left, no fouls had been called, and nothing was reviewable. The final 15 seconds of Wisconsin's year had come to a halt, but more sadly, we witnessed the final game of two more great Badgers, Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson. These excellent ambassadors of not only the basketball program, but of the University of Wisconsin as a whole, just like that had both finished up their careers in this last play. Rob immediately bent down and put his hands on his knees, while Jordan put his jersey over his face. It was all over. The "good guys" did not win. Jordan and Rob did not get their one shining moment like they had dreamed of since they were little kids shooting hoops in their backyard and on the playground. Both of their four year college windows were over. In a blink of an eye, their careers were done.
The clock is ticking...
That is the magical thing about sports. The "good guys" do not always come out on top, even if they played their best and up to their potential. It is a mysterious phenomenon to grasp; that is, hard work does not always lead to success. One works his entire life to have that one golden opportunity, but it still sometimes is not enough. Through all of this however, we are forgetting to mention the hundreds of thousands of seconds that led to those final 15 seconds of their careers. Years down the road, this play will be meaningless. Sure we will remember that Wisconsin lost to Syracuse in the Sweet 16, but more importantly, we will remember the great lessons that these two fine seniors had shown throughout their careers.
Let's start with Rob. I do not think you can come up with a better word for his career than perseverance. Rob exhibited this trait throughout his career, and I am not only talking about on the court, but in the classroom as well. Rob is going to be the first college graduate in his family when he gets his degree this May. He overcame that great barrier, which should be applauded on its own. However, Rob did even more. On the court, Rob struggled throughout his career to get consistent minutes. His career was a roller coaster, with many highs and lows. His senior season in particular, he played sporadic minutes up until the second half of the Big Ten season, until finally he had taken advantage of his opportunity. The great thing that the average fan did not see was the hard work and commitment he showed through the tough times. Rob never pouted or got upset for a long period of time, he would be mad initially, but he moved on. He just prayed for one more opportunity to show what he really could do and what he believed in himself to be able to do. He persevered until finally he solidified his minutes and had a huge role on the team. To the average fan, Rob came out of nowhere and scored 30 points, along with tying a Wisconsin record of 7 three's, in a big win over Indiana in the conference tournament. However, the average fan did not see the thousands of shots and extra sessions in the gym through his difficult times. In regards to his final play, just the fact that Rob was in the game and in a position to make a play against #1 seeded Syracuse was a feat by itself, but showed how much he grew as a person throughout his career. He kept getting better and his hard work was rewarded. In the end, his perseverance paid off.
Now time to talk about Jordan. The one obvious word that defines his career and who he was is leader. As Coach Ryan often jokes, Jordan could possibly be "the future Governor." That's a pretty strong statement coming from your head coach, but I honestly think that is an understatement on just quite how great of a leader he truly is. His leadership skills put him second to none and could easily make him the President if he wanted to! Jordan will be one of the greatest leaders to come out of the University of Wisconsin, ever. He is that great with people, but that is not what makes him special. It is his ability to get people to not only listen to him, but to follow him as well. A lot of people, including most sports writers, said that the year that Jordan had this year was a "down year" compared to what he accomplished last year and he was no longer "a top five point guard in the country." That kind of statement is just mind boggling. He went from a Sweet 16 team, losing three starters, including one to the NBA, came back the following year as a senior, with a bunch of "no names", and accomplished the same, if not more. He turned these "no names" to household names in the mere matter of months. He led the team to not only a point away from an Elite Eight game, but he won a game in the conference tournament, something Wisconsin had not done the previous three years, and he was only one game out of the conference title race. Not bad for a senior point guard that's team was predicted to finish 7th in the Big Ten this year. He single handedly willed his team this year from start to finish, and took more burdens on himself than any single person deserves. But that's what leaders do, they take the blame when the going gets rough, and praises their teammates when their on a high. That's what Jordan did, time and time again throughout the year. It was an honor to be in his locker room and on the court, along with Rob, this season.
As I sat down to write this the morning after the game, coincidentally the basketball team was just landing in Madison and coming back from Boston. I could not help but think of the greater implications of the picturesque scene that they came back to. Jordan and Rob had started their next stage of their lives, the ending of one thing led to the beginning of another for them. However, someone, somewhere decided to still mourn. The day was overcast with a slight rain that happened throughout the day. We never did see the sun that day, the big orange thing, a metaphor for the mascot of Syracuse, was off hiding. They knew that the career of two great young men had just come to a close. They did not want to be anywhere near Madison, and someone greater than us all decided to mourn as well.
As a sports fan, eventually you will forget about great games, great plays or even great players. However, the one thing you will not forget will be the players who touched your life emotionally, either directly or indirectly. If each one of us could take these lessons and learn from them like we did from these two great seniors, think about how better off we would be. I hope that each one of you prepare for your "one shining moment" with every ounce of energy you have. Don't ever give up on that vision either, because the struggle will be worth it. Now what are you waiting for?! Your time is limited, and the clock is ticking...
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on April 23, 2012 5:07 PM
In this week's blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the journey towards being a champion.
Success, like happiness, is not a destination. It's a journey, a path you choose, a way of life. I am so proud of our Badger softball family. We are on the path of improvement right now, and enjoying the journey as we work to build a championship program.
After being at Wisconsin for one and a half years, a lot of people ask what's so special about Madison and what makes the Badger athletic department great. It truly is a family atmosphere and a winning culture. For our Badger softball team, culture has been the number one thing that we've been working to build, nurture and sustain.
For our staff, creating a championship culture is about empowerment. When teams and student-athletes struggle on the field, in the classroom and in their lives, there's an overwhelming feeling that life, circumstances and situations are out of our control. Somehow things aren't fair, and they'll never change. This negativity breeds negativity, ultimately demotivating, and creating a culture of apathy. No one works hard, there are lots of excuses, and the cycle of failure propels itself.
Our softball team is 11-4 in conference right now, in second place behind Michigan. That ties us for the most Big Ten wins in the history of the program, with three tough weekends left to play. Our 27-13 record makes us a top 50 team, out of nearly 300 D1 softball programs in the country. With six athletes hitting over .300, there's a lot to be excited about. Yet what we're most proud of with this group is the culture of pride and accountability they're working to create.
One of the most gratifying things that any of us can do in a lifetime is to create something new and special. Many people have played in successful programs, and lived prosperous lives with great relationships. Yet what's truly special, is when a group of young women come together to change history. It takes an incredible amount of work, passion, resilience, and belief to create something that hasn't always been there. When student-athletes can overcome obstacles and adversity to succeed, and become the athletes and people they always dreamed of, that is life-changing. True empowerment for our young women is experiencing the invaluable life-lesson that anything is possible. If your situation is bad; in sports, in school, or in life, you have the ability to work to create a new reality. They can change their attitudes, approach, and work-ethic to build a better life.
What makes this journey even more special is the caliber of people, and quality of character in our program. After sweeping Penn State yesterday in front of a record crowd of 1,000 fans, our softball staff and student-athletes volunteered their time to coach and mentor 70 young softball players in a Kids Clinic at our stadium. That type of service leadership in the community is heart-warming. Even after the clinic ended, our athletes stayed to sign autographs and eat pizza with the young softball players and their families.
We have a lot of season left as we enter the home stretch of 2012. Six of our nine remaining Big Ten games are on the road, and we'll play the top three teams these last three weekends as we travel to Purdue and Nebraska, and host nationally-ranked Michigan. We also have five huge non-conference games at home during the next few weeks. It's fun to be on the path and in the hunt. We have a lot of work to do as a team, to become a championship program. Yet, right now, our staff has a tremendous amount of pride as we look at how hard this group is working together to improve every day
By now, UW linebacker A.J. Fenton has grown accustomed to the double-takes whenever he runs into somebody who hasn't seen him since the end of the first semester.
After the Rose Bowl, he went home to Erie, Pa., and "looked at myself in the mirror.''
It's not what you think.
This was not one of these moments of intense self-reflection and analysis resulting from the Badgers losing to Oregon in Pasadena or an unproductive season personally because of injuries.
Fenton just happened to walk past a mirror one day when he stopped to look at himself.
That spawned this thought, 'Let's do it, let's get rid of it, I had it long enough.''
That was his spontaneous reaction to his shoulder-length hair and beard.
Even though he had been growing it out for three-plus years, he figured, "Why not?''
It was a tough decision, but it was also time for a new look.
"I love it, I think it's awesome,'' Fenton said.
That goes for the haircut and the reaction that he gets all the time to the haircut.
Truth is, Fenton is more focused than ever to get people reacting to his play on the field.
"I've got two years left,'' said Fenton, who will be a redshirt junior in the fall. "I just want to be out there helping the team win. It's a huge spring for me as far as moving forward.''
Fenton has not only lost a good chunk of his hair -- UW head coach Bret Bielema estimated about three pounds worth -- but he has lost some body fat. He was listed at 235 last season.
"During the off-season and winter, I dropped some weight, I'm about 220 now,'' he said. "I wanted to get lighter on my feet and I feel better and more comfortable in my frame.
"I'm running a lot better. It's all kind of clicking; it's kind of coming together.''
Bielema has noticed. Following several practices, he has mentioned Fenton by name. Beyond noting his running ability, he has talked about Fenton's progress and decision to stay at linebacker.
There has been a temptation, Bielema conceded, to move Fenton to fullback; especially since he rushed for over 4,000 career yards and 54 touchdowns as a prep running back and option quarterback.
Shortly after Fenton verbally committed to the Badgers in mid-September of 2008, he rushed for 216 yards and three touchdowns and passed for two scores in McDowell's 49-13 win over Norwin.
Even though he played mostly on offense, he was projected as a college linebacker. Fenton was one of three tendered 'backers in the 2009 recruiting class, joining Chris Borland and Connor O'Neill.
After redshirting as a true freshman, Fenton got some snaps as a rush end in a specialty defensive package after Borland was injured during the 2010 season. Mostly he was on special teams.
Going into the 2011 training camp, Fenton had his sights on competing with Kevin Claxton for a starting assignment at linebacker on the No. 1 defense with Borland and Mike Taylor.
But he wound up missing most of the preseason and the opener with a hamstring injury.
"He (Fenton) had really taken to his coaching pretty well and was on the verge,'' Bielema said. "He's probably our fastest linebacker, so to get him out there would be a huge asset.''
Bielema's reference was to the "coaching'' of former linebackers coach Dave Huxtable, now at Pitt. Huxtable had taken over for Dave Doeren. Andy Buh has now taken for Huxtable.
"Coach (Buh) has helped me a lot actually,'' Fenton said. "He's huge into techniques and huge into fundamentals -- and being where we're supposed to be. He's very meticulous.
"Having three different coaches in four years, you get a fresh start with each one. For a guy like me, it has been nice because I've gotten to make a first impression three different times.''
While he has enjoyed contributing on special teams, he doesn't want to be labeled a role player.
"Special teams are good but you definitely don't want to play only on special teams,'' Fenton said. "Everybody who plays on special teams strives to get on the offense or the defense.''
That is why this spring has loomed so large. "Huge,'' Fenton stressed. "This is probably the first time I've been completely healthy -- 100 percent -- for awhile. This is my chance.''
As it is, Fenton will get a second chance to perform in front of an audience Monday at the fourth annual Buckinghams, an event which shines the spotlight on academic excellence and achievement.
As part of the program, student-athletes are also recognized for their entertainment skills. A year ago, Fenton teamed up with Kendall Grimm, a member of the UW softball team.
He played the guitar, and she sang. They're back for more. Fenton and Grimm have collaborated on their version of Katy Perry's song, "Firework.''
"As you grow older, you start to listen to different kinds of music,'' Fenton said. "I've evolved as far as what I've been playing and what I've been listening to.
"I'm not getting into more the rock and roll aspect, more Foo Fighters, things like that. I have an electric guitar but I don't get to play it as much just because of the time aspect (with football).''
On the Buckinghams, he said, "This is a great opportunity to get recognized (academically) while letting people perform and show some talents that they don't usually get to show.''
That performance value will be magnified Saturday when he steps on the Camp Randall stage.
Every journey has a starting point -- and for thousands upon thousands of University of Wisconsin hockey fans, it all started with this simple greeting from the public address announcer at the Dane County Coliseum.
Good evening, hockey fans ...
In the beginning, Phil Mendel's salutation was as much a part of the Badger hockey tradition as the "Sieve" chant and Martha's cowbell -- Martha was the wife of UW's legendary coach Bob Johnson; the bell was a rallying point for the "banshees'' and a staple of the "Coliseum experience.''
Good evening, hockey fans ...
By his own admission, Mendel was not much of a hockey player, having never laced up the skates for the varsity team at Shorewood High School in Milwaukee, where he was born and raised. But the sport was a passion; as it was with his good friend, John Riley.
"I was practicing pharmacy in the Park Motor Inn,'' reminisced Mendel, a decorated grad from the UW School of Pharmacy, "and John would come in for coffee and we would shoot the breeze.''
One day, Riley came in with the idea of reviving the hockey program at Wisconsin. It would be a collaborative effort, Mendel recalled, with Riley, UW athletic director Ivy Williamson and Blue Line Club founder Fenton Kelsey all taking risks.
The timing was ripe for a hockey rebirth because the school was looking to support another sport after boxing was dropped in 1960 following the death of boxer Charlie Mohr.
Hockey had some history on the Madison campus, dating back to 1922 when the Badgers fielded a team in the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League (WIHL), which also included entries from the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota.
Because of the economic crunch during the Depression, however, Wisconsin was forced to drop hockey as an intercollegiate sport in 1933, even though the Badgers continued to compete for several more years in the WIHL before finally disbanding.
Riley was determined to resurrect the sport. Kelsey provided the key building block: the rink, the Madison Ice Arena, which would later be renamed Hartmeyer Ice Arena and serve as the program's foundation before moving into the Coliseum in 1967.
Looking for someone to handle the PA announcing and the hiring of off-ice officials (goal judges, etc.), Riley turned to Mendel, who agreed to become the first "Voice'' of the Badgers in 1963.
While the nation was still mourning the death of President John Kennedy, UW played its first varsity hockey game since 1935 on Nov. 29, 1963 against St. Mary's College. Despite a loss, it was still a great day for hockey (predating Johnson's hiring in 1966). Riley and Art Thomsen were co-coaches.
Good evening, hockey fans ...
"I don't think I did it that way in the first game; I may have, but I honestly don't remember when I started saying it,'' said Mendel, whose signature ice-breaker gained immense popularity.
"I simply couldn't think of anything more succinct. It's like saying, 'He shoots, he scores.' I don't have a trademark on it. But I thought it was something the fans responded to.
"What more polite salutation can you give?''
As it evolved, the UW band, led by Michael Leckrone, returned the favor.
"When the Zamboni (piloted by the Chief, Bob Marks) left the ice before the opening faceoff,'' Mendel said, "the band used to say, 'Good evening, Phil.'''
On road games, Mendel was a color analyst and sidekick to Bob Miller on the WIBA radio broadcasts of Badgers hockey. (Later, he worked side-by-side with Paul Braun).
Yes, that Bob Miller, by the way, the Hall of Fame play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Kings since 1973 and the owner of his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Miller and Mendel remained close friends and spoke three and four times a week on the phone.
Last week, the original voice of the Badgers -- Phil Mendel -- was silenced. He was 89.
Mendel was definitely an original, too.
His love of the spoken language was exceeded only by his love of Wisconsin hockey.
No history of this sport is complete nor may it begin without, "Good evening, hockey fans ...''
Jake Byrne was among the more unsung components of the Wisconsin offense; a blocking tight end who rarely if ever drew attention to himself unless he missed a block that blew up a running play. Outside of the team meeting room, who would know? Such was his anonymity.
Byrne had one reception last season and six overall during his 51-game UW career. Yet he was a key contributor to the success that the Badgers have had moving the chains. Nobody realizes that more than Sam Arneson, who's competing for Byrne's job on the line of scrimmage.
"I learned a lot from watching him (Byrne),'' said Arneson, a freshman from Merrill, Wis. "I think people underestimated how good of a blocker he was. He got the job done; time-in and time out.
"That's who we're trying to replace -- being that consistent blocker on the edge. That's what you need to get the offense to go and the tight end is such a pivotal blocker.
"You don't realize that until you have a guy who can't make that block.''
Arneson has gotten a chance to prove himself with the No. 1 offense during spring drills due in part to an injury to tight end Brian Wozniak. The Badgers are looking for a complement to H-back Jacob Pedersen who's coming off an injury and began practicing for the first time this week.
While there's little experience behind Pedersen and Wozniak, both of whom are juniors, there's plenty of promise in the mix that includes Arneson and Brock DeCicco, a junior transfer from Pitt, and Austin Maly and Austin Traylor, redshirt freshmen from Waunakee, Wis., and Columbus, Ohio, respectively.
Even though Arneson is completing only his second semester on campus, he conceded shyly, "You feel a little older. You feel like the guys around you don't view you as that real young guy anymore. You feel like you can say something to a teammate and he'll take it with some respect.''
Arneson has begun to mature physically. Last fall, he reported to training camp at about 245 pounds. He got up to 260 this winter. "I focused on eating a little healthier to maybe shed a little fat and build some muscle,'' he said, crediting UW assistant strength coach Brian Bott for adding "good weight.''
Good how? Well, good from the respect where he said, "I think I'm faster than I was.''
Good also from another very important respect to his position.
"We have to be able to move people,'' said Arneson, speaking for the tight ends who are considered an extension of the offensive line. "It's definitely helping my blocking. I'm moving people better than I was in the fall, not only with my strength but with my (additional) weight.''
In high school, he acknowledged, "Run blocking was easy; it's something you could do.''
But he learned, "You get here as a freshman and they're all pretty much stronger than you.''
Arneson understood what had to happen next.
"You get in the weight room,'' he said, "and you put in the work over the winter.''
Arneson has been auditioning this spring under the watchful eye of a new tight ends coach, Eddie Faulkner, who has replaced Joe Rudolph. Comparing one to the other, he said, "Great coaches, but different coaches with different personalities.''
Asked specifically about Faulkner -- a former Badger running back -- Arneson, whose dad is a former UW tight end, said, "He (Faulkner) is someone you respect right away. He knows his stuff.''
The offense has been tweaked to a degree by coordinator Matt Canada. Along with the coaching turnover, Arneson pointed out, the personnel has also turned over. "We have some different play calls,'' he said, "and different players executing them. It's a lot of the same stuff with different terminology.''
There was the sense that some steps have been taken "and we'll continue to progress as we get more comfortable'' with the offense, he said; particularly given his own youth and inexperience. Arneson is striving "for consistency on every play and being the guy they can really count on.''
If he can get to that point, he would like to consider "maybe taking another step as a leader.''
Byrne took that route in his own quiet way and proved it's not a bad path to follow.
"Two seconds,'' Barry Davis said, "cost me the gold medal.''
Davis was guilty of one mistake - a two-second lapse - that put him in a hole and it turned out to be the difference in his 1984 Olympic freestyle wrestling match against Japan's Hideaki Tomiyama.
At the end of the first period, Tomiyama took advantage of Davis on the mat and scored two points to take a 3-1 lead. "Now I had to chase him,'' Davis said. "You have to take more risks.''
Tomiyama, by contrast, could pick his spots, which he did in holding off Davis and winning, 8-3. Tomiyama left Los Angeles with the gold in the 125.5 pounds weight class. Davis took home the silver.
"I actually lost more my Olympic year than I probably did my whole college career,'' said Davis who had a record of 162-9-1 (.945) during his illustrious career at the University of Iowa. That includes three NCAA championships, the last of which Davis collected upon his return to the Hawkeyes following his "redshirt year'' with the U.S. Olympic team.
"I was a much better wrestler my senior year,'' Davis said.
There was a different qualifying standard for the Olympic redshirt when Davis was a collegian.
"You had to be at the national tournament or you couldn't compete; that was a good criteria,'' said Davis, who just completed his 18th season as Wisconsin's head coach.
"I wouldn't say it was tougher back then, but it should be tough to qualify. You just don't want to let anybody in the tournament. You can't water down the (Olympic) games.''
Davis is okay with the current redshirt criteria that include student-athletes who earn a top three finish at the NCAAs and a top two finish at the university national championships; or a top eight finish at the Senior World trials.
Past NCAA champions and Senior World and Olympic team members also qualify for the redshirt.
Davis said the Olympic redshirt can be an invaluable stepping stone in preparing for the competition at the trials from the standpoint of gaining experience in a particular discipline.
"Whenever you travel overseas and wrestle in another country,'' he said, "you become better and more worldly because you've got to make changes because you're not in the U.S. environment.
"It makes you more mature all the way around.''
The Badgers will be well-represented at this weekend's Olympic Trials in Iowa City. Joining the Olympic redshirts - Andrew Howe, Tyler Graff and Travis Rutt - will be Jesse Thielke, a future UW wrestler, who spent the year at the national training center.
Two of Davis' assistants - Ryan Morningstar and Trevor Brandvold - will also be competing. Davis will be rooting them all on knowing how difficult it gets when you reach this point in the process.
"At this level, it's the guy who can make the fewest mistakes,'' Davis said. "It happens so much quicker - the speed and the explosion. The technical skills are so tight; I'm talking so tight.
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on April 19, 2012 4:20 PM
In today's blog, Wisconsin head coach Yvette Healy writes about the Badgers' big weekend at Illinois and the importance of beating Penn State this weekend.
What a great weekend for the Badger softball family! We went down to Illinois and won the series, beating the Illini, 8-0, on Saturday night, on the Big Ten Network. That was our 9th win in a row, which set the new Wisconsin softball record for most wins in a row. Our win on Sunday raised our record to 24-13, helping us climb into a tie for third in the Big Ten, and ranking us 53rd in the RPI, out of nearly 300 D1 teams!
Sunday's games were crazy, as we battled 20 mph winds all day. Sophomore Mary Massei brought everyone to their feet as she belted an amazing three home runs in the same game! Our team had a total of six home runs in that game with sophomore Stephanie Peace, junior Shannel Blackshear and sophomore Michelle Mueller all going yard.
We have a huge home weekend ahead as we prepare for three games against Penn State. The Nittany Lions made the NCAA tournament last year, and have big ranked wins over No. 19 Auburn and No. 22 LSU earlier this year. Their catcher, Kasie Hatfield, was just named Big Ten Player of the Week helping Penn State to win five of its last six conference games. In our all-time records, PSU has won 25-of-32 games against the Badgers, including a two-game sweep last season. Our team is hungry to prove how far we've come as a program, and how much we've improved.
Our staff is really enjoying the passion and pride our team is bringing to the field each day. It's fun to see our athletes work hard, grow, improve, and achieve small goals throughout the season. This weekend will be a huge test for our young squad to see just how close we are to becoming an NCAA tournament team. We're excited to see who steps up and takes charge as we play in front of our friends and families this weekend in Madison!
It is probably becoming an annual advisory, but as the Badger football team continues its spring practices leading up to the annual Wisconsin Football Spring Game on April 28, once again I offer the following free advice -- do not get too wound up about what you see, hear or read.
Certainly there are some interesting story lines. Believe it or not, some of them do not include the quarterbacks, but it is dangerous for any Badgers fan to draw conclusions from what you might see on a given day.
In the nearly quarter of a century that I have been around this program, I can't remember one spring game where I walked out of the stadium thinking, "Man, this team looks great!" It is a practice. If the defense has a good day, fans worry about the offense. If the offense lights up the scoreboard, the defense must be bad, right?
That is not to say the game has been devoid of memorable moments, such as the snow storm during the 1994 spring game. When snowball fights started breaking out on the field, you just knew the day was a little unusual. The worst moment was in the 2002 scrimmage, when star receiver Lee Evans suffered a season-ending knee injury. The coaches wanted to throw him one deep ball, after which Evans' day would be done. It was, only not in the way anyone intended.
Let us hope nothing close to that happens on the 28th, or ever again in a spring game.
It should be an enjoyable day in Madison, with the 31st-annual Crazylegs Classic starting at 10 a.m., and the spring game getting started at 4 p.m. Consider it a Homecoming in late April.
As for some things to watch during the scrimmage, there appears to be a good battle going on at right guard, where Robert Burge, Casey Dehn and Kyle Costigan are getting turns. Costigan is catching the eyes of many as the sophomore makes the switch back to offense. Offensive line coach Mike Markuson has been doing a fair amount of mixing and matching during drills. With Rob Havenstein recovering from shoulder surgery, Dehn also is getting some run with the first group at right tackle.
A very young group of wide receivers continues to try to make an impression, including Chase Hammond, Marquis Mason, Isaiah Williams, A. J. Jordan and Kenzel Doe. If you watch the spring game, just sit back and see who among them can make a play or two.
You might be fairly familiar with a couple of the running backs, specifically Mr. Ball and Mr. White. But you should also enjoy seeing Melvin Gordon, who has turned in some very good work so far this spring.
Defensively, an encouraging sign has been the gradual return of cornerback Devin Smith. The 2011 season started in promising fashion for the senior, as he played well in the opener against UNLV and was off to an excellent start the next week against Oregon State. Then he broke his foot, ending his season. His return this fall should give the secondary a good lift. In the meantime, Marcus Cromartie gained priceless experience last season, and Peniel Jean is working the other side. A pair of redshirt freshmen, Terrance Floyd and Darius Hillary, show promise as well.
That just scratches the surface of things to watch. Beat reporters Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal and Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel do an excellent job of examining each position group, and no doubt both will continue to do that in the next week and a half.
I encourage you to gather all the information you can, but remember, it's springtime. Yes, the practices matter -- perhaps especially this year with a new-look coaching staff gathering firsthand knowledge of the players, and vice-versa.
Enjoy the day. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and everyone can have a great time. Just don't let yourself get too excited or concerned about what you see in one scrimmage.
There was little time to rest following Saturday's scrimmage, as the Badgers returned to practice Monday to open a week that will see them drill four times in six days.
Despite the quick turnaround, the team was greeted with a brief session inside the McClain Center -- due to windy conditions outside -- and were on the field for just over an hour.
The practice, conducted in half-pack (helmets and shoulder pads only) focused primarily on special teams work, but the Badgers also spent time making corrections from Saturday's scrimmage as the offensive units went head-to-head with the defensive units.
The team returns to full pads for its ninth practice of the spring on Tuesday before closing out the week with a practices on Thursday and Saturday
Head coach Bret Bielema met with the media after Monday's practice, and his complete comments are below:
Just like the weather in Wisconsin, spring came too early for UW men's hockey in 2012. It actually seemed like the Badgers were themselves reaching spring, a time for renewal, birth and growth. Their goaltending began to solidify, the penalty kill improved and the team learned how to win on the road. But like a hard freeze after unexpectedly warm March days, reality brought an end to the season, and with it came much self-reflection. That continued last week as the coaching staff conducted end-of-season player meetings.
After the abrupt end to the season, the team took a couple of weeks to regroup and returned to the weight room with an eye towards next October and the start of another Badger hockey season. The meetings are an important step in the process.
While those meetings mark the end of each year, the end of each season can feel very different. When the ultimate goal is reached and an NCAA championship won, celebration rules the day. Some seasons end with a realization that things like graduation and early departures will give great opportunities, but also likely less-than-ideal results in the coming season. And some end like the 2011-12 one, when a team is highly motivated with the knowledge that the program is on the upswing. Improved late-season play, the expected return of most of the roster and the anticipated addition of talented newcomers points to a better future ahead.
I have a vivid memory from the end of the 2004-05 season which has come to mind on the final bus or plane ride every season since. After the Badgers were thumped in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Michigan, I remember then-senior goaltender Bernd Bruckler talking with others on the team. They were all talking about how badly they wanted to get back on the ice. Even Bruckler, whose Badger career was at that point already finished. He sounded like he wanted to get back out on the ice immediately and get better, like there were still games to play. That attitude carried over into the magical 2006 NCAA championship season and surely played a major role in the result.
After 2008-09, when the Badgers missed the NCAA tournament by 0.002 in the RPI, the team had shirts made up with that number on the back. It was a reminder of the pain of missing a chance at a national championship and the team made it all the way to the 2010 NCAA championship game the next season.
The end of this season bore some similarities to the ends of the 2005 and 2009 campaigns. There was that feeling of things coming together. There felt like there was something you could almost touch with the way the team was playing and with everyone's positive attitude. Just a little more time and who knows what could have happened.
That bodes well for next hockey season. I don't know if that means it will end with a trip to Pittsburgh and the Frozen Four, but things are looking up and the future looks bright in Badger land. It will be a long offseason until Saturday, Oct. 6, when the Badgers can get back on the ice, show off the results of all their work and take out that feeling on someone else. Hope springs eternal.
One of the most meaningful endorsements that a tailback can get is from a linebacker who's entrusted with bringing him down on a regular basis. There's no better measuring stick than the collisions that routinely occur in these situations between the ball-carrier and the tackler.
So listen to what linebacker Chris Borland has to say about tailback Melvin Gordon:
"He's always been an athletic freak since the first day he stepped on campus,'' Borland said of the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Gordon, a redshirt freshman out of Kenosha Bradford High School. "He's a big guy with raw speed. He's got a burst and there are very few guys who can catch him in the secondary.''
Last fall, Gordon saw action in three of the first four games, including eight rushes for 32 yards and his first career touchdown Sept. 24 against South Dakota at Camp Randall Stadium. Overall, he had 28 carries for 98 yards before being sidelined for the rest of the season with a groin injury.
Gordon was able to qualify for a medical redshirt -- thereby preserving four years of eligibility -- because he appeared in less than one-third (4) of the UW's regular season games. During Rose Bowl practices, Gordon returned and got reps simulating Oregon's LaMichael James for the Badgers' No. 1 defense.
This spring, Gordon has reclaimed his own identity all the way to his jersey number: No. 25, which he wore at Bradford when he rushed for over 2,000 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior. In the 2011 training camp, there was the expectation that Gordon would help the Badgers on special teams.
Gordon switched to No. 3 to avoid a potential duplicate number situation with Adam Hampton, a senior defensive back, who was one of the UW leaders on special teams. Hampton was also No. 25.
"Coach B (Bret Bielema) said that he would give me my number back, so No. 3 was temporary,'' Gordon said.
Yes, and no. Last Saturday, Gordon was once again No. 3 -- on the depth chart at tailback -- behind Heisman finalist Montee Ball and James White, a 1,000-yard rusher as a true freshman in 2010. Competing with Gordon for that No. 3 slot is Jeff Lewis, who sat out the scrimmage because of an injury.
White and Gordon each had some explosive downfield runs.
"I'm just out here every day trying to grind and catch up from last year,'' said Gordon, who conceded that he has been able to close some of that ground that he lost to the others "with a new playbook'' under offensive coordinator Matt Canada. "It kind of evened it out for me,'' he said.
Asked for specifics on how the mix of four new assistants on offense may have impacted the play-calling, Gordon said, "It's a little simpler. The terminology has changed a little bit but when it comes down do it, we're still doing the same things, we're still playing Wisconsin football.''
In retrospect, Gordon feels like he got the most out of his disjointed freshman season. "Even though I wasn't participating, I was mentally preparing myself by knowing the plays,'' he said. "I definitely felt like I got mentally stronger. Being a young player, it comes with maturity.''
Borland saw the same things happening with Gordon.
"Early on, he epitomized the young guy,'' Borland recalled. "He came in and didn't quite know how to work. But he has picked up great tips from Montee and James and I definitely think he's going to play and contribute this year.''
Ball, in particular, has been a guiding light for the more inexperienced players on the roster. "Montee is a natural leader just by the way he goes about his business,'' said Borland. "Over the last season and into the spring, Montee has kind of a developed a voice, too, for the offense.''
Gordon paid Ball the ultimate compliment. "I try to compete against Montee,'' he said, singling out Ball's leadership and "how he carries himself in the workouts'' and on the practice field. "I'm just trying to learn how he works so when he leaves I'll know what to do and how to get there.''
Another Bradford product, freshman Vonte Jackson, has joined the "family'' of UW tailbacks. "That's how it is -- it's a brotherhood,'' Gordon said of the position group. "We're real close, we're together all the time outside of here (the stadium). If one needs help the other is there to provide that help.''
Based on the early results, Gordon is a strong candidate to help the Badgers wherever and whenever needed. Besides honing his receiving skills this spring -- what he calls "working on my craft'' -- there is Gordon' recognition that "Montee and James are the top guys'' in the backfield.
So does he feel like that he has something to prove?
"Yes sir,'' Gordon said. "It's important to get my name out there.''
The Badgers reached the halfway point of spring drills Saturday, using their seventh practice session to conduct a full-contact scrimmage inside Camp Randall Stadium.
"Did it feel good to get out there and play some football?" head coach Bret Bielema asked his team after the 24-period practice held under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s. Bielema met with the media after practice, and video of his complete remarks can be found above.
The tailback tandem of junior James White and redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon stood out, with each breaking long runs, including one that saw White slip through a hole opened on the right side of the offensive line by RT Casey Dehn and RG Robert Burge. The other offensive highlight was a leaping touchdown catch for TE Sam Arneson as the Badgers operated their offense in the red zone late in the scrimmage.
On the defensive side of the ball, LB Derek Watt found himself in on several plays, while DB Dezmen Southward picked off a pass that he returned down the sideline.
With two weeks remaining until the 2012 Wisconsin Football Spring Game, the Badgers resume practice Monday with a session in half-pack before returning to full pads for practices Tuesday, Thursday and next Saturday.
In an era of college basketball "one and done" players and others who leave school early to chase their dreams of playing professionally, I bring you the Badgers' Dan Fahey (@DanFahey10), who earlier this week offered this little nugget via Twitter:
"Lot of people asking me if I'm leaving for the NBA. Just want to let everyone know I'll return for my senior year & seek my 4th career point."
In the brief history of Twitter, I nominate this as the best tweet in the history of tweets.
Then our very own Patrick Herb (@BadgerMBB) from UW Athletic Communications just had to deliver this cheap shot:
"That's good news...people definitely want to see how the career scoring race shakes out between you and @jd_wise22 (7 points)."
I think that should be a Flagrant 1, if not an ejection for Herb.
* * *
On Tuesday, April 24, basketball fans will have one final chance to celebrate another successful season as the Badgers have their Sweet 16 Reception at the Kohl Center. Tickets are just $25, with a cocktail buffet and a cash bar. This tends to be a fairly informal event, as Bo Ryan addresses the crowd and Patrick takes a break from tweeting to help offer a season in review. If you are a hoops fan, it is a fun evening.
Consider it one more chance to applaud the team, especially seniors Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson for a job well done. For more details, just follow the link.
In the week following the national title game, it has been interesting hearing people talk about Kentucky's "one and done" players, and whether other teams can win in a similar fashion. Clearly in college basketball, there are different ways to be successful, be it style of play or how a program recruits.
I still like to believe there is no one set way to win. Perhaps Kentucky can keep winning with a new cast of one-year players, but that does not mean a school such as Wisconsin should try going that route. These are two different schools and two different programs, and what works for one may very well not work for the other.
Every school is different, and every school has its own mission statement. Make no mistake, the University of Wisconsin wants to win, but those within the university community are very comfortable with the type of athlete wearing a Badger uniform. Everyone wants to get the best players, but finding those who are the right fit academically and socially also remain very important.
This is in no way slamming Kentucky's method. Even if it is just for one year, as long as the players are doing the work in the classroom, what the Wildcats are doing is perfectly within the rules. If that does not happen, the program will pay a price, not unlike some other high-profile programs who fail to meet minimum academic progress requirements.
What I am saying is the "Wisconsin Way" is working just fine, too. The last player to leave early for the NBA draft was Devin Harris, yet the Badgers remain tournament regulars. The instant stars might be few and far between, but watching the development of the players is something loyal fans have embraced.
This year Kentucky had the most talent, and that group played together extremely well. Give them all the credit. But if you are a Badgers fan, do not be discouraged into thinking such a season is no more than a dream for your favorite team. This program continues to knock on the door, and as long as that happens, there is always a chance.
Now, let the scoring battle continue between Mr. Fahey and Mr. Wise.
After an 11-day hiatus for spring break, it was back to practice for the Wisconsin football team Tuesday. UW's fifth session of spring practice had the Badgers back in full pads, through a cold snap forced practice into the McClain Center.
The Badgers drilled for 26 periods, with a number of younger players -- including RB Melvin Gordon and WR Chase Hammond -- standing out.
What drew the most attention, however, was the Badgers' use of a two-tailback setup, with senior Montee Ball and junior James White lining up in the backfield at the same time.
"We're going to get our best players on the field," first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. "We've got guys who can catch it, who can run it. And again, let's try to maximize our best."
It's no wonder the UW coaching staff wants to maximize each player's impact. In the past two seasons, Ball and White have combined for 4,684 rushing yards and 6,000 all-purpose yards.
Following practice, head coach Bret Bielema met with the media. His full remarks can be found below:
In addition to holding down their spot atop the region, the Badgers held steady at No. 24 in the USTFCCCA national rankings.
Wisconsin is one of four Big Ten teams in the current Top 25, trailing No. 9 Indiana, No. 15 Nebraska and No. 17 Iowa.
After earning a No. 17 preseason ranking, the Badgers opened the season at No. 24 last week. UW's performance in its second competition of the outdoor season was enough to hold down the spot for a second-consecutive week.
The Badgers are back in action this week, making their second trip to the state of Mississippi in four weeks. UW competes in the Mississippi Open -- hosted by No. 12 Ole Miss in Oxford -- Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.
The 2011-12 NHL season featured 22 former Badgers, including some of the league's elite. Ten of those skaters continue on with their teams into the playoffs this week, with the possibility of at least one more. Wisconsin featured 11 former skaters in the 2011 NHL Playoffs.
The New York Rangers, who finished just two points shy of the President's Trophy this season enter the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers feature two former Badgers in Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. Stepan was fourth on the team this season with 17 goals and 51 total points. McDonagh meanwhile contributed 32 points in the regular season, second most among all Rangers defenders. New York takes on Ottawa in the first round of the playoffs.
Ottawa, which claimed the final playoff spot in the East, features former Badger Kyle Turris. Turris, who was an early-season contract hold-out, signed with Phoenix in late November before being dealt to Ottawa three weeks later. In his 49 games with the Senators this season, Turris has collected 12 goals and 29 points.
St. Louis also finished just two points short of the President's Trophy and enters the playoffs as the second seed in the Western Conference. The Blues have been led by two stellar goaltenders this season, including former Badger Brian Elliott. Elliott posted the top marks in the NHL in both save percentage (.940) as well as goals allowed average (1.56) for the regular season. Elliot's 1.56 goals allowed average is the lowest for an NHL goaltender since the 1939-40 season when Rangers goalie Dave Kerr notched a 1.54 mark. A 2006 national champion at Wisconsin, Elliott also posted nine shutouts, second most among all league goaltenders this season. He will share the Jennings Trophy with fellow Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak as the team with the lowest goals-against average during the regular season. St. Louis faces San Jose in the first round.
San Jose features two former Badgers. Joe Pavelski ranked 20th in the league this season with 31 goals while ranking fourth on the Sharks roster with 61 points. Teammate Brad Winchester has scored six times in 67 games for the Sharks this season. Also, former UW strength coach Mike Potenza serves as the Sharks' strength coach.
The Eastern Conference third-seeded Florida Panthers feature one former Badger skater in Jack Skille. The Madison native has 10 points in 46 games this season. The Panthers will take on New Jersey in the opening round.
Nashville, the fourth seed in the Western Conference features two more former Badgers. Ryan Suter and Craig Smith, one of the top rookies in the NHL, both participated in the NHL All-Star Game festivities this season. Suter finished fifth on the team in scoring with 46 points, while Smith put together 36 points, eighth-best for the Preds. Smith's 36 points also ranked eighth-best among all league rookies. The Predators match up with Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.
Possibly skating for the Red Wings in the opening round could be rookie defenseman Brendan Smith. Smith was called up to Detroit in late February and has played 14 games since, scoring once and tallying seven more assists.
The Los Angeles Kings, who claimed the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference, feature one former Badger in Davis Drewiske. The defenseman scored twice in nine games this season, but has sat out most of the year as a healthy scratch.
The run to the Stanley Cup begins Wednesday.
Skating for the Badgers in the NHL this season: 22 former Badgers skated in the NHL this year, including six who made their NHL debuts. Bolded skaters are on playoff teams.
Rene Bourque (Calgary and Montreal) Adam Burish (Dallas) Jake Dowell (Dallas) Davis Drewiske (Los Angeles) Brian Elliott (St. Louis) Jake Gardiner (Toronto) - NHL DEBUT Blake Geoffrion (Nashville and Montreal) Tom Gilbert (Edmonton and Minnesota) Cody Goloubef (Columbus) - NHL DEBUT Dany Heatley (Minnesota) Andrew Joudrey (Columbus) - NHL DEBUT Jamie McBain (Carolina) Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers) Joe Pavelski (San Jose) Joe Piskula (Calgary) Jack Skille (Florida) Brendan Smith (Detroit) - NHL DEBUT Craig Smith (Nashville) - NHL DEBUT Derek Stepan (New York Rangers) Ryan Suter (Nashville) Kyle Turris (Phoenix and Ottawa) Brad Winchester (San Jose)
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on April 9, 2012 3:59 PM
In today's blog, head
coach Yvette Healy writes about the great week the Badgers had.
What a great week for Badger softball. After going 6-0 over
spring break, including a weekend sweep of Minnesota , Wisconsin is 20-12
overall, and 6-3 in the Big Ten. We're in fourth place in conference, with
Michigan, Nebraska and Purdue ahead of us. Sophomore pitcher Cassandra Darrah
earned Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week honors, while sophomore shortstop
Stephanie Peace was named Big Ten Player of the Week.
We are so proud of the tenacity and fight our team is
showing right now. We've won eight of our last 10 games, and we have a big week
ahead. We'll face Western Illinois for a doubleheader at home on Tuesday. Western
Illinois is in first place in the Summit League, posting a big win this season
against Kentucky, who knocked off Michigan last year in the NCAA tournament to
earn a Sweet 16, Super-Regional bid. We'll travel to Champaign, Ill., this
weekend for a huge three-game series against Illinois. Saturday's doubleheader
will be broadcast live on the Big Ten network, starting at 4 p.m. The series
finale is Sunday, April 15, at 1 p.m.
Would a proven offensive guard like Kevin Zeitler, a first-team All-Big Ten selection at that position for Wisconsin, have any reservations about playing center, if that's what was asked of him by a pro team? "I wouldn't hesitate,'' he said. "I'd run on the field to play.''
He'd run through a wall first, if that's what it took to play in the NFL.
"Without a doubt,'' he said.
Fact is, Zeitler has fielded questions about his willingness to play center. "It seems like everyone asks, it only makes sense,'' he said. "In the NFL, the backup interior lineman, no matter who it is, has to play all the positions. You have to be ready for anything.''
Zeitler has spent a lot of time getting ready for this moment, the NFL draft.
"You can't be just some guy who wants to get drafted because you did well in college,'' he elaborated. "You have to show them that you're here for their team now and nothing you've done before matters. It's what you do from now on.''
Prior to the start of his freshman year, there was some speculation that Zeitler could wind up at center. So he worked out diligently at that spot on his own. "That's the story that Coach B (Bret Bielema) always tells about me snapping three hours a day,'' he said, smirking.
True or false? "It was clearly true, I was right there snapping against the wall,'' he said, pointing to a corner of the McClain Center, "while Coach was filming a car commercial over there (in an opposite corner). That's what I did all summer. But I got the right guard spot.''
And that's where he started 36 games for the Badgers.
"He stuck with me,'' Zeitler said of Bielema.
Here's a twist of irony: Zeitler worked out Wednesday in front of over a dozen NFL teams, including the Baltimore Ravens and their offensive line coach, Andy Moeller, who had recruited Zeitler while he was an assistant at the University of Michigan.
"He offered me (a scholarship),'' Zeitler said of Moeller, a former linebacker for the Wolverines and the son of ex-Michigan head coach Gary Moeller. "But he called back and said they couldn't take me because they had committed to too many interior linemen.
"I committed here two hours later. It kind of worked out,'' he said, smirking again.
Are there any questions that Zeitler still needs to answer in advance of the draft? "Right now, I guess, can I be a first rounder?'' he posed. "The key is that I want to show them that I'm athletic and try to prove to them that I'm worth a high pick.''
Regarding mock drafts, Zeitler has attempted to keep everything in perspective.
"It's the people who don't ever talk to you who draft you,'' he rationalized of the process. "It's going to be a nice surprise whenever I do get taken. I'll be happy no matter where it is.''
Would a proven offensive center like Peter Konz, a Pro Football Weekly All-American at that position for the Badgers, have any reservations about playing guard, if that's what was asked of him by pro teams?
Well, first of all, nobody has formally asked yet.
"But what they've had me do,'' Konz said, "is some teams have had me snap, some teams have had me in a right-handed or a left-handed stance to get a feel for it (guard). In the NFL, they have seven spots; five for starters, one for an inside player, one for a tackle.''
In other words, Konz's words, it doesn't hurt to be flexible. If you can play center and guard or guard and center it will enhance your marketability. Wednesday's workout was really all about Konz, though Zeitler and UW offensive tackle Josh Oglesby took part in the drills, as well.
After managing only 18 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press at the NFL scouting combine, Konz needed to put up a bigger number -- which he did, 23 reps. Konz gave all the credit for his improvement to UW strength coach Brian Bott, who works with the O-line.
"Getting above 20 reps is important for everybody to make sure there are no red flags, as they say,'' Konz said. "Here at Wisconsin, we don't rep in the 2os at 225 pounds. We're not looking for 225, we're looking for 375, one to eight reps. It's a lot different.
"This will be the only time in my life I do this (reps at 225).
"But you do what your bosses tell you to do.''
Konz felt good about the agility tests and bag drills. More than anything, he wanted to do a little cutting and running (sans 40-yard sprints) so that interested teams could see that he's at least 90 percent recovered from his late-season ankle dislocation.
All he really wanted to do, he said, was show that he can "play football.''
Konz is a potential first-round pick based on what he has shown on tape alone.
"You try to get a feel,'' he said of his draft status and where he might wind up. "My family always asks, and I want to know, too. At the end of the day, it depends on who gets drafted and what trades are made and what a team needs (at a position).
"You may be the best player on the board -- according to some people -- but if the team doesn't need you, they're not going to pick you.''
The last few months, Konz has been adjusting to a different lifestyle.
"One of the strangest things is when you kind of lose that structure of school,'' he said. "For the most part, you don't push yourself as hard because you don't feel the pressure to do so. Kevin and Brian Bott worked me out every day. They were the fire (under him).
"Like Coach Bielema always says, 'When you feel like you're focused in school, you feel more of a drive to feel focused on the field, too.' I'm finishing up an 18-page paper on renewable energy and whether it's feasible. I'm going to get it done before the draft.''
Oglesby had his own motivation for working out Wednesday. "In my position,'' he said, "the more eyes, the better. I'm just trying to put my best foot forward for everyone. A lot of people say they have clues (on the draft) and things like that. I have no idea.''
The reality is that Oglesby has had so many knee surgeries over his high school and college football career that "I bring along baggage.'' That didn't prevent the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys from conducting individual workouts with Oglesby.
"A few teams in Indy said it was up to their medical staff on whether or not I'm slotted in the draft,'' he said of his time at the combine. "Hopefully someone can put aside the knee problems and just grade the player. It all depends on who's willing to take a chance.
"I just want the opportunity to show that I'm still a decent football player.''
Sounded like a modest request.
"You always say that you want to be out in the real world,'' Oglesby said. "And now the real world is here and it's kind of fun and scary at the same time.'' Especially knowing, he added, "The end of the month (the draft) is going to determine the rest of my life.''
By Matt Lepay on April 4, 2012 10:22 AM
For the record, Bo Ryan's Badgers went 3-0 against the two teams that beat Kentucky this season.
Wisconsin beat Indiana twice, and then knocked off Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament. Maybe that is small consolation, and I understand that comparing scores can be misleading, but I thought I would throw it out there.
Now you know.
In the world of college football and basketball, it is interesting how the sports have such vastly different seasons.
In football, the regular season is precious, and the critics continue to hammer away for a playoff. In basketball, for millions of the more casual sports fans, it is all about those three weeks in March and early April.
I believe it is safe to say that a good chunk of the sporting public pays close attention to college hoops only during the NCAA tournament.
Locally, that might not be the case because attendance at the Kohl Center remains strong, but there is a reason CBS pays billions of dollars in rights fees, and it probably isn't for the Sunday games it shows in January.
While the powers that be continue to discuss a possible football playoff, maybe college basketball could look at ways to boost the regular season.
One idea seems obvious -- reward the regular season conference champion with an automatic bid in the NCAA field.
Clearly, this was not a banner year for the Pac-12, but for Washington, a league crown was rendered useless after a conference tournament loss to Oregon State.
For the Huskies, it was off to the NIT. To their credit, they advanced to the semifinals before losing to Minnesota. I say "to their credit" because it might have been very easy for Washington's players to blow off that tournament.
I mean, what does a coach say to a team after it wins the regular season title, only to be told that it is still not good enough to get in the NCAA tournament?
I understand the reason for conference tournaments. Revenue, for one, and a chance for lower-profile conferences to get some national exposure.
Everyone knows the risk involved, and there have been multiple instances where those so-called mid-major teams have lost an NCAA bid because of five bad minutes in a league tourney game.
This season it just happened to burn a program in a power conference.
Yes, it was a down year for that league, but there were 12 teams with a lower RPI than Washington that made the dance.
While the RPI is only part of the formula the tournament selection committee uses, doesn't that fact seem a bit odd?
Perhaps it is unrealistic to reward automatic bids for both regular season and conference tournament champions, but it seems to me that a team proving to be the best of its league during a period of more than two months should carry a little extra weight.
I get the excitement of conference tournaments, but I believe the game would be even better if the regular season is rewarded as it should be -- all across the board.
March Madness is great, and I love every minute of it. I also happen to enjoy those other months of the college basketball season.
Fortunately here in Wisconsin, I have lots of company. A big-time regular season game generates plenty of buzz in Badger Nation, and that is good.
I just tend to believe that too many sports fans across the nation are missing out on the fun prior to March.
In today's blog
entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the Badgers' tough weekend against
It's always hard to lose any weekend series. If you're
like me, you replayed the games over a thousand times in your head, after
watching the actual game and highlights on film. You probably thought of 100
things we could have done better to squeak out just one more win, especially in
the extra inning game when we had the bases loaded with one out and just need
one more run to end the game. Our job as your staff is to keep things in
perspective, to continue to improve every game, and to teach every player how
to reach and exceed her potential.
So far in Big Ten play we've faced two very good teams
that have legacy programs and we're 3-3. We scored 22 runs this weekend and
Northwestern scored 21 against us. Last weekend we scored eight runs and Iowa
scored eight. Iowa has been to the World Series four times, and Northwestern
has been there five times, add that to 30+ NCAA tournament appearances those
schools have combined, and you know you're facing great programs with histories
of winning success. We are building that history and legacy here at Wisconsin,
and I am so proud to work with these coaches and this group of student-athletes
on our current team to get there together.
The great part about playing programs like Northwestern
with multiple All-American hitters is that we all get to see and experience
what the best looks like. I know our lead-off hitters and power hitters aspire
to be the best in country, and what better way to become the best, than to play
As for our pitchers, our coaching staff understands that
we're young and we are dedicated to improvement. We knew that Northwestern
averages five + runs a game, even playing one of the toughest schedules. We
knew we would be in for grinding out some high scoring games, but it always
feels different when you're actually experiencing it.
We will continue to put a tremendous amount of time
against researching our opponents to prepare a great game plan. We will keep communicating
the keys to beating other programs. Our workouts will be built around executing
our pitches and executing the game plan. We can be successful this year if we
keep getting better every outing.
Obviously we wanted to do a better job of keeping the
ball in the park this weekend, giving up three home runs that accounted for 10
of Northwestern' s 22 runs. The interesting thing about that stat is that we
could actually handle giving up the three runs if those were all solo shots.
It's when we walk and hit batters at the bottom of the lineup that kills us.
Then we have to face the best All-American hitters with multiple runners on.
That adds more pressure, and if the bases are loaded, we can't pitch around
those big bats. I think Northwestern' s number eight hitter was its MVP this
weekend. In our two losses, she was on base 7-of-8 times, with four hits, two
walks, one hit-by-pitch, a stolen base and five runs scored.
Let's get excited about spring break. It's coming at the
perfect time. Let's pull together and get a little winning momentum. We are all
looking forward to a break from Big Ten play, and classes, and the opportunity
to play great on the road.