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For sports fans, at times it can be as easy to criticize a network or even a specific announcer as it is to rip on your own team. Most of us have done it, right? It is just part of being a sports nut.
This time, rather than ranting about what is wrong with the broadcasting biz, please allow me to offer praise to those in charge at CBS Sports. Last Sunday during the NCAA basketball tournament, the network faced a very difficult situation. Just when you think television, or broadcasting in general, is all about sensationalism, CBS opted to be -- shall I say it? -- responsible.
By now, we all know the story. Duke and Louisville in the Midwest Regional final. An intense, high stakes game featuring two tradition-rich programs. Suddenly, the game itself took a backseat to a terrible moment. Louisville's Kevin Ware, running out to the right wing in an attempt to block a shot, landed the wrong way. He also landed near his team's bench.
Ware suffered a compound fracture that was so ghastly, several of his teammates collapsed in shock and horror. Coach Rick Pitino admitted he nearly vomited when he looked at Ware's leg.
Within a minute or so of the injury, CBS showed two replays. The rest of the coverage focused on the reaction of the players and coaches. We could see the concern from the Duke players as well as coach Mike Krzyzewski. We could see the tears from Pitino, and the look of fear and genuine sadness from Ware's teammates.
The injury to Ware reminded me of a Badgers-Manhattan NIT game at the Field House in 1996, when Mosezell Peterson suffered an awful knee injury. Because they had an up-close view of what happened, some fans seated near the floor became ill. From our broadcast position in the upper level, I knew it was bad, but we did not have a monitor to see a replay. The following day I took at look, not from the TV copy, but rather the team's video. I didn't need to see it again.
I suppose there are some who wanted CBS to show a few more replays. They recall the 1985 Monday Night Football game when Joe Theismann's leg injury was so bad that it frightened New York Giants hall of fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Or closer to home, when former Badgers great Tim Krumrie broke his leg in Super Bowl XXIII.
And let's face it, there are some viewers who just HAVE to see it. And there are some TV producers and other executives who are more than willing to please, all in the name of higher ratings.
Not this time, and for that CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus deserves credit.
We don't live in the 1980s or '90s anymore, so McManus allowed modern technology and common sense to rule the day.
The Huffington Post quotes McManus as saying "If people want to go watch the footage for whatever reason, they have the right to do so. I just didn't think we had any obligation to be the facilitator of putting that footage back on the screen. We documented it, we described it and we showed it, and I think that was enough."
It was enough.
To be clear, other networks have shown restraint, but it was CBS taking the lead. Anyone who wants to see the replay can do so at his or her convenience. On Sunday afternoon, some wise decision makers in a production room chose to spare us from taking one more look at a stomach-turning moment. We knew it was bad, and there was no need to show it again and again.
At least in this instance, responsibility prevailed.
Photo: Kansas City StarKANSAS CITY
-- Seated at courtside, Marv Albert and Steve Kerr greeted Bo Ryan near the end of Wisconsin's practice here Thursday at the Sprint Center. Upon shaking Albert's hand, Ryan cracked, "I've got a son who does you better than you.''
Matt Ryan has been known to impersonate the voices of Albert and Bill Walton, among other sports celebrities. The younger Ryan, who once worked on his dad's staff in Madison, is now living in California and giving private basketball lessons to youngsters.
Albert and Kerr will be on the call of Wisconsin's opening game in the NCAA tournament Friday against Ole Miss for truTV. To this end, Kerr already has a book on the Badgers from having watched them last weekend against Indiana and Ohio State in Chicago while broadcasting for CBS.
"They're just unflappable,'' said Kerr, 47, the owner of five NBA championships, three with the Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. "They're not always going to make shots but they're going to take care of the ball and they're going to run their stuff.''
Kerr has an appreciation for good defense because he was so good on offense; he's the NBA's all-time percentage leader (.454) in 3-point shooting. At that, opponents are shooting just 29 percent from beyond the 3-point arc against the Badgers, a school record.
That figure was even lower in the Big Ten tournament, where Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State converted on only 9-of-46 attempts (19.6). Wisconsin is giving up 3.9 triples per game, the fewest among all BCS conference teams and the sixth-fewest overall in Division I.
"They're going to fight you on every possession,'' Kerr said. "They're a nightmare to play against because they don't give you anything easy. You have to earn every basket.''
Jared Berggren, the Big Ten leader in blocks per game (2.1) and UW's career leader (141), has played his way onto Kerr's radar. "I'm so impressed with what they do on defense particularly on the interior,'' he said. "Berggren is an amazing defender.''
Kern has a pretty discerning eye, too, considering he's the former general manager of the Phoenix Suns. "You don't really see it until you watch him closely,'' he said. "He's obviously a good shot blocker, but I'm talking about his positioning defensively.''
On ball swings, Kerr pointed to Berggren's ability to "find a way to get around his man and beat him to the spot'' along with "cutting off driving angles for guards.'' How is Berggren viewed by NBA scouts? Does he have a future at the next level?
"People love his defense,'' Kerr said. "But the key is that he would have to be a floor-spacing, 3-point shooter, which he has shown he can be. But he has been very inconsistent.''
As a junior, Berggren shot 37 percent from 3-point distance. But his numbers have dropped off dramatically this season to 26 percent. In the Big Ten, he was 8-of-48 (.167).
"You always have to find a place offensively on the floor in the NBA otherwise it becomes a four-on-five game,'' Kerr reasoned. "But he's big, he's a smart player. He can do some things. But if he could perfect that outside shot it changes everything.''
Bo knows defense, Kerr knows guards. That's why he had nothing but praise for the transition that Traevon Jackson has made to point guard, especially in Ryan's system.
Beyond the loss of Joss Gasser, he said, "What a tough role to fill Jordan Taylor's shoes.''
On top of that, Kerr noted that Jackson had to learn how to play the point "for a demanding coach who demands ball security.'' Based on his Chicago effort, he added, "I thought his play last weekend was one of the reasons why they had such a good run.''
When quizzed on the steady growth of UW freshman Sam Dekker, there was a twinkle in Kerr's eyes when he said, "He's got a little Doug McDermott to his game.''
McDermott, a 6-foot-7 junior wing, is the All-American for Creighton.
"He (Dekker) has that kind of potential, size, shooting touch and toughness,'' said Kerr. "I think he has just scratched the surface. He's going to be a big-time player.''
Dekker has been explosive in the open floor when the situation has presented itself. "If there's an opening,'' said Kerr, "they will run down and shoot a 3.''
But where the Badgers can frustrate an opponent is in the half-court. "No matter how hard you guard,'' Kerr said, "they're going to work even harder to get a good shot.''
How will Friday's game here unfold? "Even though they're playing well,'' he said of the Rebels, "I like the matchup for Wisconsin because I think they can control the pace and tempo and frustrate Ole Miss by making them guard for the whole clock.''
Still, he cautioned, "In the end, you have to make shots -- all the usual things.''
This has been an unusual season in college basketball because of parity, which led Kerr to conclude, "I think Wisconsin could make the Final Four." (He paused.) "I think they could also lose in their first game. You could say a lot of teams are in that situation.''
KANSAS CITY, Mo.
-- Another bid to the NCAA Tournament means another round of #Fieldof68
. Let us guide you on the Badgers journey leading up to their opening round match-up with the Ole Miss Rebels. 68 teams in the tournament, that means 68 inside-access tweets about Wisconsin from @BadgerMBB
all the way up to Friday morning's tip between the Badgers and Rebels.
-- Neither Zak Showalter nor Jordan Smith had ever been "pulled'' before for not "pulling it,'' or shooting it enough, on Wisconsin's scout team.
But that was the consequence for making the extra pass or taking a higher quality shot while simulating Mississippi's top gun Marshall Henderson here Wednesday.
Showalter and Smith took turns as Henderson.
"I think they're both a little gun-shy,'' observed UW associate head coach Greg Gard, who's in charge of the scouting report on Ole Miss. "But they just have to let it fly.''
Throughout the practice in the Rockhurst University gym, Gard exhorted Showalter and Smith to "move, move, move'' and to "take it'' to "pull it'' from all angles and depth.
"I've never played like that before,'' said Showalter, a freshman from Germantown, Wis. "I got pulled out for passing it even though we scored. That's something different.''
In using screens and freeing himself up for shot opportunities, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Henderson has shown a non-stop motor -- making him difficult to defend or copy.
"I've just been running everywhere,'' Showalter said. "It's been fun, but it's been just chaotic basically. He runs in millions of circles all game so that's what I've been trying to do."
Gard rotated Showalter and Smith in the Henderson role "so they can stay fresh and get a little more speed off their cuts'' because Ole Miss is always looking to get him open.
"I love shooting, everybody loves shooting, it's a dream job for a scout guy,'' said Smith, a sophomore from Orono, Minn. "But you have to run off a lot of screens.''
You also need a special mindset. "He (Henderson) thinks he can make everything he shoots,'' Smith added. "That's how you have to play if you're going to be him.''
In 34 games, Henderson has taken 507 shots. Or 139 more than anybody else on his team. Or 150 more than Ryan Evans, who leads Wisconsin in field goal attempts.
"I took 25 shots once in a game,'' Smith said. "But I think that's about what he (Henderson) takes on average. That's crazy. But it's fun to emulate him.''
Actually, he's averaging about 15 per game with a high of 23. It just seems like he's taking every shot that goes up for Ole Miss because he's such a focal point of the offense.
Here's more perspective: Henderson has taken 367 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. Or 273 more than any of his teammates. Or 173 more than Wisconsin's Ben Brust.
Henderson has made 131 triples. Brust and Sam Dekker have combined for 125.
"I like his confidence in his game,'' Showalter said of Henderson. "He can miss six shots in a row and he'll just keep shooting it. He shoots to get hot and shoots to stay hot.
"He's going to get his shots up no matter what. There's nothing that's going to keep him from doing that. So I've been trying to do that all week in practice.''
Henderson is more than just a shooter; there's much more to his success.
"The biggest thing is how hard he plays,'' Gard said. "I know a lot has been made of his theatrics but he understands how to play and he makes so many plays for his team.
"He'll come off a screen and draw help and have guys running at him and he'll be finding the open guy. His court awareness is really good, and you don't want to foul him.''
Henderson is an 88-percent shooter from the foul line. He has attempted 183 free throws. Or 38 more than Evans, who has gotten to the stripe the most for the Badgers.
"He (Henderson) really sets guys up and baits people into fouling him,'' Gard said. "He'll get a defender out of position and if you rise out of your stance, he'll dribble into you.
"He's good at acting, too. He'll fall down and kick his foot out -- things that we've seen other guys do. You just try to warn your defenders that you can't get too close.''
But you still have to close out on the shooter, Henderson. The Badgers will use a rotation of defenders, ranging from Brust to Mike Bruesewitz to Evans.
"That's what we've done with good shooters all year,'' said Gard.
Bruesewitz, in particular, has usually drawn the assignment of guarding the opposing team's No. 1 threat, whether it has been Illinois' Brandon Paul or Indiana's Victor Oladipo.
At 6-6, 223-pounds, Bruesewitz brings more size to close-outs than perhaps Henderson is accustomed to seeing. But Bruesewitz is not as quick as Brust; not even close.
Henderson has drawn comparisons to former Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel.
"Only he's a little faster than Neitzel,'' Gard said. "They spread the floor for him and he changes directions on screens so well. He's flying off things.
"And he can make a lot of things happen beyond just shooting the ball. If you make one little mistake now it opens up an alley for him to attack (the rim) too.''
Henderson has come under attack for his showboating and flamboyance. He angered Florida fans with a "Gator Chomp'' and he has a "Land Shark'' hand wiggle after making 3s.
"It looks like he's having fun,'' said Gard, who then cut to the chase. "He's a very good player. He plays hard and he makes a lot of shots.''
Because of his volume of shots, Gard didn't have any trouble recruiting volunteers to simulate Henderson on the scout team, either. "Everybody wants to be him,'' he said.
It is safe to say the Wisconsin Badgers opened some eyes at last weekend's Big Ten tournament in Chicago. When you beat two teams ranked in the top 10 and take a third to the final minute, it only makes sense that people will notice. Even the skeptics had to admit this team might not be so bad. After all, who else went 4-0 against Indiana and Michigan?
While the Badgers might have surprised many, one gets the impression they did not exactly shock themselves. Quite the contrary. The players walked out of the United Center in less than a great mood. Sure, there is excitement about the program's 15th-straight trip to the NCAA tournament, but the Badgers departed Chicago knowing how close they were to winning a trophy.
"We know we can play with anyone," said freshman Sam Dekker. "It is not a surprise to us when we have big wins like that. We expected to come down here and win the tournament. That is plainly stated. I feel like most of the guys probably said the same thing."
"We let one slip away. That is a bitter taste, but we have to correct that and use that energy Friday down in Kansas City, and hopefully take care of business."
The business at hand is facing an Ole Miss team that is fresh off an SEC tournament championship. The Rebels will come to town with a five-game winning streak, which includes a come-from-behind victory against Florida in the conference title game.
Sunday's victory secured the first NCAA trip for Ole Miss since 2002. That little nugget brings up the question about how much, if at all, does experience matter in the Big Dance?
I figure it does not hurt to have it, but experience alone certainly offers no guarantees of success.
"The seniors have been through it and all that," said coach Bo Ryan. Then, ever the coach, he offered the following advice: "But what the seniors need to be doing is talking to themselves about playing better.
"We need to have the young and the old if we expect to get something done in the tournament. Especially with the way they set it up in our bracket. There are a lot of challenges out there."
With Ole Miss, the challenges begin with trying to contain junior guard Marshall Henderson, who will shoot from anywhere and say almost anything. Flamboyant? To say the least. More importantly, Henderson can put a team on his back.
His teammates aren't too bad either. Reggie Buckner has rejected 91 shots this season, while 6-foot-7 senior Murphy Holloway averages 9.6 rebounds. He has 38 double-doubles in his career.
Similar to Wisconsin, Ole Miss has dealt with injuries. The latest for the Rebels occurred to starting point guard Jarvis Summers, who suffered a concussion in the Rebels' opening SEC tourney game against Missouri. Summers missed the last two games, but Ole Miss moved on, defeating Vanderbilt and the Gators in route to earning the automatic bid to the NCAAs.
All week we will read and hear about how these programs are polar opposites, but both the Badgers and the Rebels appear to be pretty good at proving people wrong, and I believe it is a safe guess to say both teams enjoy doing just that.
It never hurts to have a little fun, and Badgers guard Ben Brust is hoping his group can have an extended experience in college basketball's showcase event.
"It's a special thing," he said. "Everyone dreams of it growing up. You want to play in the NCAA tournament. So, enjoy every moment, but at the same time stay focused on the task at hand because we are capable of making a run."
That run begins Friday morning, and hopefully the Badgers will be running for the next few weeks.
Last fall, Bo Ryan and his fellow Big Ten basketball coaches told anyone willing to listen how good the league would be this season. Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard said there are no "feel-good" games. In other words, no team on the schedule would serve as a breather.
Ryan and Gard were right. So was everyone else.
The Big Ten tournament can be an excellent showcase for the league. In his perfect world, Ryan would simply play more regular season games, but even he believes this could be a wild weekend at the United Center. If you have a ticket to this sold-out show, consider yourself lucky.
As good as the tournament might be, it will be hard pressed to top the regular season. Give Indiana credit for winning the championship. In a sports sense, it truly was a game of survival.
Look at it this way. In the closing seconds of last Sunday's Michigan-Indiana game, the Wolverines' Jordan Morgan was trying to tip in a missed shot from teammate Trey Burke. The ball hung on the right side of the rim, then fell off. That was the difference between Michigan winning a piece of the title and being the fifth seed this week.
From the Badgers' perspective, that miss, preceded by Traevon Jackson's buzzer-beater at Penn State, allowed Wisconsin to earn a first-round bye for the 13th-straight year.
To some, if not many, this seemed to be shaping up as a season when the Badgers finally finished in the lower half of the Big Ten. It is the nation's best conference, and the Badgers were going to be without Josh Gasser. Mike Bruesewitz sliced his leg, then a few weeks later suffered a concussion. Young players had to grow up in a hurry.
Maybe it hasn't always been pretty, but they are growing up. Put it all together, and once again the Badgers exceeded expectations in the conference race.
For those efforts, Bo Ryan is the 2013 Big Ten Coach of the Year. Deservedly so.
As was the case the previous two times he was so honored, Ryan made it about the team. His name will be on the plaque, but it is the school he represents that makes him smile.
"It is nice because it always has the 'University of Wisconsin' coach. That is what matters the most. They get our brand in there."
It can be easy to wonder what might have been. What if Wisconsin had held on at Minnesota? Or what if they could have played better against Purdue on Senior Day.
Ryan knows that works both ways, and points out that more of those either/or games went the Badgers' way. Games such as the overtime thrillers with Michigan and Iowa, not to mention last Sunday's game with Penn State.
Through the injuries and the other challenges of the regular season, the Badgers finished in the top four -- again. That is a remarkable 12 straight years of a fourth-place or better showing. In the Big Ten, only Purdue has a longer streak, and that happened between 1920 and 1932.
"Take a look at the players from 2001 to now," Ryan said on his weekly radio show Monday. "You just say, boy, they were very consistent in their competitive values, in their style, in how they tried to get things done."
"You know, our teams haven't changed that much. Some years maybe you have a little more of this, a little less of that. But to be as consistent as they have been, I am extremely proud of the way they have played.
"(I am proud of) the assistant coaches, our philosophy -- we have made some tweaks, but we still try to do it on fundamentals, working hard, and good things will happen."
Despite the obstacles, the Badgers have made plenty of good things happen.
Now they get a chance to make a good thing even better.
Bo Ryan was named Big Ten Coach of the Year Monday. That evening he appeared on the Big Ten Network to accept the prestigious honor.
Wow. Give my wife a blog for one week, and she crushes me for my lack of pop culture knowledge. OK, until the last month or so, I knew little, if anything, about Ke$ha. I had no clue about the Harlem Shake. Guilty.
But completely unhip? I object.
For comfort, I turned to Ryan Evans. After practice last Sunday, the Badgers had a brief session in the weight room. Word has it the D.J. is strength and conditioning coach Scott Hettenbach. (FYI, hey kids, D.J. means "disc jockey." The person who plays the songs. Back in the day, we called those songs "records").
Whatever the case, the music blaring included some selections that Evans loves. Current tunes you think? Nope. Try "Love Rollercoaster" by the Ohio Players. Or Heatwave's "Groove Line."
Some 1970s funk. What your friendly blogger was hearing in high school. And Ryan Evans likes it.
"It definitely favors me," says Evans. That's the stuff I was raised on. I definitely like that when it comes on."
Thank you Mr. Evans. Maybe I am not unhip after all. Maybe, just maybe, I am "sneaky hip." Seemingly out of touch, yet still fairly cool.
Let me dream, OK?
* * * *
Onto the much more important matters of the day, such as the final week of home games for the Wisconsin basketball team. Time sure flies when you are having fun, and Badger fans have had a blast watching this team, from the double overtime thriller with Iowa, to the dominating performance against Ohio State. In the middle was the dramatic OT tilt with Michigan.
Even Bo Ryan jokes that he wonders how many people will claim to have been in attendance for "The Shot," starring Ben Brust. We guess about 150,000 -- at least.
Senior Day always has plenty of emotion. The good news is there will be more games to play. Two more regular-season games, on the road at Michigan State as well as Penn State. Then there is the Big Ten tournament, followed by postseason play.
Still, these seniors know the clock is ticking.
"It feels like yesterday we were preparing for Southeastern Louisiana," said Dan Fahey. "All the older guys have said that things fly by, especially your last year. Brett (Valentyn) always told me that. It really has sunk in. It really has flown by."
It is much the same for J. D. Wise, who admits he will be "Tryin' to fight back the tears."
Each year following the final home game, there is a video presentation featuring each of the seniors.
With a smile, Wise offered up a bittersweet moment. "I was looking at the senior questions for the video. It's like sitting in my room listening to Closing Time," referring to the song released by Semisonic in 1998. (Yes, I have heard of it).
The season is far from done, but on Sunday afternoon five players will conclude a heck of a chapter in their lives. With it comes the challenge of balancing any tears with the task at hand.
"The idea is we want them to play as long as they can," says coach Bo Ryan. "That is what they keep in the forefront, that there is still a lot more (games) to play. As emotional as Senior Day can get, and it is emotional, you know our guys still understand that we've gotta play."
Hopefully, they will be playing quite a bit in the next few weeks, even if it won't be at the Kohl Center.
BY LINDA LEPAY
Mrs. Voice of the Badgers
I am here this week to share with you a big problem. In fact this issue is so pervasive that it affects almost all aspects of my life. It's sad; it's pathetic, and it's totally preventable. It may not be a problem for you (yet), but could you help a person out during these trying times?
My husband is utterly unhip.
This became apparent to me during the past couple weeks as pop culture and Badger sports merged together to give us high entertainment. In fact people everywhere are dancing, having fun and being silly.
Here's what I'm talking about:
1. Ke$ha inspires the men's basketball team. You've probably seen the YouTube video of the Badgers in the locker room jumping around to "Die Young" after they beat Michigan. Even Ke$ha got a kick out of it, tweeting that this was the 'hottest/cutest thing' she's ever seen.
2. The Grateful Red embraces the Harlem Shake. Heck, everyone is doing it, including Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
In addition to the dancing frenzy, the Grammy Awards were recently given out. This is music's big night where millionaire musicians mingle with billionaires such as Jay-Z and Beyonce.
These three events have meant that there's a lot of tutoring is going on at the Lepay house. For a guy who has made a career watching young people play sports, Matt is not tuned in to "what the kids are listening to." During the Grammys I felt like a Tanzanian native tour guide, pointing out singers and bands and explaining their significance.
Here's who Matt recognized:
• Justin Timberlake
Here's who he didn't know:
• Everyone else
At one point I started talking about the The Black Keys and The White Stripes, which left Matt baffled. I even pulled up a YouTube video of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" so he could listen to the bass line that is, gasp, being played in stadiums and arenas all over the country. (Note from Linda's husband: I AM aware of The White Stripes. Wow. Tough crowd!)
Matt is perhaps the oldest 50-year-old I know. I don't mean he's an old soul; I mean he still talks about the 1980s like it was last week. It dawned on me that his exposure to popular music ended the day he was fired downsized from a Top 40 station in Columbus, Ohio. The date was April of 1986. This explains why he knew who Prince was. (And didn't Prince look smashing at the Grammys with his fancy walking stick and sunglasses?) It also explains why he waxes nostalgic when Wang Chung is mentioned.
Look, if Tubby Smith can bust a move to Ke$ha, I'm pretty certain that Matt can learn about the ways of 21st century music. He just has to be a willing student. All work and no play makes play-by-play guys dull. (Another note from Linda's husband: Hey, Gophers, get your own song, OK?)
Here's where I need your help. If you see Matt in person, my advice is to smile at him warmly and talk about popular music the way you would to a 3-month old beagle. Talk slowly and smile a lot. I think the he'll learn best that way.
In the meantime, keep dancing and rocking, Badger Nation. I'll do my best to keep Matt in this decade. (Final note from Linda's husband: Next, she'll tell me it is no longer cool to listen to Earth, Wind & Fire. And by the way, do NOT undersell the greatness of Wang Chung. Kids today would love it.)
With five regular season games left, the No. 19 Badgers still have a lot of business to take care of before March Madness. But with the calendar turning to late February its fair to start projecting how the 2013 NCAA Tournament field will shake out.
Wisconsin currently boasts a resume that includes an 18-8 record, and a third-place 9-4 mark during Big Ten play. Here is where the Badgers rank on other lists:
- No. 9 Strength of Schedule
- No. 9 in the Ken Pomeroy Ratings
- No. 12 in the Sagarin Ratings
- No. 26 in the RPI
Here is a look at where some of the national pundits are placing Wisconsin in the 2013 NCAA Tournament:
- ESPN Bracketology - Joe Lunardi:
5 seed in San Jose, Calif. playing Belmont (Duke is the No. 1 seed in that regional)
- CBS Sports Jerry Palm:
5 seed in San Jose, Calif. playing Middle Tennessee State (Miami is the No. 1 seed in the regional)
- NBC Sports:
5 seed in Austin, Texas playing Iowa State (Florida is the No. 1 seed in the regional)
- USA Today:
No. 5 seed in San Jose, Calif. playing Louisiana Tech (Duke is the No. 1 seed in that regional)
- Yahoo Sports:
Ranked as top No. 5 seed