That's right. Not just the Milwaukee Bucks are getting previewed in this installment of the Balls, Brats and Beer blog; so are the two major college basketball teams in the state of Wisconsin from Madison and Milwaukee. Why? Because let's face it. I don't care what NBA franchise you are: you don't deserve your own blog post for a season preview, especially when your league couldn't figure out how to play a full season. In all reality, this works out nicely for my seasonal basketball preview. With the strike-shortened season beginning on Dec. 26 for the Buckaroos and conference play starting up for the Badgers the very next day (Marquette starts up Big East play on New Year's Day), now is the perfect time to dissect the big three if you will. To any of you clamoring about me ignoring the great institutions of UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay, consider this: I didn't even preview my own UW Oshkosh Titans' basketball season...or their football team, for that matter. So there. I think I've justified that decision.
2010-2011 Milwaukee Bucks: 35-47, 3rd in Central Division, 9th in Eastern Conference (missed playoffs)
That's right. The Bucks weren't even eliminated from playoff contention until the last week of the regular season, and only missed out of the playoffs by one spot! Gotta love the NBA. Two years ago, the Deer managed to go 46-36 to earn a six seed in, as always, a very weak Eastern Conference. However, times have changed because teams like the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks have loaded up, not to mention the on-the-rise Indiana Pacers and the New Jersey Nets, who will soon not only be moving to Brooklyn, but also likely acquiring Dwight Howard. That's just speculation, but I think it's inevitable. Anyway, back to the Bucks. Last season's result was certainly not a surprise for a few reasons. We obtained a career-loser in Corey Maggette, a move I hated from day one. We resigned John Salmons, who everyone knows only plays well immediately after getting traded to a new team. Andrew Bogut was playing with one arm. Too much was expected of Brandon Jennings, who went through his sophomore slump. Too many teams got better while the Bucks took a step backward. And finally, whenever something big is expected from the Bucks, they don't do something big. So what's changed for the 66-game 2011-2012 season in Milwaukee?
Key losses: G/F Corey Maggettee (traded to CHA), SG John Salmons (traded to SAC), G/F Chris Douglas-Roberts (tear), SG Michael Redd, PG Keyon Dooling, PG Earl Boykins
Key additions: SG Stephen Jackson, G Shaun Livingston, PG Beno Udrih, F Tobias Harris (rookie), F Jon Leuer (rookie), F Mike Dunleavy
Returnees: C Andrew Bogut, PF/C Drew Gooden, PF Larry Sanders, F Jon Brockman, F Ersan Ilyasova, F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, G/F Carlos Delfino, SG Darington Hobson, PG Brandon Jennings
So the Bucks lost six and gained six and got rid of A LOT of extra baggage with Redd's contract and Salmon's corpse. In fact, according to HoopsHype.com, they are under the salary cap, leaving them in good shape in the coming years. I believe that General Manager John Hammond pulled all the right strings during the offseason, getting rid of cancers and potential cancers and replacing them with guys that will contribute and avoid clashing with each other. Last season was a complete disaster chemistry wise due to having a ball-hog like Maggette and the team struggling with injuries, including...well...just about everybody. Now, with an extremely compressed 66-game schedule and even a few back-to-back-to-back stretches, depth is more important to have than ever. Here's a look at how I think the Bucks 12-man roster will shape up on Dec. 26:
PG: Jennings - Udrih (Livingston: Inactive)
SG: Jackson - Delfino (Hobson: Inactive)
SF: Dunleavy - Harris - Leuer
PF: Mbah a Moute - Ilyasova - Sanders (Brockman: Inactive)
C: Bogut - Gooden
I could very well be wrong on this estimate for a few reasons. First of all, head coach Scott Skiles hasn't been at all thrilled with the play of Ilysova and Sanders, who simply make too many mistakes and aren't decisive enough, but their defensive ability will be enough in my opinion to make the 12-man roster. There could also be a debate whether or not both Dunleavy and Mbah a Moute start over Delfino and Gooden, but Mbah a Moute is the team's best defender (Skiles' specialty) and Dunleavy brings a scoring presence along with Captain Jack. There are also some of you who are going to question me putting Leuer on the active roster, but how can you argue with his preseason numbers? Livingston has always been a guy I feel the Bucks eventually part ways with, Hobson needs to do more to earn a roster spot after being a D-leaguer last season and Brockman brings energy, but just doesn't do a whole lot out there. These are not only the 12 guys I want to see on a nightly basis, but they are also the 12 guys I truly think will be on the roster opening night at Charlotte, where we get to see our old friend Corey Maggettee. Again, look at the DEPTH on this team...not bad, right?
Alright. Prediction time. Last season, I thought the Bucks would earn a five seed in the Eastern Conference and make a run at 50 wins...(face palm). Okay, that was stupid. In hindsight, I should have factored in the problems I mentioned before involving injuries, Jennings' slump and Maggette-spaghetti. This season, there are three teams I KNOW will finish better than the Bucks: Miami, Chicago and New York. Who will probably finish better than the Bucks? Indiana, Atlanta, Boston and Orlando. That leaves one more playoff slot in the East, and yes, I believe the Bucks can snag it. They could actually earn as high as a five seed because of the following reasons: Boston is old, making it harder to play a compressed schedule, Atlanta lost Jamal Crawford, a key contributor, and who knows how the Dwight Howard saga will end. With Jennings expected to bounce back (and be healthy), Bogey's right arm back to somewhat-full strength, and new additions I really, really like...
Regular Season Record: 36-30
Playoffs: Six seed, lose in 1st round
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Now for real basketball, the kind that takes place at the college level. The state of Wisconsin has four Division I teams, but there are only two that I consistently follow/give a crap about. The Green Bay Phoenix haven't had much of a program for as long as I can remember while UW-Milwaukee has had it's moments, most recently winning the Horizon League and then losing in the Conference Tournament final to eventual runner-up Butler. That leaves the Marquette Warriors and Wisconsin Badgers. One team plays up-tempo, the other plays slow. One team plays in Madison, the other plays in Milwaukee. One team is mostly white, the other mostly black. BUT, there is one similarity between these two - they both reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, riding the winning wave the Green Bay Packers began in February. Currently, the Warriors stand at 11-1, ranked 10th in the country while the Badgers are 10-2, standing at 14th in the polls.
2010-2011 Marquette Warriors (Golden Eagles): 20-14 (9-9), T-9th in Big East, Sweet 16 in NCAA
After barely sneaking in the tournament last season as an 11 seed, Marquette went on to upset Xavier and fellow Big East member Syracuse to reach the Regional Semifinal against North Carolina, who slaughtered the Warriors by 18. Now led by seniors Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, the Warriors only defeat so far this season came at the hands of LSU down in Baton Rouge earlier this week. I really didn't think it was fair for the Tigers to march their football team out there, but hey, whatever it takes to win. In college basketball, letdown games come about just as often as someone imitating Aaron Rodgers' belt celebration, so I didn't really get too hellbent over this loss. I think the biggest storyline for Marquette heading into their conference opener against Syracuse on Jan. 1 is the health of Chris Otule, the opening day starter at center. Coming into this season, MU finally had some size with Otule and backup Davante Gardner, but Otule suffered an ACL injury a few weeks back against Washington and the decision to bring him back this season or not is still being mulled over by head coach Buzz Williams. To not have Otule there toward the end of the season puts a lot of pressure on Gardner to pick up the slack and stay out of foul trouble and also brings us back to the typical small lineup Marquette always finds themselves using. Fortunately, their is a ton of talent in that small lineup. Freshman newcomer Todd Mayo (yes, O.J. Mayo's little bro) can flat out score the basketball and sophomore Vander Blue will combine with Mayo to help take the pressure of DJO and Crowder in terms of scoring while transfer and hometown guy Jamil Wilson brings some athleticism and length.
This team has the ability to light up the scoreboard, but can also play the half-court game, which I believe is a valuable asset. Many experts are picking the Warriors to finish toward the top of the Big East among teams like Syracuse, Louisville and Connecticut, and I feel compelled to agree. Of course, a lot of this depends on the senior leadership of DJO and Crowder helping some of the younger guys along as well as the potential return of the 6'11" Otule, but I think this team has what it takes to win 24 or 25 games and earn a 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. With a fairly favorable conference schedule, my official prediction falls at:
Regular Season Record: 24-8 (13-5), T-3rd in Big East
NCAA Tournament Seed: Four
NCAA Tournament Result: Sweet 16
2010-2011 Wisconsin Badgers: 25-9 (13-5), 3rd in Big Ten, Sweet 16 in NCAA
Every year, the Badgers aren't expected to make much noise in the Big Ten, and every year, they do, because that's just how Bo Ryan rolls. Unfortunately, Ryan's teams never seem to be built for the style of play that wins games in the tournament. You know, teams that shoot the ball before the shot clock reaches .000001 seconds left. Watching the Badgers play basketball is an acquired taste to say the least. Last season, Jon Leuer helped lead Sconnie past Belmont and Kansas State before Leuer completely fell apart against Butler in the Regional Semifinal. With Leuer now in the NBA, Jordan Taylor assumes the leadership role for the Badgers, which we are still waiting to see translate over to the court. He's only averaging 11.8 points per game, but he still has that assist/turnover ratio at an impressive 3.2. I get the feeling that Wisconsin and Taylor are just starting to figure things out, which is good because they kick off Big Ten play at Nebraska two days after Christmas. This team lost two close games to North Carolina and Marquette so far and has also struggled through victories at UWM and vs UNLV as they gear up for what is a daunting Big Ten schedule. There's no question that it's now officially the second toughest conference in the nation. So other than Taylor, who will need to step up this season? The current leading scorer is Jared Berggren at 12.3 PPG, but I suspect JT will soon overtake that category. Ryan Evans is becoming more of a force on the boards and now has a starting role along with forward Mike Brusewitz and guard Josh Gasser, who has improved his jump shot since last season. Speaking of jump shots, sophomore Ben Brust has come out of nowhere to light it up from three on a couple different occasions, so we'll see how often Bo turns to him when the Badger offense needs a spark. Other than that, there isn't a whole lot to talk about regarding what may have been...believe it or not...a slightly overrated team coming into the season.
Sure, Wisconsin may still be able to run the table when it comes to home conference games and still have a successful regular season overall with their slow it down, shot clock draining style of basketball, but it just never seems to bring success in March, which is when a lot of people flip on the NCAA Tournament and actually care about college basketball. Teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana are all going to give Wisconsin trouble in what is one of the strongest Big Ten fields in quite awhile. With that being said, here is my prediction:
Regular Season Record: 22-8 (11-6), 4th in Big Ten
NCAA Tournament Seed: Five
NCAA Tournament Result: Round of 32
There you have it. No surprise, but I'm predicting each of the three major basketball teams in Wisconsin reach the postseason. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see UWM sneak in there with Butler having a down year. Feel free to chime in with your feelings regarding my predictions and how you feel these teams will fare as we move into 2012, the year humanity will cease to exist.
May everybody have a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Stay safe!