Winning a national championship might actually be second on the benefits scale of making the Final Four for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team. The first will be breaking the stereotype of Badger hoops teams being unathletic and thus playing unathletic basketball. Having already beaten such athletics teams like Arizona, Oregon, Flordia, Michigan State and Michigan this season, this stereotype should have been shattered already. But there’s nothing like the massive, world-wide stage of the Final Four with its dome football stadium crowd and millions watching on the planet to create an identity for one’s team, which UW can do if they beat Kentucky and all their NBA-ready players. After all, the stereotype for Wisconsin basketball was largely created at the last Final Four they were at in 2000.
By the way, I ought to take my crow raw for suggesting Bronson Koenig would eventually replace Trae Jackson as Wisconsin’s point guard this season. That will happen of course, but not until after Jackson graduates. His play has deserved him that much.
Minnesota is playing for the NIT championship and, like, Wisconsin, there’s a benefit too for the Golden Gophers that transcends winning and losing. For a team that wasn’t expected to do much, getting to the finals of even a secondary tournament in Rick Pitino Jr.’s very first season as head coach will be a boost for the image of the program which really hasn’t much to celebrate since their last Final Four appearance was erased from history thanks to scandal. Of course the Gophers can do this just so long as Pitino isn’t haunted by the demon of Tim Brewster and starts to whine about Wisconsin “running up the score” with walk-ons and third stringers. There’s no need to step on what should be a good story of a first-year head coach, just 31 years old, winning a tournament. It’s not like Jordan Hill’s three-pointer kept the U out of the Big Dance.
Wisconsin will be playing Kentucky in the Final Four, led by head coach John Calipari who has made building a team of “one-and-doners” from college to the NBA an art form. But don’t you think Don Lucia may well be the same kind of coach considering he’s taking a University of Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s hockey team made up of largely freshmen and sophomores to the Frozen Four? It will be interesting to see how many of them return to the U if the Golden Gophers win the national title. If a lot of them leave, then Lucia will once again have to put a young team on the ice season to compete. But that was true a year ago as well and the Gophers being the Gophers, they have the means to replenish their talent quite quickly as they have shown.
I think University of Wisconsin Mike Eaves is a good hockey coach. However, having said this, I recommend strongly that if Eaves gets any kind of offer to coach in the NHL, even as an assistant, he take it. Because if it’s going to be a struggle for the next two seasons to rebuild UW when the seniors from the senior laden 2014 squad (along with Nic Kerdelis) depart, then it’s better he leave now than get hounded out of town like former head coach Jeff Sauer did two seasons after the NCAA regional final debacle of 2000. He doesn’t deserve that. He’s still pretty young, unlike Sauer, and shouldn’t have his career stalled trying to rebuild UW in a completely different college hockey landscape than it was when he took over UW in 2002. I have to believe he’d a jump at a chance at coaching in the pros.
I also agree with those who are puzzled as I am as to why this team and program cannot play consistent hockey with the talent they have and when it matters to do so. And that’s been the biggest complaint against Eaves’ coaching. Joel Rumpel is a good goalie, a Hobey Baker Award candidate, but he cannot be expected to make up for every screw-up his back-line makes. This team’s defense was not good this past season and even in some of their wins, their mistakes made the scores closer than it should have been. I’m glad this group won some hardware over the past two seasons (WCHA Tournament Champion, Big Ten Tournament Champion) but it makes all the more frustrating that they couldn’t do more. And if the onus isn’t on coaching, as it usually is in this situation, then where does it go to?
A lot people think Michigan State men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo may give coaching in the pros a shot next fall and it may well be with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Almost nobody, and that includes Sid Hartman, believes current T-Wolves head coach Rick Adelman will be back next season and the team is playing right now like he’s lame duck, both literally and figuratively. Izzo is good friends with T-Wolves GM Flip Saunders and they have far more in good personnel to work with than the Detroit Pistons do, which another possible destination for Izzo. Having Izzo on the bench in his first pro season will make things interesting for a team which really doesn’t draw a lot of interest.
After the Wild got smacked by the St. Louis Blues 5-1 last Saturday, it looked like they may not even make the playoffs they way were fading down the stretch. But two key road wins at Phoenix and Los Angeles has the seventh spot in the West secure for now. Still though, for the money owner Craig Leipold has spent (and he does put in the money, whether his or his in-laws with the SC Johnson fortune in Racine, on the bottom line to help the team) on offense, the Wild still struggle with scoring and the goalie situation is still very shakey. Head coach Mike Yeo cannot feel safe for another season, especially if the Wild have another first round playoff flame-out. If Yeo is let go, look for a veteran NHL coach to take over. Perhaps a John Tortorella if the planned Vancouver Canucks extreme make-over edition goes through. Wouldn’t that be a hoot to have Torts in the Twin Cities?
Despite snow on the ground and snow in the forecast, baseball waits for no winter to finally end in the Upper Midwest. And forecast for the Upper Midwest’s two major leagues teams is cloudy with peaks of sun. If the Brewers’ bullpen doesn’t fall apart like last season, then Milwaukee will be better than fourth place team in the NL Central, perhaps evena wild card contender. The Twins have made at least the attempt to improve their pitching, and in a wide-open AL Central, this will help them. They can do even better if they figure out who will do the hitting in their line-up which is all that apparent right now.
In the world of women’s college hockey, Clarkson’s win over the University of Minnesota in the NCAA Division I Frozen would be on par with US beating the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Clarkson defeated a program which went 79-1-1 in its past 81 games and became the first team east of Appalachain Mountains to win a national championship in women’s hockey.