Sometimes we all go a little mad. It’s March after all.
It would have been the height of madness if the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament committee put Wisconsin in the same regional as No. 1 ranked and undefeated Kentucky. Instead of madness, UW got deja vu all over again being shipped out to the West Region and potentially facing Oregon, Baylor and Arizona on their way to the Final Four. Oh, then there’s the matter of having North Carolina in the region as well, a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up. That’s why it was so important for the Badgers to win the Big Ten title outright and win the Big Ten Tournament title to fall back on if the NCAA tournament match-ups aren’t as favorable as a year ago. Sometimes that’s the way it works. You just don’t know what kind of madness the committee can present when they draw up the brackets so you better you have something tangible, like a conference title trophy for example, to celebrate a successful season if you don’t quite make it all the way.
Definitely maddening for Rick Pitino Jr. was the consistency of the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team or lack of it. What does it say when the Gophers had a better record against the top-half of the league than the bottom half? It’s says the Gophers were a team talented enough to beat Michigan State on the road and yet not so motivated enough to lose to Penn State at home on Senior Day. Bottom line is much of the team regressed from last year’s NIT championship squad and the depth wasn’t adequate enough to offset this. The rebuilding process pretty much begins now for the Gophers as the last of Tubby Smith’s recruits play their way through Williams Arena. It’s Little Ricky’s show to watch.
It’s a draw, that’s pretty much all Kevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota is at this point but at least it something to draw fan interest for a miserable, injury-riddled and inexperienced Timberwolves squad, a lot better than Canned Corn Night I suppose. A decade after he left he can at least look back on a championship while T-Wolves can only cover their eyes at all the bad draft picks and trades and free agent signings and nothing much else particular. But as with Kevin Love, the T-Wolves went as a far as they could with said franchise player until they had to give him up or lose them to free agency for nothing. Unfortunately nothing is all the T-Wolves ultimately got out of the Garnett deal with Boston. Can they do better with what they obtained for Love? They’d better or we could be talking another lost decade.
One can understand the Bucks not wanting to give another Larry Sanders-like contract to Brandon Knight before free agency, which is why they shipped him out for Michael Carter-Williams. But while the Bucks didn’t lose much in scoring, there were several intangibles Knight brought to the team for much of the season that Carter-Williams hasn’t quite delivered yet, thus the team has struggled since the trading deadline to the point where missing the playoffs is now a real possibility. While no one expected a playoff berth for Bucks at the beginning of the season, and injuries are taking a toll on a team with not a lot of depth to begin with, it would be a very disappointing result given how far Milwaukee has come up from the NBA dregs and in the weak Eastern Conference to boot.
Gee, what a difference one goalie can make, even on the NHL level. The Minnesota Wild were left for regular season dead a month ago. Then they sign Devan Dubnyk almost in desperation to find someone, anyone who can stop a puck from going into the goalie’s net and walah! the Wild are now in playoffs as of right now with 83 points and a solid 38-24-7 overall record. It means they actually have a solid chance to advance deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Granted the schedule lightened up some by February but the Wild have their fair share of wins over some top-tier teams in the NHL like Chicago, St. Louis and Calgary. And all it took was finding a competent goalie, just like they did last season with Ilya Bryzgalov. It also says what they had on their roster when it came to net-minders wasn’t very good to begin with. One doesn’t see a Niklas Backstrom or Josh Hardy in their plans after this season and Kuemper is more or less a back-up (otherwise the Wild wouldn’t be desperately searching for goalies at this time every season). Stocking up at goalie again will occupy the Wild’s major off-season activities while their window of opportunity with Koivu, Parise and Suter is still open.
Hockey people have a tendency sometimes to make observing the game a little more complicated than it needs to be. I may well have a layman’s perspective when it comes to the sport, but I don’t think needs to look to closely to know the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team was terrible this season. I mean a 4-24-5 record is pretty bad, especially from a program that’s won six national titles and won back-to-back conference tournament titles only recently. For UW assistant coach Gary Shuchuk to call Badger fans who had to witness this travesty of a team “idiots” for not getting some deeper logic about them which makes better than their record, all one can say is look at the season ending All-Big Ten teams: Not a single Wisconsin player made even one spot on any of them. One doesn’t need to be brilliant man to figure out 4-24-5 plus no one on the postseason teams equals one bad hockey team. Period. And if the current coaching staff keeps their jobs, then many such “idiots” will not be so idiotic to waste their money and time on them again next season.
For all the doomsday talk about the Big Ten conference ruining college hockey, wake me when it does happen. Minnesota may have won the regular season title for the second year in a row but the Gophers are barely above the No. 16 mark in the Pairwise rankings, meaning they would be only the at-large team in the league to get into the NCAA Tournament if they didn’t win the Big Ten Tournament. And if they don’t win the tournament it there’s a good chance they’ll drop right below the line anyways. A mediocre Michigan State squad at 17-15-2 finishing second is also a damning indictment of weakness. Look around college hockey and all you see are these little schools winning everything or taking most of the spaces in the Top 20. Maybe someday the Big Ten will be the maximum force everyone said it would be when it finally started up its men’s hockey league again. Right now though, it’s anything but.