The Cold Spring

We’re in between baseball and snowfalls even though it’s spring.

One of the aspects of the new Big Ten hockey conference which is appealing is more opportunities for non-conference scheduling and better non-conference scheduling at that. Who did Wisconsin play in the non-conference portion of their schedule? Northern Michigan, Alabama-Huntsville, Miami of Ohio and Penn State. Not exactly Murder’s Row there. The Badgers were swept by NMU and split with Penn State. Does that sound like a national championship team in retrospect? Not after a very good UMass-Lowell team got done with them. It’s same thing with Minnesota. The best non-conference teams they played and beat were Boston College and Notre Dame, both teams first round losers in the NCAA tournament along with them, for the second time against a No. 4 seed. The only way Wisconsin and Minnesota could advance to the Frozen Four is if the WCHA was a very strong league. Well, that wasn’t the case as five out of the six teams in the league lost in the first round (St. Cloud State made it to the Frozen Four). The Big Ten may not be a better league necessarily, but at least games against eastern schools and others are now possible.

Speaking of the new college hockey league, Wisconsin could be a strong favorite to win next season if it’s able to keep most of its players from going to the pros along with adding Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Grant Besse to their roster. Minnesota has lost of the players who helped it win back-to-back MacNaughton Cup like Nick Bjugstad, Zach Budish and Nate Schmidt. Michigan will also be a favorite.

Usually when you fire a coach and hire a new one, you want to make sure the person you hire is clearly better than the one you fire. So is Richard Pitino, Rick Pitino’s son, better than a future hall of fame coach who has national championship ring? The U better hope so otherwise he’ll be another Tim Brewster. And so much of the elements of the search for Tubby Smith’s successor were similar to way Brewster got his job: a coaching candidate way down on the list as others turned down the job, a candidate from left field, a willingness to work cheap, a willingness to accept the facility situation at Minnesota as being what it is. Pitino is young (very young) enthusiastic and has a lot of energy but so was Brewster (especially in comparison to their predecessors who won games but not enough to satisfy Gopher fans). All of these are good qualities but they can’t trump intelligence and good judgement. We’ll see how it all works out and if he does well in his first season, where the Gophers will have just eighth scholarship players and no recruits coming in, and is able to snag at least one recruit from what’s reported to be one of the most talented prep classes in Minnesota history, he’ll dispel a lot fears he’s another Brewster, just on the hardwood.

As much grief as Joel Maturi gets from Gopher fans for his tenure as University of Minnesota Athletic Director (and he did made his share of mistakes) he did not have the university pay $800,000 NOT to play North Carolina in football; spend a half a million to PLAY New Mexico State, including a date in Las Cruces, MN (where Gopher fans may want to take flak jackets to the game in case of cross-border gunfire from Mexican drug wars) being unable to lure the top candidate for the U’s men’s basketball coaching job (and reportedly making an offer which was a waste of Shaka Smith’s time) and not informing Tubby Smith he had lost his job well after the media and others found out. No, this is all Norwood Teague’s doing and if U fans and the media are going to hold Maturi to pretty high standard of performance, I hope the hold the same standards for Teague in judging his tenure as AD.

Jay Weiner offers a more balanced assessment of Maturi’s tenure than you’ll find in the Twin Cities media.

Both the Brewers and Twins will have to resist temptations to bring up their young, talented pitching prospects up to the majors too fast. Both teams can hit the ball well enough to stay in semi-contention for much of the season (although the Brewers have been hurt more-so by injuries) but they can’t let that fact goad them into moving up their young pitchers before they are ready or they’ll waste whatever future they have. Fortunately for the future, both team’s pitching staffs are so bad right now (especially the Brewers’ bullpen) such considerations probably won’t be made.

That the Minnesota Wild struggled so mightily and find themselves on the edge of making the playoffs without Matt Cullen in the line-up shows this is a team while talented, also lacks depth, which doesn’t bode well for a lengthy playoff run. This situation wasn’t helped when an injury ended Dany Heatly’s season.

The big focus for the MinnesotaTimberwolves is make sure they can come back which much of their team in tact, including head coach Rick Adelman so at least they can go through a whole season with much of the team playing instead of injured and see how good they can be, which could be quite good. Despite being beat-up for much of the season, the T-Wolves still won 30 games, which is more than some of their recent squads which were relatively healthy, just poorer in talent by comparison.

The Bucks will have the dubious distinction of being the only team in the NBA playoffs with a losing record. Indeed, there are teams not in the playoffs who are playing better than the Bucks right now (like the T-Wolves for example) an it’s not like they’re losing to good teams (they’ve lost to the awful Bobcats twice and the Magic recently). Given their first-round fodder status against the defending champion Miami Heat, one gets the impression Milwaukee fans are treating this playoff berth with contempt rather than anything to get excited about. That’s not good for a franchise with a lot of question marks about its future. The Bucks are committed to stay in Milwaukee and the Bradley Center until 2017 but after that all bets are off. The NBA has said the team will not be allowed to sign another lease with the building after that year and given the shenanigans the league pulled to move the Seattle Super Sonics to Oklahoma City, the league has shown itself capable of doing anything fair or unfair to get what it wants, even if Herb Kohl doesn’t sell the team or hands off the team to new owners with the clause to keep the team in Milwaukee. The easiest thing to do, to get a new arena or remodel the Bradley Center would be to shift the five-county Milwaukee metro sales tax from Miller Park to the arena but anti-tax sentiment which exists in the counties outside of Milwaukee (and really, outside the city of Milwaukee) is still very strong even if that very tax built Miller Park and kept the Brewers in the Cream City. But while the Brewers still have a large and pretty loyal fan base across the regional and much of the state, one doesn’t get that impression about the Bucks outside the city. Any successful pro sports franchise has to have that deep bond to fans far away from the city they’re in because ultimately, they’re the ones going to be paying the taxes for the arenas for that team to play in. And let’s be honest and blunt, an NBA franchise where 70 percent of the players are black in a deeply segregated, racially and politically polarized region where some of the wealthiest suburban counties are 99 percent white, isn’t something the residents are going to demand to pay for. Plus, said black players are going to demand an awful amount of money to play ball in a city which has the reputation of not exactly being a hip destination, which the Bucks can only get from having a new arena with new revenue streams.  Unless attitudes and perceptions change (which is always possible with a few wins and playoff success and actual economic growth), the Bucks may be on their way out of a city which is still a big basketball town. Don’t be surprised if the one playoff game the Bucks have this season is not a sell-out and not even close to being one.