Where are they now: Badgers Basketball Edition

Reading the Wisconsin State Journal's Sunday article spotlighting former Badgers Joe Krabbenhoft, Greg Stiemsma and Tanner Bronson, now members of the Sioux City Skyforce, it got me wondering about where other former Wisconsin sports standouts are up to these days. Alando Tucker (the newest member of the Timberwolves), Devin Harris, and Michael Finley are at various stages in their respective NBA careers (struggling, star, veteran), but there are plenty other standouts who disappeared. So I did a little digging, and here's what I found:

Joe Krabbenhoft: Wait, but we already know what he's up to, right? Looks like the WSJ picked an interesting time to run their article: before most people had even read the feature, they reported online that Joe is headed to South Korea to play overseas. Sounds like he's received a pretty decent financial offer that he couldn't turn down, and for the chance to live
abroad and be paid for it you can't really blame him.

Brian Butch: Where Krabbenhoft is going across the Pacific, it sounds like Butch wants to head back over the Atlantic. First, there's this blog entry, in which he complains of broken promises and communication breakdowns tainting his experience in Greece. Then I heard him tell Steve 'The Homer' True that he's tired of the European style of basketball and wants to get back to the states, with hopes of joining an NBA developmental league team. I guess Euro-hoops isn't for everybody.

Mike Kelley: If you've been watching college basketball in recent years, you should know what Mike is up to. He's got himself a pretty nice situation with ESPN, doing color commentary for college basketball games. This year he's slated for 30 games, mostly in the Big East. Not a bad gig for a guy who most would have pegged as a candidate for one of those "college athletes going pro in something other than sports" commercials.

Mike Wilkinson: This piece from over a year ago provides some interesting info. I remember hearing stories of his desire to be a farmer, and it didn't seem unlikely that he'd forgo basketball in favor of a tractor, some bib overalls and a straw hat. I guess he couldn't let go of the basketball, because according to the article, Mike has played for Greece, Macedonia and Russia since graduating in 2005. Today it appears he's playing in Istanbul, is tied for the team lead in rebounds and is third in points. I wonder how the farming is in Turkey?

Hennssy Auriantal: This one is digging a ways back. Hennssy is still in Madison, apparently has a nephew on the Madison Memorial basketball team, and helps out with the Madison Memorial boys basketball team. Also, former Memorial standout Jeronne Maymon has been working with him as he looks to stay in basketball shape after walking away from Marquette. He also started the Wisconsin Force program, a non-profit organization supporting student-athletes in the Madison area.

Kirk Penney: Wikipedia is your friend. For those not
inclined to follow links (I'm often guilty of this myself), Kirk has become a star in New Zealand. After bouncing all around the pro basketball circuit, from the Miami Heat to Maccabi Tel Aviv BC(?), he finally returned home to sign with the New Zealand Breakers. He subsequently led the league in points and won the ANBL MVP trophy. Oh, and he's also been to two Olympics. Penney is an all time favorite, and he'll always be remembered for that photo of him body surfing the Grateful Red after winning the Big Ten. Its good to know he's still a star somewhere.

Know of any others? Please share in the comments section below!


Packers-Seahawks game observations

It's hard to analyze a thorough beat down without gushing, so there's really not much to say about the Packers' 48-10 deconstruction of the Seattle Seahawks. Jermichael Finley is still impossible to cover (and tackle), Grant continues to improve as the season goes on, and the defense is still piling up the sacks and turnovers. A lot of this comes from playing the hapless Seahawks--Matt Hasselbeck lost his cool near the end of the game in shouting at a ref for missing what one would assume was pass interference, though the game was all but over--but if you're a playoff team, you take care of these games in convincing fashion. The Pack did just that.

Some interesting observations worth noting:

Grant : Levens :: Jackson : Bennett - Plenty has been made in the past few years of the resemblance Ryan Grant bears to Dorsey Levens. From number to size to playing style, there's no denying the comparison has merit. But what about Brandon Jackson and Edgar Bennett? Jackson is stuck playing second fiddle to Grant, the opposite of the Bennett/Levens scenario in 1996, but what he brings to the table is very Edgar Bennett: a sure-footed 3rd down back who is a receving threat in the flat. Jackson has better agility, but the body-types are the same and with Bennett coaching the running-backs, its easy to understand why there's a resemblance. He had 3 TDs against the Seahawks, and should see more playing time next week should McCarthy decide to keep Grant fresh for the playoffs.

Kickers good and bad - Mason Crosby got himself back on track by hitting both his field goal attempts, including a 51 yarder, and likely has Mike McCarthy breathing a lot easier going into the playoffs. The other foot man on the other hand continues to stink, and Jon Ryan no doubt enjoyed showing his former team just what they were missing. Luckily when you beat a team by almost 40 points your punter doesn't have much of an impact. Still, Kapinos and his dead-last net punting average are as good as gone.

Memories of the playoffs - A few fans showed that Green Bay doesn't forget easily. Two fans held a sign reading in block letters, "WE WANT THE BALL," while their cohorts on the right finished the statement with, "AND WE'RE GONNA SCORE." I'm sure Hasselbeck was hoping those words would go up like steam in Lambeau in January, but there's no doubt that people will be telling their kids about them, and the subsequent pick-6 courtesy of Al Harris. Thanks for the memories, Matt!

2 x 1,000? - Congrats to Greg Jennings for going over the 1,000 yard mark, and seeing as he's only 4 yards away, I'll just go ahead and say the same to Donald Driver. Having a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers' caliber is a big help on putting those deep balls right on the money, but they've created enough yardage themselves in the open field that they deserve a lot of credit for those totals. Getting the ball to those two on a slant is like handing the ball off to a running back 5 yards downfield--if they're behind the linebackers, look out.

Matt Flynn looks solid - This was probably my favorite part of the game. On a day where former Packer backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was on the opposing sideline and last year's 2nd round pick Brian Brohm made his first NFL start for Buffalo, we got a look at Matt Flynn, and it was a pretty good look. He was poised in the pocket, and showed good presence when he got flushed to his right and completed a nice 17 yard pass down the sideline to Jordy Nelson for a first down. Granted it was garbage time, but the last Packer QB to look good in garbage time was Aaron Rodgers. Its unlikely (we hope) that Flynn will ever get a chance to be The Man in Green Bay, but he could be the next in line to start elsewhere once he leaves. Props to Ted Thompson on what looks like a nice find in the 7th round, and to Mike McCarthy and his famed quarterback school for seemingly converting another college QB into a serviceable pro.

A Giant help - Beating the Seahawks was huge, thanks to the Panthers drubbing of the G-Men on their own turf. The Packers have now clinched a playoff spot. All that's left to decide is who the Packers play after the Cardinals. The most likely team? Well...the Cardinals. Should be interesting to see how these teams go at each other in week 17. My guess is we'll see two more quarters of Matt Flynn, but the real question is what will Dom Capers bring to the table--do you go vanilla and not show anything, go for momentum and attack to find the weak spots, or throw a red herring out there and switch up the tempo in the playoffs? Its a tough call, and one I'm happy I don't have to make.

Final Word: GO...Bears? - Did anyone else find themselves rooting for the Bears to beat the Vikings, and not feeling the least bit sick over it? Has the Packers-Bears rivalry fizzled to a point where we can bond over a common #1 enemy? That question may be explored here in the near future, but for now I'll say this: the Bears rivalry is fun and all, but I just flat out HATE the Vikings, and I was glad to see Chicago drop Minnesota in the cold on Monday night.


A Good Loss?

Remeber when the Packers were coming off a four game losing streak and everyone had counted them out? When the offense was giving up sacks like it was Christmas and the defense couldn't even get sufficient pressure on a rookie QB making his first NFL start? It's an uncomfortable memory, but I know its there.

Now recall the beginning of the winning streak that ensued. When the Packers lashed out at the Cowboys like a wild animal backed into a corner. That's essentially what the Packers encountered on Sunday in the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers were coming off an
embarrassing loss to the Browns and saw their playoff hopes dwindling, and the loss of Troy Polomalu has shown us all just how important he is to the defense. But they're still the defending NFL champs, and are still quarterbacked by a two time champion in Ben Roethlisberger. They put everything they had on the field against Green Bay in torching the Packers' secondary to the tune of 503 passing yards and blitzing Aaron Rodgers relentlessly. Coach Mike Tomlin was even so desperate to seal the win that they tried an onside kick with less than four minutes remaining with the lead. And in the end they sent the Packers home with their first defeat in over a month.

But you know, as much as that loss hurt from an emotional standpoint, it was about as good a loss as you can take. Because unlike the Cowboys in week 10, the Packers gritted their teeth and dug in. They fought back and took a lead before losing on an unbelievable throw and catch. Many sportswriters spoke of the playoff-like atmosphere of this game, and the experience of such a game is invaluable to the youngest team in the NFL. I'd much rather lose now and have a chance to learn from it than make the playoffs and have a season-ending lesson to dwell on for an entire offseason.

Yes, there were definitely some hard pills to swallow in retrospect. Mason Crosby is looking like a closer who's lost his stuff and has many questioning whether he'll find it again, while the receivers have developed a disturbing case of the dropsies. And then there's the defense and its depleted secondary, which gave up a ton of yards and points, and has some chewing on fingernails. Capers found a solution in recent weeks: blitz 'em 'til they scream. But this tactic only worked until Big Ben proved that the upper echelon of QBs will make you pay for sending seven into the backfield, especially when you're stuck with the likes of Jarrett Bush at nickel. But Capers is nothing if not crafty (see: Psycho package) , and I have confidence that if anyone can find a way to make things work with the tools on hand, he can.

Thankfully, in the midst of the bad, we also got a good look at the development of a couple players in this loss. Though it didn't stick, Rodgers gave a gritty performance to take a lead near the end of the game, and rookie seventh round pick Brad Jones came up big with two sacks. Oh, and how about that Jermichael Finley guy? I think he has most improved player locked up. Hard to believe he's only 22 and already leaving defensive coordinators' pencils covered in tooth marks. Seeing the young guys step up in such an intense atmosphere had to make Packer fans everywhere feel a little more confident about the future in Green Bay.

But a bright future doesn't change the L into a W, and right now that's the bottom line. Because as most coaches will tell you, there's no such thing as a moral victory in sports, only wins and losses. And practically speaking, they're right. Still, losing at Pittsburgh with the difference being the extra point of a touchdown pass caught out of bounds with the receiver's toes dragging on the green and the clock reading 00:00? That's really not a bad loss, and if you can build off it, it's about as good a loss as you can get.


An Attendance Pitch

Who wants to go see Jeff Suppan pitch? Not me. But will that really effect my decision to go to a game? Or any other fan's for that matter? That's a question that was posed on this morning's Frosty Mug over at Brew Crew Ball.

So it got me thinking, do people really not go to a game because of the pitcher on the mound? To find out, I went through the home attendance numbers from 2009 and broke it down. As is done when finding average numbers, the lowest and highest were both dropped. Also, any number that was unusually high as a result of bobble-head giveaways were also removed.

And here is what I came up with:


What conclusions can we draw from this? Aside from the fact that fill-ins like Mike Burns, Chris Narveson, Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva drew the biggest average crowd? Simple, the pitcher on the mound last season had zero effect on whether or not fans would be going to the game.

Dave Bush had his worst year in a Brewers jersey but he also averaged more fans than the other four pitchers who started the year in the rotation. Yovanni Gallardo didn't have as strong of a showing from fans as Braden Looper, and that's with Looper's opening day start not included in the data.

There are two schools of thought that you can draw on when deciding what this information reveals. First, fans buy their tickets based on when they want to go to the game and nothing more. I know I'll be buying tickets to a game in the Seattle series next season because I want to see that team play in Miller Park. More often than not tickets are bought based on a person's schedule, not the rotation's schedule.

The second thought, and I would give this equal credence, is that fans aren't going to Brewer games to see pitching, they're going to see Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. In fact, as long as I've been going to see games there have only been two pitchers in the barley and blue I was excited to see pitch, Ben Sheets (who I saw numerous times) and C.C. Sabathia (who I never saw live).

Face it, people go to Miller Park to watch guys hit home runs. That won't be changing any time soon.


In case you were curious, here is a look at my actual spreadsheet on the team's attendance. Numbers with a * indicate either a bobble-head day or opening day.


Future of the Pack

Earlier in the season, we at the Tap discussed the leaders of the Pack, offense and defense. However, with Driver and Woodson both in their thirties, it won't be long before someone else will have to step up and take their places. Who will they be?

It's not hard to pick Driver's successor. The quarterback is the one calling the plays and relaying information to everyone. It's always ideal to have him as the one everyone in the offense looks to for leadership. Unfortunately, no matter how talented a player is, it takes time for him to establish himself as the anchor to which everyone tethers themselves. So when you have a starting QB lacking game experience, he needs to find his identity before he can truly move into that leading role.
It's been a privelege thus far watching Aaron Rodgers develop into The Man. He hit a pot-hole in Tampa Bay, but since then he seems to have picked himself back up and injected icewater into his veins. I look at his eyes as he scrambles out of the pocket and I see Paul Molitor at the plate, Trevor Hoffman on the mound--calm, confident and unshakable.

Over the years we've grown accustomed to an emotional leader behind center, so watching the rather subdued Rodgers work has been strange for many of us. However, nine wins, 3,500 yards and 25 TDs into his second season, its hard to argue with the results: he's taking the reins.

Now defense is a different story.

Where on offense they're going from an emotional leader to a rock, the defense seems headed in the opposite direction. Woodson is the consumate professional, taking a businesslike approach to his game, but sitting behind him is a handful of players who explode with every big play they make. And this is fitting, because much as the calm Rodgers is preparing to shape the offense in his mold, Dom Capers' defense is built for intense individuals to disrupt the opposition. Let's consider a few possibilities:

Nick Barnett: The safest choice, really. A lifelong Packer with the speed to close the gap and strength to lay a solid hit, he really is a complete package, and the guy never quits. He's a great model-vet for the younger players to look up to. Barnett was arguably the leader before Woodson arrived almost by default. As much as his celebrations make Packer Nation do a collective facepalm, he always gets the job done.

However, this isn't ideal to me. Barnett is 28 years old, and while that isn't old by any stretch, I'd rather have one of the younger guys step into the leadership role. By the time Woodson is out, Barnett could be on his way out--without his speed he's merely pedestrian. Barnett is a nice fall-back plan to have, but the following two would be my picks, perhaps as co-leaders.

Clay Matthews III: CM3 has to be the biggest surprise of the season for Green Bay, and is probably the most fun player to watch on Capers' high-octane 3-4. It was easy to miss him the first few weeks as Woodson hogged the spotlight, but when Matthews literally took the ball away from Adrian Peterson and ran in for a touchdown on ESPN, the nation saw a star in the making.

Where Barnett is intense, Matthews is hell-bent. He's always moving towards the ball, always around the tackle. You knock him down on his back and he's crabwalking toward the QB. He's Jared Allen without the insanity. Obviously its premature to dub a rookie the future of the defense, but if the early returns are any indication, they could be in much worse hands. This man is a budding emotional leader.

Nick Collins: On defense, one of two positions tends to be the 'quarterback': middle linebacker (see Barnett, Nick) or free safety. Here's the latter.

After looking lost at times early in his career, everything seemed to slow down last season, and he enjoyed his first pro bowl season. This year he appears on track for another berth as he chases Woodson for the team lead in interceptions.

Collins to me is an upgraded Darren Sharper. He isn't afraid to lay the hit but still gets the picks, and when he gets the ball, his eyes are always on the endzone. Even though he's a physical player, he doesn't play with the recklessness that plagues Atari Bigby, and he combines great speed with great field vision. He's developed into a complete player, and he is my counterbalance to CM3--two playmakers, one in front and one in back, making everyone around them better.

And should they falter, Barnett will be there to pick up the slack.

PS - If you're upset that Collins hasn't been locked up yet, don't be. Because of the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement in 2010, there's no reason to rush anything. He's set to be a restricted free agent, so the Packers have rights to him next year if there's no new CBA, and if there is they'll franchise tag him and probably save money on the deal (yes, he's that valuable). So don't think for a second that the Brandon Chillar deal somehow means they're ignoring Collins. Thompson, as always, is just playing it smart.


Welcome to Milwaukee

At the end of last season Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin told the media that he would be looking to add two starting pitchers in an effort to fix the team's awful, awful, starting rotation. The first signing has been made, and after a few days to let the addition of Randy Wolf sink in, it's time to weigh in.

So what will the Brewers be getting from Wolf, a 33 year old lefty coming off a career year. Last year with the Dodgers Wolf won 11 games and pitched 214 innings. He kept his ERA low (3.23) and struck out 160 against 58 walks. For his career he's really only had three bad years, his rookie season and 2006 and 2007 when he had Tommy John surgery and the subsequent recovery.

Is the risk too great? Giving a 33 year-old pitcher a three year deal has many screaming of "Jeff Suppan 2.0" but that's really not the case. First, Wolf's deal is only three years, one less than Suppan's and it's also over $12 million less.

More importantly, Wolf's ceiling as a pitcher is much higher. Suppan was a journeyman who had never had much success until a three year stretch with the Cardinals. For nearly five seasons Wolf was the best pitcher on the Phillies staff and after his elbow injury, he became a more than effective pitcher with the Dodgers, Astros and Padres. He's really more of a No. 3 pitcher but he'll be a No. 2 for the Brewers and upgrading over Suppan, Braden Looper and Manny Parra is not difficult.

What needs to be done to truly evaluate this move is to look at Wolf relative to the rest of the free agent market. If you don't like this move than find a better move to be made. Yes, Erik Bedard has a higher ceiling than Wolf, but he's also had a very difficult time staying on the field. Wolf has been a much more consistent pitcher than just about any starter available except John Lackey. Lackey will probably receive $16-18 million a year and Milwaukee wasn't going to offer that much. There wasn't a better move to be made than the one the Crew made for Wolf.

Adding a stable, veteran pitcher also gives the team a chance to pursue a player that might be more of a risk. Bedard is one player the team could be interested in, as well as former Brewer Ben Sheets and Justin Duchsherer. These are the types of risk-reward players that the team can pursue and not be as hurt by if they don't pan out because of the Wolf signing.

This offseason remains a work in progress, bringing Mark Mulder in is still too big of a question mark to expect much return. Doug Melvin has said he wants to bring in two starting pitchers, he's added one and he'll need to add another for the rotation to show any great improvement. Wolf is a good start, but he can't stop there.


End of the road

Well, it's nearly official. Brewers officials notified Seth McClung that he will not be tendered a contract on Saturday's arbitration deadline. I won't go into detail about whether or not this makes sense as a baseball move because sometimes that really doesn't matter.

Here's what Seth had to say via Twitter (@73_MC):
Thank you Milwaukee brewers fans. You guys were outstanding. Thank you Doug Melvin and Gord Ash for bringing me over and giving me a chance.
Thank you Mike Maddux, Bill Castro, Ned Yost and Dale Sevum for giving me the ball and helping me grow as a player. Eddie, Stan, Bossie, you all were great too. Thank you to my brewer team mates, you guys were awesome to play with and travel with. I have made some lasting friendships with many of you and you mean the world to me. Thanks to a wonderful training staff and clubhouse staff. I would also like to thank our owner Mark Attanasio, you and your club are first class all the way. Thank you again for being good not only to me but my family as well.

I will always have great memories of my time in Milwaukee. It was not my choice to leave. I hope you saw how much I cared through my on field performance. I want you all to know I played hard and always wanted to win. I was honored to be a big part of the 08 team that made the play offs. I had a great year, starting in the middle of the season and then pitching out of the pen. My favorite memory to date is finishing the game late September vs the cubs. Again thank you Milwaukee I was honored to be a brewer.
The move was long suspected and much maligned. I think I speak for all Brewers fans when I say we're sorry to see him go and he will be missed. Milwaukee doesn't forget players who make a major impact in a playoff year and McClung certainly did that. His play down the stretch was untouchable and unforgettable.

Here's hoping he signs with an AL team so we don't have to see him pitch against us. We wish him nothing but the best, if you are on twitter be sure to send him you best wishes!

Now starts the "Re-sign Seth McClung campaign," Who's with me?


UW vs MU - A Badger Fan's Perspective

Now that Marquette has cleared UWM, and UW-Madison has taken care of been humbled by UW-Green Bay, it is time for the main in-state showdown in NCAA hoops! If you are a regular reader, then you probably already know that we here at The Tap are Badger fans all the way. Now, I understand some of our readers are fans of the Marquette Golden Eagles ( you are no longer the Warriors - get over it), so let me clear the air right away; I hate Marquette! Before there was Vander Blue, before there was Wesley Matthews, and even before Marquette reached the Final Four several years ago....I have had an extreme dislike for Marquette. Going to school in Whitewater and now residing in the Milwaukee area, I have become friends with many MU fans, and many have asked me how I can possibly have so much animosity towards a Wisconsin sports team. Hopefully I can shed some light:

First and Foremost, It is a Rivalry
And an in-state rivalry at that. This, "but both are Wisconsin teams" line is garbage to me. Do fans of UNC cheer for Duke and vice versa? They'd rather cut out their own vocal cords than be caught cheering for one another. True, they are also conference rivals, but the proximity plays a major factor. In football, one big time non-conference in-state rivalry game is Iowa vs Iowa St. The state of Iowa has less going for it in the sport's world than Wisconsin, and even they can't get along! You don't cheer for a rival, period!

Sometimes people like to mention that UWM and UW-Green Bay could be considered rivals, but I do cheer for them when they aren't playing the Badgers. There must be more to it then...

Recruiting of Local Talent
Even though they are Division-1, UWM and UWGB are both mid-major schools, so let's face it, they rarely are vying for the same talent as UW-Madison or Marquette are. Wesley Mathews went to Marquette, Marcus Landry went to Wisconsin....those were headlines. When UWGB or UWM make headlines, it is either from a Cinderella run or from top notch coaches leaving the program (Dick Bennet & Bruce Pearl). This "recruiting rivalry" is all too evident by the recent Vander Blue betrayal incident. Such as UNC and Duke fight for the nation's top talent, UW-Madison and Marquette fight for the top Wisconsin/Midwest talent. The loss of Vander Blue could potentially harm the Badgers chances in the future, so why should I cheer for the rival team that took him away? But, losing recruits happens all the time amongst many different schools, so there has to be more...

Fair Weather Fans
For the reasons listed above, I do not cheer for Marquette. They are an in-state rival that the Badgers face every year who is essentially picking from the same recruiting pool, so it drives me nuts that so many Marquette fans will cheer for the Badgers in games they don't play each other. How can I go to a bar with someone and cheer together for the Badgers to win a game, but when the next time around they cheer vehemently against the team they were just rooting for the other day and taunting me the entire time?!?! Either you are on this ship or you are off, don't hop on as convenient. Don't cheer with me one day, taunt me the next, then try to cheer with me again after that. All I hear is "Hi, I'm your friend...I hope you die." I know there are plenty of Marquette fans who do hate Badgers Hoops with the same passion I have against Marquette, and I think I might respect them more than the flip-floppers.

Marquette is a Private School
This reason is obviously very personal, but I hate private schools. I don't necessarily have a good reasoning for it; It could date back to my high school days and my personal feelings about WISAA teams being let into the WIAA. I've been consistent about always rooting against the private schools (I'll pick the Heels over Duke every time). This is also another reason why I can respect UWM and UW-Green Bay. Hey, I never claimed to be rational.

So, there you have some of the main reasons why I personally loathe the Marquette University basketball squad. Maybe some of you have other reasons, and we'd love to hear them. We also would love to hear from some of you whose allegiances falls to Marquette, and read what your thoughts are against the Badgers and their fans.

Rivalries can be a ton of fun, as long as one side isn't douchey about things (ex. Chicago Cubs fans), which obviously isn't the case here since we are still brethren. So, let's all pick a clear side, and let the trash talking begin. It should be a great game!

Marquette quickly exited the 2009 NCAA Tourney - Dustin laughed


A Difference in Discipline

Tubby Smith is building the University of Minnesota into a respectable basketball school. Will he win a national title with the Goph's someday? Maybe (not), but stranger things have happened. But that's not what this is about. This is about how you build a program that stands tall year after year.

John Calipari does it by skirting the rules and attracting players that will never graduate and will leave after one season for the NBA.

Thad Matta does with high ceiling players as well, but he follows the rules. His offensive system allows the stars to shine.

Mike Krzyzewski does by getting the most out of his players, whether they are talented freshman or fifth year seniors.

Bo Ryan does it by bringing in players that he deems coachable. Players that are good, but flourish in his swing offense. He also doesn't abide for trouble makers.

What about Tubby Smith? He started with coaching, taking less than talented Gopher teams further than anyone thought they could go. This year he brought in some big time recruits, but there is a problem. Some of those recruits have gotten into trouble, and that's what this is about.

How a Coach deals with troubled talent reveals much about a program. Is it win it all costs? Even the integrity of the school? Or do you win with integrity and build a team that doesn't cost you the respect of the community?

Look at the case of two recruits, Diamond Taylor of Wisconsin and Royce White of Minnesota.

Taylor was arrested after drinking and going into unlocked dorm rooms and stealing several ipods and cell phones. He was suspended indefinitely from the Men's basketball program and once it became clear that he was not welcome back to the team, he was released from his scholarship. He ended up withdrawing from school and enrolling at Southern Illinois to play basketball (if you've ever wondered how mid-majors get talented players, that's one way).

Taylor was, by most accounts, a high character player. Bo wouldn't have recruited him had he had a history of bad decisions and off the court trouble. Even so, he made a mistake and the school moved on without him.

The highlight of the Gophers 2009 recruiting class, Royce White was arrested for stealing over $100 worth of merchandise from Macy's in the Mall of America and assaulting the security guard who stopped him. He was suspended indefinitely and has since pleaded guilty. He's also being investigated in the theft of a lap top on campus.

White has a history, he was expelled from school as a senior for cheating on a test and, as the story goes, when caught by the teacher he took offense, shoved the teacher and said "I'm fucking Royce White." Apparently he's a big deal.

No final decision has been made on White's future at the U of M, but looking at the early response by the Gophers it would seem his indefinite suspension will go only slightly longer than his legal troubles. It would not be a surprise to see him in the Maroon and Gold by the end of the season.

The Gophers program is not lacking for suspensions in 2009 either. White was the third player suspended by the team, the first being Senior Guard Devron Bostick (7 games for unspecified violation of team rules) and the other is Trevor Mbakwe (suspended indefinitely with pending assault charges in Miami).

In college sports there's more to the game than winning. Most of these athletes will never be playing professionally, so education comes first. Lowering your standards to win more games is never an acceptable choice to make and it's one that Tubby Smith seems to be making.

You can win while being a credible university; Bob Knight graduated nearly 100 percent of his student athletes, Bo Ryan graduates over %80 of the athletes that come to his program. If Royce White plays for Minnesota, do you think his mind is set on a degree?

Tubby Smith is certainly a good enough coach to succeed without the headache players, but it's his decision to make. Win 20 games with integrity or win 23 with charges pending. Whatever choice is made - it's Tubby's call.

Bo Ryan has the right idea. If you don't want to take advantage of the opportunity a school has given you there are plenty other kids that deserve that chance.


Rumor City: Tuesday in Indy

Another day down at the Winter Meetings, and another pile of crap rumors to filter through. So let's wade right into this river of sh..... speculation.

Corey Hart to the Mets for Starter John Maine

This deal would make sense only in the broad sense of the Crew needing pitchers. It may sound like a decent deal at face value but in the end it would not be a fair trade for Milwaukee. The most obvious problem with this trade is that the team lacks a clear cut replacement for Hart in right field. If he were dealt, the nearest corner outfielder worth anything has yet to play above Single-A.

My next problem is fair value. Corey's value is low right now, he was injured and struggled last season. If he struggles through the first half of 2010 his value isn't likely to change much. But, if he does do well, his value skyrockets because he is under club control through the 2011 season. Maine, on the other hand, will be a free agent after 2010.

And what would you really be getting with John Maine? He's had one good year in his career and has seen his ERA go up in each of the last two season. Through those two seasons he's also been riddled with injuries and struggled with his command as well. It's likely that you could get a pitcher of his quality in July just as easy as in December.

That's also ignoring the fact that the Mets are also hard-up for pitching depth next season.

A little more Mark Mulder

If Mulder decides to give it one more tryout and see if he can be a Major League pitcher again, it'll probably be with the Brewers and new Pitching Coach Rick Peterson. Even if he does sign it probably doesn't mean much for the Crew. You may not remember the last time Mulder pitched but it was ugly, no command, no velocity, he might as well have been throwing softballs in a batting practice session.

Still, if he has truly recovered and regained some of his form it would be a big boost. It's a no risk proposition for the team and a signing that will almost certainly happen. A good Mark Mulder can go a long way towards fixing the rotation's problems. As long as the front office doesn't go into spring training counting on Mulder to win a rotation spot this makes sense.

Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg

One Brewers beat writer has connected the Brewers with these two relievers. Let's first shoot down Mike Gonzalez, the team will not give up a second round draft pick to sign a relief pitcher with an injury history. Yes, Gonzalez is clearly the better pitcher and he's a lefty but he will also fetch a much higher price than the former Cubs setup man/closer.

As for Gregg, this wouldn't be a bad pickup with the injury to Mark DiFelice. Gregg has excelled in a setup role, sporting an ERA under four in non-save situations. He struggled in the ninth inning with the Cubs a year ago, but Milwaukee has Trevor Hoffman to shutdown games so I say go for it, he'd be a better signing than David Riske at the very least.

Randy Wolf will sign?

I've got to tell you, this guy is starting to get on my nerves. Due diligence is fine, but the consensus around baseball is that no team besides the Brewers has shown a willingness to add a third year for Wolf. It's clear he doesn't want to pitch in Milwaukee (or not on a coast for that matter), but C.C. didn't want to pitch in New York either. Money talks, and either Wolf will sign with Brewers or he will have a team pull a three-year offer for the second straight year*.

Randy Wolf needs to realize he's a 33-year old lefty coming off a couple of good years preceded by four injury-ridden years. It's his payday that he'll blow if he doesn't sign.

*Last year Houston offered Wolf a three year deal worth $28.5 million, Wolf declined, expecting the market to improve. He ended up signing a one-year deal with the Dodgers for a paltry $5 million. Net gain? Negative $23.5 million.

Gregg Zaun the Starter

Ken Macha told Tom Haudricourt over at JS that he hopes to get over 100 games out of newly signed old man Gregg Zaun. hyntnykgt. <---- That's what happens when you slam your face into a keyboard.

He also said that he expects there will be a competition for the backup spot between Angel Salome, Jonathan Lucroy, George Kottaras and, if retained, Mike Rivera. So... great... he's already looked forward to destroying the development of another one of the Brew Crew's top prospects.


Rumor City: Monday in Indy

The Winter Meetings are in full swing, this year in the Hoosier State. We may have a signing for the Crew and plenty more to speculate on. So here are some rumors that have passed through the realm of consideration on day one.

Jeff Suppan to the Dodgers for outfielder Juan Pierre

This is a deal that would make some sense for both clubs. Pierre is due $18 million for the next two years and Suppan will be owed $14.5 million by Milwaukee. If the Dodgers were to throw in some cash to even out the contract disparity then the trade would make financial sense as well. It would give the Brewers a viable fourth outfielder and rid the team of the perpetually terrible Suppan.

Still, don't expect this to happen. As bad as Suppan is somebody has to pitch next year. If this does happen it will be after the team has lined up a couple starting pitchers to take Suppan's spot in the rotation. Pierre would bring a decent bat and good speed off the bench, but not much more than that.

Randy Wolf to sign a three-year pact with the Crew

This one sounds like it's pretty close to the real deal. Numerous news agencies have reported that Wolf will go to Brewers because they were willing to add a third year. There's a strong case to be made that he's the second best pitcher available on the market. If this does happen, we'll have an in-depth look at the move.

A quick thought, look at the move relative to the market. General Manager Doug Melvin wants to bring in two starters this offseason, Wolf could be considered the innings eater and free the team up for a run at a riskier player like Erik Bedard.

Hey Craig Counsell, what the hell man?

There's some talk out there that Craig Counsell might be considering offers from other teams. My response? He better not be. He already has two world series rings and you have to think that he wants to be a part of whatever success the Brewers have in the next season or two... or even three.

Counsell basically has an open ticket to return to the team in 2010 and even 2011 if he wants to keep playing. He has a fan base that loves him and gets to see his family during homestands. I would be absolutely shocked - shocked! - if he doesn't return for another season.

Carl Pavano? Just Say No!

This is more to dispel a name that was mentioned in the weeks prior. If you were excited that Pavano's name was connected to the Brewers than you are an idiot. And thankfully, the pitcher that gave up more hits last season than anybody else has accepted arbitration to stay with Minnesota. Now if only Jarrod Washburn can sign with someone else and we can scratch his name of the Hot Stove shopping list.

Brad Penny a Cardinal

The defending NL Central champions St. Louis Cardinals seem to be conceding that they won't be able to re-sign Joel Pineiro after the season he had. If the Cards want to pay Brad Penny $7.5 million next season, that is fine with me. Penny is a notoriously streaky pitcher who has had numerous injury problems.

This is not an upgrade for St. Louis, Penny might excel under pitching coach Dave Duncan but even at his best he won't be better than Pineiro was last year for St. Louis. Add in Chris Carpenter getting another year older and 2010 is shaping up to be a competitive season in the Central.


In my Really? moment of the day, the Washington Nationals appear to have signed Pudge Rodriguez to a two-year deal worth $6 million. I'm sure there is some reason that this move sounds really good to the Nats, I'll just say good luck with that.

Dustin, one of my fellow contributors here at the Tap, theorizes that the winter meetings are essentially Spring Break for baseball people and that the only reason trades or signings actually happen is because some GM had a few too many. Considering the sheer volume of moves that happen after 10 P.M. it's hard not to agree. If Randy Wolf somehow manages a fourth year that's a theory I'll subscribe to.

Finally, the best way to keep up with the Hot Stove League is by checking out MLB Trade Rumors, fantastic resource. I wonder what I'll have missed by the time I get up tomorrow?


Excitement, Thy name is Zaun (Or Not)

Ok, let me be honest, my first instinct about the Milwaukee Brewers signing of Gregg Zaun to play catcher was not negative. It was only after it became apparent that the front office had given him assurances that he would start did my frustration ensue.

Initially, I thought that Zaun would be a very capable backup to a rookie like Jonathan Lucroy. He'll be 39 in April and not many teams would be willing to commit starting time to a player that "seasoned" in such a physically demanding position. But, apparently Doug Melvin has other plans.

So what exactly are the Brewers getting in Zaun? He was little more than an afterthought until 2005 with Toronto when, at 34, he hit 11 home runs and drove in 61. Don't expect a repeat performance of that. Zaun is a career .251 hitter who, aside from a three-year stretch with the Blue Jays, can be considered a career backup.

Defensively, he is solid behind the plate but has struggled with the running game as he's gotten older. After being traded to Tampa last year, he threw out only 1 of 14 stealing attempts. Also, he doesn't have the same range around the plate that Kendall had.

Offensively, Zaun is an upgrade over 2009. But that really wasn't a difficult goal to reach, the odds are whoever the Brewers put behind the dish would be an upgrade to Kendall's anemic bat. The best comparison to make to a recent Brewer would probably be Damian Miller in his second and third years with the team.

An optimistic prediction puts Zaun somewhere in the middle of the Crew's catchers for the last ten years. Ahead of Chad Moeller and Keith Osik but below Eddie Perez and Miller (he did hit .273 his first season in Milwaukee).

So why do I have a problem with this signing? It all boils down to the role that the team intends for Zaun. If they intend to have him play 110 to 120 games it would be a mistake. Being an upgrade to Jason Kendall doesn't mean much. At this point in his career Zaun is best suited for a reserve role, no more than 60 games.

Also, if the team elects to go with Zaun and George Kottaras (right) as their backstops next season, it means that there will be a logjam of Catchers at Triple A Nashville. Both Jonathan Lucroy and Angel Salome need to work on their defense, but only one can play the field. Yes there are DH opportunities in the Minors but it's not the offense that are keeping these prospects out of the big leagues.

As Mat Gamel demonstrated last year, the best way to disrupt a player's development is to take playing time away from them. If Zaun is the starter, that's exactly what the Brewers will be doing to their catching prospects.

All that said, if the team decides to start Lucroy anyways and Zaun stays in the backup role this is a good signing. There wasn't a better backup Catcher on the market this off-season. Label the grade for this signing as "Incomplete."

At the end of the day what is really draining is the catcher carousel the team has gone through since 1999. The Brewers haven't had a good catcher since they moved into Miller Park. Zaun is yet another in the long line of bad veteran just trying to make it through another season.

Prospects are exciting, they create buzz and provide promise for the future, it'd be nice to see that in a backstop for a change.