Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SANDERS!, Greece Lightning, and Mayo - Your 2013-14 Bucks Preview

Coming off a successful season were they won 38 games and earned the right to get pummeled by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks decided it was time for a change. More accurately, they decided going for the 8th seed was fine but decided to do it with different players. They jettisoned most of the roster in favor of more efficient and well-rounded basketball players in an attempt to become more watchable and less like they suck so bad. Unfortunately, the Eastern Conference has gotten a little better, so the road to the playoffs will be a little rougher. Let's start this Bucks preview by looking at what they did this summer.

Additions and subtractions

SG Monta Ellis (free agent, signed with the Dallas Mavericks)
PG Brandon Jennings (traded to the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and some random big dude)
SG JJ Redick (sign-and-trade with the LA Clippers, received two second-round picks)
G/F Mike Dunleavy (free agent, signed with the Chicago Bulls)
F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (traded to the Sacramento Kings for two second-round picks)
C Samuel Dalembert (free agent, signed with the Dallas Mavericks)
G/F Marquis Daniels (free agent)
F/C Drew Gooden (amnesty, LOL)
F/C Gustavo Ayon (waived, signed with the Atlanta Hawks)
C Joel Przybilla (free agent)
PG Ish Smith (traded to the Phoenix Suns for Caron Butler)

PG Brandon Knight (trade with Detroit Pistons)
SG OJ Mayo (free agent)
G/F Carlos Delfino (free agent)
SF Caron Butler (trade with Phoenix Suns)
C Zaza Pachulia (free agent)
G Gary Neal (free agent)
F Khris Middleton (free agent)
C Miroslav Raduljica (free agent)
PG Luke Ridnour (trade with Minnesota Timberwolves)
F Giannis Antetokounmpo (first-round pick)
G Nate Wolters (second-round pick)

That's a lot of moves.

Some dude in front of Ersan has a question
Bucks by position

Probable Starting Lineup

PG Brandon Knight
SG OJ Mayo
SF Caron Butler
PF Ersan Ilyasova

Guards: Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour, Nate Wolters, Carlos Delfino
Forwards: John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton
Centers: Zaza Pachulia, Miroslav Raduljica


The Bucks sent their whole 2012-13 backcourt away this offseason, and rightfully so. Brandon Jennings was clearly unhappy in Milwaukee, and wasn't progressing the way the front office expected. Monta Ellis was a no-defense, inefficient ballhog and JJ Redick couldn't fit in. Ish Smith wasn't the champion the Bucks needed.

By trading Jennings for Knight, they essentially swapped disappointing guards with the Pistons. Knight shoots the 3 well, can defend, and has had some moments (not all were good), but overall isn't a natural point guard and isn't a very efficient shooter inside the three-point line.

Pictured: meh
He does have youth on his side, and head coach Larry Drew had success turning Jeff Teague into a good NBA point guard, so the jury is still out on Knight. His backcourt mate, OJ Mayo, is a little more of a known quantity. He's also a good three-point shooter, can create his own shot, passes well, and at least early on in his career was regarded as a solid defender. He's also inconsistent and has had issues with effort on both sides of the ball. He should lead the team in scoring, but that says more about the team than it does about Mayo.

Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour both fill similar roles as solid backup combo guards that can shoot. Ridnour is an excellent midrange shooter and the better pure point guard while Neal is better behind the three-point line and better defensively. Carlos Delfino is a "three and D" guy who will play both shooting guard and small forward, but will likely miss the first couple months of the season with a foot injury. Nate Wolters probably won't play much but has a skillset similar to Neal.


In the last couple seasons the Bucks seemed to acquire every forward possible, something that CPU teams would constantly do in NBA Live 2010 which would lead to the hilarious result of Zach Randolph or David Lee starting at small forward for opposing teams. Fortunately, the Bucks seemed to have fixed that glitch by trading Mbah a Moute and cutting Drew Gooden and now have a reasonable amount of bigs on the roster.

Caron Butler's best days are behind him, but he's a fairly reliable veteran and a juicy trade asset with an expiring contract. Like Delfino, he shoots well from beyond the arc and can defend but doesn't contribute much else at this point. Middleton is an intriguing youngster with great size who is a dark horse to take the starting small forward job if Butler is washed up and Delfino takes longer than expected to recover.

Ersan Ilyasova is the starter at power forward but is not a traditional player there. He's an excellent shooter and good rebounder who doesn't do much defensively and can't create his own shot. John Henson showed flashes in his rookie year and is the future at the position, but needs to put on some weight and improve his shot selection. Ekpe Udoh is a good defender but is hilariously bad offensively and can't rebound, like, at all. He's also an expiring deal and as such is a likely trade candidate.

And that leads us to Giannis Antetokounmpo, the young rookie from Greece who has every Bucks fan excited. And they should be excited. BEHOLD:

The positives; he's fearless, has good shooting touch, is a willing passer, rebounds well, has a knack for blocking shots, possesses monstrous hands, is long, strong, and down to get the friction on. The negatives; is extremely raw, a little careless with the ball, has poor footwork, occasionally looses his man defensively, and is, like, eight years old or something. There's a ridiculously wide range of outcomes when it comes to Giannis (hashtag Greece Lightning) during his rookie season - he could be overwhelmed by the pro game and end up stuck in the D-League all year, force his way into the starting lineup and emerge as a ROY candidate, or anything in between. Nothing would shock me. But one thing he won't be is boring.


At this point last year, I wasn't even sure if LARRY SANDERS! was on the roster. His first two NBA seasons were eventful but not particularly useful. He blocked shots but fouled constantly and couldn't catch the ball. He was a bit of a hothead. After a brutal showing during summer league in 2012, it looked like he might not even make the team. But somehow, he did make the team, and I can only imagine that a mighty basketball demon possessed his soul and turned him into a defensive anchor and franchise building block. He cut down on the silly fouls while finishing second in the NBA in blocks while shooting over 50% from the field and nearly averaging a double-double. His impact went even beyond the traditional statistics, evidenced by this graph by Kirk Goldsberry that became popular after last year's Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference. It measured the field goal percentage of opposing teams while LARRY SANDERS! was on the court, juxtaposed against defensive sieve (and NBA Live "small forward") David Lee.

Hint: green is better than red
SANDERS' breakout season earned him a four-year, 44 million dollar deal, and he is now the de facto face of the franchise. He still is a bit of a hothead and could stand to improve offensively, but is one of the better young centers in the league and the Bucks aren't going anywhere without him.

Zaza Pachulia was paid too much to be the backup to SANDERS!, but is as reliable as they come and could start for a lot of NBA teams. I know nothing about Miroslav Raduljica, other than he is large and white and his name is an annoyance to spell. As long as he's better than Joel Przybilla, I'll be satisfied.

Head Coach

"Why do you keep calling me Windu?"
Former Hawks coach Larry Drew replaces the hapless Jim Boylan, who himself was the mid-season replacement for Scott Skiles. I don't know a whole lot about Drew, but he's supposedly a players coach who has some skills on both sides of the ball but isn't much for in-game adjustments. He had success in Atlanta and seems to me like the right kind of guy for the Bucks' young roster, but I also thought Larry Krystkowiak would be a good coach and I was comically wrong.

Prediction time

10 bold predictions

1. LARRY SANDERS! will win the Defensive Player of the Year award
2. Ersan Ilyasova will shoot a career-high 48% from beyond the arc and participate in the three-point contest during All-Star weekend
3. Brandon Knight will lead the team in scoring (17-ish PPG)
4. SANDERS! will lead the league in technical fouls
5. Khris Middleton will start more games at small forward than Caron Butler
6. OJ Mayo will lead the team in assists
7. Ekpe Udoh will rebound a basketball at least once
8. Giannis will have a 5x5 game (at least 5 points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals)
9. John Henson will have at least two 20/20 games
10. The Bucks will trade for Steve Nash at the trade deadline because YOLO

Where they'll finish

The Bucks finished 8th in the East last year, but that said more about the bottom of the East than it did about the Bucks. This is an entirely new roster and it's impossible to tell how the pieces will fit. On the plus side, the Bucks probably have the deepest roster of competent players in the East, and SANDERS! is a difference-maker. On the down side, they have no real superstar, and a handful of teams that finished below them in the standings got a lot better in the offseason while the Celtics are the only team that finished above them to get markedly worse.

Predictions on the Bucks are all over the place. Bill Simmons has them as a playoff team with the possibility of reaching the 6th seed. Marc Stein has them at 26th in his power rankings and has them at 24th. I'm somewhere in the middle - I do think the Bucks are a better team talent-wise than they were last season, but I don't think it will show up in the standings. Here's how I see the East shaking out:

1. Miami Heat
2. Chicago Bulls
3. Brooklyn Nets
4. Indiana Pacers
5. New York Knicks
6. Detroit Pistons
7. Atlanta Hawks
8. Washington Wizards
9. Milwaukee Bucks
10. Cleveland Cavaliers
11. Toronto Raptors
12. Orlando Magic
13. Charlotte Bobcats
14. Boston Celtics
15. Philadelphia 76ers

40 wins is a realistic mid-point, and I could see them finishing anywhere between 7th and 12th. The depth is good enough to keep them from completely tanking, but the lack of front-end talent keeps their ceiling low. While continuing to wallow in mediocrity and chasing the #8 seed is no fun, the team should at least be fun to watch on a nightly basis, especially if Greece Lightning is involved. For better or worse, I'm along for the ride.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

- Jerry Eldred (@jheldred)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Recapping 2013 for the Milwaukee Brewers - Hitters

Last week I wrote about the Milwaukee Brewers pitching in 2013 and in today’s second installment, I will cover the team’s hitting in 2013 and look forward to where the crew stands headed into next season. The team had 19 different position players swing a bat throughout the course of the season. Let’s take a look at how they fared.

First base was particularly manned by Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt early on with Corey Hart and Mat Gamel lost for the season with knee injuries. Gonzalez put on a woeful display at the plate, hitting just .177 in 113 at bats with 8 RBI. Gonzalez, who has been primarily praised for his excellent shortstop play, never really seemed to get things going before being released by the Brewers on June 3rd. Betancourt found himself as the team’s regular first baseman, and he delivered early on. Yuni hit .280 in the month of April with 6 home runs and 21 RBI. Bloggers and stat freaks all throughout Wisconsin were amazed at the impact Betancourt’s bat had in the lineup and thought for a short period of time that he might be able to put together a solid season. In true Yuni B fashion, however, the veteran returned to form, hitting just .190 in May. Yuni finished at .212 for the year with 13 home runs and 46 RBI. Yes, he had nearly half of his home runs and RBI in the month of April alone. On the same day the club cut ties with Gonzalez, they acquired the powerful Juan Francisco from Atlanta. Francisco came in with a reputation for hitting the ball hard, but rarely getting on base. He lived up to that reputation in the following months with the crew. Francisco did manage to slug 13 home runs, good for third on the team, but struggled mightily, hitting just .221 overall and getting on base at a miserable .300 clip. The Brewers called up Sean Halton from AAA Nashville on June 26th for his first of three stints with the big league club to pick up first base duties after an impressive showing with the Sounds where he hit .288 with nine home runs to start the season. Halton showed flashes of power and played decent defense at the position while hitting .238 overall. He brings some versatility as he also spent some time in left field. It is doubtful that the club sees Halton as a long term solution at first base, however, but more as a bridge to the anticipated arrival of Hunter Morris down the road. I think it is in the best interest of General Manager Doug Melvin to bring Corey Hart back for 2014 and see what he still has in the tank before looking to Morris in the long term. Mat Gamel was lost on waivers to the Cubs shortly after the regular season ended and we wish him the best as he tries to put a full season together.

Second base was manned by two players throughout the season for the Brewers. Rickie Weeks continued to under perform at the plate and faced his usual amount of scrutiny as he hit just .209 and saw a significant drop in home runs, clearing the fence just 10 times. He was lost for the season after having surgery to repair a torn hamstring in early August. Heralded prospect Scooter Gennett was handed the reins to the second base job and didn’t disappoint. Scooter hit .324 for the season and put up surprising power numbers, belting 6 home runs in his limited time in the starting role. He plays good defense and is just 23 years old. I see the Brewers entering 2014 with Gennett as the starting second baseman, even if a healthy Weeks returns. Look for Gennett to hit around .300 and play with great energy as the every-day second baseman.

Third base, much like first, was another position where injuries plagued the Brewers in 2013. After a terrific season in 2012 where he hit .300 with 27 home runs and 105 RBI while garnering a great deal of attention on defense, Aramis Ramirez played in just 92 games in 2013, hitting .283 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI. Ramirez is under contract for one more season with the crew, but will be 36 in June and certainly has his best years behind him. If the club is to contend in 2014 however, a strong, healthy season will be needed from the veteran. Jeff Bianchi, who played some shortstop as well, was the primary replacement for Ramirez and hit .237 with just one home run and 25 RBI while appearing in 100 games, but did particularly well in the second half of the season, hitting .274. Bianchi is fine in a bench role, but I don’t see him as a long term solution for the Brewers at any position. Nick Delmonico, acquired from the Orioles mid-season for Francisco Rodriguez shows a lot of promise and could be the club’s future third baseman, but is just 21 and remains a couple seasons away from the major leagues. I applaud Melvin for going out and getting a guy of value for Rodriguez when he had the chance.

Shortstop was a bright sport for the club in 2013 thanks to the emergence of Jean Segura. Another piece acquired by Melvin in a trade, Segura appeared in 44 games with the crew at the end of 2012 after being acquired in the Zack Greinke deal at the deadline. Segura showed flashes of brilliance, batting .294 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI while finishing second in the national league with 44 stolen bases. He was also impressive on defense and made his first All-Star game after hitting .325 in the season’s first half. While his numbers did drop off significantly in the latter half of the year, the organization is hoping the amount of baseball Segura had played without time off is to blame. However you look at it, the club has to be excited about their future at shortstop, as Segura is just 23 and currently locked up through 2018.

The Brewers entered 2013 feeling confident that they had one of the better pairs of catchers in the national league. Jonathan Lucroy, still just 27 and despite an injury shortened 2012, was coming off his best season in the major leagues, and the emergence of youngster Martin Maldonado was certainly something to be excited about. While Maldonado faced his share of struggles at the plate, Lucroy continue to show he belongs in mention with the better catchers in all of baseball. Luc proved to be the veteran leader of the club after the loss of Ryan Braun and put up the numbers to support it. He hit an even .280 with 18 home runs and 82 RBI while playing in 147 games. The club primarily used Maldonado to catch rookie Wily Peralta and he struggled to hit just .169. Lucroy proved his leadership by requesting that manager Ron Roenicke play him at first base on days that he wasn’t catching. Roenicke gave it a try and Lucroy was able to show enough at first that the crew felt comfortable enough to run him out there multiple times. In addition to their offense, both catchers again proved to be valuable behind the dish. Maldonado has developed a reputation as one of the better throwing catchers in the game and Lucroy is commonly mentioned among the best in all of baseball at framing pitches. Look for Maldonado’s numbers to improve in his third season and Lucroy to remain right around the .280 mark and provide solid leadership.

After terrific seasons from Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez in 2012, the Brewers felt they had one of the better outfields in the national league heading into 2013 with a healthy Ryan Braun. This quickly changed as Braun appeared in just 61 games before a season ending suspension due to his involvement with performance enhancing drugs. Braun was good in the limited playing time he had, hitting .298 with 9 home runs and 38 RBI but didn’t seem as lively on the base paths as he has been in years past, swiping just 4 bases. He will return in 2014 with much to prove to a fan base that greatly needs another MVP like season from the slugger to regain their trust. Aoki was solid again, batting .286 with 8 home runs and 37 RBI while stealing 20 bases but is a big question mark moving forward. The Brewers can choose to pick up Aoki’s option and keep him in Milwaukee for 2014 or allow him to become a free agent and sign elsewhere. This will likely be a tough decision for Melvin and company as Aoki has been nothing short of impressive and on a very team friendly deal for the past two years. That being said, the club has a number of impressive young outfielders banging on the door and ready to play regularly in the big leagues. Aoki will be 32 in January and one can only wonder how long he can keep up this type of production. Carlos Gomez signed a three year extension good for $24 million in March thanks to his impressive 2012 and responded by having an even more impressive 2013. Gomez got off to an incredibly hot start, hitting .295 in the season’s first half and clubbing 14 home runs while playing the best defense among center fielders in the national league. His second half numbers weren’t quite as impressive, but the gold glove favorite still finished with a .284 average, 24 home runs and 73 RBI while stealing 40 bases and robbing multiple home runs in the outfield. He enters 2014 at just 28 years of age and expectations to hit .300 and once again provide good speed and pop.

Logan Schafer, Caleb Gindl and Khris Davis were three youngsters looking to make an impact on the major league club for the first time in 2013. All three proved they deserve a look at a possible starting job moving forward and leave the Brewers pondering whether to exercise Aoki’s option. Davis was particularly impressive, appearing in just 56 games but smacking 11 home runs. The left fielder got a particularly long look thanks to the suspension to Braun and wowed players, coaches, and fans with his impressive display of power. In addition to the home runs, Davis hit .279 and drove in 27. His defense is not something be excited about, however, and he seems confined to left field. Logan Schafer appeared in 134 games and hit just .211, but showed great promise with speed, hustle, and an ability to make plays on defense. Caleb Gindl was criticized early for his struggles in the outfield and needs to get a handle on his defensive skill set, but was fairly impressive at the plate. The 25 year old hit .245 in the season’s second half with 5 home runs and 13 RBI. His defense needs to improve a great deal before he can be considered an every-day outfielder, but he has at least earned himself consideration for a bench spot heading into 2014. I think it would be best for the crew to allow Aoki to sign elsewhere and attempt to move Ryan Braun to right field. While it will be sad to see Aoki go, I feel the benefits of having Khris Davis play every day will be worth it. If Braun can make the switch to right, the club can play Davis and Gindl in left and have Schafer back up Gomez in center. Look for good production out of this group as all three regulars could hit 25 home runs in 2014.

If the club can manage to bring back Corey Hart, I don’t think much is needed in the way of free agency from a hitting perspective heading into next season. This is a club that will lean heavily on its young stars in 2014, but they have proven they can produce.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Joseph Norton (@JoeP_Norton)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Meeting the New Badger Basketball Players

With football season in full swing and the baseball playoffs ramping up, basketball might not be at the forefront of everyone’s sporting interests. However, the Badger basketball team kicked off (sports pun intended) practice two weeks ago and has an exhibition game upcoming against UW-Platteville on October 30. Needless to say we are due for a basketball preview. First up will be the newcomers to the program, highlighting their potential ceiling and floor compared to previous Badger hoopers. In reality most will fall somewhere in between, but this exercise is meant to help provide some possible expectations for each player. It’s important to note these are career projections and not limited to this upcoming season. Let’s get started.

#5 Aaron Moesch 6’8” 200lbs Green Bay SW HS WI

Chose the Badgers over offers from - Eastern Illinois and preferred walk on at UW-Green Bay.

Aaron Moesch joins the Badgers as a preferred walk on. As a senior he averaged 18.4 points and 12.1 rebounds per game in the competitive Fox River Conference and also earned honorable mention all-state. Moesch is not expected to break into the regular rotation immediately, if ever, but brings a high basketball IQ and versatile game to the team. Check out the ball handling on display in the first five seconds of the highlight tape, pretty smooth handle for a 6’8” player. Moesch will fit in nicely with the scout team and with enough progression could see minutes in the eight or nine man rotation when he’s an upper classman.

Badger comp ceiling – Zach Morley. Morley was a versatile forward that spent two years in community college before joining the Badgers early on during Bo’s tenure. Morley was a key member of the Elite Eight squad in 2004-2005 and used court awareness and savvy to excel against much quicker and stronger players. Like Morley, Moesch could use a few years to develop right out of high school in order to be on par athletically with physical Big Ten wing players.

Badger comp floor – JP Gavinksi. Worst case scenario for Moesch is spending four to five years on a perennial Big Ten basketball power and seeing the floor in already has been decided games.

#10 Nigel Hayes 6’7” 250lbs Whitmer HS OH

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Stanford, Ohio State, Xavier, Cincinnati

Getting Nigel Hayes away from Ohio State was a steal. He grew up a Buckeye fan and his older brother was on the football team (he has since left). Luckily Bo Ryan was one of the first to offer a scholarship and Hayes eventually made the right decision to come to Madison. He was a second team all-state performer in Ohio as a junior and senior and left Whitmer as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots. He can score in a variety of ways and seems comfortable shooting off the dribble or spotting up. And like the clip above demonstrates, he has no issues attacking the rim.

Badger comp ceiling – Alando Tucker lite. Hard comparison to make since very few athletes have hops like Tucker, but Hayes has the same scorer’s mentality. His ceiling will largely depend on if how easily he can adjust to scoring against top level college defenses. Improved footwork in the post will help diversify his offensive arsenal and should make him a scoring threat capable of 15-20 points per game as an upperclassman.

Badger comp floor – Marcus Landry. Let’s be clear, Landry had a great career as a Badger and is currently playing his way onto the LA Lakers. He’s an extremely talented basketball player.  It seems somewhat off-putting to list a NBA level player as someone’s floor, but this comparison is based more on Landry’s role within the team. Landry was a slasher/scorer in high school but developed more of a low post presence, especially on defense, in Madison. Hayes could find himself in a similar position where he’s not asked to attack from the perimeter or off the dribble as much.

#11 Jordan Hill 6’3” 170lbs Exeter Academy NH

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Brown, Florida Gulf Coast, Yale, Dartmouth, Kent State, Lehigh, Santa Clara

Jordan Hill graduated high school in May of 2012 and spent the 2012-2013 school year attending prep school in New Hampshire. Hill was Class A second team All-New England and helped Exeter win their first ever Class A title. He impressed Bo Ryan with his defense on the AAU circuit and has the quickness and length to really disrupt perimeter players. Hill is somewhat of a late bloomer (he will turn 19 in December) and had plenty of room to develop. An already deep guard rotation seems to indicate Hill will be a redshirt candidate this year, but he has plenty of talent to contribute during his time in Madison.

Badger comp ceiling – Michael Flowers. Flowers was a lock down on ball defender and Hill has a similar tenacity and desire to play defense. Hill is a slightly taller and longer than Flowers which will help him guard everything from point guards to small forwards.

Badger comp floor – Rob Wilson. Wilson had plenty of talent but struggled to pick up Bo’s man to man principles and was challenged to find playing time as a result. Hill could face a similar struggle adjusting to Big Ten basketball and get lost in the deep guard rotation.

#24 Bronson Koenig 6’3” 190lbs Aquinas HS WI

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Marquette, Virginia

Bronson Koenig certainly comes to Madison as the most decorated player of this class. He was AP Wisconsin player of the year as a senior and McDonald’s All American nominee (similar to Sam Dekker (whom Koenig was an AAU teammate)). Koenig is one of the more versatile guards in this country. He excels at breaking down defenses off the dribble and creating easy shots for his teammates. Koenig has excellent vision and court awareness, as well as a flare for delivering no look or behind the back passes (note around the 2:20 mark of the video – how does he get that ball through?!?). In addition he’s a willing defender and capable scorer who can play above the rim. He’s probably the most ready player to contribute of the newcomers, but with the depth at guard, playing time will be a challenge. I think his talent will be too much to keep on the bench for long, especially if the Badgers run more three or four guard lineups.

Badger comp ceiling – Devin Harris part II. Pretty lofty comparison I know. Harris was the best Badger basketball player in the Bo Ryan era and Koenig has this type of talent. Harris was a bit taller and probably quicker, but Koenig has the same court awareness and big game ‘sense of the moment’ that Harris had.

Badger comp floor – Boo Wade. Wade unfortunately had his Wisconsin career cut short due to off the court issues, but he was an accomplished point guard and capable defender. Koenig may not reach All American status, but he will be a solid contributor and one of the conferences better guards.

#30 Vitto Brown – 6’8” 240lbs Bowling Green HS OH

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa State, Toledo

Vitto Brown joins the Badgers as the reigning Division 2 co-player of the year in Ohio and AP first team all-state, as well as Bowling Green’s all-time leader in rebounding and blocked shots. Brown is well built and conditioned (he also ran cross country in high school) and is physically ready for Big Ten basketball. The other thing that stands out about Brown is his versatility. At around the 1:48 mark in the clip above, Brown blocks a shot, handles the loose ball and goes coast to coast for the lay in. Brown’s game fits well with the Badgers history of skilled big men. Brown’s presence on the defensive end cannot go unlooked. He will need to develop the positioning and footwork needed for consistently defending players his size and bigger, but he has the athleticism and timing to be an effective shot blocker.

Badger comp ceiling – Keaton Nankivil mixed with less explosive Alando Tucker. Brown has a smooth looking jumper for a big man, like Nankivil, but more capable of scoring off the dribble drive. Like Hayes, Brown does not have the explosiveness of Tucker (again no one does) but he does attack the rim similarly.

Badger comp floor – Jored Bergernhoft (Joe Krabbenhoft + Jared Berggren). Krabbenhoft was a monster on the boards, while Berggren is the all-time leader in blocked shots. If Brown doesn’t find the scoring knack at this level he should still provide above average rebounding and shot blocking.

#35 Riley Dearring 6’5 180lbs Hopkins HS MN

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Drake, Northeastern, Illinois State

Dearring played for Minnesota basketball powerhouse Hopkins and was a Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist his senior year. He has a quick release on his jumper and is a pure shooter through and through. He does not have the elite athleticism you occasionally see in a wing player but has enough length and quickness to be effective on the defensive end. Dearring is a very talented shooter and there is always room in the rotation for guys that can score. He will find himself playing meaningful minutes before too long. Like Hill, the depth at guard makes Dearring a potential redshirt candidate this season.

Badger comp ceiling – Clayton Hanson. Hanson played on some of Bo’s early teams and was a career 41% three point shooter. Dearring can definitely find a niche as a spot up shooter, especially early in his career. Eventually Dearring can develop into a rangy wing defender capable of handling bigger guards or small forwards.

Badger comp floor – Tim Jarmusz. Limited athleticism at the Big Ten level causes Dearring to struggle finding ways to score but still contributes defensively using long frame to guard multiple positions.

(Author's Note - shout out to LeeRide, fellow Badger fan who helped hash out the comparisons.)

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Neal Olson (@olewr7) 

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Packers Early 7 Round Mock Draft

The Packers are coming off their much needed bye week. After a 1-2 start, this bye couldn't have come at a better time. As dry as it is right now for Wisconsin sports, I thought I'd concoct the first installment of NFL Draft prospects for the Packers going into the 2014 NFL Draft. I think it's very important to get familiar with potential prospects for your pro sports teams, which is why I do these. These are purely based on blatant needs the Packers will be looking for in the draft and how these players could fall to them. (I recommend that if you're going to watch the videos that you enlarge them to full screen to really watch the featured player.)

Round 1 - Cyril Richardson, G/OT, Baylor

Depending on the Packers draft position, this would be the logical choice as our first round pick. Cyril Richardson could go in the Top 15, but he could also go late in the first round. I've seen him scattered all around draft boards. Richardson can play both guard and tackle on the offensive line. As we've seen so blatantly this year and in years past, Aaron Rodgers needs to be protected a heckuva lot more than he does. It seems every year the line suffers a huge injury that bumps somebody into a position on the line they are experienced at. This year = prime example. Bryan Bulaga gets hurt, insert rookie right tackle David Bahktiari at left tackle. I'm probably in the minority, but the only offensive lineman I trust to protect Aaron Rodgers in Josh Sitton. I want to get on the TJ Lang club, but too often I see him being lost. Now, maybe its him getting used to the new position this year (went from left guard to right guard)? Who knows.

Focusing on Cyril, this is a big boy. He knows how to protect a quarterback. The highlight video shows that. Richardson is 6'5", 340 pounds. He's a mammoth of a man and a true force. At Baylor, he was their starting left tackle for some guy named Robert Griffin III. After RG3 was drafted, Richardson shifted to left guard. He excels at both positions. For his size, he's very light on his feet. Guard, in my opinion, is his natural position.

Round 2 - Josh Huff, WR, Oregon

A little back story on why I see a wide receiver coming off the board so early for the Packers...

James Jones - Free Agent in 2014
Jermichael Finley - Free Agent in 2014
Jordy Nelson - Free Agent in 2015
Randall Cobb - Free Agent in 2015

See where I'm going with this? We all know how Ted operates. We all know that those four individuals won't all be Packers come 2015. We are going to have to replenish the targets that the gun shoots at. Catch my drift? Josh Huff may not have the elite speed, but is one of the most physical and tough wide receivers in this draft class. Rob Rang from wrote this up on him...

"...a difficult match up for cornerbacks. Huff uses his body well to shield defenders from the ball and he is a strong runner after the catch, demonstrating the balance and leg-drive to spin and run through arm tackles. Huff is not a future No. 1 target in the NFL, but his size and strength should make him an effective complementary wideout capable of contributing early in his pro career."

I did say he doesn't have elite speed. However, he still runs a 4.48 40 yard dash. That is definitely enough to qualify as a kick returner, something the Packers also need dearly. The team values Randall Cobb too much as a wide receiver to risk injury and having him return kicks for us anymore. It is unfortunate that the Jeremy Ross experiment didn't pan out, but it's back to the drawing board. Maybe Reggie Dunn will give us a spark.

Round 3 - Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame

Bennett Jackson is like sap on your hands after you touch a pine tree. He's like duct tape. He's a leech. He's one of the best defensive backs and the Packers could really use the depth. The most unique attribute about Jackson is that he's a former wide receiver. That being said, you could assume that he strives so well at corner because he knows the ins and outs of the position he's defending.

Last year for the Fighting Irish he recording 65 tackles (3rd best on the team) and 4 interceptions. Through the first five games of this season, he has accumulated 31 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception that turned into a pick-six for Bennett.

Round 4 - Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State

Max is a firecracker. He's calls the shots on defense. Players have compared him to Matt Wilhelm, who you might remember from the Packers 2010 Super Bowl XLV Championship team.

The Packers have an acceptable inside linebacker core, but every year it is lacking one major piece to the puzzle. That, my friends, is the pass rush. Clay Matthews can't do it all. Max has a knack for being physical and being a major presence in slowing a run game down.What he has in strength he lacks in speed. You don't want him in pass coverage, but it's something he can improve on during his senior year.

Speaking of the run defense, Max Bullough's #1 run defense in the country has given up a total of 229 rushing yards over the last 4 games. That averages out to be 57.25 yards per game. Absolutely mind blowing.

(I think you'll all like the next inside linebacker I feature in 2.0)

Round 5 - Boseko Lokombo, OLB, Oregon

With the shadows of Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay gone, meet Boseko Lokombo. Coming into this season, he's accounted for 39 total tackles (26 solo tackles), 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble. He also has 4 defensive touchdowns on his resume. Lokombo will likely be a finalist for the 2013 Butkus Award.

Main reason for drafting him - security blanket in case Nick Perry doesn't live up to his potential. You can never have too much depth at linebacker on a football team in my opinion.

Here's an interesting note on Boseko that I came upon - Back in May of this year he was selected in the CFL draft to the B.C. Lions. He is obviously continuing his college career and still is 100% focused on the NFL, but by being drafted by the CFL as a redshirt junior gives him something to fall back on in case the NFL doesn't work out. Basically, the CFL can draft red shirt juniors and can wait to sign them until their college careers are over with. Also, if they choose to go to the NFL instead, they can still be signed by the team they were drafted by after their NFL career.

Round 6 - Jacob Pederson, TE, Wisconsin

Probably not the first Badger you thought I'd feature in one of these. In any event, Pederson addresses a huge hole for the Packers. The Packers just don't have a legitimate tight end behind Jermichael Finley, and that shows whenever Finley doesn't play. You don't realize how important Finley is until he's gone. Well, not anymore.

Jacob Pederson is pretty much Jermichael Finley in another body. They both are 6'5". They both weight 240. They both are play-makers and game changers. For the most part, they have good hands. They are both pivotal. The thing I really like about Pederson is that he isn't afraid to throw a block. Like I mentioned above with the offensive line, any extra help and protection the team can give Aaron Rodgers the better.

Round 7 - Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois 

The last time the Packers drafted someone from Northern Illinois was in 1994. LeShon Johnson was a running back for the Pack for two years. Unless your name is Michael Turner, you aren't really known for playing at NUI. Until you meet Jimmie Ward.

Ward has potential to be a stud. He plays the strong safety position extremely well. He's a lock down kind of player. He's always in the middle of plays either tackling breaking up passes. Ward is known as one of the locker room leaders and voices of the team. Coaching staff has nothing but great things to say about him. He's currently playing through a serious injury on his left hand/wrist area. It has been in a cast for a few weeks now.

The Packers need serious help in the secondary. Not saying we lack the talent now, because we don't. we have a few regular starters beat up and hurt right now, and much like the offensive line, we have guys subbing in at positions they aren't used to which turns into disasters. Ward would be a great option late in the draft to address this particular issue and if anything provide depth and competition.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Andrew Vrchota (@AndrewVrchota)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Recapping 2013 for the Milwaukee Brewers - Pitchers

I am not going out on a limb when I say that the Brewers 2013 season was a bit of a disappointment. At 74-88, finishing ahead of the Cubs was the lone bright sport from a final record perspective. Despite playing in a division that sent three teams to the postseason, I believe that the organization and the fans expected much more from the club than we got in 2013. I will recap the season in two parts for the blog, starting with the pitching.

Upon the signing of Kyle Lohse just before the regular season began, it was believed that the Brewers rotation could be a strong point, with Lohse and Gallardo teaming up to form a solid 1-2 punch, followed by Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, and youngster Wily Peralta. The crew was also hoping to get a strong return season from Chris Narveson, who missed all of 2012 thanks to a torn rotator cuff.

It’s safe to say that things didn’t go as planned with the rotation. Gallardo did not pitch like a number 1 starter much at all throughout the course of the season, and an early season DUI didn’t help his popularity. Gallardo pitched to a 12-10 record and a 4.18 ERA that was much helped by a very strong finish in his last few starts. While his home runs and walks allowed were down quite a bit from last year, he struck out just 144 batters, his first time under 200 in four years.

Lohse was the bright spot in the rotation, finishing with a record of 11-10 and a 3.35 ERA. He did give up a surprisingly high number of home runs, allowing 26 balls to clear the fence, his most since 2004, but was without question the strongest member of this year’s starting staff. He is 35 now, but remains under contract for two more season and has shown no signs of slowing down.

After his first full workload on the mound, Peralta heads into 2014 with high expectations
After the two veteran arms in the starting rotation, the Brewers were counting on a number on younger guys to step up and handle the back end, but didn’t quite receive the results they were hoping for. Wily Peralta actually pitched rather well, at times, in his first full season in the show but he did not go without struggle. The Brewers would like to see him strike out more batters, especially considering his impressive fastball which ranked among the best in terms of average velocity in the national league. He showed an ability to go deep into games, even throwing the Brewers first complete game shutout since 2011 when he struck out a career high six Reds on July 9th. This was a bit of a turning point in Peralta’s season, as his ERA sat at an ugly 5.27 entering the night. He finished with a record of 11-15 and a 4.37 ERA. Beyond Peralta however, the young arms the organization hoped to lean on didn’t really pan out. Fiers struggled mightily, spending much of the year in the minors after failing to get batters out in his first few starts and Mark Rogers continued to battle injuries that have hampered him his entire career. Youngsters Hiram Burgos and Johnny Hellweg, who have impressed in the minor leagues, also had their share of struggles in their time with the big league club and spent much of the year continuing to develop in the lower levels. Tyler Thornburg and Jimmy Nelson were the final two budding stars to get a shot with the big league club during the season. Thornburg was particularly impressive, pitching to a 2.03 ERA between starting and relief appearance and remains a possible candidate for the starting rotation moving forward. Nelson put up another solid season in the minor leagues before getting a shot with the club in September. In four appearances, including one start, Nelson struck out eight batters over 10 innings while allowing one run.

The final two pieces of the starting pitching puzzle, Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada spent the year battling injuries as well. Narveson was again sidelined all season and continues to look to make a push for a starting spot in 2014. Estrada actually pitched rather well in the time he was able to see the field, coming out with a 3.87 ERA in 21 starts. He remains a favorite to make the rotation in 2014, but must continue to work on decreasing his home runs allowed and prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season.

Moving forward, the crew looks to be in the same position they were entering the year in regards to starting pitching. Gallardo and Lohse will top the rotation ahead of several questions marks as to who can fill the final three spots. Peralta and Estrada will likely make up the three and four spots with several others vying for the fifth.  Thornburg, Nelson, Fiers, Burgos and Hellweg need to prove that they can pitch with the big boys over a full season.

That's no Photoshop. That's John Axford as a Cardinal.
Heading into 2013 it was no secret that the Brewers bullpen needed to improve. After ranking dead last in ERA in the national league at 4.66 in 2012, Doug Melvin put great emphasis on retooling the group to produce better results. Whatever he did seemed to work, as the 2013 squad ranked third in the league with a 3.19 ERA. Jim Henderson led the way with 28 saves, kicking out an impressive 2.70 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 60 innings. His power fastball has proved to be effective in the closer’s role and he looks to have a firm grasp on that spot heading into 2014. Brandon Kintzler earned a spot in the bullpen after an impressive showing with the club late in 2013 and stepped up in a big way for the crew, tossing the most innings out of the group and putting up an impressive 2.69 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 77 innings while holding opponents to a .234 batting average. He looks to be a promising piece of the pen moving forward. One of the arms that Melvin went out and got for the relief corps during the offseason was Tom Gorzelanny. The veteran added value as a lefty with starting experience and an ability to throw multiple innings out of the bullpen. He did very well filling in as a starter when needed and was particularly valuable out of the bullpen. Gorzelanny pitched just 36 innings of relief but was impressive, finishing with a 2.70 ERA in those outings. Another offseason addition that proved to be valuable was Burke Badenhop, who Melvin acquired from the Rays in a trade for Raul Mondesi, Jr. Ron Roenicke leaned heavily on Badenhop early in the season and the righty performed well when called upon. At the end of the season his ERA sat at 3.47 after tossing 62 plus innings. Michael Gonzalez was also acquired in the offseason after an impressive season with the National in 2012 where he put up a 3.03 ERA. Gonzalez had his struggles with the Brewers however, finishing with a 4.68 ERA and will likely land somewhere else in free agency. Two pitchers that the Brewers have leaned on heavily in the past in John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez were dealt during the season and found success with their new clubs. It was sad to see Axford go, but exciting to see him get another shot at the post-season with the Cardinals. Looking to next year, the Brewers have several promising bullpen arms in youngsters Rob Wooten, Donovan Hand and Michael Blazek, who all experienced a moderate amount of success this season. It is also possible that we will see any of the younger guys mentioned above as possible starters end up in the bullpen in 2014 along with Alfredo Figaro, who performed well as a spot starter and long man, posting a 2.94 ERA in relief.

I could see Melvin making some minor moves to improve the pitching staff heading into 2014, but I think we will mostly see guys that we saw this year. The bullpen seems to have the necessary pieces to see repeated success and the rotation simply needs youngsters to develop and prove they can pitch at the big league level. If they can do that, and guys can stay healthy, I think the Brewers pitching can be a strong point in 2014.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Joseph Norton (@JoeP_Norton)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.