Marquette is quite simply one year away from having a solid team. Unfortunately, they're also a year away from their first year in the Big East, which means that their solid team will no longer simply run away with the championship. Last year's main problems still exists. travis Diener is not only the heart of the team, but also the lungs, brain and pretty much any other part one can think of. If he's done, Marquette's done. It was frightening to watch Marquette last year during the few minutes when Diener was injured, as you could literally see confusion on the faces of the players seconds after Diener left the court. It's said that he's put on a few extra pounds of muscle to help protect himself, and he's one of the toughest guys around, so I expect Diener to be ready to go unless he needs an amputation, but if gangrene sets in during 2004-5, don't expect many wins from the Golden Eagles. Though I have seen none of the new players, it sure sounds like Marquette has brought in some talent to replace Scott "Spin Move Into a Defender" Merritt and Robert "Not the Answer" Jackson. While Jackson's back, he was largely a disappointment last season, and should see less minutes with the young talent available. Ryan Amoroso and Mike Kinsella might not lead to more wins this year, but their ample playing time will lead to good things in the next two to three years for Marquette. This year, though, I'm predicting that they'll struggle before makeing a deep run in the NIT based solely on Travis Diener's heart. And they'd better thank him, because next year they're going to have to replace not only a heart, but an entire body.
We'll speed this up, since most of you have similar knowledge about Wisconsin to what I have. The thoughts will be flying quickly, but try to keep up. Devin Harris is gone, but and all-conference caliber player (Alando Tucker), a former high school All-American (Brian Butch), a former third team All Big Ten player (Sharif Chambliss) join the team. I love Devin Harris, but I'll take that trade any day. And before anyone calls me out for not accounting for the contributions of Freddie Owens and Dave Mader, I'll trade them straight up for the other two freshman (7-footer, Greg Steimsma and super-athlete DeAaron Williams). Boo Wade's leave of absence will certainly hurt the team, but my impression is that it won't necessarily be a long-term thing. In the meantime, I look for Kammron Taylor to get the start at the point guard spot. I wouldn't be shocked if Michael Flowers ended up stealing lots of time from him, though, as Flowers is said to bring consistency that few freshmen can match. Flowers, though somewhat unheralded as a recruit, could end up being a very nice fit if the rumor and conjecture that I hear have any basis in reality. Reports from Saturday's open scrimmage at the Kohl Center seem to indicate that Taylor looks outstanding, though, so we'll see how things go. Chambliss and Clayton Hanson should be solid at the two spot, so without sounding too much like a homer, I'm thinking that the lack of guard experience will be less of a concern than many thought. As for the frontcourt, the only problems I can forsee are Andreas Helmigk getting pissed over being forced to play (or not play) behind a more talented slew of players. As for legitimate concerns of mine, the most obvious is an extended absence by Boo Wade. If he doesn't come back, depth at guard is low, and if just one of the guards gets hurt or doesn't step up as expected, it could be a tough hole to fill. Alando Tucker's feet scare the hell out of me, too. I'm still not sure what happened to him last year, but I was getting a major Bill Walton vibe from him. And since Tucker doesn't do bad basketball color commentary in his spare time, I'm obviously refering to his fragile feet. Let's hope for the Badgers' sake and for Alando Tucker's sake that his foot problems are well behind him. I also question Tucker's shift to small forward due to his ridiculously flat outside shot, and less than stellar ball handling ability (Anyone remember his turnover at Michigan his freshman year? Why was the ball even in his hands?). Then again, if someone would have told me that a 6'5" guy would be playing power forward effectively for the Badgers two years ago, I would have laughed in his or her face, so that's what I know. The last concern is less importantly, but Jason Chappel has been getting great publicity on the internet during the offseason, and is said to be much improved. All I can say is that I need to see it to believe it. If things fall right, though, this team could challenge for a championship. Worst case, they're still with Illinois and Michigan State in being light years ahead of the rest of the conference. I will be disappointed should we see anything less than a third place Big Ten finish a Sweet Sixteen run.
Individual Player Commentary
Last year I ranked players at over or underrated. Since most of them return this year, that bit’s already a tad old, so I have to come up with something new. So I have. This year, I’ll be conducting the 2005 NBA draft. Due to an agreement between every member team, each NBA franchise will only be allowed to draft players who are playing at Marquette or Wisconsin this year. If you can get past the facts that this scenario violates about 5,000 anti-trust laws, is completely implausible, is basically just a cheap excuse for me to dress up a simple ranking of all players on both rosters, and that I know virtually nothing about the NBA, this is really a pretty good idea. Just go with it, okay? Players are ranked mostly based on current ability, rather than their ultimate talent ceiling, though I have, in some cases, taken liberties to place players with particular teams for comedic effect. And based on the first open scrimmage, I have Kammron Taylor ranked way too low. Chalk it up to what will likely be my first error of the year.
1) Orlando-Travis Diener
--Is there really any question here? Orlando takes the best player available, as you should with the top pick. Diener's the best college player in the state, hands down. He's got the best shot of playing a game or two in the NBA out of this bunch. If he goes down, Marquette is in serious trouble. If you don't believe me, grab a tape of the team during his injuries last year and watch the confusion ensue. Thankfully his extra 10 pounds should help him stay healthy. He may still look like he's 12 years old, but Travis Diener is not to be taken lightly.
2) Chicago-Mike Wilkinson
--I believe it was a gentleman by the name of "Boo-Yah" who made the most accurate statement that I have heard about Mike Wilkinson. He's not going to get any better, but that's not really a critisizm of him. So, at #2, the Bulls take a guy with limited upside, but who offers unlimited security. Wilkinson will remain a key constant on his team, among a gym full of fresh faces. The formerly skinny perimeter roaming forward has blossomed into one of the Big Ten's best bangers. His body transformation over the last four years would raise suspicion of a connection to BALCO, if not for his normally shaped head. Perhaps the only concern for the Bulls is that Wilkinson will be scared off by the big city and opt to retire to run his own farm, since if you're not aware, he grew up on a farm. They should really put something in the media guide about that.
3) Washington-Dameon Mason
--Jerry Stackhouse is gone. Michael Jordan is gone. Larry Hughes isn't the answer. Enter Dameon Mason. So, this might be a case of me overrating a guy a bit based on potential. Mason showed flashes of brilliance last year, and also flashes of ineptitude. The brilliance became more prevalent by the end of the year, though, and improvement should continue this year. If history serves as a guide, Tom Crean gets a bunch of guys transfering out and a real stud every year or two. We have our transfers already, and Mason appears to be the next stud. We'll be talking about him at the end of the year, as Diener passes the torch.
4) Charlotte-Alando Tucker
--Would have been taken higher, if not for concerns about his flat shot, limited ball handling ability, and nagging injuries. While I'd like to offer all of these things as reasons why he'll fall flat this year. Of course, when he was a freshman, I could have told you that he would fail because power forwards just aren't 6'5", and I would have been wrong. Tucker's just too athletic to fail. The Bobcats are an expansion team, so they're looking for a few good athletes. Tucker should fit nicely.
5) Los Angeles Clippers-Steve Novak
--The Clippers have a ton of young, athletic slashers. Who better to interject into the mix than Steve Novak, a 6'10" 3-point specialist. Novak can't do anything else, as evidenced by his some of his girlish drives to he hoop last year. Near the basket, I've seen stronger moves from some 5th graders. From behind the 3-point line, though, no one's more automatic than Novak. If you want someone who not only can shoot, but can create his own shot, you'd take J.J. Reddick from Duke. Novak lacks the ability to create, but if we're talking purely shooting, he's the best out there. He may look like he's going to cry when he takes it to the hole, and he may not be a great defender, but man is his one skill sweet. Novak's one of the best one-dimensional players I've ever seen. And that's enought to catapult him to #6.
6) Atlanta-Zach Morely
--Morely is instant energy, and does everything with the enthusiasm of a third-grader playing in his first YMCA league game. He's going to hurt you if you're not on your game. And the segment where he gets his haircut after being chewed out by Bo Ryan on ESPN's "The Season" last year is one of the best cross-cut scenes I have ever seen. They should show this in film school classes. Back to the point, though. Why does Atlanta take a player who gets by partly on ablitity and partly on tremendous effort? Easy--putting a white guy with weird, shaggy hair in the rap mecca of the county just makes sense. This doesn't just help the team--it serves as a viable sitcom premise.
7) Phoenix-Boo Wade
--Off the court, Wade can be a bit of a wildcard. His recent leave of absence illustrates this. However, on the court, there's no one more dependable than Wade. He's not real noticable when he's on the floor, but part of that is because he's not screwing up. Heck, you didn't even really notice him in high school, except for his exceptional 3-point ability. No, that's not a typo. He was Vincent's shooter, and he had serious range. I saw him drill threes from the coach's box at state his senior year. His slow release ensures we'll never view him that way again. He's a dependable point guard, and that's why Phoenix take him at 7, though. Given that a 5'8" Japanese guy is one of Steve Nash's current back-ups, can you blame the Suns?
8) Toronto-Sharif Chambliss
--Finally, Chambliss is home. He won't wow us with his prolific scoring ability like he did at Peen State, given that he actually has competent teammates at Wisconsin, but he could provide a nice three-point lift, and seems to possess some fine leadership characteristics. There is some concern about injury, but heck, he was once a Third-Team All-Big Ten selection. That's got to count for something. As for Toronto, Chambliss is a good candidate, since after he couldn't get a scholarship to Wisconsin, he was adventurous enough to venture out of the Great Lakes region and off to Pennsylvania. Canada should be a new frontier. (Yeah, I didn't force that explanation at all...)
9) Philadelphia-Ryan Amoroso
--Philly takes a green freshman at the 9 spot. Okay, so I haven't seen him play, and he may not even be the best of Marquette's freshmen this year, but he's the one that scares me the least based on what I've heard and read on the internet. I'll refrain from comment, since last year I made wise predictions about Dameon Mason being overrated and James Matthews being the best newcomer for Marquette. We all know how that worked out, but I think Amoroso should be good. I can't wait to see him to confirm this.
10) Cleveland-Brian Butch
--I was having a discussion with one of my law school classmates two years ago about Brian Butch. I was expressing my excitement that the Badgers had signed a 6'11" McDonald's All-American from the state. My classmate, a life-long Madison resident who had followed basketball much more closely in her younger years looked back at me and said "Wait, this guy's from around here? Is he a tall skinny white guy?" "Yes," I replied. She then went on to cite Grant Johnson, and Sheboygan's own, Kurt Portmann, and then expressed doubt that Butch would pan out. I could have thrown out Brad Timmerman, as well, but I think we all fear the tall, unathletic white guy curse. I'm tempering my expectations, but I expect Butch to be solid. And he played with and against Lebron James in all-star games, so he's got to be a good fit of Cleveland, right?
11) Golden State-Joe Chapman
-Chapman's nothing special, but he'll start for Marquette this year because they need a 2-guard and everyone else has tranferred. I can never name anyone on Golden State, and I think that's a concerted effort on their part. Heck, I didn't even know what city the team was located in until I was 12 years old, since they don't use the city's name. Joe Chapman will be another good annonymous addition to the squad.
12) Seattle-Ray Nixon
--Well, it's the same story as last year for Ray Nixon--he's got the athletic ability, but can he stop and learn the game. It kind of reminds me of the days when Maurice Linton was the only guy on the Badgers, aside from Andy Kowske (Boo-Yah!), who could dunk. Nixon's more talented, though, and doesn't have the benefit of very little raw talent ahead of him. Seattle continue's their legacy of athletic forwards (Shawn Kemp, Dameon Mason) by taking Nixon here. Seeing as Alando Tucker's probably the only better raw athlete, the Sonics could do worse.
13) Portland-Mike Kinsella
--He's apparently another one of these 7-footers who can shoot the three. Doesn't anyone work on post moves anymore? Sounds like he could be the new scoring threat for Marquetter, but who knows? He hasn't seen the floor yet, but his experience at D-1 Rice and a year of junior college should serve hime well. Kinsella goes to Portland since his time in junior college undoubtedly leaves him best prepared of anyone for the low-level thugs he'll encounter in the Portland locker room.
14) Utah-Michael Flowers
--Some would argue with me, but it sounds to me like Flowers will push for some serious playing time this year. He's not the most heralded player in his recruiting class, but could turn out to be the most important this year. I wouldn't be shocked if he ate up the majority of the point guard minutes in Madison this year. The Badgers are losing a legend at this position, as are the Jazz, so Flowers will know the role and thrive with Utah.
15) Boston-DeAaron Williams
--Crazy athlete from Illinois could be special. Larry Bird's not walking through that door. Kevin McHale's not walking through that door. Why not Williams? Some would expect that Williams is the next Alando Tucker. Like Marquette fans claiming Dameon Mason is the next Dwyane Wade, Badger fans should calm down a bit. Although, as Mason is bound to show this year, don't take that excitement down too much. Yeah, I don't completely know what I'm saying either.
16) New York-Greg Stiemsma
--As a junior, he was perhaps the most impressive player that I saw. I have repeatedly watched the clip of him at the state tournament blocking a shot, retrieving the ball, and going behind his back on a fastbbreak before dunking. Not your average open court move for a 7-foot, 16 year-old kid. He disappionted me in his senior year at state a bit, but that open court move is seared in my mind. I refuse to back off of my year old assertion that he'll end up better than Brian Butch, even though he gave me a scare last season. I just keep telling myself that it was his knee injury slowing him down. He's a nice fit in New York because, well, I don't really know. They don't have much up front, I guess. I would have preferred to say that he'd look really weird standing next to Jeff Van Gundy, but he's not even the coach anymore. That just about ruins any jokes that could be made about New York.
17) Milwaukee-Todd Townsend
--I'm still not sure what to think of this guy. He's a sick athlete who makes a ridiculous play ever few weeks during the season. Sadly, he didn't make many near the end of last season since his inconsistency led him to the bench. I see that he recently put up huge point totals in the Blue-gold scrimmage. The Bucks will take a chance like they did a few years back with Jearld Honeycutt. It remains to be seen if things will work out for the Bucks, or the Goden Eagles, but time is running out for Twonsend.
18) New Orleans-Kammron Taylor
--The Hornets take Taylor here because he's a point guard and he kind of looks like Baron Davis, so that could confuse defenses at times. Taylor is quick, and supposedly less frail than last year, which is good, since he's the likely starter at point for the Badgers, at least for awhile. I still give the inside track to Michael Flowers to take more minutes, but Taylor, a sophomore, should still start for awhile. I, of course, base all of these assertions about the Badger point-guard position on rumor and conjecture, as I've seen both players play a grand total of about 7 minutes.
19) Miami-Clayton Hanson
--Well, he lucked into a scholarship this year with Devin Harris' departure, but he's pretty darn deserving. He'd be a star with UWM if he hadn't followed Bo Ryan to Wisconsin. You don't expect a walk-on to give you 20 minutes in a game, and you don't expect him to give you 17 points either. He could potentially start this year, quite the feat for someone who was not even recruited by the Badgers. Miami gets him because after paying for school for three years and fighting through exams at the business school on days of key games, he deserves a trip to South Beach.
20) Denver-Ousmane Barro
--He's a muscular 6'10" guy who's raw and won't contribute much this season, though it sounds like once he finally gets his first chance to play organized basketball in the United States, he could be a major force. Denver has Nene Hilario, a similarly gifted player who also has a cool name, so they will continue their dedication to athletic foreigners with awesome names.
21) Houston-Marcus Jackson
--Jackson, largely a disappointment last year, goes to Houston. Since Houston has lots of front court depth, they can do what Marquette should do this year and reduce his minutes.
22) New Jersey-Chris Grimm
--The "Reaper" deserves some credit, as last year he became a beast for about 2 games late in the season. Other than that, he's not been the threat that many expected when he came in as a freshman. Touted by some basketball previews as a likely immediate starter for the Golden Eagles, it's quickly becoming clear that Grimm may never become a starter. He actually could start this year by default, but if Marquette has any hope, their freshman will take minutes away from him. new Jersey, not having learned their lesson from signing Chris Dudley to a huge contract, take another slow, beefy white guy.
23) Memphis-Charlie Bell
--Bell's on a leave of absence for the time being, and it's unsure if he'll return to the team. Still, he's probably got more upside than anyone else, so Memphis takes him here, in a low-stakes gamble.
24) Dallas-Andreas Helmigk
--Expected to be a monster in the paint, Helmigk provided a much needed big (but slow) body in his first few years at Wisconsin. An influx of guys who are more talented relegate Helmigk to the bench, where he will hopefully get the chance to dry off from his intense pre-game perspiration. After a nice career at Wisconsin, Helmigk will be best remembered for his smooth European style of dress on the bench. Dallas adds another guy from a foreign country, since that's all that Don Nelson really wants to deal with these days.
25) Detroit-Tony Gries
--Gries is a walk on for Marquette, but he has game time experience. In one of the most shocking moments of last season, I went to a game where he came in for Travis Diener in the first half, despite a lack of injuries to any scholarship players. Detroit won a championship with players that aren't the best in the league, so they're happy to add a walk on, rather than a superstar.
26) Sacremento-Tanner Bronson
--Wisconsin Walk on is the only college player in the nation who looks younger than Travis Diener. Sacremento, out of options, takes him for no apparent reason.