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SPORTS

The Badgers, by the numbers
Evaluating the team's chances, and other idle speculation


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The week between the end of the high school hoops championships and the beginning of the NCAA men's tournament provides an opportunity to catch up on my email. Here goes:

Do you think Wisconsin will be getting to the Final Four?
Tanner B.

Prognostication is not my strong suit, particularly in the NCAA tournament. I often do well enough in the first round in the Isthmus office pool (played purely for recreation, of course) to be considered a threat, then fall apart in the middle rounds. In recent years, the best I've done is to have one team alive by the time the Final Four convenes.

So this year, I've turned to Ken Pomeroy, the Internet's favorite hoop head (kenpom.com). He ranks teams by offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored and given up per 100 possessions) and tempo (possessions per 40-minute game), then completes a Pythagorean calculation to determine how likely they are to win games.

Wisconsin, with its efficient offense and lock-down defense, is the fourth most likely team in the country to win, reckons Pomeroy. The Badgers average 108.9 points per 100 possessions and give up only 86.5. And since they rarely take advantage of fast-break opportunities, they use a lot of clock and limit possessions, which frustrates any team that wants to play up-tempo basketball.

Cal State-Fullerton, the run-and-gun team that faces the Badgers in the first round, fits that description. The Titans own an offensive efficiency of 113.6, but they give up nearly that much (100.1) on defense, which by Pomeroy's calculus puts them in 110th place. Of the Badgers' potential second-round opponents, Kansas State and USC show up at 15th and 20th place, respectively.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the number-one team, according to Pomeroy, is Kansas, the top-seeded team in Wisconsin's region. If the Badgers manage to win three games and get to the Elite Eight, the Jayhawks hope to block their path to San Antonio.

But if the Badgers make it that far, their fans will be thrilled. Moreover, such a run would be a fitting rebuke to ESPN's Michael Wilbon, who said on Monday, "The team you don't want to see is Wisconsin." Wilbon represents that flavor of sports pundit who doesn't let his ignorance of college basketball dissuade him from speaking in certainties. Welcome to March.

A few days after the Badgers secured the regular-season Big Ten championship, the UW athletic department added 16 new courtside seats to the Kohl Center for the 2008-09 men's basketball season, to go along with the 48 that have sold out for the last two years. The price tag for each seat is $10,000, per season. Did you reserve yours yet?
Barry A.

I'm holding out for either a spot on the bench, between Morris Cain and Wquinton Smith, or some kind of jet pack that will allow fans to hover above the action. I wonder how much those tickets will go for.

The athletic department's website is counting down to the Badgers' spring football game. Will I see you there?
Bret B.

Most definitely not. Badger football coach Bret Bielema needs to learn a lesson from Bo Ryan when it comes to putting together an inter-squad game.

Ryan splits up his starters and pits two teams of equal abilities against each other for his annual scrimmage open to the public. Football's Spring Game, on the other hand, traditionally features the starters in cardinal against the reserves in white. To keep things competitive, scores for the white team count double.

Count the white team's points quadruple if you want, the thing will still be a snooze fest. This year, some fans are hoping competition between senior Allan Evridge and junior Dustin Sherer for the starting spot at quarterback will mean an aerial display. More likely, a glut of promising tailbacks (P.J. Hill, Lance Smith-Williams, Zach Brown and John Clay) will keep the ball on the ground.

Still, this scrimmage will likely be better than Bucky's Nov. 22 tilt against Cal Poly, the latest cupcake to show up on the Wisconsin football schedule. On the last day of the Big Ten season, when Michigan plays Ohio State and Penn State clashes with Michigan State, Wisconsin will take on (yawn) the mighty Mustangs, a team that finished third in the five-team Great West Conference last year.

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