Thursday, March 28, 2013


The new MLB season signals many things, including the coming of spring, the first bratwursts on the grill, and the joys of tailgating. Once you get in the park, however, the new baseball season means shelling out $7.50 for beers. I can justify that for a few games a year, but if you're like me and try to go to 10 or 12, the price of beer can certainly add up. But, if there was entertainment in the bathroom (that sounds odd), I may be inclined to load my bladder with a few more frosty beverages. Well LO AND BEHOLD, the new "urinal gaming system" to be unveiled at the Lehigh Valley IronPigs minor league park. Entertainment in the bathroom while going No. 1? I'm sold. If they had high scores based on stream power, volume, duration...oh man, the possibilities! The park in Pennsylvania is the first stadium to unveil this sort of system, but I would really like to see it catch on more places. 
Ballpark to debut 'urinal gaming system' in Pa.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Countdown to April

Although for some it's a shorter holiday week, it has the feeling of being a one of the longer weeks of the year. I have this inkling that once we turn the corner to April on Monday, we can finally put winter behind us. Here's a shortlist of why I think April is going to be the bee's knees.
1) Baseball season: Opening Day is the first day of April, and while it is my favorite day of the year, it does officially signal the end of Winter to many. There's no place I'd rather be than Miller Park to kick off the baseball season, and I'm happy to be heading there again. Charcoal grills, cold brews and America's past time - I'm kind of excited.

2) Bike rides - I got into biking last year with the Tour de Pearl, and I never realized how awesome the Coulee Region is for bike rides. I had never gone more than five or six miles on a bike, and by the end of the summer, I found myself riding upwards of 30 miles at a time.

3) Beer, Wine and Cheese - While Opening Day is my favorite day of the year, the Between the Bluffs Beer Wine and Cheese Fest certainly ranks in my top 5. It's tough to argue with Christmas, my birthday and baseball, but a day filled with tasty cheeses and cold brews is hard to argue with.

4) Grilling - Whereas some folks may wait for temperatures in the 60s to head outdoors and bust out the grill, I know plenty of Wisconsinites that grill all season long. For most though, consistent temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s are plenty warm enough to fire up the grill. Many times for me, my first grilling session coincides with Opening Day, and I cannot wait to enjoy some burgers, brats and sweet corn on the grill as soon as possible.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Three Thursday Thoughts

Here are a few of my thoughts from the first day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament...

1) Some mid-majors are really good
-Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth were both known commodities entering the tournament, and neither team disappointed. SLU won by 20, VCU won by 46. Wichita State was likely a perceived underdog against perennial tournament team Pitt, but the Shockers earned an 18-point victory and a date with Gonzaga.

2) Some mid-majors...not so much.
-The Mountain West Conference struggled yesterday. It was a good win by Colorado State over Mizzou in an 8-9 matchup, but two of the teams expected to make some real noise in the tournament suffered first round upsets. UNLV was knocked off my 12-seed Cal, while Harvard pulled the shocker of yesterday, taking down 3rd-seeded New Mexico. I'm not surprised by Michigan handling San Diego State, as I have the Wolverines in the Final Four, but it still was not a great day for the MWC.

3)It's tough to pull an upset.
-Davidson had its game against Marquette all but locked up, before a few errors, both mental and in the physical execution, went awry for the Wildcats. The Golden Eagles are an extremely talented team that saved their best play for last and while all Davidson needed to do was answer, Marquette would not allow it and Vander Blue made the closest thing there was to a buzzer beater yesterday. I was bummed, given Davidson was my big upset pick yesterday, but I supposed it's always nice to see a Wisconsin-based team move on.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brian Urlacher

Something brings me great joy in seeing the Chicago Bears lowball Brian Urlacher, but then again, I can respect what they are doing as an organization. I hate the Bears much more than I hate the Vikings (largely because Chicago has been better recently), but there's been one player I've respected, as a Packers fan, on the Bears' roster: Urlacher. He's been honest, he's been classy, and he's been a good player. Good organizations know when to cut bait on certain players, so while I know what Chicago is doing is hard, it's probably a good move. For the right price, I wouldn't mind seeing him in Green Bay. I don't know if it's necessarily a need, but he certainly would have a good amount of insight on a division rival. Urlacher addressed the possibility of signing with a division rival in his media circuit this morning, jokingly saying "Well, they have been good." It's gotta be for the right price, but it would be a nice eff you to the Bears.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Coaching Experience

Of the 26 active NCAA Division I coaches with Final Four experience, 20 of them are bringing teams to this season's Big Dance. That's nearly a third of the 64 teams that will be alive starting tomorrow, and it's something to keep in mind when making your final bracket selections.

Let's start with guys like Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo, the guys who coach the teams that happen to occupy the top three seeds in the Midwest. With a combined 23 Final Four appearances between those three, it's obvious that they've got the chops to bring Duke, Louisville and Michigan State back to the Final Four. If you're thinking that a team like Saint Louis or Creighton can make a run to emerge from this group of 16, keep in mind the heavyweights that will need to be slayed first.

There are a few first-round match-ups that will pit coaches with Final Four experience against each other. The 8-9 game in the South, North Carolina vs. Villanova, will feature Roy Williams' seven Final Fours against Jay Wright's 2009 appearance. The 6-11 match-up, UCLA and Minnesota, pits Ben Howland (3 Final Fours) against Tubby Smith (1, with Kentucky in 1998). Even the 7-10 game, with San Diego State (Steve Fisher) and Oklahoma (Lon Kruger) feature veterans who've been there before. In fact, 10 of the of the 16 coaches in the South have Final Four experience, when you add in VCU's Shaka Smart, Florida's Billy Donovan, Kansas's Bill Self and Georgetown's John Thompson III.

The West bracket, on the other hand, has just two coaches - Thad Matta and Bruce Weber- that have been to a Final Four. That reason alone is not why I picked Ohio State to head to Atlanta, but it definitely does present the Buckeyes with an advantage over the likes of Mark Few's Gonzaga team, Steve Alford and New Mexico, and Bo Ryan's Badgers. Bruce Weber has changed schools since his lone Final Four appearance with Illinois in 2005, but he still is going to make Kansas State a tough out this year.

Tom Crean and Jim Larranaga, the coaches for the top two seeds in the East bracket, have both been to Final Fours, but not with the schools they currently coach. Dwyane Wade helped lead Crean's Marquette squad to the Final Four in 2003, while it was Larranaga's George Mason squad that made an improbable run in 2006. If you're looking for a first-round upset, don't forget that Cal coach Mike Montgomery has been to a Final Four, albeit with Stanford. Two teams unlikely to be upset? Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orangemen and Brad Stevens' Butler Bulldogs, as Boeheim (3 Final Fours) and Stevens (2) are very comfortable playing in March.

Of the 20 coaches in the tournament who have experienced the final weekend of madness before, I have three of their teams in my Final Four. I like Pitino and Louisville to prevail in the Midwest, Matta and Ohio State to emerge from the West, and Larranaga and Miami to be the last team standing from the East. The only newbie I have joining the fray is John Beilein and the Michigan Wolverines, who I think will withstand the coaching gauntlet that is the South bracket.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Big Ten Bracket Breakdown

While no single team has emerged as the dominant squad heading into March Madness, there is a conference that's been almost universally regarded as the season's best: the Big Ten.

The conference had seven of its 12 members receive bids into this year's tournament, and there is at least one team in each region, with three of the four regions having two representatives. For this reason, I like the odds that two Final Four teams will come from the Big Ten.


(3) Michigan State is the lone Big Ten team in the Indianapolis bracket, and are saddled with a very tough bracket. The No. 1 overall seed, Louisville, waits for the Spartans in the Elite Eight, if Tom Izzo's squad can get past the likes of (6) Memphis and (2) Duke (and and if the Cardinals don't get upset by (4) Saint Louis). Izzo is one of the coaches you should trust wholeheartedly in March, no matter what competition.


The potential regional final match-up in the Los Angeles portion of the bracket is a Big Ten championship rematch featuring (5) Wisconsin and (2) Ohio State. The Buckeyes and the Badgers are as well coached as any of the teams in the regional, which as a whole, doesn't appear to be as strong as some of the others. (1) Gonzaga will be a tough test for Wisconsin should they be pitted against each other, as will (3) New Mexico for Ohio State, but I like the odds of Bo Ryan and Thad Matta squaring off for a guarantee of one Big Ten team coming out of the West.


(4) Michigan arguably has the best player in the country in Trey Burke, which does mean a lot come March. I like the Wolverines' chances of shutting down Nate Wolters and the (14) South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the first round, handling the pressure of (5) VCU in the second, and upsetting (1) Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. I'm not as high on (11) Minnesota, but the Golden Gophers certainly have the talent level to upset (6) UCLA in the first round and give (3) Florida a run for its money in the second.


The Washington D.C. bracket has two Big Ten teams, including (7) Illinois and many people's national championship pick, (1) Indiana. The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team to earn a No. 1 seed, and have the talent to match-up with any team in their division. They will likely have to get through (2) Miami, who is coming off an impressive ACC regular season and tournament championship. (3) Marquette, (4) Syracuse, (5) UNLV and (6) Butler all pose unique threats to Tom Crean's Hoosiers, but Indiana appears like it has the chops to make it all the way to Atlanta.

With seven teams in the big dance, it's not unreasonable to think that two teams will emerge from the very strong Big Ten. Even though my favorite team is Wisconsin and common sense tells me to pick Indiana, I'm betting that Michigan and Ohio State emerge from their respective regionals to represent this year's best conference in the Final Four.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

NFL Free Agency

This week contains some of the craziest days of NFL Free Agency, and it's always interesting to see which players are legitimately trying to win a ring and which players are following the money. The player I really really wanted the Packers to sign, former Ravens DE Paul Kruger, ended up signing with the Cleveland Browns for $40 million dollars. Speedster wideout Mike Wallace went from perennial contender Pittsburgh to the Miami Dolphins, who aren't that great. Wes Welker got the best of both worlds, not only getting the money but a chance to play with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. It's unclear what Steven Jackson and Greg Jennings are going to do quite yet, but my gut is telling me that Jackson is going to go for the ring and Jennings is going to follow the money. I think the Packers are ultimately going to get the former Rams running back for an affordable price, where I think that GJ85 is eventually going to get his money somewhere other than Green Bay. I hope the Packers can get both for the right price, but I'm very skeptical.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Crazy Drivers

After calling off a late-night trip home from St. Paul on Sunday night, my friends and I attempted to drive home from the Cities yesterday and it was slooooooow going. The drive down Highway 52 and I-90 between Rochester and Winona are just so wide open that the snow can blow across the highway unabated. The roads were covered but traverseable, if every one went at a slower pace. That didn't stop some crazed semi drivers from zooming past everyone else and terrifying the rest of us on the highway. I saw trucks come within about 18 inches of the cars in the other lane, and they seemed barely fazed at all. And it wasn't just one driver! It was truck after truck not giving a flying bleep about the other cars. I don't know if they're just that confident in their driving abilities, or if they just think the roads aren't that bad, but seriously. I've slid into a ditch before because of an overly-ambitious drivers. I know they get paid by the mile or time or whatever but seriously. Slow down.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

State Hoops Preview

The games for two local teams don't start until tomorrow, but today begins the final journey for two of the best local teams in recent memory. Both Aquinas and Onalaska will end their seasons at the state tournament, and whether it's a gold ball, silver ball or no trophy at all, it's been a hell of a ride for both teams.

Here's a quick preview of each of the two teams' games tomorrow.

Aquinas vs. Little Chute

This has the potential of being one of the best games in the whole tournament. Aquinas is led by Wisconsin-bound senior point guard Bronson Koenig and Michael Conway, who will be walking on at Minnesota to play football. Little Chute is led by two UWGB-bound seniors in 6-8 Kenneth Lowe and 6-6 Turner Botz. The Blugolds have the size to combat the Mustangs with Conway and Parker Weber, but it's important that they stay out of foul trouble. Whether or not Little Chute has anyone to stop Koenig should be the deciding factor in the game. And remember - Aquinas has been here before. They were the 2011 Division 3 state champs.

Onalaska vs. Pulaski

Pulaski's best players are 6-5 senior Cody Wichmann and 6-0 junior Luke VanLanen. I can only assume the Hilltoppers will defend the two of them with their traditional zone defense, either in a 1-3-1 or 2-3 variety. Size doesn't scare Onalaska, as they dealt with plenty as they made their run through sectionals. Senior Matt Thomas should scare the Red Raiders thought. The Iowa State signee dropped 41 on Hortonville in a sectional final last year and had one of the most ruthlessly efficient games I've ever seen in the state final vs. Kaukauna a season ago. If the Hilltoppers play the way they are capable of, there's no reason they shouldn't be playing for the gold ball on Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why ruin it for the kids?

I played high school basketball, but like 99.99 percent of all other high school athletes, I only played the four years I actually attended my high school. Well, that .01 percent is made up of people like McKinzie Sewell, a 22-year old man from Tennessee. He never graduated from high school but had earned a GED, and thought it'd be a good idea to try to play for a local high school team. He created a fake transcript and actually took the court for Ridgeway High, immediately creating a situation which rendered the rest of the team ineligible
Why would you do that to a group of kids? The team was successful, in the regional final round of the state tournament, before Sewell's scam was unearthed. Sure, everyone wants to be able to go back to high school and relive their glory days, but no one actually tries to do it! Shame on this guy for ruining the seasons of those kids. Shame on the administration for not catching it. Granted they probably wouldn't expect someone would try to do this, but there still needs to be someone held culpable for letting this happen?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Snow Day?

I went to school for 18 years and I can say fairly confidently that I had fewer snow days in my educational career than the La Crosse area has had this year. I had no trouble getting to work this morning. Got up a few minutes early to shovel, took my time on the roads, and pulled into work without incident. 

I feel like an old curmudgeon saying this, and I obviously don't know all the factors that are necessary for a regular school day to operate as planned, but what's with all the snow days?

If the focus of the snow plows was to make sure the commutes for the school buses was safe before that of the 9-5 workers, couldn't we get by with less snow days?

I sound bitter, don't I?

Although the one snow day I had as a student at UW-L was spectacular. Piling up snow banks and jumping of balconies, building giant snow forts, which, by the way, have built in drink coolers.

Friday, March 1, 2013

One game from state

Last night, three local boys basketball teams all advanced to Saturday's sectional final round, putting them in the "Elite Eight" so to speak of teams left in their respective divisions. Onalaska topped Rice Lake in Division 2, Aquinas got past G-E-T in Division 3, and Onalaska Luther beat Fall Creek in Division 4. I've all three of these teams play multiple times this season, so here's my take on what each team has to do to move on to next week's state tournament.

ONALASKA: So much is made of Matt Thomas, and rightfully so, but as long as his Hilltopper teammates fall into their roles, Onalaska will be just fine. If Clint Rihn can run a steady point, Connor Helgeson can knock down a couple of open threes, and Connor Gavin and Dustin Gordon can rebound and make open shots, the Hilltoppers will certainly advance. Whether Thomas has 15 points or 50 points shouldn't matter too greatly, because the rest of the team is so good at filling in the complementary roles and are perfectly happy doing just that. The tenacious zone defense will always be there, so as long as everything else falls into place, Onalaska will find itself in Madison.

AQUINAS: It sounds simple, but what the Blugolds need is to make lay-ups. Bronson Koenig is such a creator at point guard that his teammates find themselves in position for easy buckets. As long as they have their heads on a swivel and catch the ball then put it in the hoop, Aquinas will be in good shape. Mike Conway is a threat inside and outside, Nolan Ritter can knock down 3s with the best of them and Parker Weber gives the Blugolds a presence in the post. Fill in guys like Eldred Jones, Reggie Raab, Carson Schneider and Co. for defensive pressure, energy and rebounding, and Aquinas should be in good shape for a return trip to Madison.

ONALASKA LUTHER: The Knights are as hard-headed a team as they come, but I mean that as a compliment. Luther is going to stick with its pressure defense and fast-break offense come hell or high water. Last night, against a bigger Fall Creek squad, whether or not that style was going to prevail was certainly in doubt. But come fourth quarter, it was the Knights heading to the free throw line with a chance to clinch the game. Luther has a tall task with undefeated Cuba City in Saturday's sectional final, but I have a feeling that Christian Kennedy, Zach Matzke and the rest of the Knights are going to be up for the challenge. If they can force the Cubans into playing a faster style, it could be Luther scoring the upset and making its first trip to state.