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By CHRIS HAVEL
Badgers men’s basketball team bridges gap between Packers’ post-season, NFL draft
Congratulations are in order, if not overdue, for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
Through head coaches Bo Ryan and Greg Gard the UW has sustained excellence in the Big Ten regular season and beyond.
Wisconsin’s most recent rush onto the national stage came Saturday when the Badgers KO’d the NCAA Tournament’s defending champion and this year’s top No. 1 seed, Villanova.
The 8th-seeded Badgers’ 65-62 win over the Wildcats in Buffalo, N.Y., means Wisconsin (27-9) faces 4th-seeded Florida (26-8) on Friday night in Madison Square Garden.
Wisconsin trailed 57-50 with five minutes to play before going on a 15-5 run to close out the victory. Along the way, top players Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig were saddled with foul trouble. Nevertheless, Nigel Hayes and the rest kept the Badgers close until they returned to help key the victory.
It is the fourth straight spring that Wisconsin has advanced to the Sweet 16. The Badgers are the only NCAA team to be able to make that claim.
The Badgers/Packers Connection
If you’re wondering the link between Badgers basketball and Packers football it should be obvious: The Badgers have provided the state’s sports fans with a first-rate program that is able to compete – and dominate – on a national level.
Whether it’s “draft-and-develop” or “recruit-and-develop” it is the results that matter. It minimizes the lull between the Packers’ final game – which has come in the post-season each of the past eight seasons – and free agency and the draft.
The Packers’ post-season typically requires fans to be patient. The Badgers’ success makes that much more do-able.
This offseason Packers’ GM Ted Thompson has been his usual conservative self in free agency. Thompson has re-signed linebacker Nick Perry, edge rusher Jayrone Elliot, offensive lineman Don Barclay and punter Jake Schum thus far.
Thompson also has gone out and signed former Packers cornerback Davon House, as well as free agent tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. Those moves have been sensible and obvious.
Bennett, Kendricks and Richard Rodgers give the Packers and Aaron Rodgers its best tight end trio ever. It should allow the Packers to move the chains, run the football and have more success in the red zone.
Offense Set; Defense Next
Clearly, there is much more work to be done, but the reality is that most of that must come on defense.Whether the Packers sign a running back in free agency, or select one in the draft (or perhaps both), the offense is all but set.
Defensively, I expect the Packers to cross their fingers and hope a complete defensive end such as Michigan’s Taco Charlton is available with the 29th pick. If not it’ll be an edge pass rusher or a cornerback.
The Packers’ need is much more pressing along the defensive line than it is at edge rusher where Clay Matthews returns along with Perry, Elliot and second-year pro Kyler Fackrell. Matthews needs to pick his spots and make sure he’s fresh for the post-season run. That is much more difficult if nobody emerges behind him on the depth chart.
Perry must continue to build on a strong 2016 and carry it over into this season. Health concerns presumably are in the past.
Fackrell needs to add weight and strength, while Elliot needs to transform occasional flashes and glimpses into consistent impact. The departures of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones most certainly create a void that must be filled.
The Packers would be wise to add another veteran pass rusher, perhaps ex-Eagles linebacker Conner Barwin, or longtime Ravens edge rusher Elvis Dumervil. Green Bay can’t be caught short in the postseason without a significant pass rush merely because Matthews and/or Perry are banged up and available on a limited basis.
Meantime, Thompson plots and plans for much-needed help in the draft.
That leaves the state’s sports fans to cross their fingers and pray for two things:
1) The Packers’ next move in free agency and then the draft
2) The Badgers’ next game and possible berth in the Elite Eight.
It’s a great way to pass the time.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.