Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

By Tony Atkins

Whitewater, WI – The UW-Whitewater Warhawks (13-0 overall) were well aware of what was on the line Saturday afternoon as they trotted out of the tunnel and into their NCAA Division III quarterfinal against no. 2 Linfield College (OR).

It wouldn’t be the most polished victory for the Warhawks, but no one was complaining about having to came back to take one over the Wildcats, 28-17.

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Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Antwan Anderson dives in for a touchdown. (Photo courtesy of oregonlive.com)

“We could’ve folded up but didn’t,” said Whitewater Defensive Coordinator Brian Borland. “That’s what makes me more proud than anything else.”

It was an uphill battle for the Warhawks early on as they found themselves down early with a trip to the semifinals at stake. On the first drive of the game, the opposing Linfield offense cruised down the field with a five-play, 66-yard drive.

Following that drive, the Wildcats continued to pounce on the Warhawks early at Perkins Stadium. Borland and the Warhawks defense saw enough when Linfield reciever Evan Peterson took advantage of blown cover in the Whitewater secondary by catching a 60-yard touchdown pass.

Linfield Head Coach Joseph Smith understood the importance of establishing that lead early against the four-time national champion Warhawks.

“I don’t think any of us thought we wouldn’t get a huge lead and they wouldn’t make a comeback,” said Smith. “I think against a defense like that, you want to get as many points and hope it’s enough.”

Ultimately, Linfield’s 17 points would not be enough against the four-time national champion Warhawks powered though their early struggles.

While the Wildcats’ 17 was the most any opponent scored against Whitewater all year, the Linfield offense missed out on some key opportunities to further establish their lead.

Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity for Linfield came early on when the Wildcats attempted to run the ball in on fourth and goal from the one yard line. Cornerback Chad Coburn would fumble and the ball was eventually recovered by Whitewater.

Photo courtesy of Linfield College

Photo courtesy of Linfield College

It was a very big day for Warhawks quarterback Matt Behrendt, who went 26 for 36 passing with 275 yards and four touchdowns. He credited his wide receivers for his big day, especially Jake Kumerow, who had 149 yards on seven catches and caught three of his touchdowns.

“It was definitely a plan of attack to have our outside guys one-on-one with their corners,” said Behrendt. “I just have to put the ball close to them and there’s a big chance they’re gonna make a play on it.”

Head Coach Lance Leipold isn’t shocked that his Warhawks are doing well, he admitted about being surprised that his team is still playing in December. Nonetheless, he is certainly happy about his team’s success.

“If you would ask me at the beginning of August if we would still be sitting here, I don’t know if I would I would be saying that, let alone with a week to go.” said Leipold. “I’m extremely proud of this football team, the coaching staff and the things that they’ve done and we’re going to keep rolling and enjoy this thing as long as we can.”

While the Warhawks enjoy Saturday’s victory this week, they will have another big test next week against Mount Union (OH) in the semifinals.

Author’s note: This column was originally posted on SB Nation’s Acme Packing Company on June 22, 2013.

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Over the course of the past few seasons, the Green Bay Packers have consistently put a productive offensive unit out onto the field. No matter if it was in the scorching heat or the blistering cold, the Packers have rarely had problems offensively. While doing so, they have also established a sound reputation as one of the most prolific passing teams in the National Football League. In the midst of all of that was the fact that; during most of the Aaron Rodgers years, the Packers have significantly lacked much of a rushing attack.

For years now, many of Aaron Rodgers’ Sundays (or Thursday or Monday nights) consisted of lacing up his shoes, tossing on his yellow helmet, jogging out of the tunnel and completely obliterating his opponent’s defensive secondary. It became routine, and almost weekly tradition that these offensive marauds occurred every single time the he hit the field. A lot of times, Coach Mike McCarthy would draw up the slants, which set up the occasional long bomb, and games were won. It became second nature for the Packers to throw the ball. Everything was all right with the world.

Even with all of McCarthy’s and the Packers’ success heavily relying on what worked in the past, one thing that has always eluded the Pack in one way or another was the presence of a consistent running game.

The cries to establish the ground has not fallen on deaf ears throughout the years. Ted Thompson and company certainly have done things here and there to get this facet of the Packer offense up and running again. Ryan Grant was a valuable piece in the reestablishing years leading up to the Super Bowl, but he was the last 1,000 yard rusher in Green Bay, that was in 2009 (1,253). Since then, its been mostly committee duty, but that has staggered recently.

Having a 1,000-yard rusher certainly means a lot for an offense but it isn’t the end-all, be-all definition of what a good ground game is. Moving the ball effectively is all it’s about. To this point, that is what is hindering the Packers and is why teams like San Francisco are continuing to go deep into the playoffs consistently. James Starks was an effective runner before during the Super Bowl run, but since then the rushing well has run dry. A bright spot late last season was DuJuan Harris, who is averaging nearly five yards per carry. While he hasn’t posted a 100-yard game yet, he is favored because he runs the ball effectively and has been excellent in getting the line of scrimmage close enough for a good chance to move the chains.

The Packers have had some tough luck recently as well. Devastating injuries to guys like Starks, Grant, Cedric BensonAlex Green and countless others have been a main cause of the constant setbacks of the development of this rushing attack. The offensive line has also been a continuous struggle as well, and the positions go hand-in-hand in creating an effective running game. Other teams have caught on to this and it has shown on the field. Without a sound running attack, the Packers are often one-dimensional by the second quarter and are therefore susceptible to exploitation.

As mentioned before, Ted Thompson has heard the world’s cries to establish a running game — and has probably done some crying of his own — and it showed when he drafted not one, but two running backs in April’s draft. The two backs are Eddie Lacy, the 238-pound bruiser and the slender Johnathan Franklin, who weighs in at a lean 205 pounds. The two are second and fourth round selections, respectively and are expected to light a fire underneath their incumbent counterparts as they compete for jobs themselves. There are now five backs but that number is likely to be slashed down to three when it is all said and done.

Mike McCarthy understands that getting the ball rolling on the ground is necessary in aiding his quarterback if they want to continue to be able to continue their offensive onslaughts through the air. He told the Journal Sentinel that it is paramount in keeping defenses on their toes.

Running the football, trust me, it’s important. Would I like to do more of it? Yes. Will it help the quarterback driven emphasis? Absolutely. The best quarterbacks are always complemented by a good run game. And we haven’t been good enough there.

As far as his personnel running the ball, McCarthy sees that there is an significant upgrade from what he had last year. The unique thing about this particular group is that there isn’t just one kind of rusher taking the ball. This group has both speed and power and will be able to mix it up as the year goes on.

Well, we feel like we’ve addressed the position, and we’ve definitely upgraded the competition in that room. There’s young personnel there that we’re all excited about, and I’m not just talking about the rookie class. I’m talking all the way through. It’s a young group. There’s a ton of competition. There’s a lot of diversity.

One of the key things that McCarthy established in his statements was that this is a quarterback-driven football team. No matter what happens at the running back position, McCarthy knows that it will only be complementary of what they do as a passing team.

But our job as coaches is to utilize our personnel and ultimately to play to a team identity. And this is a quarterback driven football team. It has been in my time and has been for decades here and it works. So that’s what we stay in tune with.

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t mind running the ball a little more, but only as long as it results in wins, as he tells ESPN Wisconsin’s Jason Wilde:

If we can run the ball more effectively, it can only help us when we’re trying to get those one-on-one matchups outside. We have game-breakers outside, and it’d be nice to have some consistent game-breakers inside.

While running the ball consistently and effectively has been an issue for a few years now, it is not just a back-burner issue. The offensive line will be key in getting this ground game going. Zone blocking is something that Mike McCarthy has been heavily reliant on during his time here and consistent blocking will be just as important as anything else in getting the ground game… off the ground.images

Author’s Note: This piece was originally published on Acme Packing Company on June 18th, 2013

Green Bay, WI, USA;   Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers works out during organized team activities at Clarke Hinkle Field in Green Bay. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret that the Green Bay Packers has been one of the most well-run operations in the National Football League for the past few seasons. SinceAaron Rodgers took over for Brett Favre in 2008, the Packers have compiled a record of 58-29 (including playoff appearances), two division titles and one Super Bowl championship. Rodgers himself notched his MVP trophy while leading the team as it posted its best regular season in record in franchise history. Without a doubt, it has been a great time in Titletown thus far during the Rodgers era. The skies have been blue and the rays of success have beamed down from the football gods. It seems that the Packers have constructed a breeding ground for generations of pigskin excellence on the soils of Lambeau.

While Rodgers has emerged as the face of the Packers since taking over for Brett Favre, it would be foolish not to acknowledge the guys that helped the Packers continue to bear that golden torch of success over those years. Guys like Donald DriverCharles WoodsonGreg Jennings and Desmond Bishop, among others, have been nearly, or equally as important in reestablishing the Packers as the class of the NFC. As you may have noticed, however, all of the aforementioned players have played what is likely to be their last season in Green Bay, last season. Meanwhile, teams like the San Francisco 49ers progressively has emerged as some of the best talent in the NFC. All of this while the Packers are without a few of their stars of yesteryear, an 29-year old elite quarterback in his prime and a couple of younger guys looking to take that step forward into the limelight to replace their predecessors.

Recently, Aaron Rodgers sat down with ESPN Wisconsin’s Jason Wilde to discuss a plethora of topics. All in all, the conversation went in a number of directions. From talks about the Greg Jennings comments, to the undying yet recently resurrected (OXYMORON) discussion of Brett Favre and his inevitable jersey retirement, to a lot of other Aaron Rodgers-ish stuff. While a lot of topics were touched on, there was once overriding theme that stuck out : The Window of Opportunity. What happens with it? Is it closing on Green Bay? With other teams like Denver, San Francisco and Seattle emerging and the Packers losing some of their once-key contributors, Rodgers says that he feels that younger personnel will step up to fill those voids:

I see the window staying open. I really do. I see some important guys making that jump mentally and physically. Some guys have been here, and I see these guys coming in and pushing guys. I look at a guy like Datone Jones. I mean, he’s a man out there and having guys like that and Johnny Jolly, bringing Johnny back, those are two guys who bring an energy to a defensive line that really needs it.

While players like Donald Driver, Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings and Desmond Bishop moving onward from their Packer years, it is up to others like Josh SittonT.J. LangMorgan Burnett and Brad Jones to now step up and emerge as leaders on this young Packer squad. After being placed in a locker room where players like Woodson and Bishop are given pink slip certainty gets across the magnitude of how easily a roster spot can be lost at any time. Rodgers believes that these examples may be all the motivation the young guys need to cherish this opportunity and to stay on their toes, consistently.

When they’re cutting guys like Charles Woodson, and not bringing back Greg, who’s played a long time here, guys who had big roles for us, it has to be a wake-up call for some of our guys that this is about, “What have you done for me lately?” and “What can you do for me?” That’s the type of league we’re in.

Rodgers also hinted at some of the guys he liked so far this off-season. Wide Receivers Myles White (Louisiana Tech) and Tyrone Walker (Illinois State) were a couple of guys that drew praise from the 2011 NFL MVP. For an organization that emphasizes on drafting and developing, the Packers may have two guys there that could eventually become favorable targets of their quarterback down the line. As far as his veteran targets, Rodgers spoke highly of them as well. James Jones is coming off of a league-high 14 touchdown receptions in 2012. Opposite of Jones, Jordy Nelson is coming back from nagging hamstring injury and is looking to be ready to go in 2013.

I love our weapons. We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things for you. We have two of the top outside receivers in the league in Jordy and James.

For years, the Packers have been known for their offensive onslaughts through their passing attack. This year the Packers have brought in Johnathan Franklin and Eddie Lacy to compete with the incumbents; James Starks, DeJuan Harris and Alex Green.

You bring in a guy like Johnathan Franklin or Eddie Lacy, that raises the running back room. When you continunally add guys to the mix that can compete right away from Day 1, everybody else has to pick up their game because you start worrying about your own job.

While the Packers continue on with their never-ending “circle of life” in player personnel, they are relying more on the younger players who used to take the notes. Now without the comfort of having players like Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson, these guys are the leading voices at the OTAs and in practices. Only time can tell if this group will continue to bear that gleaming, golden, torch of success or if they will be taking a step backwards. Until then, the Packers move forward with their youth and a lot of doubting whispers that can only be silenced by productivity.

(You can read the Wilde interview HERE)

Author’s Note: This is from the “lost archives” about the Milwaukee Bucks.

Is winning really winning when it comes to the Milwaukee Bucks or is “winning” setting them back from crafting a real future?

For years, there has been this big question about how to fix the Milwaukee Bucks. I found it to be very annoying because I haven’t found the Bucks to truly be “fixed” since I was eleven years old in 2001. But anyway, now more than ever, to me at least, the question of how to “fix” the Bucks has never been more relevant than it is now.

Larry Sanders could spearhead a new era for the Milwaukee Bucks moving forward. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Larry Sanders could spearhead a new era for the Milwaukee Bucks moving forward. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The truth of the matter is, the Bucks can NOT be fixed. Instead, the success of this franchise depends on smart drafting and actually developing the players that they draft, rather than trading them away to “win now.” The Bucks are at a crossroads right now and they if they want to turn things around significantly, timing is the key. To be more clear, now is the perfect time for the Bucks to huddle up and decide where they really want to take this franchise moving into the future.

For the better half a decade, the Bucks have been like that pair of glasses on that one kid in elementary school that never truly got fixed but instead gets ridiculous amounts of duct tape put on it to keep it together and functioning at a minimal level. You know, the taped glasses kid. The NBA is elementary school, the Bucks are the taped glasses kid and its roster is those damn taped glasses.

Looking only at recent Bucks history , players like Richard JeffersonJohn SalmonsDan GadzuricStephen Jackson and countless others have all been brought or re-signed in with either the hope for one of two things: 1. the promise that they are that missing piece to put the Bucks toward the top. (or) 2. A large contract that they never live up to, in addition to option number one.

That whole Stephen Jackson thing went south... quick. (Photo courtesy of Gary Dineen/Getty)
That whole Stephen Jackson thing went south… quick. (Photo courtesy of Gary Dineen/Getty)

Hope is something that a team is supposed to do so you can’t knock the organization for believing in players, signing them, promoting them and hoping they do well. If they didn’t do that, they wouldn’t be a very good organization and I honestly believe that the Bucks are a decent organization with some very bad luck. REALLY BAD LUCK.

The fact that I’m writing all of this about a franchise that is fresh off a playoff berth as I sit next to a “Beat Miami” playoff towel saddens me. Countless reports about how star player Brandon Jennings wanted to leave initially seemed like the worst thing to happen to the poor franchise. As the season went on, more and more reports that key contributors such as Monta “Monte” Ellis and J.J. Redick were “unlikely to re-sign” seemed like, again, the worst thing in the world. Not to mention that the coach that started the season (Scott Skiles) left mid-season for one reason or another. Initial reports were because Skiles had a “frosty” relationship with some in the organization. Those were later rebuked, so no one really knows for sure why the two parted ways. None of that matters now.

Again, if the Bucks are to get this thing together and make a successful turnaround like Indiana or Seattle/Oklahoma City, it is going to depend on timing… And luck of course… always that.

With Skiles out, the Bucks turned Assistant Coach Jim Boylan to close out the season before eventually deciding to move onward to bringing in a new coach. This is where the timing would start to come in. The Bucks are at a point where players don’t want to come here, neither do some coaches (Jerry SloanStan Van Gundy). However, this next hire that the Bucks make at the position will be vital in turning around the culture of this franchise. I hate that I even had to write that because it’s so obvious. The Bucks need to establish a new identity and now is the time to begin doing so. The coach will be the face of anything the Bucks have moving on so hiring the right coach is paramount at this point.

Unlike teams like the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks, the Bucks don’t really have too much of a sway with players these days. However, what they DO have are some talented young players that have shown some passion about donning a Bucks uniform. Larry Sanders and John Henson both have shown that they have potential to be a part of a new culture in Milwaukee. Both guys were excellent draft pickups that gave this team size, something that they lacked in the past. While the Bucks do have young players that show promise for the future, creating a newfound culture of winning is something that will take some time. Not a quick signing or fix.

The Bucks have been doing pretty well lately with their drafting. I believe that Jodie Meeks could have been a solid part of what the Bucks could have been. The same thing could have happened with Tobias Harris. Instead, that potential was dealt away for guys that have since come and gone…Except for J.J., who again, is reportedly “unlikely to return.”

With the arena situation hanging over their heads and Seattle (reportedly) looking over their shoulder, it is very necessary that the Bucks have a productive image of a team moving forward to make building an arena an easy sell. The last thing that the organization needs is a heavy flow rumors of stars wanting to leave, mysterious coach vacancies and an on-the-court product that is a seventh seed at best on a great day.

If it is really true that Brandon, J.J. and/or Monta want to leave Milwaukee, I’d say let them. That way the Bucks could continue to start fresh. They would have a new coach; why not start fresh on establishing an entirely new culture in the locker room? This is the crucial first step that the Bucks have to not drop the ball on. (DON’T HIRE VINNY!) Next they will need to cool their jets on bringing in these quick fixes. There comes a time where “win now” and make the playoffs isn’t satisfying enough. The most satisfying change that I believe many of us want to see is long term change, aka a true rebuilding process.

No more fix ups, no more Steven Jackson-types; it is really the perfect time for Milwaukee to get it together and work on building for bright future. There are already a couple solid pieces in place and if they play their cards right in the upcoming draft, the Bucks may be closer to long-term relevance than we may think.  I don’t know about y’all, but I think it is time for the Bucks to some new specs instead of continuing to be that kid with the taped-up glasses in the back of the class.

This was originally published on ESPN’s Bucksketball on January 25, 2013

Everything was set up perfectly. This would be the first year since 2004 that the Milwaukee Bucks would have an All-Star. Derrick Rose has been out all season. The Celtics have struggled, the Sixers have struggled and the Cavs have been the Cavs. Opposing point guards are playing on bad teams and in tiebreaker scenarios, coaches always seem to favor players on good teams over players on bad teams come All-Star selection time.

Finally, the Bucks would have an All-Star again.

That was what a lot of people in Milwaukee were thinking Thursday morning.

Well you were all wrong. The Bucks still are without star. Their best candidate, Brandon Jennings, will be watching the league’s best players from home, just like the rest of us.

Specifically, he’ll probably be watching Jrue Holiday. Selected seven picks after Jennings in 2009, the Philadelphia guard has now leapt over his competitor into what most saw as the final guard spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. 

With that said, it’s only right to take a look at the play of these two young guards from throughout this season. I know, many Bucks fans are ranting about how Jennings was snubbed but was he really snubbed or was Jrue really just better and more deserving?

Wins aren’t everything.

There are many factors that go into the selection of an all-star. One of the big factors that come up in any sports is the “wins” argument. You have really good players, then you have All-Stars. There is a difference between the two.

All-Stars are great players that are capable of leading teams to wins while improving the state of a franchise. A great example of an All-Star would be a player like Kyrie Irving, who is quickly bringing the Cleveland Cavaliers back to respectability, even with the current level of talent around him. While the Cavs are still terrible, they at least can realistically sell the hope of Irving’s preternatural talent at the helm of that team.

In this case here, the Bucks (22-18) stand six games ahead of the Sixers (17-25). Yet, Holiday is selected over Jennings. For anyone feeling that Holiday shouldn’t have gotten in over Jennings may need to take a look at Holiday’s impressive season thus far. It’s possible the gap between Holiday and Jennings was great enough that wins weren’t really a factor, much in the way Irving was so good, it was impossible to exclude him.

Holiday has been a drastically improved player this year,.  Currently, Holiday is statistically better in Jennings in scoring (slightly), rebounding and assists. (Holiday: 19 ppg, 9 apg, 4.2 rpg. Jennings: 18.7 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.5 apg.) It’s almost more impressive that Holiday’s been able to pass out nine assists every night with such a poor offensive team around him.

Head to Head.

Even without the record numbers, the Bucks are simply a better team than Philly. Currently 2-0 against their East-Coast counterparts, Milwaukee has shown no brotherly love to Philly. In their two head-to-head match-ups, Jennings torched the Holiday and the Sixers, as he should have, because they (PHI) aren’t that good. They have some moderately talented to slightly above average players like the Youngs, Nick and ThaddeusSpencer Hawes and Jason Richardson, but they’re a mess of a construction and very poor defensively.

November 12th, Milwaukee took the first game in Philadelphia 105-96.  Jennings took it to Philadelphia with an all-around performance, scoring 33 with eight assists and five boards. Holiday held his own that day, scoring 25 with six assists. Then in Milwaukee on January 22, the Bucks would win 110-102 behind Jennings’ 25 points and seven assists. Holiday struggled that night, shooting 3 of 12 from the field with nine points and eight turnovers.

Head-to head games don’t really mean anything in terms of the selection of All-Stars but Jennings has taken it to the All-Star Holiday both times this year that they faced-off. Just something to keep in mind.

Consistency is key… to an All-Star berth.

I mentioned quite a bit of scoring and individual performances up to this point. Of course basketball isn’t just about who scored what and against who. This applies even more when looking at All-Stars and who deserved to get in and who didn’t. The difference between these two is defense and consistent offensive output.

Right now, Jennings is third in the NBA in steals. Outside of that,  Holiday has been the superior guard defensively. When Jennings is in at point guard, opponents, per 48 minutes, have an eFG% of 50 percent and an efficiency rating of 16.9 while averaging 21 points. When Holiday is in at point guard, opponents are a bit less productive per 48 minutes, with an eFG% of 46 percent,  a 14.2 PER while averaging 19 points. And, as a reminder, Jennings plays on the superior defensive team as a whole.

Will Brandon Jennings ever make an All-Star roster? (Sam Forencich/NBAE Getty Images)

One of the big differences I’ve noticed this year out about Jennings and Holiday was that Jennings tends to have those games where he would just lay an egg. You never know when they are coming, but they do. One night Jennings is super efficient offensively then the next time out, he is scoring two points. In the six games when Jennings scored ten points or fewer, the Bucks went 1-5. Holiday has scored ten or fewer only twice this season.

Jennings is an improved player this year, especially over the past 10 or so games, but he hasn’t been quite as consistent as Holiday offensively or defensively. Ultimately, it appears that was the difference.

I’m sure that many would say that Brandon Jennings got snubbed in this year’s All-Star voting. I would suggest that those people take a look at Holiday’s and even Irving’s numbers. Those are two guys that deserved the spots that they earned. Jennings has been great this year too, it’s just that he isn’t quite the total package to be an all-star point guard. Only time will tell if he ever will be.

What do you all think? Will Brandon Jennings ever make an All-Star roster?

This was originally published on ESPN’s Bucksketball on December 29, 2012

If last month’s trip to South Beach taught the Milwaukee Bucks anything, it’s that they can compete.

Last time the Bucks played the Miami Heat, they took it to the defending champs but ended up losing 113-106. It was a pretty amazing until the very end where Miami (LeBron James specifically) came back to take the game to overtime where the differences between the Bucks and the Heat were a bit more clear. Miami was not playing around in overtime.

The Bucks fell just short last month in Miami. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s almost two months into the NBA season and the once upstart Bucks aren’t as hot as they once were. Things have changed. In the last meeting with Miami, the Bucks got a huge 17-point, 18-rebound effort from rookie John Henson. Aside from Henson and the usual suspects Brandon Jennings and Monta EllisTobias Harris and Mike Dunleavywere big contributors who turned in solid performances. Even Samuel Dalembert got into the fray with a solid ten points and five rebounds, and his first THREE BALL!

Since then, Harris has been dealing with a gashed elbow and Dalembert has dropped off the face of Scott Skiles’ Earth. Henson, the promising young forward, has gotten lost in the shuffle as well. He got rotation minutes in the six games following his impact performance over the Heat, but has seen only garbage minutes in Milwaukee’s past 11 games.

Jennings over Chalmers. Expect some of this. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

When Milwaukee took Miami down to the wire on November 21, I quickly chalked it up as a “moral victory” and expected for there to be a more exciting game in their Milwaukee showdown. The Bucks as a team certainly learned from the last Miami loss but some of the key contributors from that time aren’t as important heading into this game. I honestly don’t expect for Milwaukee to back down by any means but I don’t know what to expect at all from this rematch.

From the Miami angle, Dwayne Wade is returning from his one-game suspension for kicking Bobcats guard Ramon Sessions in the groin. Without Wade, Lebron James and the Heat came up short against the Detroit Pistons and they’ll surely be invested in Saturday night’s meeting.

The Bucks have been pretty Jekyll and Hyde so far this season. Sometimes they make shots, sometimes they don’t. Much of their performance is predicated on that shot making. But Milwaukee hung tough with the Heat despite a poor shooting night in late November. They were a different kind of Jekyll that night.

With all of the changes between that last matchup and now, who knows what we’ll see out there?

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on ESPN’s Bucksketball on Nov 26, 2012

After getting off to a hot 6-2 start, the Bucks have dropped three of their last four to Chicago, Miami and – get this, the Charlotte Bobcats. With twelve games in the books, the Bucks stand at 7-5 and have shown a lot of heart in both their wins and their losses. They have been playing HARD for forty-eight minutes every night so far this season. A prime example of that grit was showcased in overcoming a 27-point deficit against Chicago on Monday.

(Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Bucks have shown that they can compete against some of the best in close losses against Boston, Miami and Chicago. Without a doubt, they are improving and I still expect them to be in the playoff bracket somewhere when that time comes. They are young and they are experiencing some early growing pains. As a blogger and a lifetime fan of this organization, these losses have been very deflating for me, I can only imagine the frustrations that are brewing in the locker room.

But there have been some early season issues that need specific addressing.

1. Ersan Ilyasova’s struggles

Ersan Ilyasova, the man who received that four-year, $32 million (guaranteed) deal over the summer is not looking good at all thus far. In Saturday’s game against Chicago, he didn’t box out, making Carlos Boozer look likeDennis Rodman on the boards. He looked out of place, lost, scared to shoot, all of that. The (not so) silver lining about his performance on Saturday is that he scored what he averages… six points.

I know all about Ersan’s 18-point, six-rebound effort off of the bench on Monday. It was great. It really was. Perhaps, a sixth-man role will suit both him and the team better. John Henson was pretty solid in his first start.

Prior to Monday, it was eleven rough games for Ilyasova and now he has the ever-so-improving Larry SandersEpke Udoh and Henson all breathing down his neck for minutes. Minutes are being split and it’s clear that this isn’t the same Ersan Ilyasova that we saw at the end of last year. Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently took a look at Ersan’s recent struggles and this is what Ersan said about Scott Skiles‘ allocation of minutes between this and last year.

“We had just three or four guys last year and we knew our minutes. It was kind of stable.”

Unstable minutes or not, Ilyasova needs to make shots when he’s open. Perhaps Monday was the confidence boost that he needed.

When it comes to shooting from the field, the confidence issue has again plagued him. Last year, Ersan netted a new deal while shooting 49 percent from the field and an incredible 45 percent from three. That sort of percentage from deep was insane and we shouldn’t expect that efficiency but his current levels should be as difficult to expect to continuegoing forward. This year, his field goal percentage had dipped to a pedestrian 35 percent overall and 22 percent from three. Here is a look at Ilyasova’s shooting this season.

$32 Million?

2. Late game situations FAILS

This team isn’t doing well in late game situations against quality opponents. Milwaukee used some late game heroics to top the Cavs in the home opener and out-executed the Hornets not so long ago, but quality teams have given the Bucks fits when the game has been close late. Over the three-game losing streak, Milwaukee has shot roughly 37 percent in the fourth quarter.

Against Charlotte, Milwaukee led by as much as eleven late but struggled to hit shots. Down two, on the Bucks final possession Monta Ellis took a twenty-seven foot shot with five seconds left. He missed and the Bucks lost.

Against Miami, Milwaukee overcame an 18-point deficit and even built a late, 7-point lead of their own. Eventually Miami came back to tie the game and then… Ellis took a twenty-three foot shot with the score tied at 98.

Notice a trend here? There has to be another way than just chucking up long jumpers out of pick and roll or isolations late. This team plays way too hard to lose on these horrid, live-or-die long jumpers. Surely you noticed some of Milwaukee’s biggest baskets against the Bulls on Monday came right at the hoop. An “and-1″ layup from Ilyasova. A difficult fake and finish off a pick and roll from Udoh. Those were 23-footers, they were 2-footers that the Bulls didn’t see coming.

Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are the unquestioned leaders of this team and they are the go-to scorers in the clutch. A big part of the Bucks’ fourth quarter failures falls on their shoulders. Ellis went 1 for 10 total in those fourth quarter “clutch situations” over those three games. (Clutch situation: The final 5 minutes or under, when the score is within five either way.) This doesn’t really say TOO much considering these shooting percentages are spread over three different games which had three entirely different scenarios. Even with that however, this is pretty inefficient shooting in crucial moments of games, especially for a scorer like Ellis.

Jennings has been even worse in these situations, going 0-4 down the stretch in these three games.  As the team’s leader,  Jennings needs to be more assertive in the clutch, whether it’s orchestrating more off pick and rolls or finding a way to get to the rim himself. Letting the offense bog down into 20-foot chuck mode isn’t great point guard play.

In Monday’s Bulls rematch, notice that both Ellis and Jennings sat as the Bucks took that win. (GO DORON LAMB!) From a non-statistical angle for a second, I think that it was great seeing the stars cheer the bench guys on to victory. That was amazing and shows the character of this team.

Lets talk about Monday

It was great seeing the Bucks climb out from that 27-point hole and win a big division rematch. During the game, Jim Paschke pointed out that the Bucks scoring drop-off from the first to the second half is second to last in the league, only ahead of the Brooklyn Nets.

Milwaukee’s reserves outscored Chicago’s 56-10 on Monday (Photo by Ray Amati/NBAE via Getty Images)

While coming back from down 27 is great and all, THE BUCKS WERE DOWN 27 IN THE FIRST PLACE!

It was a very slow start but they really got it together, obviously, with the win and all. The depth of this roster is one of the strengths of this team and they showed it on Monday. It was a great night for depth but against a Chicago Bulls team without Derrick Rose, a one-point win and  a combined 16 points from Jennings and Ellis isn’t going to sustain. Don’t get me wrong, they are doing fine and their stats look nice at surface-level. We need to see more out of these two when it counts. To the defense of Jennings, his ankle hurts. He gets a pass.

The Bucks will be tested this week as they face Carmelo Anthony and the red-hot New York Knicks at home, followed by a quick stop to Minnesota and another home game against Boston.

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