Overnight State News Briefs: Marquette back in the Top 25Wisconsin Sports
-- The Marquette University men’s basketball team has made the AP Top-25 for the first time this season. And the Wisconsin men received votes in the media poll for the first time since November.
MILWAUKEE - The Marquette University men’s basketball team has made the AP Top-25 for the first time this season. And the Wisconsin men received votes in the media poll for the first time since November.
Both teams have excelled since beginning their conference schedules at the start of January. Marquette is 3-0 in the Big East and 12-3 overall. The Badgers are 3-0 in the Big Ten, and 12-4 overall. Wisconsin is six places away from the Top-25 in the AP poll, and four spots away in the USA Today coaches’ poll. Marquette did not make the coaches’ Top-25, but the Golden Eagles are only three spots away. Louisville moved into the top spot in both polls, after Duke fell to third. Indiana is second in both, and the Badgers will play Tom Crean’s Hoosiers tomorrow night in Bloomington. Marquette’s next game is on Wednesday night at home against Seton Hall. In the RPI Rankings, which are often used to determine NCAA Tournament seedings, Marquette is 21st – up from 34th a week ago. The Badgers jumped from 98th to Number-62 in the RPI’s.
UW forward Sam Dekker was named today as the Big Ten men’s basketball freshman-of-the-week. Dekker, from Sheboygan Lutheran, had 13 points and four rebounds in the Badgers’ home win over 12th-ranked Illinois last Saturday. Dekker has scored in double figures in six of Wisconsin’s last nine games, and he’s been a major factor in helping the Badgers start 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time in four years.
Former Marquette men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill was fired today by Southern California. The 55-year-old O’Neill was in his fourth year at USC. His Trojans had lost 9-of-their-last-13 games after starting the season at 3-1. Athletic director Pat Haden said it became evident as the season progressed that the men’s basketball team needed new leadership. Assistant coach Bob Cantu will be the interim coach until a permanent replacement can be named. O’Neill went 48-65 in three-and-a-half seasons at USC. O’Neill coached for five years at Marquette from 1989-through-’94, going 86-62 in Milwaukee. He has also coached at Tennessee, Northwestern, and Arizona.
The Green Bay Packers will have some question marks on their offensive line for 2013. The Packers were hoping to get production from their first-round draft choices in 2010-and-2011, tackles Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga. But Sherrod never played, after he broke a leg in December of 2011. And Bulaga was sidelined in early November, after he suffered a fracture in one of his hips. In addition, veteran center Jeff Saturday had a sub-par season and was replaced near the end by Evan Dietrich-Smith. Marshall Newhouse played the entire season at left tackle, and rookie Don Barclay started in Bulaga’s spot at right tackle for the last month-and-a-half. Bulaga is expected to be back to full strength in time for this summer’s training camp. He said the fracture was not as bad as it could have been. Bulaga says a bone needs to heal, so he can get back to full strength. Dietrich-Smith is expected to be Green Bay’s center of the future, and guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton are both due back for the new season.
Five players took turns at being the Green Bay Packers’ featured running back this season – and team officials will have some choices to make for this fall. DuJuan Harris may have the inside track after impressing the Packers and their fans late in December and during the playoffs. But at 5-8, the coaches might have to decide if Harris is big enough to be their main rusher. Second-year pro Alex Green was the Packers’ leading rusher in the regular season with 464 yards. But he never quite got over the ACL injury that kept him out for much of his rookie year in 2011. He was sore all year long, and he never got in during the playoffs. Veteran Cedric Benson never returned after he had foot surgery after the fifth game – but he says he’d love to return if the Packers are willing to give him a contract. Veteran Ryan Grant is not expected back, after being a fill-in for the past month. Third-year running back James Starks has been injury-prone. But he has been strong when healthy, and he promises to return better-than-ever. Second-year pro Brandon Saine is also due to return after a season-ending knee injury. In addition, there’s a chance the Packers can pick up a running back through free agency or the draft. Green says the Pack will have some good backs returning – and there will be an intense competition at training camp.
Mason Crosby made his last six field goal attempts before the Packers bowed out of the playoffs. And that was a solid development, after he struggled in the mid-to-late part of the regular season. The Packers steadfastly stuck with Crosby, and they did not bring in somebody to compete against him when things went bad. But the six-year pro might have competition going into this summer’s training camp. Crosby says he won’t even think about that – and he’ll focus on what he can control. Crosby says he’ll keep working out, but he’ll take a couple months off from kicking practice, and resume it in March. He says he wants to maintain his motion, so he’s not straining when he gets back to kicking. Crosby made 23-of-35 field goal attempts in 18 games – including the two in the playoffs.
Ex-Packer Ryan Longwell did not get a chance to kick a field goal for the Seattle Seahawks in their divisional playoff loss at Atlanta yesterday. The 38-year-old Longwell booted four extra points in the Falcons’ 30-to-28 home victory over the Seahawks. Longwell had five kickoffs – including one in the end zone for a touchback. Jacquizz Rodgers returned the other four for a total of 104 yards, with his longest being 34. The Seahawks brought in Longwell after their regular kicker, Steven Hauschka, strained a calf in the Wild Card round. Longwell had not played football since Minnesota cut him after the 2011 season. He and his wife were planning to run their first marathons on Sunday in Orlando – but both withdrew after Ryan got his call from the Seahawks. Longwell was hoping to use the experience to wipe out his most vivid playoff memory – not getting a chance to win the N-F-C title game for Minnesota in the 2009 season. Longwell was getting ready on the sidelines when the Vikes had the ball on 3rd-and-10. They got flagged for having 12 men on the field – and then Vikings quarterback Brett Favre threw an interception which cost Minnesota a chance at the Super Bowl. Longwell said his biggest football regret was not having a chance to make that kick. He played six years in Minnesota, and nine with Green Bay before that. Longwell is still the Packers’ all-time leading scorer.
Baseball America magazine has listed three pitchers as the Milwaukee Brewers’ top prospects for the New Year. Wily Peralta is the top prospect, followed by Tyler Thornburg and Taylor Jungmann (young-man) – all right-handers. The 23-year-old Peralta was a solid September call-up for the Brewers last year. He started five games for the Crew, with a 2-1 record and a two-point-four-eight ERA. Peralta struck out 23 batters in 29 innings, with just over one-point-two walks and hits per innings pitched. First baseman Hunter Morris is Milwaukee’s fourth-ranked prospect for 2013. He was named the Brewers’ Minor League player-of-the-year for last season.
The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team has moved to within one spot of the Top-20 in today’s new poll from U.S. College Hockey Online. The Badgers have been unranked for virtually the entire season – but they have a 10-game unbeaten streak after a two-game sweep at Minnesota State-Mankato for the first time in school history. Wisconsin is 8-7-5 overall, and 6-5-5 in the WCHA. Minnesota remains atop the men’s poll. Boston College is second.
Steve Stricker of Madison is back in the Top-10 in the World Golf Rankings. Stricker rose three spots to Number-10 this week, after he placed second at the weather-delayed Hyundai Tournament of Champions which ended last Tuesday in Hawaii. Stricker started the year at Number-18, after being a Top-Ten player for most of last season. The 45-year-old Stricker did well at the Hyundai event despite having nerve pain in an upper thigh. He had vowed earlier to compete in only about a dozen events this year, to spend more time with his family in Madison and do more work with a foundation he established. Stricker is not expected to play again until late February in the Accenture Match Play Championship. Meanwhile, Pewaukee native Mark Wilson dropped six spots in the World Rankings to 97th. And Madison’s Jerry Kelly dropped five spots to 261st. Both Kelly and Wilson missed the weekend at Sony Open in Hawaii, the first full-field PGA tournament of 2013.