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Desktop Sportsman 2-23-10

Is there any better Olympic event than hockey? Can you imagine doing nothing for two weeks in a Winter Olympics but watch hockey? Even a game between two less-than-powerful squads like Switzerland and Norway is still exciting to view. But then you get day like Sunday, where one could watch three games in a row featuring the best players in the world. This, more than anything else, is what the Olympics should be all about. The best at their best on the biggest stage in the world.

And yet NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is acting penny-wise and pound foolish once again. He's warning one and all that the NHL may not renew its agreement with the Olympics and let NHL players take part in the 2014 in Sochi, Russia (which the Russians would dearly love because they could stock their national team with pros from their very competitive Siberian League while the U.S. and Canada would be stuck with young amateurs again.) Granted Bettman should be upset when NBC doesn't broadcast most hockey games on its network (U.S.-Canada on MSNBC? In prime time, are you nuts?) but how can one sell the NHL to the casual sports fan that watches the Olympics without seeing pro players? This is the same Gary Bettman who took the NHL off ESPN for Versus and cut the number of households who could watch pro hockey games in half because Versus gave them more money. Again, Bettman is a man who would cut his nose off to spite his face. Then there's the lengths he's gone to to prop up failing pro franchises in the Sunbelt but that's another story altogether. Pro hockey should consider itself lucky it has the Olympics to transcend such a bumbling leader of the NHL.

Speaking of pro hockey, when NHL play does resume it would be prudent for the Wild to wheel and deal itself future draft picks or young talent rather than make a concerted playoff run. If you're not threat to win the Stanley Cup (and even if the Wild did make the playoffs, they're not), there's no point in perpetuating mediocrity just to eke into the eighth spot. If the organization is about excellence, then the Wild have to continue to rebuild, not tread water.

On the other hand, getting into the playoffs even as the eighth team in the Eastern Conference would be a good thing for the Bucks. The Bucks have young talent and there's nothing better to help their confidence than earning a bid. And if they can free up more cap room they can add to the talent base they've got, especially if Michael Redd decides to call it quits rather than go through more knee surgeries than one could count. Granted such a playoff run would be short lived, and the Bucks would miss the lottery, but young, improving teams need to witness those concrete steps to show they are getting better and that the franchise is better as a whole.

Prescott boys' basketball fans are wondering how in the world their team got stuck with a No. 7 seed in their WIAA Division 3 regional. The problems is the seeds were done pretty much by record and when you are 10-11, it's hard to make a good argument for yourself. There needs to be a a way, some sort of mathematical formula, that coaches can use to better judge a team's overall quality, like the NCAA does with its RPI to determine its Division I basketball tournament field so that a 33-0 team from a small conference does not automatically get a higher seed than say a 19-12 squad from a tough BCS conference. The same should be true in high school hoops. The strength of Prescott's overall schedule against largely Division 2 and other big school opponents and the number of wins it has over above .500 opponents on that schedule, should have gotten them a higher seed. Without such a formula, it's easy for seeding meetings to turn into political brawls with conferences looking out for each other (as Lakeland schools no doubt did in this regional) with scheming going on to get favorable match-ups.

Prescott's girl's hoops team is the defending regional champ and is no doubt salivating at the prospect of repeating, especially when six of the eight teams in their regional tournament (including themselves) have below .500 records. Head coach John Ott knows he's not going to get a No. 1 seed (that will go to St. Croix Central, which beat the Cardinals earlier in the season) but a win over Durand Thursday could be enough to propel them into the No. 2 slot. But again, it all depends on whether the other teams would be willing overlook their record and give more consideration to their strength of schedule and number of quality wins.

As a head coach, Tubby Smith should take some of the blame for the fact the U has had a disappointing season, well below its expectations. He recruited players that had talent but also had issues that have kept them off the floor (Royce White, Trevor Mbakwe). The team's play has been uneven and inconsistent, going from very bad (a loss at home to an equally, wildly inconsistent Michigan squad) to very good (beating Wisconsin by 16 points). Some players clearly have not gotten better from last year and some have regressed. All this falls on the head coach. Yet, the Gophers have won two straight and are not completely out of Big Dance consideration. A win over Purdue would greatly aid their cause, perhaps even send them on a run that could put them in the field. Remember, 10 years ago at this time, Wisconsin was 13-12 and yet somehow found themselves in the Final Four. Perhaps Tubby Smith can find the same kind of magic for his club Dick Bennett did for his a decade ago.