Good afternoon, Milwaukee, and welcome to what is perhaps one of the greatest days on the sports calendar.
Super Bowl Sunday is cool, but the growing focus on commercials and hoopla aside from the actual game has lessened the pure allure of sport. Opening Day signals the start of better weather, outdoor drinking and excuses to skip work.
But today is Selection Sunday, the day we get our first look at the NCAA Tournament bracket. Even before we work on our "sick voice" to allow an entire day of basketball-watching (gambling), we get to invest hours of company time and internet bandwidth to make our picks, identifying the Cinderella and casting our hopes behind the "can't miss" winner.
It's the best week of the year. So, to let you prepare fully for tonight's selection show, let's jump right into the notes...
Uncertain future: After drubbing Philadelphia Saturday night, the Bucks are now 26-38 and within a half-game of Indiana and Charlotte (the Pacers hold the tie-breaker) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins seems to think the Bucks are destined for the post-season, an easy analysis after watching them roll to a 28-point victory.
"They will make the playoffs," Collins said. "They're very well coached. They stretch you and they can shoot the 3. But their defense is on par with most of the top-flight teams in the NBA."
He might be right. The Bucks have a favorable schedule over the next few weeks and are starting to get healthy again. Drew Gooden is expected to return sometime this month and Michael Redd could finally get back on the court, too.
Indiana, meanwhile, has lost six in a row. So if the Bucks are going to make a move, the time is right ... but is it in the best interest of the franchise over the long term?
Say the Bucks stay "hot," take over Indiana and qualify for the post-season as the No. 8 team. The reward would be an all-but-guaranteed butt-kicking at the hands of Boston or Chicago. Yes, the team would sell a few extra tickets and get a boost on season ticket sales for next season, but would the Bucks benefit from slipping into the lottery one more time where they might be able to snag a key piece to the puzzle?
Financially, at least from a salary cap perspective, general manager John Hammond's hand are still somewhat tied moving forward.
Granted, about $18 million comes off the books this summer when Michael Redd's contract (finally) expires. As it stands, the Bucks have $51.17 million committed to 2011-12 salaries. By comparison, the salary cap this season was about $58 million and the luxury tax threshold was $70.3 million while the Bucks' payroll was around $68 million.
More than anything, though, the Bucks need bodies -- reliable ones, especially. They need a legitimate power forward to take the pressure off Andrew Bogut down low and let Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova play more at their natural, small forward position.
The Bucks won't get the help they need on the free agent market. Hammond tried that last year and things haven't exactly worked out.
Ping-pong balls are never popular with the populous but at the end of the day, it's Hammond's job to not just build a winner, but to build a franchise capable of contending annually. Last season was fun, this season wasn't so much ... but if watching the Brewers or Packers the last few years should demonstrate to fans the importance of having a plan and vision beyond the moment.
Relax: Let's just make this clear: Zack Greinke will never score any style points when it comes to public perception or media savvy. Which is fine because the Brewers aren't paying him to be a public relations ambassador; they're paying him to win games.
When it was announced last week that Greinke would start the season on the disabled list, more than a few folks raised their eyebrow and questioned the brain power that cost a good chunk of talent to acquire.
Yes, Greinke broke his rib playing basketball. Yes, it probably wasn't the wisest decision a baseball player could make on the eve of Spring Training. But give the guy this much ... he was honest about it from the beginning. Greinke told team officials what happened. He didn't lie. He didn't cover it up. He just didn't know how serious the injury was -- nobody did -- and he and the team decided not to reveal the cause until things got serious.
Greinke doesn't owe an explanation. Accidents happen. And while it's unfortunate, the show must go on. Greinke will miss a few starts and then he'll do what he's been hired to do -- pitch.
Selection Sunday: As mentioned atop the column, today is Selection Sunday. In addition to finding out where Wisconsin and Marquette are sent and seeded, UWM should also learn its opening opponent for the NIT. Monday night, the field for the women's tournament will be announced. Marquette should get an at-large bid after a 23-6 season (10-6 Big East). UW-Green Bay, which won the Horizon League regular season, hosts the conference championship game this afternoon. At 31-1 and undefeated in league play, you can probably pencil the Phoenix into your bracket.
Larry King Lounge: The world would be a much, much better place without in-game hosts/hostesses at sports venues ... It's pretty sad when the loudest cheers of the night come not from the game but from a Packers player sitting courtside ... Former Marquette guard Jerel McNeal signed a 10-day contract with New Orleans after starting point guard Chris Paul was injured ... Scorecard is a big fan of Gus Johnson but his shtick was a little over-the-top for Wisconsin's ugly, 33-36 loss to Penn State ... If your girlfriend wins your NCAA Tournament pool picking by colors, you deserve every insult your friends dish out for the next year ... Indiana went 12-20 this season under Tom Crean, who is now 28-66 in three seasons at the Hoosiers' helm. How much longer of a leash do you think he has? ... Congrats to head coach Mike Eaves and the Wisconsin women's hockey team, which is headed back to the Frozen Four for the fifth time in program history ... Aaron Rodgers will appear at the Milwaukee Wave's regular-season finale this afternoon at the Arena ... The Milwaukee Mustangs (formerly known as the Iron) open the 2011 season Monday against Chicago at the Bradley Center. ... Tune in tonight at 7 to catch MLB Network's "30 Clubs in 30 Days" preview on the Brewers and then flip to ESPN at 8 for the latest "30 for 30" installment, which focuses on the "Fab Five." Both should be pretty good.