By Drew Olson Special to Published Mar 14, 2009 at 3:37 PM

Welcome to Saturday Scorecard, the pre-Madness edition. Here are some quick thoughts to help you pass these last few hours before Bracket-mania takes over your life.

SILVER LINING? Many Marquette fans were devastated by the team's loss to Villanova in the Big East tournament, particularly those Time Warner Cable customers who didn't get to see the final thrilling minute due to a test of the Emergency Alert System.

Still, the loss may end up being a good thing for the Golden Eagles.

After pounding St. John's and recovering from a brutal first half against a tough 'Nova squad, Marquette got an extra day of rest and should enter the tournament with a high level of confidence. Maurice Acker found his three-point stroke, Jimmy Butler continues to show improvement and the team appears to be recovering from the Dominic James injury in time for the first weekend of the tourney.

A victory over Villanova, if followed by an expected loss to Louisville, wouldn't have helped Marquette's tournament seeding significantly.

The primary concerns for coach Buzz Williams - McNeal seems to be forcing things a bit. And, the Golden Eagles can't afford to go a half without contributions from Lazar Hayward and Wes Matthews. And foul trouble could again be a problem.

One of the primary concerns for Marquette, though, is something nobody thought would be an issue - the play of senior leader and all-time leading scorer Jerel McNeal.

Ever since James went down, McNeal seems to be forcing things a bit. His miscues at the end of the Villanova game - a questionable three-point attempt, a forced drive with too much time on the shot clock (even though he probably was fouled) and a defensive lapse that led to the winning layup - are not what Golden Eagles expect from a "money" player like McNeal, whose display of mental toughness over the past four years has been nothing short of astonishing.

Maybe he's suffering fatigue. More likely, it's a combination of fatigue and the absence of his backcourt buddy. Without James breaking down defenses, McNeal is getting the ball further away from the basket and drawing more defensive attention. If he relaxes and hits some early jumpers in the tournament, he could settle in and be his usual, productive self. If he doesn't, though, things could get nasty.

WAS IT WORTH IT? A few of our friends watched Syracuse outlast UConn in a six-overtime battle and came away wondering, "Was that the greatest college hoops game ever played?"

It was great theater, to be sure, but we came away thinking "There are two teams that might be too burned out to make a run to the Final Four."

That game made us consider the utility of conference tournaments in general. Both Syracuse and UConn were locks to make the NCAA tournament regardless of what transpired at Madison Square Garden.

The same was true for Oklahoma and Kansas and other teams. Conference tournaments have devolved into a "last chance" for teams that didn't play well in the regular season to improve their standing or win an automatic berth.

It makes you wonder if they are worth the trouble. As long as the networks are buying, the conferences will keep selling.

WHAT IF? The Bucks, who seem to be running out of gas, play host to the Celtics on Sunday. That begs the question once again -- what if Milwaukee had hung on to Ray Allen?

The other question: will the injury to Kevin Garnett allow the Bucks to keep the game close?






TIME TO CHANGE: While Packers fans wait for a free agent signing or a trade to grab the headlines, we at Saturday Scorecard continue to hold our silent vigil in the hope that the NFL will change its outdated overtime setup this off-season.

The coin-flip thing doesn't work for us.

The NFL began playing overtime in 1974. In the first five years, the team that won the coin flip was 15-16-1. Of course, during that span kickoffs were from the 40-yard-line and field goal kickers converted about 62 percent of their attempts.

Now, kickoffs are from the 30 and place-kickers convert nearly 80 percent of their kicks.

Over the past five years, teams that received the ball first in overtime won 62 percent of the time. That's a significant advantage. In 2008, coin flip winners were 11-4-1.

We happen to like the college system, though it probably wouldn't work in the pro format. We thought about a system where both teams are guaranteed one possession in overtime. Or, overtime could be a "first to six" setup.

But, there is a better way.

If the team that receives the kickoff in overtime scores a touchdown, the game is over. If that team scores a field goal, though, it must kick off and the other team gets a chance to score a touchdown and win the game, kick a field goal and tie it or not score and have the game end in a loss.

Basically, the kickers in the pros are so good that you need to devalue the field goal in "sudden death."

BOSTON BOUND: Congratulations to the Wisconsin women's hockey team, which secured a spot in the Froze Four. The Badgers will face Minnesota-Duluth March 20 in Boston.

QUICK HITS: Grafton defeated Durand, 54-52, to win the WIAA Division 2 girls state championship Saturday. The Blackhawks have won the title in 2007 and lost in the semifinal round last year... Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, the current edition of spring training is long enough for a player to get hurt, recover and then get hurt again before opening day. Let's hope that doesn't happen frequently to the Brewers, who are getting Bill Hall on the diamond for the first time this spring....The Wisconsin women's basketball team will find out on Monday where it will be playing in the post season.  The 64-team field for the 2009 NCAA Tournament will be announced at 6 p.m. on ESPN. The 48-team field for the 2009 Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) will also be announced shortly after the NCAA field is set.




Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.