Jake Gardiner and the 19-10-3 Badgers are looking to right the ship after being swept last weekend. UW has three more series left.[/media-credit]After winning 12 out of 13 games from early December through January, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team was feeling quite comfortable at No. 7 in the Pairwise rankings.But after Nebraska-Omaha swept the Badgers last weekend, that comfort has been replaced with some anxiety.Now UW is No.15 in the rankings – precisely on the fringe of the NCAA tournament.“I was surprised by that. It’s kind of a messed up system, if you really want to know,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said of the rankings. “You drop from seven to 15. Somebody loses we go up, or we lose a game and we go up. It’s convoluted, and when somebody told me we dropped [from 7 to 15], I said, ‘What!’”The numbers don’t lie, and right now the Badgers must win to stay on track for a NCAA appearance.There may be three weeks left in the regular season, but according to senior captain Sean Dolan, the Badgers have already adopted the playoff mindset.“100 percent,” Dolan said. “That’s our mentality going forward. We know after last weekend how much you can drop [in the rankings] after one bad series.“It’s playoff hockey, and right now we are sitting on the bubble.”The Badgers (19-10-3, 11-9-2) will test their playoff mentality against border-rival Minnesota (12-12-4, 9-10-3) this weekend. If the drop in the rankings wasn’t enough motivation – and if the disappointment of a sweep didn’t light a fire – the Badgers have a heated WCHA rivalry to look forward to.“It’s a huge weekend every time you play Minnesota,” Dolan said. “And we know they are thinking the same thing over there.”The Gophers come into Madison after earning a split against second-place Denver in Minneapolis. Minnesota found its scoring touch in game two, scoring seven goals in a lopsided victory. Goaltender Kent Patterson, who replaced Alex Kangas after the senior was ruled out for the season with hip surgery, continues to provide stability in net for the Gophers, posting a .918 save percentage and 2.57 goals against average.“We all know what we’re in for,” freshman forward Mark Zengerle said. “We know it’s going to be a battle.”The Badgers certainly feel battle-tested after a humbling series in Omaha. UW lost 4-1 in the opener and was handed a 4-3 defeat the next night, despite roaring back with a couple of late goals.Eaves mentioned Monday the series against the Mavericks gave his freshmen their first taste of playoff hockey at the collegiate level and that struggle will serve as a valuable lesson.The two losses hurt the Badgers in the rankings, but Eaves knows eye-opening experience is all part of a season-long journey.“I just don’t think people understand the process a team has to go through in order to become championship-caliber,” Eaves explained. “It doesn’t happen overnight and that’s why I don’t think we were disappointed. We played in front of 15,000 people, on the road, against a good, hard, physical team and that’s a process.“We didn’t execute the way we needed to but we were right there.”Like his coach, junior assistant captain Jake Gardiner isn’t too concerned with the two-game skid and is confident his freshman teammates will raise their level of play as the games grow more meaningful.“I didn’t think we played bad last weekend. We just couldn’t get some breaks. They had a couple lucky bounces on some goals and that hurt us,” Gardiner said. “And I think our freshmen have come a long way. They’ll show that down the stretch.”The postseason has started a little early for the Badgers, and this weekend presents two critical games for UW against a hated rival. The season is winding down, and the pressure is on.So is there any sense of panic after a sweep and a dramatic drop in the rankings?“Gosh no,” Eaves said. “This is fun. This building is going to be sold out. This is why you train all summer. You run all those damn hills because you give yourself a chance to be successful out here in February and March.”
In the final four games of his junior season, forward Nigel Hayes took a total of 54 shots — he made only 11.That’s a grand total of about 20 percent shooting from the field in the four most important games of the season. It was win-or-go-home time for Hayes and the Badgers, and the first-team All-Big Ten performer was reluctant to show up.After shooting 2-15, his worst shooting performance of the season, in the loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament, fellow juniors Vitto Brown and Bronson Koenig bailed out Hayes in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, where he shot a combined 5-27.In the Sweet 16 game against Notre Dame, Hayes did manage to put up his best performance of the four games — a measly 4-12, which included two three-pointers. But there was no one to bail him out, and the end of the season could not have gone worse for the junior.But despite the poor performances and the criticisms that came as a result, Hayes is still testing the NBA waters, even if he is just dipping his feet in.Last Tuesday, head coach Greg Gard announced they were going to submit Hayes’ name to the NBA advisory committee, and he will then make his decision regarding the NBA draft. This means that Hayes will submit his name for consideration and have the ability to rescind his name up to 10 days after the NBA Draft Combine May 15.Given the way Hayes’ junior campaign ended, it’s more than likely he won’t garner much interest from NBA teams until maybe the end of the second round of the draft. But there is a reason this was initially thought to be Hayes’ final year at Wisconsin. There is a reason he was thought of a potential top-20 pick. There is a reason Hayes is even bothering to submit his name for consideration.Hayes is a very talented basketball player whose skill set is made for today’s NBA.After playing power forward for his first two seasons with the Badgers, Hayes made the move to small forward this season to make room for Brown and redshirt freshman Ethan Happ in the frontcourt. That move alone allowed Hayes to display his versatility on both sides of the ball and ultimately proved his ability to be viable two-way player at the next level.Men’s basketball: What Badgers will miss if Hayes decides to go proFor collegiate basketball players, the allure of the NBA is tantalizing. Reaching that level is what many have been working Read…OffensivelyAt 6 feet 8 inches tall, Hayes would be undersized as a power forward in the NBA, but an above-average height at small forward. These types of players are usually referred to as “tweeners,” as they are floating somewhere in between two positions.These types of players are usually seen as risks at the next level, but the way Hayes showed his play on the wing as a small forward should have removed a lot of doubts in terms of what position he should be playing.He’s a small forward, and when on the wing, Hayes is likely to be a mismatch for the defense on nearly every possession.This was on display in Wisconsin’s final game of the season against Notre Dame, where the already undersized Fighting Irish had no choice but to give 6-foot-5-inch guard Steve Vasturia the assignment of defending Hayes. While Vasturia is the team’s best perimeter defender, three inches is a lot to give up to a player with Hayes’ strength and finishing ability.Unfortunately, Hayes did not take advantage of this matchup, appearing reluctant to take Vasturia down to the block, where he has found the most success this season. But it won’t be the last time Hayes finds himself with that kind of matchup offensively, and it will only make it easier for him to both score and distribute.DefensivelyHayes’ versatility also allows him to excel defensively, as his prowess on the defensive end never wavered even when the success rate of his jump shot did.His ability to defend three different positions is intriguing enough, but his ability to be successful in doing so is what is most intriguing about the junior’s defensive prowess.On the short list of players Hayes defended this season for extended stretches, are two national player of the year: Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, along with Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Indiana’s Troy Williams and Illinois’ Malcolm Hill.That’s two shooting guards, two small forwards and power forward, and Hayes managed to defend all of them admirably.His length combined with his lateral quickness for someone with his size is something that NBA teams will most definitely find valuable. But that said, it is still clear that Hayes is not yet ready to take the next step.That doesn’t mean that he never will be.He struggled in the final stretch, which may even be an understatement, but those struggles don’t take away Hayes’ potential. He may be one year away still, but there is no doubt he’ll be ready.
The Liverpool side under Jurgen Klopp has seen a massive improvement and are now the kings of Europe. Along with winning their sixth UEFA Champions League title, they finished a close second behind in the Premier League title race.After their 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at the Wanda Metropolitano in the UCL final, the Liverpool players will be given a customised 24k gold plated iPhone X each, a worthy gift for their exploits.The Reds were no pushovers in the PL title race as well, as they went toe to toe with City and achieved what was the best second-place finish in the history of the league.Klopp’s men will now enjoy a brief break from the sport before returning for the pre-season and prepare for another title push, along with the defence of their UCL title.
Since they joined forces in Los Angeles, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw have been called the best 1-2 combination among starting pitchers in baseball. Sometimes this season, the results have made it a little tougher to defend this claim.In what could be their final starts before the All-Star Game, the two pitchers might have reclaimed their lofty reputation.Greinke shut out the Phillies for eight innings Thursday, needing only 94 pitches to do so in the Dodgers’ 6-0 win. The ninth inning, pitched capably by veteran Joel Peralta, was the only thing separating Kershaw and Greinke (8-2) from back-to-back shutout victories.Greinke, Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said, was “more impressive than the guy last night.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Mackanin might be splitting hairs. Neither Kershaw nor Greinke walked a batter. Kershaw struck out 13 to Greinke’s eight, while Greinke retired 24 of the 25 hitters he faced and barely broke a sweat in a crisp 2-hour, 14-minute game.The only runner against Greinke came when Ryan Howard singled against an infield shift in the second inning.Overall, Greinke’s first half has been one for the ages. Consider:• Greinke has not allowed a run in his last five starts, a streak bettered by only two pitchers (former Dodgers Orel Hershiser and Don Drysdale) since 1920.• In Dodgers history Only Hershiser, Drysdale and Kershaw have thrown more consecutive scoreless innings than Greinke (35 2/3). • Greinke’s 1.39 earned-run average is the lowest by any pitcher going into the All-Star break since 1981 and the lowest by any Dodger since Drysdale’s 1.37 in 1968.“Zack just kind of came out of the gate throwing the ball well from the very beginning,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “The first couple years, felt like it took him a while to get into his groove, then he got going and really became like this.”Greinke’s reward: A spot in the All-Star Game next Tuesday and possibly a starting assignment. Kershaw might join Greinke in Cincinnati, though he is polling fourth among five candidates to represent the National League in the “Final Vote” as determined by online voting.The Dodgers’ offense touched Phillies starter Severino Gonzalez (3-3) for four runs in 5 2/3 innings Thursday. Two came on a home run off the right field foul pole by Adrian Gonzalez and two came on a double by Yasiel Puig that broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning. Puig also hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning, his first since June 10, before the announced crowd of 41,290 at Dodger Stadium.“It’s been a while since I’ve done anything,” Puig quipped in Spanish after the game.The Dodgers, after winning three of four games from the Phillies, will host the Milwaukee Brewers for three games this weekend.Milwaukee will miss both Kershaw and Greinke in the series. Mattingly said he’d like to split the two aces up when the rotation resets in the second half.The Brewers might also miss Dodgers left fielder Andre Ethier, who left Thursday’s game after six innings with tightness in his left quadriceps muscle. Mattingly said he is hopeful that Ethier can play today. At 49-38, the Dodgers are 11 games over .500 and 5 1/2 games ahead of Arizona and San Francisco, who are currently tied for second place in the National League West. No matter what, they’ll finish the first half in first place.For a moment then, it’s safe to sit back and appreciate what Greinke has done. For his part, Greinke said he isn’t paying attention to his scoreless-innings streak, and doesn’t care whether or not he starts the All-Star Game. He even casually predicted his own demise, saying “I think people will start getting more hits off me in the second half.”Yasmani Grandal, who’s caught all but two of Greinke’s 18 starts this season, compared the task of catching Greinke these days to playing a video game.“He’s almost been perfect,” Grandal said.