Lukan leads Phoenix into postseason

The No. 20/20 Green Bay Women’s basketball team is gearing up for the Horizon League Tournament as the No. 1 seed.

The Phoenix have been following the leadership of seniors this season: guard Adrian Ritchie, forward Sarah Eichler and forward Lydia Bauer. But redshirt sophomore Megan Lukan may be the unsung hero for the Phoenix.

The former Ms. Canada 2010 and Barrie Central High School standout has had a steady season for Green Bay. Lukan leads the team in assists averaging 4.3 per game, and she’s third on the team in steals with 34 on the season. She also averages almost seven points per game.

Recently though, Lukan took her game to another level.

In Green Bay’s last five regular-season games, Lukan averaged 14.4 points and 4.4 assists per contest. She connected on 15 three-pointers over that span after starting the season 6-34 from behind the arc.

Lukan’s offensive game is the rise, but much of what she brings to the table for the Phoenix doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

“Defensively she does a great job at keeping her girl in front of her,” said Green Bay head coach Kevin Borseth. “Offensively, she handles the ball really well and makes great decisions.”

Her teammates and coaches know Lukan as a tough, tenacious defender who refuses to quit on any play.

“She’s feisty and strong,” said redshirt senior forward Jenny Gilberston. Coach Borseth reiterated the same, calling Lukan a “bulldog.”

Lukan also echoed similar things about her own play.

“I’m tough,” Lukan said. “My on-ball defense is my greatest strength. I have confidence in myself that I can shut someone down if I need to.”

Before coming to Green Bay, Lukan played her prep career at Barrie Central. She was named Barrie Central’s female athlete of the year in 2010. Lukan was also a two-year member of the Canadian Women’s Junior National Team and won the bronze medal in the 2009 Canada Games as a member of the U17 Ontario team.

During her freshman season, Lukan decided to redshirt as former Green Bay standout Celeste Hoewisch was in her senior season for the Phoenix. Lukan was grateful that she was able to learn from Hoewisch during their short time together.

“She was tough, but I learned a lot from her,” Lukan said. “It was truly rewarding to play against her and learn from her for a whole season.”

Following her redshirt season, Lukan averaged 6.6 points per game and was fourth in both assists and steals per game, while averaging more than 30 minutes a game.

This season, Lukan has taken over the starting point guard role and hasn’t looked back. In a Nov. 17 game against Central Michigan, Lukan set a career-high with eight assists in a 75-48 Phoenix victory. In the next game, Nov. 22, against James Madison, Lukan scored 13 points and added four assists in 89-86 overtime loss.

As the season continued, Lukan’s confidence grew, catching the attention of her head coach.

“Her game developed well throughout the season,” Borseth said. “Megan’s biggest thing that she has done this season is play confidently.”

Due to the fact that she redshirted her freshman season, Lukan will have two years of eligibility remaining after this season. With a strong senior class playing its last season in Green Bay, the 2013-14 season is playing out to be led by Lukan.

For now, Lukan and the Phoenix continue to get ready for postseason play in the Horizon League Tournament and the NCAA Tournament this month.

Phoenix men’s season comes to end

Fighting to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the Green Bay men’s basketball team kicked off the Horizon League tournament against Milwaukee March 5 at the Resch Center.

The Phoenix shot 28.1 percent in the first half and led by six points at the break before a second-half explosion broke the game wide open. Junior Alec Brown led the team with 18 points.

“We were getting open shots,” Brown said. “We knew if we came out in the second half and kept playing our game, eventually shots would start to fall.”

Freshman forward Jordan Fouse paced the Phoenix with 12 points and 11 rebounds. After the game, Brown stressed Fouse’s importance to the team.

“Fouse is the most improved player I’ve seen coming in here,” Brown said. “It’s a lot of fun having another guy getting blocks out on the court when I can’t be there. He’s been fun to play with this year.”

Green Bay won all three meetings against Milwaukee this year, in which Brown scored a combined 69 points.

After advancing out of the first round, the Phoenix punched its ticket to Valparaiso to play the University of Illinois-Chicago. Green Bay split with UIC in the regular season, but the team remained confident as it headed to Valparaiso.

“We know we can beat anyone out there,” Fouse said. “We’ve beaten almost everyone in the conference. We know we can beat them — we just have to come out and play defense.”

Green Bay’s second-round matchup was a bit more competitive. The Phoenix led 34-29 at halftime, before the Flames battled back and took a late lead.

Senior guard Gary Talton hit a free throw to give UIC a 63-61 lead with seven seconds remaining. Fouse inbounded the ball to senior Brennan Cougill near half court, who then passed to sophomore point guard Keifer Sykes.

Sykes drove the ball into the lane, forcing Talton to help, leaving junior guard Sultan Muhammad open on the wing for a 3-point jumper. Muhammad hit the shot with 1.3 seconds on the clock, and the Phoenix won 64-63.

By defeating the Flames in round two, Green Bay advanced to face top-seeded Valparaiso in the semifinals. The Crusaders swept the regular-season series, defeating Green Bay by 12 points in Valparaiso and by 19 March 2 in Green Bay.

Entering the tournament, Valpo lost twice since Jan. 2. They finished the regular season with a conference record of 13-3, led by senior Ryan Broekhoff’s 15.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

Fellow senior Matt Kenney had perhaps his best game of the season at Green Bay’s expense in the regular-season finale, scoring 21 points without missing a field goal.

But in the Horizon League semifinals March 9, the Phoenix gave the Crusaders all they could handle, and the game was once again decided in the final seconds.

After the first half, Valparaiso led Green Bay 29-24. The Phoenix trailed the Crusaders at halftime in both regular-season games.

Sykes led Green Bay with a season-high 31 points, while Broekhoff led Valpo with 25.

In the regular-season finale at the Resch Center, the Phoenix limited Broekhoff to seven points, which was the second time all season he had been held to single digits. But the senior from Australia was too much for the Phoenix in the tournament, as he connected on five of nine shots behind the arc, including the shot that decided the game.

In a hotly contested second half, the Phoenix led 69-67 with 6.3 seconds remaining. Broekhoff caught the inbounds pass, dribbled up the court and searched for his shot.

Fouse halted Broekhoff’s progress between half court and the top of the key. After nearly losing the ball on a crossover, Broekhoff launched a desperate 3-point jumper from the right wing with Brennan Cougill’s hand in his face.

The shot found the bottom of the net and ended Green Bay’s season.

The Phoenix finished 18-15 on the season, narrowly missing the Horizon League finals. Cougill was the team’s lone senior, so the majority of the team will return next season.

Eichler leads Phoenix into post-season

She’s physical, tough, and resilient, and now Green Bay senior forward Sarah Eichler is a career 1,000-point scorer. Eichler accomplished this rare feat, which has only been accomplished by 30 other women in the history of women’s basketball at No. 20/23 Green Bay, Feb. 14 in front of more than 2,000 fans against Cleveland State.

“It’s one of those things that is so far away as a freshman that you don’t even think about it,” Eichler said. “The next thing I know, people are counting down, 51 points away, 37 points away.”

Eichler said she hadn’t paid much attention to the hype surrounding her 1,000th point, but when it came, she was certainly excited.

“It’s an honor more than anything to be part of the club,” Eicher said. “The people who have come before me were great basketball players, and I’m honored to join them.”

Eichler became the second member of the team this season to join the 1,000-point club. Fellow senior guard Adrian Ritchie accomplished the feat earlier in the season and was proud of Eichler for joining the list.

“To see Sarah do it pays tribute to how hard she has worked the last four years,” Ritchie said. “She is a great player.  It’s definitely a well-deserved honor for her.”

It’s no secret that it takes a lot of hard work to get to where Eichler has gotten to today.

“Sarah has a very confident swagger to her,” Ritchie said. “She’s a sweetheart, but she knows what needs to be done inside the lines.”

Head coach of the Phoenix Kevin Borseth echoed Ritchie’s comments.

“She is relentless,” Borseth said. “She is very physical — she refuses to take no for an answer.”

Although Borseth only coached Eichler for one season, her lasting impact on him as a coach is evident.

“As a coach, you want your players to reach a level of success and when they do it, it brings a smile to your face,” Borseth said. “You do help a little bit with them, so when someone scores 1,000 points it makes you feel good.”

Eichler has been a workhorse since her days at Grafton High School. During her freshman year at UWGB, she averaged fewer than six points and three rebounds per game. Eichler started 19 games as a freshman and was named to the Horizon League All-Newcomer team.

Eichler’s breakout season came her junior year at Green Bay. She finished fifth in the Horizon League in free throw shooting at 84.4 percent and finished eighth in the league in field-goal percentage at 45.8 percent. She averaged 12 points and six rebounds per game. She scored, at the time, a career-high 19 points and five rebounds in the Horizon League Championship Semifinal against the University of Illinois-Chicago.

This season, as a senior, Eichler has been solid yet again. She scored a career-high 26 points Nov. 24 against Richmond, which included a career-high five 3-pointers. In the same week, Eichler was named the Horizon League Player of the Week for the first time in her career.

In her final season as a member of the team, Eichler is averaging 12 points and four rebounds per game with a handful of games left. Eichler is looking to play in her fourth NCAA tournament later this month.

Green Bay downs Milwaukee Panthers

With its sights set on capturing a No. 3 seed and first-round bye in the Horizon League tournament, the Green Bay Phoenix men’s basketball team completed its season sweep of the UW-Milwaukee Panthers Feb. 26, 78-61, at the Resch Center.

Junior center Alec Brown led all scorers with 28 points, a career high, and helped propel the Phoenix to victory by adding eight rebounds, three blocks and two assists.

Sophomore point guard Keifer Sykes shot 5-of-15 from the field but recorded six assists, four rebounds and a pair of steals. Fellow starters Jordan Fouse, Sultan Muhammad and Greg Mays combined for 26 points and 18 rebounds, while forward Brennan Cougill tallied six points and four rebounds off the bench.

But it was Brown’s accuracy from long range that made the difference for the Phoenix. His four 3-pointers were a career-best, and his 10-of-12 shooting from the field was his best single-game performance of the season.

“He was really confident,” said head coach Brian Wardle. “He was all rhythm shooting. He didn’t hesitate. When he’s doing that, we’re a very effective team offensively.”

However, it wasn’t until the second half that the Green Bay’s sharp shooting turned into a comfortable lead.

Green Bay jumped out to an early 18-9 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the first half, but turnovers and a few personal fouls on Green Bay’s part kept Milwaukee in contention. At halftime, the Phoenix maintained a 32-26 lead.

A jumper from Panthers guard Paris Gulley with 18:28 left in the second half cut the Phoenix’s lead to 34-32, but a layup from Mays coupled with a Muhammad 3-pointer and layup extended Green Bay’s lead to 42-34 with 16:37 remaining.

After a dunk from forward Demetrius Harris, Gulley shrunk Green Bay’s lead to 59-50 with another jumper at the 6:29 mark.

The turning point of the game came on the next play when Fouse passed to Brown who promptly sunk his third 3-pointer of the game. Two plays later, Brown drained his fourth and final 3-pointer, extending the Phoenix’s lead to 18 points.

The excitement from the crowd fueled the Phoenix down the stretch, ultimately putting the game out of reach. An emphatic dunk from Sykes with 1:13 remaining drew a controversial technical foul for hanging on the rim but ended any hopes of a comeback from Milwaukee.

“That was a huge win for us because this was a scary game,” Wardle said. “Playing your rival, you tell your guys to throw records out because you know they’re going to compete and play well, and they sure did.”

Wardle said he wasn’t happy with his team’s effort in the first half, but he went on to say that at halftime, he challenged his players to come out with more energy in the second half.

Sykes echoed that sentiment.

“The first half, we were flat, and we felt like we played to their level,” Sykes said. “Once we got the energy of the crowd behind us, we were able to separate ourselves in the game.”

Wardle’s team responded by shooting 17-of-30 from the field compared to 12-25 in the first half. The Phoenix also out-rebounded Milwaukee 18 to 10 in the second half and distributed the ball more efficiently, totaling 11 assists to the Panthers’ two.

With the win, the Phoenix improved to 16-13 this season and 10-5 in conference play. The team also moved into sole possession of third place in the Horizon League regular season standings. If the Phoenix holds on to the No. 3 seed, it will have the coveted first-round bye in the conference

“You want to be playing for something this time of year,” Wardle said. “So we have to beat the league leaders going into the conference tournament and get momentum there.”

Brewers prospect to play for Timber Rattlers

Adam Giacalone started from the bottom, and now his hard work has earned him a promotion to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the club’s low-A minor league team.

The bottom, for Giacalone, the Milwaukee Brewers’ 16th-round draft pick in Major League Baseball’s 2012 first-year player draft, came in the first few weeks of his professional career.

Over the course of those initial weeks as a member of the organization’s rookie minor league club, the drastic changes that came with the changeover from the college ranks to the minor leagues got the better of Giacalone.

The then 20-year-old first baseman sported a .060 batting average, struck out exactly four times more than he walked and registered just two extra-base hits through his first eight games.

But on June 30, 2012, Giacalone’s fortunes changed for the better.

That day, he registered his first multi-hit game of this career by going 2-for-4 — albeit in a losing effort. His performance that day sparked a subsequent 16-game hitting streak and helped Giacalone gain back his confidence at the plate for the rest of the season.

By the end of his first professional campaign, Giacalone compiled a .317 batting average, the best mark among all Brewers minor league prospects. He also registered an impressive .394 on-base percentage and hoarded 110 total bases in 69 games, gaining recognition throughout the system as a talent to watch next season.

Giacalone realizes those early season struggles helped him become the player he is today.

“I think what made me a better player was those struggles in the beginning,” Giacalone said. “You know a lot more about yourself once you go through the struggles. You figure out what you need to work on, and you become a better player.”

Struggling isn’t something Giacalone is all too familiar with.

Growing up in Shawnee, Kan., Giacalone attended Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. It was here where he was first recognized on a national scale for his talent on the baseball diamond and grabbed the attention of college scouts across the region.

Aside from posting a batting average above .400 during his senior season, Giacalone also made headlines for his pitching, with good reason. Twice in the span of 15 days, he tossed two perfect games and issued two walks over his first 38.2 innings pitched.

After graduating, Giacalone attended Nesosho County Community College in Chanute, Kan., and his production both at the plate and on the mound a improved.

His freshman season yielded a .396 batting average, 18 home runs and 102 runs batted in at the dish. A 10-1 record complemented by a 2.10 ERA on the bump added to his repertoire as a potential minor league talent.

Dubbed one of the top junior college talents in the country, Giacalone was targeted by a handful of Division I schools.

In November of 2011, Giacalone signed his letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Tennessee, with the understanding he would have the opportunity to be a position player as well as a pitcher ­— an opportunity seldom presented to college-level players.

“As a pitcher, I loved having the game in my hands,” Giacalone said about pitching and hitting.  “But as a hitter, there’s nothing better than being in the box and just hitting.”

But before Giacalone had the chance to step onto the field with Tennessee, the Brewers came calling with the 515th selection in last summer’s draft and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: the chance to fulfill his dream of playing on the big-league stage.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t really pass up,” Giacalone said . “Tennessee was also a great offer. It’s just that my dream has always been to play professional baseball. It’s every little kid’s dream. So when an opportunity came, it was something I felt I definitely needed to do.”

Giacalone is scheduled to remain with the club’s spring training facilities in Maryvale, Ari., for a few extra weeks and expects to make his first appearance in Appleton around the start of May.

Though he hasn’t thought about it all that much, Giacalone said that playing hard and having fun are two things he most wants to accomplish with the Timber Rattlers in 2013. Moving up the minor-league ladder is extra incentive.

“Playing professional baseball is something you have to enjoy,” Giacalone said. “You have to play hard every chance to you get. This isn’t going to last forever.”

Final Four men’s bracket set for Atlanta

In a dramatic year of college basketball, in which 14 different teams appeared in the top five of the national rankings, the NCAA Tournament has mirrored that same level of drama.

The 68-team field is now down to four. Two powers from the Big East have made their way to the national semifinals, along with a Cinderella from the Missouri Valley Conference and a Big Ten team who hadn’t qualified for the Final Four in 20 years.

The Big Ten sent seven of its 12 teams to the 68-team tournament this year.

When the field was set, the regular-season Big Ten champion Indiana Hoosiers headlined the South region. But the top-seeded Hoosiers ran into trouble in the Sweet 16 against the No. 4 seeded-Syracuse Orange.

Head coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone held the Hoosiers to just 50 points. Indiana junior forward Cody Zeller averaged 16 points per game as a senior, but the Orange held him to just 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting March 22 in Indianapolis.

Through three tournament games, the Syracuse defense suffocated opponents, allowing an average of 48 points per game headed into the regional final. In order to punch their ticket to the Final Four, the Orange were set for a date against Big East-rival Marquette.

The Golden Eagles were the lone remaining Wisconsin team in the field. The Green Bay’s men’s basketball team defeated Marquette Dec. 17 previously at the Resch Center.

Junior guard Vander Blue, a James Madison Memorial High School alum, led Marquette to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2003. Blue kicked off tournament action with a last-second winner against Davidson in the round of 64 and entered the regional final averaging 19.6 points per contest in three tournament games.

But in the regional final, Syracuse stifled Marquette, holding Blue to 14 points on 3-of-15 shooting. The Orange ousted Marquette 55-39 March 30, marking the fourth time Boeheim has coached the Orange to a Final Four appereance. The last time Syracuse reached the Final Four was in 2003 when it won the National Championship.

Syracuse boasts a balanced offensive attack with four players averaging double figures, but point guard Michael Carter-Williams has perhaps been the team’s most valuable player in the tournament.

Through four tournament games, Carter-Williams is averaging 13 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per contest. And his six-foot six-inch frame has proven to frustrate opposing offenses at the top of the team’s 2-3 zone, as he’s recorded a total of 13 steals thus far in tournament action.

In a Final Four matchup, Syracuse plays the East regional champion Michigan Wolverines.

Michigan entered the NCAA Tournament battle tested after going 12-6 in the Big Ten conference. The Wolverines, led by sophomore guard and 2012-13 Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke, are the only remaining team from the Big Ten conference.

Burke put the team on his back and scored 23 second-half points to power Michigan past Kansas 87-85 in the regional semifinal Mar. 29. The Wolverines trailed the Jayhawks by 14 points with less than seven minutes remaining, but Burke’s three-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation tied the game, which ultimately went to overtime.

In the regional final, Michigan’s offensive attack was powered by an unlikely suspect.

Freshman guard Nik Stauskas scored 19 points in the first half and tied a career-high with 22 points for the game.

Prior to the March 31 regional final, Stauskas had made two of his previous attempts from behind the three-point arc, but he made all six of his attempts against Florida.

Michigan hasn’t lost since falling to the Wisconsin Badgers 68-59 in the Big Ten Conference Tournament March 15 at the United Center. The Wolverines are the only Big Ten team to advance to the Final Four.

Ohio State, the No. 2 seed in the West region, fell to the No. 9 seed Wichita State by a score of 70-66 March 30 in Los Angeles.

The Buckeyes were riding an 11-game winning streak headed into the regional final. Prior to losing March 31, the Buckeyes’ last loss was a 71-49 blowout Feb. 17 against Wisconsin.

But with a trip to the final four on the line, Ohio St. was stunned by the Shockers of Wichita St.

Coming into the season, Wichita St. was overlooked by most. The team had to replace last year’s five leading scorers and was overshadowed in the Missouri Valley Conference by Creighton, who is the last team to defeat the Shockers to date.

Since losing to the Blue Jays March 10, the Shockers have defeated Pittsburgh, top-seeded Gonzaga, upstart LaSalle and the No. 2 seed Ohio St. on their way to the national semifinals.

Wichita St. becomes the fifth team seeded ninth or higher to make the Final Four. Virginia Commonwealth was the last team to accomplish the feat as a No. 11 seed in 2011.

The Shockers take on the Louisville Cardinals in the national semifinal in a classic David versus Goliath matchup.

Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed in the field, emerged from the Midwest region by defeating the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils. The Cardinals were the last remaining one seed, as Indiana, Gonzaga and Kansas were all eliminated prior to the Elite Eight.

Head coach Rick Pitino is in his 12th season at Louisville and making his seventh Final Four appearance. He coached the University of Kentucky to a National Championship in 1996.

Junior guard Russ Smith, arguably the most outstanding player in the tournament, is averaging is averaging 26 points per game through four contests

Smith contributed 23 points in Louisville’s win over Duke, while senior point guard Peyton Siva added 16 along with four assists and no turnovers.

Louisville has been red hot the past two months, having won 17 of its past 18 games. Throughout the tournament, the Cardinals outscored their opponents by 87 points — an average margin of victory of nearly 22 points.

The Cardinals and Shockers will kick off the Final Four April.  night in Atlanta, followed by the Syracuse-Michigan game.

The National Championship will take place April 8. And if the prior tournament action is any indication, the Final Four should have no shortage of intrigue.

Miami Heat winning streak comes to end

In the end, the Miami Heat couldn’t take it. falling to the Chicago Bulls March 27 in Chicago, by a score of 101-97­­­­­­ — ending the Heat’s 27-game win streak.

With the loss, the previous NBA record for consecutive wins of 33, by the 1971-72 Los Angles Lakers, still stands.

The Bulls defense stifled the Heat all night. They were unable to gain any real traction on offense throughout the course of the game.

What made the loss even more mindboggling for the Heat was the Bulls were missing a handful of players. All-star point guard Derrick Rose, who hasn’t played in a game this season yet, center Joakim Noah, guard Marco Belinelli and guard Richard Hamilton all missed the March 27 game with injuries.

The Bulls pounded the Heat on the boards, out-rebounding the defending NBA champions 43-31. The Bulls also forced the Heat to commit 13 turnovers and scored 24 points off of those turnovers.

In the win, Bulls forward Luol Deng scored 28 points, grabbed seven rebounds and added five assists. The Bulls also got key contributions from forward Carlos Boozer who added 21 points and 17 rebounds while guard Nate Robinson chipped 14 points and guard Kirk Hinrich put up 7 points and 6 assists.

In the loss, the Heat were paced by reigning MVP LeBron James, who scored 32 points and grabbed seven rebounds. However, James could only muster up three assists, four assists short of his season average of 7.3.

“It’s one of the best streaks that the league has ever seen,” James said. “We recognize that and rightfully so.”

Forward Chris Bosh chipped in 21 points and guard Dwayne Wade added 18 points and seven rebounds in his return home to Chicago.

The Heat streak started on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3 when they defeated the Toronto Raptors 100-85 — just two nights after losing to Indiana Pacers for the second time this season.

When the streak started, the Heat were just a half-game ahead of the New York Knicks for the No. 1 seed in the East — they were five and a half games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA’s best record overall.

However, after two consecutive months without losing, the Heat now hold an 11-game lead over the Indiana Pacers and an 11 and a half  game lead over the New York Knicks for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference. They also hold a two-game lead over the Spurs for the NBA’s best record,  which would result in home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

The streak wasn’t always easy for the Heat. During the streak, the Heat trailed by double-digits a number of times. Most memorable was when they trailed the Cleveland Cavaliers by 27 points in the third quarter of the game. The Heat would close that game on a 58-28 run over the last 19 minutes of the game and defeat the Cavaliers 98-95 in Cleveland.

They also trailed their bitter rivals, the Boston Celtics, by 13 points with eight minutes left in the game, but rallied late to beat the Celtics on the road. Finally, they trailed the Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Bobcats by 11 points, but also won both of those games.

The Heat blew out good teams, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angles Clippers and the Chicago Bulls during the streak. LeBron James dominated the 27-game-stretch by accomplishing things that only LeBron himself could do.

During the streak, LeBron averaged 27 points, 8.1 rebounds and eight assists per game. LeBron shot 57 percent during the streak. He also won three NBA player of the week awards and won NBA player of the month in February.

In the end, the Heat came up six wins shy of tying the NBA all-time record for most consecutive wins. The Heat will now turn their attention to locking up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and repeating as NBA champions.

Milwaukee Bucks clinch spot in playoffs

The Milwaukee Bucks clinched the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, marking their first playoff appearance since the 2009-10 season. Unfortunately for the Bucks, they will have to face the defending champion Miami Heat in a seven-game series in round one.

The Bucks had an up-and-down season to this point. Early in the season, the Bucks looked good,  winning six of their first eight. However, out of their ensuing eight games, the Bucks were only able to win two, making their record 8-8 through 16 games. The season would continue at that same pace, as the Bucks are currently two games under .500 at 37-39 with six games to play.

Many fans were hopeful that the Bucks would be able to make some noise in what has been a relatively weak Eastern Conference in 2012-13, but that hasn’t happened. Midway through the year, the Bucks fired head coach Scott Skiles, who had been coaching the team since the 2008. Skiles and the Bucks were underperforming, as the team’s record sat at 16-16 at the time of the firing. Assistant coach Jim Boylan took over for Skiles, and the team went 8-3 in Boylan’s first 11 games. But since then, the Bucks are just 12-20.

Point guard Brandon Jennings’ relationship with the Bucks has been significantly strained after contract talks broke down in the off season. Jennings will be a restricted free agent following this season and an unrestricted free agent following 2014. In the past, Jennings suggested he may want to play in a bigger market and, quite frankly, for a better team.

If another team signs Jennings to an offer sheet, the Bucks can choose not to match and let him walk this off season. But in all likelihood, Jennings will remain on the team in 2013.

Another key component to the Bucks roster is shooting guard Monta Ellis, who is set to become a free agent after this season. Ellis and Jennings have butted heads all season, as both players love to dominate the ball in crunch time. The two have not played well together since the Bucks acquired Ellis from Golden State last season. It appears that one of the two is going to be out of Milwaukee next season.

With Ellis likely headed elsewhere after the season, the Bucks protected themselves by acquiring sharpshooter J.J. Redick at the trade deadline. The Bucks will likely look to re-sign Redick after this season, making him their daily starter alongside Jennings at shooting guard.

The team’s biggest bright spot in 2012 has come in the form of third-year forward Larry Sanders. The Bucks’ first-round pick in 2010 has been outstanding this season, averaging 9.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per contest. His defensive presence has been key to the Bucks’ playoff run.

The Bucks have fought through a lot of adversity this season. Dealing with a coaching change halfway through the season isn’t the easiest thing for an NBA team to deal with. Working through the struggles of the Bucks’ roster and front office has also been difficult for the team, but the Bucks still qualified for the playoffs.

The last time the Bucks were in the playoffs was in 2009 when they matched up with the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks blew a 3-2 series lead to the Hawks and lost Game 7 in Atlanta. The Bucks aren’t expected to make much noise in the first round, especially considering they play the Heat. But for the Bucks franchise, just making the playoffs for the first time in three seasons is an accomplishment in itself.

Green Bay plans to improve roster in draft

The league’s annual player selection meeting, commonly known as the NFL Draft, is now just two weeks away, meaning Packers general manager Ted Thompson must put his team under the microscope.

Throughout free agency, Thompson’s Packers have been predictably quiet.

Since signing cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett as free agents in 2006, Thompson rarely looks to other teams’ veterans for help. Instead, he turns to the draft to build a competitive team.

Thompson’s first draft pick was Aaron Rodgers, who had been mentioned as a possible No. 1 overall pick before a draft-day slide landed him in Green Bay. His second-round pick in 2005, Nick Collins, may have been on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame until a neck injury ended his Packers career before the 2012 season.

Of the 53 players on the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV championship team, 49 of them were acquired by Thompson since 2005.

But during his eight years in Green Bay, Thompson has had several head scratchers in the early rounds of the draft. Brian Brohm, a second-round pick in 2008, appeared in just three games over the course of his three-year NFL career, and Justin Harrell, Thompson’s first-round pick in 2007, missed a total of 30 games in four seasons with the Packers.

While other playoff teams such as the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have engaged in an all-out arms race through free agency, the Packers hope this year’s draft class is enough to get them over the top in the NFC.

Unlike the 2012 NFL Draft, this year’s class lacks star power at the top, but it’s deep in the first several rounds. The 2012 class consisting of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill dwarfs this year’s quarterback class led by West Virginia’s Geno Smith.

Fortunately for the Packers, they’re in good shape at quarterback with Rodgers. However, Green Bay has needs on both sides of the ball, and they’ll first be on the clock with pick No. 26.

In a dream scenario, one of the top two safeties would fall to the Packers at the end of round one. Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller ranks Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro as the No. 10 overall prospect and has Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien at No. 24.

Should either Vaccaro or Cyprien slide to the Packers at No. 26, the team could solve its secondary woes that started after Collins’ career was cut short.

If there’s no safety on the board worth a first-round pick, the Packers may look to the defensive front seven with their top pick. Defensive linemen B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson are currently slated to become free agents after the 2013 season.

Green Bay utilizes the 3-4 defense, which requires its defensive linemen to occupy blockers, freeing up linebackers to make plays.

Late in the first round, the Packers could consider UCLA’s Datone Jones, Southern Methodist’s Margus Hunt or perhaps Alabama’s Jesse Williams to fill a hole on their defensive line. With Pickett likely playing his last season in Green Bay, Williams would be a logical replacement at nose tackle.

Inside linebacker is another position that provides some options for the Packers late in round one. Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown may be the best of the bunch and could come off the board as early as the middle of round one.

Opinions vary on Georgia’s Alec Ogletree. LSU’s Kevin Minter and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. All three could come off the board late in the first round, or they could fall to the early stages of Day 2.

After re-signing Brad Jones and redoing A.J. Hawk’s contract to keep him in Green Bay, the Packers are more likely to look somewhere other than linebacker with their first pick.

At some point in the draft, the Packers will turn to the offensive side of the ball and address their skill positions. Having lost wide receiver Greg Jennings to the Minnesota Vikings earlier this offseason, the Packers face some question marks, as James Jones’ contract expires after this season and Jordy Nelson’s deal is up after 2014.

There’s no surefire top-ten pick at wide receiver, but Tavon Austin of West Virginia and Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee appear to be safely within first-round range.

The team also faces uncertainty at running back, despite the presence of DuJuan Harris, who emerged within the offense late in 2012. Green Bay may have a chance to land a starting-caliber back with one of its later picks.

Most view Alabama’s Eddie Lacy as the top running back in the draft. Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle and Texas A&M’s Christine Michael are all candidates to go in the second round.

North Carolina’s Gio Bernard is a unique option for the Packers with their second pick. After catching 92 passes in two seasons with the Tar Heels, Bernard could help a pass-happy team like the Packers immediately as a rookie. Bernard joined UW-Green Bay’s WGBX March 13 for a phone interview.

“Green Bay is an awesome place, has a great quarterback and a great facility,” Bernard said. “For me, it’s about playing for any team that wants me. So if they want me, I would love to be able to play for them.”

The first-round pick is sure to get a great deal of attention, but Thompson has done a lot of damage in the later rounds of the draft. A couple weeks from now, the offseason may not seem so quiet in Green Bay.

Brewers bullpen struggles continue

The Milwaukee Brewers laid the foundation for what their fan base hopes will transform into a successfully built 2013 regular season April 1.

But instead of starting the construction process on solid foundation, the team found itself on relatively unstable ground at 1-2 after the season’s first three-game series.

Behind a respectable outing from staff ace Yovani Gallardo, who conceded three runs in five innings of work, and timely hitting from Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy, the Brewers stole opening day from the Colorado Rockies by a score of 5-4 in extra innings.

However, in game two, Milwaukee’s renovated bullpen reverted back to its 2012 self by allowing four runs on five Colorado hits between the seventh and eighth innings. Ryan Braun mashed his first home run of the season, but it wasn’t enough to regain the lead, and the Brewers lost 8-4.

The storyline was similar in the series finale.

Though rookie starter Wily Peralta did what neither Gallardo nor Marco Estrada could by going 5.1 innings, he conceded four earned runs. Rickie Weeks recorded three hits, scored twice and drove in a run, but that wasn’t enough to overcome Colorado’s three-run ninth-inning surge, which came off closer John Axford.

Here are a few things we learned from Milwaukee’s opening series.

Axford gets axed

If there was one thing Brewers fans took away from the team’s opening series, it was John Axford’s disheartening performance.

Appearing in two of three games for Milwaukee, the recently turned 30-year-old closer faced a total of 11 batters, relinquished six hits — including three home runs — on his way to allowing three earned runs. Axford was unable to finish either game, despite that both appearances came in the ninth inning.

Though Axford was able to mix his pitches effectively, it was undermined by the lacking command of his fastball — something that plagued the Brewers’ closer for much of last season. Of the 21 four-seam fastballs he threw, just 12 were strikes. And when they were strikes, hitters took advantage by going 8-for-16 at the plate against it.

Ramirez, Weeks start hot

With a career .258 batting average in the months of March and April, Ramirez has never been known as a hot-starter. So Brewers fans were pleased with his 4-for-11 performance in the team’s opening series.

Three of those hits were doubles. Ramirez led the National League in doubles last season. Even more encouraging was the fact that Ramirez maintained a .413 batting average last season.

Weeks helped out the Brewers’ cause at the plate, as well. Milwaukee’s 31-year-old second baseman went 6-for-11, scored five runs and drove in his only run in the form of a solo home-run.

Of the 18 pitches Weeks swung at in the team’s opening-series, only two were out of the strike-zone. This could be an encouraging sign for Weeks, who struggled with pitch recognition and plate discipline last season.

Carlos being Carlos

On the receiving end of a four-year, $28.3 million contract extension that will keep him in Milwaukee through the 2016 season, Carlos Gomez’s opening series left something to be desired.

Still just 27 years old, Gomez went 1-for-12 against Rockies pitchers and failed to reach base via a walk, something he claimed to have improved at over the course of the off-season.

Segura finds his stroke

Quite possibly no player on the roster had a more encouraging start to the 2013 season than Segura, who went a combined 5-for-11 in the Brewer’s opening series. The first two games of the series yielded back-to-back multi-hit games, a feat the 23-year-old shortstop accomplished just twice in 44 games with Milwaukee last season.

 Henderson, Kintzler shine

The Brewers’ refurbished 2013 bullpen offered little optimism for its fan base in the team’s opening series, but Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler helped ease the pain.

Henderson appeared in two games against the Rockies and conceded two hits and walked none. He also struck a batter in each appearance and threw 23 pitches on his way to allowing zero runs.

Similarly, it took Kintzler 11 pitches to get through his outing in game two, in which he pitched one inning and faced the minimum three batters en route to striking out each.

Braun’s success continues

After compiling a career-high 41 home runs last season, Ryan Braun picked up where he left off. In the team’s opening series, he went 4-for-8 with a double and his first home run of the season, scoring three runs and driving in four more.