Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Prayers for Homer

Awful news tonight, as it is being reported that longtime Marquette announcer Steve "The Homer" True is in critical condition after his car was struck by a suspected drunk driver.  Homer's a remarkably talented radio personality, and has long been one of my favorite broadcasters.  And while I've only met Homer in passing once or twice, my friends who have interacted with him quite a bit more confirm that while he's a great radio broadcaster, he's an even better guy.  Given what a beloved member of the local community Homer is, there are undoubtedly thousands and thousands of people out there tonight sending thoughts and prayers to him and his family.  Add mine to the list, as well.  Here's pulling for you, Homer.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The 2013-14 Season Begins: Wisconsin vs. UW-Platteville

So basketball season is back.  I attended Wisconsin’s exhibition game against UW-Platteville last night, and I want to jot down some thoughts about it.  I don’t want anyone to take this as a suggestion that I’m going to be regularly blogging about basketball again. As previous years have shown, I’m way too lazy to do that anymore. (Though I may, from time to time, pen an occasional piece this season for a friend with a more broadly-focused sports blog.  More on that if and when it occurs.) 

But I still like to crank out the occasional thought, and what better time to do so than after the first game of the season?  Seeing as Wisconsin has a lot of new faces this year, I figured I’d skip over making all of the obvious broad game points that everyone is likely making today (Wisconsin looks like it will play more up-tempo this year, the refs are going to call a lot of touch fouls this year, and Platteville hung with the Badgers for way longer than the final score would indicate).  Instead, I just want to quickly go down the roster and give my reactions to each of the players after this one meaningless game.  Since the roster sheets were ordered by player number last night, that’s the order in which you’re getting my reactions.  Like I said, I’m incredibly lazy, so just deal with it.  Here are my thoughts on all 17 players (Really?  There are that many guys on the roster?  When did this turn into UWM?) On the Wisconsin roster:

Ben Brust:
It was tough to get excited about Ben Brust, the team’s top long-range bomber, when the Badgers couldn’t hit a three-pointer to save their lives during the first half.  Of course, most of those misses didn’t actually come from Brust, so it’s unfair to lay the blame on him for the first half futility, but my mind still wants to do so.  In any event, I was mildly taken aback while exiting the Kohl Center when the PA announcer indicated that Brust had led the team with 20 points.  It was a quiet 20, most of which came in the second half when Wisconsin was rolling.  I suspect that lots of fans are looking at this year’s guard depth and pondering who Brust’s graduation will create opportunity for next year, but it’s probably worth remembering for this year that Ben Brust is still really good.

Jordan Smith: One of two players in street clothes last night, I was impressed with myself for being able to figure out who Smith was prior to looking at my roster sheet last night.  I don’t know if he was injured, redshirting, or the equipment manager just forgot to order a uniform for him.  I also don’t really care, so long as Smith’s happy, as he’s a walk-on who’s about the 9th best guard on the team. 

George Marshall: Marshall was, as expected, one of the first players off the bench.  I think I’m going to grow to like him this year.  Last season, he was pressed into duty a bit early by Josh Gasser’s injury, and it showed.  Given the chance to take the point guard spot and run with it, Marshall was mistake-prone and ultimately ceded the job to Traevon Jackson.  In his limited minutes last night, though, he looked much more consistent and, to no one’s surprise, was the most adept of any of the guards at getting into the lane.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he looks this reliable all year.

Aaron Moesch: The last player off the bench, Moesh pulled in one rebound in his minute of play.  That’s about the best you can ask for from a freshman walk-on.

Nigel Hayes: There were two players that jumped off of the page at you last night, and the most prominent one was Nigel Hayes.  I’ve been reading during the pre-season about how Hayes and fellow freshman forward Vitto Brown are physically ready to play in the Big Ten.  I can confirm that the writers making that point were not kidding.  Hayes is every bit of the 6'7", 250 lbs. that he’s listed at.  And last night he showed a strong nose for the ball, hauling in offensive rebound after offensive rebound.  Hayes is physically gifted and plays extra-hard when he’s on the floor.  He’ll see plenty of minutes this year.  And by the time he’s a senior, he’s going to be the favorite player of plenty of Badger fans.

Jordan Hill: The lanky freshman saw limited minutes last night, and air-balled a three-pointer.  He looked like he belonged, though, and on a team that didn’t have five guards ahead of him on the depth chart, I could certainly see him playing.  As things stand, put his name in the back of your mind for now. 

Traevon Jackson: I’m always going to be annoyed by Jackson’s weird-looking shot, however he’s quickly developed into a classic Bo Ryan player that makes very few mistakes.  Unfortunately, this also makes him one of the least exciting players on the floor, so I didn’t spend a lot of time watching him.  However like an offensive lineman in football, if I don’t notice a Bo Ryan player, that probably means he’s doing his job and doing it well.

Duje Dukan: Dukan was the first player off the bench last night.  This was partly a function of him likely being a key sub this year, and partly a function of Bo Ryan pulling Sam Dekker after he failed to properly get a hand up on an opposing player’s shot.  Either way, Dukan displayed a decent shot, and generally showed much more confidence than he has in the past.  While I recognize that the fact that he had mono last year was a major consideration in him choosing to redshirt, I think we can all be happy that he’ll be spending his junior year contributing to a team that can use his talents instead of sitting on the bench behind three firmly entrenched seniors.  See--sometimes contracting a pesky viral infection can be a good thing!

Sam Dekker: Hands down, my pick for most improved during the offseason has to go to Sam Dekker’s haircut.  I don’t know who his new barber is, but I’d like to give that person a high-five.  When Dekker emerged onto the floor for warm-ups last night, he no longer looked like a dopey kid from Sheboygan whose parents cut his hair.  Instead, he looked like a guy that you could someday see walking across a stage in a nice suit to shake David Stern’s hand at the NBA draft.  His game?  I can’t offer anything new there.  It’s common knowledge that he’s a special offensive player and that he’s prone to occasional defensive lapses, and that’s still the case.  Dekker should again be awesome this year, though, and finally he won’t look like a rube while he’s being awesome.

Josh Gasser: It was outstanding to see Josh Gasser return from his knee injury last night, though it was tough to get a sense of where he’s at.  Gasser was never a player known for his explosiveness or remarkable quickness, so Josh Gasser with a knee brace looked remarkably similar to pre-injury Josh Gasser.  He did have an impressive moment where he drove the lane and switched hands in the air before banking in a layup, but mostly he was just consistent old Josh.  I’m ecstatic to have him back, though, as he’s the team’s top leader and calming influence. It should also be noted that during a timeout where the Jumbotron featured old pictures of all each of the players on the Badger roster dressed up for Halloween as kids, Gasser had easily the best costume.  When a 10-year-old boy is willing to dress up as Marge Simpson for Halloween, you should know that great things are coming for him someday.

Bronson Koenig: After seeing Bronson Koenig display his flashy game in high school, I commented to one friend that part of me was disappointed to see him going to Wisconsin, where his flair would be reigned in.  That was certainly the case last night, though I was pleased that you could still see some wheels churning in his head, leaving open the potential to see his creativity on display sometime in the future. Koenig looks the part, and spent a fair portion of his time on the floor running the point.  He’s definitely the fifth guard in the rotation right now, so it remains to be seen how much floor time he’ll see.  But he’ll be more than up to the challenge when he’s out there.  He may have to gut out a year of limited minutes, or he may eventually force his way into the regular rotation by season’s end, but either way, get ready to watch his talent fully unleashed next season. 

Vitto Brown: The fact that two well-built 6'8"ish freshmen from Ohio joined the Badger roster this year makes comparisons between the two inevitable, so I’m not going to avoid it.  Based solely on last night, Vitto Brown looks like Nigel Hayes Lite.  His build is slightly smaller, he plays with slightly less tenacity, and he looks slightly more lost and freshman-like when he’s on the floor.  I recognize that putting it this way makes Brown sound bad, but the reality is that Hayes is really freaking good, and that Brown is just a half step away from being just as freaking good.  That said, of the freshmen expected to contribute this year, I suspect that Brown will contribute the least.  He’s going to be a key cog at some point down the road, though.

Evan Anderson: I’ve heard talk that Anderson looked good in the scrimmage that was open to the public over the weekend, and that he may log minutes this year.  He was nonetheless the last scholarship player off the bench last night.  Nice a kid as he may be, I’m relieved that he still seems unlikely to see meaningful minutes.

Zak Showalter: It will likely be tough for someone as competitive as Showalter to spend his season redshirting, as he announced last week that he would do.  He appears to have embraced the decision so far, though, and I cannot think of a player better suited to serve in the “Master of Handshakes” role at the end of the player introduction line at the start of games.

Zach Bohannon: Bohannon rarely looks all that great when he’s on the floor, because he’s typically the least naturally gifted of the players out there.  Last night against D-3 opposition that was not the case, and I must admit that he looked pretty awesome.  I don’t necessarily think that this will translate into anything during the season, but it did give me pause to wonder just how good Bohannon would look if he regularly played against players that he’s more talented than.  

Riley Dearring: When the Badgers recruited a dude named “Riley” from Minnetonka, Minnesota, I just assumed that he was the whitest guy on the planet.  Last night I learned that Riley Dearring is actually a black guy, and not a super-pasty white dude that likes to wear sweaters.  As to his actual play, Dearing is buried on the depth chart, and along with fellow freshman Jordan Hill, tossed up a three-point shot that failed to hit any part of the scoring apparatus.  He looked fine in his limited minutes, though, and is basically just a victim of having a lot of really good players in front of him right now.  If he doesn’t redshirt this year, he’ll probably be kicking himself a few years down the road when he realizes that he sacrificed a year of eligibility in order to play a total of 8 minutes of garbage time during his freshman year.

Frank Kaminsky: In discussing Nigel Hayes, I noted that two players stood out last night.  Kaminsky was the other one.  He was excellent from the opening tip, during a first half when very few Wisconsin players could be classified as “excellent.”  He displayed some actual post moves inside, blocked a handful of shots, and even led a fastbreak at one point, finishing strong and converting a layup while getting fouled.  To be fair, I suspect that Kaminsky won’t be blocking shots with such regularity once he’s playing against D-1 players, but that doesn’t erase the fact that he was stellar in most ways last night.  I’ve never been a giant Frank Kaminsky fan (other than loving the fact that his name makes him sound like a grizzled veteran Chicago cop), but I might just come around on him this year.  He won’t be an all-time great or anything, but he’s going to be a key cog this year–and not just by default, as I had originally expected.

So as you can see, I’m enthusiastic about things at first glance.  Here’s looking forward to the real games in a few weeks, and to getting my first glimpse at Marquette and UWM in the near future.  Finally, the season is upon us!

Monday, March 18, 2013

2013 Tournament Picks

It has become official--I don't blog anymore.  But despite my totally giving up on documenting my basketball activities throughout the year, I'm still posting my NCAA tournament picks on the off chance that someone still wants to read them.  I'm bypassing the usual preamble because 1) anyone who is taking the time to read my picks has undoubtedly read some version of the preamble 4-5 times before and 2) I'm lazy.  So let's get right to picking games.  Winners are in bold, and I'm refusing to use the NCAA's non-sensical nomenclature and will be referring to the round of 64 as the "First Round" because it's completely ridiculous for the NCAA to refer to the four play-in games as the "First Round"  Here we go:

Midwest Region

First Round

Louisville (1) vs. North Carolina A&T or Liberty (16): Per usual, I’m not going to waste a lot of time talking about a one seed playing a sixteen seed.  The upset has never happened, and I’m not going to be the guy to start picking one now.  Let’s just hope North Carolina A&T gets the job done on Tuesday so that Louisville can take on a team with a winning record.

Colorado State (8) vs. Missouri (9): I know next to nothing about either of these teams, but I do know that Ohio State former walk-on sensation turned writer, Mark Titus, likes to make fun of Mizzou coach Frank Haith regularly in his weekly power rankings on Grantland (if you’ve not been reading Titus’s weekly pieces this year, you’ve really missed out on something great).  So notwithstanding the fact that I’ve had a few great trips to Tropical Liqueurs near the Mizzou campus, I can’t pick a team whose coach is so openly mocked by the nation’s top college basketball humorist. 

Oklahoma State (5) vs. Oregon (12): My pal Austin is a huge Oregon fan, so I’ve paid a bit of attention to the Ducks this year.  My knowledge is minimal, but I can confidently say that along with Illinois, Oregon is one of the more wildly inconsistent teams that I’ve noticed this year.  In general, inconsistency is a bad thing.  But in the tournament, the fact that a team is inconsistent simply means that it has a chance to play at a level way above its seed.  So I’m gambling on the Ducks playing to their ability and depriving the country of the chance to really get to know Marcus Smart.  The key word in there, though, is “gambling.”

St. Louis (4)
vs. New Mexico State (13): My friend Peter got a masters degree from NMSU.  And while that’s awesome, St. Louis has two guys from Milwaukee in the rotation.  So I’m sticking with the local players over my loyalty to my friend.

Memphis (6) vs. Middle Tennessee State/St. Mary’s (11): Normally I don’t pick the winner of a play-in game to win its first real tournament game.  But I was a fan of St. Mary’s star Matthew Dellavedova even before my pal Ferd astutely pointed out how much he looks like Curtis Armstrong, aka Dudley “Booger” Dawson from Revenge of the Nerds.  As to Memphis, they went undefeated in Conference USA, which is a) a near-annual occurrence and b) extremely underwhelming.  Memphis’s weak conference catches up with them and the Tigers lose here to the best team they’ve played in two months.

Michigan State (3)
vs. Valparaiso (14): Valpo won the Horizon League.  I had season tickets for their Horizon league foe UWM this year.  And at $50 for the whole year, I could still make an argument that I overpaid for those tickets.  A Horizon League team isn’t taking down perennial tournament powerhouse.  Michigan State walks through this one.

Creighton (7)
vs. Cincinnati (10): I thought about just writing Doug McDermott’s name 15 times here, but on second thought, I’m just going to pick against Cincinnati since they were one of the teams that broke out those awful Zubaz-like uniforms last week.  And I can’t endorse any team that wears something that ugly.

Duke (2) vs. Albany (15): You’d have to be dumb to pick against a senior-laden Duke team with a 2-seed.  I’m not even discussing this.

Second Round

Louisville (1) vs. Colorado State (8): I try to write out most of these picks prior to seeking out any outside analysis, but given that it takes time to write up justification for the winners of 63 games, sometimes I can’t avoid all media.  So I know that Alaa Abdelnaby of CBS Sports Network was touting Colorado State as a team that he likes.  I’ve always been bitter about the Bucks trading away the draft rights to Tracy Murray for Abdelnaby, so I’m not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on his opinion of the Rams (I’m sort of re-thinking even picking them over Missouri now).  Louisville moves on.

St. Louis (4) vs. Oregon (12): St. Louis is my team of destiny this year (i.e. the team that I think is going to succeed for reasons beyond being good at basketball).  Considered to be a talented veteran team coming into the year, the fact that Rick Majerus was forced to take a leave of absence from coaching the Billikens and later died on them could have either brought the team closer together or torn it apart.  It appears to have done the former, and St. Louis is a legit 4-seed this year, and not just some random mid-major that everyone’s getting unjustifiably excited about.

Michigan State (3) vs. St. Mary’s (11): Yeah, like I’m really going to pick a team that’s not even guaranteed to be playing in the game that precedes this one to beat the most consistently solid tournament performer of the last decade and a half. 

Duke (2)
vs. Creighton (7): Doug McDermott is a big, white senior who’s a candidate for player of the year.  If anyone knows a thing or two about a guy with that profile, it’s Duke.  Thus, the Blue Devils keep McDermott under control and continue on.

Sweet Sixteen

Louisville (1) vs. St. Louis (4): I said that St. Louis was the team of destiny in the last round, and if I’m being straight with you, I don’t know that I truly buy that proclamation.  But this year Louisville is that team that I hate dealing with in the tournament.  I know they’re good, and I don’t deny that they’ve got a 1-seed for good reason, but there’s something I just don’t buy about them.  If I’m going to take a risk on an early 1-seed upset, too, I like the fact that whoever wins this game has to face one of the next two teams that I’m going to discuss.  Having a roadblock like that really mitigates the risk in picking this upset.

Duke (2) vs. Michigan State (3): Here’s the round where I usually pick either Duke or Michigan State and give the justification of “There’s no team that’s more regularly successful in March than Duke/Michigan State.”  No one else gets that justification–these are the two most solidly-coached, consistently-built-to-make-a-tournament-tournament run teams in the country.  I can’t pull that trump card for both teams and have it determine the outcome when they’re playing one-another, though.  And Duke has more talent, so I have to go with them (though it hurts my soul a little bit to have to pull the talent card when I’m talking about a team that gets its orders from Coach K).

Elite Eight

Duke (1) vs. St. Louis (4): I’ve called St. Louis my “team of destiny.”  Krzyzewski trumps destiny every time.

West Region

First Round

Gonzaga (1) vs. Southern University (16): My friend Jesse noted during the selection show that Kelly Olynyk looks like Jay, of Jay and Silent Bob fame.  So that’s sort of fun.  Also, fun fact about Olynyk–while he’s in the discussion for national player of the year honors and is being discussed as an NBA lottery pick, the Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook didn’t even project him as a starter for Gonzaga this year.  Has anyone ever burst onto the scene more decisively?

Pittsburgh (8) vs. Wichita State (9): This one was a tough call.  How do you pick against a team whose mascot is the Wheat Shockers?  But ultimately, even though this year’s Pitt squad wasn’t amazing, I’m picking them here because I love how tough and hard-nosed Jamie Dixon’s teams always are.  The Panthers are probably my favorite non-Marquette team in the soon-to-be-dissolved Big East. 

Wisconsin (5)
vs. Ole Miss (12): I actually saw a few Ole Miss games earlier this year.  Mostly during that one week when Marshall Henderson was getting tons of national attention for being a) a phenomenal basketball player and b) a tremendous douchebag.  I like Ole Miss. A lot.  I’d pick the Rebels as an upset team against most of the other 5-seeds in the tourney, and all of the 6-seeds.  But if we’ve learned one thing during the past week, it’s that Wisconsin is great at taking up-tempo teams out of their game.  And that’s what’s going to happen here.  Look for lots of crisp passes, triple threat position, and tough rebounding as the Badgers grind one out.

Kansas State (4) vs. Boise State/LaSalle (13): I already picked on play-in winner to advance, and I’m not picking a second here.  The Wildcats move on.

Arizona (6) vs. Belmont (11): I’m underwhelmed by the Pac 12, so here’s my virtually unsupported first-round upset pick.

New Mexico (3) vs. Harvard (14): Here’s an interesting thought–six or seven years ago, New Mexico coach Steve Alford and Harvard coach Tommy Amaker were the two most mediocre coaches in the Big Ten.  And both have oddly gone on to much success at their new schools. But Alford’s had more.  It’s probably easier for him, having scholarships to give out an what not, whereas Amaker has to find semi-smart kids who want to pay their own way to go to school at Harvard and also happen to have some basketball ability.  There’s only so much relaxing of academic standards that you can do to make up for that.  New Mexico moves on.

Notre Dame (7) vs. Iowa State (10): I’m torn on Notre Dame.  On one hand, I think Mike Brey is a solid coach.  On the other hand, nothing jumps off the page about the Irish this year.  And while I was going to try to get through this matchup without mentioning it, I don’t see how I can ignore that Notre Dame’s neon-green uniforms are utterly embarrassing to pretty much everyone who has ever worn clothing of any kind.  So I’m going with Iowa State, which has become a popular option in recent years for Wisconsin high school hoops stars.  And yes, Korie Lucious really is still around.

Ohio State (2)
vs. Iona (15): The Buckeyes knocked off my Badgers to win the Big Ten tournament, so I think I’m morally obligated to pick them in the first round.

Second Round

Gonzaga (1) vs. Pitt (8): I love it when people who have probably seen Gonzaga play less than 10 minutes this year dismiss them as a fraudulent 1-seed because they play in the WCC. Those hoops gurus who can’t be bothered to stay up past 10pm to watch the Bulldogs deserve to be shown the error of their ways, so I have to pick Gonzaga.  (By the way, please conveniently overlook the fact that I’ve seen less than 10 minutes of Memphis this year and have picked them to bow out early because they play in conference USA.  Pointing out that inconsistency in my reasoning would be way too embarrassing for me.)

Kansas State (4) vs. Wisconsin (5): This is one of the tougher picks on the board.  On one hand, Wisconsin should be able to beat Bruce Weber.  I mean, they used to do it all the time.  On the other hand, Bruce Weber tends to do well when he’s coaching players that he didn’t personally recruit. I honestly don’t know which way to go, so I’m just going to make the homer call and take the Badgers.

New Mexico (3)
vs. Belmont (11): Even if Belmont doesn’t pull of this random upset and Arizona’s sitting there in place of the Bruins, New Mexico’s been getting it done for enough years now that it’s time to start trusting them in March.  And so that’s what I’m doing.

Ohio State (2) vs. Iowa State (10): Even before they went on their run in the Big Ten tourney, I was a fan of Ohio State.  And when I started reading Mark Titus’s book, my respect for Thad Matta increased tenfold.  So the Buckeyes send Iowa State and its gaggle of transfers packing.

Sweet Sixteen

Gonzaga (1) vs. Wisconsin (5): I can give you a lot of justifications for Wisconsin winning this one.  Jared Berggren matches up well with Gonzaga’s top player.  The Badgers are battle-tested, and have beaten teams that are just as good, if not better, than the Bulldogs.  Gonzaga’s up-tempo attack is just the sort of thing that is most vulnerable to Wisconsin’s disciplined approach to the game.  But at the end of the day, I thing that a) Gonzaga is simply a better team and b) Wisconsin always seems to have difficulty pulling together three straight well-played games.  Here’s hoping I’m wrong.       

Ohio State (2) vs. New Mexico (3): Good Lord, I have no idea who to pick here.  I like them both, and wish one of them had been in another region.  The coin that I just flipped says Ohio State, though, so I’m sticking with that.

Elite Eight

Gonzaga (1) vs. Ohio State (2): Everyone hates Gonzaga as a 1-seed, which is why I have to take them.  When everyone else likes to zig, I like to zag (yes, nod your head to that inadvertent play on words by me right there).  Seriously, though–when have you ever seen a 1-seed that could be considered a value play?  Mark Few says this is his best team ever, and who am I to doubt him?

South Region

First Round

Kansas (1) vs. Western Kentucky (16): I miss the days when Western Kentucky was a mid-major darling instead of a 16-seed.  The Hilltoppers were never a 16-seed when Anthony Winchester was playing.

North Carolina (8)
vs. Villanova (9): Early in the season, North Carolina was not a tournament-level team.  If the Heels had been playing the way they’ve been the last few weeks, they wouldn’t be an 8-seed.  Here’s your value play, friends.

Virginia Commonwealth (5) vs. Akron (12): Two years later, it’s clear that Shaka Smart didn’t just get lucky with his first tournament run.

Michigan (4) vs. South Dakota State (13): I’m picking this one solely on the basis of which team’s players’ fathers have logged the most NBA minutes.  So we’re looking at a Michigan blowout.

UCLA (6) vs. Minnesota (11): I love this matchup of arguably the two most dysfunctional teams in the tournament.  UCLA’s past chemistry problems under Ben Howland are well documented, and it seems like little has changed in Brentwood.  As for Minnesota, perhaps the whole team isn’t dysfunctional, but let’s be honest–Trevor Mbakwe is a total jackass.  But he’s an insanely talented jackass, so I’m taking the Gophers in an upset.

Florida (3) vs. Northwestern State (14): When Florida beat the tar out of both Wisconsin and Marquette early in the season, I was getting ready for the Gators to walk away with the NCAA championship.  I’m backing off a bit after some lesser performances of late, but Florida still gets out of the first round.

San Diego State (7) vs. Oklahoma (10): Picking Steve Fisher is always oddly fun. 

Georgetown (2) vs. Florida Gulf Coast (15): I love that people keep doubting Georgetown when they’re completely awesome.  I’ll talk more about that later, though, since it’s worthless to justify the reason that a 2-seed will win.

Second Round

Kansas (1) vs. North Carolina (8): It’s a little known fact that I have a huge blind spot for Kansas.  I’ve not seen the Jayhawks play an entire game this season, or probably during any of the past three seasons.  It makes essentially no sense, as Kansas frequently plays prime-time, nationally televised games, is possibly the greatest program of all time from a historical perspective, and has great uniforms.  I should love watching them, but instead I have somehow come to more or less deny their existence. My brain knows that Kansas is one of the top teams in the country, not just because they always are, but because they’ve chalked up a 1-seed this year.  All that said, though, I’m ready to do the unthinkable and fully commit to this idea that North Carolina’s is playing like a 4-seed now, but has to be given an 8-seed because they spent the first half of the season playing like a team that was bound to lose in the semi-finals of the NIT.  Don’t make me look stupid, Tarheels.

Michigan (4) vs. VCU (5): Look, I think that Michigan has the talent to win this entire tournament. And let’s face it–watching John Beilein-coached teams (particularly one with these athletes) is pure fun.  But one of my most frequent hoops-watching pals was friends with Wisconsin native Shaka Smart while growing up.  And that’s just the kind of completely irrelevant factor that I just can’t ignore.

Florida (3)
vs. Minnesota (11): Minnesota simply isn’t winning two tournament games.  The idea that that could happen is laughable.  And if I’m wrong about the Gophers actually winning their first game, the alternative opponent is UCLA, for whom two tourney wins is even more laughable.  Florida’s in the Sweet Sixteen, and it’s not even a question.

Georgetown (2) vs. San Diego State (7): Dear people that only watch basketball in March and don’t really know that much about hoops: I’d like to introduce you to Otto Porter.  I think you’re going to like him.

Sweet Sixteen

Virginia Commonwealth (5) vs. North Carolina (8): If you can’t pick the consistently good mid-major who’s sitting three seeds higher than arguably the greatest college basketball program of all time, I can’t talk to you anymore because you have no soul.

Georgetown (2) vs. Florida (3): We’re getting to the point where it’s tough to justify these things, so I guess I’ll just pick one of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions over a school from the state with a good percentage of the nation’s most insanely foolish people.

Elite Eight

Georgetown (2) vs. VCU (5): Both great programs with great coaches.  It’s a tough call, but I’m going with Georgetown because a) as a fan of Wisconsin, I’m morally obligated to root for the team that is often overlooked due to its decidedly unsexy style of play, and b) if given the choice, I’d rather live in D.C. than Richmond, Virginia (apologies to my family that lives in Richmond, but you have to concede that D.C. is awesome). 

East Region

Indiana (1) vs. LIU-Brooklyn/James Madison (16): Even Tom Crean can’t screw this one up.

N.C. State (8)
vs. Temple (9): A close friend of mine did grad school at N.C. State.  So I’m picking the Wolfpack because of that. Oh, and their ability to stockpile loads and loads of talent.

UNLV (5) vs. California (12): Look, I’m going to level with you–I don’t know anything about UNLV.  Yeah, I’ve heard of Mike Moser, but I can’t tell you why he’s great.  And if you’re going to pick an upset game, it’s usually a bit less emotionally difficult to make the pick when there’s a gap in your knowledge that doesn’t allow you to credibly make the case for why the favorite should win.  So go Cal Bears!
Syracuse (4) vs. Montana (13): I don’t even know what Montana’s school colors are.  It’s in Montana, so I’m guessing it involves earth tones.  As for Syracuse, they’re so up front with what their colors are that they made one of them their mascot.  It’s straightforwardness like that which makes me choose the Orange here. 

Butler (6)
vs. Bucknell (11): As one of the top mid-majors out there on a year-to-year basis, Butler always runs a risk of being overrated.  And the Bulldogs might be slightly overrated, but there’s no denying that Brad Stevens is a basically a genius.  And he seems likeable, so I can’t pick his team to lose in the first round.

Marquette (3) vs. Davidson (14): Davidson lost to UWM earlier this season.  If you made it to the Klotsche Center to see UWM this year, you recognize how embarrassed Wildcats should be about that fact.  And while I recognize that Davidson is significantly better than it was in that one terrible game, I can’t imagine a world where UWM managed to beat a team that Marquette could not. (Fun note: UW-Green Bay went collectively 4-0 against UWM and Marquette this year.)

Illinois (7) vs. Colorado (10): Remember earlier how I was saying that Oregon’s inconsistency made them a decent gamble to pull off an upset?  That theory works in reverse, too.  Illinois has been the most completely unpredictable team I’ve seen this year.  One night they look like they could win the national championship, and the next night you find yourself wondering how they pulled off a winning record.  So if you’re looking for an upset (albeit a mild one), you could do worse than picking against the Illini and hoping the horrid version of their team shows up.

Miami (2) vs. Pacific (15): Jim Larranaga appears on a D.C. radio show that I often listen to, and I like him.  So, onward goes Miami.

Second Round

Indiana (1) vs. N.C. State (8): As a fan of a team that has beaten Indiana twice this year, I have a sense of what a successful plan to take down the Hoosiers looks like.  Here’s a hint–throwing a team of loosely-coached, talented athletes from the ACC at them is the exact wrong approach.  The Hooisers advance and it’s not close.

Syracuse (4) vs. California (12): I can’t get excited about either of these teams.  So when in doubt, I take the legendary coach that is more or less the nation’s foremost expert on zone defense.

Marquette (3) vs. Butler (6): I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this game, mostly because I can’t wait to see the looks of disgust on the faces of all of my hardcore Marquette-fan friends as CBS repeatedly re-runs the clip of Rotnei Clarke hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take down Marquette in the Maui Invitational at the start of the season.  I put the over-under on number of times we’re going to see this clip during the broadcast at roughly 35,000.  Unfortunately for Butler, the only people that are going to be more perturbed than Marquette fans by the memories of Clarke’s phenomenal shot are the Marquette players themselves.  Given that Marquette is fueled by emotion in much the same way that my car is fueled by gas, I can’t fathom a scenario where they lose to the team that beat them on a play that they had to re-live over and over again this year.  Marquette wins, and wins angry.

Miami (2) vs. Colorado (10): Miami’s on the scene, just in case you didn’t know it.

Sweet Sixteen

Indiana (1) vs. Syracuse (4): Every part of my body wants to see my grandfather’s favorite team (Syracuse) take down my least favorite human being involved in college athletics (Tom Crean).  But I fear that I’d only be picking the upset here because of my thorough dislike of Mr. Crean.  And the last thing I want to be is completely irrational, so I’ve got to stick with the Hoosiers, who I suspect are actually a pretty likeable bunch of guys once you get past their leader.

Miami (2)
vs. Marquette (3): I’ll let you in a secret–I’m less excited about this Marquette team than any Marquette team in recent memory.  I think it’s the lack of star power.  No one can deny that Vander Blue had an excellent junior year and is poised for a breakout season as a senior, but neither he nor any of his teammates captures my attention like Jimmy Butler, Lazar Hayward or (to a lesser extent) Darius Johnson-Odom did.  (Sorry, Davante Gardner–I was your biggest fan until I had to spend the entire season listening to you scream like you’d just been hit in the knees with a tire iron every time you tossed in a layup while there was a defender within five feet of you.)  Miami wins this one, and we can maybe talk about a deeper Marquette run next year if Blue takes home New Big East player-of-the-year honors and incoming freshman Duane Wilson provides as much support as I think he will in the MU backcourt.

Elite Eight

Indiana (1) vs. Miami (2): You and I both know that I’ve been looking for an excuse to pick  Indiana to lose prior to the Final Four, and Miami finally gives me a reasonable way of doing so.  Let’s talk head coaches for a moment.  In 2006, Jim Larranaga took a team from a commuter school in the Colonial Athletic Association to the Final Four, the NCAA’s biggest stage.  Now he has power conference players at Miami.  As to Tom Crean, I’ll begrudgingly admit that he’s an amazing promoter and recruiter, and seems to be able to motivate his players.  But if I’m in a tight game and I need someone who understands basketball, he’s not the guy I want running the show for my team.  So gleefully, I’m taking the Hurricanes to bounce the Big Ten champs in a tight one. 

Final Four

Gonzaga (1) vs. Duke (2): Holy crap, what have I done?  What if everyone is right about Gonzaga having played no tough competition in their mediocre mid-major conference?  And I’ve picked them to the Final Four?  I can’t take the risk of going any further with this.  Any options to take them out?  Duke?  You mean that team that everyone hates because they’re seemingly always in the top-10, recruit a bunch of all-Americans every year, and has the most well-respected active coach in the game?  Yeah, I guess that would be a good team to cop out with.

Georgetown (2) vs. Miami (2): I want to pick both of these teams through to the finals.  Miami is the semi-upstart team that snuck up on the traditional powers of the ACC to steal the league’s regular season and conference tournament championships.  Georgetown is the perpetually workman-like team (albeit one with a superstar player) that quietly goes about its business and racks up win after win without ever being a trendy pick.  In the end, though, Miami flipping the balance of power in the country just feels more fun to me, so I’m going with the ‘Canes (and effectively invalidating my scolding of others for not paying attention to the boring old Hoyas).

Championship Game

Duke (2) vs. Miami (2): Every year when I fill out a bracket, there’s one team that gets to at least the Final Four that doesn’t make sense to me on a macro level.  This year, that’s Duke.  If you just asked me what teams I thought would make the Final Four and didn’t show me a bracket, Duke probably wouldn’t have been in the first ten teams I named.  But then I start picking actual games and this team that I don’t love and find flawed in multiple ways is suddenly in the finals.  So as this implies, I’m picking Miami.  But in order to make it official, let’s do some actual hackneyed analysis:

Duke and Miami split the pair of games that they played against one another this season.  Miami beat the Blue Devils down 90-63 on January 23 in Miami, forcing everyone who wasn’t paying attention to recognize their national relevance.  When Duke hosted Miami on March 2, they got revenge on the Hurricanes, winning 79-76.  I only watched the latter game. The two most notable things about that game were that a) Ryan Kelly’s 36-point outburst in his return from a lengthy absence due to a foot injury was probably the best individual performance I witnessed all season and b) Duke needed every bit of Kelly’s herculean effort to win that game.  We’re in for a treat if we see a repeat of the efforts put forth by both teams in that game.  But given that Kelly’s performance was a once-in-a-season sort of thing, my money is on Miami’s high level of play being more repeatable than Duke’s.  So Shane Larkin and friends will be taking a championship trophy back with them to Coral Gables. 

So there you have it.  Check back in a week to tell me how ridiculously wrong I was, and enjoy the tournament!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Marquette vs. UMBC: Watching The Good Half

Last night’s Marquette vs. UMBC game was a pretty good example of what happens when I don’t have tickets to a game that’s airing on Time Warner Sports. Because my TV service provider is Directv, I don’t have home access to Marquette games that air on Time Warner Sports and must find an alternate way to watch the game. For games like UMBC, this typically means heading to my gym to feign working out so that I can watch the game. This happens because a) my gym has Time Warner, and b) it would be near impossible to find someone to go to a bar with me to watch a terrible non-conference game. So in a weird way, terrible Marquette non-conference games kind of keep me healthy.

The original plan for last night’s game was to watch the first half, since a game against UMBC was bound to be a blowout. But because even a trip to the gym usually involves some laziness on my part, I procrastinated and didn’t make it over until the second half. This was a lucky error on my part, since Marquette was clinging to just a four point lead at the half. The second half (or as I like to call it, the “good half”) saw the Golden Eagles rout their opponents en route to a 79-46 win. Here are the thoughts on what I saw:

1) There was some minor interest by many last night in seeing how UMBC center Brett Roseboro would look. Watching Roseboro rack up his 2 points, 4 rebounds and 5 fouls in 20 minutes, it seems unlikely that he ever would have seen the floor had he come to Marquette. I’m certain that there are plenty of Marquette fans this morning reiterating their praise for Buzz Williams for letting Roseboro out of his commitment during the summer before his freshman year so that he could go to a school where he could actually challenge for playing time. I still can’t join in that praise (and I’ve written more about that here). While I’ll concede that it would have been cruel to hold Roseboro in a situation where he couldn’t compete, the right thing would have been to properly evaluate Roseboro’s talent months earlier and not force him to pass up other opportunities because he was relying on his opportunity at Marquette.

2) Big kudos to the super-fan in the student section last night that kept getting TV time during timeouts due to his blue and gold Mexican wrestling mask. Your attire was impressive even without headgear, but the mask put it over the top. That’s solid crazy fan work if I’ve ever seen it, so keep up the good work.

3) Dear Davante Gardner: While I love watching you casually drop nearly every basketball that you touch through the hoop, and I think your twitter handle is both awesome and accurate (@iGetBuckets_54), if you continue loudly yelling in hopes of drawing a foul every time you shoot a layup, I may start losing my positive opinion of you. Just play the damn game and stop trying to sucker the refs into giving you a foul shot after your baskets.

4) One of my favorite fan message board discussions of every year is speculation about whether whatever walk-on is on the team will earn playing time and contribute. Ninety percent of the time, the answer is a simple “no.” So far this year, Jake Thomas has resoundingly secured his place in the 10% of walk-ons that are relevant. He looked outstanding last night, calmly knocking down threes, and using ball fakes to get past his defenders when the caught on to his shooting ability. Some of Thomas’s playing time is undoubtedly due to the minutes that Marquette has to fill because of the absence of Todd Mayo (and at the moment, Vander Blue, as well), but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s giving the team good minutes. Between his performance against UMBC and his big shot near the end of the Butler game, Thomas is off to as good a start as one could hope for from a walk-on.

5) Jim McIlvaine seems like a guy that I’d enjoy hanging out with, though I don’t love him as an announcer on either radio or TV. He’s too much of a homer (kind of ironic, given that the nickname of his radio partner is “Homer”), and his attempts at humor, while often funny, usually seem forced. That said, I typically enjoy him more on TV (where he was last night), where he tends to be more subdued and less likely to try and work in cheesy exclamations that he’s been saving up for particular moments. Last night’s McIlvaine high point was probably when he and his broadcast partner were discussing the great players from McIlvaine’s high school alma mater, Racine St. Catherine’s, that had played at Marquette. McIlvaine’s self-deprecating acknowledgment that the he was not even the best center named “Jim” from his own high school due to the success of fellow St. Catherine’s alum Jim Chones was particularly amusing (and based on what I know about Chones, correct).

6) As I have discussed with friends, last year I had Juan Anderson slated as the Golden Eagle most likely to transfer next. Based on the combination of how solid he’s looked this year, and the fact that he’s got two more years to continue improving, I’m now thinking of him as the Golden Eagle most likely to get drafted next. Anderson has been my happiest surprise so far.

7) I get that Chris Otule has overcome the absence of one eye and three season-ending injuries, but we’re six games into the season and I’m already getting tired of announcers talking about how inspiring he is. I think Otule is a good guy, and I commend him for working hard to return from all of his injuries, but you’ll excuse me if I’m not overly inspired by his ability to recover.

Back to the TV tonight for some ACC-Big Ten Challenge action before I actually attend some ACC-Big Ten Challenge action on Wednesday. I suspect that Indiana-North Carolina will not disappoint. Enjoy the games!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Senior Moment

In addition to today’s thoughts on the Marquette game, I’d like to add quick note on the Duke-Kentucky game. I could spend lots of time (if I had said time) talking about the ridiculous athleticism of Kentucky, or the fact that Duke’s Ryan Kelly is underrated because his last name is not Plumlee, but the thing that really stuck out to me last night was player introductions. In one of the greatest moves of overcompensation that I’ve ever seen, Kentucky’s Julius Mays was introduced not as a senior, but as a "grad student." I’ve since checked the Kentucky basketball website, and indeed, on the team roster he is also listed as a grad student. This move feels like an obvious and pathetic attempt to deflect from Kentucky’s status as the place where a new crop of all-American freshmen go each year to spend a season before they can head to the NBA.

Kentucky forcing every announcer and publication to refer to Mays as a grad student reminds me of a common experience that I used to have in college. Every semester I’d start new classes, and there would usually be that part where the professor or TA had us go around and introduce ourselves by stating our name, major and year in school. Most normal people would say something like "I’m Tim, and I‘m a junior majoring in economics." But every so often there was that one guy who’d instead say "I’m Mario, I'm a biology major, and I'm a second-year student with junior standing." And invariably the next thoughts going through my head would be "Congrats on having lots of AP credits. Just tell us you’re a sophomore or a junior. Explicitly pointing out that you have more credits than most of the students that started school at the same time as you doesn’t make me think you’re smarter–it makes me think you’re an insecure jerk." Much like the info that Mario in English 205 has a higher class standing than usual due to his ability amass credits, the info that Mays is a grad student is irrelevant to me. All I care about is that he’s in his fourth year of basketball eligibility. We commonly refer to that as a senior. Let’s not get cute about it.

So Kentucky, please know that when you note that Julius Mays is a grad student, it doesn’t make me forget that every year you have four high school all-American basketball players who don’t plan on playing more than a year in college and will probably never attend a second semester class. It simply makes me think you’re ashamed of who you are. With that in mind, let’s start calling Mays what his is for basketball purposes–a senior.

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Marquette vs. Southeastern Louisiana: The Game I Can't Understand

I only watched the first half of the Marquette’s close call against Southeastern Louisiana last night. This was partially due to the fact that the game was on Time Warner Sports, I’m not a Time Warner subscriber, and consequently, my only way of seeing the game was to head to the gym (while I have decent lungs, I’m incapable of working out for the duration of an entire college basketball game). It was also partially due to the outstanding slate of games that was on ESPN last night to cap its annual 24-hours of basketball event. Why watch Marquette-Southeastern Louisiana when Duke vs. Kentucky is on?

So what happened that allowed Southeastern Louisiana, a team that was utterly destroyed by Wisconsin on Sunday, to stick around within two points of Marquette until the final three minutes of the game? Based on the first half, I honestly can’t tell you. This was one of the strangest halves of basketball that I’ve seen, as I could not pinpoint the problem. Marquette’s talent advantage was readily apparent. And when one team has such an advantage in ability, there are a few typical ways in which the inferior team can hang in the game. The most obvious is that they get hot from three point range and continue firing up threes as often as possible (the "Athletes in Action" strategy, if you will). This was not happening for Southeastern Louisiana, whose shooting was mediocre. The next option is for the inferior team to get a lot of second chance opportunities. This also was not happening either, as Marquette was doing a good job of cleaning up on the boards. The final thing that I look for is defensive lapses by the superior team, allowing easy baskets to their opponent. This element was also missing, as Southeast Louisiana was having great difficulty getting penetration, and consequently, spent most of the half taking mid-to-long range jump shots (and as noted earlier, they were not hitting at some sort of amazing rate, either). The Marquette defense largely forced the opponent to do exactly what it wanted them to do.

As much as I’d like to sit here today and tell you that Marquette needs to get its act together and start playing better basketball, I’m sort of at a loss for what I’d tell the team it needs to improve on. Of course, that’s undoubtedly why I’m sitting behind a computer recounting my thoughts from last night’s game rather than actually coaching basketball. Here’s hoping that Buzz Williams has a few more constructive thoughts than I do. I’m thinking that he probably does.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekend Hodgepodge

Lots of stuff going on this weekend, between Marquette’s non-opening game debacle on Friday and a trio of games for Wisconsin (vs. Southeastern Louisiana), Marquette (vs. Colgate) and UWM (at South Carolina) on Sunday. Here are a few random points on all of the above:

1)  Well, it turns out that the concerns that I expressed about playing a basketball game on an aircraft carrier in the super-humid city of Charleston, South Carolina were well-founded. I won't say that I predicted the cancellation of the Ohio State-Marquette game, because I didn't. I foolishly assumed that the organizers of the game had anticipated the moisture and come up with a plan to make the court playable. Shame on me for thinking any actual engineering was involved. It's kind of pathetic when a dude who's been to the ocean a couple of times has put more thought into the issues involved in a game like this than the actual organizers. I still think that the aircraft carrier games were a cool idea, but after two cancellations this weekend, and stories now leaking out about moisture issues at last year's seemingly well run game between Michigan State and North Carolina, I'd say it's time to leave this idea in the past. A beautiful background is nice, but it’s not worth a guy potentially slipping and shredding his ACL.

2)  While gathered at a bar with friends watching Buzz Williams and the rest of the Marquette team and staff furiously wiping down their game floor on Friday night, I overheard several people near me say things like "Look at the Ohio State team just standing around while everyone from Marquette is actually working to try and make this game happen. I'm so proud to be a Marquette grad right now." While I understand that sentiment, I'm not sure I agree with it. The problem with condensation on the game floor was not going to be fixed by just wiping it up, and that was obvious to anyone who took more than five seconds to think about it. It's not as if someone simply spilled a bucket of water on the court and a one-time mopping could clean it up--the water was hovering in the air. The fact that Thad Matta and his team weren't on their knees rubbing towels on the floor didn't make me think that they were prima donnas or that they didn't want to play the game. It merely told me that they were smart enough to recognize a lost cause when they saw one.

3)  South Carolina coach Frank Martin’s bow tie continues to be a ridiculous look for him. I like bow ties, but only certain guys can pull them off. Frank Martin has neither the build (his torso is too large, dwarfing the bow tie) nor the personality (bow ties are not for guys who look constantly perturbed) to be a bow tie wearer. I’m not quite sure what Martin looked more like in a bow tie: a second-rate Bond villain, or an the least enthusiastic vaudeville performer ever.

4)  UWM should start looking more to the juco ranks if they can keep bringing in players like their all-juco backcourt of Jordan Aaron and Bobo Niang. While heading into the year the Panthers clearly had depth in the frontcourt, their newfound starting backcourt is looking like a strength. Jordan Aaron was borderline unstoppable during the final five minutes of yesterday’s first half. Rob Jeter must be getting excited about being able to throw Paris Gulley into the mix with Aaron and Niang once Gulley returns from injury.

5)  One of the great highlights of watching the UWM-South Carolina game yesterday was hearing a consistently irate South Carolina fan in the background of the action. There’s nothing better than when an irrationally angry fan gets seated next to a microphone. I wasn’t able to pick out all of the inane angry rants that this fan was hurling at the refs, but I did hear a number of them. My favorite ridiculous taunt was “Why don’t you go back to reffing the NFL!” I’d bet good money that at some point this guy pulled out the old “Hey ref! Get off your knees–you’re blowing the game!” That’s usually the sad height of comedy for guys that spend most of their time at a game berating the refs.

6)  I heard my favorite announcing quote in some time during yesterday’s UWM-South Carolina game. I had to rewind the moment on my DVR to transcribe the exact quote, but it was worth it to hear the color commentator say the following: "You know, in today's college basketball world, we see a lot of coaches playing three and four guards. Very few post guys floating around out there, and if they are, they're usually 6'7" and 6'8". I would have to say that, certainly, Demetrius Harris would qualify as one of those low post guys.” I can’t think of the last time someone used more words to tell me less information.

7)  I don’t want to take away anything from UWM’s accomplishments yesterday, as they did go on the road and manage to take a major conference team to overtime after dominating them in the first half (UWM led by 15 at halftime). And that’s awesome. But I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out that South Carolina finished close to the bottom of the SEC last year.

8)  So it appears that in my great telecommunications shift of 2012, I’ve managed to cobble together a situation in which I don’t have access to ESPN3. This was a tad disheartening yesterday when I furiously tried to pull up the Wisconsin-Southeastern Louisiana game to no avail. I’m already considering a few work-arounds, since I can’t live in a world where I don’t have video access to the only games that Evan Anderson will play in.

9)  While I didn’t have ESPN3, it was nice of ESPNU to cut into the Wisconsin game during breaks in action in the other games that it was showing on Sunday. Perhaps the happiest sight of the day for me was Mike Bruesewitz in uniform. It’s always nice to see a return from injury, but Bruesewitz’s injury sounded so gruesome and he sounds like such a good guy that this return felt extra good to hear about.

10)  The news that Duje Dukan is redshirting this year for the Badgers was surprising, but I suppose it makes some sense. While Dukan put some of the blame on an early fall bout with mono hindering his conditioning, I would have to think an even bigger factor is that there are three senior frontcourt players clearly ahead of Dukan in the rotation right now. There’s going to be a lot more opportunity available upon the graduation of Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren. And given that Dukan looked on the verge of gaining some minimal playing time near the very end of last season, playing his last two seasons without three firmly entrenched veterans ahead of him could be a very good thing for him (and the Badgers). Here’s hoping for the best.

11)  While I didn’t catch much of the Marquette-Colgate game on Sunday afternoon, a friend did text me from the game to note that the halftime entertainment for the game was the Jesse White Tumbling Team. Nice to see Marquette coming out of the gates strong with the halftime acts this year.

12)  Also nice to see solid games from the Marquette players that I typically have tempered expectations for. Juan Anderson seemed to be scoring every time that I saw him, which was nice for a guy that I’d pegged for transferring out due to lack of playing time at one point last year. And Jamil Wilson had a rare good game that I was paying attention to. Wilson’s talent is undeniable, but for some reason he’s one of those guys that always seems to only come up big when I manage to miss a game.

That's it for now.  I'm off to order the sports package from my satellite provider so as not to miss any weird games now that hoops season is finally upon us!

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Thing's I'm Looking Forward To: Marquette and Ohio State on an Aircraft Carrier (With Bonus Wisconsin Exhibition Thoughts)

I’m flip-flopping my originally announced schedule a bit, and saving my post on why I’m excited for Sam Dekker’s college debut tomorrow. Why? Because I watched Wisconsin’s exhibition game against UW-Oshkosh last night and would like to update my originally written thoughts to reflect actually seeing him in a game. So today’s post is primarily about why I’m excited for tomorrow night’s Marquette-Ohio State game on the deck of the USS Yorktown. But before I get to that, a few abbreviated thoughts on last night’s Wisconsin exhibition:

1) I broke down and spent $14.95 for a subscription to the Big Ten Network’s online package so that I could see this game (and a couple others) online, as that is the only way to see a few of this year’s Wisconsin games live. The verdict? It’s not terrible if you’re sitting alone and watching on your computer (aside from the persistent shameful feeling that you’re a loser watching a meaningless basketball game alone on your computer). But if you’re at all interested in hooking your computer up to your big screen TV and watching with other people, you’re not going to be happy. I’ve played games of Tecmo Bowl that were more graphically appealing than the blurry, pixilated mess that was on my TV last night.

2) The guy that stood out for me while watching last night was George Marshall, which is good, because George Marshall was the guy that I was hoping would stand out. I’m as upset as anyone about Josh Gasser going down for the year (Gasser tweeted a photo of himself watching the game online from his hospital bed last night–it was positively heart-breaking.), but at least Marshall and Traevon Jackson appear very ready to go.

3) More tomorrow on this topic, but Sam Dekker looked exactly like the coaches have been saying he has all pre-season: good, but with some freshman tendencies. I’ll gladly take that.

4) Evan Anderson took a three-point shot last night. Chew on that for a moment.
Actually, chew on that for awhile, because those are my minimal game thoughts. As promised, I’ll close with my reasons for excitement over tomorrow’s Marquette-Ohio State game:

Though it sort of embarrasses me to admit it, I think this whole trend of playing games on aircraft carriers is kind of cool. I was laying sick on my couch last year when North Carolina and Michigan State opened the season playing on the USS Carl Vinson, and it was a thoroughly awesome TV event. So it enthuses me even more to see Marquette taking on a fun-to-watch Ohio State game to start this year’s season. Making things particularly intriguing for me is the fact that I’ve actually visited the USS Yorktown a few times (I’m no military enthusiast, but when you’re growing up and your family refuses to vacation anywhere other than just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, you’re going to get to see every tourist attraction at some point).

Of course, my visits to the USS Yorktown have placed a whole bunch of logistical questions into my head. How do they cram a basketball court and a bunch of fans onto a deck that ultimately isn’t that huge? How uncomfortable is it for the players getting to the court, given that the USS Yorktown was built with a bunch of 5'7" sailors in mind, not a bunch of wide-shouldered 6'8" power forwards? What are they using for locker rooms, for that matter? And how in God’s name are they going to keep moisture from condensing on the court, given that Charleston is the most humid city I’ve been to in my entire life (though I’ll concede that this issue was on my mind during last year’s game in San Diego, and they somehow pulled it off just fine).

Thankfully, though, I’m not planning the event or attending, so I don’t have to fix any of those concerns. I just have to watch on TV as a game gets played in a beautiful setting.

Now’s normally the part when I’d bid you farewell for the day and tell you to enjoy the game tonight, but seeing as I’m a day ahead, why don’t you just watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia this evening. It won’t have the athleticism of a college basketball game, but you’ll probably laugh more.

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