Quite the weekend with regard to basketball. I actually didn't leave my apartment on Sunday, since I figured the moment I walked out the door, someone would punch me in the stomach. That's the kind of weekend it was for my teams.
Friday night took me to see the high school game of the week in the Milwaukee area, conveniently at Wauwatosa East. Tosa East took on West Allis Hale. It was the opening conference game for each team, two future division one players (John Rybak and Jerry Smith) were on the floor, and given the two teams that were meeting, a conference title could eventually hinge on the outcome of this game. One can see why it was the game of the week. However, it didn't look like the game of the week when Hale jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead. Eventually Tosa East tied the game at 21-21 after a scoring flurry, however that was as good as things would get for the Red Raiders. Hale handled themthe rest of the way, looking stronger in every facet of the game.
1) Tosa East has been an elite team in the Milwaukee area for some time. It's rare that I've seen an area team not named Milwaukee King, Milwaukee Vincent, Milwaukee Washington, or Milwaukee Marquette that's clearly better than Tosa East. West Allis Hale is such a team this year. John Rybak is a phenomenal shooter, has a great feel for the game, and would be a much bigger prospect (he's signed with Akron) if he was either taller, or quicker. It's always a joy to watch Rybak to play, but the surprising thing about West Allis Hale is that their guards are very, very solid. They're the same as last year, but I don't remember them being quite so good. I still think it's going to be the same three-way race for the conference between West Allis Hale, Milwaukee Marquette and Tosa East, but this time, Hale's probably not the outsider that it was in the past.
2) As always, any Tosa East game should garner a Jerry Smith update, since he's the state's top junior. Friday was not one of my favorite performances from Smith. West Allis Hale's starting point guard was consistently racing ahead of Smith while bringing the ball up the floor. He looked somewhat better when switched to guarding Rybak, but quickly drew two fouls and was switched back to his original man, who was still out-running him. Smith also had a tendency to go for steals hoping for the outstanding play, rather than just trying to play solid defense. It's tough to argue when he dunks the ball off a crazy steal, but it wasn't happening last night, and it got old. No complaints on hisoffense, though. In fact, I think he showed great poise, particularly considering that I suspect there was some pressure on him to start chucking up shots.
3) Smith also fell asleep defensively on one inbounds play underneath the basket he was guarding, leading to an easy inbounds pass and uncontested layup. Guys playing freshman ball get pulled for that sort of thing. Not to worry, though--a substitution was made, which leads me to my next point.
4) Tosa East's coach, generally a good man, and quite the character, was not one of my favorite people on Friday night. While I can't tell you how he could have switched his game plan to eek out a win, I can tell you that he was yelling at the wrong guys at various times. That inbounds play where Jerry Smith allowed one of the easiest lay-ups I've seen this year? Immediately after that play, coach Haas pulled out Tosa East's power forward. Yeah, the guy probably could have done something to stop the play, as well, but if I'm assigning blame on that play, he's only getting about 20% of it. The wrong guy got yelled at for that one. Similarly, Tosa East's center was doing, what I thought was a fairly decent defensive job on John Rybak. He's a 6'5" lanky guy, and he was getting a hand up in every one of Rybak's shots, but Rybak was still draining threes. He got yelled at for his defense, though, and that was maybe a bit too bold. I've seen Rybak defended better, but only by betterplayers. Again, the wrong guy got yelled at.
5) It wouldn't be a high school basketball game without chants, and perhaps my favorite one of Friday night was West Allis Hale's student section, with their team up several point, chanting "You need Hanson!," referring to former Tosa East point-guard Allan Hanson, who's playing for UWM now. Tough to respond to that one, and I'm kind of glad I wasn't a student trying to think of a response.
6) I've seen three Tosa East games this year, and Jerry Smith has played every minute that a game was in question. He's not coming out of games this year unless there's a blowout or he's in foul trouble.
Luckily, Tosa East beat Milwaukee Lutheran, the pre-season top ranked Division 2 in the state on Saturday night, salvaging the sports weekend for me (along with the Packers). So it can still be a reasonable year.
Saturday night I saw the Wisconsin fall to Marquette. Though I like both teams, Wisconsin’s my team, and seeing them lose to a rival always hurts. Fortunately, no one broke a beer bottle over my head during post game at the bars, despite my bright red fleece, so I still have the brain power to share my thoughts below:
1) It hurt to see Mike Wilkinson have such an awful game. I'd love to know what was wrong with him, but more than anything, I'd like to see him get healthy quickly.
2) It doesn't need to be said again, but I will anyway. Travis Diener is good. Really, really good. I cringed every time Brian Butch switched onto guarding him on th defensive end.
3) Where do I start with Chris Grimm? I questioned why he was starting. I questioned why he was playing big minutes, and I’ll continue to question it if he ever plays that much again. That said, he put up a solid game, and for some reason spent a good deal of time guarding Alando Tucker. It was maybe the best 0 rebound performance I’ve ever seen from a 6'10" center.
4) There are about 20 things in that last point that I never thought I would ever say.
5) What happened to allow Marquette to win the game? Some would say that Diener took the team on his back and willed them to victory. That’s partly true, but if the Badgers were expecting less than 29 points from Diener, they were doomed to begin with. Some would say Steve Novak’s shooting provided a boost. Surely it did, but it wasn’t a game-breaker. What I think was the most important thing to happen in the game was Marquette’s physical defense. I’ve seldom seen Wisconsin get away from their offensive scheme as much as they did on Saturday night. The Badgers are a team that thrives on scoring in the paint, and the Golden Eagles simply didn’t let the ball inside so that could happen. As a result, Clayton Hanson and Sharif Chambliss had to start shooting threes, and Alando Tucker and Zach Morley started forcing drives. The Badgers scored enough to make it look respectable in the end, but they didn’t score in the way that they normally do, and as exciting as a Chambliss 3-pointer is, I’d much rather watch Mike Wilkinson bank in a series of layups.
6) It was nice to see former Marquette center Damon Key come out to be honored during a timeout. Some of my favorite memories from my younger days was watching the beefy Key lead his early-1990s teams to victory. His tenure was probably the peak of my Marquette fandom, and his shooting range even inspired me to develop a jump-hook that I could consistently hit from 15-feet (something none of my coaches at the time believed until they saw it). His play, along with Dimitri Hill and Oliver Miller gave me role models as a young, overweight center. I only hope that Damon can start to drop some of his excess pounds, because he was clearly up over 400 pounds on Saturday night. That’s about where the role modeling stops.
7) So I was blatantly wrong in my prediction of a Wisconsin blowout. Where was I right? Not many places, but I would like to point out that Marcus Jackson did get into early foul trouble. To his credit however, he kept his wits about him, and was able to pass the rest of the evening without difficulty.
8) Every year or so I see one game that makes me thing about taking up sports gambling. With Marquette favored in this game by 1.5 points, and my belief that Wisconsin was a far better team, this was one of those games that I thought would be the easiest bet of all time. As with the last 5-6 golden betting opportunities that I have seen, however, I did not act on it, and my prediction ended up being totally wrong. I think this is God’s way of telling me that I should never gamble on sports, which I am absolutely fine with.
9) So the big questions after a game like that are: 1) Is Wisconsin really that bad? and 2) Is Marquette really that good. My answers would be no and no. Wisconsin got a poor (and perhaps injured) performance from their top player. I don’t agree with those that say Devin Harris made every player on the floor last year half of what they were (and I heard that a lot). Did I overrate them coming into the year? Certainly, but I still don’t think I did so as much as many would say after this game. As for Marquette, they played a great game–no one can deny this. However, it was the fourth game that I’ve seen them play, and it was the first time that I’ve seen them play anything like this. I hope that they can build on this game and keep things interesting the rest of the year, but this just doesn’t seem like a team that can play at a high level on a consistent basis. I just wish they hadn’t picked one of the few teams that I like more to put out a top-level effort against.
10) This week is huge for Wisconsin. UWM plays at Madison on Wednesday, and as I’ve stated before, UWM is a team that I think is better than Marquette. Saturday’s game (and UWM’s Saturday night loss to Valpo) doesn’t change that opinion, but it does make me more worried as a Badger fan. UWM’s athleticism and pace make this a scary game. Luckily for the Badgers, it’s at home, otherwise it would be more likely to drop the second of three games to in-state foes. I still like the Badgers in this game, but it should be a dogfight.
And like I said, the weekend wasn’t without it’s high spots. During the Indiana-Kentucky game I learned that the Big Ten commercial which my friend Samip and I appear in is back for another year, so I’ll get more air time. That, combined with an appearance of the back of my head behind a post game interview at the Tosa East-West Allis Hale game on Milwaukee’s Preps Plus television show gave me a record two appearances on television at basketball games in one day. That’s got to count for something.