Tuesday, November 30, 2004

ACC-Big Ten Challenge Predictions

They may not be the two best leagues in the country (well, one of them is the best), but they're my two favorite conferences to watch, and they're squaring off in a made-for-TV event. Here are my predictions:

Michigan State over Duke: I’ve only seen Duke play, and while they’re still good (indeed, they are Duke), they’re certainly not as deep as Michigan State, and they are not a team that should be able to hang with the Spartans if Izzo has his boys playing decent ball.

Maryland over Wisconsin: My heart tells me that Wisconsin wins this game, but my head says Maryland. And my head is only concerned because of the recent loss by the Badgers to Pepperdine. Maryland hasn’t done anything to show weakness, so they’re the pick. Plus, I really like Nick Caner-Medley’s name.

N.C. State over Purdue: Yeah, this game took place last night and N.C. State won, but does anyone really think I would have picked Purdue? I can’t wait to get my first glimpse of Julius Hodge this year in one of the Wolfpack’s upcoming games.

Florida State over Minnesota: In the battle of the lesser teams from each conference, I have to take Florida State, simply because I know less about them, and the more you know about Minnesota, the easier it is to lose confidence in them. Though they did apparently hang with some decent teams in the Great Alaska Shootout, Jeff Hagen’s still the only guy I can name on the Gophers.

North Carolina over Indiana: Ouch. Mike Davis and the Hoosiers will be hurting after this one. I don’t think I even need to explain this.

Georgia Tech over Michigan: Michigan took Arizona to overtime last week. I was flipping back and forth between that game and the North Carolina-Iowa game. Iowa was down by 20 to UNC, as Michigan kept pace with Arizona, yet I still thought "Iowa impresses me a lot more than Michigan." Michigan’s guards were a bit of a disappointment to me. Tech’s guards are stellar, and should have no problem handling Dion Harris and Daniel Horton. At least Brent Petway will look good in his trampoline shoes.

Virginia over Northwestern: Northwestern has struggled early on, and though I think they’ll still be a force by the time Big Ten season comes around, now’s not their time. Virginia takes this one.

Illinois over Wake Forest: Wow, this is a tough one to pick. At the end of the day, my reasoning is the reverse of the FSU-Minnesota game. I know more about Illinois, and the more you know about the Illini, the more you’re going to like them.

Clemson over Ohio State: I have no idea what I’m talking about in this game, and so I picked Clemson because my cousin went there. But really, when Clemson and Ohio State get together, does anyone really win?

And with that, I’ll resist the urge to go out on a week Woody Hayes joke. ACC wins 7-2, but at least the Big Ten’s top-level teams earn some respectability. It’s a shame that Iowa has to sit this one out, but then again, the Big Ten also gets to sit Penn State, so that’s probably a wash.

Monday, November 29, 2004

UWM Takes on the Military

Sunday afternoon, it was time to cap the weekend off with a trip to see UW-Milwaukee play Air Force at the Mecca. UWM eeked out a hard-fought win against a very, very methodical Air Force team. I'd explain it more, but the bullet points will hopefully illustrate what went on:

1) If you had told me that UWM, averaging 102 points per game coming into this contest would score only 50 points, I would have told you that they would be losing today. In fact, the Panthers won 50-45, with both teams combining to score less than a typical Panther squad alone. Air Force was almost painfully patient, milking the shot clock for all 35 seconds several times, and getting their fair share of offensive rebounds. I don't believe I've ever heard the shot clock buzzer go off so many times in one game. UWM played surprisingly good defense to make this happen, of course. Air Force controlled the tempo, but in the end, it would not be enough.

2) UWM games have to be one of the best deals in Milwaukee. On the day of the game, two friends and I were able to walk up to the ticket window and purchase tickets located at mid-court for $15. And, there was plenty of room to spread out, since there weren’t a ton of people in our section. I could have even parked for free on the street, had I not been running late. Marquette is still the marquee team, but UWM is definitely a better deal (and perhaps the better team this year, too).

3) One of the best promotional games that I’ve ever seen during a time-out took place in the second half. Teams of two competed against one another to see who could catch the most rubber chickens, propelled by one of those t-shirt sling-shots, in a laundry basket. This was inspired promotion by Popeye’s Chicken. My friend Jerry even commented that he thought he was watching Double Dare, which is always a good sign, even if there’s no vat of oversized mashed potatoes around. The wizards at the University of Wisconsin could learn a thing or two from this. Then again, I’m sure there are some people who enjoy the "Who can stack these books higher?" competition or the "Blindfolded student looks for ringing cell phone on the court" promotion.

4) I have seen the future of basketball in Milwaukee, and it is named Dwayne Wilson, Jr. Wilson dominated the pee-wee basketball game at halftime as Milwaukee AAU pitched a shutout on the Detroit Superfriends. Playing at another speed than the others on the floor, Wilson tallied 6 points, and the only assist of the game on a no-look pass through the lane. Look for him to be dominating 3rd grade YMCA leagues this winter, and to be starting for Milwaukee King in 2011-12.

5) Sometimes you’ll go to a game and one fan will really stand out for his or her ignorance of what he or she is watching, and there was certainly a man who fit that bill sitting behind me yesterday. The gentleman, who was the only person in our section cheering loudly for Air Force, was quite vocal about his perceived shortcomings of the referees, calling out the men in stripes at some of the most confusing times possible. Perhaps the pinnacle of his foolishness came with 47 seconds left in the game, when he began complaining about a foul call on one of Air Force’s guards during a UWM inbounds play. Given that Air Force was trying to foul to stop the clock at this point, and the foul in question occurred before the clock had even started, it would seem to be a bonus for Air Force to take such a foul. Not to this guy, however–it was part of the vast conspiracy on the part of the officials to steal the game from Air Force. At least he was good for a laugh.

High School Season Kicks Off

Saturday night's festivities took me to the brand new Milwaukee Pius gymnasium for the inaugural basketball game to be played at the location, between Pius and my alma mater, 5th-ranked Wauwatosa East. As it was the opening game of the season for both teams, many questions remained to be answered. Could Tosa East replace star point guard Allan Hanson, now at UWM? Could Pius coach Joel Claassen, winner of 14 state championships as Pius girl's coach, coach a boys team? Would the rapidly ballooning Tosa East coaching staff finally outnumber the young men on the roster? The results were interesting, as Pius won a hotly contested game by 2 points on a last-second three-point shot. Welcome to the new gym. Here are my short points:

1) For a team that didn't look like it would have much of an inside presence coming into the year, Tosa East was surprisingly lacking not underneath thehoop, but on the perimeter. Fighting through screens was not a strong point for any of Tosa's guards last night, including superstar Jerry Smith, who in addition to going scoreless in the first half, looked disinterested on defense at times. Some serious work needs to be done in order for the Red Raiders to guard effectively on the perimeter. In the meantime, Jeff Donovan did anadmirable job adjusting to the fact that he will never play guard again, and did a nice job banging under the hoop.

2) Pius is an underrated team, with a number of excellent shooters. I think the addition of a successful coach should make them more solid than most expected this year. They lack a superstar, but should be among the top teams in their conference, nonetheless.

3) Fan of the weekend award goes to the Pius student who dressed up at the school mascot, the Pope. There's nothing better than to see a 16-year-old kid dressed at one of the world's foremost religious figures, and chanting"bullshit" after bad calls. Even putting the obscenity aside, that was some inspired fanning, and I was inpressed.

4) Tosa East is going to see a lot of zone this year. Keeping Jerry Smith from getting to the hoop will be a key for opposing teams. He's a decent enough shooter, but that's not where he really makes his mark, and opponents will be aware of this.

5) This weekend's "That Takes Guts" award goes to the Pius head coach, for his play call in the final seconds. Off of a timeout, and down 1 with probably only one possession left, Claassen set up a play where the shooter would run his man into a screen on the baseline and take at 3-pointer from the corner. It was a great play, and normally wouldn't stand out as a particularly odd call. However, if Claassen's son, who does not even start for the Popes, had not hit the shot, there would have been some serious questioning going on. Hell of a play, though.

6) My thoughts on the new Pius gym? Well, it's a nice facility for the school to have. Several basketball courts, an indoor track, a climbing wall. I'd love to take gym class in this setting. As a setting for a basketball game, it can't compare to the old Pius gym, though. Anyone can play in a sterile fieldhouse, but it was fun to go to the old cavernous old gym at Pius, a gym unlike any I'd ever been in before. I'm not a Pius alum, and generally didn't like opposing teams who played there, but I will miss the old gym. It certainly had character. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, though, the new one makes sense.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

D-3 Glory

Friday night took me to lovely and scenic Sheboygan, Wisconsin to watch the Muskies of Lakeland College take on reigning Division 3 national champions, the UW-Stevens Point Pointers. If you want the most hardcore basketball night of my year, look no further than this evening. The teams, while solid, were full of non-scholarship players, continuing to play basketball simply because they could. The group of men that I sat with in the stands provided comments well beyond the standard "Wow, nice dunk!" and even ventured brieflty into a discussion of the Fox 40 pealess whistle, apparently a standard in the refereeing world. It was almost scary. If you want to be with men that know basketball, you want to be with my group from Friday night. I'll skip an in-depth analysis of the game itself, since anyone that would care probably knows the game a bit better than I, but I will say that Lakeland College put together a solid performance against what apparently is one of the better D3 teams out there. On to my bullet points:

1) A brief mention should be given to Lakeland coach Gary Grzesk, who comped my buddy T.J. a handful of tickets to the game after a number of coaching-related exchanges. Grzesk, best known in Wisconsin for his lock-down defense on Jason Kidd in the NCAA tournament when UWGB faced Cal, and best known in Wauwatosa for his role in helping to defeat nationally ranked Milwaukee Washington in 1991, probably deserves a mention for being willing to help out a young coaching hopeful, but getting me into the game for free seals the deal. Though I never knew Grzesk personally, I always admired him as a young man, and was thrilled beyond belief as a 7th grader when he once called me by name and asked if I would be coming to the basketball camp he was working. I'm 26 now, but apparently he can still make a much lesser basketball mind feel good through a small gesture--even when he doesn't know he's doing it.

2) There are plenty of good basketball players in Division 3, and one of the key differences for most of them (with the exception of Lakeland's Nick Zeck) from Division 1 players is the lack of gigantic muscles. That said, skinny D3 players simply should not have tattoos done. It looks kind of sad. Even worse than the tattoo that Wisconsin's Jason Chappel has. If you don't have big arms, please, refrain from getting the upper-arm tattoo.

3) Post game refreshments were taken in at Sheboygan's finest sports bar, the Skybox. I wish someone would make a bar like this in Milwaukee. And that is likely the last time I will ever wish that Milwaukee could get the same type of nightlife scene as Sheboygan.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

UW-Green Bay Gets Crapped On

Frustrating night, overall. As I noted, three of the four D-1 teams in the state were playing, and none of them was on TV. Well, unless you count ESPN Fullcourt, a plan that I don't forsee ordering unless I move far, far away from my favorite teams. My frustration was compounded by the fact that the Wisconsin game was not on the radio, as the newspaper had told me. Instead, it was preempted by a UW-Milwaukee vs. Depaul women's game. I bet the station was happy to have that contract to honor. So instead, I checked out a bit of the Iowa-Texas game, watched some North Carolina-Tennessee, and waited for my first glimpse of Kansas, which would not come until after a second-rate football game had ended, and Kansas was already up by 30. Thanks ESPN. Anyway, on to the evening's reflections and thoughts on the present and future:

1) So UWM kicked the tar out of UW-Parkside, just as I had figured on. I'm dying to see these guys play someone real in order to find out exactly how good they are. It sounds like their big Juco transfer, Derrick Ford is going to be a nice pick-up. I suppose anytime you inject an athletic 6'10" guy into the mix, it helps things, but Ford's emergence will ensure that the Panthers can maintain their awesome depth. Not that that's really a problem--last time I looked, I think the Panthers had about 27 guys on scholarship. In fact, I think I read about three more commitments this week. How does Bruce Pearl sign so many guys?

2) So I checked the box score on the Wisconsin-UC Santa Barbara game tonight, and a few things jumped out at me. First, it was a pretty sparse scoring night for Mike Wilkinson. Fortunately, I have heard no indication at this point that he is injured, though that will always be the first thing that I think when he's not in double figures this year and I can't watch the game. Second, the three leading scorers for the Badgers were Clayton Hanson, Alando Tucker and Zach Morely. Now, Tucker I get--he's picked by some to be all-conference, and is one of the team's superstars. But Hanson and Morely? You've got a former walk-on and a juco transfer, the former of whom is apparently more interested in his marketing major than spending every waking hour on the court. As a Wisconsin fan, I'm not sure whether to be scared that guys like this are leading my team, or extemely excited and proud because of the massive depth that the Badgers seem to have.

3) Since I want to see Kansas for the first time, and the post-Jameer Nelson/Delonte West St. Joe's squad, I'm going to try to watch some Kansas-St. Joe's in the second half, but they're up by 31 already and I'm kind of tired. I always like watching Kansas, though, since I can contemplate how my life would have been different had I gone to my second-choice law school, and I can reflect on the night that I met a former Kansas women's basketball player and proceeded to act like a star-struck fan when I recalled her high school basketball accomplishments. Yeah, I'm retaining a lot of useless information in my head if I can still pull girls' high school basketball memories from 1995 when I meet people.

4) Okay, so the real story of the night in this state is that of the Michigan State-Green Bay game. UW-Green Bay got absolutely rocked, losing by 58. Since there was no broadcast of the game that I had access to, I checked in on the score on the internet during the second half. I checked in with about 7 mintes to go, and Michigan State was up 49. Not bad. What do you say to your team, I thought, when you're down by 49? Perhaps Bobby Finstock is the only man who might know what the answer to this question is, and even his fortunes turned once a wolf joined his team. On the flip side, though, what do you say to your team when you're up 49? Apparently Tom Izzo went with the John Kreese line, "Mercy is for the weak!" as I checked in with 3:30 to go and the lead was up to 58. So there was a 50-point margin for at least 7 minutes at the end of this game. Nonetheless, I saw the following notes as I glanced at the play-by-play notes on ESPN.com: "5:22: Foul on Paul Davis....4:39: Kelvin Torbert made 2-point layup....0:20: Drew Neitzek missed 3-point shot." I'm all for getting some work in at anytime, but when the Spartans got up by 50 points, wouldn't it make sense to pull their all-conference center out before the 5-minute mark? Maybe starter, Kelvin Torbert, could come out a bit earlier than 4:39? I'm not asking the Spartans not to try, but does it even make much sense for them to have Drew Neitzel, State's highly touted freshman recruit, jacking up a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left? There's not a lot of real learning that can be done when the game is this out of hand, so get the bench guys some time. The Izzone would love it, and your starters would not risk injury. Though I hope that Wisconsin soundly beats Michigan State when the two teams play, I'd like to at least have Paul Davis able to play. He might be the villain to me, but he's still a nice challenge.

5) Again, I don't know a lot about UW-Green Bay, but I tend to believe that they'll still be decent once two things happen. First, I understand their top returning scorer is out on an academic suspension, and he needs to get things in order and get back on the court. Second, they need to get Javier Mendeburu back from injury. Aside from the fact that Mendeburu is an excellent player, his name alone should force opposing teams to giggle when saying it, which should be good for about 4 points each game as opponents try to figure out how to keep a straight face upon seeing the back of Mendeburu's jersey.

6) Big news last night, as I talked to my buddy Nick in Green Bay. He should be back for a second year as the official UW-Green Bay team heckler, as requested by Coach Todd Kowalczyk. Kowalczyk tabbed Nick last year after a particularly good heckling of an opposing team, and set him up with tickets directly behind the opponent's bench. I'm told that tickets may not be as good this year, since people are actually buying up the seats around the floor this year, however Nick will still be in the stands giving hell to opponents this year. Good to know that some things haven't changed since our high school days.

The ACC is Here!

Well, last night was my first glimpse of the ACC, as I caught most of the second half of the Duke-Davidson game, and all of the North Carolina-BYU game, both on ESPN. It was comforting to again have access to the best basketball conference in the land. My reactions:

1) I didn’t get to see as much of Duke as I wanted to, since I was working late, but I guess I saw their best stretch of the game, since they went on a tremendous run at the beginning of the second half, and must have coasted in from there. I wouldn’t know, because I was making dinner at the time, and wasn’t real keyed into the game.

2) I like the new Duke road uniforms. They’re a nice, modern blue uniform, and as somewhat of a traditionalist, I’m surprisingly pleased with the updated look.

3) I see a lot of people picking Sheldon Williams for All-American honors. Honestly, I just don’t see it. I will admit to noticing early last year that he was the one Duke sophomore (now junior) that had taken a real leap in ability from his freshman year, but I don’t know that I’d be ready to make him an All-American. I guess that talk kind of follows you, though, when you’re arguably the best player on the Duke roster.

4) Watching North Carolina last night, I’m confused as to how they managed to lose their opening game. I recognize that Raymond Felton was suspended for the first game, but with the starting five that the Heels have, I’m not sure how they drop a game to anyone outside of the top-25. They sure didn’t look like they’d be doing that again, getting up by 40 points on BYU last night. They may have lost a game, but I plan on seeing these guys hovering around the #1 ranking for awhile.

5) The thing that impressed me most about Carolina last night was their passing. Every guy on the court can move the ball around quickly, and they each know where the other is supposed to be. It’s almost unbelievable to see this early in the season. Then again, usually the passing is done to set up a guy on the blocks, so you always know where the last guy’s going to be. And if that last guy is Sean May, you can take that last pass to the bank. And that, my friends, is my second heaping of praise upon Sean May this year.

6) Okay, I’ve officially been converted in my opinion of the Carolina guards. While I’ve always thought Rashad McCants to be better, last night I think I became a Raymond Felton convert. He gets the ball out quick, and knows what to do with it once he gets up court. McCants may be, as Jay Bilas opined, the best offensive player in college basketball, but for total court awareness, I’ll take Felton.

7) So I finally broke down last night and ordered the Time Warner Digital Sports package. For an extra $5 per month, I get like 6 more sports channels. While I don’t really need to watch the NASCAR channel, I will now be afforded the opportunity to watch lots of overlooked non-conference games. At the end of the day, though, I suppose the real reason for the order was that I wanted to get College Sports Television because of its tendency to show high school All-Star games. It’s never too early to get started on next season, you know...

Well, it could be a lean night for hoops–there are three state teams playing, and no one’s on television. I’d go to the UWM game live, but I’ve already seen their opponent, Parkside, and I don’t see this being a pretty game. Plus, if you had as many dishes to do as I do, you’d stay home, too.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Quick Thoughts on Nothing in Particular

1) If my trip to watch the Wisconsin football team play in Iowa City this past weekend taught me one thing, it’s that football season merely exists as a prelude to the real fun of college basketball season. If it taught me two things, it’s that football season merely exists as a prelude to the real fun of college basketball season, and a bus that carries 25 men and 40 cases of beer can be a beautiful thing.

2) I had the opportunity to stop in briefly to Iowa’s Carver Hawkeye Arena, one of my favorite arenas. While it isn’t the biggest place in the world, its sunken-into-the-ground design makes me think that it would be an absolute pit to play in if the Iowa fan base could find something to get excited about on the hardwood. I’m also fond of the building’s general architecture, which screams "I was built in 1983!" What that means per se, I can’t really put into words, but it certainly feels like a place that would have been absolutely cutting edge when I was 5 years old.

3) As has been widely reported now, Wisconsin center Greg Stiemsma will be out for an extended period of time with a foot injury. Six to eight weeks, to be exact. The prospect of Steimsma not coming back for 6-8 weeks scares me for two primary reasons. First, the Badgers could really use him this year. They have depth among their big men, but no one with quite his defensive presence. Secondly, Stiemsma needs to develop some kind of an offensive game, and will only do that with more court time. When I think of how pedestrian Stiemsma is on the offensive end, and how incredible he is on the defensive end, I can’t help but recall that Emeka Okafor was pretty worthless on the offensive end early in his career at UConn before busting out as an All-American. Maybe Stiemsma will never be quite that good, but it would sure be nice to give him the time to try and learn what to do. Maybe a medical redshirt could eventually solve this problem, thought part of me really wants to have Stiemsma around for the Big Ten season.

I’ll abbreviate this at 3 bullet points, rather than the 7 that I referred to in my last post, since to be honest, I didn’t have anything all that interesting to say anyway. This week should cure that, though, as both Duke and North Carolina play on TV, at the current moment it looks like an Iowa upset of Louisville is imminent, and the end of the week will bring with it the opportunity to see two live games with two groups of good friends. Man, I love the holidays.


As I generally do for my thoughts of the day here, I sat down to prep my commentary last night. I came up with 7 bullet points, and was pretty happy with them. I had a last minute extra point to add, and began doing so with plans to email the thoughts to myself. Then my computer inexplicably shut off, ruining the previous 30-40 minutes of my life. It's not the end of the world, as I haven't actually seen a basketball game in a few days, but it would be nice to get some thoughts out before the Duke game tonight. Sometimes technology frustrates me, though.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Dry Spell

Well, it's been a lean few days for my basketball viewing. In the previous two evenings, I've attempted to get home to watch the Pre-Season NIT, but didn't make it in time either night. I did catch a few final minutes of Michigan, but last night's opportunity to see Syracuse passed me by, as I was needed to sub in my bowling league, where I went on to post a 142 in my second game of the evening. So I didn't really see enough of any games to comment on them. Alas, this weekend will also bring little in the way of basketball material, as I'm headed out this evening for a road trip to see the Wisconsin football team finish their regular season at Iowa. This will mean that I have no access to any of the 5 division 1 college games going on just in my state, not to mention anything on television. It will be tough going without, but something tells me that the mass quantaties of beer that will be consumed on this trip will help to ease the pain. And if I get the chance I'll try to do some reading on who the up-and-coming high school stars of this year are. I can't wait to get deeper into the season.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Live Game #3: Wisconsin vs. Platteville

Last night’s basketball activities took me to Madison to watch Wisconsin take on Platteville, instead of the originally planned trip to the Bradley Center to watch Marquette in the championship game of the BCA Classic. The latter was the better game, but the former allowed me perhaps my only chance to see a game at the Kohl Center this year, and to check out the new scoreboard and renovations. Sadly, I missed the opportunity to see Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma in action, as they sat on the bench nursing minor injuries. Luckily, I missed the chance to see Jason Chappell for the same reason. An impressive Badger squad, even without their three big men, pummeled a sound Platteville team into submission quickly. Unlike last week’s Parkside game, however, Platteville actually looked like a worthy opponent at times, but were just outmatched by talent and size. Not as drastically as Lawrence was when they played UWM, but it was still a rough night for the Pioneers. Enough rambling already, though–on to the bullet points.

1) Maybe I backed off of my comments about Michael Flowers taking minutes away from Kammron Taylor a bit too early. Flowers looked incredibly good on defense, and had great anticipation in the passing lanes. He will be a tremendous asset to the full-court press, and should he get enough minutes over his 4 years, I could definitely see him breaking Mike Kelley’s school record for steals. Taylor, though, still looks quick and confident, in addition to showing some nice post moves last night. Both will hold down the point spot quite nicely.

2) Walk-on Tanner Bronson, who is perhaps the youngest looking college basketball player that I’ve ever seen, enjoyed 15 minutes of time last night, providing depth because Jason Chappell, Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma were on the bench in street clothes last night. In perhaps the only time a sub-6 foot player replaced three players 6'10" or taller, Bronson scored two points on foul shots and became the only man I’ve ever seen throw up an air-ball layup in an organized basketball game.

3) Yesterday confirmed for me that I am an excellent freeloader. In a 24-hour period, I was offered Marquette tickets 3 times and attended a Badger game with mid-court tickets that I purchased for a severely reduced price. Fortunately, I was able to give a little something back, as the Badger game kept me from using the Marquette tickets that I already had, and I was able to get rid of my tickets to allow some other folks to see some free basketball. Yeah, they were less-than-stellar seats, but Air Force-Marquette turned out to be a decent game.

4) Continuing on my Marquette digression, I think I heard that Travis Diener scored 34 last night? I’ve only seen him in one exhibition, but if that game, and his subsequent stats are any indicator, I think there is little doubt that Diener will be an All-American this year.

5) Back to the Badger game. Alando Tucker was explosive as always. He provided the first alley-oop dunk of the year on a breakaway. The best thing about the play was that the Platteville defender that was near him defended the play perfectly. He was simply unable to out-jump Tucker or touch the perfect pass he received. It was a beautiful play to watch.

6) There is no one better to talk about lesser-known high school basketball players and D-3 guys than Beau Sanders, my partner for the game last night. I spent much of the night pretending that I knew who he was talking about so that I could avoid looking uninformed. That guy knows way too much stuff.

7) The drive from Madison to Milwaukee after the game was rough in a drizzle, and I didn’t get home until late. The weeknight Badger game is something that I won’t do often, but certainly enjoyed last night (if not so much, this morning).

Not sure what’s on tap for tonight–I’ll have to check the TV listings. If all else fails, I've still got that recording of The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh to watch.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


No real excitement to report last night, as I didn’t really take the time to make it through any complete games. I caught some of the Wake Forest vs. George Washington game on ESPN with some friends while hanging out at their place, but not enough to form any sort of opinion on the game. George Washington really hasn’t done it for me since Alexander Koul graduated, anyway. I caught a bit of the Marquette game on the radio, but by the time I tuned in for the second half, Marquette was already putting on such a severe ass-kicking that the game was never going to be in doubt. I watched the first 20 minutes of the Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, so I’ve got more of that to look forward to soon. Dr. J sure can act. And I delivered tickets for the Marquette 5-game plan to the last of the members of my group for the season, as tonight is the first game of the package. So basketball was on my mind last night, but my mind was just a bit scattered.
Tonight we’re back to live action. I’ve decided to forego the Marquette game which I have tickets to in favor of tonight’s Wisconsin vs. Platteville game. I received some tickets to the latter at a bargain basement price by a kind soul. And since the Kohl Center is sold out for the year, I thought I’d take this opportunity to attend. So, likely more interesting commentary will follow tomorrow.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Radio Days: Marquette vs. Western Carolina

Last night, rather than attend the Marquette-Western Carolina game, I listened to it on the radio. In my reflection on it, though, I’d like to focus on the Marquette post-game show. Over the years the Marquette post-game show has lost some luster. I think this is attributable to several factors, which I will expand upon below:

1) Previous coaches were inordinately good interviews.

–The format of the Marquette post-game is basically an interview and wrap-up of the game with the head coach. The past two coaching regimes brought great interview. Mike Deane was solid, and always known as a guy who didn’t shy away from obscene language on the sidelines. He could be surly in post-game interviews, but who wouldn’t be if they had Abel Joseph playing big minutes? Even Deane was no match for Kevin O’Neill, however, who was straightforward and sometimes openly hostile to questions. I doubt I’d like O’Neill much as a person, but I loved him as an interview.

2) Tom Crean is a great PR guy.

–Kevin O’Neill was a stellar recruiter. Mike Deane sucked at recruiting, but could coach pretty well. Tom Crean is fairly good at all aspects of running a college basketball program, not the least of which is working as a PR guy. He sells the program well, from his pre-game JumboTron messages, to his post game recognition of the Marquette student section. When he steps off the court, though, he continues to measure his comments and try to keep a shine on the program. While great for the program, his lack of the loose tongue possessed by his predecessors keeps his interviews from becoming classics.

3) Tom Crean refuses to face up to bad games.

–You’ll rarely see me openly attack a coach or player here (though I may make fun of them a lot), but here’s one area where Tom Crean really pisses me off. For years, the Marquette head coach has come out after the game to talk to hosts Steve "The Homer" True and George Thompson. Last year, however, on occasion, Crean wouldn’t make it out of the locker room to talk, and would send an assistant instead. When would this happen? After crushing losses and poorly played games. Seems to me that after a 25-point loss, Crean would rather send Bo Ellis to be his patsy than face the music himself. That’s truly weak. This season, George and Homer no longer promote their post game show with Head Coach Tom Crean, instead it’s always "Head Coach Tom Crean or a member of his staff." Three wins in meaningless games this year and Crean’s been out to talk. How much to you want to bet that if they lose to Arizona by 30 or drop a game in next week’s Blue and Gold Classic that Bo Ellis will shuffle out to the broadcast. Either do the show on the high and low points of the year, or don’t do it at all, Tom.

4) The show no longer consistently takes callers.

–Back when Kevin O’Neill was on, this was one of the things that made him the best–ripping fans calling in. He would never directly rip a fan, but his style was to ask a sarcastic question back. Usually, he was right on point, since most people who call sports talk shows are asses. The exchange would generally go something like this:

Homer: We’ve got Jim from Waukesha on the line. Jim, what’s your question for the coach?

Jim: Hi coach, great game tonight. I just wanted to ask why you didn’t play McIllvaine more tonight? He had 6 blocks in only 18 minutes, and he could have dominated if you had let him play the whole game.

O’Neill: Well let me ask you this, Jim, if you had Damon Key scoring at will every time down the floor and a 7-foot center recovering from mononucleosis who had three fouls 1 minute into the second half, who would you play? You see what I'm saying?

Homer: Thanks for the call, Jim, we’ve got Bill in South Milwaukee on. Hi Bill.

And so on. O’Neill was great a ripping callers who couldn’t see the whole picture. And he was in the great position of usually being right, too. I’ll always miss that. That wouldn't happen these days, and that's probably as much a compliment to Tom Crean's civility and tact as it is a rip on his entertainment value.

So that’s the radio show. And for the record, Marquette pulled out a game against Western Carolina last night, based on a strong second-half effort, and the leadership of, as usual, Travis Diener. At least Marcus Jackson grabbed a few rebounds to help out tonight, and it sounds like Dameon Mason continued closing in on his inevitable place as the next Marquette star.

I closed out the night reading this month’s Milwaukee Magazine article on Bruce Pearl–a good read if you can get your hand on it. And I recorded The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, so perhaps I’ll weigh in with my thoughts on that when I have a spare moment to watch it. Tonight, however, brings Chris Paul and Wake Forest kicking off ESPN’s broadcast season.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Tape Delay: Wisconsin vs. Parkside

Ah, finally I've had the free time to catch the end of the Wisconsin-Parkside game. It's been a busy week, but I'm glad that I was able to fit the game in, as I've been excited to see my alma mater jump back into basketball season. While I'm still enjoying the ride with the Badger football team, basketball's still where I have most of my fun, and it's nice to see the boys take the floor. It's a shockingly different team this year, now that the best player has been replaced and 4 new ones have jumped into the mix, so this should be fun. Overall I was pleased with the Badger performance, taking out a less-talented Parkside team as they should have. But most of my comments are probably best expressed as, you guessed it, bullet points:

1) the first time I saw a close-up of Brian Butch, I exclaimed "Oh my god! He has arms!" It was sort of weird, since I was home alone in bed at the time, but it was a shocking moment. Brian Butch, who prior to this year, had been built like the star center for the Milwaukee Washinton girls teams of the early to mid 1990s, actually had the arms of a man now. I guess that year in the weight room really did pay off. And he exhibited a nice touch with those arms
when making lob passes from the top of the key.

2) Keeping in line with the topic of body morphing, the center for Parkside was a young man by the name of Kevin Boutelle, who I had seen play at Sheboygan South a few years back on my first and only viewing to date of the big North-South game. At the time, Boutelle was a chubby kid, who I was told had actually dropped a significant amount of weight between his junior and senior years. Well, I guess he kept dropping weight, because he was almost unrecognizable in his current form. And his basketball skills had kept improving as well.

3) I was a lot more worried about the Badger point guard spot before seeing this game. Kammron Taylor certainly isn't Devin Harris, but he brings some excitement to the position and shows more confidence than I expected. I don't know if or when Boo Wade will return, but either way, the point guard job should be in better hands than I expected. And okay, I might have been wrong in thinking that Michael Flowers would swoop in and steal most of Taylor's
minutes, even though Flowers is a capable guard.

4) Nice to see that Green Bay's own Tyrone Deacon has landed with Parkside, but can I just ask--what were his parents thinking? Tyrone? How many curly-haired, 150 pound, white point guards do you know that are named "Tyrone?" Was Mustafa already taken by his older brother or something? Not an appropriate name, at all. And for reference, the coolest Tyrone-based name of all time was Milwaukee Vincent's Tyrone Rhone. Now those were parents that were thinking right.

5) Okay, so Jason Chappell has improved to the point where he looks like he can actually play for a division one team. I'm still bothered by the guy's facial expressions and mannerisms, though. He looks like that guy you went to high school with that always wore the same hooded sweatshirt and tried to do as little as possible to get by. I don't think he looks high, like he did the last two seasons, though. Now he actually looks like getting high would be too much work for him.

6) The critics are right--Greg Stiemsma nees some work on offense. He has stone hands, and only one move that he ever uses--the jump hook. Basically, he's me when I was 15 and playing JV basketball, except he's 6'10" and he can block shots really well. So yeah, I'm going to absolutely love this guy.

7) Nice to see the Badgers break out their full-court press. They looked good in it, but I am trying not to get overly excited, as Parkside was not particularly adept at taking care of the ball. I think the first sign of that was when Mike Wilkinson got his hands on the inbounds pass three of the first times that the press was on. Wilkinson's good, but even he's not that good without a little help from the other side.

8) I would like to retract my earlier statement about not liking the new Kohl Center floor. While the artist's rendering that I viewed about a month ago was awful, the floor itself looks quite nice. I like the traditional, subdued court making an appearance again.

9) Brian Butch can shoot like few people that I've ever seen. You know how sometimes a shot will not just swish through, but continue arcing as if it hadn't even gone through another object? That's what his foul shots and three pointers looked like. I haven't seen that since Greg Brown was at Vincent, and Greg Brown, as awesome as he was, was never 7 feet tall. This could be the start of something good.

10) Okay, so at one point Greg Stiemsma, Mike Wilkinson, Brian Butch, Zach Morely and Sharif Chambliss were on the floor. Here's my question to ponder until next time: We know Chambliss must have been playing the point. Who's the 2 guard?

So there you have it. If I can find any basketball this weekend, I'll watch it, but I think the only thing available is NBA games. And as we all know, the NBA isn't actually basketball. For the time being, I'm off to have a beer at the local tavern, which you should do too.

Guest Commentary: Wisconsin vs. Parkside

Since I've still got 7 minutes worth of action to watch from my recording of Wednesday's Wisconsin vs. UW-Parkside game, I'll offer you some comments from my friend Josh, a knowledgable basketball fan, and one of the biggest Wisconsin fans that I know. I'll try to get my game thoughts out sometime tonight, but for now, here are Josh's game thoughts:

--We’re going to play a lot of people this year. Seriously, I think everyone but DeAron Williams and Tanner Bronson saw the floor before there were 10 minutes off the clock. Look at the box score in the Journal Sentinel article. Tanner Bronson got 5 minutes. Other than that, we played 12 guys who got between 11 (Chappell) and 20 (Wilkinson, Nixon) minutes. It was crazy. Obviously, Wilkinson, Tucker, and maybe a couple others will see more minutes once the season starts, but I think we’ve got a talented enough team that Bo feels confident going deep into his bench.

--We got to see a some full-court pressure. Not really surprising, since we are so deep this year. And with Nixon and Tucker, you’ve got some taller, athletic guys who can still really move. It will be interesting to watch this develop.

--Point guard situation looks OK. I’d feel better if Boo were in the mix, but I think he will be at some point. Flowers looked OK. He didn’t look for his offense much, and looked a bit “wide-eyed” at times, but I think he’ll be able to contribute in a Mike-Kelley style this year. Solid ball-handling and good defense. Kam Taylor is not short on confidence, you’re right about that. I thought there were a couple times where he was a little too aggressive and turned the ball over, but you can see the potential. And he can shoot it. His first 2 shots were 3’s and he drained them. And he’s exceptionally quick. It should be fun to watch him develop. Chambliss handled the point at times and he’s capable, but I think his best position is clearly the 2. Clayton can handle the ball a little, but he’d be more of a stop-gap point guard to fill a couple minutes, not a long-term solution. Again, I’ll feel better when Boo is back, but I think a combination of Taylor, Flowers, and Chambliss can get the job done.

--Butch did look good. I commented to Chris that he looked a little like Mader in appearance, which at this point, is great. Last year, he was clearly the skinny kid on the floor. He looks noticeably bigger. His game is much better than Mader’s, which probably didn’t need to be noted. There were 2 or three times when he made a move in the paint, got fouled, and still finished. And as a 7-footer, he was 1-2 from 3-point land with a good-looking stroke. I was very happy.

--Stiemsma looked good at times and looked like a freshman at times. There were times where he looked a little anxious and didn’t “let the game come to him”. But he also blocked 2 shots and grabbed 7 boards in 16 minutes. Granted, against a smaller team, but still. He’s only going to get better as the season progresses.

Boy, there’s a lot I could say, but I think I’ll end with this. It’s going to be a fun year. The variety of lineups we can put out there is ridiculous. At one point, there was a Stiemsma, Butch, Morley, Wilkinson, Chamliss lineup on the floor. 7-0, 7-0, 6-8, 6-9, and 6-1??? Damn, that’s tall! I like the lineup when we have Wilkinson, Tucker, Nixon, Taylor, and Butch. Gives us a lot of height, but Tucker and Nixon can get out and defend, too. There’s just a million different possibilities…even more when Boo comes back. Like I said, it should be fun.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Live Game #2: UWM vs. Lawrence

UWM-Lawrence got off to a nice start, as I headed out of work a little over an hour early to go to a pre-game reception at the Mecca (FYI--I will never use the words "U.S. Cellular Arena") with fellow basketball fans Brian and Kosta. Turned out it was a Lawrence reception, and I had the chance to run into the intelligent and talented Ryan Gebler, a former Lawrence player of note. Always a pleasant experience. I also caught a glimpse of Pat Juckem, known better as current Associate Head Coach of Lawrence, and former high school coach of Beau Sanders. A nice spread was provided, and I managed to get down some cheese and crackers, two lemon bars and a beer while I listened to pre-game talks from the Lawrence head coach, coach Bruce Pearl, and a Lawrence alum who had helped set the game up. All in all, a great pre-game experience for anyone interested in basketball, or good lemon bars.

Then it was on to the game. The contrast in teams was evident in warm ups. UWM sported flashy warm-ups, while Lawrence arrived in more subdued shirts and warm-up pants. It was a good metaphor for the game, as UWM was all flash and athletic ability, while a less athletic Lawrence ran a sound offense and tried to keep pace. The gap in athletic ability was noticably larger than that of the previous evening between Marquette and Stevens Point. Lawrence actually had one mop-haired guard who had a very nice shooting night, and ran a nice looking offense, but the big horses for UWM were just too much, and led to a 34 point Panther win. Even D-3 All-American Chris Braier, though he played a tough game, was unable to compete with the hulking men with huge vertical leaps that the Panthers provided. The last 3-4 minutes were actually kind of painful. It was almost like watching the rec league team that I was on last year when we would get dunked on and constantly blocked by better athletes, even though we understood the game just as well as the other guys. Thankfully, the collapse came late and was pretty brief. On to my bullet points:

1) At the reception, there were shrimp wrapped in some sort of pastry, with the tails hanging out. I've never seen this, and frankly, the concept scared me a bit.

2) James Wright, who entered college at roughly the same time I did, is finally back from his broken leg and ready to play. I've always loved this guy, because he could kick my ass if I ever ran into him, and puts forth a good effort. What I had forgotten about him is that he's not actually that skilled a basketball player. He kind of reminds me of Julius Peppers when he played for North Carolina. You want the muscular high energy guy on the court because he's going to give you positive results, but you can't help thinking that he might be better if he was playing tight end.

3) I thought Boo Davis starting at point for UWM over incumbent Chris Hill was odd, but after watching him play, I think Davis will hold on to this role for awhile. One thing bothers me, though. When did we get this influx of guys named "Boo?" Between Boo Davis, Boo Wade, and Boo Williams, it seems to be taking over the nation. Can this possibly be a good idea? Can't Americans come up with better names?

4) Adrian Tigert is poised for a breakout year. He may have a breakout year with the ladies, as well, after dropping those 20 extra pounds.

5) UWSP last night was clearly better than tonight's Lawrence squad. I'd like to see Lawrence again, though. I think they'll still be very good--they just can't play against 6'10" guys who have 30 inch vertical leaps. But their back door cuts will look plenty pretty against another similarly composed team.

6) The concession stand at the Mecca is one of the oddest things that I've ever seen. At halftime, I was thristy, so I went to order a soda. My choices? 7-Up, RC Cola, and Diet Rite. Apparently Faygo didn't get the contract. Oh, and I ordered the soda from the Chinese food booth. That's just what I'm looking for--a night of watching UWM and sucking down crab rangoons. Who thought of this?

7) I've said it before, and I'll say it again--the Bucks used to play in this place? Arena design has come a long way in the past 30 years.

Because I'm temporarily insane, I think I'm going to stay up to catch the first half of the tape delayed Wisconsin vs. UW-Parkside game on my digital cable. Bless you, Time Warner channel 559.

Marquette vs. UWSP

One quick bit of housekeeping before I get to the game. I've updated the comments section so that anyone can leave one. Sorry I missed that earlier. Props to Cothroll (I believe) for actually registering in order to point out an omission on my part. On to last night's contest:

Last night I had the chance to attend my first game of the season, an exhibition between Marquette and UW-Stevens Point, the defending Division 3 national champs. I met up with my friends Dave and The Franchise in their seats for the season, which were better than my last minute $9 nose bleed purchase. Given UWSP’s return of all starters from last year, I predicted no greater than a 10 point spread in this one. Marquette proved me wrong, winning 78-65 and controlling most of the way. The Pointers were a nice challenge, though. A few thoughts on the events of the evening:

1) The real story of the night was Gene Mueller, of WKTI’s morning show taking over as the PA announcer. Let’s hope that Gene was doing this as a one time deal, because his antics led to one of the most annoying first halves of basketball I’ve ever watched. Dave aptly noted that some of his calls sounded like those singing chants you hear from the minister in a church service. There’s probably a name for that, but hey, I flunked confirmation back in the day, so I don’t know what it is.

2) In my first chance to see Marquette’s newcomers, Ryan Amoroso impressed me by far the most. He’s got a bigger body than I expected, and looks more like a banger than the roaming perimeter guy that I expected to see. He’ll be getting huge minutes by mid-season, because he knows where to be on the floor, and Marquette’s other big guys are wretched.

3) Travis Diener is still ridiculously good, and will have obscene point and assist averages this year. Obscene.

4) In perhaps my favorite moment of the night, The Franchise was relaying a story about Marquette radio announcer George Thompson. Thompson, not the brightest bulb, during a broadcast last year commented on a red-hot Dameon Mason "He’s not just gold, he’s platinum!" The Franchise then, in a sarcastic tone, said "Yeah George, because platinum is better than gold," to which I replied "Actually, as I’ve always understood it, platinum is really better than gold." The guy to the right of us chimed in that platinum is more costly, thankfully backing me up in setting this error straight. So in addition to seeing a good game, The Franchise learned a bit about precious metals last night.

5) Nick Bennett of UWSP is not shy about shooting the ball, and thankfully, he’s pretty good at it. Apparently anyone named Bennett knows how to do two things: shoot an defend.

6) It was a pleasant experience enjoying the game with Dave and The Franchise last night. Perhaps most shocking about the evening, though, was that I found myself agreeing with most of the things coming out of The Franchise’s mouth. Usually, I like to disagree with him, often because he’s blatantly wrong, and sometimes just to be contrarian. Last night he was 95% dead on with his comments. Well, except for his thoughts on platinum.

7) Steve Novak still looks like a 12 year old girl when he drives to the rim.

8) As noted earlier, Marquette needs serious help up front. I think Marcus Jackson had maybe 5 touches last night, and Chris Grimm isn’t exactly quick at recovering after helping on defense.

9) Biggest difference between the Division 3 champs and an average Marquette squad? After watching last night, I’m wondering if there’s a rule in D-3 barring the use of weight rooms.

Up next, tonight I go to the Mecca (as any good Milwaukean still calls it) to watch UWM vs. Lawrence. See you tomorrow.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Marquette and Wisconsin Thoughts

Marquette is quite simply one year away from having a solid team. Unfortunately, they're also a year away from their first year in the Big East, which means that their solid team will no longer simply run away with the championship. Last year's main problems still exists. travis Diener is not only the heart of the team, but also the lungs, brain and pretty much any other part one can think of. If he's done, Marquette's done. It was frightening to watch Marquette last year during the few minutes when Diener was injured, as you could literally see confusion on the faces of the players seconds after Diener left the court. It's said that he's put on a few extra pounds of muscle to help protect himself, and he's one of the toughest guys around, so I expect Diener to be ready to go unless he needs an amputation, but if gangrene sets in during 2004-5, don't expect many wins from the Golden Eagles. Though I have seen none of the new players, it sure sounds like Marquette has brought in some talent to replace Scott "Spin Move Into a Defender" Merritt and Robert "Not the Answer" Jackson. While Jackson's back, he was largely a disappointment last season, and should see less minutes with the young talent available. Ryan Amoroso and Mike Kinsella might not lead to more wins this year, but their ample playing time will lead to good things in the next two to three years for Marquette. This year, though, I'm predicting that they'll struggle before makeing a deep run in the NIT based solely on Travis Diener's heart. And they'd better thank him, because next year they're going to have to replace not only a heart, but an entire body.

We'll speed this up, since most of you have similar knowledge about Wisconsin to what I have. The thoughts will be flying quickly, but try to keep up. Devin Harris is gone, but and all-conference caliber player (Alando Tucker), a former high school All-American (Brian Butch), a former third team All Big Ten player (Sharif Chambliss) join the team. I love Devin Harris, but I'll take that trade any day. And before anyone calls me out for not accounting for the contributions of Freddie Owens and Dave Mader, I'll trade them straight up for the other two freshman (7-footer, Greg Steimsma and super-athlete DeAaron Williams). Boo Wade's leave of absence will certainly hurt the team, but my impression is that it won't necessarily be a long-term thing. In the meantime, I look for Kammron Taylor to get the start at the point guard spot. I wouldn't be shocked if Michael Flowers ended up stealing lots of time from him, though, as Flowers is said to bring consistency that few freshmen can match. Flowers, though somewhat unheralded as a recruit, could end up being a very nice fit if the rumor and conjecture that I hear have any basis in reality. Reports from Saturday's open scrimmage at the Kohl Center seem to indicate that Taylor looks outstanding, though, so we'll see how things go. Chambliss and Clayton Hanson should be solid at the two spot, so without sounding too much like a homer, I'm thinking that the lack of guard experience will be less of a concern than many thought. As for the frontcourt, the only problems I can forsee are Andreas Helmigk getting pissed over being forced to play (or not play) behind a more talented slew of players. As for legitimate concerns of mine, the most obvious is an extended absence by Boo Wade. If he doesn't come back, depth at guard is low, and if just one of the guards gets hurt or doesn't step up as expected, it could be a tough hole to fill. Alando Tucker's feet scare the hell out of me, too. I'm still not sure what happened to him last year, but I was getting a major Bill Walton vibe from him. And since Tucker doesn't do bad basketball color commentary in his spare time, I'm obviously refering to his fragile feet. Let's hope for the Badgers' sake and for Alando Tucker's sake that his foot problems are well behind him. I also question Tucker's shift to small forward due to his ridiculously flat outside shot, and less than stellar ball handling ability (Anyone remember his turnover at Michigan his freshman year? Why was the ball even in his hands?). Then again, if someone would have told me that a 6'5" guy would be playing power forward effectively for the Badgers two years ago, I would have laughed in his or her face, so that's what I know. The last concern is less importantly, but Jason Chappel has been getting great publicity on the internet during the offseason, and is said to be much improved. All I can say is that I need to see it to believe it. If things fall right, though, this team could challenge for a championship. Worst case, they're still with Illinois and Michigan State in being light years ahead of the rest of the conference. I will be disappointed should we see anything less than a third place Big Ten finish a Sweet Sixteen run.

Individual Player Commentary
Last year I ranked players at over or underrated. Since most of them return this year, that bit’s already a tad old, so I have to come up with something new. So I have. This year, I’ll be conducting the 2005 NBA draft. Due to an agreement between every member team, each NBA franchise will only be allowed to draft players who are playing at Marquette or Wisconsin this year. If you can get past the facts that this scenario violates about 5,000 anti-trust laws, is completely implausible, is basically just a cheap excuse for me to dress up a simple ranking of all players on both rosters, and that I know virtually nothing about the NBA, this is really a pretty good idea. Just go with it, okay? Players are ranked mostly based on current ability, rather than their ultimate talent ceiling, though I have, in some cases, taken liberties to place players with particular teams for comedic effect. And based on the first open scrimmage, I have Kammron Taylor ranked way too low. Chalk it up to what will likely be my first error of the year.

1) Orlando-Travis Diener
--Is there really any question here? Orlando takes the best player available, as you should with the top pick. Diener's the best college player in the state, hands down. He's got the best shot of playing a game or two in the NBA out of this bunch. If he goes down, Marquette is in serious trouble. If you don't believe me, grab a tape of the team during his injuries last year and watch the confusion ensue. Thankfully his extra 10 pounds should help him stay healthy. He may still look like he's 12 years old, but Travis Diener is not to be taken lightly.

2) Chicago-Mike Wilkinson
--I believe it was a gentleman by the name of "Boo-Yah" who made the most accurate statement that I have heard about Mike Wilkinson. He's not going to get any better, but that's not really a critisizm of him. So, at #2, the Bulls take a guy with limited upside, but who offers unlimited security. Wilkinson will remain a key constant on his team, among a gym full of fresh faces. The formerly skinny perimeter roaming forward has blossomed into one of the Big Ten's best bangers. His body transformation over the last four years would raise suspicion of a connection to BALCO, if not for his normally shaped head. Perhaps the only concern for the Bulls is that Wilkinson will be scared off by the big city and opt to retire to run his own farm, since if you're not aware, he grew up on a farm. They should really put something in the media guide about that.

3) Washington-Dameon Mason
--Jerry Stackhouse is gone. Michael Jordan is gone. Larry Hughes isn't the answer. Enter Dameon Mason. So, this might be a case of me overrating a guy a bit based on potential. Mason showed flashes of brilliance last year, and also flashes of ineptitude. The brilliance became more prevalent by the end of the year, though, and improvement should continue this year. If history serves as a guide, Tom Crean gets a bunch of guys transfering out and a real stud every year or two. We have our transfers already, and Mason appears to be the next stud. We'll be talking about him at the end of the year, as Diener passes the torch.

4) Charlotte-Alando Tucker
--Would have been taken higher, if not for concerns about his flat shot, limited ball handling ability, and nagging injuries. While I'd like to offer all of these things as reasons why he'll fall flat this year. Of course, when he was a freshman, I could have told you that he would fail because power forwards just aren't 6'5", and I would have been wrong. Tucker's just too athletic to fail. The Bobcats are an expansion team, so they're looking for a few good athletes. Tucker should fit nicely.

5) Los Angeles Clippers-Steve Novak
--The Clippers have a ton of young, athletic slashers. Who better to interject into the mix than Steve Novak, a 6'10" 3-point specialist. Novak can't do anything else, as evidenced by his some of his girlish drives to he hoop last year. Near the basket, I've seen stronger moves from some 5th graders. From behind the 3-point line, though, no one's more automatic than Novak. If you want someone who not only can shoot, but can create his own shot, you'd take J.J. Reddick from Duke. Novak lacks the ability to create, but if we're talking purely shooting, he's the best out there. He may look like he's going to cry when he takes it to the hole, and he may not be a great defender, but man is his one skill sweet. Novak's one of the best one-dimensional players I've ever seen. And that's enought to catapult him to #6.

6) Atlanta-Zach Morely
--Morely is instant energy, and does everything with the enthusiasm of a third-grader playing in his first YMCA league game. He's going to hurt you if you're not on your game. And the segment where he gets his haircut after being chewed out by Bo Ryan on ESPN's "The Season" last year is one of the best cross-cut scenes I have ever seen. They should show this in film school classes. Back to the point, though. Why does Atlanta take a player who gets by partly on ablitity and partly on tremendous effort? Easy--putting a white guy with weird, shaggy hair in the rap mecca of the county just makes sense. This doesn't just help the team--it serves as a viable sitcom premise.

7) Phoenix-Boo Wade
--Off the court, Wade can be a bit of a wildcard. His recent leave of absence illustrates this. However, on the court, there's no one more dependable than Wade. He's not real noticable when he's on the floor, but part of that is because he's not screwing up. Heck, you didn't even really notice him in high school, except for his exceptional 3-point ability. No, that's not a typo. He was Vincent's shooter, and he had serious range. I saw him drill threes from the coach's box at state his senior year. His slow release ensures we'll never view him that way again. He's a dependable point guard, and that's why Phoenix take him at 7, though. Given that a 5'8" Japanese guy is one of Steve Nash's current back-ups, can you blame the Suns?

8) Toronto-Sharif Chambliss
--Finally, Chambliss is home. He won't wow us with his prolific scoring ability like he did at Peen State, given that he actually has competent teammates at Wisconsin, but he could provide a nice three-point lift, and seems to possess some fine leadership characteristics. There is some concern about injury, but heck, he was once a Third-Team All-Big Ten selection. That's got to count for something. As for Toronto, Chambliss is a good candidate, since after he couldn't get a scholarship to Wisconsin, he was adventurous enough to venture out of the Great Lakes region and off to Pennsylvania. Canada should be a new frontier. (Yeah, I didn't force that explanation at all...)

9) Philadelphia-Ryan Amoroso
--Philly takes a green freshman at the 9 spot. Okay, so I haven't seen him play, and he may not even be the best of Marquette's freshmen this year, but he's the one that scares me the least based on what I've heard and read on the internet. I'll refrain from comment, since last year I made wise predictions about Dameon Mason being overrated and James Matthews being the best newcomer for Marquette. We all know how that worked out, but I think Amoroso should be good. I can't wait to see him to confirm this.

10) Cleveland-Brian Butch
--I was having a discussion with one of my law school classmates two years ago about Brian Butch. I was expressing my excitement that the Badgers had signed a 6'11" McDonald's All-American from the state. My classmate, a life-long Madison resident who had followed basketball much more closely in her younger years looked back at me and said "Wait, this guy's from around here? Is he a tall skinny white guy?" "Yes," I replied. She then went on to cite Grant Johnson, and Sheboygan's own, Kurt Portmann, and then expressed doubt that Butch would pan out. I could have thrown out Brad Timmerman, as well, but I think we all fear the tall, unathletic white guy curse. I'm tempering my expectations, but I expect Butch to be solid. And he played with and against Lebron James in all-star games, so he's got to be a good fit of Cleveland, right?

11) Golden State-Joe Chapman
-Chapman's nothing special, but he'll start for Marquette this year because they need a 2-guard and everyone else has tranferred. I can never name anyone on Golden State, and I think that's a concerted effort on their part. Heck, I didn't even know what city the team was located in until I was 12 years old, since they don't use the city's name. Joe Chapman will be another good annonymous addition to the squad.

12) Seattle-Ray Nixon
--Well, it's the same story as last year for Ray Nixon--he's got the athletic ability, but can he stop and learn the game. It kind of reminds me of the days when Maurice Linton was the only guy on the Badgers, aside from Andy Kowske (Boo-Yah!), who could dunk. Nixon's more talented, though, and doesn't have the benefit of very little raw talent ahead of him. Seattle continue's their legacy of athletic forwards (Shawn Kemp, Dameon Mason) by taking Nixon here. Seeing as Alando Tucker's probably the only better raw athlete, the Sonics could do worse.

13) Portland-Mike Kinsella
--He's apparently another one of these 7-footers who can shoot the three. Doesn't anyone work on post moves anymore? Sounds like he could be the new scoring threat for Marquetter, but who knows? He hasn't seen the floor yet, but his experience at D-1 Rice and a year of junior college should serve hime well. Kinsella goes to Portland since his time in junior college undoubtedly leaves him best prepared of anyone for the low-level thugs he'll encounter in the Portland locker room.

14) Utah-Michael Flowers
--Some would argue with me, but it sounds to me like Flowers will push for some serious playing time this year. He's not the most heralded player in his recruiting class, but could turn out to be the most important this year. I wouldn't be shocked if he ate up the majority of the point guard minutes in Madison this year. The Badgers are losing a legend at this position, as are the Jazz, so Flowers will know the role and thrive with Utah.

15) Boston-DeAaron Williams
--Crazy athlete from Illinois could be special. Larry Bird's not walking through that door. Kevin McHale's not walking through that door. Why not Williams? Some would expect that Williams is the next Alando Tucker. Like Marquette fans claiming Dameon Mason is the next Dwyane Wade, Badger fans should calm down a bit. Although, as Mason is bound to show this year, don't take that excitement down too much. Yeah, I don't completely know what I'm saying either.

16) New York-Greg Stiemsma
--As a junior, he was perhaps the most impressive player that I saw. I have repeatedly watched the clip of him at the state tournament blocking a shot, retrieving the ball, and going behind his back on a fastbbreak before dunking. Not your average open court move for a 7-foot, 16 year-old kid. He disappionted me in his senior year at state a bit, but that open court move is seared in my mind. I refuse to back off of my year old assertion that he'll end up better than Brian Butch, even though he gave me a scare last season. I just keep telling myself that it was his knee injury slowing him down. He's a nice fit in New York because, well, I don't really know. They don't have much up front, I guess. I would have preferred to say that he'd look really weird standing next to Jeff Van Gundy, but he's not even the coach anymore. That just about ruins any jokes that could be made about New York.

17) Milwaukee-Todd Townsend
--I'm still not sure what to think of this guy. He's a sick athlete who makes a ridiculous play ever few weeks during the season. Sadly, he didn't make many near the end of last season since his inconsistency led him to the bench. I see that he recently put up huge point totals in the Blue-gold scrimmage. The Bucks will take a chance like they did a few years back with Jearld Honeycutt. It remains to be seen if things will work out for the Bucks, or the Goden Eagles, but time is running out for Twonsend.

18) New Orleans-Kammron Taylor
--The Hornets take Taylor here because he's a point guard and he kind of looks like Baron Davis, so that could confuse defenses at times. Taylor is quick, and supposedly less frail than last year, which is good, since he's the likely starter at point for the Badgers, at least for awhile. I still give the inside track to Michael Flowers to take more minutes, but Taylor, a sophomore, should still start for awhile. I, of course, base all of these assertions about the Badger point-guard position on rumor and conjecture, as I've seen both players play a grand total of about 7 minutes.

19) Miami-Clayton Hanson
--Well, he lucked into a scholarship this year with Devin Harris' departure, but he's pretty darn deserving. He'd be a star with UWM if he hadn't followed Bo Ryan to Wisconsin. You don't expect a walk-on to give you 20 minutes in a game, and you don't expect him to give you 17 points either. He could potentially start this year, quite the feat for someone who was not even recruited by the Badgers. Miami gets him because after paying for school for three years and fighting through exams at the business school on days of key games, he deserves a trip to South Beach.

20) Denver-Ousmane Barro
--He's a muscular 6'10" guy who's raw and won't contribute much this season, though it sounds like once he finally gets his first chance to play organized basketball in the United States, he could be a major force. Denver has Nene Hilario, a similarly gifted player who also has a cool name, so they will continue their dedication to athletic foreigners with awesome names.

21) Houston-Marcus Jackson
--Jackson, largely a disappointment last year, goes to Houston. Since Houston has lots of front court depth, they can do what Marquette should do this year and reduce his minutes.

22) New Jersey-Chris Grimm
--The "Reaper" deserves some credit, as last year he became a beast for about 2 games late in the season. Other than that, he's not been the threat that many expected when he came in as a freshman. Touted by some basketball previews as a likely immediate starter for the Golden Eagles, it's quickly becoming clear that Grimm may never become a starter. He actually could start this year by default, but if Marquette has any hope, their freshman will take minutes away from him. new Jersey, not having learned their lesson from signing Chris Dudley to a huge contract, take another slow, beefy white guy.

23) Memphis-Charlie Bell
--Bell's on a leave of absence for the time being, and it's unsure if he'll return to the team. Still, he's probably got more upside than anyone else, so Memphis takes him here, in a low-stakes gamble.

24) Dallas-Andreas Helmigk
--Expected to be a monster in the paint, Helmigk provided a much needed big (but slow) body in his first few years at Wisconsin. An influx of guys who are more talented relegate Helmigk to the bench, where he will hopefully get the chance to dry off from his intense pre-game perspiration. After a nice career at Wisconsin, Helmigk will be best remembered for his smooth European style of dress on the bench. Dallas adds another guy from a foreign country, since that's all that Don Nelson really wants to deal with these days.

25) Detroit-Tony Gries
--Gries is a walk on for Marquette, but he has game time experience. In one of the most shocking moments of last season, I went to a game where he came in for Travis Diener in the first half, despite a lack of injuries to any scholarship players. Detroit won a championship with players that aren't the best in the league, so they're happy to add a walk on, rather than a superstar.

26) Sacremento-Tanner Bronson
--Wisconsin Walk on is the only college player in the nation who looks younger than Travis Diener. Sacremento, out of options, takes him for no apparent reason.

Big Ten Predictions

11) Minnesota
Quick, name someone on the Gopher basketball team. Adam Boone, you say? Okay, that's one, but his torn bicep is probably going to keep him out for the year. Jeff Hagen? Okay, he's a fan favorite, and a big, goofy looking guy in the Minnesota tradition of Joel Przybilla and Kyle "No Chin" Sanden, but he's never going to be a superstar. That's where the name players end for Minnesoat, though. Eight freshmen join the roster, along with a handful of transfers. A team hasn't looked this bad on paper since Kevin O'Neill was still wondering how the hell he ended up at Northwestern four years ago. This team should finish 11th, but I won't put a miraculous 9th place finish past Dan Monson. For all of the crap that Monson gets these days, he's still the guy that came in after the infamous Clem Hasins debacle and guided a horribly depleted team to a middle of the conference finish. Along the way he made a star out of Walk-on Dusty Rychart, so anything is possible, I suppose. I just need to get Penn state out of the cellar for a year, and these should be the guys to help me out.

10) Penn State
Look out--while you weren't paying attention, the Penn State basketball team decided to start getting good. Sure, Jan Jagla's gone and the Nittany Lions still shouldn't be much to watch this year, but they appear to be building towards respectibility next year. When Ed DeChellis took over the program one and a half years ago I, like many others, assumed that Penn State was just trying to make Joe Paterno feel good by hiring a fall guy to make the basketball team look worse than the football team. Well, it turns out that old Ed seems to know what he's doing. Though remarkably young and untalented, his team looked reasonably well coached en route to a disapointing 3-16 season. The good news for DeChellis is that while he played his guys out of necessity last year, he'll play them with vast experience this year. His backcourt of Ben Luber and Marlon Smith played plenty last year as freshmen and were forced to grow up. Junior Aaron Johnson also logged key minutes and should be a team leader this year. Look for some slight, subtle improvement from Penn State this year, but expect a breakout year in 2005-6. What Ed DeChellis couldn't do with freshmen, he will be able to do with juniors, and some game tested sophomores.

9) The Ohio State University
The mention of Ohio State basketball brings about thoughts of such great figures as Jerry Lucas, Bobby Knight, Jim Jackson, and yes, even Lawrence Funderburke (well, at least he had a great name). The Buckeyes have no players that are likely to make a list of grats this year, ande they've lost Velamir Radinovic, their best threat last year, to graduation. Interior mate Terrance Dials should patrol the lane effectively, but that's where it ends fo the Buckeyes. some would argue that there is talent in the Buckeye backcourt, but where they see talent, I see a group that was in constant flux last year and has a Burkemper-level point guard in Brandon Fuss-Cheatham. That is not to say he's bad--he's a nice enough player, but probably isn't a guy that would generally start on a Big Ten team. It's also worth noting that former Milwaukee King standout Jermyl Jackson-Wilson joins the team, fresh off a year of prep school. Jackson-Wilson wasn't making local coaches or other big names fight for him while he was in Milwaukee, so it remains to be seen what he will do at Ohio State. The wildcard for the season will be new coach Thad Matta, from Xavier. Will Matta's proven coaching ability whip the team into shape, or will his public denial that he was interested in the Ohio State job shortly before accepting the job undermine any credibility that he has with his players? Only time will tell.

8) Iowa
Iowa confuses me. Because of their terrible flame out a few years back with Luke Recker and Reggie Evans, two of the best teammates I can recall in recent Big Ten history, I’m heavily biased against Steve Alford. Yet, I find myself liking the Hawkeye team, in spite of my lack of confidence in Alford, a thin frontcourt, and the severely lacking fan support in Iowa City. The guards on this team are what leave me very excited. Pierre Pierce, when he’s not embroiled in sexual assault controversy, has to be considered one of the elite guards in the league. His returning backcourt mate Jeff Horner is no slouch either. And the loss of Brody Boyd would sting a lot more if Iowa State transfer Jeff Haluska wasn’t joining the team. These three will have to be good, since there are questions with the big guys. Jared Reiner and Sean Sonderleiter, while funny to look at, brought some consistency to the area around the hoop. At least Reiner’s injury and Sonderleiter’s bizarre move of quitting the team for no apparent reason gave Greg Brunner a chance to take on more interior responsibility, and gave the Hawkeys some experience playing without solid big guys. Brunner should have help from one of the numerous big bodies that join the team as freshmen this season. I generally like this talent, and I’d like it even more if someone else were at the helm. I want to like Steve Alford, but after he did with the best rebounder in the Big Ten and the best shooter in the Big Ten a couple years ago, I refuse to trust him. If he ever gets things going, though, watch out. After my first game there two years ago, I think Carver-Hawkeye Arena would be one of the most difficult places in the country to play if it ever got loud. Thankfully for the rest of the conference, that won’t be happening for a couple of years.

7) Purdue
I'll level with you--I had a nice paragraph prepped about Purdue and how Gene Keady deserves better in his final year. I lost it, and I don't to try to figure out what Purdue's going to do again, since they're not going to be a major player in the conference. The abridged story is that the Boilermakers return very little experience, except at the guard spot, where they have plenty. Junior college transfer and former Milwaukee Vincent standout Carl Landry should be the best juco transfer since Reggie Evans, and brings a ton of athleticism to the table. It won't be enough to help out Keady in his last year, though, and one of the alegedly nicest guys in the Big Ten (in spite of his on-court demeanor) has a rough final year.

6) Indiana
Ah, Indiana, the team that could go either way. Last year the cupboard wasn't bare, but it wasn't stocked to standard Indiana levels, either. A 6'3" A.J. Moye at power forward was the most mis-cast role since Pat Farley plajed Jim in his junior high production of Huckleberry Finn. The Hoosiers have three big things going for them this year: 1) A midget will not be called upon for 6 rebounds a game this year (okay, to be fair, Moye, much like Farley, did the best with what he was given), 2 Bracey Wright, my favorite non-Badger Big Ten player is back to fill the hoop, and 3) the recruiting class is reportedly stellar. Aside from Wright, there's nothing returning to get excited about. Marshall Strickland will continue to see backcourt minutes, though all frontcourt players will lost minutes to D.J. White, the team's top freshman, and his other classmates. Patrick Ewing, Jr. will continue to amaze all with the relatively small size of his jaw in comparison to that of his father. Though I haven't seen the freshman (Note to self: Order that college sports channel on cable that seems to be showing nothing but high school basketball all-star games and women's lacrosse so that I can rectify this for next year), I have to believe they'll help out a lot. In the end, though, the same thing that heas held the team back before will do it again--Mike Davis. While he's not a terrible coach, his vast overrating following his Final Four run had a reverse psychological effect on mere where I came to consider him as "poor" rather than merely "mediocre." I also can't get that shot of him running onto the court while slapping his head out of my mind. I know that I've just explained that my "poor" ranking of Davis is totally irrational, but I'm standing by it. This team breaks even, and Davis continues to be exposed for the fraud that he is.

5) Northwestern
Yeah, that's right. Northwestern. You read that correct. As those of you who know me well are aware, with Northwestern, I'm caught in a constant struggle between my hatred of the school itself, and the overwhelming joy that I get from watching Bill Carmody coached teams make back door cuts and precision passes. While I wish that Bill Carmody would go somewhere else so that I could commit to liking his team, I'm putting aside my reservations about Northwestern itself and picking them this high because, quite simply, I think they have the talent to go with the talented coach. And that's a bold statement, since last year Jitim Young was among the conference's most underrated players. Young's gone, but his backcourt mate, T.J. Parker is still around. Like the entire team, he's not flashy, but he won't turn the ball over, so the point guard spot should be in good hands. Vedran Vukusic might be the only guy in the league who averaged 14+ points per game who you haven't heard of, and his crisp cuts will cause opponents fits. I like Vedran so much that I won't even take the opportunity to make my yearly cheap joke about how 2 seasons ago he dislocated his shoulder more times than Beau Sanders received technical fouls in the Madison rec league (okay, so I couldn't resist my favorite annual joke). And of course, the big news in Evanston is that former McDonald's All-American and Duke Blue Devil Michael Thompsonjoins the team one the second semester gets underway. How a Duke refugee landed at Northwestern, I'll never know. If he was playing the entire year, these guys could be even better. However, Bill Carmody, some legitimate talent, and a deep frontcourt mean that rejection letters from the journalism school will no longer be the only scary thing about Northwestern.

4) Michigan
I like Michigan, I'm just not sure how much. Daniel Horton had a phenomenal freshman year, and was mediocre for most of 2003-4 before exploding in the NIT. Courtney Sims shows flashes of being the next major Big Ten superstar, but he may not be there yet. Brent Petway is allegedly the best athlete in the Big Ten, but apparently can't figure out how to actually play the game of basketball. Tommy Amacker is regarded as a great recruiter, but had two of his three recruits back out on him this year. I won't draw this point out any more: Michigan has the tools to be really, really good, but for some reason it's not clear that they can use those tools. Consistency was a problem last year, and last year's most consistent perfomer, Bernard Robinson, has used up his eligibility. About the only thing that is certain on this team is Graham Brown, and given that he averaged 5 points and five rebounds last season, that might not be a particularly comforting thing to rely on. If Michigan plays like it did in the NIT again, it could shoot up among the conference leaders and start returning to the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Wolverines could easily tank a few games and slip to the bottom. Either way, you can still expect that Graham Brown will give you his five and five, and Tommy Amacker will continue to look smooth in his mock turtle neck and blazer combo. And for the record, I am expecting a breakout year from Courtney Sims.

3) Wisconsin
See the Marquette and Wisconsin section.

2) Michigan State
Wow, I can't believe that I'm picking these guys second. this is one of those teams that doesn't win its own conference, but could go on to win the national championship. Let's start with Paul Davis. Last year I said he was over-hyped. I'm a big enough man to admit when I'm blantantly wrong, and this was one point where I could not have been more off base. If not for Mr. Davis' untimely fit of leg cramps last year in East Lansing, Michigan State state probably beats Wisconsin and clinches a share of the conference championship. Davis is one of the best approximations of a true center in all of college basketball, and is my choice pre-season choice for player of the year in the Big Ten. How's that for reassessing my position? Chris Hill, one of the only players in the preview who probably had higher SAT scores than me, returns for one last year. He's not the star that many had thought he would become after his stellar freshman year, but he's a solid leader and is still among the best guards in the conference. How's the rest of the team? Well, if you want guards, Michigan State has Shannon Brown, Kelvin Torbert, Maurice Ager and freshman Drew Neitzel, who Tom Izzo is giving his highest praise to. That's five starting-caliber guards (though Torbert will likely play the 3 spot). That could wear on opposing teams, and if Paul Davis is making power moves on the blocks, look out for Michigan State in March.

1) Illinois
Illinois has, as most of you know, everyone back from last season's Big Ten champion squad. Everyone. So by default, they have to be the pick to win it this year, even if I think that Michigan State may be just as good on paper. Let's run down why this team is solid. You have to start with Deron Williams, who emerged last year as an all-conference-type performer. While I disagreee with those predictiong pre-season Player of the Year honors for him, he'll be a steady player, and should have another excellent season. Next on the list is Dee Brown, who was deemed disappionting by some last year after his being named co-pre-season Player of the Year following a phenomenal freshman season. In reality, Brown adjusted well (though not initially easily) to a new role, teaming with Deron Williams instead of running the show himself. Brown is lightning quick and seems to have a better attitude than most anticipated when his first burst onto the scene. He may very well re-emerge as the star of this team again, but this time he'll do it within the team concept. After him comes James Augustine, a solid, yet unspectacular post player. Augustine showed few signs of improvement last year as a sophomore, but givnet that he played with the savvy of a junior furing hsi freshman campaign, this isn't the worst thing in the world. Augustine will be among the top three rebounders in the league this year--you can take that to the bank. Roger Powell and Luther Head capably fill out the starting 5, with Head earning this year's annual Even Eschmeyer Memorial "Will This Guy Ever Graduate?" Award. The players are good, but the big reason why these guys will repeat is coach Bruce Weber. He's got guys buying wholeheartedly into his system this year, he's know's the Big Ten, and he's from Milwaukee--all of these things point to success. It should be a dog fight with Michigan State, but I'll take Illinois for now. And before I close this evaluation out, no passage about Illinois would be complete without making fun of Nick Smith. He's still a 7'2" guy with biceps as large as my wrist, but I'm happy to report that his bad teenage mustache is now gone. Now if we can just get Mr. Smith to start playing insde the 3-point arc, all would be rosy for him.

All Big Ten First Team
Paul Davis
Chris Hill
Bracey Wright
Alando Tucker
Deron Williams

All Big Ten Second Team
Dee Brown
Mike Wilkinson
Vedran Vukusic
Courtney Sims
Pierre Pierce

All-American Team

Chris Paul, Wake Forest: The best point guard in the country is on a solid team, as well. I'm not sure why he didn't test the NBA draft last year. He's 19, and he's not getting any younger, so don't count on him being around after this year.

Julius Hodge, N.C. State: And you didn't think it was possible to be a senior and be on the All-American team. Hodge ensures that many people will be proudly making that ridiculous Wolfpack hand gesture for yet another season.

Francisco Garcia, Louisville: An influx of talent around Garcia makes him even more unstoppable, so he gets the nod as the token All-American from a second-rate conference.

Ryan Gomes, Providence: What? There are two seniors good enough to be All-American? Gomes averaged a double-double last year, and when you're 6'7", pulling down rebounds takes some work. Survival in the Big East will be tough on a less-than-stellar team, but Gomes should remain solid.

Sean May, North Carolina: His backcourt mates Raymodn Felton and Rashad McCants get more pub, but May is also one hell of a player. I might be a little over-zealous in my love of May, since I find nimble guys who are built like NFL linemen particularly fun to watch, but May should make a believer out of many this year.

Random College and Media Musings

1) Last year my friend Nick invited me to join his office's fantasy Big Ten basketball league. While I did have the requisite amount of fun, it was a painful league in which to manage a team. Filling out a team was murder, and the draft was impossible. There just aren't enough good players to go around in and 8-team fantasy league when there are only 11 real teams out there. Making a good pick in the 10th round probably means that you know who the 8th man for Michigan State is, and even though I like basketball, I don't want to know that much. By the way, my team finished poorly, but would have been excellent if not for Alando Tucker's injury and Maurice Hargrow flaking out. At least I avoided the "guys getting busted with weed" curse that my fantasy football teams seem to be burdened with.

2) Anyone ever watch a game on ESPN Classic from the late 1980s or early 1990s where Dick Vitale is the announcer? The difference is eerie. It's as if there's a dial on his back determining how Dick Vitale-ish he's going to be, and in 1988 it was set between 2 and 3. He's still Dick Vitale, but he's way more subdued. Of course, much like the stereo volume at a college dorm party, that dial has moved steadily upward, and I'm thinking he just might take it to 11 this year. DIPSY DO, DUNK-A-ROO!!!!!!!

3) Am I the only one who's disappointed that ESPN no longer covers midnight madness? In the mid-1990s, I remember planning to stay in on Saturday night so that I could see things like sophomores at Kansas trying to win tuition by making half-court shots, or just to get my first glimpse of the freakishly large new freshman for North Carolina. I think this year I saw Gary Williams driving a race car at midnight, but there was no full-on coverage. I miss those days.

4) I have come to realize that women make basketball season more difficult to navigate. I owe an apology to the woman I was dating last year during the season, because no female should have to put up with me during basketball season. It's not just me, though--I had a moment of camaraderie with one of my friends last year when I called him to complain about missing games to be with my girlfriend. My friend, who shall remain nameless for his own protection, replied "I know what you're talking about. Last night I missed most of the Pitt game because my girlfriend and I rented a video. Luckily she got a phone call, and I was able to see 8 minutes of the second half." At least last year was limited to my petty complaining, though. Let's remember that I am the same guy who once made my girlfriend go to the Milwaukee Vincent holiday tournament with me, and once during college denied the advances of a young woman because I wanted to watch a Duke game. The former I cannot defend, but in defense of the latter, I did have control of my dorm's big screen television that night.

5) I swear, I'm not as big a nerd as that previous paragraph makes me out.

6) Sometimes when I see Jay Bilas on ESPN, it gives me hope. I think to myself, "If Jay Bilas has a law degree, and has this great job as a college basketball analyst, why not me?" Then I remember that in addition to knowing a hell of a lot more about basketball than me, Jay Bilas also played and coached basketball at Duke, qualifications that I lack. And to add insult to injury, he also went to a better law school than me. Looks like I'd better not cancel that reservation at the tax seminar next week.

7) Count me among those who think that the ACC's Sunday night game of the week is a great innovation. It's Sunday night and I'm finishing a dinner twice the size of what I should have eaten at my parents' house. I return home, and there's North Carolina and Florida State tipping off to ease me out of the weekend. I might work the next day, but for that night, I'm sitting around in my underwear and watching the Heels.

8) There is no greater sports exclamation than "Boo-Yah," unless you count "Sweet Sassy Mollassy," from a Saturday Night Live skit.

9) Not sure if anyone noticed, but Evan Eschmeyer recently retired dur to injuries. Yes, our favorite long-term player at Northwestern is out of the league at the young age of 29, meaning that he spent way more time at college than he ever did in the league. Sure, this happens to tons of guys, but this one seemed to interesting not to note. Then again, when you spend that much time in college, the odds are kind of stacked against you having a longer pro career.

10) Who are the people that order ESPN Full Court? I suppose I might consider it if I lived outside of the region of my favorite team, but other than that, it sure seems like a bad idea to me. I watch a hell of a lot of basketball, and if I needed any more than regular ESPN and ESPN2 give me on a nightly basis, I think I'd need to check myself into counseling. There's so much out there already! That said, don't be shocked if I'm backing off of this statement later on this year. There's always that chance that I'll temporarily lose my mind and think it's a good idea to drop and extra $100 to see Dick Bennett on TV four times.

11) I think my greatest goal in life at this point is acquiring a large screen televison with high-definition capabilities so that I can watch basketball in its best possible remote form. It's not a noble goal, but I can think of few things in life as sweet as the idea of watching Duke and North Carolina playing a game in high definition. Yes, I am a 26 year old man who does not have a girlfriend.

12) Time Warner cable, for all of its faults, did a wonderful thing last year in giving digital subscribers such as myself access to all four simultaneuous games going on during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Those of you who were in my living room last year during this weekend know how great this access can be when you have a cursory knowledge of cable signal flow and access to four televisions. I'm convinced that the free access last year was a ploy to get saps like me to pay for such service this year. Here's hoping that I'm wrong about that, but if I'm not, the marketing ploy worked and I'd like to know who to send my fee to. And my living room's not big, but the four TVs will be going strong again this year for anyone that wants to stop by.

13) I have seen an artist's rendition of the new Kohl Center floor, and I'm surprised to say this, but I actually like the old one better. I never thought I'd be able to say that.

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