Sunday, January 30, 2005

A Fruitful Voyage

Lots of stock this weekend was put into Saturday, as Friday night's basketball viewing became a casualty of my office Christmas party. On the plus side, I drank for free all night and had the opportunity at the end of the night to enjoy refreshments at the Wisconsin Club, an establishment that would normally stop the likes of me at their door and make me leave. On the negative side, two of my friends headed out to Carroll College to see the Carroll-Grinnell game, and I was unable to finally see the vaunted Grinnell offense. Though, according to my friends, Grinnell is lacking in their actual ability to play basketball this year. I guess the novelty of sprinting up and down the court for 40 minutes is lost if you can't shoot the ball.

So there was lots to make up on Saturday, and fortunately, I had a loose plan. The plan revolved around the UWM-UW-Green Bay game to be held in Green Bay that evening. Two Horizon League powers, a couple of coaching staffs that aren't too friendly, and a mild intra-state rivaly of the state's "other" teams added up to fun. Plus, a trip to the game would mean an excuse to see my buddy Nick, who lives in Green Bay, and as a result, I see much too rarely. This game, the centerpiece of my plan, became a rock-solid proposition once Nick emailed me on Wednesday to inform me that he had illicitly used his job connections to obtain free tickets for the two of us and his fiancee. With that in mind, I set off for Green Bay at noon, with only a radio broadcast of a Marquette game and several Fox Valley shopping stops keeping me from my destination. Reflections on not just the game, but my whole freaking day below. Enjoy:

1) Since I was in the car, and likely would have been anyway, I was not at all upset about the fact that I would have George Thompson and Steve "The Homer" True calling a game for me on my way up to Green Bay. However, it did mildly outrage me was that the Marquette-St. Louis game was not on televison in Milwaukee. It astounds me that a major college team in this day and age, with as many channels as we have, could actually have a conference road game that's not televised back home. Not to mention in this instance that the Golden Eagles were playing St. Louis, who's coached by former Wisconsin coach Brad Soderberg. You can't tell me that there wouldn't be people who'd be willing to watch this game. I'll never understand the TV industry.

2) Well, it turns out that Travis Diener has a stress fracture. I wonder how long he's had that. I don't wonder how tough he is, though. It's a good thing someone finally sat him down for his own good.

3) A shopping update as I take a break from the game--Geoffrey Beene may have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy if I buy any more clothes from them, since I walked out with the largest bag of merchandise I've ever gotten for $40 at a non-second-hand store. Apparently no one in Oshkosh likes to pay more than $12 for dress pants.

4) George Thompson kept guaranteeing things during the broadcast, and because I was in and out with my side shopping trips, I didn't hear all of them. I bet he was hovering around 50% on his guarantees. Perhaps my favorite, though, came at the end of regulation when Marquette had the ball and called a timeout with 20 seconds left and the score tied. Thompson said he wasn't sure how the game would play out, but did guarantee that Tom Crean would get Marquette a good shot (ignoring, of course, that the offense this year hasn't been very adept at creating good, quick shots, particularly without Diener in the game). So Marquette got the ball and ran the clock. Dameon Mason had the ball at 9 seconds and had it until the end as Homer counted down the clock and defeatedly announced "Mason fires one up from half-court, and we're going to overtime." Thompson, for what I would have to guess was the 6th time in the game, was blatantly wrong (at least he was probably correct 6 times or so, too, on his guarantees). And I have to ask--even though I'm somwhat cynical and didn't expect a good shot from Marquette, how does one hold the ball for the last 20 seconds and end up with the ball at halfcourt? No one in Milwaukee can tell me, because the game wasn't on TV!

5) The first overtime finishes up as I'm pulling into the Jansport outlet in Appleton. Since there's about a minute and a half left and I don't want to miss what could be the end of the game, I sit in my car trying not to look like a creepy guy stalking people that like to buy backpacks. Eventually the game goes into another overtime and I head in to purchase apparel touting random colleges. I picked up a Bemidji State t-shirt in honor of a transfer student from Bemidji State who lived across the hall from me my sophomore year in college, and a SUNY-Ulster sweatshirt in honor of my mother, a proud product of the State University of New York system. The beauty of such random items ending up at an outlet store in Wisconsin is not lost on me, particularly when they're dirt cheap. But there was no time to reflect--I still had to get to Green Bay.

6) Back in the car--Marquette wins in double overtime! Thank goodness the boys won, since I'm not sure the program could have easily handled another loss following the 47-point drubbing this past week. Double overtime against St. Louis still leaves me praying for a Diener return in the near future, though at least Steve Novak cracked 20 points.

7) I guess I didn't mention it, and I don't have any specific examples, since I was driving and not writing these things down, but George Thompson was in rare form on Saturday--even for George. For those of you who didn't hear the game, you're just going to have to trust me on this point.

8) We'll jump ahead a bit (the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful), and take you to the Resch Center in Green Bay as I wander in with Nick and his fiance, Megan. As we're walking to our seats, Nick points out to me what he refers to as "The Unfortunate Ivan Drago Pole." On the second floor of the Resch Center, there's a pillar with UWGB coach Todd Kowalczyk's picture on it. Kowalczyk's scowl truly does make him look like Rocky's Soviet foe in the fourth installment of the Rocky movies, which still stands up today as perhaps the finest Cold War propoganda film ever.

9) The Resch Center's crowd, which would later be announced at close to 9,000, appears solid. Lots of UWM fans also made the trip. You could tell that this was going to be a fun one even before the tip.

10) One of the things that I take for granted in Milwaukee is that we're much closer to the cutting edge on warm-up music than a place like Green Bay. I might not generally listen to hip-hop music in my daily life, but it does seem to work well as a warm-up helper, setting a nice mood for the game. At Green Bay, there's still a lot of 1980s hard rock playing during openings and timeouts. I guess I don't necessarily think that this is a lesser way of doing things--it's just different than what I'm used to. It also shows me a glimpse of some insight on the difference between Milwaukee and the rest of the state of Wisconsin.

11) Having not seen UWGB, save for one public television delayed broadcast of a Wisconsin game against them, I feel the need to make some observations on a few individual players: Brandon Morris: Wasn't with the team when I last saw the Phoenix, but is a nice little scorer; Tyler Koenig: I later heard he played 18 minutes, but I could swear I didn't see him after the first 3 minutes. I thought he was injured. Maybe I'm just blind; Javier Mendiburu: His cool name still makes me giddy when I hear it, but he's not athletic at all. That's rough when you're a point guard, but at least he's heady; Matt Rohde: He's still around? It's been quite the career for the former small Wisconsin high school standout. Looks like he's gotten a haircut recently.

12) Green Bay forward Josh Lawrence did one of the better acting jobs in taking a charge at one point in the second half. Well, actually, it wasn't that great, but the ref bought it. I think Lawrence oversold it at bit. You want the ref to think Joah Tucker's backing you down, not shooting you in the chest with a rifle. I've honestly never seen anyone fall down as quickly as Lawrence did on the play in question.

13) I have nothing special to say about him, but UWGB's Benito Flores was the best player on the floor down the stretch, so I think he deserves his own point in my write-up. Nice job, Benito!

14) UWGB eventually won, knocking UWM back to two wins and keeping the Panthers from running away with the Horizon League in hand as the season draws nearer and nearer to the end. The building was as mildly electric as I could imagine at a mid-major showdown in and oversized arena. I think some of this electricity carried over into coach Kowalczyk's post-game show, where he started on a string over overstatements with regard to his team. Now, it was bad enough when Kowalczyk said that his team closes out the end of a game better than anyone in the country, but he just compounded his overexcitedness when he looked forward to the Horizon League tournament and said that UWGB and UWM were clearly the best teams in the league. I won't even dignify the first statement with a comment, since I'm betting that there might be a few better teams in the country than UWGB when it comes to closing. With regard to the second comment, I think UIC, Wright State, and Detroit might have something to say about Kowalczyk's comments. Each of those teams might be a few games back in the standings, but the Horizon is a league that could be won by any of the aforementioned 5 teams. I'll give Kowalczyk the benefit of the doubt, since he just beat a coaching staff that I doubt he likes much and a team that beat his guys by 30 last time they played, but if he keeps up the the hyperbole all season, I might sour on him.

15) Alas, the game ended, and I had to return home, where I planned to finish the night off by watching the Wisconsin-Penn State, which was sitting comfortably on my DVR box. I bid Nick and his lady farewell, and began my journey. Normally, I'd pop on one of the sports channels on my XM radio (which I ironically won several years ago in a radio promotion, effectively ending any listening that I was doing to the station which awarded me the prize), but I needed to keep from hearing the Wisconsin score in order for the drama to remain intact. Thanks to consumer advocate Clark Howard on WTMJ, I was able to do just that, and learn a thing or two about things I can do to keep my water bill down. Seeing as my landlord pays the water, it was a pretty dry trip, but at least I savored the drama of the game.

Finally, at 11:30pm I arrived home and fired up the game. I enjoyed it, but after a long day, fell asleep somewhere in the second half. I'll refrain from commenting, since I later read that Jason Chappel got into the game, and there's got to be something to make fun of when that happens. Sunday brought snippets of a few games (for my friend T.J., big win at home for the Irish, even if Chris Thomas has progressed 0% as a player in 4 years of school), but mostly just work as our office prepares to close a deal on Monday. It was a glorious Saturday, though, with the opprotunity to take in games of all the division one state teams. And to see an old friend. And as usual, I'll try to top the experience in the coming weeks. Happy viewing!

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