Ripon, Carroll & Play-Doh
Well, because of a late work night, I only saw the second half of North Carolina beating the snot out of Georgia Tech, which didn’t surprise me, given B.J. Elder’s absence for Tech, and the fact that I’ve said all along that I think North Carolina’s the best team I’ve seen this year. Sorry, Illinois, but you’re just not at that level, though I might argue that you’re a tad more consistent. Kansas’s struggle against Iowa State was next on the docket, and the Jayhawks looked somewhat out of sync trying to fit their injured players back into the lineup. Enough about two of the top teams in the country, though. I’ve still got a D-3 game to recap. We’re going to again gloss over the Wisconsin game due to time constraints. You’d almost think that I don’t like the Badgers, but you’re wrong—I had a great time watching them on TV on Tuesday, but it was on TV, and I saw Ripon-Carroll live. And so, here are my key points, which given the D-3 nature, will focus largely on peripheral happenings:
1) Since I had not been to the Carroll College campus since I was 15 years old and attending the Hugh O’Brien youth leadership conference (why did I do this stuff when I was 15?), I checked Mapquest to see where I was going. When I saw the route, I thought to myself “Oh, I know where that is—it’s right by Discount Liquor.” I’m not sure that it’s a good thing that I’m finding a college campus in location to my favorite liquor store, but it did help me find the gym.
2) So I walked into the Carroll College gym on Tuesday with a $20 bill in my left hand ready to buy my ticket for entrance at the table at the door. Instead, the table was simply the spot where they were taking entries for the drawing for the halftime shooting competition. Admission was free, which automatically made this game better than the high school game I otherwise would have gone to, and dropped $3 on.
3) The D-3 viewing crowd is really a different animal than most other basketball crowds that I’ve been around. Granted, I’ve only been to two D-3 games so far, but they’ve been unique experiences. When I went to my first D-3 game at Lakeland College a few months back, the gym was full of hoops junkies, I assume partly because they were playing Stevens Points, the nation’s top ranked team, and partly because there doesn’t seem to be much to do near Lakeland College. The game at Carroll was different. There were really two types of people there: fans of a particular school, and people who didn’t seem to know what they were doing there. Ripon had a surprisingly loyal following for a school that isn’t all that near Waukesha, and I was impressed by their fan base. The rest of the people kind of annoyed me, especially the woman who sat down next to me and seemed to be wearing a perfume that smelled very similar to Play Doh.
4) One of the things I love about games like the Ripon-Carroll game is warm-up music. In high school games, there’s usually some guy on the team that takes the initiative to make a kick-ass mix tape with all the tunes of the day to warm up to. In Division 1 games, there’s some department that’s generally responsible for this sort of thing, or else there’s a band playing. In non-descript division 3 games (and also in the Badger Classic high school tourney that I attended a few weeks back), they just play whatever is lying around. Popularity and warm-up appropriateness are not a factor in deciding what goes on the PA system. Tuesday night brought such gems as Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” during warm-ups. Aside from the fact that both songs are over 15 years old, I don’t think Billy Joel ever produced a song that should be used for warming up in any era. As for “Beat It,” I was sort of hoping for a choreographed knife fight to start the game, rather than a jump ball. Alas, the rules were not thrown out for Michael Jackson’s signature song. Things didn’t get much better as the teams took the floor for shoot-around at halftime to the sounds of…the same two songs. I guess Carroll spent all their money on uniforms, and couldn’t license another song.
5) Carroll, much like another state D-3 power, UW-Platteville, is known as the Pioneers. Also like Platteville, their colors are orange and blue. I don’t completely understand why orange and blue is apparently the color scheme that teams with the moniker of Pioneers logically think of. When I think of Pioneers, I don’t really think of those colors. I don’t really think of any specific colors, other than perhaps brown, which is never a good school color (except for maybe at Brown). But two state teams wearing orange and blue and sharing the name “Pioneers” can’t be a coincidence. Can it?
6) Actual basketball, you ask? Ripon’s guards were really good. And upon glancing at the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook when I returned home, it made sense, as the three standouts were the three returning starters on the team. Tom Becker was probably the teams best player, though just looking at him wouldn’t lead you to the conclusion that he’s much of a player. My friend Dez, a Ripon alum, informed me that he was the third of three Becker brothers to star at Ripon. Becker was sneaky good for most of the first half, but got going in the second, and almost engineered an impossible comeback, scoring 9 points in the final minute of the game. David McMullen was the other excellent player for Ripon on Tuesday night, displaying a fine outside shot, and cool headband. The program noted that McMullen is from Houston, begging the question of how a black guy from Texas even found a small liberal arts college in rural Wisconsin, and why he would want to go there. Jarred Massen was the other solid guard for Ripon, and was perhaps most notable on Tuesday for his lack of mistakes, and excellent goatee.
7) Going into the night, the only player I had sort of hear of on either team was former Wausau East standout Bo Johnson. My understanding was that Johnson was having a pretty good year, but he didn’t show too much of that on Tuesday night. Instead, he was part of a Ripon front line which, as I noted yesterday, was constantly getting beat by Carroll on the blocks. If I was coach Bob Gillespie, my next practice would be largely spent on making sure no one could cut across the lane on my post players. Of course, if I was the coach, my team would also probably be pretty bad, since that’s about all I could tell them to do.
8) Carroll actually had a bit of a student section at the game. It was maybe 30-40 people, and very enthusiastic throughout the game. Looking at the group, it reminded me of the time that I needed to shoot a crowd scene for the movie that I had to make for a high school class. We gathered up a bunch of people, put them in some bleachers, and told them to go nuts in 20 second increments so that we could tape. Carroll was this enthusiastic all night. I was also impressed with their “That Was Stupid!” chant, which left me scratching my head as to why more people hadn’t thought to do such a chant. The syllables make it obvious.
9) There were plenty of timeouts in the final minute, as Ripon almost overcame an impossible margin in the final minute and a half of the game. During the last few timeouts, and after the game, the PA system began playing a really generic song which had a chorus proclaiming “This is my house!” It was really slowed down, and other than the lyrics, didn’t seem to be appropriate to the tone of a basketball game. I’m thinking they should have gone with “Beat It” in this situation.
So I left the gym and headed home, no less wealthy than when I arrived. I had now seen several decent basketball players that I had never heard of before, and taken in the talents of the then-11th ranked Ripon Redhawks. I could actually see myself making the trek out to Carroll College again sometime, though unfortunately, it won’t be for the January 28 showdown with Grinnell College and its gimmicky up-tempo team, since I have my office holiday party then. When I do return, though, I’ll make sure not to sit next to anyone who smells of Play-Doh.