Monday, February 28, 2005

Wisconsin Sectional #8: Where Good Teams Go To Die

Tomorrow kicks off the beginning of the high school boys state tournament in Wisconsin. What that means for me is that every weekend from here on out will be interesting, as there will be plenty of good games. This is particularly true in Milwaukee, where there's no shortage of solid teams getting ready to try and make a run to the state tournament in Madison. And of the three Milwaukee-based sectionals, none is ever tougher than the storied Sectional #8, which is home to most of the area's traditional powers. Occasionally there's a slight shift in power (for instance, Milwaukee Washington is no longer a given as one of the top schools in the sectional), but there's never an easy path to Madison if you're in Sectional 8. And after repeatedly looking at the brackets this year, I think I've convinced myself that the upper bracket of Sectional 8 is as tough a Regional as there's ever been.

Now, in making that last statement, I'm not saying that the best teams that I've ever seen are in that Regional. I've seen more elite level teams, but from top to bottom, I've never seen so many dangerous teams so closely concentrated within the bracket. I'd call it unfair, but in my old age I've come to understand the value to having representatives from all corners of the state (my college friends who lived near the Minnesota border, for instance, always had a strange affinity for Hudson, despite none of them being from the city of Hudson) I have no idea which team will advance to the Sectional finals, as all but one team has something big going for it. Let's take a look at the seeds in the upper bracket, from top to bottom:

(1) Milwaukee Pius: They're the #1 seed, so that says something right there. The Popes' coach won 18 straight state titles when he was coaching the Pius girls, and he seems to be bringing the same discipline to the boys. A Classic 8 conference championship, as well as wins over Wauwatosa East and Waukesha North (both ranked in the state's top-10 at various points this season) demand respect for the Popes. Their only losses have come to the aforementioned Waukesha North, and undefeated Wisconsin Rapids. And they even have a little bit of star power, with junior D'Angelo Jackson, who's becoming very highly regarded (though he didn't stand out to me in the only Popes game that I saw this year). Pius might not be the team most jammed with talent, but they may be the toughest out, due to their consistency, and solid coaching.

(2) Wauwatosa East: Ranked #10 in the state. The Red Raiders haven't lost since December 10, and have the state's top junior, Jerry Smith, who scored 38 points in his last regular season game. Always a power, Tosa East got out to a slow start before settling on a regular rotation, and have improved as much as a team as I've seen in recent memory. Smith is always the main draw, but a handful of players are capable of stepping up on any given night to be second in command. The only losses on the season have come to Pius, and West Allis Hale, a #1 seed in Sectional #7. I've seen more of these guys than any team, and they're definitely worthy of some court time at the Kohl Center. So are about 4-5 other teams in the sectional, though.

(3) Milwaukee King: Ranked #4 in the state, yet third in their own regional. They have the nation's top freshman at point guard. They have a junior 7-foot center who's getting looks from division one schools. They're the reigning state champs, and have a couple of experienced winners returning from last year's squad. They knocked off nationally ranked Milwaukee Vincent in a City Conference showdown last week. Does this sound like a #3 seed to you? Well, due only to their own inconsistency (5 losses, 3 of which came within Wisconsin), they are a #3. If they're playing their game, this is easily the toughest #3 seed in the history of the state tournament (which has only been seeded at regionals for 3-4 years, now). If they're not, beating them is still an accomplishment.

(4) Milwaukee Riverside: Boasts an 11-6 record overall, including and 8-2 record in a surprisingly deep City Conference this year. Key wins came over Milwaukee Bay View and Milwaukee Juneau. Last week the Tigers also managed to take down #3 seed Milwaukee King in conference play, serving notice that they're dangerous. Consistency is also a question for the Tigers, but you can never count out a team that knocks off an all-star team like King.

(5) Milwaukee Marquette: A series of inexplicable losses and injuries have tainted the Hilltoppers' season, but the healing of injuries and a big win over West Allis Hale, a #1 seed in Sectional #7 make Marquette just about the most dangerous #5 seed I can imagine. Name another #5 seed that has two 6'6" guys (Matt Mulcahy and Alexis Pease) that both could end up playing low-level division one college ball next year if they so choose (Pease should go Ivy or Patriot League, while Mulcahy's future may be in volleyball, though schools have also shown interest in his basketball ability). Make no mistake--Marquette did underachieve to earn the #5 seed, but with Mulcahy back after about a month off with an ankle sprain, and other players (including Pease) finally recovering from nagging injuries, this is one #5 seed I wouldn't want to face. Things could click at just the right time for the Hilltoppers.

(6) Wauwatosa West: Okay, I've seen Tosa West play twice, and they're not an overwhelming team. They've got a couple of solid players (Zarkis Jordan would get time at any of the higher ranked schools) though, and at one point whipped off a seven-game winning streak. I'm not expecting a win out of the 11-9 Trojans, but you can't completely discount a team that wins 7 in a row. Again, speaking to the depth of the regional, I'm doubtful that there are many #6 seeds out there who have that kind of a winning steak. They're a weak threat, but a threat nonetheless.

(7) Milwaukee Marshall: They're a 6-11 team, and they're probably the only team that can't be considered any kind of threat to get a win in the regional. Then again, the did beat a good Milwaukee Bay View team earlier this year, and they are coached by former longtime Bay View coach Phil Jones, who was forced out of his former position by Milwaukee Public Schools last year. Jones has taken a team to state as recently as 1998. And he's coaching the #7 seed. Sure, it's not much, but find me a #7 seed where you can come up with two positives--I dare you.

So that's the upper bracket of the sectional. What does the winner get? Well, the most likely scenario lets them face off with Milwaukee Tech, the #1 seed in the lower bracket of the regional, and a team lurking just outside the state's top-10. Again, I've definitely seen better teams in this sectional before, but I've never seen a year where even the so-called weak teams are so good. It's going to be a fun 2 weeks leading up to the state tourney. I'll be back with a first-round update (and probably something about the Wisconsin-Indiana game) tomorrow night.

Weekend Roundup

Another weekend down. This one was a bit more special, though, as it was the last weekend of the year prior to playoff activity. This week begins the excitement of high school playoffs, and that also means that low-level conference tournaments can't be too far behind. So what did I watch this weekend? Here's a day-by-day breakdown:


During work, my buddy Kosta called me to see if I wanted to see a high school game with him. I won't name the teams involved, as I try my best to keep from saying anything bad about high school players in this forum. Let's just say that I appreciated this game largely because it served as a reminder of how great the high school basketball that I usually watch is. Highlights of the game included:

1) During warm-ups, the home team had one kind of chunky kid that looked like he couldn't run real well, meaning that he moved so poorly that I though he had some sort of problem with his legs. He also got meaningful minutes for his team. In addition, he scared me a bit, since his build kind of reminded me of myself in high school. I just hope that I moved better. After all--with my goggles, and odd habit of shaking the ball above my head when I got it at the top of the key, I needed all the help I could get to keep from getting made fun of.

2) Well, Friday night might have marked the worst high school warm-up mix that I've ever heard. There were plenty of good songs. Perhaps too many, though. All of the songs were good, but none went on for more than 45 seconds. Come on, you can't cut out right in the middle of "Gettin' Jiggy With It." That's just wrong.

3) Perhaps my favorite moment of the night was during a halftime ceremony held to honor a retiring member of the home school's staff. It was done as a surprise. After about 4 minutes of comments honoring the retiree, he was handed the microphone to say a few words. The first words out of his mouth, to a gymnasium full of people, were "Wow, I don't know what the hell to say." Now that's an honest reaction, and one that I'll always remember.

4) Going to a bad high school game was an interesting experience in that the feel of the crowd was much different than most games that I go to. The people around me weren't really complaining about the refs, and were pretty much just happy to enjoy honoring the seniors on the team in their last home game. There was no anger and no passion. I guess that's what happens when virtually nothing is on the line. So, I sure hope that someday if I have kids and they decide to play sports that they always end up playing in front of refs that I think are terrible.


After clearing my palette on a bad high school game the prior evening, it was time to take a full day off from watching basketball. Sure, I watched the Minnesota-Purdue game in the morning (which was somewhat like a summarized, one-game summary of Gene Keady's season), but the rest of the day was leisurely for me. Since it was the first day in some time that I haven't had a game to go to, or some other out-of-town endeavor, I cleaned most of my apartment, and avoided the television, save for a one-hour break where I watched an old ABC After-School Special on DVD. I enjoyed the tale of a young track athlete who learns the value of teamwork after breaking his legs in a horrific car accident. It astounds and amuses me that they released these things on DVD. I didn't go the day totally free of hoops, though, as the day's roundup on ESPN was on the TV while I was out at a bar with some friends that night, and I couldn't stop looking up. Apologies to friends that I may have ignored.


It was time to get back on track with basketball watching, and luckily, the day had a lot in store. Wisconsin-Ohio State was on at 1pm, and during the same time period, Fox Sports was showing high school games featuring two of the state’s better teams, Randolph and Madison Memorial (each in separate games). All of this was, of course, followed by the Oklahoma State-Kansas slugfest. It was a perfect day to have some of the boys over to give my beer dispenser a workout, so that’s what I did. It was a nice, restful afternoon. My key points:

1) Wisconsin-Ohio State lacked drama. I just was never really into the game for some reason. Sure, Terrance Dials was lighting up the Badgers when Mike Wilkinson was saddled with foul trouble, but other than a few key stretches, I never felt like the game was in doubt. Ohio State just wasn’t shooting well enough to run.

2) I am actually starting to get a tad worried about the Badgers losing Mike Wilkinson next year. I’ve always liked him, but I’m not sure that I’ve truly appreciated what he’s done for his team until now, when he’s only got a few games left. With Wilkinson and Travis Diener leaving the college ranks, it will be interesting to see what happens to the big programs in Wisconsin next year. At least we know that UWM will be good.

3) It was a pleasure to see Wisconsin’s rebounding on Sunday. Unlike against Michigan State, opponents were not getting through cracks and grabbing easy offensive boards. That was nice to see, after a less-than-stellar rebounding performance last time out.

4) Let me get this straight—Ohio State hadn’t retired John Havlicek’s number until Sunday? What the hell were they waiting for? I realize one has to be selective in retiring numbers, but isn’t Havlicek generally considered to be one of the best to ever play the game? And how in God’s name was Jim Jackson’s number retired before Havlicek’s?

5) The high school games on Fox Sports were actually somewhat of a disappointment. They looked like they were being broadcast on a webcam. Note to Fox Sports: if you’re showing high school basketball and the video is so bizarre that even I don’t want to watch it, maybe you should just find something else to show.

6) Much could be said about the Oklahoma State-Kansas game, but most of it would be me raving about the play of almost everyone on the floor. And I also wondered where Alex Galindo was. Anyway, I still have Oklahoma State penciled in as one of my Final Four teams, pending actual brackets, so the fact that Kansas was able to take them down makes things even more interesting for March.

Other notable weekend factoids:

1) The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had a phenomenal feature on the best Wisconsin high school basketball players of the last 100 years. Check it out here, and if I get a chance, I'll talk more about it later. More definitely needs to be said about this piece. In the meantime, congrats to a gentleman that goes by the nickname of "Boo-Yah," who is a friend of the site here, and was also quoted in the feature.

2) I must be an idiot, because until Friday, I was unaware that the special edition Hoosiers DVD was coming out this week. Not to worry, as my copy was ordered on Friday. I can't believe that I miss these things. This will quickly become the crown-jewel of my DVD collection, just barely edging out seasons one and two of "Saved By the Bell." Now that Hoosiers has finally been given appropriate DVD treatment, I'll be anxiously awaiting Hoop Dreams (to be released on DVD in the next year, as I understand it) and the White Shadow (which will likely never end up on DVD unless I get a high-level job in the entertainment industry).

3) Lawrence beat Ripon in the Division 3 Midwest Conference championship. Not an unexpected development, but one that ends Ripon’s season (thanks for the heads up on that point, Dez). We'll see how seeding shakes out shortly.

4) The premier basketball blog out there has changed its address and upgraded some things. If you're so inclined, check out Yocohoops today.

5) Chris Rock was hilarious in the opening to the Oscars. That has nothing to do with basketball, and I didn't watch any other part of the Oscars, but I still feel like this objective truth must be mentioned.

And that’s the weekend. I’m not sure what I’m doing tonight, but it will probably somehow involve basketball. I’ll tell you about it later.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Soft Serve

Well, tonight was a big basketball night, and I didn't want to miss a minute. Wisconsin and Marquette were both playing big conference rivals on national television, and it was the last night of regular season high school basketball for most teams. And as with most Thursdays, I had to bowl. I had called in a sub last week so that I could attend the Marquette-Louisville game, and I didn't have actual tickets to a game tonight, so I recognized that I needed to suck it up and head to the lanes to be a team player. Thanks to the wonder of DVR, though, I recorded the Wisconsin and Marquette games, and shockingly, didn't hear one peep about either game before returning home to watch basketball. I guess bowlers just don't like hoops. Because of time constraints, I decided to watch the Wisconsin game, rather than jumping into the Marquette game, which I'll try to watch this weekend. I enjoy Marquette, but at the end of the day, I'm still a Wisconsin guy and no team can get my emotions going like the Badgers (which probably isn't real evident, since I skip commenting on them quite often). So I had to watch the Michigan State-Wisconsin game first. Thoughts below:

1) Like I said, the Badgers can stir my emotions, and I'm thankful that I don't currently have a downstairs neighbor, since if I did, that person would have heard me repeatedly screaming "Stop playing soft!" thoughout much of the game. Tonight was the angriest that I've been while watching a Wisconsin game this year. I've seen them shoot too many outside shots, I've seen them have an occasional defensive lapse, and I've seen the young players make errors while learning on the job, but until tonight, I hadn't seen a Wisconsin team get so thoroughly out-worked. I can deal with the other problems, but when I'm watching Michigan State pull down offensive rebound after offensive rebound, and Spartan guards cut down the lane for layups that ultimately end up almost uncontested, I get angry. Ironically, I heard a radio interview with Tom Izzo last night where he essentially called his own team soft without using that exact word. His message was clear and very pointed, but his team definitely wasn't the soft one tonight. Tonight they resembled the Michigan State teams that I remember from when I was in college--teams that played hard-nosed ball, and owned the Badgers. I'll always remember two things about the 1999-2000 season for Wisconsin: the Badgers got to the Final Four, and they lost 4 times to a Michigan State team that played basketball the right way.

2) After that last point, I feel that I should note that in the last 10-11 minutes, it looked to me like the Badgers started to figure out that they needed to start showing some heart, and the soft play seemed to stop. It was too late by then, though, and Michigan State was still playing good ball. You simply can't get down 14 points to a good team and expect to turn on the jets in the last 10 minutes and expect to win.

3) Wow, Alan Anderson actually had a perfect night. Ten-for-ten from the floor and seven-for-seven from the line. Tough to argue with with that. My hat's off to anyone who can do that--particularly against the Badgers (even when they're playing soft).

4) The combination of Shannon Brown curling off of a screen and Ray Nixon chasing him is not something that I want to see much more of. Brown curls well, and I saw him beat Nixon a couple of times before he even got the ball and drilled a shot on the move. Nixon may be long, but he still needs to get around screens even quicker if he wants to use that length to play catch-up.

5) At one point Steve Lavin said that Zach Morley's haircut made him look like "the spitting image of Mickey Dolan of the Monkees." As an avid viewer of re-runs of The Monkees when I was a child, I take issue with this statement on three accounts. First, the name is "Mickey Dolenz." Let's give some respect to the Monkees' top comic threat. Second, Dolenz had a couple of hairstyles throughout the show. One mildly resembled Morley's haircut, and the other was a perm, which is completely different. Either way, I don't think Morley is quite "the spitting image" of Dolenz, even though each has a mildly unique hair style. Third, what is Steve Lavin doing commenting on people's hair? I won't fault Lavin himself on this point, however, since I'd venture to guess that the network likes having him play up the interest in his odd gel-helmet hair style.

6) Michael Flowers saw the most floor time that I've seen him get for the Badgers this year. As usual, I assume he was inserted to be a defensive presence, but he promptly hit two 3-pointers after coming in in the second half. I thought he looked a lot better than in the last game against the Spartans, where I believe I said he was "abused" in his two minutes of play. I still maintain that Wisconsin fans are going to love this guy in two years.

7) There was a great shot of Paul Davis on the bench tonight drinking a sports drink. Brent Musberger also aptly pointed out that Davis had made sure to hydrate himself all day leading up to the game in order to guard against cramping up as he did last year in East Lansing when the Badgers came to town. Davis was having a hell of a game last year before having to sit down with his cramps for a large chunk of time at the end of the game, and to this day I believe that if Davis' body hadn't failed him, Michigan State would have taken the win on that night.

8) Great, Alando Tucker was limping again late in the second half. Surprisingly, not much was made of this fact on the broadcast, but the limp was pretty clear to me. And it didn't look like one of Tucker's numerous other injuries over the last two years. Tucker's got to be the unluckiest man this side of Travis Diener. What I'd give to see him finish out a season without hurting himself in any way.

9) Late in the game Brent Musberger refereced Wisconsin recruit Joe Krabbenhoft, who will join the Badgers next year, and when describing Krabbenhoft, compared him to Mike Miller. Let this be the official notice that for the rest of time, every white guy who comes from South Dakota and plays basketball at a high level will be compared to Mike Miller. That's got to be cool for Miller. I can only dream that some day every overweight white guy who likes to listen to basketball on the radio while stir-frying will be compared to me.

10) I wasn't sure if too much had been made of the Bo Ryan-Tom Izzo rivalry until tonight when I watched them shake hands at the end of the game. It's now my opinion that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. I know one handshake doesn't tell the whole story, but it looked pretty cordial, and Izzo even seemed to laugh at a joke or some sort of other comment that Ryan made. Maybe we'll hear a little bit less about the alleged hatred between the two of them now that Tom Izzo has taken his first game off of Ryan. Or maybe not--both are great competitors, and anything that fuels this rivalry can't be a bad thing.

And with the end of the game, I tried to take in a bit of the Marquette game, but realized that I needed to say something about the Wisconsin game, since I was so fired up. I look forward to checking out the Marquette game, since they hung much closer to the hated Cincinnati Bearcats than I had expected. Oh, and one of my friends called me to mention that high schooler Jerry Smith dropped 38 points on Menomonee Falls tonight. I'd have been there to see it, but I was bowling a 106 in my second game in West Allis. At least I know I'm not on the schedule for the first weekend of the tournament.

Tomorrow, should I feel so inclined (and have a free moment), I hope to break down Milwaukee's famed Sectional #8 in the high school state tournament, and explain why it actually is appropriate that Milwaukee King is ranked #4 in the state, yet still has the #3 seed in its own regional. The explanation will be kind of like doing a proof for my high school math class, except way more fun.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Multitude of Dieners

Well, today was a huge day in hoops around Milwaukee. Before I get to my games of the night, it must be noted that today was a dark day for Marquette, as superstar guard Travis Diener is officially done for the season due to a broken hand suffered in practice. I guess it was just a freak injury. While you never like to see someone injured, this one hurts even more, as Marquette was still sort of battling for an NCAA birth (though I think the chances of that were hovering around 10%, anyway) and Diener was close to becoming Marquette's all-time leading scorer. While I'm still a relatively young 27 years old, I can't think of too many players that I've seen come though this state who ended up being as special as Diener. My earliest memory of Diener came before I even knew who he was. I was working at a summer camp (non-basketball related) back around 1997 or so, and had encountered a student that was particularly tough to deal with. Since I knew he was from Fond du Lac, and I knew that they had a good basketball team, I tried to connect with him by talking about Drew Diener, Travis's cousin, who was one of the state's big division one recruits that year. My attempt to talk to the kid worked, and he started talking about how there were two Diener's that were a few years younger that were easily going to end up better than Drew. I laughed the kid off at the time, since Drew Diener was one of the best players in Wisconsin. Well, it turns out that annoying kid was right--Drake Diener's better than his older brother, and Travis is the best of the lot. I hate to see him go out like this, and he certainly deserves better after the career he's had, but he'll always be looked upon as one of Marquette's best. And I fully expect him to either bounce around the NBA on short-term contracts for ahwile, or make some good money overseas.

Enough of eulogizing Travis Diener, though--tonight held plenty of exciting basketball in the city of Milwaukee, and there was even another Diener involved. Indeed, it was the annual conference showdown between Milwaukee Vincent (coached by Tom Diener, a Diener uncle) and Milwaukee King, the City Conference's two powerhouses, and Wisconsin's two most notable teams on the national scene. Neither team has done exactly as well as they should have this year, with Vincent having dropped one City Conference game coming into the meeting, and King having dropped two within the conference. Nonetheless, I don't think anyone would dispute that this is THE game in high school basketball in the Milwaukee area. Now that Milwaukee Washington seems to have officially lost its role as a consistent power, this is more true than ever. Since this is a game that pretty much requires that you have some affiliation with one of the schools if you want to make it in the door, I knew I wasn't going. However, much to my delight, there was going to be a live radio broadcast. So, in the most pathetic basketball-related move since, well, last Friday when I went to an elementary school gym on my own to watch a prospect, I stayed in to listen to a high school game on the radio. Here's what I could discern from the radio broadcast, and some other random high school basketball points:

1) According the the broadcasters, King was doing a phenomenal job of double-teaming Vincent's Marcus Landry. In fact, Landry netted something in the neighborhood of 18-20 points, but I don't think that he had one of his top nights. The announcers noted that he likely would have to hit the weight room a bit and improve his strength before suiting up for Wisconsin next year. I can't see why Landry wouldn't be looking to hit the weights, either--it seems to be something that worked very well for his older brother Carl.

2) While I realized that two of King's top players were freshmen (including Korie Lucious, considered by some to be the top player in his class nationally), I had no concept of what an integral part of their team these two guys are. Lucious made several clutch plays, and the ball was appropriately in his hands as King held the ball for one last shot at the end of regulation. If he and fellow freshman Bryan Brown don't bolt for prep schools, King is going to be scary-good in 3 years. I'm still dying to actually see these guys play, but they sounded incredible tonight, and that impression comes in spite of announcers that didn't seem to particularly like either of them.

3) Elliot Johnson, who transferred in to Vincent for his senior year, threw down a bunch of alley-oop dunks, and if I were to guess, I'd say that he was one of Vincent's top scorers on the evening, even though he couldn't seem to get a foul shot to fall all night. Not bad when you can get one of your best efforts from a guy who was playing at a totally different school the prior year.

4) The outcome of the game? Well, it couldn't have been much more exciting. With the game tied, King had the ball with 12 seconds left, and held the ball until about the 3 second mark, when Lucious dished the ball to forward James Pruitt, who drilled a 3-pointer to defeat Vincent. The announcers, and apparently the crowd, all went wild. I only heard it on the radio, but this one lived up to its billing. And for the record, I was expecting Vincent to win, so I was, as usual, wrong.

5) For awhile, though, it didn't look like the game would live up to its billing. King got a quick lead and dominated the first half, going to the locker room with a 10-point lead. There wasn't much movement until the end of the third quarter, when King began a 12-0 run that bled into the fourth quater. In the final minutes, it was just a hard-fought basketball game.

6) Lots of time on the broadcast was devoted to talking about the upcoming state tournament, and how King had received the #3 seed in the regionals behind Milwaukee Pius (1) and Wauwatosa East (2). The announcers kept noting that King was probably the best #3 seed ever in a regional in Wisconsin. And that's probably correct, but the seedings are probably correct, as well. To the credit of King coach Jim Gosz (who I'm normally not very quick to give credit to, so remember this moment), in his post-game interview he pretty much stated that there wasn't much he could do about seedings, and that any of the aforementioned teams could have legitimately been called a #1 seed. However you look at it, I'm going to greatly enjoy next weekend when regionals begin, and I'm sitting cramped up in the bleachers of a tiny gym watching (barring a tremendous upset) two of the state's top high school teams battle one another. While I love the state tournament, I think I love watching the teams in Milwaukee's toughest sectional battle just to get to the state tournament even more. And I would even argue that this is sort of a down year for good old Sectional #8.

So that's high school basketball in Milwaukee tonight. I'd have love to have been there, but at least I will be next weekend. And I suppose that it was some consolation that I was able to watch the hotly contested Duke-Geogia Tech game while I listened to the radio. Speaking of ESPN games, I've got to go--Villanova's looking like they're going to knock off Boston College (which will be a really stupid line tomorrow if they blow the game, now).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Hoosier State Battle

Well, I checked out the Indiana-Purdue game tonight. I don't know what compelled me to do this, but I guess I feel better off for doing so. Both teams have upcoming games against Wisconsin, so it was good to get a look. After their win, Indiana still scares me a lot more than Purdue, though that says a lot more about Purdue than it does about the Hoosiers. This will be a short update, as I didn't watch very closely, and have spent the better part of the evening looking this year's recently released high school brackets and coming up with an absurd plan to blanket the state for games. I'll never execute this plan, but it's fun to dream. Anyway, a few brief thoughts on the Indiana-Purdue game.

1) Well, I guess I was wrong about Purdue's offense--it's not all Carl Landry. Their guards can slash wildly to the hoop and garner a low success rate as well. Man, I feel bad for Gene Keady.

2) Did anyone else see the interview with Kent Benson about the constantly discussed undefeated 1976 Hoosier team that he was on? Two points on this one. First, that sweater that Kent was wearing was just a tad outdated. I half expected him to start asking me to buy some Jello Pudding. Secondly, if I was ever on a legendary undefeated team, I'd hope that I could be a bit more cordial on the microphone. When asked if he thought comparisons of this year's Illinois team were accurate, he could have said something like "Well, there's no doubt that Illinois has an excellent team this year, and they're making one of the better runs at the record that I've seen in awhile. They're not there yet, and I don't know if anyone in this day and age can go undefeated. We really did something specilal in '76, you know." Instead, Benson cut straight to saying that Illinois hasn't gone undefeated yet, and strongly implied that they wouldn't, noting that things would get infinitely tougher in the tournament with "teams like North Carolina and Duke." (Code: Teams that Kent thinks are better than Illinois.) When asked if he thought it would help Illinois to lose a game before the tournament, Benson replied that the toughest thing for Illinois would be being prepared every night, and if they weren't, the stood the chance of losing to "Northwestern or Purdue." (Code: Teams that Kent thinks are terrible.) Let's see--so far Kent has slammed two Big Ten teams, and stopped just short of slamming another. Would it have hurt to have said just once "Illinois is a good team?" Upon reflection, I don't even disagree with most of what he said, but he said it in such a way that I ended up really not liking him. I guess Kent should have his precious 1976 team, though, or else he risks being remembered best as the guy who broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's hand with his face.

3) Again, I might be a tad slow on this one, but I see that Steve Lavin's hair is back to normal. Too bad--I thought he was making progress.

4) Joining Lavin in calling the game was Brent Musberger, who must have noted 15 times in the first half that Mike Davis deserves another year to show his coaching ability before he's fired. With the season that Indiana's had, I suppose I can't disagree with that, no matter how much I'm not a fan of Davis, but Musberger's rationale still bothered me. Musberger argued that we should judge Davis after he brings in his stellar recruiting class next year. Okay, that would be a valid point, except I heard the exact same argument last year! Granted, Josh Smith was supposed to be in Bloomington, and he just won the NBA dunk contest, but D.J. White's no slouch, and losing recruits last minute to the NBA is becoming a fact of life when you have "stellar" level classes. I like giving coaches time to do things, but let's not base that time on a false premise.

5) At one point during the game, Musberger noted how the seating for broadcasts had improved since Bob Knight had left Indiana, and noted that this was because Knight didn't like the media. This is what perplexes me about Knight. He's not a dumb guy, so he had to know that something like this is a two-way street. Not giving the broadcast team the shaft would clealy keep from giving them another reason to dislike Knight and Indiana. Yet Knight shoved them in more difficult seats to work from anyway. What in the world drives this guy, other than to arbitrarily show off his authority?

Okay, I should probably hang it up for the night, since I'm realizing this is sort of an angry take on the night's activities. Hopefully this is the last time I get on a guy for a crippling injury that he suffered over 25 years ago. I'm a nice guy most of the time--really.

Blatantly Uncool

I don't believe I've mentioned this endeavor to this point, but seeing as it's late in the season, it needs to get worked in some how: I'm in a fantasy Big Ten league. Yes, the nerdiest sports-related activity around just got nerdier, by focusing in on one specific conference. There's no website that tallies numbers--this idea just isn't popular enough. Nonetheless, a week before conference season, I was lucky enough to join one of my friends and 4 of his office mates in the most ridiculous of leagues. I'm not sure why these guys let me in their league, or if I'm even qualified to do something like this. And I'm loving every minute of it (side wagers really do make things more interesting).

And since today marks the beginning of the first of our two weeks of playoffs, I felt it would be a good time to look back at the draft and assess the picks. Here are some baseline facts about the league so that you can follow along. There are six teams (unlike the debacle that was our 10 team league last year when I was routinely starting Northwestern's 8th man). Each team drafts 12 players. Each week, each team goes head to head with another team (or in some weeks, two teams). Each team must start 2 guards, 2 forwards, a center, and a 6th man of any position. Positions are defined by the listing on the player's school's website. One point each is awarded each of the following: points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals.

Those are the basic rules, so let's check out how the draft went, player by player. Participants names are listed first, along with the players that they picked.

Round 1

1) Jon: Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin
--Well, we're all Wisconsin based guys, so I guess this one makes sense. It's a really safe pick, too, since Wilkinson, aside from a few downer games early in the season, is the model of consistency, and rarely has a bad game. Nice first pick.

2) Kerry: Terrance Dials, Ohio State
--The league commissioner puzzled me with his pick here. I frankly didn't know that Dials was any good, as he wasn't even OSU's top center last year. Indeed, Dials has cooled off from earlier in the year, but his real value at this point in the draft is that he's a center. Given that there are very few actual centers in the league (or the country, for that matter), it was important to get someone who'd see floor time. Dials fit the bill, and is a very solid pick.

3) Polzin: Paul Davis, Michigan State
--Damn! That was the guy I wanted. Again, he's a center, and when I think of centers in the Big Ten, he's THE guy that I think of. So what if he disappears from time to time. I think most would tell you that he's having a pretty darn good year. A good pick by my old college buddy (and the only guy in the league that I've ever met face to face).

4) Me: Carl Landry, Purdue
--At the time, this was a tough pick for me. I never thought much of Landry when I used to watch him in high school, and I was basing the pick largely on the one Purdue game I'd seen prior to the draft. Well, thankfully for me, Landry was remarkable in that game, and his teammates were woefully inept. It looked as if Landry would be Purdue's entire offense this year. I guessed right on this one, and knowing what I do today, I probably would have taken Landry even if I had the first pick. It worked out perfectly. Don't worry--this won't become a trend.

5) Titus: Bracey Wright, Indiana
--This Titus fellow immediately took who I would have taken if Landry hadn't been available. Note this, as it will become a motif. He might not have turned out to be the top guard in the Big Ten this year, but he's a threat to go off for 30 on any given night, and you can't argue with that. Acceptable, but not incredible pick.

6) Taylor: Jeff Hagen, Minnesota
--Here's the first head-scratcher of the night. Hagen's not even the best player on his team, and to my knowledge, had never done anything overly notable at Minnesota other than becoming a fan favorite. On reflection, his stats aren't bad, and he is a center, so I can't rag on this pick too badly, but it could have been better.

Round 2

7) Taylor: Aaron Johnson, Penn State
--Here's a player that I like. He was an 8th round steal for me last year, as a matter of fact. I didn't like him at the 7 spot, though, and I still don't now. Sure, he grabbed 21 rebounds in one game, but he's not been nearly consistent enough in Big Ten play for my liking. A couple more slots and I’d have been fine with Johnson, though.

8) Titus: Pierre Pierce, Iowa
--Ah, our first freakish roster casualty. I really liked this pick here, and considered taking him myself before he was off the board. Fortunately, he wasn’t available to me, since after a few great weeks, Pierce's personal problems caught up with him again, and he's not playing ball anymore. I had enough guys like this last year--it's high time someone else got screwed.

9) Me: Mike Thompson, Northwestern
--This was a risky pick--I knew Thompson wasn't the team's go-to player, and he'd only been eligible for something like 4 games so far, making him tough to assess. However, he was a transfer from Duke, had put up some good numbers in his first couple of games. The drop off in quality at the center spot after him also begged for me to pick him. In retrospect, Thompson's bum ankle and inability to get his butt to class (leading to his mid-season suspension) have made him a less-than-stellar pick. I also probably could have gotten him in the next round, since none of the other guys knew what the hell I was doing when I picked him. My buddy Nick tried to explain it to the guys who don't know me directly by telling them that I have some ridiculous well of college basketball knowledge that they couldn't possibly understand. Turns out, I just made a bad pick, but thanks to Nick for trying to make me look good.

10) Polzin: Alando Tucker, Wisconsin
--A seemingly wonderful pick, and one that I would have made in the prior spot if not for one fact: I had no confidence in Tucker's ability to stay healthy. Even now I'm still worried about his feet, though in the last few games, he's looked as explosive as I've seen him in a long time. Nonetheless, Tucker either sat the bench or played while dinged up during a big chunk of the Big Ten season, proving my aversion to his risky health to be quite rational. Too much risk for this spot in my estimation, but it wasn't a bad gamble on Polzin's part. Too bad it didn't work out better, though by no means was this a total failure.

11) Kerry: Deron Williams, Illinois
--Why didn't anyone from Illinois go until this point? Deron Williams was only the pre-season player of the year, and arguably the best guard in the conference. So yeah, nice pick here. Geez, the rest of us must be stupid!

12) Jon: Luther Head, Illinois
--I see we've caught on to the Illinois thing. Again, I think the rest of us are fools for not grabbing Head earlier, though at the time, I wasn't yet ready to put my money on his production lasting. As noted, sometimes I don't know what I'm talking about.

Round 3

13) Jon: James Augustine, Illinois
--Okay, the Illinois thing is getting way out of control. I really like Augustine, and have since his freshman year, but this isn't the spot at which to pick him. I can think of a good handful of players I'd rather have. And that's still true now.

14) Kerry: Vincent Grier, Minnesota
--I'll admit it, I had written of everyone on Minnesota early on, and I didn't know about Grier, other than hearing his name a few times. Kerry even noted that he wasn't sure what would become of him, but had really liked him so far. And he was right. And at this point he had Vincent Grier, Deron Williams, and Terrance Dials on his team. Two of the best guards in the league and one of the two statistically solid centers in the league. Did I mention that Kerry’s the #1 seed in our playoffs?

15) Polzin: Dee Brown, IL
--Kerry told Polzin after his pick that he'd be an idiot not to pick Brown. I wouldn't say idiot, because I was waiting on another guy, but Brown was still a phenomenal pick at this point in the draft.

16) Me: Jeff Horner, IA
--Horner had some great stats coming into the conference season. If not for my wish for a center in the prior round, I probably would have taken him there. I was thrilled to get him at this spot. And I'm still thrilled, since after Landry, he's been my most consistent player.

17) Titus: Vedran Vukusic
--One of my favorites in the conference, and clearly the best player on his team. Again, I can't think of too many guys I'd have rather had at this point. That Titus guy is good.

18) Taylor: Tony Stockman, Ohio State
--As per tradition, I know next to nothing about Ohio State, so I didn't know what to make of this pick. I'm not going to do a stat check, either. I feel there should be one team in the league that I'm almost totally ignorant about, so I'm not going to start learning about the Buckeyes now. Well, that and I’m lazy.

Round 4

19) Taylor: Courtney Sims, Michigan
--Well, it hasn't completely panned out, and it hasn't been terrible either. I loved this pick at the time, and I still like the idea behind it. I thought Sims would have a breakout year this year. He didn't, but he's still putting up decent numbers. We’ll call this pick not a win or a loss, but a push.

20) Titus: Greg Brunner, Iowa
--Damn, he did it again. I wanted Brunner. He was the only guy I wanted, and I felt like he was head and shoulders above the rest of the players available. And I was right. But Titus got him, so what can I do?

21) Me: Chris Hill, Michigan State
--Ah, I made the common mistake here of being seduced by the player who's really good, but might not have the stats to reflect that in a fantasy league. Hill plays the game in a way that I love to watch, but he's just barely a solid fantasy player. He's sat the bench most of the year for me, until now, as he's been scoring a bit more over the last couple of games.

22) Polzin: Dion Harris, Michigan
--Good pick. Non-conference season could have been more consistent, stat-wise, but I'd probably take his scoring punch here rather than the guy I got.

23) Kerry: Brandon McKnight, Purdue
--Yeah, I suppose that will work. I'm still not touching anyone on Purdue but Landry, but McKnight has done okay for himself, and probably warrants a #23 pick.

24) Jon: David Teague, Purdue
--See the Brandon McKnight explanation. I wasn't touching him, but I had no problems with this pick.

And I’ll have to finish up the rest of the breakdown some other time, in a rapid-fire manner, where I can tell you about my steal of the draft, and the curse of the “bad character” guy again. I would’ve tried to get to the end last night, but last night’s Oklahoma-Kansas game was utterly compelling, and had an array of point swings like I haven’t seen in awhile. So I had to watch.

As for tonight, I have no idea what I’ll watch, though the mediocre Big Ten game on ESPN will probably fit the bill. Either way, I should probably get back to writing about actual games at some point.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Marquette-DePaul: The Game Itself Isn't Important...

Big win for Marquette Sunday afternoon while hosting DePaul. I was a bit tired from a late Saturday evening concert in Madison (preceded by a great day of watching hoops with a group of men in an apartment and generally feeling like I was 19 years old again), but I made it back from Madison in plenty of time for the game. For Sunday’s game, as I often do, I'd like to refrain from making legitimate game comments about this game. Sure, there's plenty to be said, but the most interesting part of the game was overhearing the conversation between the two guys behind me, who knew next to nothing about basketball. Now, I'm not trying to be a snob, since hey, I don't know half as much about the game as I let on, but people who know as little as these guys attempting to sound like students of the game are entertaining. I'm on your side if you admit you don't know anything (as I do anytime I watch hockey), but you're fair game if you fake it. So, sit back, and imagine two guys on the older edge of middle-aged, neither of whom know much about basketball, attempting to impress each other with their astute basketball observations:

1) Guy #1 (the less knowledgeable of the two) commented to Guy #2 early on that he thought Travis Diener was a great passer, but did too much of that. He needs to look to score more. Hmmm, I'm guessing that he's unaware that Diener still stands an outside shot of becoming Marquette's all-time leading scorer. This was the comment that tipped me off to the fact that these guys would be entertaining. And for the record, I think Diener does an unbelievably good job of balancing his scoring and passing.

2) Guy #2 asked Guy #1 "How's the high school team this year?" I heard some talk about Pius, and then I heard Guy #1 mention that the girls were pretty good, but it was a rough year for the boys. He then went on to talk about Pius's 18 straight girls' state championships. Very astute comments on his part--if it was 1991. Things have changed a bit, and as I've noted, the Pius boys are set to win the Classic 8 conference, and has the #1 seed over Milwaukee King and Wauwatosa East in the state's toughest regional. And the legendary girls' coach is now the boys' coach. Hey Guy #1--can you just admit that you don't know something, rather than giving a perfect, 15 year old stock answer?

3) Eventually, we got to my favorite conversation of the night, where guy #1 started to get philosophical (and actually used that word several times), noting to his pal "You know, basketball really is a pretty simple game. You've got five guys on a team, there's a limited number of plays, and each guy has a limited number of moves. It's amazing how simple it is." I nearly laughed out loud hearing this assessment while watching a game coached by a guy with one of the deepest playbooks in the country. It would eventually get better, though. To his credit, Guy #2 disagreed with him noting that the combinations of players, and the infinite number of plays and playing styles created a very complex game. Guy #2 wasn't ready to back off, though, citing how much more complex other games, like football and tennis could be. Wait—tennis? Now, football, I understand. I can’t think of too many games more complex than football, but when you boil it down, isn’t tennis just a couple of people trying to get a ball over a net? Sure there are techniques that are difficult to master, and I could probably never understand the intricacies of doubles tennis, but more complex than basketball? I think not.

4) Soon thereafter, the two geniuses began discussing the foul situation, since both teams were nearing the bonus. Guy #1 noted that one team had hit five fouls, and asked what happened at that point, because he couldn’t remember. Guy #2 explained that after five fouls, whenever a personal foul was committed, the opposing team got an extra foul shot. This, however, only applied to personal fouls, and did not come into play with the other type of foul. You can distinguish between personal fouls and other types of fouls because personal fouls only happen when someone is shooting. Thanks for clearing that up for me, guys.

5) Guy #2 started talking about how many games he had seen this year, and determined that he had seen 3 Marquette games, and 1 Milwaukee Bucks game, but that he really didn’t care what was going on with the Bucks. Finally, I agree with these guys on something.

6) At halftime of the game, Marquette was retiring Earl Tatum’s number. Given that I wasn’t exactly around when Tatum played (1973-1976), I can’t really intelligently comment on how deserving of this honor he is, however, I will say he’s usually not the first name I think of when the great teams of the 1970s are brought up. Anyway, Guy #1 (who is clearly my favorite) noted to his friend after the ceremony that he was surprised that Marquette would retire the number of someone who only played three years. Now, I don’t expect everyone to know about the old NCAA rule that barred freshmen from playing in their first year, but I do expect you to know the rule if you’re as old as my father and you’re sitting at a basketball game! Again, to his credit, Guy #2 was at least able to explain this rule.

So, thanks to these two guys for keeping me entertained throughout the game. And thanks for the reminder that if I’m ever at a hockey game again and someone asks me what the blue line is, to simply say “I have absolutely no clue—I just like it when the guys hit each other, and I find the fact that the goalie gets to keep a beverage with him really cool.”

The Prospect and the Angry Loner

The weekend kicked off on Friday night with a most bizarre evening of high school ball. I had planned to attend the Waukesha North-Pius showdown in the Classic 8 conference with my friend Jamie, but unfortunately, Jamie was down for the count with a nasty flu this week, and wasn't able to go. My other normal high school basketball watching friends were tied up with other things, and I have an aversion to large crowds (and this game was sure to be a big draw), so I decided not to go to the game. I couldn't shake the itch to watch basketball, though, and since I'm still at the age where nothing all that fun happens until after 9pm, I figured I could squeeze in a quick game before looking for something else to do. So I decided--this would be the night that I would finally see highly touted Trevon Hughes of St. John's Northwestern Military Academy. So for the second night all year, I decided to head out and be the creepy guy watching a game alone (on a side note--thanks to everyone that I've watched games with this year for keeping me from being this guy most of the time). Needless to say, this was a phenomenally odd night. And here are the details:

1) St. John's was taking on Lake Country Lutheran School, a small, recently founded parochial school that I had never heard of. Lake Country Lutheran was the home team, and thankfully, due to my diligent investigation beforehand, I learned that the game was not to be held at the Lake Country Lutheran campus, and instead was to be held at a school in Menomonee Falls by the name of Zion Lutheran School. I hypothesized that Lake Country Lutheran was too small to host a major division one recruit, so they were moving the game to a bigger venue. And of course, I was wrong. I arrived in the Zion gym and found that it was, in fact, an elementary school gym. There was a court, some stacking chairs for the teams, a makeshift scorer's table, and about 6 rows of seating on the opposite side of the court. Size wise, it wasn't much larger than the gym from the "Pass the ball to Will!" episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised to be in this small-time atmosphere. I found the one semi-open area of seating and plunked myself down near the far baseline.

2) The crowd around me was not the usual crowd that I encounter at games (i.e., angry parents and old men who love their local team). In front of me and to the side was a young couple, probably a few years younger than me, with their two kids. In back of me was the bulk of what I assumed to be the St. John's JV team. People younger than me with kids creeped me out a bit, but the more interesting subset of fans were the St. John's cadets behind me. Apparently military school really does teach manners, because although the young men needed to sneak past me an inordinate number of times to get to their seats, it was also the only time that I've ever had that many 15-year olds say "excuse me" to me.

3) Not to harp on the military school angle, but in the pre-game circle that so many teams do after introductions these days to pump themselves up, I think I heard the most regimented version of "We Ready" (which I'm now going to take the opportunity to deem the high school warm-up song of the year) that I've ever heard. It was well done, and perhaps even better than the song itself. I'm still glad that I didn't go to a military school myself, but I'll be damned if there wasn't something cool about the way those boys could chant.

4) After the buzzer went off to end warm-ups, the crowd rose as they always do for the national anthem. Except, the national anthem was not the first order of business. And with that, I participated in my first ever pre-game crowd prayer. And then I wondered how many times a public school student from an opposing school had done something offensive during the prayer.

5) Okay, so we've already established that I was watching a game in a surreal environment and easily the smallest gym I'd ever seen a game in. So what did I think of Trevon Hughes, generally considered the second-ranked junior in the state of Wisconsin? Well, it's complicated. The talent is definitely there. Hughes is very quick, handles the ball well, and clearly has the strength to play division one ball. On Friday night, though, he looked bored to me. And I would be too if I was a super-talented guard playing in a low-level game in an elementary school gym. Hughes looked to me like he was attempting to create challenges for himself, rather than just play a good game. The best example of this could be seen as a result of Lake Country Lutheran's full-court press. Generally once the press was set up, the ball would be inbounded to Hughes, and he would look up and assess the court. You could almost see his head figuring out where he needed to make the pass to beat the press. But then you would see him think "I wonder if I can beat these three guys by dribbling through on my own." And so, that's usually what he did. And he generally beat those three guys about 75% of the time. It didn't look like a basketball game for him--it looked like a series of personally entertaining challenges. I'd love to see him with a great coach, though, and playing with some real talent. For the time being, I still like the steadiness and willingness to play team ball that Jerry Smith (the state's other top junior) displays, but I do see what people are excited about with Hughes. I just don't see him anywhere close to reaching his potential right now.

So that's the game. St. Johns ended up winning, which was no surprise, but I wasn't so much there to see a game as I was an individual, anyway. Heck, I didn't even stay for the whole game. The small-gym vibe was sort of creeping me out, and I wanted to beat traffic out of the tiny parking lot. It was definitely a trip that was worth it, though, since I was home by 9pm, and chatting about games with my buddy Kosta over beers by 9:30.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Marquette-Louisville: Not Quite Over the Hump

Last night I ended up at the Marquette-Louisville game, something I hadn’t planned on, but for the second consecutive night, my friend Dez hooked me up with a ticket. At the end of the season I’m going to have to buy that guy a car or something. After this season’s first meeting, which resulted in a 47-point Louisville win, it was encouraging to see Marquette hang with the Cardinals. In the end, though, Marquette still couldn’t close, and the Golden Eagles left the court heartbroken as Francisco Garcia drilled a 3-pointer to win the game. Game night thoughts below:

1) I was running late from work, otherwise I would have walked over to the Bradley Center rather than pay for parking. Even though it was bitter cold last night, I’m also infinitely cheap. That’s why it hurt so much when I pulled into the same parking garage I did for the UWM game last night and instead of forking over $5, I had to give up $15. Let that be a lesson to me to always be on time. And I should note, while last night’s game was more fun than the UWM game the evening prior, it was definitely not three times more fun. Someone should tell the parking people about this. Oh, and a note to parking attendants—I think I can figure out the intricacies of shoving my credit card into a slot without your instruction.

2) One of the interesting quirks of sitting with Dez and his season tickets is that there are two really excited guys in their early 30s seated directly behind him. And they’re tremendous nerds. Dez refers to them as “The Male Cheerleaders.” The first time I had to sit in front of them, it was kind of novel and entertaining to hear their chatter. Last night, they started to get on my nerves really early. First off, I can’t think of a moment when one of them was not talking about something. Even I shut up from time to time. Silence is occasionally needed. Secondly, their game analysis is laughable, from their lamenting the miss of an early 3-pointer (“No! It would have been good to be up 16-5.” What? Being up 13-5 on a team that beat us by 47 last time around isn’t good?) to their calls for Ryan Amoroso to enter the game, but pleas for him not to shoot once he did enter. There was also their constant loud whistling, which was strikingly painful on the ears. And perhaps my favorite annoyance of the evening, the guy behind me yelling two sections over to try to get the attention of his friend Joe. Yeah, because there aren’t 30 guys between you and him named “Joe.” Jackass.

3) Lots of people will tell you that Travis Diener had a bad game last night. Well, if you’re talking about shooting, you’re right. I know that Diener had at least 11 assists, though, and he was probably the most effective person on the floor at working the refs. If 11 assists is a bad game, I wish more of Marquette’s players would have bad games. I guess it just shows what a high standard Diener has set for himself.

4) Tom Crean perplexes me sometimes. On one hand, last night he actually had a handful of plays off of timeouts that were executed well, and resulted in either points or good shots. Then at the end of the game, with just under 50 seconds left, he has his team run the shot clock down to almost zero before taking a shot. Two problems with this. First, Marquette hasn’t exactly proven itself adept at getting off the quick score at the end of the shot clock this year. Second, running the shot clock down doesn’t make much sense to me at this juncture. Does anyone honestly think that a Rick Pitino team isn’t able to get a good shot with 12 seconds left? I’d have just let my team play for a good shot. It’s better than having someone chuck up a wild shot with 3 seconds left and praying that Louisville can’t get a shot of in 10 seconds.

5) One of my favorite moments in the game came as I was watching Chris Grimm set a baseline screen and I looked at Dez and started to say “Chris Grimm is the only guy in the world that makes me nervous when he sets a screen.” I got cut off at the word “makes,” however, as Grimm got called for a moving screen on his next move. At least you know where you’re getting your fouls from him.

6) Hey Marcus Jackson—you were wearing the gold uniforms last night, so where’s the gold t-shirt that you’ve been wearing below your blue uniform? Oh, I see—you try not to wear t-shirts when they would actually match your uniform. Makes perfect sense to me.

7) I was going to say this anyway before he hit the shot to win the game, but I now understand why Francisco Garcia is an all-American candidate. The guys moves so well, and as we saw at the end, can hit a clutch shot. He’s one of the best I’ve seen this year.

8) I think that God is blocking me from seeing the Ryan Amoroso foul while blocking out on a foul shot—a foul that ultimately led to a Louisville tying the game. I still haven’t seen the play. I wasn’t really watching him when the foul was committed, since who really watches guys blocking out on a foul shot? I missed the replay on the jumbotron. I missed something like 3 replays on ESPN when I got home. Everyone tells me that it was a pretty blatant foul, though, and even Tom Crean admitted such on the post game show (which he’s actually been appearing on as of late). I’m sort of glad I haven’t seen it, since it would probably just make me mad.

9) Where has Ousmane Barro gone? I’ve heard Tom Crean say that he’s hit the “freshman wall,” but two weeks ago the guy was starting. He’d have to hit the wall pretty hard to go from being a starter who shows promise to not getting a single minute. And Dameon Mason didn’t start either. I’m all for guys needing to earn their minutes, but at some point shouldn’t you have some concept of a consistent starting lineup?

10) In the end, I don’t know that to think of this game. On one hand, I never expected Marquette to keep it this close. On the other hand, something’s wrong when a team goes on what seemed like an endless scoring drought at the end of the game. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is an NIT team, and I’m looking forward to next year. In the meantime, there’s no way I’m paying $15 for parking when I go to the first-round NIT game.

And so I called it a night after waiting in a long line to get out of the overpriced parking lot. I got home in time to catch the second half of a shocking Virginia Tech upset over Duke. And after my trip this past summer to the surprisingly wonderful Tech campus, I can assure you that the students had a lot of fun last night. Probably even more than me, which is tough to do. Have a happy, basketball watching weekend!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Your Horizon League Champs: UWM

Wednesday was a duel game night, with a trip down to the MECCA Arena to watch the final UWM regular season home game of the year, and a subsequent viewing of the Wisconsin-Michigan game at home on the DVR box. The night got off to a rocky start, as one of my friends that I was supposed to attend the UWM game with got into an accident on the way downtown, and ended up driving his dinged up car home so that he could get an early jump on calling his insurance company and getting the car fixed. On the upside, my friend Dez was still headed to the game with me, and as usual, he was on top of making peripheral observations. Since I was actually there, it came earlier in the evening, and there's more to say about it, the UWM-Butler game gets my first stream of thoughts. Excuse me if I don't get to all of my Badger thoughts right away--occassionaly I like to both sleep and do my job during the week.

1) Since it was the final home game, it seemed like a buzz had actually formed in Milwaukee about UWM, and attendance was probably close to double what I've seen at a few games this year. Major Goolsby's Sports Bar, where I met up with Dez before the game, was also busy for the first time all season before a UWM game. Not that I minded a bit more of a crowd, as the MECCA still had plenty of elbow room, and more people were being exposed to Milwaukee's semi-hidden secret.

2) Major Goolsby's, despite recently being ranked at one of the top sports bars in the country by Sports Illustrated, is not a favorite dining spot for me (though no one can deny the coolness of it's circa-1985 decor). So, I decided that I would do something that I never do, and ended up purchasing food for the night from the concession stand at the arena. Since the Mexican stand was near my seats, I opted to order the "nachos supreme." All I can say about that is that whoever gave these nachos a "supreme" rating is a damn liar. Taco Bell looked like a gourmet meal compared to this stuff. Now I remember why I avoid concession stands.

3) Wait, it's senior night, and James Wright isn't starting? I would understand this move if Wright was some terrible player, but he's started at times throughout the season, and was the first man off the bench tonight. And he's given the best 7 years of his life to the program. At least let the guy get announced as a starter in his last non-tournament home game. What was coach Bruce Pearl thinking?

4) Back to the concession stands. All throughout the season, I kept walking by the smoothie stand in the MECCA. Normally, the crowd was pretty small, and thus, the smoothie stand was not open. It wasn't a big deal, since I'm normally not looking to buy a smoothie, but I do have to admit that I have been intrigued all season by the sign on the side of the cart that said "Now Available With Alcohol!" Tonight Dez and I broke down and decided to get smoothies, with alcohol. In choosing the size of our smoothies, we were left with the decision between the "Small," "Large," and "Tiki Cup." The Tiki Cup was, of course, huge, and shaped like a tiki god. After staring for a bit, I don't know if it was me or Dez, but one of us said "I think we have to go with the Tiki Cup." So, with $18 in hand, I walked up to the stand and ordered two smoothies in Tiki Cups, "with alcohol." To the smoothie stand operator's credit, he didn't hold back on the alcohol. On the negative side, no one ever told me what type of alcohol was being used. I still assume it was rum, but for all I know rubbing alcohol was being mixed into my "Dreamsicle" smoothie. Anyway, there was a bit too much banana in my smoothie for my taste, but it was pretty filling, and there's nothing quite like the feeling of knowing that you just dropped $9 to hold a gigantic yellow Tiki Cup at a basketball game.

5) UWM, despite sealing up the conference championship tonight, wasn't playing their best ball tonight. Joah Tucker was still a man among boys, but Ed McCants was only effective for maybe half his time on the floor (he would have been scary if he'd been on all game, though), and I think the Panthers may have gotten more offensive rebounds on tip-outs to the perimeter than they did by actually catching the ball. That trademark, trapping press still looked nice, though.

6) I kept looking at the Butler bench and wondering, is that who I think it is? And as UWM put the game out of reach in the final minutes, he got in, and it was the guy--former Marquette High star Andy Grunst. Grusnt was phenomenal in high school, and during the Marquette-Wauwatosa East rivalry that I mention so often, used to regularly light up former Marquette forward Scott Merritt. Of course, it doesn't look like Grunst ever really climbed the depth chart at Butler. When he got into the game, I noted to Dez that Grunst had really bulked up since high school. Dez appropriately replied, "Yeah, but it doesn't look like he picked much of that up in the weight room." Nonetheless, Grunst would make my list of favorite high school players to watch over the past several years. Too bad he doesn't seem to have made a huge impact at Butler.

7) At the end of the game, the UWM student section rushed the floor in celebration of the conference championship. It was perhaps the most anti-climactic rushing of the floor that I've seen in recent memory. UWM was expected to be at this point, and it was pretty much assumed that they would wrap up the conference tonight. Additionally, winning the Horizon League title doesn't really mean much, other than an obscenely nice road to the finals of the conference tourney and a home court advantage for said tournament. Get a win on March 8, and rushing the court will be a lot sweeter. Until then, I'm a bit lukewarm towards the idea. It's nice, for a change, though, to see something for UWM students to get excited about other than their institutional relation to the guy from "American Movie."

8) When I was playing back the Badger game, they actually broke into the game with a Bruce Pearl interview from the big Panther win. While I still doubt that there were many people out there watching the Badgers that cared that UWM had clinched an outright Horizon League championship, the fact that a TV station (even one as borderline illegitimate as Milwaukee's WMLW) would consider breaking in with this news shows how far Bruce Pearl has taken this program.

9) Okay, it's not a UWM comment, but I'm facing up to the fact that I might have to save my Wisconsin comments for tomorrow sometime. I might not eat lunch again. In any event, I feel strongly enough about this Wisconsin point that I'm putting it here tonight. Like I said, I watched the game on TV. The color commentator tonight was Tim McCormick. I was going to ask that if anyone knew where Tim McCormick lives that they tell me so that I can go there and punch him in the stomach. However, McCormick did some interviews after the game, and he's actually a pretty big dude, so if, say, Mark Eaton is reading this and looking to pick up some extra cash, I'd be willing to pay you to punch Tim McCormick in the stomach. McCormick's not really a homer (I didn't even know he was a former Michigan player until after the game) and he did make a fair number of valid points, but he's just a really, really annoyingc color man. And for that, someone should slug him in the gut.

North vs. South: A Lukewarm Rivalry

As noted, tonight took me out to Waukesha South High School with my buddy Brendan for the matchup between Waukesha South and crosstown rival Waukesha North. The draw, aside from three of the area's top players, was that our old high school teacher, and my old JV coach, John Ricciardi, is now the head coach of North. I guess he's probably been the coach there for 7-8 years, but unfortunately, between me spending college and grad school days outside of the Milwaukee area, I hadn't really gotten back to a game. Actually, I saw one game earlier this year at Cedarburg High School, but opted to sneak anonymously to the back of the gym just to observe on that evening. Tonight, however, Brendan had emailed the coach, and he told us to stop by and say "hello." I was pretty excited. I could gush on for paragraphs about the things that that man did for my psyche that he never even knew about. I guess, though, that I'll simply say that the only thing that compared to playing a season for him in terms of amount of work and rewards brought by that work was my first year of law school. Oh, and anything I think I know about basketball is based in some way on what he taught me. In the grand scheme of things, I know JV basketball is a pretty insignificant endeavor, but screw it--I still learned a lot from it. So yeah, I was excited to stop by and chat.

Brendan and I arrived and promptly wandered into the wrong part of the school, having never been there before, and incredibly, nearly walked into the North locker room (I see security wasn't at a premium this evening). Fortunately, on our way back to find the ticket window, we ran into the coach. Oddly, we were separated by a gate, which made it seem sort of like either he or Brendan and I were in prison. Nonetheless, we exchanged pleasantries, and he told us to stop by to chat after the game. He also joked that he wasn't sure if he could talk if his team lost. Well, the Northstars didn't pull the game out tonight, and that actually was the last we saw of the coach. The latter fact had more to do with the fact that we didn't know the layout of the school, and didn't really know protocol for tracking down a visiting coach after the game. There are still a few games left, though, so maybe our paths will cross again. I'm already planning on stopping by the next North game on Friday night, against conference co-leader Pius, which has plenty of intriguing plot points in my mind.

Anyway, enough of me going soft on you. Here are my game points:

1) I'm not sure if I've been to the Waukesha South fieldhouse before, but if I had, it would have been when I was about 9 years old. I know I watched early 1990s standout point guard Craig Aamot play for South, but that was in regionals, which often happen at odd places. In any event, I generally liked the layout. There was lots of seating on the near side, and the far side was smaller, but left entirely for South students. I think having an entire side of a court would be awesome if I were a student in high school. the side that the rest of us were on had the slight problem that there was a fair amount of co-mingling of adult fans of the different schools, but there simply wasn't the fierce emotion in this game, so it didn't come anywhere near causing problem.

2) Speaking of crowd issues, this was the North-South game, and the crowd was nowhere near capacity. As I recall, the teams had a hard fought contest at their last meeting. North was ranked 8th in the state coming into the game, and it was senior night for South. This game was begging for a capacity crowd, but it felt like a somewhat pedestrian game as compared to what I was expecting. Maybe part of it was my expectations. Since South and North are Waukesha's oldest high schools, I always assumed that they were traditional rivals. Maybe this isn't the case. Do they both just hate 12-year-old newcomer Waukesha West? Does everyone have a grudge against the private school, and last year's Division 2 state champ, Waukesha Catholic Memorial?
Are North and South not really opposing directions? Someone from Waukesha, clue me in. It could be that I'm just spoiled by growing up in a city that regularly fills the gym for the cross-town rivalry, even though one of the schools only wins about once every 10-15 years.

3) On the mild basketball celebrity watch, I was excited to see former Wisconsin Badger Julian Swartz acting as an assistant coach for his brother Billy, the head coach. There's not really much to say about him, other than I hope he's doing okay in his battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder, I'll never forget his performance in the state tournament when he was a senior in high school (and when the Kohl Center somehow sold me tickets in the South student section), and he's a sharp dresser. Like I said, I wish nothing but the best for the guy, who I've never heard a bad thing about.

4) Aside from the rivalry, the big draw of this game for the average fan would have to be the opportunity to, in one game, see North's Steve Shirley and Tom Erdmann, and South's Bo Richter, all sure to be all-conference selections in the Classic Eight. All had their strengths, but none of them blew me off the floor. I'm not sure which one I'd take if I was forming a team and could only take one guy. I'd probably go with Richter, since the name "Bo Richter" is just a great name. I couldn't make up a better prototypical high school athlete nickname. Erdmann kind of sounds like an accountant, and Shirley is a woman's first name, so those just can't compete. And though I don't know where any of these guys is going to school next year, Richter just seems like the kind of player that will be tearing up the WIAC, Wisconsin's premier D-3 conference, for years to come.

5) The Waukesha South student section continued a trend that I'm somewhat confused by: Student fans dressing up in costumes that bear absolutely no relation to the things going on in the gym. I'll admit that back in my high school days, I was no stranger to hanging out in the front row in my cape, a pair of tights, and my favorite pair of boxer shorts on the outside, but everything was in my school's colors. I was looking for ways to become the ultimate spirit guy. It never even crossed my mind to throw on an afro wig and a contraption that made it look like I was riding a gigantic duck. Maybe I'm becoming a crusty old man, but I feel like there should be a point to the wackiness. Tossing on a tight 70's jumpsuit with a sock in the crotch might be funny, but I don't get how it adds to one's support of the game. And of course, I feel further confused by a couple of young men from South who decided to dress up in stereotypically gay outfits last night? Again, I might be missing something, but when did this become a hip thing to do in high school?

6) Kudos to the South crowd, however, for a chant of “cankles” at North’s star player. “Cankles,” as you may know, refers to a large portion of a person’s leg where you can’t really tell where the ankles end and the calves start. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a term commonly used by John Madden when discussing fat linemen. Thought North’s Shirley is certainly not a fat man, nor does he truly have “cankles,” he does have thick legs (which I believe I commented in a long-since-past entry made him look like more of a wrestler than a basketball player). So, nice appropriate use of this pseudo-term by the South students.

7) The game itself? I’ll try to sum it up here with one long point. Why did South win and North lose? First, the obvious point. North’s foul shooting was terrible. And by terrible, I mean worse than Wisconsin vs. Illinois terrible. I doubt they even came near 50%, and they got to the line at least 20 times. It was one of the most mind-boggling displays I’ve ever seen, particularly from a good shooting team. South also controlled the lane on both ends, slashing into the lane with some frequency on the offensive end, and on the defensive end, simply watching North’s guards control the ball on the perimeter. Additionally, South largely handled North’s trapping defense. And finally, let’s not forget about South junior Eric Guth and his three-point shots, which always seemed to go in right as North was poised for a run.

8) South’s halftime show? I’m so glad you asked. The standard dance team show came out and did their thing. Fine. Then, a percussion ensemble came out on the floor for something like 2 minutes. It was a lot of prep, since there were 3 xylophones (I don’t think they were bells, but I wasn’t looking too closely), a drum set, and several marching bass drums and quads. Then they played their song, while 6 members of the ensemble did a mini-marching band routine on the basketball floor. I know that Waukesha is a state hotbed for marching bands (though North is actually THE powerhouse, as I understand it), but do we really need the marching to spill into basketball season? Either bring a pep band or leave the drums at home. It was a bit much.

9) Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that adults can get pretty irrational at high school basketball games. Though I like to think of myself as a fairly objective observer, I occasionally get caught up in the emotion of cheering for my old school when I’m at a game where they are featured. Last night it was fun to listen to crowd members complain about every foul call, no matter how simple a call it was. The guy behind me on my left hand side was a particularly adamant complainer in favor of South. Of course he also stood up at the end to do the scoreboard chant when the South students across the gym did it. Perhaps we need more people like this, to bring back some of the passion and hate to the rivalry.

10) Okay, so I’ll give my legitimate reffing complaints. First, there was one instance where the South called a 30-second timeout, but the refs originally reported it to the scorer and charged South with a full timeout. South was eventually only charged for a 30-second timeout (I believe, since my only basis for stating this is my close observance of reactions around the scorer’s table) after their coach pointed out the error. I agree that the correction had to be made, but North kind of got hurt in the deal, since South’s timeout was taken in response to a big momentum shift in North’s favor, and South essentially got a full timeout for the cost of a 30-second. You’ve got to be on top of that call. Then, at the end of the game, North was in semi-desperation mode and starting to foul with a minute left. As a South player drove to the hoop, it looked to me as if about 3 fouls could have been called (particularly given the way that the game had been called to that point), but none was called until the South player was shooting. South converted the 3-point opportunity, dealing a fatal blow to North’s hope of winning. As always with refs, they did a better job than I could have, and I thank them for their service, but there’s always room for improvement.

So, after a few moments in a cold hallway trying futilely to figure out how to meet up with the coach, Brendan and I headed out to my car and began the trip home. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday night, if you ask me. It probably won’t compare to tonight, though, as I check out UWM’s final regular-season home game. Is it really that late in the year?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Wait, Bob Knight's Still Alive?

Last night’s viewing was a tad delayed, as I had the first opportunity in awhile to cook a decent dinner. So, I missed Syracuse’s big loss, which shocked me a bit when I heard about it on Sportscenter this morning. Anyway, I did end up catching most of the second half of the Kansas-Texas Tech game last night. Wow, am I glad I turned that one on. It’s not every night that the #2 team in the country loses in double overtime. My thoughts:

1) I hadn’t watched much of Kansas with Wayne Simien, since he was injured in a good number of the games that interested me. In any event, I can certainly see what Simien brings to the table, because even though Kansas lost last night, they looked better to me.

2) This weekend I was out with some friends and someone noted their shock at the fact that Texas Tech was ranked. I matter-of-factly noted that this was true, not letting on that just two days earlier I had also been oblivious to this fact. The Red Raiders really seem to be flying under the radar this year. I can’t really name anyone on their team, and one of my friends even noted that he had forgotten that Bob Knight was there. Well, when you knock off Kansas, I think you finally show up on the radar. I look to hear a bit more about Texas Tech in the coming weeks.

3) The shots by Kansas to send the game into the first and second overtimes as the clock was running down each time were a lesson in contrast. At the end of regulation, Keith Langford essentially went coast-to-coast, and it almost looked like no one was trying to stop him. At the end of the first overtime, someone actually stopped Langford, and Kansas managed in only 10 seconds to pass the ball around enough times to make Norman Dale proud before getting a layup. Of course, this passing was largely due to their desperation and inability to drive this time around. Kind of interesting to see how many ways the Jayhawks could score.

4) Credit to Darryl Dora for a gutsy shot to win for Texas Tech. After teammate Jarrius Jackson jacked up a bad three-pointer that missed terribly while the Red Raiders were down two and on their final possession, it would have made sense to work the ball inside and try to tie it up and send the game to another overtime. Instead, when Dora got the ball, he put up another three-point bomb, and won the game. I, of course, was thinking how stupid he was while the ball was in the air. That, you see, is why I’m not a coach.

5) After Dora’s three, there was just over 3 seconds for Kansas to get a shot off. Coming off a time-out they lined up to inbound. Texas Tech did not guard the inbounding player. In general, I think I agree with this strategy, but I’d hate to be the coach to have it backfire, and then have to answer questions for the next week about the decision. Duke effectively tainted this game-situation forever back in 1992.

And since I only saw half of the game, here are some bonus thoughts from my weekend, which I forgot to cover yesterday:

1) Saturday night found me rushing away from dinner to get to a friend's surprise birthday party (yes, it seems everyone had a birthday this weekend). In the car ride back, my friend Kosta and I remembered that the Marquette-East Carolina game was on, and would be nearing the end. So we flipped the game on. As we arrived at the location of the surprise party, there were 20 seconds left in the game. Kosta's as much of a basketball junkie as I am (he's one of the few people I know willing to go to high school games with me), so normally, we would have just sat in the car and waited for the game to end. On Saturday night, however, it would have hurt the surprise factor a bit to have two yahoos out in front of the hall where the party was listening to basketball in a car. The game seemed pretty close to a lock for ECU, anyway, since Marquette was, I believe, down 2 with 20 seconds left and ECU had the ball. So, I wrote off the game and went into the party. Imagine my shock a couple hours later when my friend Dave checked the score on his cell phone and said that Marquette had won in overtime. I'm still not too excited about Marquette's unlikely chances at making the NCAA tournament, but at least they finally gutted out a tough win, rather than failing to get a shot off at key moments, as has been the case recently.

2) At 1:30am Sunday morning, as the birthday evening was starting to wind down, I actually got into an argument with my friend Brian's mother after she said that she didn't think Greg Stiemsma was going to be all that great at Wisconsin. I'm actually kind of proud that I got into a basketball argument about a legitimate topic when basketball should have been just about the last thing on my mind. I'm also embarrassed that as part of my argument that Stiemsma would be a phenomenal success someday soon, I broke out the line "I have tape of Stiemsma from when he was in high school that would blow your mind!" I might as well have exclaimed to anyone within an 8 foot radius "I am a nerd!" That said, last night I began transferring my VHS basketball library to DVD. So yeah, I am a nerd.

And there are your two bonus thoughts. Tonight, my plans still take me to Waukesha South for the heated North-South rivalry. In preparation, I spent a bit of time last night checking out the South-Catholic Memorial game that’s currently on the Wisconsin On-Demand that my cable system provides (finally, a great use of new technology—the ability for me to cue up random high school basketball games at any time). I partly wanted to see South’s star guard, but I also wanted to see what my seating options would be in what’s sure to be a crowded gym tonight. I think I’ll be okay. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow, though.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A Hazy Slate of Games

Well, it was my birthday this past weekend, as well as the birthday of a close friend, not to mention my mother’s birthday as well, so there was a lot of celebrating, and less basketball viewing than normal. I would like to thank the schedule-makers from the Big Ten for giving me a Wisconsin-Illinois game on my big day. I was hoping that Bo Ryan would give me a big win for the birthday, but it was not to be. Illinois is just too good. I’d break things down for you, but other than the standard comments about how the Badgers can’t shoot free throws, Dee Brown is really good foul shooter, Illinois defended Mike Wilkinson well and Nick Smith is goofy looking, I can’t add to much on this one that wouldn’t be better covered elsewhere. I haven’t actually checked yet, but if you’re looking for good game commentary, you can probably check out two of my faves, Big Ten Wonk and Illini Wonk. Like I said, I haven’t checked out either one yet, but both of these guys are far more reliable than me with the updates, and usually have some insightful and entertaining commentary.

Beyond that, I saw a high school game on Friday night—Tosa East at Brookfield East. Brookfield got down early, and was never totally able to fight back. The Spartans also ran a zone defense as well as I’ve seen in a long time, and had a point guard (I want to say it was Jeff Smith) who did as good a job defending Jerry Smith (who had one of the more pedestrian games I’ve seen him have this year) as I’ve seen all season when Brookfield either came out of its zone, or a matchup was required in the zone. Other than an unfortunate seating choice that placed me and my friend directly in front of about 40 screaching grade school girls who would later perform the halftime show, it was a solid evening, and as with most Friday night high school games, it ended early enough for me to pursue other social opportunities later on.

In other high school news, Marquette lost to West Allis Central this weekend. Marquette was minus its two best players, but nonetheless, it’s proving to be a perplexing year for a Hilltopper squad that I figured to be a big-time player in the state this year. Of course, as far as I know, both everyone should be healthy and ready to go by playoff time, making Marquette likely the toughest 5-seed in the state, in the always ridiculous Milwaukee Sectional #8, which is almost as entertaining as the state tournament for me.

And I attempted to watch North Carolina-UConn yesterday afternoon, but seeing as I had been out until 3am the prior evening for the birthday, one can readily guess why I was unable to sit through the game and needed to return to bed. Indeed, that same reason is responsible for my lack of comprehensive update yesterday evening. And for any of you lucky enough to check here on Sunday, it’s also the reason for my one paragraph of misspelled words that probably had nothing to do with basketball (I personally was too embarrassed to recount what I might have written). I really need to stay away from the computer after I’ve been drinking.

As for the week, I’m likely in tonight for Big Monday, tomorrow night should take me to the Waukesha North-Waukesha South showdown for title of best in Waukesha (though this fails to consider both Waukesha West and Catholic Memorial, which I suppose is a minor oversight on my part), Wednesday and Thursday have televised Wisconsin and Marquette games (and a possible trip downtown for some UWM action) and Friday offers a brand new slate of high school games. As always, this schedule is subject to change, based on my whims.

Friday, February 11, 2005

A Tribute to the Mustache Man

Today's going to be a bit of a different update, since due to a call to do some emergency substitute bowling, the only basketball that I watched last night was the last 7 minutes of the UWM game. There is something to talk about, though, since once I got home I received an email that astounded me, and was particularly appropriate, seeing as it dealt with bad facial hair and I was returning from a bowling alley.

Now, I don't often get email at the site address. Occassionally a friend will send me something (though most use my real email address), and occasionally another blog proprietor will exchange comments with me for one reason or another. I pretty much figured that other than my friends, and a couple of other guys that like to write about basketball, no one else stops by. Well, I guess I was wrong.

As some of you may remember, last week I had the opportunity to take in the Beloit-Grinnell game on television. During my write-up of this game, in my second point I opted to mock Beloit player Derek Allen and his conspicuous mustache. I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Derek for my malicious attack on his facial hair. Last evening I received this email, from Mr. Allen himself (reposted with his permission, of course):

Mr. West,

I was introduced to your blog by one of my other fraternity brothers recently. It seems that my mustache has become a bit of national icon and I felt the need to defend myself against your cheap shot against my facial hair. Many people have been disappointed to find that I usually don't have the sweet porn stache. I grew it especially for the game as a bit of an inside joke. My plan has worked perfectly as about 3/4 of people think I'm serious (which is awesome) and 1/4 of people get the joke and so in this sense I am a cult classic on par with Meatballs. My only regret is that my rec specs did not arrive in time. Also, in an interesting aside, I have been approached by someone in LA about actually doing porn (I shit you not). I'm glad you noticed the sweet porn stache and keep on trucking brother.


So, as it turns out, Derek Allen is not just some fool who's unaware of the fact that mustaches went out about 20 years ago, but in fact, he is a bit of a comic genius. When faced with a rare opportunity to play basketball on national television , how many of us could truly say that we would come up with something as creative and hilarious as wearing a style of facial hair that has not been seen on a basketball court since Richie Farmer played for Kentucky in 1992? I'm mildly angry at myself for not catching on to the gag and needing the prankster to explain it to me, but even so, I can appreciate the genius in this act. Simply astounding. I only wish that the rec specs had come in in time so that tools like me, who still legitimately wear rec specs, could have a role model.

And in the end, I'm not sure what is most entertaining to me in this whole scenario:

1) The mustache joke itself
2) The fact that Mr. Allen ended up reading my comments
3) The fact that someone saw the game on TV and actually thought "Hey, that guy has a mustache--I wonder if he'd like to do porn."

Alas, though Mr. Allen has become a bit of a D-3 basketball celebrity, garnering cheers at various gyms throughout the midwest, he also reports that his coaches are not among fans of his joke, and have drastically reduced his playing time as a result of his stunt. Keep fighting the good fight, though, Derek. I think we all know that the mustache was worth it, and there's always next year, after this thing blows over. After what you've accomplished, you're already one of my heros.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Wednesday Night Basketball Bonanza

Wow, great night of basketball last night. But before I get to that, a quick piece of housekeeping--my comments section yesterday had two readers comment on omissions on my part of the happenings of the Notre Dame-Boston College game, and the Illinois-Michigan game. I recognize the significance of both of these games. The former featured one of only two undefeated teams in the country falling to a school which one of my good friends works at and is a fan of. The latter featured the nation’s other undefeated team nearly falling to a team that recently lost by 30 to Purdue. Both were important games, but I assure you that I did not delete or forget to comment on these games. Fact is, I saw neither of them--I was at a high school game last night, as I feel is pretty clear. Illinois-Michigan is on the DVR box, but there's no chance I'll get to it this week with my schedule. Let’s remember, I don’t so much write about basketball as I write about myself watching basketball. It’s a fine distinction, but my ego makes all the difference. That said, I did forget to give a shout out to my buddy T.J., who no doubt is psyched that Notre Dame took a step forward. As for Illinois, nice to see them stay undefeated. While it’s probably my moral duty to hate the Illini since they’re a rival of my favorite team, they’re just not an unlikable team, so I’ll be rooting for them, with the exception of this Saturday and any future chance encounters with Wisconsin-based teams.

Anyway, on to the night. After stopping at Sentry on the way home and trying figure out what wine goes best with Kraft macaroni and cheese, I headed home for a night of sitting in my chair and watching basketball. I haven’t moved that little in a long time. I watched the first half of the Wisconsin-Iowa game before getting fed up and grabbing the radio to listen to the second half of the Marquette-TCU game as I watched the Wisconsin-Iowa game. The duel game plan confused me less than I thought, and I was pretty fired up at both games, since both were pretty exciting. Then I cued up the North Carolina-Duke game from my DVR box, and watched that in its entirety. It was a lot of basketball tonight, and I don't want to break it down game by game. So, I'm going rapid fire. Larry King-style, if you will. Whatever comes into my mind from viewing and listening is going down below, in no particular order:

1) No George Thompson on the radio broadcast tonight. I'm not sure why, since I tuned in late, but I would have to speculate that Briggs and Stratton was making a major decision and didn't want to be without their top man. In any event, former Marquette center Jim McIlvaine filled in nicely. I know McIlvaine has done games before, but I'd never tuned into one. Sounded like a pro to me--definitely better than Mike Kelley on the Badger television broadcast. I may be a tad biased, though, as McIlvaine is sort of a hero of mine. Any guy who's smart enough to parlay one month of good basketball in the NBA into a contract that sets him up comfortably for life is okay by me.

2) Whoa! Maybe I haven't been watching ESPN enough, but when did Steve Lavin decide to stop gelling his hair into a helmet-like shape? I actually didn't recognize who he was during his part of the interview with Bruce Weber at the halftime of the North Carolina-Duke game. It was a bit disconcerting to see Lavin with a normal hair style, but hopefully in time we'll all get used to him not looking like a parody of all basketball coaches.

3) Why does Iowa always have a semi-balding big man that looks like that crafty dude from the playground who's about 35 and always sneaks up and scores 25 on you? Greg Brunner, I'm looking in your general direction.

4) Tom Crean sounded absolutely spent after the TCU game tonight. I wanted to give the guy a hug. His voice was hoarse, he sounded mentally and physically tired, and was doing his best to stay positive in the wake of a tough loss. I'm no stranger to criticizing Crean, but tonight, he had my full support. Marquette may be losing a few games this year, but it's not doing so because of any lack of effort on the part of Crean or his players.

5) The Marquette-TCU and Wisconsin-Iowa games were strangely similar tonight, as both teams got off to slow starts, got down by about 14, and creeped back into the game. In the final three minutes, I found myself yelling at the television or the radio for shots to fall, and then noticing that shots were up in both games as I was yelling. I thought both teams had their games won at one point, and began thinking about how much fun it would be to write about two gutty wins by the state teams. Both teams closed strong, too, but apparently TCU managed to make a tough, well-defended shot. Sometimes the difference between winning and losing isn't much.

6) The one thing that didn't go well in the final seconds for Marquette was their last offensive possession. This is the second time in two weeks that I've heard a game on the radio with the clock winding down and Dameon Mason making a mistake with the ball. Can someone get the ball to Diener? Marquette has never had the best offensive sets in the world, so I'd at least feel a bit better if the ball was in the hands of a guy that is at least going to get some sort of semi-legitimate shot off--even if he's double teamed.

7) UNC-Duke turned into one heck of a game, but it started out as one of the fastest, sloppiest games that I've seen all year. In the first 4:30, the teams combined for 11 turnovers. The Heels came out of the gates and almost immediately turned the ball over 3 consecutive times. Thank goodness these guys settled down, because early on, this game had the makings of the worst ever game played between two top-10 teams.

8) Kammron Taylor is suddenly becoming no stranger to scoring 20 points for the Badgers. It’s still unclear whether he’s going to come out and drop 25, or turn the ball over 6 times and finish with 5 points, but he’s definitely progressed from earlier this year. He still doesn’t do anything that blows me away, but part of that might have to do with my unwillingness to accept anyone that comes after Devin Harris.

9) You know the Badgers are banged up when Jason Chappell gets into the game in the first half. Actually, with the exception of 14-year-old walk-on Tanner Bronson, everyone on the Badgers bench got involved. Of course, Chappell, Greg Stiemsma, and Michael Flowers weren’t out there for long and didn’t show all that much in terms of play, but at least I can’t think of a tangible reason to mock Chappell today.

10) As with any UNC-Duke game, Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale had a thermometer out to show how hot the building was. I always doubted the heat factor until I made it down to Duke my senior year in college and had my buddy Andy sneak me into a lesser game with him (an experience that probably deserves its own recap). I can definitively say after that experience, though, that it would be tough for heat to not play a role in any game at Cameron. I spent most of the game sweating like a pig, and I wasn’t even running up and down the floor. Of course, being in the student section at Duke is a workout in and of itself, particularly if you’re a lazy, out of shape guy like me.

11) At one point during the Badger game they flashed on the screen that Steve Alford has been at Iowa for six years. Has it really been that long? I suppose it has, since my only memory of Alford before Iowa is his Southwest Missouri State team holding a Dick Bennett-coached Badger team to 32 points in the NCAA tournament. Still, it seems that in six years Alford would have done something of greater consequence. Man, it sure doesn’t feel like six years.

There’s probably more to be said, but I’m satisfied with the above 11 points. Tonight’s viewing will feature the UWM-Loyola game on TV, and perhaps some snippets of Washington State-Oregon State. I’m still astounded that UWM gets to be on TV in a game that is likely to be an easy win for them, yet Marquette can’t get a conference road game at TCU televised in Milwaukee. I enjoy watching UWM as much as the next guy, but even I would take the Marquette-TCU game if I had to choose. Thank goodness for the Big East next year, since I think it will be tough for the programmers to ignore a road game at Syracuse.

Happy viewing!

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