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.


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