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.