Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Farewell to Bruce Pearl

In not-so-shocking news, Bruce Pearl is headed to Tennessee. And I can’t blame him, though I would have loved to have had him back, and I generally agree with those who say that Tennessee isn’t the greatest head coaching gig in the world. Critics of the Tennessee job will tell you that men’s basketball still lags behind women’s basketball, and Vols football when it comes to fan interest, and that a string of coaches at Tennessee have failed to overcome this fact. And they would be right. But the facts add up to making this the right job for Pearl right now.

Pearl is hotter than he’s ever been, or is likely to ever be. Tennessee is one of only three semi-big-time programs that is looking for a coach this year. Tennessee is also throwing buckets of money at Pearl. The choice is simple. If it doesn’t make sense to you, answer these questions:

1) Why not wait a year for better jobs to open up? Bruce Pearl will still be a red-hot commodity in a year.

--Yeah, and he might not be. Remember when Tom Crean was coaching Marquette to the Final Four and Illinois was said to be interested in him? It made tremendous sense at the time, since Crean was the “it” guy and achieved incredible early success. A few years and a few NITs later, do you think if Bruce Weber were kidnapped by terrorists that top-ranked Illinois would go anywhere near Crean (who has a pretty good gig already, anyway)? If head coaches think they can get more money or more prestige, they have to strike when they’re at their peak. They’re usually not as good as their best years or as bad as their worst years. If you are looking to cash out and you’re Bruce Pearl, there’s never been a better time than now. Why turn your back on a sure $850,000 per year in hopes of finding something better later on?

2) Why a difficult job like Tennessee? Why not UMass or Virginia?

--It’s not a great lot, but for Bruce Pearl, Tennessee’s the best of the lot. Pushing aside that UMass already got their man, I’ve never thought of that as a high-prestige job. Sure, some nice things happened in the early-1990s, but that’s a pretty brief span of attention, and the A-10 isn’t a killer conference. Virginia is probably the best job out there, but like lots of the ACC schools, Virginia is an unbelievable academic school. That doesn’t strike me as a fit for Pearl, whose roster at UWM was full of transfers, juco and otherwise. That leaves Tennessee. They’re in a good conference, they’ve got nice facilities, and they have a few blemishes, but they’ve also got an $850,000 check for you. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best out there.

So who does UWM get now? The three names talked about most often these days are Wisconsin assistant Rob Jeter, two-time defending D3 national champ coach Jack Bennett, and the wildcard, Rick Majerus. My choice from the moment that I realized Pearl leaving would be a possibility was Bennett. UWM has gone to stellar lower level head coaches before (Pearl from D2, Bo Ryan from D3) and each has had tremendous success since making the move up. Why not work the formula again. Detractors will ask why you would take an up-tempo team and hand it off to the brother of Dick Bennett, master of the slow-down game. To them I say look at Jack Bennett’s Stevens Point teams, and you’ll see a team that generally puts up 80 points per game. Don’t confuse Jack with his perpetually tormented brother. The main question that I would have about Bennett is whether he’d want the job, and if he’d be willing to move. I’m sure he’s got a nice little niche carved out for himself in the Stevens Point community.

Of course, Majerus throws a monkey wrench into the whole deal, because if he wanted to coach in his hometown, it would be awesome. He’s a huge name, he’d keep people coming to the arena, and we know he can coach. And though he’s turned down better jobs, he has some bizarre love for his hometown of Milwaukee (he lives here now) that even beats out my feelings for the city, so you can’t rule it out as you would for any other mid-major. Longer term, I’d take Bennett, but I wouldn’t be angry if Majerus got back into the game. It reminds me of when his name was mentioned for the Wisconsin vacancy a few years back. My choice from the beginning (and I can back this up—my old college roommate Ross will document that as far back as 1998 I was throwing this opinion out) was Bo Ryan, who seemed to be the Badgers’ fifth choice. And while I would have been disappointed if the Badgers had hired Brad Soderberg, or Ben Braun, or Ray McCallum, over Ryan, Majerus wouldn't have outwardly angered me. You can’t help but like the guy, even when he's not the most prudent choice. If health allows and he’s interested, though, strictly from a marketing standpoint, he’d have to be the guy.

And then there’s Jeter, who is an assistant, so I don’t know much about him, other than that he’s supposed to be a good recruiter, and that when he plays with the Badgers in practice, he’s better than a good portion of the players on the current Wisconsin roster. Maybe he’d be nice, but UWM is at a pretty tough spot right now. I don’t want to take a chance on giving some guy his first job. Though, there’s a good chance I could be horrifically wrong on this one.

So there’s my call. I’ll be interested if UWM finds someone completely different without state ties, though. Let’s not forget, a few years back I picked up a paper and started reading, thinking “Hmmm, who’s this Bruce Pearl guy? I wonder if he’ll be any good.” So, I’ll let my faith rest with UWM. The last two decisions have worked out pretty well.

Monday, March 28, 2005

All-Tattoo Team

A bonus update for everyone today, compliments of my friend Dez. While chatting on the phone with Dez on Saturday evening, he made an offhand remark that he was trying to find a 5th starter for his all-tattoo team of the tournament. I told him that I needed him to give that to me in writing so that I could toss it into an update. Today he did just that, and it is a phenomenal team, I must say. So without further adieu, here's Dez's 2005 NCAA tournament all-tattoo team. Enjoy:

As we discussed the other night, I've named the NCAA Tournament All-Tattoo team. There were plenty of tattoos in the tournament this year, plenty of barbed wire arm bands, lots of Chinese symbols, dice, cards, crosses and baby's momma's names but to make this team, you've got to be creative (or really white with Division 3 biceps).

The point guard on this team is Mike Nardi from Villanova. He's listed at 175, but that's a little generous. His arm is covered with a big, orange basketball (which wraps around most of his arm), which has "Mike D" scrawled across it. Apparently Mike is moonlighting with the Beastie Boys.

At shooting guard, we're going with Deron Williams from Illinois. Deron also goes with the large basketball, though his arms are much more respectable than Nardi's. Williams has chosen to go with the state of Texas under the ball and a bunch of stuff on his other arm. It's hard to get a good luck at that other arm, since the basketball / Texas arm has the brightest orange color I've ever seen in a tattoo, which really just leads to a bunch of questions - did he choose Illinois so the colors coordinated? Will he add the State of Illinois to the mix? Is that where Bruce Weber's tailor got the color for that sport coat?

Our small forward is Rashad McCants from North Carolina. Rashad brings some literary talent to the squad, with his bicep ink reading "Born to be hated" on one arm, "Dying to be loved" on the other. Is that Shakespeare? While I normally assume college athletes are majoring in General Studies, African American Studies, Communications or some other broad major, I'm guessing Rashad's going the English Literature route.

With at big performance in the Sweet 16 (okay it was only 6 minutes, with no points and two turnovers) Wisconsin's Jason Chappell makes the first team. I don't even know what that is on his arm. All I could see was a lot of ink, not a lot of arm. If psychiatrists ever start to use tattoos for the ink blot recognition test, Jason's got himself a job.

As for the center, I have to admit, I've been Pittsnogled. As a native West Virginian, tattooing is in this guy's blood. He's not the best basketball player to come out of West Virginia, but he is giving Jason "White Chocolate" Williams a run for best heavily tattooed basketball player to come out of the Mountain State. Jerry West might have the NBA logo modeled after his image, but could there possibly be a better candidate for the D-League logo?

So there you have it, your All-tattoo, All-tournament team. Not exactly "One Shining Moment" but I'm sure there's a theme song out there somewhere for these guys.

Best Weekend Ever

Has there ever been a weekend of games quite like that? Wow. When three of four regional finals go into overtime, and the fourth one isn’t decided until the final two minutes, you know you’ve got a good weekend of basketball. While I missed a few of the regional semi-finals due to late game times, and actually attempting to craft a social life that can exist independent of basketball games on Friday night, I still managed to see the bulk of every regional final game. A quick thought on each:

--Louisville-West Virginia was seemingly as good as it gets. West Virginia shoots the ball about as well as I’ve ever seen in the first half, despite consistently pulling up from places that no rational person would ever take a shot. Louisville fights back into the game in the second half, and overtakes West Virginia in overtime while its best player sits on the bench, having fouled out, for the final nine minutes. Instant classic. I was a tad disappointed at the outcome, since if I feel like dropping a Kevin Pittsnogle reference into conversation this week, it’s going to sound really forced now.

--Illinois-Arizona: First, let me apologize to the Wildcats for proclaiming them vastly overrated for the entire year. I was wrong, and apologize for that. However, Illinois’ comeback from 15 down with four minutes to go to send the game to overtime ranks among the best comebacks ever. My friend Kosta called me during overtime to ask what the hell was going on, since he had left his television and was hearing the miraculous comeback on the radio. You only see a game like this every couple of years, and you can’t help but enjoy it (particularly since I’m a big fan of the way Illinois has played this year).

--North Carolina-Wisconsin: Well, it’s the end of the line for my team from Madison. Much like Arizona, all year I said that the Badgers weren’t as good as people thought they were. As usual, I was wrong. They pushed one of the two best teams in the country close to their limit, and ended the season much later than I thought they would. If there’s any consolation in this loss, it’s that Sean May, my favorite collegiate player for the past two years, did most of the damage to the Badgers. I actually had the opportunity to take in this game on a gigantic HDTV with my friend Kosta, who was house-sitting for some people with a gorgeous television. Instead, I stuck around my brother’s house after Easter brunch and watched the game on his small-ish television with a group of people that, with one or two exceptions, didn’t know all that much about basketball. If I wasn’t sure before that I loved my family, I know that I do now, since somehow, I made this decision by my own free will. I think it just warmed my heart that a roomful of 5 people would defer to me and watch basketball. It was awesome. And in all the fun that I was having, it did not set in to me until I was going to bed that night that yesterday was the last time I would see Mike Wilkinson in a Badger uniform. That’s going to be a tough hole to fill.

--Michigan State-Kentucky: Well, if not for the fact that Louisville came back from a 20-point first half deficit, and Illinois miraculously charged back from 15 down in the final four minutes if its game, this would have been the game of the weekend. And when a game that goes to overtime on a wild, last second three-pointer that it takes upwards of five minutes to confirm as legitimate is the third most exciting game of the weekend, you know that you’ve got two days that likely will never be duplicated. Michigan State went to its stall offense a bit too early in my estimation, and Kentucky took advantage. I’d also argue that the shooter on that wild three-pointer at the end of regulation was fouled, but I can’t complain too much about the outcome. Watching Michigan State close out a game now was fun. Earlier in the year I heard a radio interview with Tom Izzo where he basically called his team soft. He didn’t use the actual word soft, but it was as pointed as I’ve ever heard a coach. Well, I’d say they’re not so soft now. Izzo managed to get them back after a few bumps in the road, and for that he should be commended. Oh, and one final thought: Chris Hill had all-American potential as a freshman at Michigan State, and yesterday he spent probably the last seven minutes on the bench. He can’t feel good about that.

So that’s the weekend. With Wisconsin teams done, I’m going to begin my wind-down this week and go on semi-hiatus until next season. I suspect I’ll be commenting on Bruce Pearl hitting the jackpot at Tennessee tomorrow, but after that it will be time to review my pre-season predictions, point out various places this year that I was horrifically wrong about things (see Arizona above), and look to the future. Three more games to go…

Friday, March 25, 2005

Battle of the Homers 2005: Wisconsin vs. N.C. State

Well, it’s finally here—the March Madness 2005 Battle of the Homers. Here’s a recap of what this is all about: Wisconsin plays North Carolina State tonight in the NCAA tournament. In honor of this event, we’ve posed four questions to two men. One of these men is a rabid Wisconsin fan who lives in Madison. The other is an equally rabid N.C. State fan who resides in Raleigh. Names will not be used, to protect the participants’ anonymity (though anyone who knows me personally will likely know the person that I asked to take the Wisconsin point of view). Each participant has been asked to give short answers to each question, and not to be afraid to show their bias or look like a homer. Neither has seen the other’s answer ahead of time. What follows should give us some insight into how the game tonight will go, and give us some idea of what concerns the most dedicated of fans.

And with that, I give you the questions and answers. All answers are posted undedited, as I received them. In fairness to both participants, the Wisconsin participant will lead off Questions 1 and 3. N.C. State will get first crack at Questions 2 and 4.

1) We all know that each team in the N.C. State-Wisconsin showdown has a star player (Julius Hodge of the Wolfpack, and Mike Wilkinson of the Badgers). Without referencing either of these men directly, what will propel your team to victory and prove them to be the better squad.

Wisconsin Fan:
Ah, where to begin? First, I think our system gives us an advantage. To score against our defense takes a lot of patience and a willingness to work hard. And to defend against the swing offense takes a lot of discipline…anyone of the starters is capable of leading the team in scoring on any given night, depending on what the defense gives up. You’ve got to be prepared to play disciplined team D for 40 minutes, and not many teams are.

Along those lines, our versatility is a key. Any one of 6 guys can lead our team in scoring…Wilkinson, Tucker, Morley, Chambliss, Taylor, or Hanson. You can’t slack off against the Badgers. Look at our 2 tourney games thus far. The first game, Northern Iowa packed it in, so we were lead to victory by our guards, as Wilkinson and Tucker combined for only 13. Against Bucknell, there was more room inside, so Wilkinson, Tucker, and Morley combined for 55 points. Similarly on the defensive end, we have the depth to match up a number of different ways. Julius Hodge is a tremendous player and will obviously be a force to be reckoned with. Expect to see him matched up against Morley, Hanson, Tucker, or Nixon. Because we can show him so many different looks, we should be able to keep him in check.

The Badgers are also peaking at the right time. After struggling through their senior years, Morley and Chambliss have stepped up their games in the tourney. Kam Taylor has been solid, and Wilkinson and Tucker have continued their top-notch play. That’s a recipe for success.

N.C. State Fan:
Winners of 8 of its last 11. Each player on the NC State roster since about mid-February finally figured out what each others role was and has accepted it, thrown personal goals out the window and consistently stepped up each game. The Pack has advanced to the Sweet 16 without its 2nd leading scorer Tony Bethel and seen limited minutes from another Senior starter Jordan Collins who averaged around 14 ppg his last 4 games before hurting his shoulder vs. Wake in the crotch punch game. Point being that each player on the team has stepped up his game and helped the team in some way get the Pack to the Sweet 16 despite a little adversity. The Pack has been playing relentless defense (other than JJ dropping 35 in the ACC Tourney), they are doing a great job of making adjustmentsand being everywhere on the defensive end. They just held Charlotte to 63 points and UCONN to 62, well below each teams average. Overall what will propel 10 seeded NC State to victory will be itstenacity on the defensive end and its ability to be patient with itsoffense and continue to take great shots each possession.

2) Herb Sendek and Bo Ryan are each solid coaches. What makes your guy better?

N.C. State Fan:
The 2004 ACC Coach of the Year Herb Sendek does a fantasic job ofgetting his teams ready for their opponent. His teams are thoroughly prepared for whatever situation a team may throw at them. He does an excellent job of scouting and has proven to make key in game adjustments to help give his team an advantage. Overshadowed in this area by some guy whose last name starts with K and Roy boy, but doesn't care, he just goes about his business working hard believing in his philosophy sticking to it thick and thin and building NC State Basketball into a solid ACC program that our fans should be proud of.

The guy tells stories about Budda in his press conferences for cryingout loud. Come on give him some originality points for that!!

Wisconsin Fan:
Well, first, his name is better. Bo sounds tough; Herb sounds like someone who’s going to sell you car insurance.

One thing that I really feel sets Bo apart from the rest is his ability to keep his players on an even keel. Over a 30+ games season, you really have to treat the next game as though it’s the most important game of the season. If you start getting really jacked up for the big games, you suffer lulls and get beat by the inferior teams (see Marquette and Tom Crean). Bo keeps us focused night in, night out.

Bo also gets players to buy into his system. If you don’t, you won’t see the floor. Because of this, you don’t see players making, to be blunt, dumb plays. Everyone on the floor understands their role and what they need to do to get the W.

Along those lines, Bo coaches a system that gives you a chance to win every game, even if it’s an off night. Play tough team defense, don’t foul, get to the foul line, and take care of the damn ball. And we do a great job at each of those items. Because of that, we win games with less than Carolina talent. We can win games when the shots aren’t falling. Most importantly, we can win games.

And finally, Bo has won championships. Granted, they were at the DIII level, but winning is an attitude. Some coaches know what it takes to get their players to the top, regardless the level of competition. Bo is one of those coaches.

3) Please explain to us any peripheral factors (i.e., coolness of mascot, attractiveness of dance team, random fan hand signs) that you feel elevates your program over its opponent.

Wisconsin Fan:
A few items come to mind that clearly demonstrate the superiority of the Badger program. In no particular order:

· The sweaty European factor: Anyone who has watched the Badgers run through their pre-game warm-up knows what I’m talking about. The Wolfpack may have Evtimov, but we’ve got Andreas Helmingk. If there’s one thing you can count on during every Badger game, it’s Andreas sweating through his jersey DURING WARM-UPS. He’s like the old, sweaty guy in rec league…do you really want to get close enough to guard him?

· Mike Mahnke’s player introductions: Specifically, his introduction when Andreas is in the starting line-up. Turns out Mr. Mahnke (I’m really not sure if I’m spelling that right) studied in Germany and speaks fluent German. This allows him to announce the Austrian-born Helmingk entirely in German. His spitting, slobbering intro is un-speakably cool, and is a perfect lead-in for Andreas as he stands there drenched after the shoot-around (see my first point).

· The girlfriend/fiancée hot-ness factor: This point is based pretty much on Senior Day, when both Helmingk and Wilkinson walked out with parents and girlfriend/fiancée in tow. Everyone knows Alexis Schrubbe (Mike’s woman), as she tends to get more face-time than Bo Ryan during Badger games. Despite this over-exposure, she remains a very attractive young woman. More surprising was Andreas’s woman. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Mr. Helmingk is a particularly attractive man. But I’m telling you, Andreas has done very well for himself in the girlfriend department…definitely over-achieving. With the promise of post-game lovin’ from women like this, how can we lose?

· We travel well: This may sound like a bit of a lame answer to this question, but it’s true. If our women’s intramural water polo team were to make the Final Four (if one existed), we’d have a band and a drunk student section there.

N.C. State Fan:
Well I do have to admit I enjoy watching the Badger student section Jump Around at football and I am also a big fan of the Budweiser song (Ga Tech plays it also). But the fast fight song played at the last media timeout is sure to give any State fan chills while everyone in the arena is standing and clapping. We also put the Longhorn hook em symbol to shame with our random fan hand sign of the Wolf. See attached picture of Julius Hodge. (Editor’s note—see preceding post for picture. Scroll down now, as not to lose the effect. I’m still bad with computers, otherwise I’d find a way to put it here.)

4) Since your team will obviously be advancing to the next round, and then the Final Four, please detail what will happen in your teams' defeat of North Carolina (assuming they advance to have the honor of playing you).

N.C. State Fan:
How NC State will beat Carolina huh? Hmmm... well for starters it islate March and Roy Williams is the coach of the Tarheels now, so theodds of a classic Roy Williams choke job increase with each round thatthe Holes I mean Heels advance. Head to head NC State will control the tempo and limit the Tarheel possesion count. NC State will go bonanza from 3pt range knocking down 12 or more 3's. Sean May will get in foul trouble and Raymond Felton is due to have one of his 8 turnover or more games. What better game for that to happen than a regional final! McCants will pout the whole game while #24 takes him to school. Overall NC State will want the game more and somehow survive to the Final Four, maybe an Ilian Evtimov scoop to the hoop at the buzzer for the game winner.

Wisconsin Fan:
This may sound, well, retarded, but I would love to see the Badgers play Carolina (the real Carolina, not some lower-class tech school like in this round). Nation-wide, the Badgers don’t get a lot of attention or repect, though I saw yesterday we’re one of only a handful of teams to make the tournament each of the last 7 years. I was actually a little disappointed that we didn’t get to play Kansas in the second round, though you can’t complain about the Sweet 16. Match-ups against these “legend” programs give the Badgers national exposure and a chance to test themselves against the best. But I digress…

Why can we beat NC? Why not? We played Illinois (the consensus #1 team most of the year) 3 times and held our own every game. In fact, we it not for that 6’-10” stiff Ingram pulling 2- 3’s out of his arse late in the game here in Madison, we would have beaten them. My point is that we’ve experienced the pressure of playing against the best.

Next, to beat Carolina, you have to play great team ball, and no one does that better than the Badgers on both offense and defense. To put it simply, you can’t match-up talent-wise with the Tar Heels. I mean, their 6th man could be the #1 overall pick if he went out this year! Man-for-man, the Tar Heels are at the top. So to beat them, you’ve got play some great, helping defense, because you’re certainly going to get beat off the dribble more than occasionally. Sound like any team we know? No teams moves and helps (apologies to Washington State) like the Badgers. And on offense, our versatility can keep us in the game. Obviously, Mike (Wilkinson) is our star, but Tucker, Morley, Hanson, Chambliss, or Taylor are all capable of leading us in scoring on any given night (and they all have at some point).

Also, Carolina will have a hiccup at some point. No teams makes a run to the title without getting challenged in at least one game along the way. It hasn’t happened thus far, and I don’t think that it will against Villanova. These “hiccup” games tend to occur against teams that play some sort of un-orthodox system. A perfect example is UW-M’s run to Sweet 16. Their run-and-gun, pressing style knocked off both Alabama and BC. While the Swing offense isn’t complete 180 degrees from what most teams run, it’s tough to prepare for in just a day or two.

So how will the game play out? The Wilkinson-May match-up will be a draw. They’re both too good to completely shut down. May will score more, but Mike will get his, too. Mike will also help open up the lane by taking May outside. Mike is a very capable jump-shooter, and playing outside the paint is not in May’s best interest, as he’s a bit plump. Felton and McCants are better than our guards. I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone. This will be a key match-up. In 3 games versus Illinois, the combination of Clayton Hanson, Kam Taylor, Sharif Chambliss, and freshman Michael Flowers did an admirable job of keeping the Illini’s big 3 in check. The Illinois guard trio played well, but they didn’t just go off and dominate the game the way they do more often than not. The game will come down to the Badgers secondary scoring threats. The Tar Heels will focus on stopping Tucker and Wilkinson, as every team does. Clayton’s a good spot-up shooter, but he won’t win this game for us. We will need Kam Sharif hitting from outside to open up the middle and win this game. So my prediction? Tucker and Wilkinson hit their averages for points. I don’t think Hanson will do much…NC is just too quick. The key will be Morley, Kam, and Sharif. I see them combining for around 45. Final score, Badgers 77, Carolina 72.

And there's your battle, folks. Both participants make good points, and our N.C. State fan went so far as forcing me to learn how to post a picture in order to ensure fairness. Our Wisconsin fan loses a point or two for referencing both Wilkinson and Hodge in his answer to question 1, despite a specific prohibition, however I'll forgive him. As I said a few days ago, I think we're all winners in this event. However, if you wish to choose your own winner, leave a comment below or drop me an email. I'll report back on the five votes that I receive later.

And finally, I should note that each participant, though they did answer the call and explain what gives their team an edge, at some point did privately express a healthy respect for its opponent in tonight's contest. So this should be a great game! And since I have primarily a Wisconsin-based group of readers, for more info on the ACC, check out the ACC Basketblog.

And as an aside, post-game UWM vs. Illinois commentary will come this weekend. There's just not enough time right now to make notes about the game containing the best opening 4 minutes that I've ever seen.

Julius Hodge showing us the Wolf hand sign. Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I Am An Ass!

As per my promise in my predition yesterday, I am officially an ass. Not only was I incorrect about the game being either a blowout or a close game, but the exact margin of victory that I offered as an impossibility occurred. What are the odds of that? I suppose this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don't know what I'm talking about.

And with UWM out, big props to West Virginia on advancing to the round of 8. I'm somewhat upset that a cursory internet search has not given me any good leads on where I might look to purchase a replica Kevin Pittsnogle jersey. Anyone with any ideas on this quest, drop me an email. I'd rather just buy the jersey instead of getting tattoos to make me look like Kevin.

The answers are in, and tomorrow morning the highly anticipated "Battle of the Homers" will be final. Until then, you'll just have to sit in suspense for a few more hours.

Official UWM-Illinois Prediction

I wasn’t going to write anything today, but as game time approaches and I gain excitement, I feel the need to end my self-imposed silence. So, I’m going to give you my official UWM-Illinois prediction. First, some analysis. As I’ve noted, if UWM gets a hot hand from 3-point range, they are always tough. If they’re not on fire, lots of what they do is taken away, and they will crash and burn. So, this is either going to be a major challenge for Illinois, or an absolute blowout (with tons of points going to the guy that always gets so far behind the UWM press that you never even see him on TV broadcasts). With that in mind, I present you with my two-part prediction:

1) At the end of the game, the teams will either be within 6 points of one another, or Illinois will win by 24 or more points. There is no middle ground. If neither of these things happen and this is, say, a pedestrian 14-point win for the Illini, I will publically proclaim myself to be an ass either tonight or tomorrow prior to the much anticipated Battle of the Homers.

2) I still hate the matchup, but logic has never proved to be a barrier for me, and I’m swept up in the Milwaukee love-fest that is Panther fever. Thus, I’m predicting that of my two guaranteed scenarios, the former, a game within 6-points, will be the actual outcome. And the Illini will win. There will be no public proclamations on this point, unless I’m correct.
See you after the game...

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

UWM's Season

As a service to any visitors stopping in from the Big Ten Wonk looking for more UW-Milwaukee info, I've decided to give you quick links to most (if not all) of the game recaps that I've done of UWM games this year. Be forewarned that I spend nearly as much time discussing what I got at the concession stand, and what the cheerleaders did (I like to focus on the whole experience), but there are some game thoughts in there, too. I probably should have done this yesterday, but I wanted to get in my cheap shot at Spring Break Shark Attack like everyone else before the statute of limitations on that wore out. Enjoy:

Lawrence exhibition game

vs. Air Force

vs. Wisconsin

vs. Kansas

vs. Detroit

vs. Wright State

vs. Purdue

vs. Butler

Battle of the Homers!!!

First thing's first, significant thoughts of mine today can be found over at the Big Ten Wonk, where I chatted with the Wonk himself regarding UWM, since I've been following the Panthers since exhibition season, and they've got a shot at the Big Ten's best team this weekend. From chatting with many of you who stop by here, I know that most don't need a motive to check the Wonk site out, but in case you're not aware of how comprehensive the coverage is, I'm telling you now. Stop by and you'll be amazed.

Aside from that, in all of the March Madness hoopla, I’ve managed to weigh in with my thoughts on UWM’s Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen (see above link). I’ve managed to detail the end of Marquette’s season and the concerns that I have over the future of the Golden Eagles. I’ve talked about the state high school tournament ad nauseum. However, it has been quite some time since I’ve given any love to the Wisconsin Badgers, the team closest to my heart. That’s all about to change, though, as Friday night’s N.C. State-Wisconsin matchup, though boring to most of the nation is about to get more interesting.

You see, one of my closest friends from my years as a student in Madison went on to get his masters degree at N.C. State. This friend also happens to be one of my more avid readers, and one of my favorite people to watch games with (indeed, he was the driving force behind us attending those 8 high school games this past weekend). In anticipation of the big game, and hopes of learning more about the Wolfpack, I contacted this friend about doing a point-counter point regarding the teams for this forum. He, however, noted that his allegiance was split, I tend to try to be too objective, and this exercise would likely just end with us agreeing on lots of stuff. That’s no fun. Luckily, he had a brilliant alternate suggestion. We could get our more passionate friends involved. He knew a severe Wolfpack fanatic from his days at N.C. State. We both knew of one friend who takes his Badger fandom to another level. Neither is they type to concede that any other team is better than the one from his school. After the willingness of these two men to participate was confirmed, a brand new event was born:

The 2005 March Madness Battle of the Homers!

Four questions for each participant. Each participant gets a paragraph to answer, but is allowed significant leeway if he is feeling particularly passionate about the topic at hand. Neither gets to see his opponent’s response until it is displayed here. This is primarily an exercise in finding out more about each squad, but if you feel that one party should be declared the winner, I'm willing to hear opinions. Look for it sometime before Friday's game. In the meantime, sit tight as the boys work on defending their teams. I can feel the anticipation...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More to follow...

In anticipation of and upcoming weekend of Wisconsin teams in action, I’m working on a few special things, so I don’t have time to come up with much to say. However, in the interest of consistency, here are two more thoughts from the past weekend:

1) Did anyone actually watch "Spring Break Shark Attack" on CBS? I haven’t seen a promo rammed down my throat since Fox was promoting "Skin" a few years back. Incredibly, "Spring Break Shark Attack," a one-time movie, lasted almost as long as "Skin." And I probably don’t need to even say this, but who thought this would be a good plot for a movie?

2) I forgot to mention one of my favorite down-time activities that came up while I was watching high school games at the state tournament. At halftime of most games, of course, most schools had a dance team that would come out to perform. I usually never really watch the dance teams, but at the state tournament, it’s kind of interesting. You see, while each school has proved that it has an excellent basketball team in order to get to the tournament, the dance team just sort of tags along, and as a result, there’s a great range of skill levels. Thus, my friends and I began watching closely, and estimating which squads were performing routines that we could likely complete if we took the time to learn them. There were one or two that I think we could have managed. If we had the option of removing just one move, I think that number would go way up. Sure, some schools would have blown us away, but beyond those elite teams, I think we would hold our own. And I’m sure we’d pick a better song than "Uptown Girl" to perform to.

If you need more stimulation than I could provide today, hop over to the Mid-Majority, which has been re-worked this week to be the "UWM-Majority," since the Panthers are that one special team that’s left. A big congrats to the site’s proprietor who completed his goal of attending 100 games in one season. That’s way more than I managed, and I’m pretty impressed that that’s even possible. Let’s hope he’s back in some form next season, though his season’s end message, which is even more artful than usual, leaves his return far from certain.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Basketball Overload

Wow, what a weekend. Thursday night I had a bunch of guys over to my apartment to watch NCAA games on the four televisions in my living room. Friday morning I headed to Madison to start watching high school games, and stuck around though Saturday taking in college games on TV along the way. I attended eight high school games in person, saw an incredible amount of basketball on television, and generally lived an unhealthy lifestyle based heavily in beer and pizza. The bulk of the notable viewing ended around 11:30pm on Saturday, but there was still something to be seen on Sunday. In short, it was heaven.

Because I saw so much, and because I'm generally pretty long-winded, I could probably pump out about 40 pages of material based on this weekend. Instead, since the two teams that I have been following most closely this year, Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee are in the Sweet Sixteen, I'm going to take it easy on recounting the weekend and let tidbits seep out over time. Wisconsin is still my favorite team, since I did go to school there, but UW-Milwaukee is really the fun story of the weekend. There are about 500 interesting storylines regarding Illinois-UWM, so it could be a fun week. Anyway, here are a few quick thoughts from the weekend.

1) Bar none, the best player at the Wisconsin state high school championships was Wesley Matthews. He was simply unbelievable, coming up with clutch shots and steals play after play. Marquette fans had to be salivating over this young man, since he'll be playing there next year. For a team that needs immediate help, it certainly can't hurt to have an athletic guard with a college-ready body coming in. I saw Matthews earlier in the year at a holiday tournament, and he was nothing like this, so he's come along nicely. Maybe the lofty expectations for Marquette's incoming class are justified this year.

2) Congrats to UW-Stevens Point for taking home a second consecutive division 3 championship. I only saw the Pointers play twice this season, and I never particularly felt like I was in the presence of greatness, but Jack Bennett must really be doing some great things with his boys. As if we needed more to get excited about in Wisconsin right now.

3) UWM’s in the sweet sixteen? Really? Wow. I would have been plenty happy just with the win over Alabama, but to take out Boston College was particularly impressive. Boston College showed in the first half of that game the textbook way to lose to the Panthers, as they fell right into UWM’s pressure defense and ended up running around frantically more often than not. Good adjustments were made in the second half, but BC never quite got over the hump. And I’m happy now, since I have one more game of supreme significance to watch next weekend.

4) Again this year, the high school championships went deep with talented teams, and I’m still not sure which championship team is the best. This idea is particularly well-illustrated by the fact that division 3 champ Whitefish Bay Dominican actually beat division 1 champ Madison Memorial earlier this year. If pressed, I’d still say that Memorial had improved to the point where it was the best team, but I’m not positive, and that’s more than I can say about some years.

5) One of the bizarre highlights of the weekend came late Friday night over beers with some friends. The topic of fan behavior at the high school games came up, and I actually learned something. Earlier in the day, my friends and I sat puzzled as one student section at the tournament randomly began chanting “USA! USA! USA!” Given that I had not heard about Oshkosh being invaded by communists, this display of patriotism was confusing. Patriotism it was not, however, as the high school administrator among us, our friend Boo-Yah, explained that night that “USA!” was merely a covert way of saying “You suck ass.” I think this officially means that youth culture has passed me by, though I can still take some pride in the fact that our friend Steve tipped me off that some of my early-season comments about The Big Shocker led to him educating the WIAA on the possible offensiveness of this item. Apparently, it also led to a lot of laughter, as well, once they found out why this was offensive.

6) I’m not sure where Zach Morley has been all season for Wisconsin, but it’s sure nice that he’s playing like he did last year for the Badgers now that they’re into the stretch run. An array of upsets have set the Badgers up nicely so far, but we’ll see how far they can go with two ACC teams in their path.

7) Anyone who didn’t see the end of the Wake Forest-West Virginia game on Saturday night missed out big time. Players were fouling out left and right. Mike Gansey had as hot a shooting hand as I’ve seen recently. Kevin Pittsnogle was generally looking like everything that a stereotypical West Virginia native should. Double overtime! This game led to my friend T.J. giving one of the most impressive waiting-to-go-home-to-the-wife performances that I’ve seen in NCAA history. I kind of felt bad, since I’m sure T.J. wanted to leave, but watching a game this good is sort of like a moral obligation. He, my friend Kevin and I all pretty much wanted to go to sleep, but none of us could leave the couch until the game was decided.

There’s so much more to be said, but like I said, we’ll let them trickle out this week. For the meantime, let’s just sit back and realize how great a time it is to be a basketball fan in Wisconsin. Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee are in the Sweet Sixteen. Marquette, though down right now, has a player who put up perhaps the best state tournament performance that I’ve ever seen coming to school next year. UW-Green Bay has a recruiting class better than has ever been seen in Green Bay. The division 3 champs reside in Stevens Point. Life couldn’t get much better for a fan.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

UWM Advances!

Well, well, well—it looks like the boys from UWM pulled off the first upset of the NCAA tournament, knocking off Alabama. For the record, yes, I did have it picked that way in my brackets. However, I can’t say that it was a confident pick, or that I did it because I’m some basketball super-genius. In fact, I really only picked that game because I’m a tremendous homer. I was impressed by Alabama in their game earlier this year against Wisconsin, and given their up-tempo style of play and bigger bodies up front, I thought this was one of the few teams that could shrug off UWM’s pressing and running. It just looked like a bad matchup for the Panthers. Shows what I know, though in my defense, any team that buries that many 3-pointers is always going to stand a chance. I can’t really provide much analysis beyond saying that I’m excited, though, since the game was blacked out on my internet feed since it was showing locally, and the guy at my office who has a TV doesn’t get great reception (I saw lots of colors in the last 2 minutes). I recorded it at home, though, so maybe I’ll throw it on later.

I really am loving this run by UWM, though. The pride in the school here is unprecedented. As I’ve mentioned in the past, UW-Milwaukee has never been the type of place that inspires pride among those affiliated with it. It’s largely a commuter school. It’s certainly not a bad school, but it’s always been a bit of a rarity for me to meet someone who goes to UWM and proudly announces that fact. There are probably more UWM grads than graduates of any other university living in Milwaukee, but until now, there’s never been a buzz. Today there are huge window signs downtown, and expressions of encouragement in various notable places in the city. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s still not the type of attention that, say, Marquette would get if they were having a great season, but for UWM, this is almost bigger. To go from no excitement at all, to having a good portion of the city behind you is huge. I can only hope that if coach Bruce Pearl moves on after having such success that someone solid takes over. It’s fun to see the morale of this city at such a high point. Wisconsin is still my alma mater, and will always be my favorite, but this UWM team has really been fun to watch this year.

Well, that’s all that I think I can say without actually watching a game. It’s not been my hardest working day ever, but that’s okay, since I think it puts me in line with most of the nation. Happy evening viewing!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Readying For the Big Day

So, the big weekend is upon us, and I'm finally prepared to fully take in the experience. So many years in the recent past I've screwed it up. Last year I worked both the Thursday and Friday of the tournament (with breaks to see the regionals in Milwaukee, of course). The year before most of the big weekend fell on my final spring break trip ever, which would have been awesome if I hadn't decided to visit a friend in England, where basketball news was nearly impossible to come by. Only two years prior to that I also messed up my basketball watching by traveling abroad another time. And while my wallet may be fatter from my work, and my mind may be broadened by my travels, just think of all the basketball that I missed. So this year, I'm taking off Friday, heading up to Madison to watch a full slate of high school games, and filling in the gaps with trips to bars to watch more basketball. With the group that I'm meeting up with, it's guaranteed to be fun.

This, however, does leave the question of how to handle Thursday. Thursday night's no problem at all--I have the cable split to four televisions in my living room and several cases of cold beer ready to be consumed. Thursday afternoon was somewhat problematic, but has been solved by the good people at CSTV. I've long been a fan of the CSTV network, having ordered my digital sports package through my cable company for the express purpose of receiving their channel. However, this year they're taking things to a new level, and streaming video feeds of the first 56 games over the web. So now, with this package, I'll be able to catch the UWM-Alabama game while I'm at work tomorrow. The package normally sells for $19.95, but for readers of my blog (and several others), they're offering a $5 discount. That's $15.95 for the first 56 games of the tournament. If you're not in a great area like me where you can get most games free through your cable provider, or you just want to catch a game or two on your work computer, I'd say that's a great deal. Take advantage here:


Apologies for talking like a commercial there, but it's honestly something that I had been considereing ordering anyway, before CSTV contacted me and offered up sweet deals for you and me. This is the type of technology that will help bring us closer to actually getting these two days declared holidays, so check it out.

One final thought--I was a tad apprehensive about breaking the news to my father (who's also my boss) that I would have access to video feeds of the first round games while at work, and did so gingerly. The reaction I got was somewhat startling, as he essentially demanded that I fire up the video tomorrow because he wanted to watch the UWM game. He then noted to me "The only problem that I see you having with that is that no one around here will want to leave your office all day." True enough. Now, if only I could find a way to get work done while there's a basketball party in my office, I'd be set. Sadly, I think most of the day will be spent tying up loose ends before my Friday vacation.

Happy viewing as always, and with any luck I'll find some time on Saturday or Sunday to recap the orgy of basketball that is the opening weekend of the tourney.

Potpourri for $200

Well, only one day until my personal favorite holiday of the year—basketball gluttony weekend. Since today and tomorrow morning will be my last chance to pontificate on random things before all hell breaks loose, today I’m going to offer up an array of tournament-related, and non-tournament related thoughts. So here you go:

1) So I watched the second half of the DePaul-Missouri game. Two things stuck out to me about this game. First, it’s incredible what can happen when a team has a healthy Diener, as Drake dropped about 30 points on Mizzou. Second, I believe my #1 college basketball theory is still intact: In the end, Missouri will find a way to lose. I was worried that the Tigers’ victory over Kansas a few weeks back would invalidate my theory, but in the last 3 years, that’s the only win like that I’ve seen out of them, so I consider it an aberration.

2) Does anyone think that an NIT pool would be a really interesting experience? I mean, you’ve got a ton of games, and I don’t think anyone could really pick out a favorite. Half of your office probably has North Carolina going to the Final Four this year, but how many people honestly thought Michigan would win the NIT last year? It’s a lot tougher to choose a mediocre team to win a championship.

3) Last night the NCAA play-in game between Alabama A&M and Oakland occurred. Mark me down as someone who thinks that it’s ridiculous that this play-in game has to occur. I understand the rationale that there are so many conference winners out there that we need to keep open space for at-large births, but that doesn’t really sell me. Look at the bubble teams that got in. Does anyone honestly think Iowa’s going to win a championship? Northern Iowa? No, but because of this, Oakland and Alabama A&M, despite winning their conference tournaments and being told they get to go to the NCAA tournament, have to play in a stupid pre-first round game to get to the real tournament. So, Alabama A&M lost last night, and they don’t get to enjoy being in the tournament (and let’s face it, even I wasn’t watching the play-in game, so it’s not like being in the tourney). And yes, I understand that the play-in game winner is just going to get stomped by North Carolina, but at least they get that opportunity. Alabama A&M’s guys won their conference, and for that alone, I think each of them deserves the chance to tell their grandkids about how they had one of their shots blocked into the 8th row by Sean May, or they “held” Rashad McCants to 22 points. Instead, Alabama A&M will be sitting at home while Iowa, who’s used to big-name opponents, tries to get its act together against Cincinnati. There’s something wrong with that.

4) I’m a tad concerned about my pick of Gonzaga for the Final Four, but since I’ve been running my mouth all season and telling people “No, Gonzaga’s for real this year,” I felt obligated to pick them. I still think it’s a decent pick, and I’m not harmed much, since there’s about 5 teams in that region to pick from to go to the Final Four, but I can’t seem to shake the old “mid-major” label from my mind. Funny thing is, prior to this year, I thought Gonzaga was over-hyped and I didn’t like them. It’s crazy what having Fox Sports Pacific will do to a man.

5) As my cable system grows ever more complex, it still boggles my mind that I’m going to need to go out and buy 2 more splitters in order to rig up my 4-television system for the big weekend. I sense that things will get worse next year, by which time I fully expect to have converted to HDTV on the main screen. Once I have the big screen, I can finally quit, because I will have achieved living room perfection.

6) I hate it when I think a team is over-rated, yet in my pool brackets, I can’t find a way to have them lose early. Arizona is a great example of this. I don’t like them at all, yet I don’t see them losing to Utah State, UAB or LSU in the first two rounds. Thus, I have to pick them through to the sweet sixteen, and I really don’t want them there. Conversely, I’d put Illinois and Oklahoma State both in the Final Four over everyone else but North Carolina, but they’re both in the same region, and I have to make one lose. It’s so much easier to pick a Final Four before matchups come into play.

7) In a bit of a treat, I’m taking off of work on Friday to head to Madison to watch high school and college basketball with some friends. I’m already having some anxiety about conflicts between some games that I really want to see, and occur at the same time. Right now I’m thinking that my head might explode if I have to choose between watching a high school Division 1 semi-final showdown between Milwaukee Vincent and Milwaukee Pius and the Badgers’ first round game. I’m still sort of hoping that there will be an upset in the high school quarterfinals, and I’ll be able to avoid this.

That’s it for today. I’m not sure what tonight (or tomorrow morning) will be about, but there will be something.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bottoming Out: Marquette-Western Michigan

Well, I think it's safe to say that we've hit the low-water mark of the Tom Crean era at Marquette. Absolutely ruined after the injury to star guard, Travis Diener, the Golden Eagles lost their first round NIT matchup against Western Michigan by a score of 54-40. After seeing these guys advance to the Final Four only two short years ago, this was pretty painful to watch. The good news is that Crean has some allegedly spectacular freshmen coming in (though that's pretty much what we've heard for the last 3 years, as well). The bad news is that they'll still be freshmen next year, and the Golden Eagles' transition into the Big East is likely going to be a harsh introduction to the college game. Tough as it was, I watched the entire game on ESPN at my buddy Kosta's place. Here are my thoughts:

1) People must have seen this horrific end coming. Like I said yesterday, if you can't get me to come to a game, something's wrong. Frankly, I would have enjoyed being at the game, but given that tickets ranged from $9-$27 and I can never park near the Bradley Center for less than $8 for a Marquette game, I figured I'd stay home. Plus, I don't know that I could have found anyone to go to the game with me. I know a number of season ticket holders, but didn't know anyone who was going to the game. Actually, check that--my dad asked one of the other attorneys at our office (and probably the biggest Marquette supporter that I know) if he was going. He replied that he would probably go if the guy that he usually goes to games with couldn't get rid of his tickets, but he didn't really want to go. That's the type of buzz that this game generated.

2) Even Marquette must have known that this wasn't going to be a big attendance game. My buddy Dez, one of the season-ticket holders that I know, emailed me yesterday to mention that he just received a phone call from assistant athletic director, Jack Harbaugh, asking him to attend the game that evening. I wasn't sure if this was one of those recorded calls like I repeatedly received from George Bush last fall, but Dez did confirm that this was no recording--Harbaugh was actually jockeying the phones. When the assistant athletic director is doing telemarketing, things can't be good. Five minutes later I got a phone call from my friend Amy, who has season tickets with her husband. While making small talk, I noted Dez's phone call to Amy, and she noted that she and her husband would not be attending the game, despite the voice mail that her husband had received a day earlier from a distressed Tom Crean. I didn't confirm if this was a recording or not. If it wasn't, I'm not sure whether to admire Crean for his dedication to connecting with fans, or feel sorry for his need to do this for last night's game.

3) Final attendance, per the box score: 3181. Ouch. Even I thought they would crack the 4000 mark. I guess Dez was not so far off when, in reference to last week's high school game being shifted, he noted "I heard they are moving the game to the Whitefish Bay gym to make it look like a sellout.”

4) Last night was George Thompson's last game as color analyst on the radio broadcast. Perhaps a desire by fans to get a final George fix was one of the reasons for the spotty attendance at the game itself? Luckily for me, I had the foresight to pop in an audio tape to record the first 45 minutes of the broadcast before I went to Kosta's. That's definitely going in the archives.

5) Marquette was 1-21 from 3-point range. That's not easy to do, especially when you have a weapon like Steve Novak, who I still believe shoots the ball as well as anyone in the country when he gets into a rhythm. Novak wasn't getting good looks, though, and near the end had to start forcing things up. At least he was occasionally close with his shots, unlike some of his teammates, who were tossing up some serious bricks. I can't imagine that I'll see a team shooting performance like this for quite awhile.

6) I need to work in something positive about this game, and thankfully, I like to look at positives, so I can note that Todd Townsend continued to actually play well in ending his career. For a guy that couldn't seem to find his way off of the bench for a year and a half, Townsend had a very nice final month as a Golden Eagle, in stark contrast to the rest of his team.

7) Again, trying to remain positive, Dameon Mason showed flashes of brilliance, particularly on one nice play where he created oodles of space on a drive down the lane for a layup. I think much of the next two seasons depends on whether he can be the talented, explosive Dameon Mason most of the time, instead of the one that wasn’t even starting earlier this year.

8) Well, Mike Kinsella really can shoot, but I still don’t think much of his court presence as a whole. Hopefully that’s just a Marcus Jackson-type injury problem, and everything will be fixed by next year.

9) Levi Rost from Western Michigan jumped so little on his jumpshots that he seemed to be nearly shooting a set shot. Sadly, it was a set shot that repeatedly went in.

10) Okay, it’s not the game itself, but I saw the worst public service announcement ever during the game. This was probably the only thing worse than the game itself. A mother is in the kitchen asking her daughter about her schedule for the week while she pours some milk or something. They run down Wednesday through Friday and the daughter notes that she has things like dance class, soccer practice and voice lessons after school on those days. Then the mother gets to Saturday and the daughter excitedly says that she’s going to the mall with some friend of hers. The mother looks at her daughter and tells her that that won’t happen, and that she’ll instead be going the movies with her parents. Then the screen fades to the words “Partnership for a Drug Free America.” What!?! Yeah, having no friends and parents who shelter me from any mildly uncontrolled situation in life—that’s my anti-drug. Can this possibly be a good message? Maybe I'm missing something, and Sbarro is the new place where kids are scoring crack these days, but aside from that being the case, could letting a teenager go to the mall for an afternoon to relax actually be a bad thing?

11) To his credit, Tom Crean came out for the final post-game radio show of the year. He sounded despondent, but handled himself okay, I thought. He basically said that he had no guards, and that he would never again put himself in a position to be caught without guards. This would be a major slap in the face to Dameon Mason and Joe Chapman, except for the fact that neither really came into Marquette as a true guard. So when you look at it, there really wasn’t much to work with at the end of the year.

And so, the season for Marquette is closed. I’d like to say that the only place to go from here is up, but with a schedule including a pre-season tournament and a slate of brutal Big East games, things could very well go downhill next year. Here’s hoping that the learning is intense for the freshman guards and the one transfer who can begin playing next year, because the 2006-7 season will be key for Marquette.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Bracket Analysis: Initial Thoughts

Okay, so I watched a bunch of college games this weekend, and saw all three Wisconsin games (great shot against Iowa, Mr. Tucker!), but I’ve just pumped out a ton of high school comments, so forgive me if I don’t have the crack analysis that you have come to expect from me on Wisconsin college teams. Plus, I watched several of these games at bars, where the distractions around me keep me from being totally tuned-in to the game. In lieu of me gushing about how great the ACC championship game was, or discussing Illinois’ dominance over Wisconsin, here are some of my thoughts on the newly-released NCAA brackets:

1) Someone tell me when the UWM-Alabama game is, since there will be some running going on there. I may get tired watching that one.

2) I like UWM’s draw. They deserved, and surprisingly, received the 12 seed, and Alabama is a good, but not overwhelming team to face at the 5 seed. Boston College will likely be waiting for the winner, and as UWM did with Carl Landry of Purdue earlier this year, I like their chances of running Boston College’s big men into the ground. I don’t know that either victory is likely, but I at least give the Panther a fighting chance.

3) I like Wisconsin’s draw, as well. Northern Iowa, from what I am told, will be a difficult first round game, though I haven’t seen them play this year. However, Kansas is likely lurking for the winner in the second round, and though the Jayhawks can play with anyone when they’re on, if the last 3 weeks have taught us anything, it’s that the Jayhawks aren’t always on.

4) Syracuse is a 4-seed and Michigan State is a 5-seed? Wow, I’d hate to be one of the teams in the Austin regional. Most people think the Syracuse regional is the toughest, but I’d argue that the regional that Syracuse is playing in, rather than hosting, is tougher.

5) So Washington’s a 1 seed, and no one’s seen them play. Well, I’ve only seen them once myself, so I can’t really comment much on the validity of the decision. However, I will say that if the committee’s rationale revolved around the Huskies’ beating Arizona twice, then I’m not too sure about the seeding, because Arizona didn’t blow me away the few times that I saw them this year.

More seeding comments to follow—it’s a long week. Marquette’s in the NIT tonight, and I’ll be interested to see attendance numbers, since none of my season ticket-holder friends is going, and I’m not making the trip downtown for the game, either. If you can’t get me to come to a game, I don’t know who you’re going to attract.

Vincent-Arrowhead: A Glimpse At Greatness

Saturday evening, right after the thrilling Wisconsin-Iowa game, I headed out to Homestead High School with my friend Kevin to see the Milwaukee Vincent-Hartland Arrowhead game. I had sort of hoped I'd be watching a Milwaukee Vincent-Waukesha North game, but Arrowhead pulled off the upset. So, even though it wasn't going to be quite as big a game as I had been hoping to attend, I was still seeing the best team I've seen all year (Vincent) and getting my first look at Arrowhead's star sophomore point guard, Charlie Chapman. My thoughts below:

1) If you have not been to the Homestead fieldhouse, you should check it out. Everything there was first class. I always liked the old Homestead gym, but the new place is absolutely gorgeous. This year I've also seen new fieldhouses at Cedarburg and Milwaukee Pius, but Homestead is better than both of them. Kevin commented to me that what he thought was great about the fieldhouse was that it was big, but the arrangement of the basketball court had an intimate feeling to it. I couldn't have said it better myself.

2) Let me get this straight--Arrowhead's school colors are powder blue and red, and they didn't go with uniforms that are predominantly powder blue? I like red, but there's no better uniform combination than powder blue with red trim, as shown by several of the Arrowhead students wearing old Arrowhead jerseys. It just doesn't work quite as well when red's the main color. Someone should talk to the AD about this.

3) I hadn't seen Arrowhead before, but I doubt that they normally play as they did when they started out the game on Saturday. They were basically trying to get up shots as quickly as they could. Because Vincent had two 6'7" athletic guys guarding the lane, this typically resulted in either a quick jump shot or a spectacular block by Vincent. In any event, any attempt to pick up the pace against the methodical Vincent was misguided for two reasons. First, Arrowhead didn't prove that it was up to the task, missing somewhere around its first 15 shots. Secondly, I don't know if Arrowhead's coach got a look at Vincent's bench, but there were a few decent guys over there ready for backup duty if anyone got tired. I admire taking a unique approach, but this one didn't work.

4) Fortunately for Arrowhead, Vincent wasn't hitting all of their shots, either. So, after a quarter in which it looked like Vincent would take a commanding lead over a scoreless Arrowhead squad, Arrowhead hit several three quick shots in the final 2 minutes to tally 8 points, and give the illusion that they would have a chance going forward.

5) I don't know how many points Marcus Landry had on the day for Vincent, but he probably had more rebounds, and his multiple first-quarter blocks changed the game. I've only seen Vincent in person twice, but both times teams initially tried to take the ball inside, and gave Landry easy and spectacular blocks. Then they quickly learned their lesson.

6) Not a great shooting night for Elliott Johnson, who in the last game that I saw him in, looked nearly as good as Landry. Not on Saturday, though.

7) Vincent's best play is perhaps its simplest, but works because of its athletes. It starts out as if the Vikings are going into the 4 corners, with Johnson and Landry in the corners on the baseline, the two guards in the corners near halfcourt, and the last guy in the middle near the top of the key. The guards exchange in a weave-type motion, though it's not as fluid a weave as, say, Michigan State runs. The guy with the ball cuts toward the center, as the player at the top of the key exchanges with him and if he doesn't see anything, he kicks to the guard in the other corner. Then this repeats. This continues until the guy with the ball is able to get a step on his defender.
He then takes it down the lane. Meanwhile, Johnson and Landry, both 6'7" and phenomenal leapers, start heading from their corners directly toward the hoop. Inevitably, one of either Johnson or Landry's defenders will come up to cut off the man with the ball and prevent an easy layup. Once the man with the ball sees this, he tosses a lob to whichever of the superb athletes has just had his defender leave and give help. Then there's a dunk. That's all there is to it, but I doubt there's one other team in the state with the athletes, and heady guards to run this play.

8) Upon the third consecutive time that Vincent ran the above play, one of the Vincent parents behind me leaned over to his wife and said "They're running that play that they use to embarrass us again." Well, I don't know that that was actually the objective, but well, mission accomplished even if it wasn't.

9) Wow, maybe I was spoiled by Friday's game, and the prior weekend's Tosa East-Milwaukee King game, but this was one of the least electric crowds that I've ever seen. Most of the cheers, even in the student sections, were led by men in their 40s. And Arrowhead proved that yes, it is possible to have a student section that cheers even less than a Milwaukee City Conference team's student section. I actually felt like I cared more about this game than lots of the people there, and I had no personal connection to either school in any way. Thank goodness I'll see some passion next weekend at the state tourney.

10) Vincent has lots of sophomores. Arrowhead has lots of sophomores. Look for this meeting to occur again in a year or two. It still probably won't be completely exciting, but at least Arrowhead might have a fighting chance next time around.

Pius vs. Tosa East: A Friday Night Showdown

Friday night was the much anticipated Tosa East-Milwaukee Pius matchup. A tough ticket to get, I was overjoyed that my buddy Kosta was able to secure admission for me. It was a 6pm game, so I cut out of work a bit early so that I could get home, get changed, and get to the game 45 minutes or so ahead of time. I'm glad that I made this move, since I would have had trouble finding a seat much later than that (thanks to Kosta again for holding seats for me in the Wisconsin Lutheran gym). Walking in, I even encountered a handful of people looking to scalp their way into the game. Scalping at a high school game almost ensures that it's going to be a worthwhile night. Anyway, the game was a mild surprise to many, and the Pius sqaud was largely underestimated by people who think about these sort of things, and they came out fighting. When the buzzer sounded, Pius had won the game, giving Tosa East a season-ending loss to match the season opening loss that they also handed to the Red Raiders. Thoughts below:

1) Tosa East was clearly hurt by the loss of two key players to athletic code suspensions. The bench was thin for the Red Raiders, and their only subs to get in the game were players who didn't have a ton of varsity minutes between them. And none of the starting five came off the floor in the second half.
Heck, none of the starters probably played more than 28 minutes. That's what happens when you have 2 guys suspended, and 3 season-ending injuries, though. Compounding this difficulty was the larger dimensions of the Wisconsin Lutheran College court, as compared to an average high school court. I'm betting that the five Red Raiders that played slept well that night.

2) Pius ran a zone defense most of the first half, and Tosa East couldn't get through it. Tosa East, no doubt, was familiar with all sorts of zone defenses, as that's been the primary tool for stopping Jerry Smith all season long, but Pius was simply better at at working in zones than any other team. I'll probably say it several more times before I get to the end of my thoughts on this game, but Joel Claassen didn't win his ridiculous string of girls state championships with the Pius girls team because of talent alone--the guy can coach.

3) Wow, D'Angelo Jackson didn't look like much to me the first time that I saw him, but it was tough to ignore his quickness on Friday night. No one on Tosa East could check him, and no one was getting help on him quick enough. He's going to be a fun one to watch next year, and Pius is only a 5-minute drive from my apartment. I think I know where I'll be spending some of my time next year.

4) My initial thought about Pius after seeing this game was that they would surprise someone in the state tournament, since they basically look like a bunch of skinny, only somewhat athletically above average white kids (Jackson excepted). Then it occurred to me that that description pretty much fits the bill for most teams at the state tournament. This is Wisconsin—not Chicago.

5) If it wasn’t clear from the description of entering the game, the atmosphere was great. This was a big time game. The stands were full, and virtually no one was there to see the second game of the night, so everyone was into the game. There was even a press row next to the court, complete with radio and television broadcasters, and a guy handing out stat sheets as the game went on. Where these broadcasts were going to, I don’t know. Well, except for the Time Warner broadcast, since it’s tough not to pick out that old guy with the flat-top haircut who calls the games on Channel 1111. I’m itching to hear his analysis of the game.

6) The PA announcer at the game was brutal. Every point he made was over-explained, as if the crowd had never seen a basketball game before. Perhaps his two biggest highlights came near the end of the game. First, in the middle of the 4th quarter, he began giving exit instructions to the crowd, to leave through exits “B as in barnburner, and D as in dog.” B as in barnburner? Is there really a need to show your personality during the exit instructions? Perhaps more entertaining, however, was the announcement made with 26 seconds left in game, when the game was still in doubt. Apparently two cars were illegally parked, and the PA guy was instructing that if the cars were not moved immediately, they would be towed. Be that as it may, I didn’t see too many people willing to leave this “B as in barnburner” at that exact instant. Thanks for the heads-up, though.

7) In an email to a friend earlier this week, I stated that the winner of the Pius-Tosa East game had a 78% chance of advancing to state, given the weakness of the teams from the other regional. Well, that prediction nearly came into question, as Bay View took Pius into double overtime on Saturday night before Pius prevailed. Thankfully, Pius won. It would have been truly bizarre to have Bay View in Madison representing a sectional that contained Pius, Tosa East, Milwaukee King, and Milwaukee Tech. The sectional’s always been loaded, so this is probably the closest that a team that wasn’t uber-talented has come to advancing to state.
Okay, so I watched a bunch of college games this weekend, and saw all three Wisconsin games (great shot against Iowa, Mr. Tucker!), but I’ve just pumped out a ton of high school comments, so forgive me if I don’t have the crack analysis that you have come to expect from me on Wisconsin college teams. Plus, I watched several of these games at bars, where the distractions around me keep me from being totally tuned-in to the game. In lieu of me gushing about how great the ACC championship game was, or discussing

Friday, March 11, 2005

Day Off

Well, I'm taking the day off from updating, as I contemplate the greatness of the Washington-Arizona state game last night, and think about the forthcoming high school sectional semi-finals tonight. I mean, heck, those Pac-10 games can go really late, and before 9pm last night I was nowhere near a TV, so the Pac-10 was my only viable option. It was good, but I enjoy sleeping almost as much as I do re-capping games.

Look for an analysis of just how wrong I was in my pre-season Big Ten preditions later this weekend.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

From the Archives...

Well, my being tired finally caught up with me, as actually fell asleep while watching the end of the Farleigh Dickenson-Wagner game last night. I had been watching, since ex-Marquette coach Mike Deane is now the coach at Wagner, and was fighting to take his fourth different school to the NCAA tournament. I didn’t see the end, but it looks like Deane will need another year. It’s too bad, because that guy really knows basketball. Except for an inability to recruit and some anger management issues, he was a good guy to have when he was at Marquette. Of course, those are some pretty big exceptions, so one can see why he’s at Wagner now.

I did, however, wake up in time for the end of the Rutgers-Notre Dame game, and while I didn’t see enough to give any type of full evaluation, I’d simply like to pass this observation on to the Notre Dame team: When there’s a minute left on the clock, you’re down by 3, and you have the ball, you don’t need to take a quick 3-pointer. Is Chris Thomas from beyond NBA range really a good option at this juncture of the game? Is an off-balance follow-up 3-pointer off of the rebound of said Chris Thomas shot a good choice? The answer to both, of course, is no. Let’s hope Notre Dame learns this lesson before their next game in whatever tournament they’re in.

I couldn’t get right to bed after that, so I went to my random box of video tapes and pulled out a tape of Marquette playing Duke in the 1994 NCAA tournament. I only watched the first 5 minutes of the game, but here’s a few reflections and fun facts on the starters for each team:


Tony Miller: Was brought in the year after Marquette was so short-handed at point guard that Robb Logterman had to run the show. Of course, Kevin O’Neill overcompensated a bit, signing William Gates and Craig Aamot at the point as well, but at least one of them worked out resoundingly.

Robb Logterman: According to a friend of mine, Robb’s still tearing it up in the area rec leagues. His out-of-position play at point guard against Duke (not this game) the year before Tony Miller arrived still stands as one of the most painful performances that I’ve ever seen. It’s not really Robb’s fault, though, as no one ever indicated that he’d have to run the point.

Roney Eford: Only man I’ve ever seen spell his name “Roney.” Also the only man I’ve ever seen who would consistently bank in 3-pointers. He even did this on fast breaks from time to time.

Damon Key: Until my college roommate Andy, who had gone to Marquette High well after the Damon Key era had ended, I was unaware that in high school Key was often referred to as “‘Da Monkey”. I’m still not sure if this is a just a clever play on Key’s name, or the most offensive nickname ever.

Jim McIlvaine: Classic example of a fan favorite who was later one of the least beloved players by the fans while he was at Marquette. He was beloved when he was getting 10 minutes per game, and 8 blocks per game, but by his senior year when he had to play offense for 30+ minutes per night, much of the crowd had turned on him. The man is my hero for parlaying one good month of play in the NBA into lifetime financial security.


Jeff Capel: I think we covered him earlier this week, but has put on weight and has a bad goatee as coach of Virginia Commonwealth. I’m still sort of perplexed at how Jeff and his brother Jason, a North Carolina alum, could manage to choose to go to the two most bitter rivals in all of college basketball.

Chris Collins: According to my college friend Adam, who had started school at Collins’ high school when Collins was a senior, Chris’s high school yearbook quote was “There are only three things in life that are certain: death, taxes and my jumpshot.” Apparently there were some in Illinois that thought Collins was a tad to cocky.

Grant Hill: What do I need to say about the man with the ankle made almost entirely out of metal?

Antonio Lang: I always thought this guy would have a nice NBA career. Did I mention that I had blind love for Duke when I was a kid?

Cherokee Parks: I saw this guy in the Capitol Classic All-Star game after his senior year in high school. The way he outplayed Chris Weber in that game had me convinced that he would be a force like we had seldom seen in college basketball. Now he’s just a dude with a lot of tattoos. Guess I was wrong.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Champs

Last night was a tremendous night, as UWM won the Horizon League tournament and secured their entry into the NCAA tournament. The game itself, though exciting due to its close score down the stretch, was one of the more poorly played by the Panthers that I’ve seen this year. It somewhat frustrates me, since the two games that I’ve seen them look their worst in this season were this game, and their dreadful loss to Wisconsin earlier in the season. Those also happen to be the two most widely seen UWM games, so I don’t think most people understand how good this team can be. Of course, after last night, I understand how bad they can be.

Enough build-up, though. On to my game points:

1) UWM missed 5 straight foul shots to open the game. Their success rate from the line didn’t improve much thereafter, either. This would have been a much less exciting game if the Panthers had completed this easy task.

2) Props to whoever’s in charge of the championship banners for UWM, since this year’s regular season championship was already recognized in banner form.

3) Pre-game was pretty exciting, since for the first time I paid Marquette-game prices to park my car near the arena. Of course, the Bucks game also going on downtown could have contributed to the ridiculous prices, but I prefer to think of it as the Panthers generating buzz. Surely the Bucks couldn’t be the only reason I encountered a 30-person line outside of Major Goolsby’s…

4) At the start of the game, I went to grab a quick bite to eat from a concession stand. The problem, however, was that I usually go to games that 3000 people attend, and I wasn’t really ready for the lines at a 10,000 person game. Thus, I did what any rational person who hates lines would do—I went to the Chinese food booth. I’ve now sampled both ethnic food stands in the MECCA, and the Chinese wins out over the Mexican booth, if for no other reason than the owner’s collection of photos of himself with B-list celebrities. I’m partial to the photos of William Hung and Milwaukee legend, Freeway, but you couldn’t really argue with the spot of honor bestowed upon Jose Canseco’s photo last night. Jose’s really earned that spot next to the fried rice.

5) We’ve already established that UWM shot poorly from the line. What else can I complain about? Well, rebounding, for one. It seemed that none of UWM’s big men were ever in a position to get near a rebound. Detroit seemed to have a perpetual triangle of players around any ball that deflected off the rim. That’s got to change if the Panthers want to keep from embarrassing themselves in the tournament.

6) UWM’s full-court press really left me frightened last night. I understand that much of the trouble that it gives people is due to rotating and gambling, but there was a bit too much gambling going on last night. The Panthers got beat a lot in transition, and the times that they didn’t get beat, they nearly game me a heart attack by releasing Detroit players to streak down the court wide open. Fortunately, no one ever hit the deep man with a pass, but it was there 6-7 times.

7) I was again seated by the opposing team’s pep band, and if there’s anything that produces more subtle humor than a college man in a polo shirt and khaki’s tapping his foot in order to keep his clarinet in time for his band’s rendition of Disco Inferno, I’d like to see it.

8) The crowd last night was awesome, and that was fun, and encouraging to see. People were cheering loudly, swearing at refs, and generally seemed to be emotionally involved in the game. It was a bit odd. I’ve got a mother that graduated from UWM, one of my closest friends is a UWM grad, and I live in a city full of UWM grads, yet I’ve never seen any type of display of pride or passion for the school amongst its attendees during all my time in this city. Until last night. Bruce Pearl is doing more for the school than I think even he realizes.

9) I said the crowd was great, but I didn’t say it was a sell-out. The PA announcer did, but I think he was lying. There were several pockets of open seats near the top of the arena. I’m doubting that there were a bunch of season ticket holders that just happened to have the worst seats in the house and decided to stay home for the biggest game of the year.

10) James Wright must have checked into the game 15 times last night, but I don’t think I ever saw him check out. Someone needs to look into how this happened.

11) After the game I went home, and though I have a cold and was incredibly tired due to the lateness of the game, I watched a bit of Sportscenter, something I almost never do. And you know what? Adrian Tigert wasn’t fouled on the drive that resulted in his game-winning free throw. I doubt it really changed the outcome, because Detroit and their shallow bench looked like they would have had at least two guys collapse if the game went to overtime, but Tigert didn’t really deserve those shots.

That’s it for now, though I’m sure I missed on some great moments form the game. Today marks the day that the big conferences take over the headlines with their conference tournaments. Hopefully I’ll come up with something mindless to do at noon so that I can listen to the Marquette game on the computer while I’m at work.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I'm Ashamed of Myself

That's right, I'm a tad ashamed of myself. This week is championship week, and I must admit that I struggle to stay interested in the lesser conference championships. It's not because I don't respect the talent at that level--heck, I've been to a ton of UWM games this year, and they've really filled a void for me, given my lack of access to Wisconsin tickets, and the fact that Marquette isn't having the most exciting year in the world. I think what's missing from the mid-major championships is a lack of a rooting interest for me. All that said, after I got home from Sam's Club, where I bought about 8 gallons of Tilex for around $4.99, I did sit through the overtime period for Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion. Although, that was primarily because it was interesting to see that Virginia Commonwealth coach and former Duke guard Jeff Capel was not only coaching against the the school that his father used to coach at, but he had also put on some weight and grown a bad goatee since his playing days. It also didn't hurt that a player got viciously clotheslined about 2 minutes after I sat down to watch the game.

So, I'm not much of a pure basketball fan. If you can forgive me for that, here are some other random thoughts, in no particular order:

1) Though I may suck during the mid-major championships, you should check out the Mid-Majority for someone who's enthused about the early part of this week. I've referenced Mid-Majority before, but the guy who runs it is really one of the better writers around, and this week is like Christmas to him, so it's definitely worth a stop by.

2) Good feature on Jerry Smith last night on Milwaukee's Channel 12 news. I've got it DVR'd if anyone wants to come over and watch it. Tosa East coach George Haas made one comment indicating that Smith was the best star player that he's worked with, high praise considereing that Haas has worked wtih two future NBA players (Devin Harris and Tony Smith). They even show some archival footage of Tony Smith from the mid-1980s, which was particularly interesting for me, because one player in the background was wearing what would eventually be my hand-me-down JV uniform. Yep, that's the closest I ever got to NBA greatness.

3) A trip to Milwaukee Public Schools headquarters for WIAA Sectional 8 tickets this morning left me frustrated, as the plan to have tickets available to the public there today had changed. I'm hoping to see Pius vs. Wauwatosa East, two teams that met for their first game of the season and played a thriller that ended in a one-point win at the buzzer for Pius. My normal ticket source tells me that only 550 tickets were distributed to each school to sell for the games at Wisconsin Lutheran College. It seems sort of counter-intuitive to me that an earlier round game got moved to a larger gym because two schools involved could each sell more than their 750 allocated tickets, but now a game that is, at least in theory, bigger because it's in a later round only allows for 550 tickets per school. Given that 5 of the 8 division one sectionals in the state play their sectional semi-finals at separate locations, I can think of at least one simple solution to fix the severe ticket shortage. As of yet, I haven't heard any news on the issue, though, so for now, I'm just assuming that I'll be watching West Allis Hale or Waukesha North play on Friday night. They're not my first choices, but at least Sectional 8 isn't the only game in town.

4) We have a new winner for most unfair preliminary state tournament game this year. Oshkosh West and Wisconsin Rapids square off in a sectional semi-final on Friday night. Both teams are undefeated. I already feel bad for Wisconsin Rapids, as they ran the table, and were rewarded with a #2 seed in their regional. Now one of these two teams will lose for the first time this weekend, and this single lapse in perfection will end their season. Now that's harsh.

It's off to the Horizon League finals tonight. Hopefully I'll have a roundup tomorrow, but no guarantees, as I've got a bit of a cold, and the game's late tonight.

Monday, March 07, 2005

March Madness Begins

In heading into this weekend, I commented to my friend Kevin, who I was planning on attending games with on Saturday, that Saturday might end up being the best day of my life. This, of course, overlooked several key days of my life that would certainly be considered better than a day in which I was to watch a pair of high school basketball with some of my closest friends, but hey, I was excited for the weekend and I like hypebole, so cut me some slack. I took in a fair amount of basketball this weekend, but strangely missed out on seeing both UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay in the semi-finals of the Horizon League tournament on Saturday. With the high school games on tap, though, I can't be blamed for that. Here's the weekend breakdown:

Friday Night:

Illinois-Chicago and Loyola were playing in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League tournament, and I had tickets. I later found out that getting a ticket to that particular game was not a particularly tough task, but I was still happy to have mine. At least I knew where I was going, unlike the people in front of me at the door who had Milwaukee Admirals hockey tickets for the Bradley Center next door. There's nothing better than two mediocre sporting events right next door to one another. Anyway, the basketball game wasn't the greatest played game, and I hadn't seen my friend Brian, who I attended the game with, in quite awhile, so we spent most of our time halfway tuned out to the game and debating things like the recent Joe Sports Fan debate topic "What Relationship Is More Perverted: Daniel Laruso and Mr. Miyagi, or Marty McFly and Doc Brown." I don't know that we ever came to consensus, though the topic came up several times later in the evening once we retired to a tavern. I won't say which way I'm leaning right now, since I imagine this may be a recurring bar argument for several months to come. Even though we weren't tuned into the game itself, though, the following observations were made:

1) The Loyola Dance Team was relegated to standing in three of the rows of folding chairs several rows up behind one of the baskets. Now, I've never been one that thinks the dance team adds a lot to the game experience, but don't the ladies at least deserve some floor space? I've never seen a dance team hanging out in fan seats. They work hard, and shouldn't literally be relegated to the worst seats in the house.

2) Loyola's mascot was one of the most docile that I've ever seen. There was actually a guy in a green mock turtle neck that did a better job pumping up the mascot than the mascot did of pumping up the sparsely populated crowd. It's times like these that I wish I hadn't gone to a college where the mascot was revered. I would have been a great mid-major mediocre mascot if given the opportunity. I'd like to imagine that once I was done with the role, my mascot would have been considered above-average.

3) Brian commented to me at one point that the Illinois-Chicago cheerleaders seemed to be constantly adjusting their skirts after doing flips and various other tumbling moves. Upon further inspection, the uniforms did look somewhat ill-fitting. Of course, are there cheerleader uniforms out that that are made to be comfortable? Someone should look into this--it could be a great business opportunity.

4) Imagine for a second that you're the director of the Loyola pep band, and you can only take 11 people with you to play for the big game in Milwaukee over the weekend. Are you taking a piccolo, a clarinet, and a french horn? A second tuba player? Me neither. Give me two drummers, three trombones, one tuba, four trumpets and one cowbell, and we'll blow the roof off the place. Pep bands aren't there to create rich musical tones, they're there for excitement, and a clarinet doesn't pump up the crowd.

5) You know how I some times express concern about being the creepy alone guy at games? Yeah, that guy sat in front of me at the game on Friday night. He was an Illinois-Chicago fan and tried mumbling a few things to me that I didn't understand. He also bought a lot of gear, and had no one there with him. Thankfully, he only started trying to talk to me in the final 5 minutes of the game.

And so, Illinois-Chicago and Loyola played to a 72-72 draw at the end of regulation, forcing overtime. Brian looked at me and said "Want to go get a beer?" I nodded in approval, and for the first time ever, left a game as it was going into overtime. Hey, like I said, it was not well played (particularly down the stretch) and I had no personal stake in the game, other than kind of wanting to see Illinois-Chicago and UWM square off in the next round, since their head coaches legitimately hate one another. And Major Goolsby's across the street had bottles of Old Style available, so we were gone. I stand by my decision to miss Loyola putting the game away.


Saturday was set up to be high school double-header day with my friends T.J. and Kevin. The plan was to go to Milwaukee Vincent at 1:30pm for the Milwaukee Vincent-Homestead game, and then hop in the car and jet over to Whitefish Bay for the Milwaukee King-Wauwatosa East game at 5pm. T.J., an out of towner, didn't make it to Milwaukee for the early game, but he was there for the late game, and heard about the early game from Kevin and I. Here's the Saturday breakdown:

Milwaukee Vincent-Homestead

Milwaukee King might have the last two state titles, and may have beaten Vincent in a recent game, but over the past 10 years, Vincent is probably the more widely-respected basketball program. The Vikings starting five this year include a division one football recruit (Nick Polk), Wisconsin's (arguably) top player in the senior class (Marcus Landry), and a 6'7" superstar transfer student (Elliott Johnson). Make no mistake--Kevin and I weren't there to see Homestead, we were there to check out Vincent. Of course, the outcome was a foregone conclusion, and most people seemed to know this, as Kevin and I were among about 15 people in the gym when we arrived a half-hour before the game. It filled up a bit more as time went on, but not much. And for the most part, the lack of a major crowd was appropriate. Vincent was way too much for Homestead to handle. Homestead actually did run a nice zone defense that slowed Vincent a bit, but one of the great things about Vincent is that they're a disciplined basketball team, and were wickedly patient. One can only imagine what would have been if Vincent had been able to get off shots more quickly than they did, as they still went into the half up 33-9. Game highlights included:

1) Elliott Johnson displaying agressive rebounding effort, and an array of post moves;

2) Marcus Landry tossing down an alley-oop dunk when Vincent appeared to be backing off into a stall late in the second quarter;

3) Vincent coach Tom Diener yelling to his point guard to get a layup on the final possession of the half, and that point guard, after Homestead did effectively stop him from penetrating, tossing in a deep 3-pointer to end the half, and;

4) Me getting through the metal detector at Vincent for the first time ever without setting the machine off at least once.

Kevin and I left at the half, as we didn't wish to watch the young men from Homestead have their hopes shattered any more. After watching that half (and a few televison clips on that glorious Time-Warner Wisconsin On-Demand Channel), I can confidently say that Vincent is the best team that I've seen this year. I can't envision any frountcourt as talented as Johnson and Landry, and when the rest of the team needs a sub, there's no drop off from the starters. They've dropped some games this year, and I've only seen them play one half of basketball this year, so I can't say that Vincent will walk into the state championship game, but I wouldn't bet against seeing them there either. I only saw a half of the game, but it was $3 well spent.

Milwaukee King-Wauwatosa East

This was the defining rivalry of my teen years, and it usually left me sad. It's a rare year that these two teams meet in the tournament and they're not both ranked in the top ten in the state, or at least the Milwaukee area. Add to the fact that whenever these teams meet up, the game will be the end of the season for one of them, and you've got some drama. This year was no exception, as both teams entered the game with high rankings and big-time college recruits, and as previously mentioned, the game was moved to a larger venue to accomodate a larger crowd. Tosa East jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead, but of course, King came back and eventually took the lead for a bit. The game was a war until the buzzer, and Tosa East toughed out a win, forcing an end to King's season that is, as usual, much too early. A couple of quick game thoughts:

1) King's starting five? Troy Cotton's eventually going to UW-Green Bay, Korie Lucious is said to be the top freshman in the country, and Mitchell Carter is seven feet tall. However, less heralded players Lineal Harris and James Pruitt are what make this team go. Pruitt in particular came up big on Saturday for a guy that I doubt will play college ball. Regardless of whether he ends up playing again, I'd take him on any high school team. Very solid player.

2) The aforementioned Lucious is one heck of a passer, and is only going to get better. Hard to believe this kid's a freshman.

3) Tosa East's star Jerry Smith got into mild foul trouble early in the game, and sat down for about the last 7 minutes of the second quarter with two fouls. Tosa East responded by playing perhaps their best ball of the game in his absence. A special nod goes to Jeff Donovan, a power forward for most of the season, who shifted back to a guard spot and was effective at handling King's pressure, and grabbed a ton of rebounds. Donovan only tallied 4 points, but Tosa East definitely doesn't win this game without him. And of course, it should be noted that Smith's presence was definitely noticed when he returned in the second half.

4) I feel somewhat bad for the people at the Whitefish Bay gym who were relegated to sitting in the upper-balcony. Being high up is generally not a big problem, but the upper balcony at Whitefish Bay is probably a court length and a half away from the game itself, and behind one of the baskets. It would be like going to the Whitefish Bay gym to see a game, and finding out that you have to sit in seats equivalent to the first row of the upper deck at the Bradley Center. I think I like high school basketball more than most, but even I couldn't watch a game from that location.

5) Not a great foul shooting night for Wauwatosa East, but luckily for them, it didn't end up mattering in the end. They need to get their shooting touch back if they hope to keep moving on the way to the state tournament in Madison.

And with the end of the game, T.J., Kevin and I retired for food and drink at a series of taverns on the East Side of Milwaukee, where we intently watched the second half of the Oklahoma State-Texas game. The ending of the game featured both teams attempting to blow the game, with a less-than-stellar trip to the foul line for OSU effectively ending their chance at a comback in the final seconds.


I met up with my old roommate Nick to watch the Duke-North Carolina game in the afternoon. In college, Nick and I would have some fun with this game, since he was a big North Carolina fan, and I've always leaned a bit more towards Duke. As usual, the game went down to the wire, and Sean May, my favorite collegiate player to watch, pulled down at least 23 rebounds, a career high. I won't bore you with the details of the game, or talk about how great the burger I got at the bar was, since pretty much everything about this game was good, and I've already written way too much today. Besides, if you need me to tell you that Lee Melchioni is an incredible third option to have behind the three opint arc, you're just not paying attention.

And with that, I drove home and it began to sink in that a seemingly unprecedented number of top-10 teams had lost this weekend. Well previously undefeated Illinois losing to Ohio State was a shock, nothing surprised me more than Kansas dropping a game to Missouri, as it disproved my #1 college basketball axiom: Missouri will always screw it up in the end. Back to the drawing board, I guess.

Enjoy the start of March Madness this week, and I'll be back for more tomorrow.

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