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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