Thursday, October 27, 2005

Getting To Know the Badgers

I was going to try to remain silent until my season preview was ready, but in attempting to craft creative player breakdowns, I had an idea that didn’t quite fit, but that I didn’t want to completely forget about. So here’s the deal–every year Wisconsin has a handful of survey questions regarding personal preferences that they give to the basketball team, and then they show selected answers in the players’ media guide profiles. Some are pretty standard (i.e., What is your favorite spot on campus?) and some are more creative (i.e., What is the greatest invention of the past 100 years?), but the answers to these questions give an interesting look into the psyche of each player. So below, I’d like to examine the most intriguing answer of each player, and break down that answer a bit more. Here we go:

Ray Nixon
Most Prized Possession: Life
Now, Ray has never struck me as the most heady player on the court, but with one word he gives perhaps the most conceptual answer that anyone on the team has provided to any question. Methinks Ray may have taken a few philosophy courses during his time in Madison. Of course, if I was talking to Ray, I might argue that life, while something to be prized, probably does not qualify as a possession. (A close second in terms of interesting answers from Nixon was his assertion that his dream job would be "Oil Guy for Swimsuit Models." One wonders after his answers to these two questions if Ray was just goofing around like a normal college guy, or taking these questions way too literally.)

Kammron Taylor
Favorite Area Restaurant: North American Rotisserie
Apparently a North American Rotisserie location has opened up near campus since I left town just over two years ago, because back in my day the only location that existed was nowhere near the campus. And radio ads for the place constantly featured former UW athletes. I had meals there from time to time, and it wasn’t bad, but it’s basically a Boston Market. I find it hard to believe that this is Taylor’s favorite restaurant (even though another question does tell us that one of his favorite foods is chicken). A couple other guys cite this as a favorite, though, and considering this fact along with the numerous athlete endorsements, I’m led to wonder if we’ve got the next big athletic department scandal brewing at Wisconsin. My hope is that a lesson was learned after dealing with years of discounted shoes for athletes at the Shoe Box, and that Kam and his buddies aren’t paying for dark meat and getting white meat, but one never knows.

Alando Tucker
Title of Autobiography: Big Game "Bob"

Hmmm, this could go one of two ways. The first explanation is that Tucker is making up a title that is painfully derivative of Robert Horry’s nickname "Big Shot Bob." And he stupidly decided to tack on the name "Bob," despite the fact that his name is Alando, and he’s likely never been called Bob in his life. Of course, there’s another possible explanation. The name "Bob" is in quotes, and often when something is conspicuously in quotes, it has some sort of double meaning. Perhaps Tucker knows something that we the reader doesn’t, and actually didn’t just create a bad non-sensical nickname for himself. It could be a wickedly funny inside joke. If only there was some way to figure this mystery out...

Jason Chappell
Favorite Basketball Memory: Scoring 69 points in the 8th grade
First off, let’s note that Chappell had the most flippant responses to all of the survey questions since former Badger guard Tim Locum told us in 1988 that his hobbies included "filling out surveys." So all of his answers are ripe for discussion. However the above answer stands out for several reasons. First is the way in which his answer involves an individual moment, rather than one involving his team (a true feat for someone who’s been on college and high school teams that have done the things that Chappell’s have). Second is the fact that in looking for the peak in his career, Chappell decides to jump back to when he was 13 years old. Finally, there’s the way that Chappell childishly works the number 69 into his answer, wrongly thinking that his extremely thinly veiled sexual reference will be cool. Even if Chappell had a game like this in 8th grade, I’d bet my life that he actually scored 71, or something like that. Undoubtedly, though, in a sea of bizarre answers by the team, this on takes the cake as most ridiculous.

Tanner Bronson
Favorite Area Restaurant: The Nitty Gritty
Here’s where Tanner and I butt heads. I’ve never quite understood the allure of the Nitty Gritty, a popular campus area bar, as a restaurant. Yes, it’s a nice enough bar, and yes, I am in awe of the marketing genius running the place who realized that giving people free beer on their birthday would result in gigantic birthday party groups coming to the bar to drink and buy overpriced shots for the birthday celebrant. Putting aside the fact that the Nitty Gritty is a wonderful homage to capitalism, though, their food is average at best. In the interest of time, I won’t continue on about my hatred of their signature "Gritty Burger," but it is undoubtedly overrated. I think it’s safe to say that Tanner Bronson has bought into the hype, and that saddens me.

Brian Butch
Greatest Invention of the Last 100 Years: Moped
Wow, where do I even begin with this one? Give me 10 minutes and I could probably come up with a list of 50 better inventions than the moped. My only hope is that Butch was just playing it safe because he wasn’t sure (as I am not either) of whether several popular items fall within the 100 year limit, since the turn of the century was such an active time for inventions. I can pretty much guarantee you that if I had a time machine and I could take something from 2006 back to 1906 with me, the moped would be pretty low on my list. And let’s not forget that Butch’s answer also bears the risk of further annoying a small subset of students who are likely already bitter that they have to watch athletes (most of whom had mopeds, at least when I was in school) zip around on mopeds while they walk a half-mile to class. (Let it be known that I always sort of liked walking and never begrudged those with mopeds, but I know that these people are out there.) There were many better answers to this one, Brian.

Michael Flowers
Favorite Vacation Spot (when did you go and with whom?): California (this summer with a very special person)
Why so cryptic, Michael? A "very special person?" Is this a mentor that you’re referring to? Someone in your family? A good friend? Unfortunately, my guess is that Mr. Flowers must be referring to a woman (or perhaps a man, but for our purposes today, let’s just assume that it’s a woman so that I don’t need to complicate this paragraph too much) that he’s dating. Now, I’m not upset that he has found a special woman, but it’s sort of sickening, if that’s the case, to see it in print. Because the answer is so steeped in mystery, it’s a less egregious foul than, say, Devin Harris’ media guide revelation a couple years ago that his most prized possession was a photo album with pictures of him and his girlfriend. Nonetheless, if this is a girlfriend that Flowers is referring to, I hope for his sake that she is, indeed, a very special lady and that he ends up with her for a long time. Because if he doesn’t, over time this answer will end up obnoxiously similar to that long message written in your high school yearbook by that girl that you broke up with your freshman year in college when you both came home for Thanksgiving break. With the exception, of course, that your high school yearbook wasn’t distributed to the national media.

Greg Stiemsma
TV Show I Never Miss: Good Eats
I was expecting something somewhat more witty from the man who in a similar survey last year told us that his best pick-up line is "Hi, I’m Brian Butch," but I guess he went for the honest answer approach this year. Can I quarrel with his choice of a favorite show? Certainly not, as Alton Brown, host of Good Eats makes cooking fun to learn about and accessible to the masses. But it also doesn’t seem like a "can’t miss" show for a 19-year-old college guy. Let’s forget for the moment that the Food Network, where Good Eats appears, seems to have trouble finding a consistent scheduling plan, and that if one were to "never miss" watching Good Eats, it would require lots of research to pull off. Even if we make that leap, where does Stiemsma live? If it’s in a dorm, or somewhere similar, then he’s probably got limited access to a kitchen, not to mention limited funds for purchasing quality food and cookware. And even if Greg’s living in an apartment, I doubt that he has either the tools or the time to smoke his own bacon in the back yard, as Alton Brown would do. So the cooking show is doing him minimal good. Perhaps he wishes to re-think this answer...

DeAaron Williams
Favorite Food (and how often do you eat it?): McDonald’s (every day)
Really? Every day? This answer shocks me for two reasons. First, while McDonald’s is a successful franchise fast food restaurant, I’ve had McDonald’s before, and it’s not that good. In fact, unless I’m on a road trip in a remote town and nothing else is open, I personally tend to avoid the place. But maybe that’s just a difference in preference. The more suspect part of the answer is the fact that an elite division one college athlete actually chooses to eat McDonald’s every day. I always just sort of figured that these guys, as great of shape as they’re in, and with the phenomenal feats that their bodies can accomplish, must owe some of that performance to good nutrition. After all, we all saw what happened to Morgan Spurlock of Super-Size Me fame, after a solid month of McDonald’s. He was in pretty bad shape, and he didn’t even have to try to dunk over some guy from Ohio State at the end of his day. I guess DeAaron Williams can pull this off, though ultimately, I’d love to see his game if his favorite food was actually broccoli.

Morris Cain
Favorite Spot on Campus: Ed’s (UW Cafeteria)
Clearly Mr. Cain is a freshman, because anyone who lists the dorm cafeteria as their favorite spot on campus is not too familiar with his surroundings. Of course, based on my frequent trips there during the year which I lived across the street, I will grant you that Ed’s Express is a tasty place to eat, in terms of dorm food. Heck, I can even trace my current love of black olives to a sub sandwich that I ordered at Ed’s back in 1998, and which was incorrectly prepared to include said olives. That said, however, with such wonderful spots on the UW campus as the Memorial Union Terrace, Bascom Hill, the Lakeshore Path and any number of spots on Observatory Hill where one can peer out over Lake Mendota, one would have to be a fool to choose a cafeteria as his or her favorite spot. Here’s hoping that Morris has some free time to explore when the season’s over.

Kevin Gullikson
First Job: Selling Corn
I’m not even going to comment much on this one, because I don’t need to. All I’ll say is this: Here’s a link to Gullikson’s official photo for the team. When you see it, his first job will come as absolutely no surprise.

Joe Krabbenhoft:
Hobbies/Interests: Video games, fishing, Jessica Simpson
I’m not even sure I can mock this one, since it’s actually a pretty funny answer. Mr. Krabbenhoft would have been pushing his luck had he just answered "Jessica Simpson." However, he set the joke up nicely by first listing two common hobbies and interests of a typical college-aged male. Then he slots in the hot blonde at the end. Not a bad way to go. Let’s hope that he sets up teammates as well as he sets up jokes. And let’s also hope that those rumors about the split of Ms. Simpson and her husband are true. A man as witty as Joe Krabbenhoft deserves a shot.

Marcus Landry
First Job: Working at Walgreens
Apologies in advance for the irrational love of Landry that I’m probably going to develop over the next few years, but this answer only adds to how great he is, in my opinion. This is a question that some of the players on this team answered with something like "working basketball camps," but not Landry. No, he had a bad teenage job like the rest of us. And that’s what makes this answer so cool. He’s just a regular dude who had to suck it up and do some hard work. And one can only hope that this work ethic carries over into his game as he continues to improve. Either way, when I see Marcus Landry putting a sweet drop step on some unsuspecting defender this year, I’m going to remember that he got his start wearing a blue vest and stocking suppositories, and that hard work got him to where he is now.

Mickey Perry
One Thing About Me That Would Surprise People: I play around a lot
Is anyone else as shocked as I am to hear that about Mickey Perry? I mean, I would have guessed a lot of things about him, but the fact that he plays around a lot–that never would have occurred to me in a million years. Next thing you know, we’re going to find out that Alando Tucker likes doing stuff, or that Greg Stiemsma likes to hang out from time to time. With revelations like Perry’s affinity for playing around, you truly can’t know what other surprising things you’re going to find out next about this team.

So there’s your 2005-2006 Wisconsin Badger team. They’re an interesting lot, aren’t they?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Surely You Can't Be Serious...

Several months ago NBA journeyman, Paul Shirley was asked to post some of his thoughts during a Phoenix Suns (his team at the time) road trip. The result was pure hilarity. As the Suns eventually reached the playoffs, and Shirley's thoughts from the earlier road trip had become wildly popular, he was tapped to keep a running diary of his experiences in the playoffs. Again, from his discussion of checking out attractive female fans from his spot on the bench, to his tales of playing cards on the team charter, Shirley proved to be phenomenally witty. So much so that back on June 13, I wrote as follows:

"Whether or not this guy keeps playing,, or some other media outlet needs to capitalize on his abilities as a scribe. I would happily pay some sort of subscription fee to access a full-season journal on, and given how cheap I am, that’s saying something."

Well, in true journeyman form, Shirley isn't exactly hooked up with the NBA right now, but there is some good news. Yesterday my buddy Dez emailed me a link to the this site. That's right boys and girls, Paul Shirley is keeping a running journal on his life in basketball for ESPN. From my initial read, it's somewhat undefined how long he'll keep this up (given that his basketball career could take him just about anywhere), but at least for the time being we've got the funniest basketball writer around pumping out material. So check out his comments. And if you've got ESPN Insider, check out the transcript of his recent online chat, which is phenomenal. Generally I rue the day that I signed up for Insider, but at least for this month, the chat made it worth the money.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


With basketball season quickly approaching, and much of my time devoted to attempting to craft an acceptable pre-season preview for release in the coming weeks, I’d like to knock out a few housekeeping tasks before things kick into high gear and I don’t have time to pause and handle them. Today I’d like to take a moment and do a quick review of the links that I maintain on the right side of this page. When I first started adding links to my page, I did it primarily as a way of giving myself an easy way to get to all of the sites that I like to read on a regular or semi-regular basis. That’s still my general plan, so I’m happy to report that every link that I maintain on my site brings something to the table in terms of providing interesting or useful reading. Certainly some are better than others, but they all serve a purpose.

So today, I’m doing a brief review of my thoughts on each site that site that I’m linked to. I'm sure someone out there has wondered about them, and since it's pre-season, there's no better opportunity for me to kiss some ass. Most of the links are far more legit than I am in terms of basketball information and analysis, so you might want to check them out over the next couple of weeks. Things will be slow around here until November, when I can actually start going to games. So learn something from others while I gear up for the season. But make sure to come back, because as long-time readers know, once the season starts and I begin making fun of players’ facial hair, you never know what might happen.

Here’s those links, in the order that they appear:

Big Ten Wonk
If you want to know about the Big Ten, but don’t want to run all around trying to find info, this is the place to go. Last year this became a must-check site for me every morning before I started my day. Not only did it ensure that my Big Ten knowledge would remain current, I was also treated to the sharp wit of the Wonk. It should also be noted that of all of the sites that I have linked off of my page, I get more comments about this one than any other. My friends love this guy, and are thankful that they’ve had access to his clearinghouse of Big Ten information. And to top it off, based on the handful of email interactions that I’ve had with the Wonk, I’d have to say that he’s a phenomenally nice guy who’s helped this site immensely. So check out the site—it’s one of the best out there, and Big Ten fans are lucky that it just happens to be about their favorite conference.

The Mid-Majority
Every site that I’m listing here has something that it does better than anyone else, and the Mid-Majority has two such things. First, it is the most magnificently designed website of the bunch, housing not just commentary, but an actual vault of information about the mid-major schools of the nation. Second, Kyle Whelliston, the proprietor of the Mid-Majority, is undoubtedly the most skilled writer of any internet basketball writers that I’ve seen. It actually took me awhile to start reading the Mid-Majority, since shamefully, I’m not much of a follower of mid-major basketball. Once you start reading his outstanding tales, though, Mr. Whelliston makes you care. His season wrap-up last year after completing his goal of attending 100 games in one year was shockingly artful given the fact that at the end of the day, basketball is still just a game played by huge, sweaty men. And of course, one can’t help but love a guy that has a regular job, is married, and still manages to see 100 games in a year. For these reasons, I think Mr. Wheliston is my hero.

Yocohoops (Yoni Cohen Basketball Blog)
The college basketball world owes a debt of gratitude to Yoni Cohen, the author of Yocohoops. With links to major news stories every day, if you visit Yocohoops, you’ll never be out of touch with what’s going on in college basketball. And though Yocohoops is less about commentary and more about news than some of the other sites I have listed, Mr. Cohen can also dish out thoughts with the best of them, as evidenced by the fact that he’s now writing columns for, in addition to his daily blog updates. Also, let’s not discount the fact that pretty much anyone who’s writing a blog about college basketball was probably discovered first by Mr. Cohen. Without him, I probably wouldn’t know about any of the other sites listed here, and they wouldn’t know about me. That’s pretty cool if you think about it.

Hawkeye Hoops
I was turned on to this site by some glowing reviews on the aforementioned Big Ten Wonk website. Ryan, the proprietor of Hawkeye Hoops, is one of the best basketball minds that’s out there doing this sort of commentary. I’m actually somewhat intimidated by how much he knows, since it reinforces just how little I know. His emphasis, as you may guess, is on the Iowa basketball team, but you can’t help but pick up a few nuggets about the Big Ten and the nation as a whole as you read him (if you doubt this, check out one of his Big Ten team capsules, which he’s currently in the middle of releasing). If you were looking for a flaw in Hawkeye Hoops, you might argue that it’s too smart for its own good. Once you get past the intimidation factor, though, it’s pretty easy to learn a lot by reading Hawkeye Hoops. So, go there and start learning.

Ken Pomeroy
Do you like stats? Well, if you do, then you’re going to love Ken Pomeroy. Personally, I have to admit that I don’t have a good understanding of how the RPI works, and how it impacts the college game. Nor do I pay tons of attention to individual player stats, aside from that which is necessary for the nerdy Big Ten fantasy league that I’m in. And after I read Mr. Pomeroy’s analysis, I feel kind of bad about that, because through the use of existing statistics and the creation of innovative new statistics, he can prove or illustrate things that you never would have guessed about the game. My suggestion? Read him for a week real closely. You may not understand what’s going on at first, but eventually you’ll read something and go “Wow! I never would have thought of it that way!” And for the rest of the season you’ll conceptualize offensive efficiency the same way. Sure, stat guys frighten me too, but you can’t deny that they have a point.

ACC Basketblog
I live in Milwaukee, and for years have been primarily a Big Ten fan, though I recognize that for a good portion of the 1990s, it was a painful conference to watch. Now I have access to the Big East, since Marquette has joined up. And while one could make the argument that the Big East is the strongest conference in the country, I still don’t think there’s a more compelling conference, year in and year out, than the ACC. Since about the only time I get to see the ACC is when ESPN decides to show a game, I miss some of the finer points of the league, and the ACC Basketblog is there to pick up the pieces. So, if you’re as interested in the happenings of the ACC as I am, and my basic analysis of the ACC, along the lines of “Duke is good” is not enough for you, check these guys out.

Marquette Basketball Blog
I can give you some Marquette, but let’s face it, if you want total Marquette coverage, I’m not the guy. In addition to the Golden Eagles, I’m tied up watching Wisconsin, UWM, high school ball, the occasional division three college game, and whatever happens to be showing on ESPN on any given night, but the guys at the Marquette Basketball Blog are constantly tracking what’s going on at Marquette. Additionally, let’s be honest—I think I’m generally fair to Marquette, and I generally consider myself a fan, but they’re a chief rival of Wisconsin, my alma mater. If push comes to shove, I’m going to lose some objectivity and side with Wisconsin. So if you want the true Marquette fan’s perspective on those times when I find myself on the other side of the fence, this is the place to go.

Illini Wonk
I feel sort of bad, as I shouldn’t like people from Illinois, but this is a good read. As you’ll note, there’s not a lot of people that I link to that follow a specific team, as I usually don’t care enough to keep going back. I probably got suckered in last year because Illinois was really, really good last year and I really, really like Bruce Weber, but even if that's the case, I'm glad I did, because I always leave this site happy that I stopped by. The fact is, I can’t point out anything unique or particularly great about this site, but it always seems to be one of the places that I keep going back to when I’m checking news at the beginning of the day. I can't figure out why I like it so much. And perhaps that’s what’s unique about it—the stealthy goodness.

The Bracket Board

Normally I’d hesitate to place a link to a site that concerns itself largely with Western Kentucky basketball, but Cortney Basham over at the Bracket Board is more compelling in his analysis than I would typically expect from a Kentucky native (sorry about the cheap shot on your fair state, Mr. Basham, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t take it). I’d like to think that if I was based in Kentucky, and a bit more dedicated to the nation as a whole, I’d have set something up like the Bracket Board. As the name implies, the Bracket Board is the home of an amateur bracketologist, so in addition to some interesting analysis, you’re going to get a breakdown of how the NCAA tournament might look going forward. Also as noted, there’s plenty of talk about Western Kentucky, and if you’re looking for a tangential connection to Wisconsin, then please note that WKU head coach Darrin Horn is a former assistant at Marquette. And if that’s not enough to get you to stop by, please note that WKU has the coolest mascot in the world.

Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook
I’ve been over this before, but Blue Ribbon is far and away the best college basketball resource out there. If you know me personally, you probably want me to shut up about this already, since I’ve been pretty obnoxious about telling people about my love of it ever since I picked up my first copy in 1997-98. In fact, the only product that I’ve ever shown more loyalty to is Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which I’m equally obnoxious about praising whenever the chance comes up. So I won’t tell you again what I think of this book. I will, however, give you an easy link to help you buy it.

Draft Express

It’s one of my new links and I don’t know all that I need to, but it has great potential to be a must-check site. This past summer, Jonathan, one of the guys running Draft Express dropped me an email that essentially told me where former Badger Mike Wilkinson was going to sign a pro contract overseas. He nailed the country, the state, and the club. This wouldn’t have been incredible, except it was a good week before I saw the news anywhere else. The people running this site know what they’re talking about, and despite the focus on the NBA draft, there’s a wealth of college info.

Brian McCormick: Youth Coach

This is actually a new link for me, as well, and I’m not as familiar with it as I could be. . My brief perusal of his site tells me that he’s based in California, and is a coach and trainer to a number of young people. I can’t vouch for the guy yet, but his point of view is unique compared to the sideline commentators that I generally tend to link to, and his voice could be a nice one to have in the mix going forward. At least I’m hoping so.

Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook

If you follow the link on the side, it is true that you’ll be at the place where you purchase the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook. But that’s only part of the reason that it’s there. In addition to finding an order form, you’ll find a wealth of information from WBBY founder Mark Miller. Miller recently ended his monthly publication, the Wisconsin Basketball News, which while sad, has led him to give away much of the same information contained in the Wisconsin Basketball News for free on his website. And nerds like me appreciate it, particularly in the summer months when this site is easily the best of the few places still updating info on Wisconsin high school basketball players and teams.
Started only a few short years ago, is a website dedicated to covering the goings-on of Wisconsin high school basketball. There’s lots of analysis, reporting, and last year they placed a new emphasis on loading tons of video clips on the site. Just as with the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook site, you’re going to find a lot of information that would otherwise never see the light of day. The site also features links to message boards that sometimes provide interesting rumors and information, but typically also contain numerous inarticulate comments from kids who are overly excited about their team. And of course, if you’re willing to pay a tad extra, the premium “Courtside” area of is going to give you even more content. What more could you ask for?

Badger Blue Chips
This is a general site set up to track recruiting by the Wisconsin Badgers. I believe the guy running the site is just an informed fan keeping tabs on as many potential recruiting targets as possible. It’s nothing earth shattering, but it’s a pretty nice resource if you want to know who’s on the Badgers’ radar. Good pictures and a nice layout make it a nice stop-off. It would be a be a lot easier on guys like me if every team had a fan who did a site like this.

And now we come to the message board portion of the links, of which I would like to say a few words. In general, I think sports message boards are about the nerdiest thing in the world. Of course, that doesn't stop me from glancing at them almost every day. And heck, I've devoted hours and hours of my life to recounting experiences that happen to me as I watch basketball, so I shouldn't really be playing the nerd card. But even if I think that the bulk of what goes on at sports message boards is inherently nerdy, they still provide about the fastest access to information on most teams. So here are some key ones for the state of Wisconsin. It is with great shame that I read each of them.

Badgermaniac/Badger Nation Message Board
This is the primary place where Wisconsin fans of the world come to discuss sports on the internet. As such, you’ll get all kinds of folks here. You’ll find the guy that feels the need to point out daily how lucky Badger fans are to have a great coach and great players. You’ll find the guy who, six months before the season begins, wants to break down how many minutes each player on the roster will get. You’ll find the guy who has the irrational hatred of in-state rival, Marquette. And you’ll even find a few people that actually know what they’re talking about. Because it’s the only board of note for Badger fans, you’ll find all kinds, and that’s the beauty of it. Because lets face it, without the reasonable fans, the board would be insane, but without the irrational fans, the board would be boring.

Marquette Ahoya Board Board
Because there’s only one Wisconsin board, it encompasses everyone. Because there’s two Marquette boards that people use, each has a slightly different personality. The Ahoya board is the elder of the two, and the more widely used. The board is newer, but is probably the home of more reasonable discussion. Want to see an interesting assessment of how Tom Crean is using his personnel? I’d check the site. Want to be entertained as Marquette fans take out their frustrations on Wisconsin? Ahoya’s probably for you. The distinction between the two sites may not be as extreme as I paint it—each one has both informative and just plain nutty comments—but the distinction that I give is indicative of a trend that I generally perceive.

UWM Message Board

I’ll be frank—I didn’t even know UWM had a fan site until someone linked my site up in a thread one day. Since UWM lacks the big-time appeal of Wisconsin and Marquette, there’s a lot less activity on their board. That doesn’t mean that it’s a bad place to visit, though. The people that come here are the die-hards. You’ve got to have some level of commitment if you’re willing not only be a fan of a mid-major like UWM, but to actively post your thoughts on a fan site. Make no mistake—these guys might not have a team in the Big East or the Big Ten, but they love their team, and know plenty about it. One just hopes that if the Panthers sink back to their losing ways of the mid-1990s that the board still remains a place for vibrant discussion.

Media Links
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is the probably the easiest place to get legitimate media coverage of any of the state’s division one teams. Madison is the home of the Wisconsin Badgers, and it is a city with two newspapers, but until they make it a bit easier to link to a general basketball coverage area of the Wisconsin State Journal, I can’t link to them. The Capital Times, Madison’s other paper, seems to have somewhat resolved this problem, so they’re getting a shiny new link in the next couple of days.

Gambler’s Parking Lot

This is my friend Adam’s site, which I gave an introduction to back here. Basically, Adam gives betting advice based on computer programs that he’s developed. Let it be clear that I’m not a real fan of sports gambling, but frankly, after you see Adam’s success rate, you won’t be either. I consider linking to this second-rate gambling advice site to be my contribution to ridding the world of problem gamblers.

Joe Sports Fan

I’ve been reading this sports humor site for well over a year now, and find it a good light read. It’s run primarily by two guys based in Missouri and has somewhat of an emphasis on St. Louis sports, but covers the nation as a whole very well. I always describe it to people as a low-rent, St. Louis version of ESPN’s “The Sports Guy.” That might be slightly inaccurate, as the style is quite different, but it’s tough to classify a sports humorist, and this is typically the easiest way to entice people to check it out. Features include weekly columns about any number of sports issues, an array of wacky Top 7 lists and the “Worthless Baseball Card of the Week,” recently linked to by the Sports Guy’s intern. The columns are good, but if you’re looking for a quick fix, there’s always a hilarious “Untrue Fun Fact” about the player featured in the “Worthless Baseball Card of the Week.” Although I must profess that I miss the short lived feature “The Cage Match,” where the authors at the site would debate a ridiculous point. You might not think that the question of which relationship is more perverted, Doc Brown and Marty McFly or Mr. Miyagi and Daniel Laruso would stir emotion, but it turned out to be a great barroom conversation piece for me for some time.

Those are my links. Enjoy them, explore them, and most of all, come back when you're done.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Brainwashed By Marquette

After my analysis of where to attend Midnight Madness festivities, it should come as no surprise that Friday night found me at the Al McGuire Center with a handful of friends checking out Marquette’s kick-off event. As much as I would have enjoyed checking out either Wisconsin or UWM’s events, Marquette simply seemed the most attractive in terms of convenience and excitement. And though I was quickly reminded that just about any Midnight Madness event can’t help but be remarkably cheesy, I truly felt like I was there as Marquette was entering a new era. Much has been said about Marquette’s move to the Big East, and that’s part of what provided the feel, but the fact that Marquette’s roster will be turned almost completely upside down this year was the biggest contributor to the new feel. But enough gushing about the new era at Marquette—let’s get back to my old friend, the bullet points:

1) I want everyone to recognize that I’m not complaining about this, since I’m talking about a freebie, but the free t-shirts that were being handed out to everyone attending Marquette Madness had to be some of the ugliest, cheapest looking t-shirts that I’ve ever seen. Coming in I was expecting something that I could use to polish my shoes, and I was not disappointed. Oh, and I suppose I’ll have to find some gold for my wardrobe elsewhere, as the t-shirts were white.

2) Line of the night belongs to my friend Adam. As we were grabbing our free shirts, the people at the counter asked everyone “Large or extra-large” to determine what size each person wanted. Adam, who earlier in the week attempted to win a quarter barrel of beer by eating a two-pound hamburger, 22 french fries, and two ounces of soup in 22 minutes in a promotion put on at a local tavern (he got all of the meat and half of the bun down before failing), initially grabbed a large t-shirt. After thinking it over for a moment, though, Adam turned around, looked at the people at the t-shirt counter and said “Who am I kidding—give me an extra large instead.” Pure comedy. (Side note—this would have been the line of the entire weekend, but my friend Kevin stole that honor the next day as we were watching the Wisconsin-Minnesota football game when he told me in the waning moments “If the Badgers win this one, I’ll do 20 hours of community service.” Roughly eight seconds after that comment, Wisconsin had what was essentially a game-winning punt block. Kevin was last seen heading towards the Boys and Girls Club.)

3) As I noted at the onset of today’s update, pretty much any Midnight Madness celebration is going to have some things about it that are pretty lame. This was no exception, as the first hour or so of the event wasn’t anything special. Good things about the first hour included a decent introduction of the Marquette women’s team, and the far-better-than-I-expected sounds of the U2 tribute band hired to perform at the event. The bad? The general flow of things, the poor microphone persona of the women’s head coach, the long, drawn out introduction of special guest Michael Redd, and pretty much anything (surprisingly) that Steve “The Homer” True did. I like the Homer, but he was out of his element as emcee.

4) The sound system at the Al McGuire Center was ridiculously bad. Part of the reason that the first hour or so of the event dragged on and on was poor pacing, but part of it was the fact that the people using the microphone could have been talking in German and I would have understood as much of what was going on as I did with the terrible acoustics that night. I’m assuming that the bulk of the issue was related to a portable microphone, as I could hear the regular PA announcer just fine. I just hope that this isn’t the norm at the McGuire Center, an otherwise nice facility.

5) Were there fan contests? Well, sort of. Early on there was a 3-legged layup race where two pairs of students had to complete a layup on each end of the court. The first pair to complete the task won gift cards to someplace I couldn’t make out over the sound system. That was the only contest, though, and it came off seeming kind of random. I’ve been to these types of events before, and typically there are either 4-5 of these type of fan contests, or none at all. Doing one contest and nothing more the entire night just makes it seem like someone screwed up at some point during planning.

6) Eventually, the team finally came out. After introductions, they did some warm-ups, which eventually became a layup line, which eventually became a dunk line. Everything was pretty standard until it was time for much-hyped freshman point guard Dominic James to head to the hoop. Now, I’d heard that despite the fact that he’s a mere 5’10” (and if you know how college height listings work, that’s probably inflated) that he could dunk, but I had know idea what I was in for. James’ first dunk was done with such ease that it was almost confusing to watch. My friend Adam says that the look of perplexed excitement on my face when I saw it was priceless, and I don’t doubt it. Through the rest of the evening I saw James throw down reverse dunks, 360 dunks, dunks after bouncing the ball off of other things, and combinations of all of the above dunks. And he was so relaxed about it that you almost wondered if he could throw one down on an 11 foot rim. During the dunk contest, he came close about four times to completing a dunk where he went through his legs in midair, a simply ridiculous feat for a 5’10” guy. And he was quick, to boot. Since Friday night, here’s what I’ve been telling people about James: “There’s lots of hype around Dominic James. Believe every bit of it.”

7) On Saturday my friend Kosta, always quick with a solid question, inquired of me after my ravings about James “Is he better than Dwyane Wade?” Normally, this is a question that I hate. No freshman should be compared to one of the best guards in the NBA. And I couldn’t really even do the comparison, since a Midnight Madness scrimmage is not exactly the best place to evaluate talent. But the question still intrigued me, so I thought about it and gave my best answer, given the circumstances: “I have no idea if he’s as good, but I think he’s more athletic.” Incredibly, I wasn’t lying. Wade’s certainly got several things that James does not (including, most notably, a few extra inches of height), but James is one of the most athletic specimens that I’ve ever seen.

8) Oh yeah, as great as James’ dunking display was, he ended up sharing the slam dunk title with fellow freshman Wesley Matthews. Though Matthews, an athletic man in his own right, was not quite as athletic as James, he made up for his deficit with creativity. His two most memorable dunks came as he lobbed a ball high into the air, removed his jersey, and then caught the ball off of the bounce, dunking it with authority, and a later dunk over his mother, who was seated in the lane in a chair from the scorer’s table. One of my friends aptly questioned during the latter dunk, “How many times to you think they’ve done that in the driveway at home?” A subsequent attempt at a similar dunk over Tom Crean was unsuccessful, and a bit more frightening, as Matthews came much closer to kicking his head coach in the head than he had with his mother.

9) With all this dunking, it might be easy to forget that Marquette has the best spot-up shooter in the country, Steve Novak. Novak reminded us of this, though, as he put on an impressive display in the three-point competition. The three point competition was abbreviated a bit compared to the standard format where each shooter empties five racks of balls. The two racks that normally appear on the baseline didn’t appear, so each shooter got 15 balls. Novak was stellar in the preliminary round, but was even better in the final round, rattling off 14 straight threes after missing his first shot. Whether he’s learned to do anything more than shoot still remains to be seen, but as I’ve said before, Novak may be a one-trick pony, but he’s a one-trick pony that I’d definitely want on my team.

10) Okay, who put Ousmane Barro, Marquette’s sophomore big man in the three-point competition? Was this a practical joke? And if it was, wouldn’t it have been funnier to see center Chris Grimm tossing up treys? Surely Grimm could have topped Barro’s score of two made shots, and knowing Grimm, he probably would have fouled at least one of the guys attending to the ball racks while doing so.

11) I had been very excited to see Tulane transfer Dan Fitzgerald, a player who many have said will be a key component of this year’s Marquette team now that he’s eligible after sitting out last year. That’s why I’m sort of disappointed in myself for being so interested in watching the new freshmen that I didn’t even notice until late into the event that Fitzgerald was not present, and his existence had not even been touched on by anyone at the Al McGuire Center. I thought I would get an answer to this question during the scrimmage portion of the evening when I met up with a pair of friends who had been sitting in the VIP section, due to one of them having some ties to the Marquette program. To my surprise, not even my VIP buddy, who’d been sitting by people who would normally be in the know, knew exactly what was going on. Until reports today that Fitzgerald was held out of the event for a violation of team rules and that he is supposedly practicing with the team, I was getting worried about another mysterious departure from the Marquette program. Goodness knows it’s happened before, but I hope this one’s just a legit punishment.

12) As I mentioned, I met up with some other people just prior to the scrimmage, which entailed my friends and I moving from the upper deck to the lower deck, and from the bleacher seats to actual stadium seats. The stadium seats were cheap plastic, though. I guess they sort of need to be, given that first and foremost the McGuire Center is a practice facility and you can’t have nice chairs bolted down where a good portion of the floor is, but the cheapness of these seats really detracted from the otherwise first-class McGuire Center.

13) The other newcomers? Well, I must again sheepishly admit that I got caught up in watching the athleticism of Dominic James and Wesley Matthews and sort of ignored Jerel McNeal, Jamil Lott and Dwight Burke (particularly the latter two). McNeal I sort of watched in the scrimmage, and he had a tough time guarding Joe Chapman, who routinely backed him down and out-smarted him. But that’s about the extent of it. Burke came in third in the dunk contest, and Lott’s been mentioned as a potential starter, so I probably missed the boat by ignoring them. Oh, and I can’t forget Matt Mortensen, who was impossible to ignore. I guess the best thing to say about him is that I suppose it’s possible that if he works really hard and has a bit of luck that he could get into a game or two in a few years. So I think it’s official–Mortensen’s a project.

14) I don’t want to go overboard on Marquette love here, since events like Marquette Madness are geared towards going overboard on getting people pumped up for the season, and creating excitement, but there was something exciting about this Marquette team. Don’t get me wrong—I still think it’s going to be a painful year learning what the Big East is like, but I honestly think that the Golden Eagles will be in good shape in a few years. Why? The most impressive thing about this team was not Dominic James’ dunking, or Steve Novak draining shot after shot. Rather, the most impressive thing was the demeanor of the freshmen. If I had gone to this event not knowing anything about this team, I would not have been able to pick out the freshmen. I probably would have thought that a few of them were seniors. These guys are leaders. They’re not intimidated by the stage that they’re on, and they just have a look to them that seems to say that they will succeed. It’s hard to describe, but I know what I saw. They’ve got a core of guys (i.e., not just one guy like Travis Diener) that just look ready to lead a team into battle. Assuming that this group sticks together for longer than the last few Marquette classes, the sky’s the limit. I can’t wait to watch it develop.

So there you have it–Marquette has me suckered in every bit as much as a few years back when people thought I was nuts for predicting a Final Four for the team a full year before they made it there. I’m not predicting any Final Fours for this team, but I am predicting that in two years, barring any major defections, this will be a strong Big East team. If I’m right, it just goes to show that I occasionally know what I’m talking about. If I’m wrong, then at least I’ll have a complete understanding of how Marquette can manage to dazzle recruits and bring in a stellar class following one of the most painful seasons in recent memory, as I will have been falsely dazzled. Like I said yesterday, you can say a lot of things about Tom Crean, but the man does know how to throw a party. And I thank him for the party that he threw on Friday. It’s good to be back in season.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Total Madness

Tonight kicks off the start of NCAA basketball for another year. And to my delight, the “midnight madness” concept is back in full swing this year, though the 7pm start time that is now allowed renders that somewhat of a ridiculous name. Never a great planner, I have not decided where I’m going to be at 7pm, though there are at least 5 intriguing options for a gentleman based in Milwaukee, such as myself. Here are my options, and their pros and cons, in no particular order:

1) Wisconsin’s “Night of the Grateful Red”

Why would I go?
At first glance, this would seem to be the slam dunk choice for me to attend. It’s my favorite team, a chance to get a look at some stellar new freshmen, and an opportunity to see if Brian Butch is actually starting to look as if he fits in his new body. It’s also an opportunity to head to Madison, a city whose bars I have certainly been neglecting of late. And if I had to guess, I’d say there’s an 80% chance that I know some other fans who’ll be going to this one already. Add to that the off chance that I’d be able to pick up the 2005-6 Badger basketball poster, and this event is almost certain to be excellent.

Why wouldn’t I go?
Between following football and attending weddings, I’ve been out of Milwaukee for a significant portion of time during each of the last six weekends. One more road trip might push me over the edge. Plus, I’ve seen most of the guys who’ll be on the floor play, and despite the many unknowns on this year’s Badger squad, they’re probably the most easy to assess of any team in the state at this point.

2) Marquette’s “Marquette Madness”

Why would I go?
Like anyone should have to ask this question. There will be fresh faces galore on the court on Friday night. I saw Wesley Matthews put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at the WIAA state basketball tournament last year, but as for Jerel McNeal, Dominic James, Dan Fitzgerald, Jamil Lott and Matt Mortensen, I couldn’t pick any of them out of a police line-up. What better way to get a sense for how the new-look Golden Eagles will play than to see them in person on the first night of practice during the first year of Big East play. They’re also giving away free t-shirts and posters to everyone in attendance. Add to that the fact that Steve “The Homer” True, Marquette’s radio voice, and a guy I happen to enjoy, is emceeing the event and you’ve got a nice little evening. I might blast Tom Crean from time to time, but he knows how to throw an event. Finally, this is a bit shameful for me to admit, but I’ve never been inside the Al McGuire Center. The closest that I’ve been is parking next to it and peering inside on my way to file court documents, so it would be nice to head on in.

Why wouldn’t I go?
Not being my first choice team, I might not be into the excitement as much as I would be at another venue. I also don’t believe that parking near the Al McGuire center is plentiful, and I’d probably end up going elsewhere downtown afterward if I wanted to go out with friends for a post-basketball beverage or two. This could be uber-crowded, as well, given the buzz over the first season in the Big East for Marquette, and I hate huge crowds.

3) UW-Green Bay’s “Midnight Mania Primetime”

Why would I go?
Green Bay is moving in the right direction, with new, highly rated recruits coming in every day. The Packers have had a rough year, and if people in Green Bay need a default event to get excited about, maybe this could be it. It will be interesting to see how skinny freshman Ryan Tillema looks next to actual collegiate players. Maybe I could finally buy one of those awesome UWGB jerseys that I couldn’t find last year.

Why wouldn’t I go?
Well, there’s the obvious answer—it’s in Green Bay. I know something like two guys in all of Green Bay, and while they’re great guys, they’ve probably got other things to do with their time than watch Phoenix basketball. Besides that, Green Bay’s a long drive, and is perhaps the least entertaining city of the lot to go to. And the buzz over the Phoenix, though probably about due to heat up again, has been pretty much non-existent outside of Green Bay since Dick Bennett left years ago. And the event has the stupidest name of any of the contenders.

4) UW-Milwaukee’s “Fan-Tastic Friday”

Why would I go?
I’m buying season tickets to UWM’s games this year (I hadn’t planned to get season tickets for anyone, but who can deny $115 for an entire season of live hoops?), and it’s probably a good time to start supporting my adopted team. Sitting in awe of Joah Tucker would be fun. The first opportunity to see Rob Jeter in a head coaching capacity would be kind of cool. I’d also like to see what random former Milwaukee-area high school stars are walking on to the Panther team this year, since there’s always someone you’ve forgotten about.

Why wouldn’t I go?
The “buzz” factor is going to be low. The event is being held at the MECCA, which doesn’t come close to filling up for games, and is certain to be next to empty for an event like this. If that wasn’t enough to kill the electricity, there’s going to be a volleyball match between UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay taking place beforehand. Who’s the genius that came up with that idea? “Hey, we’ve got lots of excitement over the basketball team this year—how about we try to run the women’s volleyball team out before a practice and see if we can generate some interest in them.” Great idea, if any of the fans coming to see basketball cared about volleyball. Heck, I even kind of like volleyball, but that’s not what I’m going to see tonight. I want hoops. UWM’s got a great product, but they could really stand to talk to Marquette’s marketing department.

5) ESPN’s Presentation of March Madness

Why would I stay home and watch?
The nostalgia factor. I miss ESPN’s old coverage of Midnight Madness, which was a staple back in the mid-1990s. Is there anyone who didn’t love watching Dick Vitale high-five some sophomore after he’d just drop kicked a ball through the hoop from half court to win a year’s tuition? Why this stopped to begin with is beyond me. And now it’s back. I thought that I heard that plenty of places were being covered, but it looks like I’m just getting Kansas and Kentucky. Of course, who can argue with seeing what goes on at such basketball powerhouses?

Why would I skip the ESPN and go out to an event?
Sitting alone at home is kind of sad when there’s basketball ready to be watched. Plus, I have DVR, so I can always watch Kansas and Kentucky later. And that pretty much sums it up.

Am I leaning any particular way? To be honest, I had to stretch really hard to find the above listed reasons why I wouldn’t go to the Marquette event. I think it’s going to be the most high energy of the bunch (again, Tom Crean is a great marketer) and there’s the most new wrinkles to see, from a basketball perspective. While I wouldn’t mind ending up at the Wisconsin or UWM events (let’s be honest, I’m not sitting home tonight, and I’m not driving to Green Bay), Marquette’s going to be the place to be tonight—even if I have to look a little bit harder for parking (like I said, I was really stretching). We’ll see who I can find to join me, though, and go from there. Any way you slice it, it should be a great night.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The 2005-6 Season Preview (of Preview Guides)

As you well know, basketball season is fast approaching. If you’re like me, this means many things, but this early, it means one primary thing—it’s time to think about starting to buy basketball preview guides. Given my level of fanaticism, I find it best to just suck it up, buy every guide that I can get my hands on, refer to the appropriate guides when necessary, and get the whole lot bound into a handsome, leather-bound edition for my library at the end of the year. Sure, this commitment may mean that each year there’s a week in which I can’t buy groceries, but I think it’s worth it.

However, you may not share this level of devotion, which is why I’m here to help you. Below you’ll find my critiques of a variety of basketball preview guides that I’ve read over the years, in what I suppose you could call a guide to basketball preview guides. If that’s too much use of the word “guide,” however, feel free to call it whatever you wish. Just check it out, since I’m sure some of you are confused as to where to get your basketball info. Enjoy:

1) Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook

--I’m not going to lie—you’re not going to be able to walk into the grocery store and get this thing for $6.99. It’s not that kind of guide. You’re going to pay $26.95 (including shipping) for it. There are no color pictures inside, and few pictures of any kind. You’re going to have to special order it from a website (since the makers no longer seem to distribute their product through large booksellers like Barnes & Noble or Borders, as in years past). And at the end of the day, you’re going to be happy with your effort. If you can only buy one basketball publication in any given year, this is the one to buy. It’s so comprehensive, you’ll never use all of it. Want some thoughts on how Canisius will be this year? Some of those other guides might give you two inches of column space on the Golden Griffins. Blue Ribbon’s going to give you at least a third of a page, and probably more. This is where I find Blue Ribbon’s greatest value—telling you about the teams that no one else (except maybe the Mid-Majority) knows anything about. But let’s you say you don’t care about Canisius, and you just want the top 25. Well, if you’re top-25, you get a couple pages of coverage, complete with breakdowns of each player on the roster, key losses, and general commentary on the state of the team. There is no other publication that will tell you the things that you will learn in this guide. Was it better back when Blue Ribbon also sold a mid-season and NCAA tournament update to your guide? Sure, but even without those options, this is the gold standard. It’s like a media guide for the all of Division 1 basketball.

2) Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook

--If you live in Wisconsin, and you like college or high school basketball, this is the only thing I might consider buying before the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Forecast. Capsules (including schedules) on just about every high school team in the state? Check. A section with rankings and biographies of the top high school players in the state? Check. A page worth of preview space for each of Wisconsin’s D-2 and D-3 teams? Check. Coverage of the state’s division one college teams? Check. If it’s basketball, and it’s located in the state of Wisconsin, then it’s in this guide (no, I don’t consider the NBA to be basketball, so don’t even ask). Blue Ribbon may cover that which does not receive enough coverage, but the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook covers things that simply aren’t covered anywhere else.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t note that I’m aware that publications like this exist in other states. One that I’m familiar with, having stumbled upon it on a trip through Indiana, is the Hoosier Basketball Magazine. And while I will concede that Indiana has a much greater basketball tradition than Wisconsin, when you compare these two books, Wisconsin wins by a mile. Opting to forego overdone supportive ads from high school booster clubs (all you’ll find here is ads for basketball camps and that ridiculous Shoot-A-Way training device) and slot in actual analysis has been a great choice by the editor of the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook. As long as things continue as they have, Wisconsin will always have a must-buy publication.

3) Street & Smith Basketball Preview

--Once upon a time, Street and Smith was THE place to go for any type of sports preview. Baseball, NFL, NBA, college sports—you name it, and they covered it well. When I was a child, this was the only college basketball magazine that I would buy. It was easy to find, gave a wealth of information for a magazine, and benefited from having minimal competition. My how the times have changed. The downfall has been gradual over the last decade or so, but Street and Smith can match up to neither its competitors nor its former self.

The first sign that things have fallen off is the covers. In its earlier incarnations, the cover of a Street and Smith magazine was printed on a much heavier paper. Even if the information inside was crappy, you knew you were at least getting a fine piece of craftsmanship. Now the cover is just slightly heavier than the rest of the magazine pages, and certainly is not as heavy as the covers on most glossy competing magazines. And the photos on the covers are also not what they should be. Just glance at a magazine rack—most of the cover photos that you see for other magazines will be bright and vibrant. Then you turn to Street and Smith and there’s typically one or two players amidst a dark arena. More artful and realistic? Maybe, but if I’m buying a basketball magazine, I don’t want art—I want to be dazzled by the joy of the coming basketball season. Darkness doesn’t dazzle me.

And finally, there’s the content. Last year I thought I had seen an aberrant trend that would be promptly taken care of when I noticed two typos within the first 30 minutes of my perusal of a new Street and Smith guide. Much to my dismay, I was 15 minutes into checking out this year’s guide when I saw my first typo. That’s unacceptable for a national publication like Street and Smith. Even I hide my head in shame when I find any of the numerous typos that I produce here on a daily basis, and I don’t have a staff to edit for me. And frankly, with the half-assed team capsules (which for a few years didn’t even include rosters), I’d like to think that the writers at Street and Smith could manage to control the quality on the two paragraphs that they manage to churn out about any number of major teams who deserve more coverage.

So why, other than my completist tendencies, do I still buy Street and Smith? The answer is simple—each year they have an approximately 5-page feature in which they do a “where are they now” piece on the high school all-American teams that they named 10 years prior. I’m a sucker for human drama, and can’t help but be fascinated that while some percentage of guys always make it to the NBA, there are other guys like Willie Dersch (3rd team, 1995-96) and Glendon Alexander (4th team, 1995-96), who are now an investment banker and a prison inmate, respectively. This feature seems even more intriguing to me this year since these guys are all in the same high school graduating class as me. I can now compare my last 10 years with those of Kobe Bryant and Ronnie Fields. With info like this, I can over look the facts that the authors can’t spell and the printers can’t make a heavy duty cover anymore.

4) Lindy’s and Athlon

--I cover these two together, because though the titles are different and the content isn’t exactly the same, they’re essentially the same magazine. Both are consistently the first magazines out on the newsstand, and have glossy, impressive pictures of players on the front of their covers, which are made of high quality paper. You also won’t need to go much further than your local supermarket to find one, so as you can see, marketing is what puts these two guides on the landscape.

Though the information inside is basically good as of the date of printing, because of the early release dates, it’s not always accurate by the start of the season. A lot goes on between mid-September and the actual start of the season. However, if you’re a casual fan or a basketball junkie who just needs a fix (I bought this year’s Athlon at an airport just before boarding a plane) then either of these will generally suffice to tell you what teams will be good will be good, who the best players in the country are, and what the rosters of the teams in good conferences are. If you think of Blue Ribbon as an actual book, you might say that Lindy’s and Athlon are like Cliff’s Notes. And given my numerous failed attempts at reading and comprehending Joseph Conrad’s landmark novel, Heart of Darkness, I can tell you that a Cliff’s Notes version is not always a bad thing.

Of course, I would be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t put out a warning with regard to the Lindy’s guide this year. When I pick up a preview magazine, I’m typically pretty quick to check out where the Big Ten is ranked nationally. Here’s all that you need to know—in the ranking of the top 25 teams in the country, Lindy’s has Iowa at #9 and Wisconsin at #14. Now, I could piece together a weak argument for Iowa at #9 (strong returning personnel, excellent finish last year post-Pierre Pierce fiasco), but not even my Wisconsin bias could never lead me to the conclusion that they’re anywhere near the #14 team in the nation coming into the year. These two ranking decisions undermine the credibility of the Lindy’s guide, in my mind. So read at your own risk.

5) ESPN Magazine Preview

--I’m bitter at ESPN Magazine for doing a basketball preview for two reasons. First off, they do a really half-assed job, making it a section in their regular magazine and not doing anything special with it. It’s sort of like back when Sports Illustrated wouldn’t completely commit to the Swimsuit Edition, so it didn’t stand on its own and the scantily clad women were stapled in with sports articles. At least with the swimsuit issue if someone caught me looking at it I could spare myself the embarrassment of being caught ogling bikini-clad magazine temptresses and pretend that I was reading an article on Clifford Robinson (Who am I kidding— that Robinson article was great.). There’s no such benefit with ESPN Magazine, since there’s no shame in reading about college basketball.

My second problem is the dawn of the ESPN preview issue signaled the end of one of my old favorite guides to pick up—the Dick Vitale Basketball Preview. Think of it—a whole basketball guide written as if Dick Vitale was doing the analysis. Okay, maybe the entire magazine wasn’t filled with phrases like “Dipsy Do, Dunk-a-Roo!!!!!” but the brief page that Dick gets to lay out his All-Diaper Dandy Team (outstanding freshmen), All-Marco Polo Team (transfers) and All-Name Team (alums include God Shamgod and Majestic Mapp) pales in comparison to the space he used to get in his own magazine. You’re welcome to love or hate Dick Vitale, but if you ever saw his stand-alone preview magazine, you’d know just how surreal it is to see that guy’s thought’s in written form. Like a William Shatner album, you know it’s not good, but you’re still drawn to it for reasons that you can’t completely explain. That’s why, to this day, Dick’s 1995 preview magazine is the most-pulled preview magazine from my library. Man, I miss getting a new one every year.

6) ACC Basketball Handbook

--For those of you in ACC country, this is a great find if you can get it. I first saw it back in 2000 while traveling in North Carolina. I’ve since seen it in a Barnes and Noble here in Milwaukee, which is nowhere near any school in the ACC, so they must be doing something right. Basically, it’s a basketball guide that’s geared only to the ACC, so it can go more in-depth. Production values are high, so you’re going to pay a little more, but you’re going to get pretty pictures on glossy paper, too. The only thing that might make you not want to buy this magazine is that it is so specifically geared toward one particular conference. On the flip side, if you’re primarily an ACC fan, you’re going to want this publication more than any other one out there. I would salivate over the release of a publication like this if I could find it one about the Big Ten or Big East. Then again, I will concede that the ACC is the best basketball conference in the land, so they’d probably still have the best guide anyway.

7) Sports Illustrated

--For what Sports Illustrated is trying to do, they actually do a pretty nice job. Their downfall, much like ESPN, is that they are a multi-sport magazine, and can’t spend all of their time and resources dealing with previewing the college basketball season. That said, their time is generally pretty well-spent, and if you read the meat of their analysis, it’s pretty solid for a magazine that won’t give upwards of 10 pages to college basketball again until March rolls around. As with any Sports Illustrated preview, however, be somewhat wary of the actual rankings that they put out, since odd rankings can sometimes help build intrigue and sell magazines.

After that there’s a mix of preview guides that I won’t get into, since most change from year to year, and you can always get a cheap, quickly thrown together guide if you’re in a pinch. I didn’t really cover The Sporting News guide, since I don’t have a great picture in my mind of what it is, but I recall it generally being acceptable. Sorry I can’t say more on that. Even with the omissions, hopefully this breakdown will help someone out there in their quest to purchase a preview guide. Every guide is not for every person, but I assure you that there’s a guide out there for you—you just need to keep looking. And if anyone has any suggestions for me about a guide I should pick up (particularly if you’re in a state that has something analogous to the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook), drop me an email. Your assistance with my library will be appreciated.

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